Square Go: Pretentious Game 3 Vs Thomas Was Alone

“Has this game just come out?” maker of Thomas Was Alone Mike Bithell asks of Pretentious Game 3. “Because I’ve been getting emails all day, ‘They’re taking the piss out of you hurr hurr hurr’.”

Bari of Keybol games has just released the final part of a trilogy of games about a square, and labelled them all emphatically pretentious. Pretentious Game 3 is a game starring a cute little platforming square, just like in Thomas Was Alone. One of the enquiring, slightly jibing tweets to Mike Bithell about it was mine this morning, wondering if Bari was having a little joke at Mike’s expense. It turns out that there was just some sort of trend in games with a square in them last year, and between them, Bari and Mike had created some sort of New Square Wave of 2012, where they both were making games simultaneously about mobile squares with delusions of grandeur. I spoke to them both to find out exactly how pretentious they both are.

In terms of notoriety, Mike Bithell has shot from ‘dude who tweets a lot about his very good game’ to ‘dude who every indie wants to be because he has been so successful he once literally shopped a Lego store out of Lego’ in a very short amount of time. Judging by his prolific appearances in every famous Youtuber’s videos, including Northern Lion’s, lots of people seem to know who he is. I asked if he’d played Bari’s Pretentious game. He said he’d played the first one at the time and liked it, and has just played 3. “Frankly it’s too good to be sarcastic,” he says of the game. “I like the way it breaks your expectations, and there’s a few Flash games that do it. It’s something that pops up in the odd Escape The Room game, the fact that one of the puzzles can be solved by – and that’s a bit cruel – but using the button that takes you to the creator’s website, stuff like that. There’s some very nice fourth wall-breaking stuff. My point is that I think [Pretentious 3] has been made by someone smarter than just taking the mick out of me or someone else.”

“Thomas was one of a few games… I mean obviously Thomas Was Alone obviously started out as a Flash game on Kongregate, but I remember at the time there were a few other people doing it, the whole kind of rectangle-based platformer. I don’t think I invented that. …There was actually one about an AI escaping from a computer programme, which was very similar storywise to Thomas, but I can’t really remember what that one was called.”

“Do you think it was because of a Square-Based Craze of 2012?” I ask. “I think there definitely was amongst Flash developers,” Mike laughs. “We’d just realised that we could make games with just rectangles, as long as we like, did it well, and that was kind of liberating. And you can see this in a lot of places, like in gamejams people just use rectangles frankly because they are easy and cheap. …With Thomas I knew I had to use rectangles because of the technical limitations, because of the gameplay requirements – the collision boxes on them. But once I decided to use rectangles, I wanted to use fucking rectangles – the best rectangle possible. If you’re going to make a rectangle game it’s got to be the best rectangle game. I hung out in art galleries and shit. I took it very seriously.” I tell him he is very pretentious. “I am very pretentious,” he says.

So I went to Bari, a prolific Flash game maker based in the Philippines and maker of Pretentious 3, to ask if he had heard of Thomas Was Alone. “I never heard of the game until I saw a player’s comment in Kongregate,” he said. “The first [Pretentious] game was made for Ludum Dare, and I only had 4 hours to make it.” The name of his first game was “another interesting story of its own,” he told me. “Last year, there was another browser game ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, it’s a black and white platformer, very simple and very popular. Game developers were chatting at FGL.com and someone said, ‘What a fucking pretentious game’.” So Bari set about making his own fucking pretentious game.

The game must have been well received, I said. “Yeah it topped Reddit for weeks.” (Bari has a post mortem of Pretentious Game up at Ludum Dare.) “I made the second part because a lot of players wanted to see more. It was trending in twitter and tumblr for some time.” And how has the level design evolved? “It became a lot more challenging. In the second game more gaming mechanics were used (double jump, wall climb, airgliding, two hearts as life). The third was the most challenging they say, moving two blocks at once and making them meet, controlling an invisible block.”

“Do many people think you are having a joke about Thomas Was Alone?” I ask. “I don’t think so,” Bari says. “I have only read a few comments about Thomas Was Alone. I never knew Thomas Was Alone until this year. Others compare it to The Impossible Game too.” And what about his other games? Have they been as popular? “I made Splitman 1 and 2 which was featured in Casual Connect Singapore 2012 and 2013. Pretentious Game 1 and 2 were also showcased in Casual Connect US and I’ll be attending next week for Pretentious Game 2. In terms of number of plays, browser games Vanguards and Zombies vs Penguins were popular too.”

A secret about Pretentious Game 3: “Pretentious Game 3 has an interesting bit, that it ties the characters in 1 and 2 into a mixup of events sort of like the movie Crash in 2004.”

Pretentious Game 3, a lovely little platformer, is out to play now, but you can try out the first two games here and here to experience the whole narrative. Mike Bithell is busy plotting world domination with his mysterious ‘Project 2’ which we will have more news of soon.


  1. Syra says:

    This game is kinda cruelly hard at times…. the stole many hearts level had me stumped until I just tried jumping all the ways O_o

    Interesting story though, not at all videogame conventional.

  2. pupsikaso says:

    What the heck did I just read?

  3. FurryLippedSquid says:

    “Square go”

    I haven’t heard that since Scottish secondary school. Where it was frequently offered and I was frequently battered as a result. And not in the disgustingly nice mars bar way.

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      Hm, at my normal secular Glasgow comprehensive, a square go was something often proposed but never realized. My friends and I came to the conclusion that “square go” was either a mating call for neds, or a symptom of “wee man syndrome” – or both! I took many a snowball to the back of the head, but nobody ever squared off with me for a fair fight… Just as well, because they would have won.

      “5 to 4” was a phrase meaning the exact same thing. School would finish at 15:55 and the implication was that somebody wanted to fight you after the bell. Again, this never, ever, happened. Neither did I ever eat a fried mars bar… Perhaps I grew up in a parallel Glasgow?

  4. db1331 says:

    I find this whole article to be shallow and pedantic.

    • X_kot says:

      I find this comment to be pointless and inchoate.

      • db1331 says:

        I am rubber, you are glue.

      • Liudeius says:

        I find this reply to be floccinaucinihilipilification and antidisestablishmentarianist.

        • jrodman says:

          Your post caused me to contract pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.

          • Pich says:


          • realmenhuntinpacks says:

            Well you can all bugger off to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch and take your damned Donaudampfschifffahrtskapitänsmützes with you.

  5. Viroso says:

    You know if Thomas Was Alone didn’t have good looks, fancy narration, I’d probably have quit halfway through. I think a lot of people would not have paid attention to it either, were those two things not so stylish, well done. And that’s okay, it’s video games after all.

    Though it’d be nice if everyone realized they actually cared about the looks of a game. People take a piss on big AAA games like Battlefield 4, they say “oh what’s the good of all the graphics if it’s going to be the same old same old”. Well, it seems we really like looking at things, that’s what it’s good for.

    At this point someone comes in and says “no you don’t get it, it’s about ART DIRECTION”. Yes, true. Doesn’t matter though, it’s still what we’re looking at that impresses us and keep us there. Besides it isn’t like the visuals of a game like Battlefield just whims itself into existence. Those games have an art direction too, it’s just that you may not appreciate it. I for one really enjoyed the looks of Killzone 2, the go to game for people who have a knee jerk reaction to “brown and grey”.

    Not to mention that the looks of a bunch of games people praise for art direction just couldn’t be made had the game been released maybe 10 years earlier.

    • The Random One says:

      We know games with beautiful graphics also have art direction. It’s just that quite often it is pants. I haven’t played Killzone (though I’ll a agree that Gears of War, the Other Grey Shooter, did have good art direction that perfectly conveyed an abandoned, sun-bleached world) but I know that in GTAIV a filter was on for most of the game that made the city look dull and dirty. It is very obviously art direction, and it fits with the rest of the game’s theme rather well, but it’s also ugly as sin. When I was driving across a bridge and one location’s filter was lifted but the next wasn’t applied were the only moments when I could see how good the game I was playing should look.

    • Wurstwaffel says:

      People without a well developed sense of aesthetics don’t consciously perceive that stuff, I suppose. So when they think about games (or any kind of visual medium for that matter) they don’t remember anything regarding visuals and thus consider that aspect void and unimportant.
      And even “realistic” looking games today have massively stylized art direction, battlefield is one of them.

    • adwodon says:

      Simple aesthetics are often more pleasing to the eye as in a game, where we tend not to stand around too much, taking things in quickly isn’t really possible if there’s a lot going on.

      This is what makes a game like Mirrors Edge look better than Gears of War to most people. When games attempt to mimic the present day there is often a lack of overall form in my opinion. There may well be brilliantly crafted art direction for sections but often its lacking in an overarching sense. In a game like Mirrors Edge while there might be high fidelity and lots of objects in the world, the art direction and bold colours simplifies everything and draws your eyes appropriately.

      With increased fidelity you stack up the number of objects you have to consider, the lighting, in a 3D world you have to consider the position of the player in an extra dimension and so on, all ultimately add far more pitfalls that even the most talented of directors can’t avoid. This is why simplicity often allows for ‘better’ aesthetics, its not because the people behind them are more talented, there is just less to consider, like a puzzle with less pieces. It’s also why most ‘wow’ moments in high fidelity games tend to be when you emerge from somewhere or in a cutscene as the directors can control where you are and what you’re looking at, which often isn’t the case in many other places.

      It’s a visual medium though, of course how it looks matters. I think what most people actually mean when they ‘graphics don’t matter’ are saying one of two things. 3D graphics / poly counts etc don’t matter or that they prioritize mechanics / overall gameplay over graphics, better graphics would still be good but they’d take a game with solid mechanics over a prettier game with more flimsy ones, in both cases they’re just poorly communicating in my opinion.

  6. The Random One says:

    But is it any fun? I found Thomas was Alone to be beautiful, atmospheric, smart and witty, and had to abandon it less than 1/4 of the way in because the gameplay was essentially the most boring parts of platformers presented as puzzles.

    • grechzoo says:

      Same, the gameplay wasn’t anything special at all and didn’t hold my attention.

      I’m sure the story in the game was amazing. But I still need to have fun playing in order to be drawn into it.

      Also I know most people like the narrator and he is a great voice actor, but I just found his delivery a bit annoying, muted him in the end and just read the messages.

      I admire Blithel from what I have read he has achieved with the game though :) that’s counts for something right? :)

    • Memphis-Ahn says:

      But it’s yet another platformer with a twist! We love those!

    • orient says:

      After mindlessly coasting through the first half an hour of TWA, I realised I was bored and turned it off. The narration felt like an outdated novelty, which is weird because it’s not like I’ve played tons of games with narration. I think it’s because it was just so tame and the platforming so tired.

  7. DrScuttles says:

    If Pretentious Game 3 is Crash 2004, is Thomas Was Alone Crash 1996?

  8. alm says:

    Sorry. Not related to the article, but do any of you kind technophiles know an adblock that will work for Chrome on the Nexus 7? I now want to take flight immediately with anyone other than BA :(

    • Michael Fogg says:

      Pardon me, this is not related to the article either, but could anyone recommend a good place to have a pizza in the Bang Bon neighbourhood of Bangkok?

      • Koozer says:

        Apologies for the derail, but does anyone know how to get rid of a body quickly?

        • SCdF says:

          Speaking of derails, just a quick question: if a train is leaving Portston for Hopsmouth at 3:30pm and another train is leaving Windlebrook for Dartslin on Eive at 2:20pm, how could one place a large rock on the tracks of both trains, and still have time to make the 5:50pm showing of La Grande Particcero at Aucksward? Asking for a friend.

        • MattM says:

          Put it on the curb with a sign reading “Free, please take.”

          • xao says:

            Put it on the curb with a sign saying “Five quid”, then let them argue you down to one.

  9. Scumbag says:

    This post made me realize I have yet to play Thomas was Alone. I shall go and play Thomas was Alone.

  10. junsumoney says:

    I didn’t like Thomas Was Alone. The simple platforming was very boring and tedious. The narrative is delivered mostly through the narration, asking to me to pretend the blocks I controlled were “characters” with personalities and the group was having relationships. But since the story is mostly told through the words of the narrator, I had no stakes in the story nor reason to care or believe that a story existed. The moment to moment actions I was taking in was moving blocks and jumping to reach the next level.

    And I think Pretentious Game is riffing on the trend of flash games that try to have a symbolic narrative gameplay without going through the effort of attaching meanings to the gameplay.

    • Yglorba says:

      I thought the first Pretentious Game was decently clever; it had one punchline, but it was well-delivered.

      It didn’t really need two sequels, though.

  11. JonasKyratzes says:

    Alphaland! I made Alphaland in 2011! It was all about rectangles! Remember that? Yes? Hello? Anybody?

    Man, things sink quickly in indie games. One day you’re mildly obscure, the next no-one knows you anymore!

    I’d be angry if Mike Bithell wasn’t so annoyingly nice.

  12. bill says:

    Cooincidence! I’m working my way through Thomas Was Alone right now. It is pretty hard work.

    the narrator is lovely, the style is lovely, the characters were lovely (though right now I can’t remember which is which), but the gameplay is mostly just dull simple platforming on autopilot. I can just switch off and listen to the relaxing music and story. I guess that’s ok… but i’m only on level 74 and I’m not sure I can be bothered with the next 26.

    Not quite sure how they managed to make a lovely game so unexciting.