Why did it take you so long to play Thomas was Alone?
Yet of my unplayed games catalogue Thomas was Alone is one of my relatively recent acquisitions. I’ve purchased PC, Vita, PS3 and Android versions in my determination to find a means to eventually play it. You see, when a Mummy lady and a Daddy man reach a certain degree of accepted tolerance with each other they sometimes think it would be nice to bring more life into the world, and even though they’d done so previously they convince themselves that this time it will be different because they’ve taken years to find the balance in their work and home life that allows them to nurture and interact while still enjoying things for themselves. They are of course wrong and the colossus of back burner projects and plans are taken off the heat altogether and put into storage in the misguided belief that one day they’ll be reignited.
Very few games have an actual narrator. How important was this voice to the game?
I don’t like Danny Wallace. I have no reason to dislike him and will have to live with the fact that no doubt this revelation will leave him devastated. That said, I did like having the narration and he does a fine job, despite him being Danny Wallace. Thomas and his friend’s plight would not have been as captivating if it had been delivered textually as the narration allowed for play to continue while the characterisation was developed audibly. And having someone tell you about the different characters’ abilities and motivations enhances that sense of personification.
How much empathy did you have for the AI blocks?
I think all the characters are defined by base emotions, most of which I rally through daily so it was easy to connect with each of them. I was initially disappointed that Clare was chosen to be the first female character introduced and the nature of her appearance but I’ve relented somewhat since as I may have read more into it than the developer intended and it probably says more about my hang ups and fears than Mr Bithell’s. I might have developed a little crush on James too.
The game looks very simple in terms of graphics. How much does this add to the overall tone of the game?
Even what appears to be the most basic of constructs is inherently complex so Thomas Was Alone’s use of simplistic shapes as AI representations works perfectly. Each shape’s actions are a reflection of their physicality but that’s not what defines them so it’s difficult to imagine the game working with anything else. That’s not to say it wouldn’t have worked, like anything you can speculate but never really know. Similarly with the levels, by having everything so angular it gives a very clean mathematically rigid appearance that we barely evolved apes can accept as representative without frying our tiny minds.
Despite the simplistic nature of the look of the game, how easy is it to control and complete the levels?
Characters are controlled with lateral movements and jump so it’s immediately accessible. As progress is made and levels use multiple characters there is the need to switch between them to take advantage of each ability and solve basic puzzles. There’s a few levels that require quick reflexes as you’re racing the environment but it’s mostly a leisurely affair. The Vita version, as with by necessity the Android version, adds touch control to select a character. I prefered not to take my hands from their resting position though so stuck with button pressing.
Some of the descriptions of the plot sound quite amusing. Is there a lot of humour in the game and how effective is it?
I wouldn’t say it’s an overly humourous game. There is humour in it as part of the characterisations with Chris’s cynicism particularly chucklesome. And though his pangs of jealousy and possessiveness are amusing to hear about it’s more in relating to how he’s feeling than finding his insecurity laughable. I think I’d use the term charming over amusing.
I don’t recall any significant difference in how each character is introduced. In that regard gender is irrelevant. A more pertinent question may be in how the female characters were selected as their histories seem to reflect more emotionally charged negative experiences than the males. The first two female characters facilitate other characters’ progression, beyond simple switch triggering, which while making them perceptively more important also makes them tools. The game even suggests as much with Laura’s introduction so it’s presented knowingly that way. That’s one for the developer though.
How well does the game manage to combine simplistic elements to tell a more complex and sophisticated story? And do you feel this tells us something about the construction of stories as a whole?
I’m a simple fool who likes simple pleasures. Easily relatable characters and straight forward puzzle platforming is an easy win for me. The notion of the characters being AI and seeking enlightenment or emergence – not so much. Clearly Thomas’s artificial is superior to my actual. With the narration only telling half the story, that of the characters, the system errors and bug reports that form the background to their self awareness are presented in text form and I didn’t always catch them. Not that I can claim all the ones I did read I understood but contextually they seemed to make sense. The fact that I could follow what was happening without really understanding it does suggest it worked, which makes me think the plot isn’t particularly complex. While the game presents AI constructs becoming self aware and seeking enlightenment the story for me is about relationships and specifically friendship. There are so many ways to tell the same story and each will have its supporters and detractors. The book of the film of the song of the play. I’m not certain Thomas Was Alone tells us anything new about the construction of stories but rather presents the story anew.
The game has garnered mostly positive attention. Do you feel it’s deserving of this?
Absolutely. It’s easy to mock its simplistic presentation and controls and if you want a game for game’s sake or to brag about your deft skills and rapier like reflexes then obviously something that strikes at the desire for companionship isn’t so much going to go over your head as depart for another solar system. There’s little frustration in pixel perfect platforming nor brain aching in the solution to the puzzles, but at the end there’s satisfaction. Pleasure. And while it’s not your own, relief. A few days after completion I messaged Mike Bithell to say thank you.
Is there any replay value for you in this game? Or is it something that’s so unique that it can only be experienced the first time around?
Like re-reading a book or re-watching a movie I imagine playing Thomas Was Alone again would be pleasant enough but I’m not sure why I would do so when time is such a rare and precious commodity and there are so many untested promises vying for my attention. I think if I am to revisit Thomas Was Alone it would be more rewarding to accompany someone else taking that journey for the first time.