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Square Go: Pretentious Game 3 Vs Thomas Was Alone

"New Square Wave of 2012"

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“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.

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Cara Ellison

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Senior Scottish Correspondent, often known as the Notorious C A E, though mostly by her mum

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