Live Free, Play Hard: The Week’s Best Free Indie Games

By Porpentine on October 7th, 2012 at 2:00 pm.

Middens

Point and click horror. Ludotravelogue. WAR RUG FACE. Oregon Trail with a physics engine. Collage ecosystem.

Deep Sleep by scriptwelder

Wake up to an architectural, Silent Hill-esque nightmarescape in Deep Sleep, a point-and-click horror adventure, scary as fuck, that transcends the fairly static nature of the genre with visceral touches that I won’t spoil. The puzzle difficulty is tuned just right, abstaining from esoteric solutions that might have distracted from the excellent atmosphere.

The service bell in one of the rooms is the most ingenious touch. I can’t imagine anything creepier than a bell in the middle of a deserted building.

The Gametrekking Omnibus by Jordan Magnuson

The Gametrekking Omnibus is a collection of minimalist games inspired by Jordan Magnuson’s travels through Asia. This is the project’s final release, the fruits of his travels compiled into a multimedia scrapbook full of fantastic photography and poignant microgames tied together by human observations.

What we feel comes through our fingertips, through resistance, through pushing the game forward in taps, presses, clicks. These are poems that use physics instead of words. Some work for me, others less so. Freedom Bridge was my favorite, powerful, just the right length. Leaf through, there’s so much scattered here that you’re sure to find something that sticks with you.

Farsh by Mahdi Bahrami

Dedicated to the author’s mother “who spent her youth weaving carpets”, Farsh has you guiding a Persian carpet through the void by manipulating the rules of various squares. Rolling across intricate, vibrant tiles to Moslem Rasouli’s meandering, bittersweet music is ideal for someone like me who doesn’t really care for puzzle games, a calming environment with space to think through the increasingly difficult problems.

Researching rugs on Wikipedia lead me to discover war rugs, so don’t despair, there’s still room for a rug-themed first person shooter (WAR RUG FACE?). “Little is known about the circumstances of war rugs’ production and distribution, or their makers’ intentions.”

Due to sanctions against Iran, Mahdi can’t enter competitions that require paying an entry fee, and despite winning the IndiePub Community Favorite a couple years back, isn’t likely to see the $5000 reward money. I’m glad he’s sticking around despite these obstacles.

So Long, Oregon! by Justin Smith

So Long, Oregon! is Oregon Trail as a fast-paced wagon surfing game that compresses everything in Oregon Trail into minutes, seconds. I’m cartwheeling through the air firing at rabbits, I think I bought a turkey at that fort, that village just cursed me, why are other wagons bumping into me like blind, deranged cows.

My God I have landed in the river and Pa has dysentery. The death of a party member has none of the original title’s solemnity–no time to stop, the wagon just shits out tombstones as you race toward El Dorado, which I reached with the majestic slide of a baserunner going for homeplate, except upside-down and laden with endless wealth that magically popped into my, what do you call it, wagon space, wagon void, the empty space inside a wagon. Then I fell off a cliff.

Realistic Summer Sports Simulator by Justin Smith

What if Olympic athletes were controlled by some god with all the power and finesse of a hurtling meteorite? Suddenly you wake up and realize, it wasn’t just imagination times…it was this game!

Realistic Summer Sports Simulator is sports filtered through a hilarious physics engine. Practice until you manage to avoid flinging yourself hundreds of feet merely trying to string a bow, pick some boring real nation to represent or go (as you should) for the random nation generator (“Macedoden”, “Tahitaly”, “Torkey”), then start the ceremony! And don’t forget that everything can be physicsed, even during the solemn lighting of the torch.

Forrester by inmate2993

Forrester’s setting is an amnesiac world with an allegorical feel, diverse puzzles, and fast-paced gameplay. Unlike some games dealing with emotional subjects, Forrester has no need to conflate slow walking speed with pacing. You’ll need that speed to deal with the dragons, something called the Demon, and the other people trapped in this rift of memories who’ve grown bitter, complacent, or deranged over time and seek to impose their ideals on you.

Things to know: F9 quicksaves, F10 quickloads, P skips cutscenes.

I’m trying to articulate why MegaZeux/ZZT games are so interesting to play. Maybe it’s that the machinery of the world feels more visible, that the distance between toolkit and invention is much closer here. Compare a polished 3D title, all cinematic gloss, with its origins: pages of code that resemble the living breathing product as much as a human body resembles its DNA. MegaZeux games feel more like Lego creations where you can still see the spare bricks swept to the side.

Middens by John Clowder

Spined lamp-posts, swarms of walking cars, giant hands with mouths stalking like dinosaurs against the horizon, Middens has more going on in 10 seconds than most games do in their entirety. John Clowder’s collages and Shaina Nordlund’s watercolors come together to describe a brilliant, alien world that really does feel like a midden heap, a place of delirious detritus and cosmic debris, piecemeal creatures living in patchwork biomes.

The writing is consistently interesting and I’m guessing some of the one-liners from creatures you meet are either from the “Dialogue excised from occult tomes and the last words of executed convicts” mentioned on Middens’ tumblr or a reasonable facsimile thereof. The talking femme fatale-lipped gun is my favorite NPC in a long time. Sly, playful, sinister, purringly spurring you on through a disorienting plane of ontological chaos.

Middens is a hallucinatory ecosystem, not a flashy reskin of something that already exists. Nothing in this game is familiar so every step is deliciously uncertain. I can no longer tell the inside from the outside.

When I say ecosystem, I mean more than “feels like a living universe”, I mean “violence is meaningful”. You can shoot anyone and they’ll stay dead. Forever. Shoot the person who saves your game. You can’t save there any more. Shoot the entity in charge of fast travel. Hope you like walking. This is fantastic.

!!!Pro Gamer Tips!!! Lining up the top of your head with the top of the target seems like the sweet spot for aiming. When a creature has little progeny swarming around it, target the creature, the spawn don’t have hitboxes. Alt + Enter = full screen.

I haven’t beaten Middens yet but I have no problem recommending it because even if it were to suddenly become the worst game in the world the second after I left off, my time was well spent just for the sheer creativity and mood experienced so far. So play this. Also, if you ever happen to be slandered I’ll do my best to clear your good name.

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32 Comments »

  1. Hodge says:

    See, this is why I never get anything done on a Sunday.

  2. Dominic White says:

    So Long, Oregon used to have the much more fantastic title of “Fuck Oregon, Let’s Go Find El-Dorado!”

  3. Kaira- says:

    Deep Sleep was awesome. Not much more to say.

    • Skabooga says:

      10 minutes in and I questioned the wisdom of playing it right before bedtime.

    • hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

      I’m not really the adventure game type, but Deep Sleep was amazing. I had to cheat once and look at the conveniently-linked walkthrough but besides the one stumbling point of not finding the 1×1 pixel object I was supposed to have picked up at the beginning of the game- brilliant. Very well realized atmosphere, much scarier than I was expecting, and just about the right length. I’m usually not much for the pixelated aesthetic, but this was very well done.

  4. Roz says:

    Am I the only person rarely captivated by indie games?

    • Porpentine says:

      i hope you find the answer to your quest

    • ElVaquero says:

      yes. you are alone.

    • PopeJamal says:

      No, you are not alone.

      While I appreciate the effort and the artistic vision of many of these titles, I’m just not willing to spend my time playing them when I could be playing a proper game.

      For example, I’m not too keen on deconstructionist-type nonsense like:

      Me: What happened!? There’s no ending? It just kicked me out of the game!
      Dev: Aha! But you see, that IS the ending! By juxtaposing the metaphor of …
      Me: RAAAGE! HULK SMASH HIPSTER! MAKE BULLSHIT GO AWAY!

      I’m all for games as art and all that, but alot of this is just college guys posturing and trying to look smarter than they really are. You see, I read books, so much of the “deep artistiic vision” of these things just come across to me as finger painting on cereal boxes.

      To each his own though. I won’t criticize anyone who enjoys them.

      • Thirith says:

        Gotta love the “I hate hipster bullshit, but then *I* read *books* and know what’s deep and what’s phony.

        But I won’t judge you for enjoying the stuff that I know to be phony, hipster bullshit.” subtext. And the notion that most indie games are shallow, phony and *not real games*.

        • blind_boy_grunt says:

          but he said he’s down with games as art and reads books and all that. So you know he’s deep. So don’t you dare criticize him!

        • oyog says:

          It’s just that he doesn’t have time for indie games because he’s too busy making references to muscly green comic book characters. You see, he’s an adult, not a hipster college student.

      • Kaira- says:

        >While I appreciate the effort and the artistic vision of many of these titles, I’m just not willing to spend my time playing them when I could be playing a proper game.

        I hope you aren’t implying indie games aren’t “proper” games. And what is a “proper game”, anyway? Is it somehow related to that “real job”-thing I keep hearing about?

      • x3m157 says:

        Personally, I like endings like that (ex. SCP-087-B). I think it is a great touch for permadeath, seeing as the game completely ends when you die.

        Then again, I think John Cage’s “Solo for Sliding Trombone” is beautiful music.

      • johntheemo says:

        I think it’s a deeply flawed viewpoint to assume that people who are willing to experiment are ‘posturing’ in order to come off as being profoundly intellectual. I also think you’re far more pretentious than any of these games could hope to be since you feel the need to validate your opinions by letting us know that you read books. People who hold themselves in great esteem are often guilty of appealing to personal incredulity: “If I can’t understand this, then clearly it’s complete bullshit.” Being the, uh, highly intelligent person that you are, I’m sure you can understand why that makes you sound like a tool.

    • Vinraith says:

      Yes, you are. Then again, I suspect your problem lies in thinking that a column like this captures the breadth and scope of indie games. There’s nothing here I find interesting, but there’s tons of indie games I adore.

      *goes back to playing Alea Jacta Est*

    • sidhellfire says:

      The problem is that many self called game developers see this “genre” as an easy cash.
      There are basically 3 kinds of indie games:

      - The ones with big ambitions and low budged being developed into something that have many flaws, but are brilliant.

      - The ones that never aim high, but have a great design (funny games like McPixel, or beauty like Trine, or puzzles like Uplink)

      - And the third kind we’re being flooded with, because it is “trendy” – poor arcade games, games that are trying too hard to be funny, games that are total crap and bullshit, games who can possibly only compete against facebook or mobile titles, because design&developement there is simply retarded. We see them only because there is a new fashion, to be an Indie dev, and are attracted by success of others in this “genre”. The main pain is that these titles got no innovation whatsoever. While I can accept games like Shank, where artwork and animations are superb, I simply vomit when see another cheap variation of common platformer game made in a rush.

  5. Rath says:

    The first image in this article could be the basis for a caption competition. For which I would have no suggestions.

  6. LionsPhil says:

    I’m sure you’re having a lot of fun writing these, but could you see fit to include some information about the gameplay amongst all the whimsy? There are six paragraphs about Middens up there, and all I know about what kind of game it is from them is that you have to aim and shoot at things.

    • pelham.tovey says:

      Oh I don’t know, if you’re a sort of smug, contrary jerk (e.g. me) you’ll probably download these games despite the ridiculously purple, cliquey tone of the article.

    • zaphos says:

      fwiw, Middens is an RPG Maker game, with standard JRPG combat. It adds on top of that standard JRPG combat the ability to shoot things outside of combat mode, allowing you to fight and kill characters who would ordinarily just talk to you.

      I played it for about half an hour and found that the world was intriguing, but the traditional JRPG combat — combined with at least one enemy who had loads and loads of health and took forever to kill, yet also barely attacked so couldn’t kill me — made the game too tedious for me.

  7. Slinkyboy says:

    I liked the Puzzle Quest and the Argument game….

  8. Jekhar says:

    What have they done to the poor Metal Slug subway train in the Middens screenshot?

  9. tomeoftom says:

    I really like this Porpentine character. These writeups are always surprisingly engaging. Gonna check out Middens now; the screenshot and description gives me a weird, existential kind of deja-vu.

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