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Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Engage the Imagination, Round Two

Entirely coincidentally, not long after posting my previous entry longing for an opportunity to make use of my imagination once again when playing games, PlayStation Plus heeded my cry and delivered me a lovely little morsel of gaming pleasure.

Thomas Was Alone (or, Christopher was Depressed as Mrs Howell insists on calling it, much to my amusement), takes the very essence of games - the humble square - and weaves a short but perfectly timed story that portrays a group of newly created Artificial Intelligences as they try and make sense of the world around them.

The minimalistic imagery throughout the game forces the player to flesh the world out in their own minds. The black and grey world suggests sprawling oceans, deep chasms and caves and high mountains, but this suggestion is all that is required. Much like Defender, we need only be given a basic representation and our minds can do the rest of the work for us.

It is the characterisation, and the interplay between what are ultimately just different geometric shapes, that are the most poignant example of minimalistic representation in games. The individual characters each have very notable personalities - they have complexes about their weight, they demonstrate paranoia, neuroses and jealousy. I found myself on more than one occasion getting more than a little annoyed with John's arrogance...

Look at John. All tall and yellow. Pah.

All of these character traits are portrayed through no more than shape, and some masterfully delivered voice acting. This voice acting, admittedly, could be viewed as the game still essentially dictating to the player what they should make of the characters in the game. However, because it is delivered entirely in the form of internal monologue, and never as direct communication between characters, it promotes a feeling of awkward tension throughout the story. The player knows what the characters think and feel. They are burdened with the issues, anxieties and worries of multiple characters, and through this, are able to infer far more meaning on in-game actions than the game explicitly demonstrates. The high, floaty jumping of John is punctuated (in my mind at least) with a smug grin and air of superiority over the other characters that makes him a fundamentally irritating individual. The discovery by Claire that she can float on water, making her indispensable to the other characters, is an amusing moment, that evolves into something much more powerful as her insecurities about her size become more apparent. 

This game has, by a long way, offered more memorable characters than any others I have played recently - and all of this is achieved through clever use of minimal assets. Being able to sum up the game with a name and an adjective, regardless of their combination, says a lot about the purity of the content. Thomas was Alone. Christopher was Depressed. John was Tall. Claire was Insecure. Laura was Bouncy. All are accurate, and get the point of the game, and the essence of the characters, across immediately.

I'll end here for today. Peter is late...