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A Game That Almost Made Me Cry

Free Download
Jason Rohrer

Passage is a special kind of game made by an unusual kind of game developer. Jason Rohrer lives with his wife and child in a cabin in upstate New York. This cabin is specially insulated to maintain heat during the winter; it has means of collecting rainwater and a fully implemented garden in the back yard. As a result, Jason and his family live on around $800 a month. He has an MS in Computer Science and experience doing network applications, but he doesn't play the Corporate America game. Instead, he's free, and he's free to make beautiful art games that, like his house, are technically and experientially tight to the point of self-sufficiency.

Passage is about the literal passage through a maze, but it is also about the passage of time. You begin as a young man; you have a wall fore-grounded directly to your north, and can move to the right or explore the maze to the south. Early on you encounter a woman; if you bump into her you will fall in love and become her companion. Together you walk through life, illustrated as a variation in wallpaper; you age together, you explore together.

Exploring downwards involves an algorithmically generated smattering of pillars and walls that you navigate in order to find treasure chests (representing money or success or something) or maybe just to see if there's an ultimate limit to how far down you can go (this limit is an inevitable bi-product of the algorithm, which increases the frequency of walls the further you go). Being with the woman limits how much you can explore, and yet, this is where the game's genius shone through for me; I was more than happy to give up the utility of easier exploration for the benefit of not being alone. I'm talking about 8-color pixel sprites making me feel something that Final Fantasy could only pull off non-interactively with cheap (read: extremely expensive) parlor tricks of CG and professional voice acting.

Balancing the exploration vs. progress mechanic is the limitation of the screen view; you're only able to see a single row at a time, which effectively gives a sense that you aren't exploring a maze but a lifetime. Further fleshing out this metaphor is the pixel stacking effect. At the beginning, you can make out the pixel patterns of distant phases, but they're only single columns of pixels, and as you progress they become elongated layer by layer. Once you pass mid-life the emphasis shifts: now most of the stacked pixels are behind you, and you find yourself centered closer and closer to the right-most edge of the screen. This is both an interesting visual effect and the best illustration of the concept of Phi that I have ever seen.

Whether you try to explore a lot or you go for the boring mediocrity of a long, stable, repetitive life, you will become old and grey, and eventually your wife will die. And when you see this happen, so abruptly, you may feel something more dramatic and real than when Aireth was impaled. You may feel a genuine sense of loss, blow-back from a five minute emotional investment, and then you too will collapse to dust while the title passes over again.


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Future of gaming

I think it's an indictment of the gaming industry.

That is a very sweet game.

That is a very sweet game. It reminds me of Einstein (which was a birthday present for someone), in that he is writing it to eventually show his wife and he put himself into the game. It has a nice little quality to it and I thought it really fits with the philosophy that he wrote about.

is it really a game, though?

Competition? Resources? Information? Decisions?

I mean, I like it, sure, and it's interactive-storytelling, or whatever, but is it really a game?

Arguably Not

...and certainly not by my definition. But still interesting, and certainly game-like.

I can picture the wife

I can picture the wife seeing this.. 'So not only do I walk in front of you to get the traps and hazards first, and you're better off without me to get to the interesting parts so I'm more of a hinderance, but I'm ALWAYS he first to die?'

It's a great game. The other games at Gamma256 were also amazing.
(my review of the event, in french)

Taken from your

Taken from your definition.

So What Is a Game?

A game is a form of art in which participants, termed players, make decisions in order to manage resources through game tokens in the pursuit of a goal.
This fits perfectly with Passage, believe it or not.
There's a final score, the resource is time, different paths and possibilities.. You should play Passage and re-read what you just linked.

Simulation.. Random Elements, Color,

Toy, by that definition

By the Costikyan definition, it's a toy -- it presents no explicit goal, nor competition -- but, as with bouncing balls or SimCity, you, the player, can play a game with it, like "see how far down I can go" or "can I open more treasure with a wife than without".

Or, if you still think it's a game, then tell me how you "win at Passage", or how you would distinguish a winning end-state from a losing end-state.

It's an interesting, artsy, creative, emotional toy, to be sure, but it's not -- by the above definition -- a game.

I Agree and Disagree

I prefer to use the term game in the looser sense. There are three kinds of goals, explicit, implicit and aesthetic, this game has implicit and aesthetic goals but no explicit goals. I know there's been a long history of games with explicit goals, and a shorter but still long history of definitions of game that follow suite - but this is my definition, and if you don't agree with it you're old.

But how do you define old? Are you really old? Or just old-like?

Implicit Goals

Salen & Zimmerman certainly require explicit goals (and "quantifiable conclusions). I don't like their definition, because among other things it seems to exclude tabletop RPGs and MMOs (which don't have conclusions, quantifiable or otherwise). And any definition of "game" that doesn't include D&D strikes me as obviously erroneous on the face of it.

I recall reading an interview with Chip Delaney some years ago in which he decried the attempt to provide a tight definition of science fiction as counterproductive and (in his words) "Stalinist." I'm inclined to agree, in a sense; to spend too much time and effort worrying about what is and what isn't a game is the sort of meta-issue that leads to excessive wankery and no real productive outcome.

Is Passage a game or not? I'm not sure I really care. It's interesting.


Maybe it's like Tetris, where there is only one end-state: losing. The point then is simply what you will have done with your time before you lost.


Let us not degrade this experience into a Warholian discourse on "What is a Game? What is Art?"

Passage is what is it. It's not "good" or "bad" or a "Game" or a "Toy."

It's just an experience. It's life, right?


Some people can touch people's hearts by thinking, acting, or writing. He can do it by a video game.
I wonder what his wife thought of this. So I'm just a block that makes your life harder?
Good job, smart one.
And women live longer than men anyway.
So do you have to buy this?

old-like is incorrect

old-like is incorrect grammar. "Old" is an adjective. You can't be adjective-like, an adjective IS something-like, so old-like and old are the same word witht he same meaning, except OLD is correct.