The Day is a ten minute game from Gregory Weir (The Majesty of Colors) over at the often excellent Armor Games. I'm fascinated by ways to tell an interactive story that's relevant to the player specifically. Cut scenes don't cut it, and often alternate endings and branching narratives provide purely arbitrary differentiation between a number of otherwise linear paths. I'd be tempted to argue The Day goes someway to resolving that issue. It's ostensibly a JRPG / trading card game, but clearly if it was just that it wouldn't be featuring here - so go take a look before I start deconstructing it.
Which ending did you get, then? The game can be played in two different ways - you can follow the rules, or you can break them and explore. If you elect to simply play the trading card game you'll wind up with a distinctly indistinct experience. If you drop what you're told to do and explore the forest you'll discover a more sinister (though far from inspired) truth about the nature of your idyllic existence.
I suspect there's something going on here around the gamification of interactive experiences. The game seems to say: "We're so hemmed in by objectives and completion that we may be missing what games could really be about - a more personal and meaningful exploration."
This, of course, would be a message better communicated if the 'true' ending wasn't also intimately tied to traditional video game play styles. Hints are dropped heavily throughout, and it takes only a cursory level of familiar RPG exploration to find the route into the forest.
All the same, I appreciate the fact that the game's making a bolder approach to the sticky topic of alternate endings. It's brave to allow a player to complete the game without ever getting an inkling that there's more going on here, and on the flip side the implementation of the 'true' ending - with its switch from tinny RPG music to something more involved, and the increased visual detail - is strong enough. More than anything else, I like that there is little sign posting here regarding what ending you're shooting for. There's no 'good, neutral, evil', there's no 'Are you sure you want to go down this path, you may not be able to turn back'. It's a branch based both on subconscious player psychology (is he an explorer or not?) and on a conscious decision whether to go down the path if and when it's discovered.
In short: flawed, but more please.
It's also worth noting that Armor (along with Kongregate and the other portals) allows you to look up the other games produced by any given developer. Weir, for instance, produced the must-play The Majesty of Colors, the interesting How to Raise a Dragon, and some other stuff that's now on my to-play list. Finding rewarding games isn't always easy, and producing them is even tougher. Support talented indies by remembering their names and checking out their back catalogues.