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

By Porpentine on April 28th, 2013 at 2:00 pm.

Heterosexual narc. More than a few games about the demise of balls. CANDY ANT PRINCESS.

 

Sacrilege by Cara Ellison

Here’s Sacrilege, by our own Cara Ellison of the PC gaming website Rock Paper Shotgun dot com. It’s about being young and limitless, giddy with dancefloor heat, wanting to love and be loved, to be appreciated before our bodies crumble. It’s also about heterosexuality.

In her words: “…I wanted to make it about the heart stopping drudgery of being heterosexual in a world where heterosexuals are conditioned not to talk to each other, or listen to each other, or really have any idea what they are doing.”

This is a drunk story told in club cadence, thoughts flashing like faces under strobe lights. In those moments: communication/lack of communication, people hurt by a culture of paranoia between genders.

The club is perfect for exploring heterosexual dynamics, as one of those venues Audre Lorde called “proscribed erotic comings-together…characterized by a simultaneous looking away, a pretense of calling them something else”, an eroticism that boils away with the morning sun, leaving smudged makeup and sullen silences.

 

 

On Formalism by Darius Kazemi

If debates had tombstones, this would be an obelisk surrounded by landmines.

 

 

Martian Middle School Dance by Benedict Fritz

Martian exchange student at a middle school dance. Help it fit in with the humans, by dancing and knowing all the right things to say.

 

 

Yeti Yeti Yeti by Dustin Covan

“Like an episode of Teletubbies directed by David Lynch”

A yeti carries a worm baby around as a mysterious presence accuses it of being slave to a videogamey system of rewards.

There’s darkness full of evil faces, there’s mama worms in the clouds.

What can you do? You can choose to keep playing or stop playing. Every game has that option implicitly, but Yeti Yeti Yeti formalizes it.

There’s energy in the sky. I think you can get past it somehow. Maybe it’s a vortex?

You can pick up a worm baby. You can drop the worm baby. I don’t think it can die (I tried pretty hard).

 

 

 

Copy Kitty 1.2 by Azure Lazuline, Raibys

I admire the sheer noisiness of the graphics–nothing exists that cannot be made to ripple, glow, pulsate, or exude motion trails.

You play as a catgirl in a virtual defense simulator, hunting down robots and scavenging weapons from their cyber-ashes. You have three weapon slots, and you can press C to fire them as a single “mega-weapon”.

Endless Mode spawns enemies eternally as the terrain grows around you. You can kick terrain to destroy it.

Mission Mode has 70 missions where you hunt down robots and defeat bosses. I enjoy the bosses more than the regular missions, although I have no idea whether they pick up or not (I played the first 10 or so missions).

The level editor is easy to use and strong enough to make pretty much everything in the base game.

 

Planet Punch by Matt Thorson and Alec Holowka

Planetary pugilism punctures peace pact in solar system slug out gone grim, gargantuan globes grappling, grunting, gyrating as orbs upgrade your incredible encounters. The best part is lining up your shots like a cosmic game of pool.

Boyoon by Masamune Games

Click the ball to make it bounce, don’t let fall into the pit! Make it fly high enough and stars and pastries will fall. You can collect those with your mouse but that distracts you from the eternal problem of the falling ball.

You have prismatic safety glass that can take a few hits, and tons of sparkly power-ups. There are many balls representing all the major elements: metal, beach ball, doughnut, penguin…

 

a2 ~a due~ by Arowana, Nellie, and azurextwilight

A Chinese-American punk rocker forced to run her deceased father’s orchestra as a condition of his inheritance. She disdains the stodgy formality of classical music, but she owes some violent people money. Then a stranger enters her life…

This is a full featured visual novel with multiple chapters, three endings, and unlockable extras like artwork, vocabulary, music, etc.

 

 

Candy Ant Princess by Whisperbat

Running a candy ant colony is hard work. Will you raise your daughters to war or peace? Who can you trust in the ruthless environment of Strawberry Swirl Forest?

Candy Ant Princess is about writing your own story. You click words to change them to other words and those words are fact.

Now I’ll explain why Candy Ant Princess is great on a technical level.

CAP is made in Twine. Twine is a bit clunky with variables in its default state.

To change variables, you once had to click a hyperlink before you’d see any changes. So if I want to make a game where you pick out dresses in preparation for a ballroom dance, I need a SALMON PINK DRESS link, a MAGENTA DRESS link, and so on. You click a link, go to a passage that sets the variable for you, then go back to the central branch where the variable prints your choice of color.

See all that branching? It can get tedious.

Then Leon Arnott made a macro called <<cycling>>, which basically functions as a dial for variables. Every time you click the link, the $dress variable changes color. Then click to the next passage and you got yourself a dress.

Easy to see the difference. Adding more dress colors is just a matter of adding an extra word, not making a new branch.

Obviously simple manipulation of variables is a Good Thing for everyone, but I’m most excited about one specific application: aesthetic choice–the hyperlink as revision (which we saw in Emily Short’s First Draft of the Revolution (which was custom-built so it’s nice to be able to approximate that in Twine)) and the hyperlink as collaborative world-building.

Candy Ant Princess is one big showcase for aesthetic agency. It doesn’t over-think the ramifications of those choices, you aren’t paralyzed wondering if you’re making optimal long-term decisions (not that I totally don’t want to see a Dwarf Fortress x King of Dragon Pass x Candy Ant Princess hybrid).

A fair amount of choices are purely cosmetic, for your own enjoyment. CAP isn’t obsessed with formally codifying your decisions (a dress or suit of armor is only worth wearing if it gives you +2 to Fashion or 10% Heavy Armor! beep boop).

By playing with aesthetic choice, players become invested in the world’s fiction as co-writers. And more significantly, perhaps, they get to be candy ant princesses.

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37 Comments »

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  1. Shieldmaiden says:

    I wish I’d been able to use those cycling variables a couple of weeks ago. It would have saved me a load of time and effort.

  2. JackShandy says:

    Sacrilege is twine, right? How does Cara make the text spill down the page instead of opening a new one?

  3. Philomelle says:

    Sacrilege was a very pleasant reminder of why Cara Ellison is my hero.

    • mechabuddha says:

      While I couldn’t relate so much to the club dancing, her social communication commentary is amazingly insightful.

      • Sarkhan Lol says:

        Other way around for me. It rendered something that was working just fine on its own jarringly ineffective, like they stopped the To Kill A Mockingbird adaptation halfway through and had Atticus turn to the viewer and say THIS SURE HAS BEEN A WILD RIDE! BUT LET ME TAKE A MOMENT TO TELL YOU SOME IMPORTANT THINGS ABOUT RACISM. IN THESE CULTURALLY CHARGED CLIMES, MANY PEOPLE etc. It was a breakneck swerve from show to tell and shook me right out of its otherwise quite pleasantly synaptic narrative into something that felt like a hybrid infomercial and PSA. Two great tastes that really don’t take great together at all.

        • mechabuddha says:

          That wasn’t so much a problem for me, as I read them as two separate pieces of prose. It’s probably why she used the discovery of an “outside” text.

        • HiFunTimTebow says:

          I agree; I was on board with the narrative and characters until the second half of the part about the diary. Christ, what a load of pernicious treacle. Look, it’s great she has the savvy to break through her worlds to communicate to her characters – I’m on board with that part – but the ‘men are emotionally retarded’ diatribe is really too much. If you lead your player by the nose just to swat it with the Sunday Paper, that’s not insightful gameplay. That’s sadomasochism.

          • mechabuddha says:

            I didn’t get a “men are emotionally retarded” vibe from it. The point I saw was that while women have made advances in social/sexual communication thanks to feminism, men have not seen the same progression away from what is socially expected of men.

          • HiFunTimTebow says:

            @mechabuddha How are men supposed to when whapped about the nose in such a manner? Besides, it literally says in so many words “men are emotionally retarded by their societal mores” on the next page: there’s no vibe; it is explicit in the text. I’d play it again to quote the text for you, but I am loathe to experience that web page again. It occurs right after extending the olive branch towards men via inclusive feminism – no no, men are worth more points if you emotionally beat them before ‘spiritually’ converting them, ‘everyone’ knows that…

          • Philomelle says:

            How is it too much? Men are trained to be emotionally retarded, or at least act like it, since youth through the use of bad stereotypes and outdated social rules. All Cara Ellison does is say that outright.

          • Bhazor says:

            Really? I never would have guessed from the description
            “…I wanted to make it about the heart stopping drudgery of being heterosexual in a world where heterosexuals are conditioned not to talk to each other, or listen to each other, or really have any idea what they are doing.”

            Theres a lack of self confidence there like a comedian who stops to explain each joke.

        • Philomelle says:

          The diary was a small island of sobriety in an ocean of drunkenness, bright night club colors and bodies awkwardly rubbing against each other. I thought that was its entire narrative point.

          But then, by the time I was reading it, I was already so immersed in being the main character that it took kicking me out to Unwinnable in order to make me realize that I’m reading Ellison’s opinions and not experiencing the game.

      • The Random One says:

        How do you find this diary that everyone has apparently found but me?

        • AngoraFish says:

          Play through all four men.

          • The Random One says:

            Ooo, right. You have to do everything in a row.

            …That came out dirty. You have to do everything in one playthrough. I just imagined that when you got set back to the start the game was done and now you can choose another dude but it’s OK if you don’t, and played half the game after closing the browser.

      • AngoraFish says:

        She comes across as a jaded quarter-life crisis-something looking for answers and thinking she’s found them in “certainty”. Life is not certain. People are not certain. Telegraphed emotions are not certain.

        It’s a position I and many of my friends went through at her age and it’s bogus. You may as well say “don’t sleep with me, I’m an arsehole”. No, don’t. That’s just your caveat or get out of free card. You can’t say later on “sorry, I told you I was an arsehole to start with”.

        I fully empathise with Cara’s desire to avoid getting hurt, but you can’t. And it applies equally to both men and women. Feminism has nothing to do with it.

        Still, as an exercise in 20 something angst the game has its place.

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      Lambchops says:

      Sacrilige temporarily broke my eyes! Should come with a warning that should!

    • JackShandy says:

      I liked the continuation of the Club-As-Religion titling from Slaves of God.

  4. kwyjibo says:

    Matt Thorson + Alec Holowka = You know it’s going to be excellent.

  5. Tretiak says:

    Another recommendation:
    Continuity (Puzzle platformer) http://indieplague.blogspot.com/2013/04/continuity-2009.html

    • tormos says:

      Given that the game came out 4 years ago, I don’t think it’s sufficiently contemporary to merit inclusion. Good game though.

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    FriendlyFire says:

    I’d add another game to this list. I’ve stumbled on it thanks to Jesse Cox’s Greenlight series on YouTube.

    It’s called Papers, Please and it’s basically an immigration worker sim. You get to check people’s passports for fakes and such. It’s really unique and intriguing and the beta’s free over there:
    http://dukope.com/

    • The Random One says:

      Papers, Please is the only upcoming game I’m looking forward to. Mattie Bryce had a big article on how she’d prefer games that discuss systemic oppression as opposed to just blatant violence. Well, this is it. This is Spec Ops for the heartless cog in an oppresive bureaucracy.

      EDIT: Though I’m not sure if the final game will be free, so even if Porpy has heard of it it might not be fit for this column.

    • cptgone says:

      great game. original gameplay that makes you wonder why it hasn’t been done before, amazingly atmospheric, and thought provoking.
      not a game i’ll be playing much though, cause of the time pressure aspect.

      of Lucas Pope’s other games, i’ve also played “The Republia Times”. great stuff, in a somewhat similar vein. Pope is dope!

  7. The Random One says:

    On Formalism is great. A much better idea than mine of remaking famous TWINE game to add superfluous minigame sections (such as a rope-tying section in Kim’s Story) which would end up being more disrespectful than anything.

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    daphne says:

    “Sacrilege”? Looks like Cara Ellison is doing good on her promise to kiss Lavelle on the lips: Even the name seems inspired by Slave of God…

  9. Tagiri says:

    I liked Martian Middle School Dance a lot. It captured a lot of the earnest awkwardness of what it’s like to be 12, martian or not.

    • tormos says:

      is it possible to get an ending that doesn’t involve the girl disliking you? I couldn’t find a way to “win” the slowdance (which syncs perfectly with my memories of middle school slow dances)

      • Tagiri says:

        I don’t think so. I tried dancing with both a boy and a girl and neither of them really liked any of the answers on the last dialogue option. (I did accidentally ask the girl if she licked USB ports though so that might have put her off first)

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    Gap Gen says:

    I’m not entirely sure what Raph Koster’s argument is about games. Isn’t it a little like complaining that Maus isn’t funny so can’t be a comic? Or that novels are nothing new. We often don’t choose nomenclature, but use words that we inherit from the past.

    It’s been a while since I read his basic arguments, though. Much of what I’ve read recently had been commentary that refers to a debate that I’ve forgotten the point of.