By: Derek Yu

On: September 8th, 2008


It’s really late, but I’m comforted by the fact that I will soon be dreaming about Aether, a very personal and revelatory new game by Edmund McMillen. In it, you play a child who explores outer space on the back of a strange beast.

Thematically, Aether touches on both the anxiety and loneliness of being a child, as well as the exhilaration of the freedom of imagination. It’s hard not to compare the game to the classic French children’s book, Le Petit Prince, with which the game shares some fundamental ideas and imagery. I adore that book, and Aether was immediately compelling to me as something similarly honest and fanciful.

I could get way lost in this game if it were a little longer and fleshed out. And the controls, which sometimes felt brilliant, at other times felt unresponsive and awkward. Edmund has stated that this is just the prelude to a larger experience he has planned (yes!). If he can fix up the controls, too, it could be something better than great, for sure.

You can download the standalone executable here, for Mac or PC. And there’s an interesting discussion of the game already going on on the forums here.

  • ChevyRay

    Yeah, I played this last night, and really enjoyed it. Though after I accomplished (?) something on one of the planets, I couldn’t seem to get anywhere else in space: my little arrows disappeared :(

    And that game, combined with a terrible head cold, gave me the CRAZIEST dreams ever.

  • Scott

    Are there any games made as art that aren’t depressing and weird? Nice to know the image people have of it..

  • Quetz

    I don’t really see this game as depressing. I’ll give you weird, and maybe a bit.. I dunno.. spooky? But really not depressing.

  • codekitchen

    I agree with Quetz, though I was a little depressed that none of the characters you meet seem to change their tune at all once you ‘solve’ their planet.

    Overall, I love this game. With some more polish the larger experience Edmund has planned could be amazing. The controls and animations need some work, and are the colors way too washed out for anybody else? I could hardly see the game on my Macbook screen.

  • wormguy

    “Are there any games made as art that aren’t depressing and weird?”

    This made me laugh when I read it, but as I searched for counterexamples, I couldn’t find any.

    Well, as a wise person once said, “True art is angsty.” I think games-as-art is so fledgling that it’s easier to get your point across by being deep and dark.

    But, anyway, I really enjoyed this game and I want to see it fleshed out.

  • Quetz

    The reason most games referred to as art seem depressing, I think, is because they generally take themselves very seriously. They like to explore humanity and make you think about subjects that most cheerfully ignore. Just like much of good art outside of the realm of video games. Besides, what would a ‘happy’ art game encompass? They exist, but we generally don’t think of them as art games. Like Orisinal, or cactus. Personally, I think the games that both of them produce are very artistic because they’re very stylish, unique, and each whole game amounts to its creator’s artistic vision. At the same time, they aren’t overbearingly serious or depressing (for the most part.)

    On a slightly different note, this video is awesome and has a very similar style and theme to Aether. You should check it out. Yes, _you_, Adrian.

  • Shih Tzu

    Rez doesn’t depress me. Rez ennobles me.

    (Then again, I’m the guy who far prefers Rez’s oh-you-came-so-close sad ending to the yay-you-won ending.)

  • virvius

    what about games as games? Art is nice, but try to polish the gameplay first before making any artistic statement. It just defeats the purpose of being a “game” in my opinion.

  • virvius

    and I’m pretty sure it can be both if someone really tried. but why is it that so many of these artistic games are more art than they are gameplay?

  • Austin McGee

    This game looks to have taken quite a cue from Ivar’s Adieu.

    I mean seriously, the circular world, the rope, the clouds…

    The game is very pretty and aesthetic looking, but the idea seems totally ripped off.

  • Bronze Dog

    I was also hoping those depressed critters would feel better after the ‘solutions’. Doesn’t really give a sense of accomplishment, otherwise.

  • Edmund

    Crap! that game does look a lot like aether, i assure you im seeing it for the first time now. but if i was ripping anyone off it was mario galaxy and bionic commando.

    so much for originality.

  • Jay

    nice little game :)

  • Stwelin

    Loved this beautiful game. I’m a sucker for anything with this much atmosphere. It really has a nice sort of charm.

  • permanent

    my standard html links did not work apparently.
    Ivars Adieu –
    Farm Pioneer –

  • On the topic of games as art that offer solid gameplay mechanics, I would recommend PS2’s ICO and Shadow of the Colossus. In my opinion both games managed to balance a fantastics sense of design and artistic merit with super tight gameplay.

  • zenchess

    Played it for about a minute, and when I realized that when I click, the grapple doesnt shoot out, but sometimes randomly comes out later instead, immediately quit

  • D’hartagnan

    Great little game. Downloaded it while in class, was very confused, but once I got home it all made sense and was very unique. However, I have no idea how I solved the water planet – the planet just changed after some random jump. I wish it was longer, but it is kind of satisfying to play through a game in 20 minutes – it’s like a good short story.

  • Quetz

    zenchess: the grappling hook only comes out if you’re actually pointing at something you can grapple to.