ImmorTall – or why I love Flash games

I rarely blog about Flash games I’ve played. Very rarely in fact. I don’t really see the point, as there are a hundred other blogs out there willing to tell you their thoughts on what’s “hot and new” in the gaming world. Often full of useless suggestions about how the game could be “improved”. I’d rather you just play the games for yourself, use your own sense of judgement.

Then I come across a game like ImmorTall. And I feel it warrants 30 seconds of your life to play it, and a few minutes of mine to write about it. Because it’s different. It dares to break a few conventions, to tell a story, to draw you into something you probably aren’t used to. To make you think.

And I like that. I like that a lot. I like that Flash game developers have the balls to do this. To push boundaries, to redefine the very concept of “game”. There are no rules but their own.

Then I read the comments from the knuckleheads on Armor. And I close my eyes, and a part of me inside breaks. Crushed by the realisation that there can be so many idiots on our tiny little planet.

Posted on February 19th 2010 at 3:04 am by .
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  • February 19th 2010 at 3:20 am

    Er … really? If this is what passes for poignant storytelling in the game industry, we’re in trouble. It’s neither a fresh, interesting or original story, nor is it a fun or exciting game.

    If you want to hear that same tale told with actual emotional impact by true storytellers in a linear format, rent Iron Giant.

    If you want a better escort game that’s more fun and exciting with a better mechanic, there are tons of them out there. Try the Peter Puppy level of Earthworm Jim.

    In all, this is a poor man’s Out of This World. Play Out of This World if you want the whole package – a fantastic game with a similar story told much more skillfully.

    – Ryan

  • February 19th 2010 at 3:43 am

    I wouldn’t call it much of a game either. There’s not much of a gameplay except for walking left or right. I’d maybe call these types ‘Art Games’. There’s not much gameplay but the creator tries to tell a story, usually a rather serious minded one that makes you think about life and stuff. There are a couple of that which are quite interesting, ‘Passage’ being my fav so far because it evolves in a very interesting way (http://hcsoftware.sourceforge.net/passage/index.html).

    About the stupid comments: Welcome to the Internet! Few people feel of having the obligation to behave. Not a good place to express your feelings unless you have a thick skin. But if only five people express gratitude compared to the hundreds who piss on your work, then that’s already a reward!

  • February 19th 2010 at 11:58 am

    Both of your comments sum-up what the problem is when people label something a “game”. There are instant expectations as to what it should contain. Certain mechanics, certain nods to gaming history, comparisons with previous titles, in order to reach some kind of invisible “benchmark”. I disagree that these things are important.

    By pigeon-holing every game that comes along we delay the evolution of our field. The longer you spend trying to pattern match everything you play, the worse it gets. ImmorTall isn’t an “art game”. It’s just as much a game as Tetris is.

  • February 19th 2010 at 1:13 pm

    I really hate the set “templates” which Flash games seem to have gathered, it’s almost like a tick list which as a developer you must adhere to or be panned for it ( Mute button, quality setting ( Argh! ) etc. ).
    Don’t get me wrong, games have always had staples that are a short hand for gamers ( Shooting a baddie that takes more than one shot ? Flash it white for a frame or two ), but with Flash games it feels as soon as one really popular game introduces a feature it then has to become standard or in some way you’re short changing the player.

    This in many ways makes experimental gameplay a lot harder to get out there, few developers have the courage of their convictions to do exactly what the hell they want without succumbing to these set in stone templates.

    In saying that, I think ImmorTall as a game isn’t all that. There, I’ve said it :) It is a game, it has risk and reward with a definite goal to achieve along with user interaction. That’s a game. The actual game play mechanic is pretty weak, it’s got less to it than say Pac Man.
    For me gameplay should still be fun if you just use blocks of colour to represent the sprites. Would this be fun without the beauty ? Without the emotional involvement it provides ? Is it just a story that you can interact with, or a game with a strong story ?

    As an experiment it’s a bold one, a stunning piece of interactive art, and the Flash scene is all the more richer for it being out there. As an example of emotive story telling it’s just superb and in an ideal world this level of getting the players buy-in to a situation will join the mute buttons of this world.

    At the end of the day, despite it’s real lack of gameplay depth ( Maybe in-spite of it ? ) it’s an enjoyable experience, and that’s all a game ever needs to be.

  • February 19th 2010 at 1:49 pm

    Have to agree with Squize on the Flash set templates! I usually start to roll my eyes if somebody starts with “Flash games…”. Why can’t it just be called a ‘game’? If a game is written in C++ do I have to call it a C++ Game? Flash (and ActionScript) is just a goddamn technology. It shouldn’t stipulate in which way a game works or looks. I want to be able to write a game with Flash without anyone calling it a Flash game! ‘Flash game’, that sounds like cheap vector graphics and a tiny window on a webpage surrounded by annoying advertisements. Not exactly my dream of making games!

  • February 20th 2010 at 6:23 pm

    It was beautiful, well done with the art style and music. I would call it an art game as well, but it was a fun short experience.

  • February 20th 2010 at 8:39 pm

    A question to ask yourself is: Does it matter if it’s a game? Why or why not?

    Also, Ryan, I’m flattered to be compared to Brad Bird (whom I consider to be one of the most talented directors on the planet). I would not ever expect to come out favourably in a comparison of that level. I’ve never watched the Iron Giant. Similarities are unintentional, my apologies if it feels too derivative.

  • February 20th 2010 at 9:08 pm

    Evan – nice try. i wasn’t comparing you to Brad Bird. i was pointing out that the story you’re telling is similar to a story best told by Brad Bird and Steven Spielberg – a stranger/alien/robot comes to town and is initially hated and feared, but it befriends an innocent (usually a child) and proves them all wrong by heroically sacrificing itself.

    So yes, it DOES matter if it’s a game. Because if it’s not a game, it’s a movie. Or at best, it’s a story where you advance the telling by mashing the arrow keys or clicking on hotspots. And if it’s a story or a movie, then you’re going to be compared to all the stories or movies that exist out there. And if you do that, something like ImorTall falls flat on its face.

    i grow quickly tired of emo art “games” that name their main character “Iniquity” and wordlessly pantomime some trite passion play, usually with oversimplified, iconic visuals. See Every Day the Same Dream, The Graveyard, and Passage, to name a few.

    In fact, skip Passage and play this. It sums things up nicely:

    http://www.kongregate.com/games/raitendo/passage-in-10-seconds

    Evan – i shout the following to the WORLD, not just to you: Are you making a game, or are you making a movie? If it’s a movie, you’ve got stiff competition, so you’d ratchet it up a few notches. If it’s a game, same deal – make a better game. If it’s an *interactive experience*, spare me your Evanesence soundtrack and exploration of your dark soul, emo kid.

    – Ryan

  • February 20th 2010 at 9:15 pm

    Ryan,

    Your argument is that:
    a) It matters if it’s a game or not because if it’s not a game it’s a movie.
    b) It doesn’t matter if it’s a game or a movie because it should be better.

    So you’re telling me it matters, and then telling me it doesn’t matter. Which is it?

  • February 20th 2010 at 9:30 pm

    If you’re calling ImorTall a movie, then it’s not a very terrific movie. If you’re calling it a game, then it’s not an especially decent game. Somewhere in between “game” and “movie” is this “interactive experience” space, where i feel developers are unduly praised for depicting extremely simple, distilled vignettes.

    Rohrer was worshipped for Passage because – why, exactly? Because his two characters die as they get older, just like people do in real life, so that makes me think of real life, and i become sad that my wife and i will some day die? Is that it? And we’re lauding him for that?

    In The Graveyard, an old lady spends half an hour wobbling past tombstones. Then she wobbles back out. “Game” over. Was THAT a profound experience? Because i thought about death? And maybe i contemplated my own mortality? So … that’s it?

    In ImorTall, an alien befriends some people, and then dies protecting them because not all people are nice. So i’m supposed to … er … reflect on the fact that some people in this world aren’t nice? That they will shoot aliens because they don’t understand them? Seriously, who among us DIDN’T write this same story in the second grade?

    These aren’t profound interactive experiences. They have all the emotional and artistic import of fortune cookies.

    – Ryan

  • February 21st 2010 at 1:59 am

    And Mona Lisa is what, some lady with a weird smile? What’s that supposed to make me think of, that some women have weird smiles?

  • February 21st 2010 at 2:01 am

    Seriously, who among us DIDN’T write ladies with weird smiles in the second grade?

  • February 21st 2010 at 2:01 am

    *didn’t DRAW

  • February 21st 2010 at 4:06 am

    Do you like the Mona Lisa, Marcus? Would you revere it if no one ever told you it was a masterpiece? i’m not sure that *i* would.

    Art is opinion. Art is debate. So be it resolved that “art” games, the likes ot The Graveyard, Passage, and ImorTall, are not especially good art, for the reasons i have already laid out.

  • February 21st 2010 at 4:59 am

    Sorry, I thought it was obvious the point wasn’t whether the Mona Lisa is a masterpiece or not, but that it’s easy to simplify and reduce stuff to one-liners and use it to dismiss them as “nothing but…”. What’s the saying, the painting is more than the sum of the individual strokes?

  • February 21st 2010 at 5:24 am

    Oy. i have nothing better to do all day than to argue about this.

    You’re implying that there are depths to ImmorTall that i’m not getting, then? That it’s an incredibly LAYERED experience and i’m just not grasping the full spectrum of profound insight it affords? Let’s dissect it, then.

    First, the title and ending do not make sense. ImmorTall is presumably a modified spelling of “Immortal” with the word “tall” emphasized because – why? Because the alien is tall, i suppose.

    “Immortal” is a big, profound word that conjures up thoughts and questions about life, death and afterlife … IF you’re so simply put together that a 2-minute Flash animation provokes that in you. i myself am not prone to deep reflective navel-gazing every time i’m reminded that i am going to die some day. If you’re so sensitive to that fact, stop wasting your time playing art games and go do something interesting with your life. i’d be afraid of my own death too if i were you.

    i don’t know if there are other endings to the game than the one i experienced, but eventually the mortar shells and bullets killed all of the family members, and the alien died. The last message in the game said something about the alien living on immortally, a callback to the game’s title. And that’s deep, i guess. Somehow profound. Because he used that word “immortal”. Immortal is a deep word. You get instant depth with that. And you get more points for not having any written language in your game, and even more points for using silhouetted or starkly-contrasted graphics, and a few more points for a piano soundtrack. It’s like art game bingo over here.

    But riddle me this: how is the alien immortal? It just died. Is it immortal because it will live on in the hearts and minds of the family it protected? Nope – cuz they’re dead too. Will it live on in infamy in the minds of the soldiers who killed it? Doubtful. In what way is the alien immortal at the end of the game?

    i argue that it ISN’T, because the designer just wanted to use the word IMMORTAL because it’s cool and deep and profound. Piano music, high contrast, la la la – check them off a list. And then a slew of half-wits comes along for whom the pinnacle of provocative storytelling was the sequel to Transformers, and they hold the piece up on a pedestal. Did you read all of the pages in Braid with awe and wonderment as well? Cuz they were shit, too.

    F*cksakes, people – READ A BOOK. The games medium will get to where you want it to be, but we can’t go ringing the “games are art” bell every time someone throws around a 2-dollar word like “immortal”.

    – Ryan

  • February 21st 2010 at 6:03 am

    What you’ve laid out, Ryan, is that you have a problem with other people who praise things you don’t like.

    I’m not sure at what point ‘liking things’ became socially unacceptable, or if this has simply always been the case. Nothing seems to offend people more than other people liking things. It’s an interesting phenomenon and one I don’t fully understand the motivations behind. Is it jealously? Insecurity? Egoism? Sadism? A misguided sense of justice? Do you feel righteous, Ryan? Do you feel like you’re making a difference? Do you feel you’re contributing to the world by telling other people not to like things?

    Ryan, you’re a generic sheep and you’ve posted everything I wanted you to post. You’ve responded exactly the way I predicted you would, before I even started coding the game. I designed ImmorTall to mean many things to many people, knowing that most all of them lacked the perspective to understand the feelings of the others. This is not a simple anti-war game. This is not a Passage knockoff. It means many things; things I have kept under wraps. Things I did not make obvious. Things that extend beyond the SWF file.

    I told people the purpose of this game was to “make people feel”. I lied.

    You posting here? Intentional. Planned. I manipulated you, Ryan. I treated you like a puppet. I wanted people like you to dance for me and here you are, dancing. Not only that, but you’re enjoying the dance. I provided you entertainment you didn’t even realise I was orchestrating.

    Think about it: You come here again and again to debate something you don’t even like, to no gain whatsoever. You respond pretty freaking fast too. Who are you doing this for? What are you trying to achieve? Nothing and nothing. You’re just putting on a dance. My dance. ImmorTall told you to dance and you fucking did it.

    I pissed you off, I gave you a purpose, and now I’m shutting you down.

    You won’t like this post. You won’t agree with me. You’ll sit there and tell yourself that I’m just covering up my tracks, making all this up on the spot to sound important. Maybe you’ll blow me off by calling me a pretentious jerk. Maybe you’ll claim I don’t make any sense. Most likely you’ll say that this is all so simple, nothing special at all. “He’s not clever, he’s just doing the obvious” you’ll yell. Oh, also “it has nothing to do with the game”. I recommend that last one. Got some weight to it.

    That’s all fine. This is no attempt to persuade you. Why would I persuade a puppet? This is your punishment for being a douchebag who couldn’t sit back and let other people enjoy something they found profound and meaningful.

    We’re not in grade 2 anymore. ImmorTall isn’t the Iron Giant and I’m nothing like Rohrer.

    You got played.

    Game over.

    —————————

    (and for everyone who enjoyed the game, rest assured I wasn’t playing you. At least, not in any bad ways. Responses are predictable across the board but I’m genuinely glad the game is meaningful to people. I want people to like things. To feel emotions. The more things you enjoy, the happier you’ll be. That what I believe, at least. Also, I really really enjoyed writing this post :)

  • February 21st 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Wow. That’s what i call an “enough rope” post.

  • February 22nd 2010 at 4:24 am

    Wow, to tell the truth, I never expect Evan Miller would get pissed off by Ryan’s post, especially some f* words and name calling. Be cool.

    I personally like ImmorTall deep in heart, it’s simple, beautiful and sad. The story might be naive, but most great fairy tales are naive too. As long as someone can see the beauty inside, who care.

    I do respect people who don’t like ImmorTall, like Ryan, and I happen to agree most of Ryan’s argument with most so call “art games”. But nothing is wrong to experiment something different, and I think that’s the point of Rich’s post in first place.

    And as most of us are developing games (I assumed that’s why we visiting Rich’s blog), why letting someone else to tell you what’s a game or not, why drawing boundary between game/interactive art/movie/novel so clearly in your mind?

    I don’t think Evan has ever claim ImmorTall is a art game or even game. Quite oppositely, he told us he don’t care, and it doesn’t matter. So why do we care about whether it’s a game or short interactive animation while the author is simply playing with his creative. I like apple, even someone told me it’s not Fruit but Vegetable.

    Btw, I’ll still like it if someone told me it’s done by some kid done it in the second grade.

  • February 22nd 2010 at 7:25 pm

    It’s arguing on the internet, if you don’t lay on the theatrics, it’s no fun and you don’t get anywhere. :) Pissed off? No, it’s pity. Pity people like him can’t enjoy life more. Pity he’ll probably never be able to admit that to himself. I’m sympathetic. It’s more tragic than the alien dying. This is where the depth of the game is.

    It’s got nothing to do with ‘Ryan’. Ryan is a generic stand-in for many people who think like this. People who want to hate things, choose to hate things, and want you to share their hatred. If you don’t hate the same things they hate, you’re an idiot.

    Contrast this to someone who enjoys something and wants others to share in their enjoyment. Which person do you respect more?

    Here are some things to note about what I have not done:
    -I have not said if this is a game or not.
    -I have not said you need to like it.
    -I have not said there is anything wrong with not liking it.
    -I have not said what the story is.
    -I have not said what the story means.

    What I have said is that if someone “[has] nothing better to do all day” than to actively spread hatred then they are a douchebag and they lost the game. The people who found meaning and enjoyed themselves? They won.

    Does it really deserve the term douchebag? Yes, here’s why: If someone lost a loved one in Iraq last week, would you go up to them and tell them that a game about self-sacrifice to protect others is meaningless? No. Even Ryan wouldn’t do that. But he’ll say it on the internet because he wanted to think he was clever. Thus, douchebag.

    Anyways, this should all be pretty clear now. I’ll leave everyone to figure out how and if they think this is worth carrying on. My email is easy to find, if you want further clarification on anything.

  • Sam McFadden
    February 24th 2010 at 9:59 am

    Thanks for showing me this Rich. What a charming and beautifully crafted game.

  • unregistered
    February 26th 2010 at 4:12 pm

    “i don’t know if there are other endings to the game than the one i experienced, but eventually the mortar shells and bullets killed all of the family members, and the alien died.”

    How did you manage to kill all the family members when you clearly didn’t try it? ^^ No wonder you didn’t like the game(!)ish thing in the first place. No-one to mourn you after your tall body toppled.

    I tried it twice, on the first time I saved all of them (and the ending was a bit predictable. Not really a complaint though), on the second I actively let them die and then tried to get as far as possible. (<– Which means this was a game for me, as I was trying to game it…) However, didn't manage to get another ending. Kongregate implies that there is another, a sadist ending, but that could be a sham. I'd like to know if there's one. (I guess you could just save the girl and die afterwards, but somehow that doesn't sound like a new ending either…)

    I enjoyed it. Could have been even more emotional if the persons the immorTall was helping would have tried to protect or heal or talk to him/her/it a bit.

  • mtarzaim
    March 9th 2010 at 2:37 pm

    Obviously, Ryan has missed the the main meaning (or should I say two ? ) of ImmorTall.

    First, ImmorTall is about choices.
    Will you sacrifice others to protect yourself ? (use the humans as shields and get away from lines of fire)
    Will you sacrifice yourself to protect others you’ve barely known of ? (use yourself to shelter them until the very end)
    ImmorTall forces you to choose. Not playing this way or that way. No objectives here. No forced behavior into the player.
    You choose. All along. Each time one them fall. Each time one of them mourn. Each time you slow down a little more under the wounds.

    ImmorTall is about an alien falling on earth, getting some friends, then getting caught in one of our useless wars (the sounds are some kind of Picasso’s Guernica rendered in audio, which had a lot in the overall uneasy feeling).

    What will he do ? What will you do ?
    Save yourself or save others ?
    Save only one of them ? Or flee away from them, letting them alone in their savage madness ?

    That’s why ImmorTall is so interesting : it makes you confront your own instinct of survival with your emphaty.
    Your long-earned gamer reflexes (survive at all cost) with the obvious of the situation (did I really win if i’m the last one standing ? )

    Second, about the name “ImmorTall”, as the author said, it implies you are immortal, as long as there is someone to remember you, no matter how short your life was.
    Most games are about self-realisation through building up strength (or mass-murdering, same thing).
    Rare are the ones like ImmorTall, doing the exact opposite.

  • Tyr
    March 14th 2010 at 10:33 pm

    Meh, it was pretty and all that but I just don’t get it. So defend the family as long as possible but its your own body you’re guarding them with so you’re all going down then you’re going to be covered in snow…wheres the nice story there?
    Theres no choice, its just waiting till you die, you can’t defend them when you get slow.

  • Anonymous
    March 17th 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Hi… I am from Italy… I liked that game a lot too.. Because I am wandering about the messagge that can be behind the creation of the game… what’s the point of the game? No one knows… if you want to discuss on it check out my youtube channel or my msn that I’m not giving you in this discussion.

    youtube account th3g1n0 leave a message or a comment. see you later

  • March 19th 2010 at 4:06 pm

    a game is written in C++ do I have to call it a C++ Game? Flash (and ActionScript) is just a goddamn technology. It shouldn’t stipulate in which way a game works or looks. I want to be able to write a game with Flash without anyone calling it a Flash game! ‘Flash game’, that sounds like cheap vector graphics and a tiny window on a webpage surrounded by annoying advertisements. Not exactly my dream of making games!

    Thanks for showing me this Rich. What a charming and beautifully crafted game.

  • Wow
    June 13th 2010 at 2:08 am

    I’m very late to this, but I just have to say I’m totally blown away that Ryan Henson Creighton, with the website his name links to, has the gall to rip on ImmorTall.

    I enjoyed ImorTall; sure it’s not the best game or movie ever, but it isn’t a frogger clone, either.

    Evan, you rocked the house 😉

  • Kitty
    June 18th 2010 at 11:46 pm

    All right. Late perhaps. I don’t care, I felt like typing some shit up so here I am. ImmorTall is a game. No matter what you say, it is a game. You are in control, you have a set goal. Shield family, or save yourself. The main distinction between a game and a movie is that a game is interactive. It doesn’t matter if it’s pressing one button or using the complex array of keys on your keyboard. You press a button it’s no longer a movie, unless it’s the play button on your remote.
    So , I personally enjoyed it. It was a short but thought provoking experience delivered in a simple but pleasant way. By no means the coolest game ever, nor the most well made but ultimately, it is well made.
    Also, all games are art games. Much like every painting is art and every movie is, get a load of this, art.

  • COG
    August 14th 2011 at 3:55 pm

    Good thing they killed it, you don’t know what kind of disease it could carry.

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