Live Free, Play Hard: The Week In Free Indie Games

By RPS on August 12th, 2012 at 1:39 pm.

Where does free beer bear originate from? Anyone?

Presenting the first of a new weekly series, in which Porpentine of the excellent Free Indie Games takes us through some of the most splendid, er, free indie games released/discovered over the last few days. You may notice this column is in need of an appropriate title image, a la Bargain Bucket and Sunday Papers – if you fancy creating one, in exchange for IMMORTAL GLORY, please email a 600x250pixel JPG here and we’ll see what we can do.

Now, what have you got for us this week, Porpentine?

Unleashing rat chaos. Inventing more powerful letters. Shrieking at paddles. A homicidal planet trapped in Space Prison. How poetry can help you navigate ruins.

Rat Chaos

Rat Chaos is the funniest Twine game I’ve ever played, and the most human. Rat Chaos is about games and real life because they’re the exact same thing. Chastain’s voice for making manic mockery of old games is pitch perfect. And hearing how the voice cracks is when it goes from good to brilliant.

“Well, you found some good planets today, chicken dinner waiting back in your Quarters.” Finding planets. Or WHATEVER we do in space.

Rat Chaos is the game melting to become real life. Throwing up hands and saying, there’s a human being making this game. There always was. There was never any separation.

I see backlash against all these little indie games. How dare a game last 5 minutes, 30 seconds, a couple clicks. Mainstream game culture can be obsessed with endlessness: the treadmill, the New Game+, the level cap, the unlockable-upgradeable-medal-star-rating reiteration. Reset your game to play through the exact same game again but this time with a little tag that says you’ve reset your game. Movies and albums are an experience of hours, but for a game to last 60+ hours is a fact that gets trumpeted from the rooftops. Games as total retreat from the world, as oblivion.

We have all these guns, they say excitedly. They count precisely how many levels, power-ups, items, and enemies are in the game, like they’re selling us something as exacting as kilos of cocaine or ammunition to fund a war effort. The qualitative nature of those things is never mentioned.

Short isn’t a crime. Short fits a game into life’s cadence. A kiss is short. Ice cream melts.

PLAY RAT CHAOS

Mercury

Mercury is a roguelike where the high scorers of each cycle design an addition to the game–monster, class, or item. The play lends itself to this model–fast, arcade-like, limited turns per floor replenished by killing enemies and reaching the next. The style is illuminated roguelike, ornate symbols battling on a vellum arena.

When I logged in a week ago, there was one class, one enemy, and two items. I logged in this week and there was a Squire, Hashashin, and Bleedzerker to pick from. Coming at me from either direction was a Janissary and a Karkas. On the next floor was a snake and a Snog. Snogs are horrible, don’t ever mess with them.

Balance is obviously a concern, but fuck balance, interesting and new is worth the experiment. I hear the range of victors is being raised from 2 to 5 next cycle, which could open things up nicely or just turn on the faucet marked Chaos full blast. The gameplay itself can be haphazard and I’m not always sure how meaningful my decisions are in this environment, but I’m interested in seeing where this ends up.

Audio Pong

Audio Pong was my favorite entry in Experimental Gameplay Project’s Audio Input comp. High and low notes correspond intuitively to the paddle being high or low. The best part of every game that came out of that competition is that you end up making ridiculous sounds into your microphone of escalating desperation or gutturality depending on whether the game in question is demanding a high or a low note to postpone your inevitable murder. Growling and shrieking to make a dragon spit fire or a glass pane shatter before the lava catches you.

The controls become the focus of the experience, a way to coax absurdity out of ourselves. More designers need to take brutal advantage of the fact that we interface so readily, so wantonly, with whatever a game demands of us.

Planet Floop

Planet Floop is in Space Prison, so naturally you have to knock it into an escape vortex using a limited supply of repulsor and attractor beams. Space Floop takes the sterile shape we’re so accustomed to punting around in puzzle games and puts little people on the surface. Watch in dread as the planet spins slowly, unpredictably across your poorly placed beams. If a citizen hits a surface, they’re smushed. Losing depends on whether Australia or Greenland is hitting the edge of the screen. Australia’s been wiped out, but Greenland still has a chance. One tenacious sucker hanging on there. Then the planet smacks into the wall with a bloody spurt.

Most of my attempts ended in Pyrrhic victory, a single citizen clinging to my battered planet. I felt bad in a way no time limit or moves-used scoring could have instilled in me. How fun to make the object living. Imagine a puzzle game where you badger a piece of breathing meat around a level, your clumsy play causing bruises, infection. Cronenberg’s Marble Madness.

In Ruins

[N.B. this was created by Tom Betts, who regular readers may know works with our own Jim Rossignol at Big Robot. No-one at RPS has anything to do with Porpentine's selections for this column, however - Conflict Of Interest Ed]

In Ruins has you wandering through an island out of a romantic painting. Extinguish the beams of light scattered throughout to make words by Lucretius appear on screen. I went and looked up “On the Nature of Things” to try and understand better. Turns out some OLD GUY wrote it in the BEFORETIMES. The piece itself is dense as a whole but the excerpts are perfect, suggesting ruins, primordial creation, immensity. The centerpiece of the map is a high tower lit by a radiant flame. Leaping into the fire completes the map. But at first we are too weak to reach it. Becoming stronger in these ruins is poetic and complimentary–the more beautiful words you read the higher you can jump.

So I searched for the beams of light. Along the way I found haunting spaces that could have been drained canals or flooded streets. Wandered down a lonely alley, weed-grown and water-logged. Imagined the history of this place that never was. Day faded and shadows overtook me. Clouds like pink milk swirling through water.

Spoilers follow.

I covered the whole island. One pillar of light remained high above my head on a massive edifice, four lofty stone walls topped with a mysterious garden. I tried finding high ground to leap from. I circled those sea-lapped walls one, two, three times. Was this the lesson I was intended to learn? Unattainable beauty? Stuck to the earth like a crawling, horrid thing as the “ethereal fire of those limpid regions” (to reference Baudelaire’s Élévation) taunted me? I went back to the central tower and, gathering all my strength, leapt up and into the light. I was reborn near the same edifice I had sought so long to conquer. I watched the land sink into the sea, the bones of this ancient city swallowed up by the waves. But before they sank I leapt onto the plummeting, hitherto unattainable garden and snatched the words from the light. I forget what they were. I think they were from the same pool as all the other words. But getting them was sweet. And then I was alone on a tiny patch of dirt in the vastness of a great ocean.

Completing that cycle unlocks parameter control for generating new maps. This excited me because I’ve always longed for a ruin simulator, a game that generates cities with the same fervor as Minecraft generates biomes. Alien architecture, sprawling networks of beams and rafters, rooms for giants, claustrophobic hallways that get narrower and narrower, houses inside houses inside houses, mutated merging structures of disparate styles–I want to see architecture as processed by a machine, our history of design and space filtered through a random generator. This island alone gave me many fragile moments crafted from the myriad intersections of water, foliage, horizon, light, shadow, and stone.

I found In Ruins to be almost unbearably beautiful at times. I want more.

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46 Comments »

  1. wisnoskij says:

    Do we really have to link to the spartan http://www.freeindiegam.es/ articles.
    Yes, it is a great site. And you might as well include one link to it at the top or bottom of the article, but it is just an inconvenience to the reader to have to click through it to get to the game and RPS is far too successful of a site to do that.

    • Alec Meer says:

      We’ll have to finetune as we go along – it’s complicated as some links go directly to dropbox etc accounts, which could get messy. Meantime, having to do one extra click to get to the game really doesn’t seem that galling to me.

    • Porpentine says:

      The reason for linking to figames is that it collects all the downloads for the game in one place, along with relevant notes like controls for games that didn’t come with any.

  2. Hodge says:

    It’s worth pointing out that In Ruins was made by Tom Betts, the programmer who works with Jim on the Big Robot stuff – maybe the article should include a declaration of interest, lest people accuse RPS of giving free coverage to their mates?

    (To be clear, I’m not suggesting this has happened – it sounds like Porpentine is unaware of the connection.)

    EDIT: And for what it’s worth, I vote that the free beer bear image stays.

    • Crainey says:

      I like the free beer image also, it’s very RPS.

      • Jason Moyer says:

        Another vote for the free beer bear. Also, I feel like I should know what that’s from and I can’t pin it down.

        • Lacero says:

          I like it, but seeing a bear with hind legs on RPS is surely heretical.

          • LionsPhil says:

            Presumably Horace has to have minions, and they can’t all share his unique condition.

          • noom says:

            I’m not convinced by your reasoning Phil. I think if I were infinite, I would just be my own minions.

    • felisc says:

      oh that’s why i knew the name, thanks for pointing out.
      the game looks lovely.

    • DeVadder says:

      Nevertheless, the ruins it generates are insane.
      Many a RPG i have played would have ended with better maps if they had used this to generate them procedurally. Maybe adding some cleaning (stairs apparently end in walls sometimes).

  3. D3xter says:

    If this is a series trying to remind people why they should pay money for their games, it certainly worked for me xD

    By the way, there’s this Megazell guy that has compiled a list of ~4000 free legal PC games of all sorts of genres over here: http://www.cheapassgamer.com/forums/showthread.php?t=244468

  4. Crainey says:

    Though I myself lack the ability to pull it off I envision the title image to be a guy browsing on a CRT with “Free to Play Games” visible on screen, then behind him in the foreground there is a trash can overflowing with free games. Sums up my free to play browsing experience.

  5. RobF says:

    Really happy to see this here and some ace choices.

    Nice one!

  6. Aaax says:

    Dear RPS,

    Recently I was thinking what a pity is that PC gamer stopped doing their free-games series and wished someone else picked it up. Suddenly it appeared here. Would you be so kind and consider stopping reading my mind.

    Sincerely,
    me

  7. JackShandy says:

    Rat chaos! What a game.

  8. dE says:

    I don’t know, I’m always wondering whether commercial indies look at freeware games with an intent to kill, rage, murder and destroy. After all, arguing fair price points becomes that much harder with some folks doing incredibly great, if not far better games for free, while being subject to similar terms.

    • RobF says:

      In certain quarters, yeah, they do. I’ve read loads of comments in the past (mainly on one specific board, to be fair) from people who see free games as automatically shit, wastes of time or things that should be burned. And pulling the “hobbyists not professionals like us” cards out from their deck.

      They’re just being pricks though. Fuck those guys. Their loss :)

      • Ritashi says:

        I think that the idea is less that they think free games are bad games, but rather that they feel that they are actually sometimes good and that by giving good games away for free the developers are harming people who rely on the profits from their game to avoid starving. The argument is basically that free games harm competition; the devs of free games are “selling” their game at way below production cost and subsidizing it with money earned from other sources. This has the potential effect of causing any competition which can’t afford to just give away their products to be forced out of the market, which would mean that only people who don’t need to make any money from indie games could produce them. Obviously this hasn’t happened, and it won’t to that extreme, but there’s a reason why in America at least free trade laws prohibit retail chains from pricing merchandise below the cost to obtain it except during sales. As an aspiring developer, I can definitely see the frustration of seeing someone else make a game that requires the same amount of resources as yours to make, but they’re giving it away for free. How do you compete with that? The answer of course is that you make a better game, which does work in this industry. However, it is worth noting that quite often the things that could make a game better require more resources to realize, particularly time. A flash of inspiration can help, but flashes of inspiration aren’t everyday occurrences; often they stem from time spent working on a project, only to realize that it would be twice as good if you scratched a month of work and did it differently.

        • RobF says:

          To be honest, if someone is afraid of hobbyists cutting into their market, they should probably just stop making games and go and shoot themselves or something.

          • Rikard Peterson says:

            No, they shouldn’t. That’s not funny.

          • RobF says:

            Obviously I’m being flippant about them shooting themselves. If I redact it to “stub their toes really hard so that it really hurts” would that be a bit better?

            But more serious, less flippancy.

            It’s an incredibly poisonous attitude to hold as far as I’m concerned. The idea that free culture is damaging and can and must be seen as a threat is horrific. That someone could be sitting there looking at stuff people do for fun, for the giggles, for the love of it and then just throwing it out there because they can, and that someone sees this as something that they need to compete with?

            That it’s something that’s seen as reducing value or reducing anything in a market just by existing and being good? That the concerns of those who choose to make money for their work should be placed above those who choose not to or choose to gain compensation for their work in some other way?

            No way, that’s nasty. So ok, maybe not shoot themselves but definitely walk into a wall a few times or something until they knock some sense back into themselves.

          • LionsPhil says:

            More directly, “free stuff hurts me” translates as “I cannot justify the increase in price for my goods over the baseline with an increase in quality”. It is a classic cry for cheating the playing field in your favour because you cannot compete on your own merits.

            They should get out of professional game development not because they are bad people, but because they are apparently not good enough at it to do it for a living.

  9. Jesse L says:

    This is great! Thanks RPS, I really wanted to have something like this from you.

  10. golem09 says:

    Before I saw that you are lookin for a new titel image, my thought was that nothing could possible beat the one you currently have.

  11. Inigo says:

    Rat Chaos reminds me of Crime Zone only I have to squint more.

    • The Random One says:

      The screenshot looks more like Drill Killer, which is by the same guy…

      YOU ARE ALL OF THE COPS.

  12. LTK says:

    I tried tineye, and it only gives me two results of the same image in color, posted on a couple of blogs, one of which is hungarian. No clue.

  13. CrookedLittleVein says:

    I floop the pig.

  14. Niteowl says:

    Excellent article, excellent writing, particularly loved the bit about Rat Chaos, and In Ruins looks incredible.

  15. Dances to Podcasts says:

    There’s something strange about free games. I know there’s a lot of good ones out there, but I never go through the trouble of finding them, let alone installing and playing them. On the other hand, if they were paid for and on an easy everything in one place one-click service like Steam, I’d probably pay money for them.
    In other words, they might be free, but they do have a cost. Just a convenience cost instead of a money cost. And that might be a much heavier cost for some.

    • J_Chastain says:

      Assuming absolute equivalence between all indie freeware and commercial products, which there isn’t.

      What I would actually caution you against (not that you specifically voiced this in your post) is attaching to Steam or similar platforms as a means of plugging into a curated canon of “what counts,” the value of all works validated by the experience of passing once more through the e-shop GUI, the ritual of the purchase. In this is an echo of the paper slips on the Toys R Us software wall, the game shop’s shelf of boxes and jewel cases and DVDs, the posters and standees and in-store video loops on kiosks. These are familiar trappings of 20th century media consumption, signs that once welcomed you into physical spaces designed to reinforce a sense of cultural participation, a sense of importance. In order to explore the possibilities the Internet presents, it is necessary to confront unease at departing from lifelong patterns of behavior and dissect what, exactly, the pleasure of being marketed to is and the extent of its presence within your life.

      See Mother 3, No Country For Old Men, and Repo Man for popular depictions of currency forced into the hands of innocents.

      “They give you a thousand dollars a week. And they keep on giving you a thousand dollars a week until that’s what you need to live on. And then every day you live after that, you’re afraid they’ll take it away from you. It’s all very scientific. It’s based on the psychological fact that a man is a grubbing, hungry little sleaze….In twenty-four hours you can develop a taste for [DONKEY KONG COUNTRY PROMOTIONAL VHS.] In forty-eight hours [PROMOTIONAL VHS WITH PRE-RENDERED CG BOXART] are no longer a luxury, they’re a necessity.” – Rod Serling’s “Velvet Alley,” modified with permission from J Chastain

      In other words: there are experiences to encounter that haven’t been and never will be vetted by Valve.

  16. Jackablade says:

    I think I’ve forgotten how to read.

  17. hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

    I will throw my badly-photoshopped hat into the ring: http://postimage.org/image/anzdvc8qd/

  18. MajorManiac says:

    I really like Ruins. I got a strange Morrowind vibe off it. Would love to see Big Robot one day make a huge, procedurally generated, open-world RPG like Morrowind.

    Tom Betts is either a genuis or extremely hard working. Probably both.

  19. Darkmatter says:

    Free beer bear comes from here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamm's_Beer_bear

  20. beema says:

    One thing online flash games are desperately lacking is a volume fader. How hard is that to implement? It really needs to happen.

  21. Daza says:

    Why don’t some members of RPS team make little five minute games of their own using Twine that was used to make Rat Chaos? Perhaps the readers can suggest a plot line as a story challenge?