By: Brandon McCartin (BMcC)

On: May 18th, 2009

Play FATHOM here, online, for free (whoa)

FATHOM, the latest collaboration of Adam “Atomic” Saltsman and Danny “B” Baranowsky, is your standard 2D action-platformer… or is it? The game throws some fun surprises your way, which I don’t want to spoil here, and is definite food for thought. I give it 33 thumbs up!

Like their hit Gravity Hook, FATHOM uses Adam’s Flixel framework for Flash-based 2D games to great effect. (The entire game took about 10 days to make.) Which is cool, because Flixel should see a public release “in a few weeks.” (!) There’s also a bunch of procedural trickery going on in the background which the player may not notice, but I think is worth mentioning in case Adam wants to talk about it more in the forum thread.

  • Eric Mill

    This is really great stuff. I played through twice, the second time trying to collect every fish — but of course, there’s even one fish you just can’t get to (he’s too far into the wall).

    Loved the atmosphere, the difficult controls, the inconveniences, the music…and, after coming to terms with it, the ending.

    I’d love the underwater MP3.

  • DeathOfRats

    Great gameplay, great graphics. Design needs work. If you wanted to go for that style of story, you make the first part something really fun that the player wants to get back into the meat of, rather than make that part the shortest part of the game.

    Also the seed/tree doesn’t make any sense in relation to the rest of the game..was that intentional?

  • Valkyrie

    I’m with Paul Jeffries on this one, but mostly about how you tried to pull your message off. As it is, the majority of what you are trying to get through is forgotten when you throw the player into the water. I’d almost forgotten I’d ‘died’ in the first place, which made the ending all the more “WTF?!” Maybe by placing a bigger emphasis on how the player dies, instead having it as some passing occurrence, you could alleviate that problem and make that message clearer. I think you tried to remind us of what happened when you reiterated the beginning level, but perhaps that wasn’t enough. I’d suggest throwing in some rusted up enemies, broken bolts or something to further refresh us of what we did there.

    Other than that, I thought it was quite well done, especially the music. Kudos.

  • Mike


    I got a chill when I recognized those platforms from the original level. I’ll admit I wasn’t quite sure what you were going for there, but it had an effect.

  • :-/


  • gsoto

    Quite a thought-provoking game.
    I played it two times earlier today and I’m still undecided on what to interpret from it. I’m a little puzzled mainly about the CPU ‘seed’ object and the tree.

    It was pretty frustrating the first play. Then I came here and found about the fish mechanics. The idea that the fish indicated the way actually came to my mind the first time but I couldn’t discern it even observing them. Second play went smooth.

    People seem to be looking for some profound discourse here but that might not be the case. I think it’s because the game is a little frustrating. My take is that it wasn’t mean to be, it was meant to be peaceful and atmospheric, and maybe it got a little too frustrating.

    At the moment my interpretation is that it is an introspective exploration on something very familiar to everyone in games, but most always overlooked: death.
    The guy is a robot whose brain is not water proof. Eventually it falls into the water and we get to experience what happens inside its mind that last instant of its life. The tree might represent the definite end of its brain (CPU). The final stage could be the quick journey through its memories before reaching the white light.


    OK, other than that, I think it’s an interesting play on the preconceptions we all have about games.

    Trying new things it’s always a good thing in my book. Even if the game is not loved by many it is certainly provoking reactions :)

  • raigan

    “I got a chill when I recognized those platforms from the original level. I’ll admit I wasn’t quite sure what you were going for there, but it had an effect.”

    Wait, really?! The second underwater part is the same as the pre-water part??

    Maybe my monitor gamma is fucked — for me the second underwater part was completely pitch black, which meant that I basically just scraped back and forth until I found an opening..

  • louis

    I just went back a third time to check out the reprise of the “first” level in the end. Interesting… I really would like to beat the boss (if it is indeed possible), but I don’t think I could in a million years. And I guess that’s part of the point?

  • Anonymous

    Someone on Metafilter ascertained for certain that the boss is unkillable.

  • undertech

    Sweet mother of pearl

  • http://www.adamatomic.com/ Adam Atomic

    Uploading some small revisions to correct collision problems that SHOULD help with some “you can sneak out of the entire game” type issues, and some “if this doesn’t work you can’t finish the game and it’s really unfair and mean to ship with a bug like that” problems :)

  • http://www.datarealms.com Data

    It amuses me to no end that I came across as a defender of art games! I’ve actually not been a fan of the category, to the point of getting upset about the fruitier instances. BUT, if this is an art game, then I am now a fan.

    I can’t acknowledge the “straw man” retorts either. I was writing specifically about the people who commented/complained earlier in the thread about not being able to see when it got dark (again, try the other of the TWO possible buttons yet?)

    In general though, the fact that we’re all so worked up about this is a hugely positive sign that Adam is really onto something with this game/tech demo. “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” I submit that the ‘haters’ here are just frustrated because they actually like what they see on some level, but got hung up on missing the more subtle game design clues, mechanics, and messages.

    I disgusted me that Adam even felt compelled to apologize for what he’s accomplished here in TEN DAYS. Take it for what it is – an amazing tech demo with many twists and actual powerful gaming experiences distilled into its short, tiny, brilliant scope.

    I still haven’t slept, btw!

    ~ D

  • aubilenon

    Found this from Metafilter. I enjoyed the aesthetics, but a lot of the impact was lost on me – the first thing I did was wonder “Oh I wonder if falling off the bottom kills you” and jumped in the first pit deliberately*. It seemed so natural to land in water, I was really confused by the ending until I read all these comments and discussion.

    * Maybe I played too much Abe’s Oddysee, 12 years ago.

  • http://b-mcc.com// BMcC

    I love you, Dan. :)

  • xerus

    Dan, go to sleep. Your laser eyes need to recharge.

  • Flamebait


    “I was writing specifically about the people who commented/complained earlier in the thread about not being able to see when it got dark (again, try the other of the TWO possible buttons yet?)”

    Well, I wouldn’t have wasted time responding then! Sorry about my last comment, but it *did* seem like you were swinging your guns around, firing at anyone in range.

  • Bruno

    I want to see full game based of first part – it has really great presentation: graphics, music, controls (only maybe variable jump height should be added).
    Also, if you want to do “art game”, then at least make it playable like Don’t Turn Back.

  • Dustin

    I don’t hate the game, I hate the players. It’s small, free and I’m sure Adam’s a nice guy. Art is, of course, more than heavy-handed metaphors so I think the game almost works better as a satire of gaming than anything meaningful. It’s like if someone remade Duck Hunt, but this time you get to shoot the dog. Yes, this is a video game infused with reality and death, but it’s more funny than it is thoughtful.

  • whiskey

    Paul Eres “i got past the boss, then the space level, then the secret boss, but can’t figure out how to kill it with my bolt-gun (those things you collect do come in useful! wish i had collected more!)”

    Try hitting him on his head when he is turning around.

  • Skofo

    When I saw the screenshot of this game and the fact that it is in Flash, I was ready to write it off as a cheap Cave Story ripoff.

    Instead, it turned out to be one of the best games I have ever played. Made me look differently at games and at life.

    I commend the author of this.

  • Skofo

    I think I may have found a glitch, though. The dark vines don’t seem to grow when you throw the CPU into the dirt sometimes.

  • http://www.adamatomic.com/ Adam Atomic

    dammmmit I’ve tried like 4 fixes for that and I still have no idea what’s causing it :( I’ll definitely keep tracking it…

  • maxer

    ok, i’ve played through the game about 4 times, and nothing popped out at me, so i’m just gonna ask: what is the trick? can you avoid going to the water area? unless the comments about a space area and a different gun are meant to mislead people like me, heh….

    i just hate feeling like i’m missing half the game, you know? if there really is nothing else, i’ll be a bit annoyed.

  • DStopian

    Interesting, the game literally pulls the floor out from underneath you. I can see why it has got many negative comments, as it makes you expect one thing then delivers another, but the game play and graphics are tight, the music is good, and it dared to be different.

  • Consarnit

    Maxer: Have you collected *all* the nuts (hint hint) and thus rebuilt the jetpack? If so, then you can just tap jump to stay aloft while you kill the snake. (Obviously, it’s the jetpack you use in the space level.)

    If you’ve been dying at the boss, I assume you’ve found the second broken jetpack under water (you use it to smash the ground so the vine can grow out and release the gate), which should give you a sense of how to find the first one.

    Hint: it takes 77 nuts.

  • RichardJ

    Spoilers, I guess

    I only just (third playthrough) noticed the ‘water -> death’ markings on the CPU at the title screen. I enjoyed the game, once I figured out what was going on (2nd playthrough).

  • PinWizz

    Note that on the loading screen (green CPU) it has pictogram
    so it explains it’s main intenton.
    I think there is no way to beat the boss and Edmund must be joking or is Adam himself.
    Large water level must mean large life in it’s randomness. But what means the tree and why it opens gates to memory of the last seconds still needs good explanation.

  • PinWizz

    (oops, when I clicked ‘submit’, count was at 123 comments)

  • Dusty Spur

    Okay, I didn’t read all the comments, but damn people. There are TWO buttons, you couldn’t figure out how to turn on the flashlight?

    In any case, I didn’t like it, by virtue of it was not what I was expecting. I realized as soon as the boss fight started I couldn’t win and something was going to happen, but I thought it’d be something less tedious.

    It’s definitely just an Owl Creek Bridge thing, which is pretty played-out and wasn’t a very good concept to begin with, or at least I don’t think so.

    The music and graphics were beautiful though.

  • anothergol

    “Try hitting him on his head when he is turning around.”

    I tried that, but whenever you hit his head, some kind of lure (that looks like a flower) appears, and I lose 5 fishes that follow it.

    Considering that you need at least 25 (or is it 20?) fishes to open the gate to avoid the first & second attacks of the boss, you’re quickly stuck.

    Btw: once you’ve beaten the second extra boss that looks like a duck, don’t go immediately to the right, go back to the left and the room will be filled with nuts. So you can buy anything you want in the armory (before the eggplant boss).

  • Paul Eres

    it’s more than “an Owl Creek Bridge thing”. the game shows that there are two kinds of people: people who enjoyed the first part more, and people who enjoyed the second part more. or at least that there are two parts of ourselves, one of which enjoys fast twitchy action with collecting things and exploding enemies, and the other which enjoy slow atmospheric areas where you watch fish swim around and wonder where you’re swimming to in the darkness

  • PinWizz

    Also note that FATHOM can be read like FATUM. And reading “Bridge” gives to game more sense.
    Still I don’t know what the tree symbolizing.

  • maxer

    Consarnit: whut? i’m still so lost… the only items i ever saw were the 33 nuts in the first area and the green seed underwater. both pits seemed to lead to the same place, too. what path did i miss? or are you messing with me/us? :<

  • http://www.adamatomic.com/ Adam Atomic

    you are being messed with, friend :(

  • BrainGoblin

    This game LOOKS fantastic and for the first part, I liked the combat, but I knew something was off when nothing was actually attacking me.

    The music was good, but a little grainy in its quality.

    The controls, super simple. I’ll agree that the patricle effect with the gun to push you around was cool, but the controls were a little weird there. But I got through it.

    Overall, a nice little game, but nothing to write home about. I actually went and played gravity hook afterwards, played it longer than i did fathom.

  • anothergol

    >>you are being messed with, friend :(

    you have the power to tweak the game so that we’re not lying anymore :)

  • RayRayTea

    Very very nice, but I found it too literal and disrespectful towards my super limited free time. Not sure I appreciated the way Cave Story was referenced either.

  • Jamal


    But even more questions. I didn’t read the CPU on the title screen to be “water = death”. I think it means, when you enter the water, don’t go RIGHT, or it will lead to your death.

    If instead you go LEFT and continue on that way, you will find the CPU, but it will be in a different location this time around.

    Still no idea what the tree symbolizes, or if it can be utilized.

    And I never found the 33rd fish.

    Still asking myself, is there a chance of survival? Or am I still in the denial stage? XD

    Anyhow, loving this game! Thanks Adam!

  • Jamal

    Just played the game again, collected 10 or 15 fish, and found the CPU in another new location.

    Now I’m thoroughly confused! o_O

  • Oddwalz

    This took some reflection, and I admit I didn’t figure it out the first time, and needed a bit of help.

    For a game with not very much to do, there’s a lot going on here, and I’m reminded of Rohrer’s work quite a bit.

    Thanks for the great experience Adam & Danny!

  • Larry Martin

    Seeking professional advice? Trust Triad Realty LLC, your reliable real estate consultant in Santa Fe. We deliver tailored solutions, ensuring your property decisions are well-informed and wise.