Notes on Alphaland

Let me begin by saying that I’m extremely pleased with the positive response to Alphaland. As Verena can confirm, I’m always terribly nervous when a new game of mine is released, and this time was no exception. After the disappointment of You Shall Know The Truth, it’s encouraging to know that my games can still find an audience.

I have various things to say and link to, so here we go:

  • Alphaland was featured on
  • And of course reviewed by Jay is Games.
  • I must also mention the Gnome’s Lair review.
  • This parody made me laugh.
  • Another thing that really made me happy was Anna Anthropy writing about Alphaland. There’s certainly an element of REDDER in Alphaland.
  • For all those who have asked: yes, one of the game’s main inspirations are the secret worlds of Metroid, or more specifically of Metroid II.
  • I was also inspired by an early test for Nexus City that Terry showed me, in which the NPCs all wondered about what was going to happen to them when the actual game showed up.
  • Finally, Alphaland was also influenced by the games of Gregory Weir. I wanted to try telling a story with fewer textual elements, and Gregory’s games do that pretty admirably.
  • While I’m not really bothered by the negative reviews – not when so many people are really getting the game – I must admit that I do find some of them to be very strange. There’s this enormous hatred that people have for “art games” (a notion I don’t subscribe to in the first place), which makes them assume that all the content in the game is intentionally vague/cryptic pseudo-philosophical nonsense and that the plot is impossible to understand. But Alphaland is actually really straightforward. It’s possible to draw all sorts of parallels, of course (a number of people seem to be reading the game in religious terms, which is fine), but the main plot is really simple, and all the text is exactly what it claims to be. It doesn’t take that much interpretation, really.
  • There’s no significance to the backwards-spoken text. I just listened to that song and thought “yep, this is how it should sound.” It just felt right.
  • I cannot explain the ducks.


  1. Happy days, then! Mind you, some people -some socially and/or biologically idiotic people- will always shout against anything even slightly different and hate everything remotely intelligent. After the third round they will of course be reformed πŸ™‚

  2. Yeah, that art game thing is pretty strange. I always say it’s just like saying art poem.

    Some people seem to make a separate category for some games that try to be deeper. (Thought-provoking maybe? I don’t know if deep is the word, my English vocabulary’s pretty limited.)
    The main feeling’s that there are many pretentious game designers who believe they’re smarter than others, and make games for a limited smart-ass tiny pretentious elite of gamers. When in fact, many games in this category (I’m thinking (IFILW)TMOC right now) are targeted to a much wider audience, mainly because they can be played by non-gamers.

  3. James Patton

    I agree about the “art games” thing, although I think there may be some confusion among other people as to what a game is. I recently had a comments-exchange with somebody (here: who said:

    “a game has to be fun first or else it’s kind of missed the point.”

    To which I replied:

    But what if a game designer wanted to make a game which dealt with the slave trade, or the first world war, or some other terrible and saddening piece of human history? The focus of the game would have to be on the sense of place and the horrible acts being committed and what this all said about human beings; the aim would have to be to make it moving rather than to make it fun”.

    His response was:

    “I think if the game-designer’s primary goal is to address some serious subject matter and not making a fun game, then I think he or she is not making a game. Instead, I think what he or she is making is actually closer to educational software.” He then went on to say that, in his view, what I was describing was not a game, but “software art”.

    Up until this point I’d never considered the idea that a “video game” must be “game-like”, ie. like a game or toy. I’d used the term “video game” as a sort of short-hand for “interactive multimedia experience”. So I wonder whether some of the people who criticised Alphaland did so because they were expecting a fun, immediately engaging combat/puzzle experience and were simply not prepared for the ambient, explorative work that they got because their expectations were askew, not because Alphaland was inaccurately marketed (if that’s the term), but simply because it was a “game”?

    @David, you’re absolutely right, the word “deep” often means more intellectually stimulating and thought-provoking.

  4. True, making fun a decisive category is like doing so with good. Weather you find a game fun or boring, good or bad, you can’t exclude it from the kind of experience it is. There are bad games and boring games (and boy Alphaland‘s not one of them), but there’s a reason why we call them bad games.
    Software art‘s just silly. That’s like taking all non-action movies and call them Audiovisual experience art and get mad at anyone who calls them movies. It just helps mystifying this kind of games.
    Shitty fucking art game is a strange case in this discussion.

  5. James Patton

    I completely agree: good games like Braid or Alphaland are not good because we’re pretentious and like to make FPSs look stupid; they’re good because they have depth. Shakespeare’s plays aren’t good because people decided they were good, they’re good because they evoke certain emotions in people, whether those people are modern academics or Renaissance audiences.

    I’m a little worried that some people might be overly hostile to games like Alphaland (which could be called “art games”, though that’s a needlessly divisive term) because they feel that such games somehow ruin the medium by making it less “fun” (read: “action or reflex oriented”). On the other hand, I suppose such people are unlikely to play deep games anyway, so maybe it’s not really an issue.

  6. I just assumed the ducks had been placeholders the developer had put in before a reasonable object was thought up, and that’s exactly what it seems to be. Meta πŸ˜›

  7. Finally got around to playing. Loved it. Simple, elegant, atmospheric. Love how open it is to interpretation.

    Also, ducks, yeah. Not sure they need an explanation – given some of your other games (thinking Desert Bridge here), they make perfect sense..

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