Magnificent And Important Advent Calendar: Day Twelve

By RPS on December 12th, 2012 at 12:00 pm.


You might not think it to look at them, but games are made entirely of maths. Not just your normal maths, either, but a special kind that has to be shipped in from California. Some of that was probably used to create the game behind the twelvefethef advent calendar window. But not much. Not much.

It’s… Thomas Was Alone!

Alec:

I can’t stand Danny Wallace and his face and his hair and his voice, but I really dug Thomas Was Alone. This alone is probably the highest praise I could ever offer Mike Bithell’s puzzle-platform game about introspective shapes. In a similar way to Portal, it’s an easy blend of semi-cerebral puzzling and a story that tells itself as you play, rather than forces itself upon you.

There are a dozen reasons I immediately regret raising a Portal comparison, but I do so because I think it’s a high watermark of how to bring about a complex, character-rich game narrative without interfering with play. Thomas goes one further still – while GlaDOS did enact the science, madness, jealousy and vengeance she invisibly spoke of, these rectangles never outwardly demonstrate their Wallace-spoken third-person monologues of delight, envy, mistrust, arrogance and affection, and for all their strong feelings about their similarly right-angled companions they do not and cannot share them.

The story is a collection of secrets only the player knows, a stash of diaries accidentally stumbled across, and from this spawns projections of emotion and reaction onto the faceless, bounding shapes. This is the game for the sort of person who says “I know cats technically don’t have the right muscles to smile, but I’m sure my cat smiles.” In today’s age of death-by-cutscene, such playful abstraction is precious indeed.

But please, get one-time guest star Log to narrate the next one, not that smug chap with the hair.

Adam:

Thomas Was Alone is sweet, melancholy, witty and thoughtful.

It’s a puzzle game that uses a few shapes and basic movements to present new ideas without confusing or frustrating the player.

It’s a story that uses a few shapes and a narrative voice to create characters who are quite capable of changing the world, but are much more concerned with their own inner conflicts.

It’s a game with a character called Chris who has a proper arc and everything, even though he’s a little brown square. I enjoyed his company more than plenty of actual people I’ve met. I’d like to go for a drink with Chris, to cheer him up while laughing at his grumpiness the whole time.

Abstraction and minimalism can be shortcuts but Thomas Was Alone wouldn’t work any other way. I played the majority of it in the wee small hours of the morning and when I was done, it practically plumped up the pillows and tucked me into bed. Even though the audio is so important, both in the voiceover and the splendid music, Mike Bithell has crafted one of year’s quietest and most soothing games. And that’s coming from someone who normally punches through at least fifteen walls every time he hears the word ‘puzzle’.

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41 Comments »

  1. RobinOttens says:

    I’d totally forgotten this game existed. Thanks for reminding me!

  2. impeus says:

    Well you’re wrong on one count, because I hate cats and I adore this game. I made all the characters out of LEGO and they make me smile every day.

    Okay, not hate. Distrust. Distrust + allergies = wary distance.

    I definitely adore Thomas Was Alone though.

  3. Sheng-ji says:

    First game on this list that I didn’t buy!

    COMMENT WITHDRAWN AS IT IS NO LONGER TRUE

  4. SanguineAngel says:

    I’m not sure I even heard of this one so I may give it a go. sounds pretty good. Bit harsh on Danny Wallace though? I quite like him

  5. Lambchops says:

    Kept meaning to get around to buying this but never did.

    PS: I rather like Danny Wallace, Join Me, Yes Man and his collaboration with Dave Gorman on Are You Dave Gorman were all really enjoyable books. How to Start Your Own Country was fun as well though I’d agree that most of his other TV appearances are either naff or out of place.

  6. solkar says:

    …even though he’s a little brown square. I enjoyed his company more than plenty of actual people I’ve met

    hohoho, I’m still laughing!

  7. zachforrest says:

    If you like the feeling of being a little bit annoyed, try reading Danny Wallace’s Shortlist columns.

  8. ShatteredAwe says:

    Still No Mark Of The Ninja.

    I am not a happy Canadian.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      An unhappy Canadian is surely an oxymoron?

      • Jenks says:

        I was under the impression that the entire country is clinically depressed while the NHL is locked out.

      • geoffreyk says:

        You’re inferring that he is, in fact, a Canadian, when the “not” could just as easily apply to the noun and the adjective, just the adjective, or just the noun. not (happy Canadian) vs (not happy) Canadian vs happy (not Canadian). Don’t worry, common rookie mistake when applying a ‘not’ to an ‘And’ed logical tuple. /Literal-Man away!/

    • Alec Meer says:

      If you turn up in comments on even one more entry purely to moan that it isn’t Mark of the Ninja, I’m going to change your username to ‘I Hate Mark of The Ninja’ and edit your every comment to say that your favourite food is dog poo.

  9. Prime says:

    This has probably been the most random and obscure Christmas List yet.

    • Revolving Ocelot says:

      Is that a bad thing? The most mainstream games have been Borderlands 2 and Guild Wars 2, and both have a significant amount of people who dislike them. The Walking Dead and Dark Souls hold a nice middle ground, though.

    • Alec Meer says:

      It’s a happy reflection of how much has changed/grown in indie games in the last year rather than any bloody-mindedness on our part.

      • Prime says:

        Absolutely my opinion. I’m really pleased by it :) I was hoping for more of a discussion on this point but I was probably unwise to leave my statement all alone and unsupported like that.

    • I_have_no_nose_but_I_must_sneeze says:

      I’m sure by the time the list is complete there’ll be a good balance between big, mainstream games and the more obscure indie titles, like in previous years. Remember, games such as Mass Effect 3, Far Cry 3 or Dishonored haven’t made an appearance yet.

    • Oozo says:

      I wouldn’t say it is all that random. “Thomas Was Alone” is in fact the first entry I did not predict correctly. So, it’s a rather accurate reflection pf what RPS liked during the year.

      (Even though I have to admit that for a second there reading the teaser, I hoped that it would be “Frog Fractions”.)

  10. Bluerps says:

    Ooh. I meant to play this game and then forgot about it. Thanks for reminding me!

  11. Caiman says:

    This is the first game on the list I’ve disagreed with. I wanted to like it, but I felt some of the puzzles were lazy. Get character 1 to point B, then go back to point A, so you can get character 2 to point B, and then take character 1 to point C so you can help character 2 get to point C, then go back to point A to… ARGH!

  12. Sulaco says:

    This thing spews charm out of the wazoo. Whatever one of those is. Just tried the demo, I love the style and everything. Lovely little game. Could be great for kids too, with the children’s book style storytelling.

  13. Chizu says:

    Keep meaning to get this game.
    Never got any money though.
    Next time I swear.

  14. Zankmam says:

    Woohoo, now I don’t have to spam the comments anymore!

  15. Spakkenkhrist says:

    I tried this at Rezzed and really enjoyed it, bought it soon after, you can put that on the fliers for next years one if you want.

  16. strangeloup says:

    I think I like Danny Wallace more since XCOM spat out that name from its random name generator and he ended up being a really awesome sniper.

    His XCOM doppelganger looks like less of a pillock though so maybe that’s something to do with it.

  17. Tams80 says:

    I remember an article on here when it was still in development (that or my memory is betraying me). It sounded interesting but I didn’t know it turned out so well. The gameplay, music and narration all look fantastic. Now excuse me while I go buy it. It looks like it will be the perfect exam stress relief.

  18. Xzi says:

    Lone Survivor, Thomas Was Alone…I’m starting to see a pattern here. I think the RPS writers are very lonely people.

  19. Brise Bonbons says:

    Glad to see this game on here just because it’s put it back on my radar. Seems like a really interesting effort that I just wasn’t aware of before now other than seeing the name on Steam when it launched there.

    Now, that said, I’m a grumpypants when it comes to puzzle games, so there’s no guarantee I’ll actually buy this one, but I’ll make an effort, I swear.

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