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Opinion

Thomas Was Alone Is The Start Of Something Big For Sony

Thomas won't be alone for long.

Thomas Was Alone is possibly the most important game released on a Sony platform so far this year. I don’t wish to demean the obvious contributions to Sony’s platforms made by games like God of War Ascension, BioShock Infinite, Tomb Raider or Devil May Cry. Those are all great games and it’s not up to me to tell you which you should enjoy more or less than any other. But Thomas is more than just another game release on the calendar. Thomas is a symbol.

The clever, minimalist aesthetic approach to game design arrives this week for PlayStation Vita and it brings with it a promise. Not the promise of a few hours of enjoyable jumping around with Danny Wallace’s award-winning voice over in your ears – although you will get that. Thomas Was Alone promises that Sony have noticed a gap on their platform, found a solution that already exists and are applying it liberally. For PlayStation, the indie superstars are on the way.

Thomas Was Alone is a game made by one man, Mike Bithell, in his spare time. He’s humble, kind-spirited, generous and obviously very talented. He’s a perfect example of the unassuming indie developers populating the bleeding edge of game design creativity. He had an idea and he made it happen. He convinced some very talented people to work with him and when he was ready, he put his game on the internet.

Thomas Was Alone

Simplicity is a strength, Thomas grows with you.

What happened next was a surprise to Bithell who, in all his humility, didn’t really seem to know what to expect. Thomas Was Alone found a fan base, built a community and became incredibly popular among those who were clued up enough to be in on it from the early days. Its fame spread until it was available on most major PC distribution platforms. When it went up on Steam, Bithell sent free codes to everyone who had bought the game directly – so they had the Steam version too. He closed that email with the following: “instead of giving me any more of your hard earned money, go find another little game and give it a chance. People like you keep us going.”

And that’s the most pertinent fact in Thomas’ arrival on the PlayStation Network this week: its story is not unique. Yes, Mike Bithell seems to be a genuinely lovely guy. Yes, Thomas Was Alone is a fantastic game. Yes, it caught the attention of a few and spread to become popular for many. But there are a raft of other games that all have similar stories. They all have similar paths from idea to dream thtough hard graft and – eventually, perhaps with a light sprinkling of good fortune – to acclaim.

Since Thomas Was Alone’s announcement for PSN in February, there has been a seemingly unending stream of freshly announced Vita ports for games that those privileged PC gamers have been droning on about for months. We’re going to see Luftrausers, Spelunky, Hotline Miami, Divekick and others. We’ll soon have the Sportsfriends collection, Kickstarter funded and bundling together four diverse and highly innovative games. All of these will arrive in Thomas’ wake as games that have been seen and played elsewhere, gained some groundswell of support and been snapped up by Sony.

For the Vita, PlayStation Mobile – despite some possible misfires in how it’s marketed – offers such scope for smaller developers to put their ideas on a proper games console. Sony’s recent verve with indies isn’t simply allowing the existing indie darlings a new place to be fawned over. It’s allowing the future indie darlings a new place to be born.

This isn’t entirely new, Sony has a long history of backing less traditional games from largely unproven designers and developers. But the Indie Pub fund and their other forays into collaboration with quirky, spirited games without big publisher backing may simply end up as footnotes to what the company is doing now. This new devotion to indie developers feels like the start of something big. It feels like a former champion is suddenly ready to become a hero. Sony isn’t just lending its support to imagination and small team development, they’re banking on it.

Tighter working relationships are a big part of Sony’s indie future, and we should mention the astonishing work from Shahid Ahmad at Sony in this area. His idea was to make the Vita a new home for indie developers, his bosses gave him a green light and he’s worked tirelessly on making it a reality ever since. As Thomas Was Alone is released across PSN Stores, his dream is ending its gestation period and being born into the world.

Thomas Was Alone

You have to know your companions to succeed.

But those close relationships are just one element of what’s happening. Sony recently opened its arms to Unity on all of its platforms, including the PlayStation 4. This makes an affordable development environment available for those who want to put their games on Sony machines. Thomas Was Alone needed help from Curve Studios to port it, future games made in Unity may not.

The design of the PlayStation 4 hardware, too, hints at Sony’s newfound faith in what indies can do for the platform. Sure, most probably won’t make use of that super fast RAM in the PS4 but the PC-like architecture is surely a boon for easier indie development and the packed-in Move abilities, cameras and touch surface on the new DualShock all provide inspiring tools for innovation.

With Thomas Was Alone, a new stronger wave of impressive indie support on PlayStation platforms starts. That’s important for indie developers and it’s great news for us as fans but it might just be the killer differential in Sony’s own next stage of evolution. Watch this space, the indies are coming.

26 Comments
  1. XisTG
    Member
    Since: May 2010

    While I am waiting for today’s Store update to get my copy, I couldn’t agree more with the indie part of it. I’m quite excited for the upcoming Luftrausers from Vlambeer. I’m stocked they do consider the Vita as the best platform for the game, specially since they were once again cloned on iOS and Google Play.

    Comment posted on 24/04/2013 at 09:04.
  2. Tuffcub
    On the naughty step.
    Since: Dec 2008

    Was playing it on Vita on the way to work. Lovely, lovely game. Some of the DLC levels are a bitch but I can’t wait to find out what the fountain looks like.

    Better than Journey.

    Yes it is.

    Comment posted on 24/04/2013 at 09:28.
    • Alex C
      One for all.
      Since: Forever

      FIGHT!

      Probably better in terms of raw ‘gameplay’ and it’s up there. But not quite as good for me.

      EVERYONE needs to play Thomas though. It’s fab, and works fine on Vita.

      Comment posted on 24/04/2013 at 09:30.
    • Tuffcub
      On the naughty step.
      Since: Dec 2008

      On a.. *urgh* emotional level, Thomas works much better. They have personalities. I coudn’t give two shits about the tablecloth in Journey.

      Comment posted on 24/04/2013 at 10:45.
      • Alex C
        One for all.
        Since: Forever

        They do have personalities. A great achievement given they’re just squares. That’s partly because the voiceover fills in all the gaps though.

        Play it without audio and the text overlays.

        Comment posted on 24/04/2013 at 11:33.
      • Peter Chapman
        Team TSA: Editor
        Since: Forever

        I’d argue that that only demonstrates your own lack of narrative imagination because Thomas is someone’s story that you’re living, Journey is an allegory for your own story that you’re reflecting back into the game. If you don’t care about it, that’s possibly because you can’t fill in between the lines with your own experiences. But we all experience that kind of thing in our own ways and this “vs” idea is silly anyway – so much of the argument is based on subjective feelings and context of experience.

        It’s enough for me that Journey was an exceptional game for many and Thomas Was Alone is an exceptional game for many. How much their fan bases overlap or how the people that experience them quantify that experience doesn’t matter as much as the fact that we all have the opportunity to experience them.

        Comment posted on 24/04/2013 at 11:35.
      • Alex C
        One for all.
        Since: Forever

        Tuffcub has a feverous imagination, don’t worry.

        Comment posted on 24/04/2013 at 11:51.
      • Peter Chapman
        Team TSA: Editor
        Since: Forever

        Reading that back, it seems a bit blunt. Not intended as a criticism or insult, obviously. Just that we all experience that kind of thing in a very personal way – that was one of the things I loved about Journey, that everyone I talked to after playing it had taken different messages from it.

        Comment posted on 24/04/2013 at 12:01.
      • bunimomike
        Member
        Since: Jul 2009

        It is a bit blunt but very true for many. One of my best friends fails abysmally to empathise with characters and Journey was pretty dead to him. As an example, the character he’s most associated with (and enjoyed) over the last few years of gaming is Niko Bellic! A completely broken, ex-military chap who’s beyond repair. So there we have it. Some people can associate. Some can’t.

        Comment posted on 24/04/2013 at 12:10.
      • Tuffcub
        On the naughty step.
        Since: Dec 2008

        I think the main problem is I am to fucking awesome. That’s seems a good, sensible reason to me.

        Comment posted on 24/04/2013 at 13:06.
  3. bunimomike
    Member
    Since: Jul 2009

    On the one hand, I hate what Sony has done with regards to the PSM/Vita support – or lack thereof. Then they go all schizophrenic on us and show a bright future where they’re sowing the seeds now, to reap the rewards later. Actually, I’m not even sure there’s truly great financial return here but the respect for their console/platform and games’ library will do them some serious service in the long term.

    My heart breaks for the PSM (and Vita) devs who are pushing the little games and struggling to get them seen en masse. However, it’s also wonderful to see how historically PC-centric indie gaming is shifting. That can only be a good thing.

    Comment posted on 24/04/2013 at 10:16.
  4. Broonba
    Member
    Since: Mar 2009

    Can’t wait to play Thomas & would love to see loads more indie games being released on Vita.

    Comment posted on 24/04/2013 at 11:45.
    • shahid
      Member
      Since: Apr 2013

      They’re coming. By the trouckload.

      Comment posted on 24/04/2013 at 20:27.
  5. Alex C
    One for all.
    Since: Forever

    Hopefully hear back from Shahid Ahmad at some point too, did an interview a while back.

    Comment posted on 24/04/2013 at 11:50.
    • bunimomike
      Member
      Since: Jul 2009

      That’d be lovely, Al. Keep us posted as it’d be great to see what he had to say about the whole indie-dev thing.

      Comment posted on 24/04/2013 at 12:11.
    • shahid
      Member
      Since: Apr 2013

      Apologies, been stupendously busy day and night helping bring more goodness to PlayStation. Will get back to you as soon as I can and thanks for your patience.

      Comment posted on 24/04/2013 at 20:28.
  6. Forrest_01
    Member
    Since: Jun 2009

    This is a Vita only title isn’t it? I’d assume the same goes for the other indie titles that may or may not be wending their way to the store.

    My point being if it is a Vita only title, they aren’t aiming it at the widest audience. I for one don’t have a Vita, so if this is Vita only i’ll never get a chance to play it, which seems a shame given the almost universal praise it has gotten.

    Comment posted on 24/04/2013 at 15:11.
    • R1MJAW
      Member
      Since: May 2010

      No, PS3 too.

      Comment posted on 24/04/2013 at 15:22.
      • Forrest_01
        Member
        Since: Jun 2009

        Ah ok, it only seems to mention Vita in the article (unless i’m being a bit blind, which is certainly possible), but i have just seen on the store update article that it is Vita & PS3.

        Comment posted on 24/04/2013 at 15:32.
      • Peter Chapman
        Team TSA: Editor
        Since: Forever

        I wrote the article with Vita in mind because of the PSM side of things but everything I mentioned by name is coming to PSN as PS3 and Vita titles (no idea about cross buy for them yet) with the exception of the Sportsfriends bundle, which is PS3 only.

        Comment posted on 24/04/2013 at 15:46.
      • Forrest_01
        Member
        Since: Jun 2009

        Yay for PS3 love! :)

        Thanks for the confirmation Peter.

        Comment posted on 24/04/2013 at 17:04.
  7. blackredyellow
    Member
    Since: Mar 2009

    And it’s FREEEEEE!!!!

    Comment posted on 24/04/2013 at 16:29.
  8. DividSmythe
    Member
    Since: May 2012

    I’ve gotta say I’m very surprised how good this game is. Absolutely loving it.

    Comment posted on 24/04/2013 at 17:39.
  9. shahid
    Member
    Since: Apr 2013

    Thanks for such a positive article. We’ll all keep working very hard to continue to work with brilliant partners like Mike and Curve Studios to bring great games to PlayStation. You’re also highly perceptive to get what Thomas is. It is a symbol. Thanks again!

    Comment posted on 24/04/2013 at 20:30.
  10. threelions_66
    Member
    Since: Feb 2011

    Enjoying Thomas so far, only had a quick go last night before Guacamelee took o er though. Played the PS3 version but I imagine it would bd better suited to Vita so will give that a bash later today

    Comment posted on 25/04/2013 at 06:49.

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