Brandon Boyer

22 Replies

Like a number of the “less said, the better” indie games in recent months (see also: Gravity Bone, etc.), the best thing Adam ‘Atomic‘ Saltsman’s just-released web game Fathom has going for it is the one secret that it would be a letdown to reveal before you’d even had a chance to play.

Suffice it to say: there’s considerable serenity packed deep within its outwardly militant core (a core guarded by, as you’ll see, this decade’s best flower-pot-security-bots), and a disquieting ending that its creator assures me shouldn’t sink my heart as much as it does.

If Saltsman’s name rings a bell it’s because — along with collaborators Infinite Ammo and Flashbang — he had a hand in designing recent Blurst release Paper Moon, as well as physics grappler Gravity Hook, the recently mentioned Dr. Dobbs promotional game, and the iPhone’s original word game best-seller Wurdle.

Saltsman’s pixels are effortlessly charming, his underlying concept — once you “get it” — is genuinely quite brilliant (here’s a hint, if you find yourself a little lost in the dark: the things around you? They’re trying to tell you something), and the game’s chiptune-prog score by Danny ‘dB Soundworks‘ Baranowsky (previously featured for his work on Flashbang’s Blush) works perfectly in concert with the rest to make a fantastic, thoughtful short-story of a game.

As a bonus, Saltsman and dB have given Offworld an exclusive track from Fathom‘s soundtrack, “Boss of Doooooom”, which you’ll recognize from the struggle pictured above. Stream it below, or download directly here.

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Fathom [Adam Atomic, dB Soundworks]


  1. Felix Mitchell

    The ending could have made more sense. I like how it screws with your expectations, but there’s a reason designers don’t normally go that route. Here there seemed to be actually no difference (for the player character) in me finishing the game or just giving up.


    First play through: I fell down the hole the first time and was like “How do I get back up?” so I swam around in the dark marveling at the neat code they were using to generate darkness and the fishies…

    After a while, it started to get old, then I picked up a doodad. I was like “Neato. But what does it do?” I tried hitting other buttons to see if anything would happen and nothing did, so I swam around collecting fishes since I couldn’t discern myself an exit after swimming over practically ever inch of the underwater catacombs.

    Anyhoo, accidentally swam close to the soil after fish expedition and insto-presto, thorn tree. Swam about some more a bit confused, finally found my exit. Swim through more darkness, enter a large vertical underwater shaft.

    So I swim up… and die for some reason. I couldn’t help but think “Man, that was stupid… I likely missed something for screwing up the first jump.”

    Second attempt: Make the jump and run into our weird drill boss (See above). Within seconds I can see where this is going due to my lack of solid footing and ridiculously paltry damage output… it was obvious I wasn’t meant to win this… kind of off-putting.

    Fall to my doom, land in the catacombs again. Swim, seed thing, thorn-tree, shaft. Swam around in the shaft, found that the door in was now closed. So I swam around and fiddled around with the bright light, making it turn on and off, seeing if I could coax something different to happen the last time I was in there.

    Nothing seemed to be any different, so I swam to my death. Credit roll. Generally annoyed feelings.

    Third attempt: Downloaded an “autofire” program to help increase paltry damage output. Ran straight to the boss fight and unloaded into him. After bringing him down to zero health, his bar started to scale in the other direction. After discovering that there was no provision in the code to compensate if the player actually “won” I closed the window and posted this highly detailed insight into my experiences with the game.

    Summary: For an artsy piece, it didn’t really strike up in me enough emotion. On the other hand, the art, mood and presentation is oh-so delicious.

    Beautifully done and a neat concept, though I’m too much of a scrooge to be dazzled by unorthodox gameplay design decisions. I was secretly hoping for the next Gravity Hook.

  3. I’m with Krackatoa I’m afraid. The gameplay twist was certainly surprising but ultimately boring and frustrating.

    The game gives absolutely no indication of what your goal is and leaves you wandering around blindly until something happens. Couldn’t they at least have had the torch facing forwards so I didn’t have to keep spinning around to try and get my bearings?


    I think the secret is that once you fell into the water (either in the first pit, or the boss room) you were already dead, and all the stuff under the water is either in your head or it’s a brief purgatory. Hence the end video of the player character falling down into the water, dead. And hence the growing white light that ends the game.

  5. Yeah this seemed like a game that was trying too hard to be artsy. Most everything in it was arbitrary.

  6. I don’t know- it makes a lot of sense to me… How often do we play these games where the main character is this like rampaging kill-machine? I am not generally the artsy type- but this one was more of a ah-ha moment than anything else?

    We play as this rampaging killer- gunning down really adorable sprinklers and jumping flower pot things and then can’t kill our boss. Normally, we would just start over- but what actually would happen to the main character if it didn’t? Where would he go?

    I think the point is more, what would happen if the main character had wanted something more?

    I don’t know- there are some problems with the underwater portion, like I don’t really get the tree part. After a couple of tries the green seed thing made more sense (looks like it is the robots control system from the main title screen)… and then the last level before he goes white he plays through his last memory of sorts and swims through the first level.

    I can honestly say that I would love to have played the game of the first level for an entire long satisfying experience- but I think I get what the creator was going after and left it so unexplicit that we are able to define our own meaning from it.

    And here’s the thing- I played this yesterday- and I woke up this morning still considering what the hell he was going for. So I think that is a win for him…

    Also- wow to the procedurally generated (in flash no less!) underwater part. It is the only was I can figure out the track paths change. and that tree thing… very cool.

  7. I think this little piece was fantastic, personally. I assumed that, after the boss, the underwater bit was a clever way of getting you to respawn – maybe you had to swim back to the top or something.

    Then, I finished it.

    It’s like an 8-bit version of Stay.

  8. I also fell down the hole on my first go, ‘cleared’ the underwater section. Restarted, got to the boss, fell down, yaddayaddayadda…

    Am getting a little tired of these wilfully vague indie games. Tempted to gesture wildly at TVTropes’ “True Art Is Incomprehensible” entry.

    Silly thing is, the absence of any exposition ultimately did force me to conjure my own ‘narrative’ – a simple “robot on a mission reaches unkillable boss, but in the deeps beneath the enemy base, discovers a nuclear bomb… thing, sets it, escapes, is caught in the blast and is destroyed but took out the base and boss anyway so WOOHOO noble sacrifice + victory”

    I basically resent having to have conjured any such thing.

  9. I appreciated the game, Brandon, thanks for posting to it.
    I did go into it expecting the game to have more to it, like a normal arcade game, but think of how many games there are like that. And then think of how many games let you drift around underwater as contemplatively as this one did.
    That said, the underwater tree-thing was probably trying too hard. If I was the designer, I would’ve added some clues about what the ending meant rather than just stick a tree in there. Too vague, like somebody said.
    Overall though, I enjoyed it.

  10. @Alowishius: Glad to know I’m not the only one who noticed the Cave Story similarities.

    Of course, it probably was intentional, since as pointed out by Offworld, Adam Atomic is involved in the WiiWare port of Cave Story.

  11. yeah, i saw it as an interesting adaptation of the themes in the short story “an occurrence at owl creek bridge,” or the ending of the movie brazil; what really struck me and drove the point home was that i was able to have some element of control over everything, though in the end, it was just a pipe-dream, which really made it resonate with me.

  12. Loved the game, short as it was. Very poignant and thoughtful, and so many of the small touched really caught my eye – such as the final “level” being a repeat of the first, almost as if you’re reliving your final mistake as you ascend…

    I’m amazed at how many people fumbled in the darkness, I thought the purpose of the fish was immediately clear.

  13. ***SPOILER ALERT***
    I liked it. Well put together. At first I didn’t like the unconcluded feeling at the end, but then it grew on me.

    I also thought the fish were the perfect touch. Just difficult enough to be satisfying to figure out, but not so difficult that I simply stopped playing.

    Good game, think I’m going to check out their other projects.

  14. The Cave Story reference seemed pretty obvious to me, at least after seeing the tiles in the underwater section. Then again, I have an unhealthy obsession with that game.

    It seems like a pretty cleverly presented CS fanfic, actually, giving the backstory of one of those anonymous robots whose bodies you find littering the the ground in the Core fight.

    Unfortunately, there’s no clue that the underwater portion is anything more than a little exploration fish sim. I’m still at a loss as to how to get the full “going into the light” ending.

  15. Felix Mitchell

    Yeah the fish were neat. I don’t know if I would have worked it out without Brandon’s hint though.

  16. (spoilers)
    @Anonymous Once you’re underwater, make the tree grow by following those rays of light into the soil stuff. Then a little passage will open up in the bottom left of the underwater cavern (the fish will point you in its direction.) Go down that, then through some passages in the dark, then you’ll get to the “go into the light” ending.

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