By: fuzz

On: February 2nd, 2010

<img src=“” width=“400” height=“400” hspace= "50"alt=“Strangers” />

Strangers, by Jan Willem Nijman (a.k.a. Jwaap or JW) and Jonathan Barbosa Dijkstra, is a short platformer set in a traditional sci-fi world. Jan Willem excels graphically here, as always, but what really makes this worth the download is the story, which has an interesting twist that you may or may not see coming. Gameplay-wise, it’s fairly standard platforming fare with movement that feels great, due in part to its FPS style controls. The jagged edges and interweaving colors of the art resemble a bizarre watercolour, and this effect is enhanced by the unintentionally blurry fullscreen mode. Each setpiece and character is made up of a number of large boxes, which creates a fascinating visual effect that plays on our tendency to gravitate to geometric shapes. There’s no music in-game, but according to the topic in which it was announced, this song is intended to be listened to during play, which is quite suitable to the overall style of Strangers. In the game, the unnamed main character is accompanied by his dog, Columbus, and he encounters quite a few slimy, one-eyed monsters in his exploration of a rather small alien planet. To say more would give away the best part, but once you’re done playing, hit the jump for my thoughts on it.

Again, you can download Strangers here.

Strangers is one of a rare few games that implement moral choices in a meaningful way. Sure, you have games ranging from Fable to Infamous touting their merits as a representation of life and the difficult decisions that must be made in it, but nothing I’ve heard of so far has ever gone beyond bland and obvious story-based choices. Jwaap has mentioned several times how game designers should not be playing games, and this exemplifies that notion: because he tries to approach his games from an outsider perspective, he’s able to criticize their established tropes, and in the end create a more gameplay-based storytelling formula.

I saw the twist coming from the beginning. When I realized that the aliens weren’t shooting at me, I tried walking through them, expecting them to hurt me. They didn’t, which is when I realized that while I was playing the game, the reverse was also true. The “kill or be killed” motif present in so many games is here removed, but since it’s packaged in all the trappings of a traditional 2D platformer, there’s no expectation or curiosity on the player’s part that this might not be the case. At first, I thought it a fault that only one ending is present, no matter whether you shoot the alien’s children or not, but it appears that his reaction can act literally as well as euphemistically; perhaps his children are playing hide-and-seek when you choose not to brutally murder them. This versatility of meaning works towards the game’s advantage in that it allows Strangers to act as vignette rather than anything more. Jan Willem has made several “art games” before this one, but this seems to be one of his first non-parody ones, and it’s all the more effective for it.

Here’s JW’s initial mockup for the game, if you’re into that sort of thing; also check out his article on proper violence in games.


  • Idiot

    Dear Author,
    I, an anonymous fool, commend you for posting an article on the “”, the website that at least 14 people enjoy visiting and deriding. Here’s to expression (padding is the ugly word, here), ‘weasel words’, and the much lauded passive voice.

  • Jamal

    The criticisms are mostly valid, but I can’t help but feel some of you guys are overbearing.

    I mean, if you’re going to criticize Alex, that’s fine, but please don’t forget about tact, restraint and wisdom. Harsh criticism can be really discouraging to an up-and-coming writer, and let’s admit it: nobody in this forum is exactly Ogden Nash either.

    Lord knows, I didn’t write that well when I was thirteen years old!

    Also, I have been following Derek Yu’s website and tigsource since the early days, and I feel blessed to have seen him grow and mature into a terrific writer.

    But, let’s nurture that kind of development. No sense beating it into the ground.

  • Jamal

    Furthermore, don’t blame Alex for spoiling the game for you. Any sensible person who viewed the screenshot, and read the first sentence of the review describing it as a “short platformer” had all the information they needed.

    (Seriously, I believe some folks here are gluttons for punishment.)

  • casshern

    I agree. Maybe it’s not fair to blame Alex. But TIGSource has seriously been lacking in quality lately.

    It also doesn’t help much that posts like these also hit a sore spot with people who are tired of everything being treated like an “artgame,” or like everything is supposed to have a deeper meaning. Which if you check the forums, you’d see it’s a sentiment that people are extremely sick of.

  • casshern

    Not that I’m trying to discredit this game. It does an amazing job of challenging the players expectations. But this article kinda missed the point and went on to tread on the tired old “games as art” territory, a topic most people are rather sick of.

  • raiden

    hmm yeah when I was reading this article I thought “oh geeze not another game trying to start the old games as art debate again.” i get sick of people feeling the need to “legitimize” games as art, or seperate the two things like they aren’t art. the article kinda depicted it as yet another stereotypical artgame.

    but then I played the game and it was tiny little GM experiment with a funny little unexpected twist at the end. Huh…

  • raiden

    hmm yeah when I was reading this article I thought “oh geeze not another game trying to start the old games as art debate again.” i get sick of people feeling the need to “legitimize” games as art, like people have some kinda inferiority complex. the article kinda depicted it as yet another stereotypical artgame.

    but then I played the game and it was tiny little GM experiment with a funny little unexpected twist at the end. Huh… didn’t expect that. But yeah, this article is kinda baffling.

  • KC

    *Yawns.* Gonna disregard the article itself for a second; everyone else has said all that needs to be said. I glanced at the game, and said to myself, “there was a twist promised, and an art-game type is drooling over it, so I already know what the twist is. The aliens will be harmless, or, at worst, defending themselves from Evil Human Incursion. I’m suppose to feel bad if I butcher the lot of them.” (And, because I’m contrarian S.O.B. I proceeded to fill them with lead anyways.) Thankfully, Strangers is not pretentious, or moralizing, as I feared it would be. It’s a cute, effective little game. But it isn’t particularly impressive; the incoming twist was painfully obvious to anyone who’s hung around pretentious indie types too long.

  • joe perry

    waiting! up and down the boulevard!

  • Radix

    @paul eres:

    Naw man everyone besides you gets money.

  • Burnside

    Why do “moral choices” need to have different outcomes/consequences to be “good moral choices”? I *felt bad* about having killed those aliens, bad enough that I played the game a second time right away to rectify my mistake. Sure, I was disappointed that there wasn’t a different dialogue branch or what-have-you, but here’s a minute-long game that made me feel bad about a choice I had made in it. I don’t play many games that make me feel bad, let alone ones that do it in a minute. That’s more moral than just about any other game I’ve played, in my book.

  • MarkTrinos

    I didn’t enjoy playing this “game” at all! :-(

  • Jamal

    Bless your hearts whoever felt bad having blasted the aliens.

    My own reaction was one of hilarity. It’s all in the details. A complex control scheme: WASD + both mouse buttons… the mother alien escorting you back to your ship… the mention of “my other children are probably playing hide n seek”…

    The game plays out like a Sunday comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes perhaps. I really don’t think the author was trying to hurt anyone’s feelings.

  • Juhkystar

    I personally enjoy hearing about new experimental stuff like Gnilley, but this is a really short platformer that hasn’t done anything new. And as much as I’m fascinated with JW’s games, I believe I’ve seen the same concept in a few other games as well so please don’t go making a biger deal of it than it is.


  • fuzz

    @ daigo: actually i write essays all the time, and have done for several years

    @ everyone else: yes, i know i’m a terrible person who should never have written an article for tigs in the first place. no reason to call me on something i already know. :)

    -juhkystar- good points

  • nikki

    ahh come on guys. Its just electronic content. You need some words to fill up a site. Otherwise youall wouldn’t come over here no more.

  • Jamal


    big YAWN to the “video games have to be absolutely groundbreaking to impress me” attitude.

    I and many others have never played another game like this.

    I mean, would you walk out of Forrest Gump and say, “I don’t know what you all are gushing about! It’s just a remake of Being There starring Peter Sellers!”

  • Jamal

    Good one joe perry :) It took me a minute..

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