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

By Porpentine on September 9th, 2012 at 2:10 pm.

It’s time for Porpentine of Free Indie Games to usher in the indie games we might otherwise have missed. Take it away:

Torn apart by your own heartbeat. You are the armada. Detonation aspirations. Evolutionary platformer. Shattered automaton affection. Aesthetic ant farm.

Lim

Lim is an abstract game about something deeply personal yet deeply relevant to our culture, a visceral companion piece to Dys4ia. Conceived in response to the violence and dread and suffocation of being a woman who doesn’t conform to society’s popular image of a woman, Lim provokes questions about the arbitrary nature of visual signifiers and recreates the experience of someone on the receiving end of culturally-mandated aggression.

As you walk through the level, shapes attack you for not sharing their color. Their assault is loud, jarring, and relentless. Go ahead, change colors by holding down Z, afford yourself some respite, just realize that doing so leads to an entirely different kind of unpleasantness. Wordless, forgoing superficial, painted-on symbolism, Lim’s mechanics are the message.

So you get hit and you decide to blend in but it’s too late they keep hitting you anyways and you can barely control your movement and they keep circling and crashing into you exploding static and you have to struggle and mash the keys and slide along the walls just to scrape into the next room and when it’s over you feel like you never want to do that again so you’re going to be really careful about passing in the future, it’s just not worth—ohhhhhh.

The brilliant crux of Lim is seesawing between two undesirable extremes with no true way out. So you compromise. Compromise because it’s easy, compromise because we hate pain and humiliation so we carve away a little bit of ourselves and think, this isn’t so bad, I’ve got some space to breathe now. And hopefully somewhere along the way you realize that they’re willing to let you hack away every part of yourself until nothing remains.

Triple Threat

Triple Threat is a two player game where each side starts out controlling three ships and flies them around trying to kill each other. Your ships fire automatically so positioning is everything (think frigates trading broadsides). Obstacles appear in the arena over time, ramping up the near misses and collisions until someone is wiped from the field. Controlling one ship is far easier than guiding three, which means taking damage has a positive side-effect as you shift from fleet to lone starfighter. The gradient of ease of control versus lumbering numbers means you always have a fighting chance, solving one of the central dilemmas of multiplayer games, the boredom of the downward spiral.

The winner of each round gets first pick of upgrades, adding another layer of strategy, drafting style. The reflection upgrade is my favorite, letting me charge aggressively and use my opponent’s shots against them in the kind of playing style shift that a good ability should unleash. Triple Threat is a great multiplayer game with clever design decisions and I look forward to future enhancements.

Soul Jelly

Soul Jelly is about exploding in exactly the right way. What else can you do, you’re a grotesque suicide bomber in Hell and you work for Satan. The first mission is easy, you blow up a bunch of people. Then infernal bureaucracy kicks in and they want you to avoid hitting people, or hit just one person, or maybe hit a certain combination while collecting diamonds, and that’s where it gets tricky, because you’re a frantic little fellow with a messy blast radius. Gnarled, veiny art and the approval of cute, flag-waving skeletons tops off this slippery, gurgling exploder-puzzler.

The World Hates You

The World Hates You has an important advantage over your run-of-the-mill fiendishly difficult platformer–it learns. “There is no win condition. The purpose of this game is not to be won. The purpose of this game is to get progressively better at killing you.” In other words, TWHY algorithmically evolves to become as difficult as possible while still being technically beatable. Technically. The elements are simple: you can walljump, red stuff kills you, and you touch the blue stuff to beat the level. I also noticed that jumping up and down has a trampoline effect over time. The maliciously hyper-sensitive controls were frustrating at first but after a few deaths I grew to enjoy their leaping, skittish nature.

Broken Robot Love

The central mechanic of Broken Robot Love is pressing X to slow down time, during which you can materialize cubes which you use to navigate a series of increasingly tricky levels–bullet time for the thinking platformer. Complications: spinning sawblades, Portal-esque barriers that fizzle your boxes, rocket turrets, pretty lava, and so much more. Everything feels well-tested and satisfying, elements trickling in bit by bit only to combine in interesting ways. I especially enjoy the levels that use the fact that boxes fade after a few seconds to create timing puzzles. Broken Robot Love has beauty to match its brains, with appropriately lovely and stirring music for a story about a tossed toy returning to its owner along with level architecture composed of vivid purples and greens bubbling with rich, deadly blues and reds.

Cuboid Sandbox

Cuboid Sandbox is an incredibly attractive little sim about playing God. Your toys are food and cuboids. Cuboids search for food and fight enemy cuboids. They also leave glowing trails of curiousity and hunger in ruby, sapphire, and topaz, depending on their tribe, which makes this much nicer to look at than your average ant farm. The result is a radiant painting, slow fireworks built from warfare and exploration. “Hint 1: Don’t place different species near each other. Hint 2: Place different species near each other” says it all. With a soundtrack of soothing boops and drips, this is an easy game to relax with and indulge certain tyrannic impulses.

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66 Comments »

  1. gnargle says:

    The word you’re looking for to describe Lim is pretentious.

    • John Walker says:

      What is it pretending to be?

      • Pindie says:

        “b : expressive of affected, unwarranted, or exaggerated importance, worth, or stature ”

        In other words it’s a simple game you are supposed to suffer trough because it allegedly makes an important statement. Statement which is reminiscent of kids cartoon characters preaching about not being a bully and being always truthful.

        The pretentious part comes from people (including author who though the game was worth making to make the point in the first place) acting as if the game is some sort of revelation and going “so deep!”. Acting as if the game was important.

        It’s more of an art project, playing with the medium, not video game actual.

        • The Random One says:

          Where in the game does it say any of that?

          It is, as you say, a simple game. It has a simple message. One may suspect (correctly, if this thread is any indication) that it is based on personal experience.

          The only way one could see its message as exaggerated or unwarranted was if their own worldview had no room for even the concept it was trying to convey.

          • Pindie says:

            I apologize for my stream of consciousness posting style.
            I am assuming RPS did not misrepresent the author.

            If someone told me Minesweeper was a game made by a disabled Gulf War veteran and it was a clever commentary on racial issues and treatment of war veterans… Would that make Minesweeper a better game? Would it even be worth mentioning in review? Would it elevate Minesweeper to a work of art?
            Oh but it is a work of art – says the pretentious reviewer – this game really made me think about how much it sucks to be in the army EOD team!
            This is of course tong’n'cheek.

            It’s a game where you move squares around in an attempt at social commentary. You can get this much from game itself, mostly because the whole thing about conformism has been done in every single kids show ever so you have probably learned to recognize it and expect it by now. The whole woman thing came out of nowhere because this is not a god damn literary criticism class and even if it was I refuse to judge works on merits of what author wanted to convey.
            The game does not convey it well enough because it is too abstract and you have to cheat (look up author’s bio) to “get it”.
            At which point I just have to say “it’s just a game about squares and it plays bad, it’s nothing special”.

            Remember Tic-tac-toe in “Wargames”? Well, it had a good buildup. It was still cheesy but I enjoyed it because the movie was not minimalistic and it was not 2 minutes long. There is a difference, imo, between taking simple concept and building around it and taking a simple concept and… well, spelling it out with thin symbolism.

          • JP says:

            Pindie: what would the game have had to add or change to be worthy of the interpretation given to it? Better graphics? More text? More complex mechanics?

            I can’t tell if you’re simply dismissing any interpretations that are more complex than your own, or if you feel the game is communicating insufficiently clearly.

          • ScorpionWasp says:

            Darlin’, haven’t you learned yet? You don’t disagree with feminists. If they say black is white and white is black, you just nod politely and feature their very insightful article on your high traffic site. If you disagree you are a misogynist, and even logic itself is a phallic thing the patriarchy invented to oppress women.

          • ScorpionWasp says:

            Just “blend in” with the white knights if you know what’s best for you. ;)

          • Hyoscine says:

            @Pindie ~ Disagree with you wholeheartedly, but I think you’re onto something with the Minesweeper treatment. Just need to make the game occasionally “lie” about the location of mines in order to make it unwinnable, make the game uninstallable, and have it open every so often when the “player” is doing something unrelated, like working on a spreadsheet, or updating their CV. Let’s say the game can’t be minimized, or alt-tabbed out of the foreground; the only way to close it is to go through the motions of playing another unwinnable round. Once done with, the game will disappear for an unspecified amount of time… Could be a week, could be a year, could be five minutes.

            There we have it — Minesweeper: PTSD Retirement Edition.

          • Hyoscine says:

            @ScorpionWasp ~ The problematic thing about groups that anyone is free to align themselves with–Anonymous, Republicans, feminists– is that their popular perception is defined by the crazy press-getting outliers. Bad in itself, this has an unfortunate knock-on effect…

            Do I think women currently enjoy equal rights with men? Of course not. It’s a problem. Actually, I just finished reading Delusions of Gender, and now I’m walking around all furious with my mind blown.

            Am I going to start calling myself a feminist? Fuck no; that’s a loaded term that somehow simultaneously evokes stupid hippies and self-centered capitalist shitbags like Carrie Bradshaw.

            …I guess what I want to say is; yeah, the term “feminist” is easy to mock, and also kinda tainted from within, but it’s worth keeping sight of the fact that when you get down to it, the concerns of the reasonable majority are real, and worth talking about. Maybe making games about too, if that gets people’s attention.

          • Grape Flavor says:

            @ScorpionWasp
            I’m inclined to sympathize with your general attitude, but I’m not entirely sure what any of that has to do with the topic at hand, as I don’t really see where feminism or the failings thereof really ties into what we are discussing here.

        • BlackestTea says:

          “It’s more of an art project, playing with the medium, not video game actual.”

          Why is this important? I mean: There have been thousands of discussions about what makes a video game a video game and there seem to be a lot of people who think that “art projects” (think also: graveyard, the path and such) are not games. I am, quite frankly, sick of the debate. Mostly because I am getting the impression that if something is “not a game”, then it should be denied the right to exist or be talked about. It’s the same with art movies or modern art. They have often been called “not movies” or “not art” in order to deny their existence. (denial of existence is also a very important concept when talking about people who do not fit in – just as a sidenote).

          If this piece of software creates an emotive or thoughtful response in some of the people interacting with it (as, judging by other comments, some have), then indeed it has achieved some amount of depth, at least for these people. I would be happy about that.
          I can understand if you don’t get the same out of the game. Personally, I didn’t get much out of it, either. But what do you want to achieve by calling it “pretentious” or “not a game”?

        • Shralla says:

          After all, it’s not like video games are art or anything. Oh wait.

        • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

          Do you resent the existence of everything you don’t personally like, or is it just this one that’s given you apoplexy?

          Consider the possibility that some other people did get it, thought it was neat, and aren’t deluding themselves. Then maybe go outside for a bit.

        • vvimina51 says:

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        • Consumatopia says:

          I think the mechanic in which when you conform everything kind of sucks, but when you don’t conform it becomes completely unplayable is clever, but once your past the first room I don’t see any further point to anything else, as a game or as art. I’m not sure what the meaning of the multiple colors was, especially once you start going through mixed-color groups of squares, and the color you conform with seems to switch to match the closest one. Which I’m not sure is what you’d actually want to do, but I’m not even sure what’s happening in those situations–when the other squares decide to attack and when they don’t.

          It feels like one of Dys4ia’s mini-games stretched out to take longer but not made any deeper.

    • impeus says:

      You think?! I found it really powerful. Genuinely affecting.

    • VoEC says:

      When I made a game about gender dysphoria I was called “pretentious” a lot, too. I don’t understand why, it seems like people don’t know what the word means.
      I know a bit about the person who made Lim and do understand the feelings. And I can tell you, that it is a truthful expression and not pretending something just to be cool.
      If you don’t like the graphics or think the gameplay is boring etc., then that is you opinion and that is okay. But don’t toss around such stupid words like that.

      I’m glad Lim is featured here, because I think that it is an amazing game. It conveys much meaning trough very simple gameplay.

      • gnargle says:

        I played the other one she made, Dys4ia. That was a lot better, a lot more emotive, and a lot more interesting. Lim was obtuse for the sake of it, irritating, and it gave me a huge fucking headache. The lady who made it obviously knows how to convey emotions through games, as evidenced by Dys4ia, but she seemed to throw all that out the window with Lim and just take the easy route of ‘my journey was difficult, let’s represent that by making people feel physically ill while playing my game.’

        • senae says:

          “Lim was obtuse for the sake of it, irritating, and it gave me a huge fucking headache.”

          That’s literally the point. Congratulations! You get it, you’re just so dense you don’t want to!

          • gnargle says:

            Right, so the point was to make me hate playing the game? I thought the point was to make me hate the world’s closed-minded viewpoints.

          • dE says:

            I doubt it was the Devs Intention but Lim triggers Motion Sickness. Hard. Although it seems the Dev was very well aware the game would cause this: Note: contains flashing lights and shaking effects.

            I think the issue could be much better presented if it didn’t rely on the chosen presentation, as it is prone to trigger actual physical issues. Surely the Dev wants people to feel nauseas because of the topic and gameplay mechanics and not the disability of a not that small group of people?
            Making snide remarks about someone experiencing headaches, headaches which can be caused by the visual presentation alone, is scumbaggery of the highest level.

        • ChrisGWaine says:

          Though “companion piece” can be read to imply they’re by the same developer, Lim is by merritt kopas while Dys4ia is by anna anthropy.

          I know the information is available by following the links, but it might be good if the developer names were given here too.

          • gnargle says:

            Well Anthropy is quite clearly far more skilled than Kopas.

      • Dilapinated says:

        Heartily agreed. Lim is an important game. On subject matter such as this, immature hordes of haters are unfortunately inevitable.

        Was this game about social abuse unpleasant? Then it’s done it’s job in conveying a minutae of the amount of stress that’s inflicted upon the people that it’s trying to get you to empathise with. If you’re incapable of empathy and/or just go “It wasn’t any fun”, then that’s not really the developer’s problem. Tragedy films aren’t meant to give you the same emotional rush as an action romp. If they were all required to, then film as a whole would suffer for it. The same applies to games, and any other form of art. If we want to wear the art hat, we need to accept that.

        I also love how people suddenly flock to the accessability-in-videogames discussion when it’s an indie title dealing with uncomfortable & controversial (because unfortunately it still is in this day and age) subject matter, despite the dev posting a warning about the nature of the content *right on the game page*. Fortuitous timing.

    • Soon says:

      I got hit through the boundaries of the rooms where nothing could hurt me. I searched for another square like me, but was all alone…

      • Droopy The Dog says:

        Same here, I found one just like me in the end… But there was an impenetrable wall between us.

        (Unintentional melodrama ho!)

    • MajesticXII says:

      The only pretentious thing about Lim, is the compromising and conformist people that this game portrays so well.It’s disappointing that you would call pretentious something that reveals what pretentious is.

    • Hyoscine says:

      I was reading a thread on /v/ a little while back; asking for the best, most meaningless game put-downs. “Pretentious” was the most popular reply by miles (/v/ being /v/, “casual” came a close second).

      It is meaningless though, isn’t it. All deliberate creations are intended to convey *something*. Declaring a thing to be pretentious is as uninteresting and uninsightful as posting “meh”, the only difference being that you’re faking a little critical analysis in a post that contains none at all.

      Kinda ironic really, as wouldn’t that make your post a bit, well, pretentious..?

      • jrodman says:

        I think it’s very possible to have a game that is putting on airs of being deep when it is really just for show/window dressing. That would be pretentious! (Let us put aside the fact that discerning the difference between this and badly executed honesty is a tricky thing.)

        So the word has real meaning. It’s just that it’s used so often when it is entirely not appropriate or even relevant.

      • gnargle says:

        While I’m a regular poster on /v/, I normally hate /v/’s constant use of pretentious to describe indie games – even stuff like Super Meat Boy. This is because the majority of /v/ doesn’t actually know what it means.
        However, it is perfectly descriptive of Lim. Elevating a simple game above what it actually is for the sake of being 2DEEP4U is ridiculous and irritating. As I’ve stated in a previous comment, Dys4ia is a much better way of delivering this kind of message without making the player physically ill and want to destroy the creator and any evidence the game ever existed.

    • Porpentine says:

      Brown cube spotted.

    • Walker says:

      Fear and hatred of pretentiousness is anathema to creative originality. Artists should always be trying to swim beyond their depth.

      • jrodman says:

        Well, pretention and ambition are pretty different. One has a false heart.

        Which is why one shouldn’t idly accuse things of this.

    • Grape Flavor says:

      Okay, I admit I groaned upon reading the description for Lim, which does indeed read as rather pretentious. But I tried the game itself as a lark, and frankly, I don’t see what the problem is.

      It’s a metaphor, a really simple metaphor at that, it communicates it effectively and succinctly, at least if you’ve read what the game is supposed to be about, that is, and then it’s done. None of the bullshit that sometimes accompanies these kind of games. In fact it’s probably the least pretentious game of it’s type (artsy “message” games) that I’ve ever played.

      And the message itself? Bullying trans people hurts. I see nothing there that should be even vaguely controversial among decent-minded people.

      Also, I’d very much like to point out, that when Grape Flavor, zealous scorner of pretentiousness, hipsterism, and pseudo–intellectuality, crusader against feminist excess, frequent critic of Rock Paper Shotgun and their occasional intersections with the previous two tropes, says there is nothing wrong with your artsy message game, there is nothing wrong with your artsy message game.

      I went into the game with almost the express purpose of finding things to mercilessly pillory, and I found nothing. So I’m not sure what angle you guys are taking on this that you find it so objectionable.

      Are we evaluating as merely a “game” itself? As in, “we’re going to analyze the game mechanics themselves and compare their depth, sophistication and replayability to Civilization and XCOM”? By that metric, this “game” is absolutely terrible, of course.

      But that’s not at all what it’s aspiring to be. It’s a short, simple “game” intended to convey a short, simple message, and that’s what it does. I’m getting the feeling that’s wooshed over some people’s heads.

  2. mbp says:

    I think I got to the end of Lim but I am not sure.
    [Spoiler]

    Is it the end of the game when you meet someone like yourself and the screen goes black?
    Also is it supposed to happen that you get kicked out of the maze and are left on the outside looking in?
    [End Spoiler]

  3. Chedruid says:

    gonna check them, cheers m8s!

  4. lordcooper says:

    Cuboid Sandbox sure is a purty thing.

  5. phenom_x8 says:

    where is the bear??

  6. Megazell says:

    Great job! Adding all of these games to my playlist stack!

  7. cptgone says:

    “work for Satan”? for free? what self respecting Satanite would even consider doing so?

    free is just not cheap enough anymore.
    i never DL a game at launch, i always wait for a deep discount. when it comes to free games, that means i have to wait until i get paid for it.

  8. oyog says:

    Porpentine! I liked your Ludum Dare 24 entry very much.

  9. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    I loved the cubes, but then I find ant farms fascinating to watch.

  10. dontnormally says:

    If you liked Cuboid Sandbox, check out this amazing game from 2001:

    http://rgb-game.com/

  11. hyzhenhok says:

    LIM is pretty horrifically bad. If we want games to be art, we need to give attention to artistic games that are real accomplishments. We should not be jizzing ourselves over horrible ‘games’ that try to beat you over the head with obtuse metaphors.

    LIM is especially bad in that in accidentally implies something that is probably the opposite of its intent: in the game, darker ‘individuals’ are faster and more violent that lighter ones. Oops!

  12. donmilliken says:

    Is Lim pretentious? Possibly. But then, I’ve found that on the internet, (hell, off the internet too) “pretentious” most often means,”I don’t get it, therefore it is bad.”

    Kind of like how “overrated” usually means, “I don’t like it, therefore you shouldn’t like it/are a bad person for liking it.” or “ironic” means “Oh, that was weird.”

    • LionsPhil says:

      I most often find it means “I get it, and there wasn’t much to get”.

      • AndrewC says:

        Which I often take to mean ‘I’m still treating this like school, and trying to get high marks instead of have an experience’.

        • donmilliken says:

          “Have an experience” is a key phrase here. Just because you understand the underlying meaning a work is trying to convey doesn’t mean you get it. Art is not a puzzle waiting for you to work out the solution.

          You either connect with a work or you don’t and if you don’t that’s fine, just don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your inability to connect necessarily says anything about the work itself.

          That said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and sometimes a pretentious crock of shit is just a pretentious crock of shit. I remember seeing this painting in a museum once that was one red dot on a white canvas. That guy, I’m convinced, was taking the piss.

          • NathanH says:

            I’m sorry to say that all sounds a bit, well, pretentious to me.

      • NathanH says:

        I’d agree with this, although I think there has to be an element of developer smugness to cause someone to fire off “pretentious”.

        Unfortunately, in gaming, there is the problem that there are so many commentators filled with “game shame” that they’ll gush about things that are entirely serviceable but not exactly gush-worthy. This irritates some people, and this irritation colours their perception of the actual game. So you can get things that are quite innocent and earnest being called pretentious, because of the pretentiousness of those praising it.

        • donmilliken says:

          Right, I get that. I guess what loses me is the mental disconnect that leads people to skip right over, “Aren’t you being a bit pretentious in how much you’re praising this game and how much you’re reading into it,” and go straight to, “This game is pretentious.”

          A developer can’t help what other people say about their game.

          • NathanH says:

            I guess it’s just natural and hard to avoid. I suspect we all do it all the time and rarely notice.

            I know, let’s make a retro platformer about how every game we make gets unreasonably good reviews and so everyone calls us pretentious, but all we want to do is make a fun game.

      • donmilliken says:

        “NathanH says:

        I’m sorry to say that all sounds a bit, well, pretentious to me.”

        And I’m sorry to see you say it Nathan, though not really surprised. Is the idea of connecting emotionally with a work of art really such a hard concept to grasp?

        You can read a book and come away a changed person, I can read the same book, shrug and say, “Eh, that was okay.”

        If you personally don’t like something that’s fine, but when you label something “pretentious” you’re basically saying, “This thing has no meaning and anyone that says it does is full of shit.”

        Speak for yourself mate, that’s all I ask.

        • NathanH says:

          I think we just fundamentally disagree as to what “pretentious” means. To me, something that is pretentious does not have no meaning; in fact, it usually must have meaning (otherwise I’d just call it tripe or something like that). It’s just that this meaning isn’t particularly deep, and the thing has an air that it’s deeper than it really is. Strictly speaking you probably don’t have to have the former, just the latter, to be pretentious but I wouldn’t use the word in such a context.

          To me, phrases like “it’s the experience that matters” and “understanding isn’t enough, you need to connect emotionally” are phrases that have meaning, but are chosen to affect an illusion of a deep meaning, whereas I think their meaning is pretty straightforward. Hence I call them pretentious.

          • AndrewC says:

            You added the word ‘deep’, which again suggests a sliding scale of ‘achievement’ to understanding, and something that can be graded and, indeed, quanitified. Donmillikin did not use the word ‘deep’.

          • donmilliken says:

            What I’m saying is, the use of the term, “pretentious” implies something negative about people whose appreciation of a thing may be genuine, even if their enthusiasm for it leads them subconsciously to somewhat inflate its importance.

            We want the things that are important to us to be important to others, but communicating why something was important to you and why others should consider it important isn’t always easy. It’s always a little shocking to see when someone else vehemently puts down something you really enjoyed; we want to share the experiences that enrich us and it can hurt when others are not enriched by them as we were.

            All that connecting and experiencing stuff is important, but I guess it ultimately doesn’t matter here. That’s a whole ‘nother debate.

      • sophof says:

        Calling something pretentious in relation to games and such often seems outright anti-intellectual to me. I think people feel as if such games are either berating them or they feel like the games pretend they are to smart for them. Both lie squarely in the eye of the beholder though of course.

        If you want to see pretentious, go to a museum of modern art. Half of the art pieces seem to be trying to mock the pretentiousness (in the actual defintion sense of pretending to be more than it actually is) of the other half, you just can’t tell which is which :P

  13. Rawrian says:

    So, I’ve started playing Lim after reading this, and the first two cubes pushed me right through the wall, and now I’m wandering outside the maze. Doesn’t feel like freedom though.

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