Weird Game Monday on a Tuesday: Thomas Was Alone

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I like linear stories more than I like an open world. For all of the creativity an open world offers I don’t think it’s why we play things. We play games like Thomas Was Alone to learn something and feel something. This game is one of the best stories I have got to experience. I’m not saying story, as in story of a video game, I’m saying story of anything I’ve experienced, movie, TV show, book, comic, a drunk guy yelling at me, this was at the very top. It did all of this with no conversation between characters, only about 25ish (I’m really guessing there and I’m probably way off) bits of voice acted exposition narrating, and 10 quotes from fictional characters. The gameplay had no real barring into anything but solving a puzzle. The characters didn’t get hurt from you jumping, which is all you can do mechanics wise, you jump in different ways. They didn’t get jealous about someone standing near another shape. They just followed what you said to do and plopped into the portal while you waited to be told about how they felt about everything. Some how despite having a complete lack of intricacy this carried me through a series of overwhelming emotions.

Visually and sound design wise this game is on point. It’s a minimalistic game but that doesn’t mean the background, the music, and the colors in the game don’t all work remarkably well. Everything is 2D and all the movement is on scroll but the background movements and color choices and shading really do ad a lot. The music serves to relax and build tension in a nonabrasive  and non-obvious way. The voice acting when it happens is phenomenal and potentially the best part of the game outside of the writing. I do not know enough to superlatives to say how good this English gentleman is at his job but he connected me to the characters in the way a cut scene couldn’t.Image

This game is the epitome of minimalistic. It’s not supposed to impress you or overwhelm with a lot of extraneous features and it really doesn’t. It’s a very simple puzzle platformer that only feels hard when the control system fails you. All you can is move, jump, and switch characters. Pressing one button to switch between characters is kind of a failing point since there are sections with 8 characters on screen. As the game moves on you get asked to make maneuvers based on the specific abilities of the AIs and switching to wrong character gave me more troubles than most of the puzzles. The difficultly curve also feels incredibly random where a point just before the middle feeling like hardest and then quickly dropping back down into the normalcy. A lot of the puzzles are cool, but not overly difficult and the difficult ones aren’t really cool. It’s a problem. There is a lot of very clever level design in this game, I like almost all of it; but there about two levels that accomplish nothing but frustration. Note that I said two levels though, there are 10 chapter in this game all with roughly 10 levels. 2 out of 100 isn’t bad at all.

I’m going to say something here about how negative I was in last paragraph; none of it matters. The oversight in control design doesn’t matter, the level design is neat but doesn’t matter, the perceived difficulty or lack therefore is completely irrelevant.  The colors and sound don’t matter. The linear story telling of this game makes it irrelevant. The emotional connection I made with these characters was amazing to me. I felt so happy for the couples and so sad at the deaths. I loved their friendships and hated their rivalries. The game makes specific to point to tell you that these character are not human in the first moments of the game but the story the game follows is of the human experience from our interpersonal relationships to our philosophical thoughts. This game begs to ask a lot of question and presents things in a unique way. Without telling what to think. Things just happen for you to interrupt. For example you’re going to encounter 5 characters that think as one and are lead into conflict by another character with a vendetta. Feels a bit like a military, doesn’t it? You are constantly asked to evaluate the decisions of the characters in way that makes you ask what is right and wrong. What is the value of one life versus the lives of others? How important is personal gain? There is a dialogue section that eludes to how we get past our nervousness to have children. It even touches on the relationship of sentience to evil. This game does all of this with only jumping polygons.

When I was kid a my dad would never let me name stray cats that wandered by our house. He didn’t want to me attached to something that wasn’t going to survive or come back. This game gives you those cats and names them. It then tells everything about their lives. It connects you to the AIs. It’s amazing how much this game accomplishes with so little. This game is relativity short. In the few hours I had with my eyes welled up from happiness and sadness. I watched mistakes that could never be corrected in that universe be made. I did all of this with only jumping polygons, an English narrator, and ten fictional quotes. I recently played through GTAV , which I thought was a great triple A title, I didn’t feel worried or concerned for the characters at any point during that game. That is the nature of an open world and an open story. the player is in control. I’m not being hyperbolic about tearing up during this game. GTAV was a huge expensive title, Thomas Was Alone is a year old indy title. It’s amazing how almost nothing does more than so much.

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