From the moment it begins, There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension refuses to play nicely. Where most mainstream experiences try to ingratiate themselves with tutorials or friendly nuggets of advice, There Is No Game actively works against the player: it opens with little more than a static title screen and a disembodied voice that implores you to turn your computer off and do something else. The more you click around, tinkering with the letters that make up the title screen, the more frustrated the voice becomes – until, gradually, There Is No Game opens out into a clever and unexpectedly heartfelt meditation on the games industry, the medium’s conventions, and the nature of creativity. There are nods to everything from bat-and-ball games to point-and-click adventures to Zelda-like action adventures to money-grabbing mobile apps. It’s a funny, weird and, ultimately, deeply personal game for French developer Pascal Cammisotto and his indie studio, Draw Me A Pixel.
When it emerged in August 2020, Wrong Dimension marked the end of a creative process that began at a game jam way back in 2015, where Cammisotto’s winning entry, simply titled There Is No Game, unexpectedly went viral thanks to the attention of some high-profile YouTubers. That success led Cammisotto to launch a Kickstarter campaign for an expanded version of his oddball puzzler; when that attempt failed, he choked back his disappointment, sought alternative funding, and put his experiences as an indie developer into the game itself.
“Surviving as an independent game developer is, each year, more and more complicated,” Cammisotto tells us. “But after the unexpected success of the jam game, creating a commercial version of this concept was an opportunity for me to keep my creative independence while perhaps finally being able to make a living from it. But before that, I needed some seed money. So I did this Kickstarter campaign, which unfortunately failed. Despite the hundreds of emails we sent to all the international press and influencers who had tested the jam version, nothing. No news. No one was informed. So I had to finance the project with my own funds without paying myself for several years. That’s why I decided to integrate the crowdfunding campaign failure in the game story. Let’s be 100% meta!”
Cammisotto’s original game jam entry was a ten-minute point-and-click experience; his first challenge, then, was to figure out how to expand his short, snappy concept into something longer and more in-depth. “I started to think about how to make a game that lasts several hours on a concept that ends in ten minutes, all the while surprising the player every time,” he tells us. “The concept of the dimensional journey then quickly seemed to me to be the solution – travelling in different video game dimensions, constantly changing the theme, the point of view, and the atmosphere. But there had to be a common link through this journey, so I wrote the foundations for the story; a story that would give an unexpected meaning to the title, ‘There is no game’, once the game was finished.”
There Is No Game is one of those titles that is best left unspoiled, since its element of surprise is what makes it so unique. It’s perhaps sufficient to say that its puzzles take the player in all kinds of unexpected directions – and it’s the game’s mix of genres, Cammisotto points out, that made development more complex. “Everything in the game takes a lot of time because there’s almost no reuse [of assets] from one chapter to another,” he says. “Even when it comes to programming, each chapter is unique. It feels like you’ve made six different games. That’s one of the reasons why it took so long to make.”
Although Cammisotto had some help during development – pixel artist Nico Nowak worked on one particularly gorgeous section of the game – There Is No Game was still largely a solo project. This meant that, as well as writing and designing the game, he also provided its gruff, distinctly Gallic voiceover. “That’s probably where I had the most nervous breakdowns,” Cammisotto admits, “because it was all homemade – [there was] no budget to do it in the studio. Between my pronunciation problems, the noise of cars passing in the street, and a change of microphone, I had to record the entire narrator’s dialogue three times!”
Despite – or even because of – all these challenges, There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension has emerged as one of the most unique and refreshing experiences of 2020. It feels of a piece with the boundary-pushing games developers like Mel Croucher were producing in the 1980s, yet perfectly attuned to the creative risks indie devs face in the 21st century. It’s also possible to imagine another game of its type, which gently probes at the conventions of other game genres – so is that something Cammisotto’s considered? “Now that the story is over, I don’t see any reason to travel again in new parodied video game worlds,” he says. “Right now, there’s no sequel planned. But maybe, in the future, a new idea will sprout in my mind and the user will get stuck in a non-violent DOOM-like, or on a battle royale island with no players. Who knows?”
As mentioned, There Is No Game originated at a game jam – specifically, Deception Jam, held by Newgrounds in 2015. The prize? A shiny Xbox One. “As its name suggests, the theme was ‘deception’,” Cammisotto tells us. “In French, [the word ‘deception’] means ‘disappointment’. But the real meaning in English is a ‘fraud’, a ‘lie’. So I quickly had to come up with a new idea, and I started from a question: ‘What is the biggest lie a game can tell us?’ Well, that there is simply no game. So I started with that title idea, ‘There Is No Game’, and then iterated my gameplay and story from there.” The resulting game was placed first, and Cammisotto walked away with that shiny console.