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

By Porpentine on January 20th, 2013 at 2:00 pm.

Multiplayer god poem. HUNT FOR THE GAY PLANET. Super Hallucinogon. Color domming.



Ex Nihilo by Juhana Leinonen

Ex Nihilo is an elegant multiplayer vignette about a god’s journey through the void.

Choose your dualism, light or dark, then navigate the drifting words until you meet the other god of this binary universe. What you say to them is added to the game’s memory. What you say will be said again when someone else plays. Strangers leaving messages for each other. What kind?

Historically gods have done whatever they want. A lot of funny responses, but some solemn, others fatefully poetic:

I type “I love you”, struck by a sudden desire to put more happiness into the world.

“Goodbye.”

Crushing.

The other thing Ex Nihilo shows you is the kind of world this encounter creates. Naive, complacent, detached, to name a few. Look to the other side of the screen and you’ll see the trail of decisions that lead your rival god to this point, the tracks of their divinity.

 


HUNGRY by poyborn

The person to your right – an immaculate hot business dad, skimming this morning’s print Journal. The person to your left is unimportant to the narrative.

Homoerotic dream architecture quest with deft control over the way words unfold. A constant hunger, Bataille, a massive clone of your body that you get inside like a mecha.

Some games about dreams are lazy surreality–this was interesting. Poyborn gets dream tension, the way physical drives make us squirm in the helpless daily paralysis of sleep, an underpinning of hunger, full bladder, thirst, sex. In this case the drives are hunger and sex, and they burn through the story like desert sun.

My Favourite Island by Whisperbat

Hypertext about a creature washed up on the shores of a strange land, a detailed, xenopological look at alien society, constantly visceral and dripping and emotional. Emotional?

The reason I found this so affecting was the sense of confusion and despair–the way the protagonist can’t shake their memories of this infinite world of higher beings from which they’ve been cast down, punished by having their oceanic consciousness funneled into a single body, a lone mind. Isn’t that a similar feeling to dreams? The way our dreams are so fluid and limitless but as we wake our body reasserts its old aches and our familiar fears creep past the amnesiac tide of sleep.

My Favourite Island uses radically nonhuman characters to evoke some of our deepest human feelings. Also recommended for fans of scifi author Ian M. Banks.

 

Jelly no Puzzle by Qrostar

A bunch of cubes are hanging out. If a cube touches a same-color cube, they BLOOP together and become a rectangle. They can move left or right and are subject to gravity. From this simple rule you have a slick puzzler where the goal is to match all the cubes without blocking yourself off. I don’t know much about puzzle games, but colorful jelly shapes seems like the main criteria for excellence? If so, this is TEN PUZZLEBLOOPS out of TEN.


Westerado by Ostrich Banditos

Westerado is a cowboy sandbox where you roam around and ride horses and shoot and talk and it’s pretty and sounds great. The lack of a save feature means you’ll have to do this in one run (although it saves fast travel locations), and some parts are rather buggy, hopefully they fix that.

Being able to shoot the guy giving the target practice tutorial was deeply satisfying, a liberating moment of freedom. Fuck you little computer man, I know how games work, let me randomly push buttons until I figure it out! Westerado promises us the chance to inflict violence on all lifeforms, which is all we can ask from our precious murder simulators. Find the clues and hunt down the man who killed your family in the first 20 seconds of the game.


HUNT FOR THE GAY PLANET by Anna Anthropy

A scifi text adventure response to Bioware’s gay ghetto planet fiasco. If that situation is the Death Star, this game is the Millennium Falcon–a plucky little thing whirling around shooting fun lasers as a massive behemoth makes terrible decisions like restricting all content for an entire demographic inside a single planet that costs extra money to access.

Instead of hunting riches or murdering things, you’re searching for romance, which is exactly what I’ve wanted to do with a spaceship since I was a kid who saw Star Wars while living in a massive suburban sprawl as disconnected from civilization as any desert planet.

 

Polar by Artūrs Grebstelis

A hallucinogenic take on Super Hexagon but with a couple twists:

One button. Tap to reverse direction.

You can’t die, you just stay stuck in your current stage until you improve. When the timing works its way into your knuckles, the pattern evolves. No sadism here, just personal growth.

Colorful things flow toward me, forming curves and walls and chaoses of spikey rainbow spores. They spiral infinitely from a black void.

All these factors come together to hypnotize me, from the focus of having one button to the languid feel of the opening sequence, the soothing back and forth as you roll from side to side, a pattern natural as riding a swing. Then things get frantic and you feel like you’re achieving some kind of game-induced enlightenment, fighting a psychic battle made of third-eye afterimages. It just feels good.

Epilepsy warning for later levels.


Reset by Lydia Neon

You wake up in a futuristic hospital with fucked-up implants, unable to see correctly, unable to remember, unable to speak without fyheevat lbhe jbeqf. They say it was an accident.

Reset cares a lot about perception and so the limits of the player’s perception are constantly, skillfully stressed. You’ll have opportunities to calibrate your recognition of color, struggle with aphasia (generated by ROT13), and negotiate a hot/terrifying session of transhumanist cyberpunk kink. The constructed reality of kink, with all its rules and arrangements, forms a matrix within a matrix where the difference between what Reset is doing to the main character and to you, the player, is brilliantly negligible.

A disorienting work handled with purpose and technique, using recursion, language scrambling, and the color spectrum to immerse you in a world where reality is only as trustworthy as your hardware.

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39 Comments »

  1. Low Life says:

    You said the magic word so I had to try Reset (among others), I love the way it handles augmentations in a text adventure.

    Also, while I’m not a huge fan of the genre, these simple text adventures (which we seem to have got a lot of lately) work quite well in a browser, and it’s really easy to end up playing one almost by accident.

    edit: And it’s almost as easy to accidentally go back a page in the browser and lose all progress..

  2. StranaMente says:

    I played Reset and I’ve got to say that Twine games really are making big strides. I think I will have to play through it some more time to fully appreciate the subtle changes, but I liked what I’ve seen so far.

  3. AmateurScience says:

    JELLY NO PUZZLE IS A BIG MEANIE

  4. angelanancy409 says:

    my co-worker’s sister-in-law makes $65 an hour on the laptop. She has been without a job for 9 months but last month her pay was $16394 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read more on this site http://www.bit90.com

  5. misterT0AST says:

    I’d like to post here the recap of my experience in Reset. I guess it contains spoilers:

    “Would you like to get fucked in the head by a cybertransexual?”
    “No, not really.”
    “YOU ARE FUCKED ANYWAY, HAVE A NICE YEAR AT THE HOSPITAL IDIOT.”

    Thanks for asking, anyway.

    • Squishpoke says:

      I had the same thought process.

    • Tacroy says:

      As a sometimes sysadmin, I kept on saying no, no, unless you have a high-level trust certificate signed by my private key I’m not letting you in to my head-system. I don’t know who the hell you are, you just showed up at my apartment without warning! Why should I trust anyone whose password is easily breakable by a dictionary attack?

      And then the game makes you do it anyway. Screw you, this is why people get computer viruses.

      Edit: And that was the other thing! Where the hell is my backup? When I turned on the computer I expected it to be like “oh hay I see you don’t got no mem’ries, here’s the backup you took last week” and then gg game over. I guess the fact that that didn’t happen is an artifact of the plot, but still – the lack was jarring.

      • Dilapinated says:

        I felt the same way, trying to play Reset. I found the dominant partner manipulative and way too pushy, and it brought up triggery-shit and I stopped playing after trying to safeword-equivalent.

        I suspect I didn’t enter into it with the mindset it may have been intended for. I know plenty of erotica where in reality alarm bells would ring like christmas decorations and the dominant partner would be an abusive git. It can be hot if you suspend your disbelief (and your kinks match up with the fic in question, obviously). So I think Reset was written in that particular erotic-fantasy frame of mind, and entering into it outside of that context leads to potential squick at her actions.

        • writerryan says:

          Yeah, I don’t necessarily have any trauma-related triggers, but even without those, I felt really uncomfortable about being forced into the d/s situation.

          I mean, I guess how uncomfortable I felt might be a testament to the immersion in Reset, but still: ick.

      • Amun says:

        I hated the “no-free-choice-then-annoy-the-player-about-not-choosing-something-else” routine in Bioshock as well. It’s like pouring water through a funnel and then taunting it for coming out the narrow end.

    • Cooper says:

      Quite. To get much out of the game, it requires that you identify with (given it’s a first-person narrative) some kind of innate bodily desire to get fucked up by some cyber-dom.

      Without a “Fuck off: I’m just out of hospital because I got utterly fucked up and a bit of dom. kink, no matter how much I might like it, really isn’t a good idea right now” option, the only solution is an infinite recurision of clicking the “Cancel” button.

    • zal says:

      Wow I guess I got lucky then.. cause I just got stuck staring at the
      “Your apartment surrounds you with disquieting familiarity. It is…..”
      screen

      With no hypertext choices, cause I burned a note and turned off a computer and looked at a poster too many times… I actually thought it was just a game about recovering from neural damage, and that I ran out of recovery weirdness.

      but I wasn’t really looking for anything more so Its an ending I can live with haha.

    • Subv3rse says:

      **SPOILER(ish)** Actually if you keep playing and go through what looks to be almost like a loop (unless you choose certain choices at the beginning I presume), you find out that nothing is what it actually seems by the time you reach end-game.

      • Bluerps says:

        Jup. The game actually tells you when it is over – or, at least, when it doesn’t continue.

        Turtles all the way down.

  6. Triplanetary says:

    Oh good, now I can play a man who wears a facade of overcompensated masculinity while secretly holding to the motto “What happens on Makeb stays on Makeb.”

  7. Cryptoshrimp says:

    Man, I really love Reset. It’s really clever. It’s also the first game that made me walk to the library (to read Focault). The creator’s blog has some really interesting narrative/worldbuilding tips as well. But man, is there a faster way for me to be snapped out of immersion than those fucking pronouns? (hint: no.)

    EDIT: Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate them. In fact, they’re somehow fine in conversation but are very jarring in text. Perhaps I’ve not been exposed to them enough?

    • Dilapinated says:

      I expect exposure is probably it. I still find it odd to read and write them in text, and have fluctuated in the past through using gender-nuetral pronouns myself. I find as you get into a text/get more exposed to them in written work it starts to feel more natural and less jarring.

    • The Random One says:

      I personally didn’t find them any more jarring than passing reference to things that don’t exist in sci-fi or fantasy writings.

      I mean, if I can imagine a world in which the sentence “I don’t have enough critchips to take the broobuncular to Venus this weekend” makes sense I can imagine a world where gender-neutral pronouns exist in English.

  8. Dilapinated says:

    Woah. My Favourite Island got onto RPS.

    It’s.. Weird seeing something that you created appear on one of your favourite websites. Especially when that something started off as just venting your depression instead of actually acting on it. When I first posted MFI I was certain it was going to get shot down or ignored. It’s.. Hard to describe how it makes me feel to see the opposite.

    Weird. Numb. But happy. Like a birthday when you didn’t sleep the night before.

    • El_Emmental says:

      Congratulation ;)

      [*** spoiler ***]
      And thank you for making this one, I think it’s the weirdest and most “accurate” description of being birth (and being reincarnated) -with so little words- I’ve ever read.
      I also learned how difficult a crab’s life is, now I want to hug one next time I’ll be on the beach :P

  9. Lucid says:

    It always seems like you manage to pick out the artsiest indie games ever, none of these really seem like they’d be -fun- to play.

    • misterT0AST says:

      Due to the fact that both the words “artsy” and “fun” are hugely generic, controversial and subjective in their actual meaning, I can’t say for sure I disagree. But I think I do.

    • strangeloup says:

      Despite the fact that both the words “artsy” and “fun” are rather generic, controversial and subjective in their actual meaning, I’m pretty sure I’m entirely with you on this one.

    • AmateurScience says:

      Did you play JELLY NO PUZZLE? It’s about as gamey as games get, no airs, no graces, just an awesome wee puzzle game about jelly. Admittedly it’s in Japanese (I think) but given that interaction is left click goes left right click goes right that’s hardly something to mark it down for.

      Also, as stated above, it’s quite hard,

    • Bluerps says:

      I played most of them, and I had lots of fun.

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      ‘artsy’ and ‘fun’ are not opposites. They’re not even on the same spectrum.

    • El_Emmental says:

      Given the fact that the AAA games cover the biggest share of “fun” of the western-culture population, the only “fun” (regarding video games) left for indie developers is often more subtle/intellectual/”artsy”.

      It’s even more visible with -free- indie games, as they no longer have to cater to an audience (indie adventure game fans, indie platformer games fans, etc) to sell their game, and can freely experiment.

      Obviously, the fun you get out of these experimental games isn’t the same fun you get out of paid indie games, which isn’t the same fun you get out of AAA games. In my case, I pick my type of fun depending on my current mood and the time of the day.

      This is why the “Live Free, Play Hard” series is an excellent idea: we get to try a handful of free indie games each week without having to sort out thousands of already existing ones.

  10. Kaira- says:

    Ex Nihilo was… interesting, I guess would be the best word to describe it. Looking what little superficial choices others made, and what they said. I quite enjoyed going through it a few times to see what might happen. And the writing was delightful.

  11. The Random One says:

    Woo, Hunt for the Gay Planet. It’d been so long since I’d last played an Anna Anthropy game that I’d forgotten how great she was at putting words next to other words.

    “This cave seems to have been made by tools… could they have been GAY TOOLS?”

    • Bluerps says:

      I was pretty sure what would happen when you meet the whale, but I still giggled when it finally started to speak. :D

    • OrangyTang says:

      It’s funny and well written, but it’s not really a game is it? Other than superficial “Go east… There’s nothing here, you go back… go west” choices I felt like it could just have been a regular short story and been exactly the same but with less clicking.

      • Yglorba says:

        On one hand, yes; there’s a lot of games that give that impression lately (I blame Photopia. Still!)

        But on the other hand, the medium is the message — sometimes the illusion of control can be a powerful thing.

    • njursten says:

      My first time playing one of her games. Really loved it, so funny! :D

  12. Crane says:

    My first play of Ex Nihilo had a wonderful couplet of player-inputs:
    “Thou hast intruded upon my domain. Who art thou?”
    “Who am I?”

    • writerryan says:

      After thinking for a bit about what I would say, the message I got in return was “My anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hun”.

  13. andvagorion says:

    Oh, what misery. I told the presence that “We cannot co-exist, thus thou shalt perish.” and it uttered “I love you.”

  14. El_Emmental says:

    Uncanny. I asked the other presence if we should put an end to life, and it told me the time had come, brother.

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