Posted on 09.06.10 to Mary A. Zolp by Mary

Jason Rohrer’s “Passage” and “Gravitation”

As awesome as 3D graphics can be, I find it interesting how mood, emotion, and meaning can be provoked through simple 2D pixel graphics. The mere concept that something composed of only 16-bit colors could have me pondering the meaning of life or emotional over the loss of an 8 by 8 character seems a little silly, but it can happen. One artist I’ve found that uses pixel graphics well in his work is Jason Rohrer. I only discovered his games a few months ago, and the first one that I tried was Passage.

Honestly, it’s a pretty straightforward game, and it doesn’t take hours of playing to figure out what’s going on. You play a character moving through a lifespan of five minutes. Only a portion of the game’s area is revealed to you as you explore your surroundings while you visibly age and slowly drift forward across the screen. There’s no actual goal other than accumulating extraneous points (by way of finding small treasure chests throughout the game world or by other means), and even if you manage to receive a high score, there is no way to “win.” Rather, the focus of the game is more on the actual gameplay journey itself. There are no instructions presented at the beginning of the game and it’s up to the player to figure them out for themselves. The graphics aren’t strikingly remarkable, but because of the straightforward concept of the game, a simple graphical style is clear and memorable: perfect for what the creator intended.

Another game by Jason Rohrer, Gravitation, is done in the same basic 2D pixel style. By repeatedly playing a game of catch with a little girl, the player’s jumping distance and screen size gradually increases. When the player starts jumping up into the game map, he can toss down blue stars which shrink the player’s screen size and makes the game world snowy and monochromatic. Only by pushing the stars, now blocks of ice on the bottom level, into a large furnace and replaying the game of catch with the small girl can the player’s world become brighter and larger. Again, throughout the game, points can be accumulated, but the focus of the game is on the gameplay. Like Passage, there are no instructions presented in Gravitation and it’s entirely up to the player to figure them out along with what the artist is trying to convey. Fancy graphics aren’t necessary, but in this game the use of pixels make the world feel a lot more approachable and familiar. However, at the same time, the visual aesthetic feels a little distant and mysterious (maybe even a little unsettling) as the player attempts to unravel the meaning of the game for themselves.

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