The eighth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2016.


There’s nothing inherently wrong with frustration because without it most games would be just “press button to finish level” or “press button to JASON”. We’re exchanging money for frustration. It’s the bedrock of games since the era of Space Invaders.

There are, however, levels of frustration. Over in the hardcore corner, there are those games which expect you to fail again and again, so that eventually either your brain squeezes itself out of your nose trying to escape the relentless torture or you become victorious and transcend to the Godhead. You know what I’m talking about. Super Hexagon. Dark Souls. Positioning pictures in Microsoft Word.

Binaries (Ant Workshop, 2016) reached out and touched that part of my spirit I thought dead after I gathered all the VVVVVV trinkets. It is the result of a scientific experiment in which the brains of 57 hardcore gamers were boiled down into a residue of pure frustration which was then daubed onto a screen with just a hint of blue and orange colouring.

I took one look at Binaries and thought, fuck me, I am not playing that.

You have to get the orange ball to the orange exit and the blue ball to the blue exit. The only problem – and by problem I mean the frustration you are willingly paying for – is that you are controlling both balls at the same time. And at the same time I mean, you move left, both balls move left. You say jump and both balls say “How high?”

But guess what. It was early morning and the Binaries hot seat in the Rock Paper Shotgun room was empty. More gamer bias? Who knows. I guess I’ll sit down here, I thought, pass some time. I’m not going to like this game, after all. I am past this kind of VVVVVV shit, I’m done with Veni Vidi Vici.

Five minutes later, they have to drag me screaming from the controller. I KNOW I CAN DO THIS ONE. JUST ONE MORE GO.

What I saw of Binaries was beautifully tuned: the visuals are crisp to the point of brutal; death-to-restart is fast; each level is the exact translation of a developer’s manic cackle into game structure; the sarcasm that accompanies each level is just about right.

It also does not necessarily require an enormous chain of moves to be recorded in muscle memory. Ant Workshop went to great pains to tell everyone that developer Tony Gowland created this game because he was no good at stuff like Super Meat Boy or n++. He wanted to make a game like them that he could actually beat. In practice, this means a single level of Binaries is an archipelago of challenge islands, between which you steel yourself for the next one, rather than a continuous button tap dance from entry to exit.

Oh but you will also panic.

Binaries is available for purchase for PC right now, Xbox and PS will follow later in the year.

Interested in the other games I dabbled with? Check out the series index!

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4 thoughts on “Dabbling with… Binaries

  1. The visual design is so deliciously crisp and clear, too. All the cruft is shoved to one side so you can focus on those simultaneous patterns of movement which you need to understand and exploit.

    Even in just a short 5 minute play session I began to get a sense of how the game’s own rules could be selectively broken in order to throw new challenges (and solutions!) at the player.

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