Live Free Play Hard: Porpentine’s Top 10 of 2013

By Porpentine on January 5th, 2014 at 2:00 pm.

OBJECTIVELY SPEAKING

Hi here’s 10 games I like. 10 games that stuck in my head. On a different day they could have been 10 different games, but they happened to be these.

Room of 1000 Snakes by Ben Esposito and Yuliy Vigdorchik

The perfect game to watch someone else play. It makes me happy in a purer way than pretty much any other game this year. Pure snake injection.

Blues for Mittavinda by Jack King-Spooner

Zen Wild West surreal wander that intimately manifests the power of the author in a way few would dare. Not audacious because of intense content, but audacious because it asks us to regard the passage of time in relation to our bodies, these bodies made nervous by the pressure to stay productive, made nervous by the ambient fear of death.

In all the noise of gunfire and the shout of explosions, one of the best games about death in 2013 is very quiet.

Gods Will Be Watching by Deconstructeam

Narrative strategy game with lovely bleak art, about a party of scifi adventurers crashed on a planet infected by plague. Each has a set of actions emphasizing a particular strength, and together they form a fragile ecosystem. If the doctor dies, no more medicine. If a person dies and their corpse is infected, they’re no good for cannibalism. Etc.

I think it’s just a little too hard but tuning my strategy to survive slightly longer every time is satisfying and tense. The last time I wrote about it, I made a guide. I’m excited for the full version of this game. I hope it keeps the taut strategy without losing focus.

Composition 62 by Nuprahtor

“This is an Angels of Mons moment simulator.”

The most ephemera-oriented game I played in 2013, a structure designed to capture a wisp of a feeling, with the audacity to bring multiplayer into such a delicate space and make it part of the puzzle.

“Together we unwittingly created the perfect image: A weary soldier staring at the sky, lost in rapture, when a shot rings out, and that precious song snaps out of existence, and there’s only the dirt and death and corpses and flies.”

Zero by Artūrs Grebstelis

Artūrs was an interesting designer to me in 2013 because of his approach to the shmup/bullet hell genre. He does not care about deaths, which would end the game.  He cares about the patterns formed by the bullets, treating them as mantras to be hummed with your fingers until you attain enlightenment.

His games make me sweat.

Beat one pattern and you move to the next. The challenge is your own endurance, not lives or scrolling levels. Grebelis enhances this with warlike drums. They intensify as the loop nears completion, enemies disintegrating with the climax as if the drums were summoning them into existence.

Artūrs calls it a “bullet hell” and the hell part feels very literal to me. This is a war the Zero pilots did not win, and the blood red evening evokes this. A war ghost forced to perfectly reenact your violent death until you’re finally laid to rest.

86856527 by Michael Brough

He has a paid version of this out for iOS, but even the free version feels so complete. Takes the elegance of his earlier game Zaga-33 and expands it to a cyberpunk roguelike that makes “the numbers not so big and the grids not so wide, so their relationships reflect intrinsic beauty not cold engineering”, to quote Michael.

Incredibly lean design, with every floor taking up a single screen and presenting a glistening field of largely deterministic choices–but far from antiseptic, with the author’s voice filtered through the various monsters in alien barks and burbles.

86856527 seems hard at first. Then you master it. Then you realize where the real challenge is. Your own greed. All these juicy expensive programs. All these ways to get points.

For example, Robert Meyer pointed out the nature of the Score program, which is “most efficient at the same time that it’s at its riskiest and least convenient”, scoring points for every level remaining, but spawning terrifying amounts of enemies. The entire game is a delicious trap.

Candy Box! by aniwey

For reclaiming compulsive social game elements and turning them into a candy-coated world of discovery. Typical social games could never permit the uncertainty and wonder of Candy Box!

I’m fascinated to see how capitalist designs look when overgrown by nature. I love seeing numbers get bigger. When those numbers represent candy, nothing in the human soul can withstand it.

Reveal by Marie Lazar, Mike Prinke, Tim Liedel, Patrick O’Malley

There’s something deeply unsettling about architecture divorced from normal surroundings.

Reveal puts you inside a windowless exitless room. You see a mirror, but it’s clouded. No reflection. By clouding the mirror, the designers hint that the magazines on the wall are your true source of reflection–the mirrors that society provides for women, and any mirror of glass is just a place of private agony to contort yourself until you resemble those thin white cis depictions.

It’s like opening a puzzle box from the inside, claustrophobia married to catharsis.

000000052573743 by Jake Clover

Previously I wrote, “How many games about dystopias would be improved if you were just a working class drone…How can we criticize systems if we only play as two-dimensional hyper-escapist heroes, and not as people actually affected by the violence and injustice so common to many narratives?” 000000052573743 is all about that drone experience, and not just superficially, but in the psychological dynamic it creates.

Follow the yellow rat tyrant’s orders or die. This is scary not because you might fail to carry out those orders, but because following those orders might not be enough. And I like their ambiguity–how often in real life are we punished for a lack of knowledge, no matter how much we’d like to comply? Being tormented so callously, so brutally by a game was thrilling.

If you like this, his compilation Some Games gave me a lot of feelings about game design.

Bump! by Aaron Steed

Takes the reflex-punishing platformer and makes it turn-based. Get gems, knock spikes to make new paths, avoid death. The game goes as fast as you want, and as slow as you need to think. The screen scrolls as you move, cutting off possibility, forcing you to consider every dead end, every spike-infested cluster.

Bump! is very good at making me feel like my decisions matter. Every inch of the terrain is hugely meaningful, thanks in no small part to the harsh random generation, which makes me feel like I’m surviving a cruel, suffocating dirt world.

—-

Other mentions: Crypt World, 4-LUNG BOY, The River, My Favorite Island, Depression Quest, 2x0ng, A Dark RoomCésure…the fact that our lists are such a struggle to make is a good sign. OVERWHELMED BY PRECIOUS RICHES

——

OH I MADE MORE LISTS

INTERACTIVE FICTION

A hugely experimental category. One of these games is so experimental it doesn’t even exist. Dialogue generated by Markov chain, fridge magnets, dream diaries interpolated with Google Streetview glimpses, self-aware NPC lovers, a gun that shoots words–this is where you go to play with language and experience avant-garde storytelling.

TWINE

To mention a few:

Unbreakable is one of the most underrated and moving Twines of the year, in my opinion. It’s about rehabilitating a surgical robot through musical therapy. The music you hear is the sum of your choices, each decision adding a layer to the song.

It requires close reading. Each paragraph is obliquely rich with world-building. I missed so much the first time I played it.

HORSEMASTER is a gritty, passionate exploration of raising a horse in a body horror dystopia. I don’t understand why Neopets hasn’t bought the license for this yet.

You Will Select a Decision, № 2: Cow Farming Activities on the Former West was the Twine game I laughed at the most this year. Sitting in bed with my partner and playing it with her is a good memory.

SABBAT is the most detailed sexy Satanic sacrifice simulator of 2013. A new version was released recently with cruelty-free options for those with qualms about sacrificing animals.

SEX

My sexuality? Anne Hathaway.

Six games encompassing a broad spectrum of sexuality. Some, like Fuck That Guy and Anne Hathaway’s Erotic Mouthscape, are joyful spurts of pure indulgence. Others go deeper–the valuable buried knowledge of Positive Space, the heterosexual deconstruction of Sacrilege and Sex with Men.

HORROR

Noticed a lot of good horrors by women this year. Who better to understand body horror than people forced to occupy contradictory bodies, told their bodies are disgusting, forced to turn their pain inward? Who better to understand pervasive fear and dread?

And the other editors made their own lists, well worth checking out. Something I like about figames is how the editors all have their particular strengths and areas they like to cover, so if your taste isn’t represented in this list, you might see it elsewhere.

—–

GAME PREDICTIONS FOR 2014

-Games about Atlantis will surge in popularity

-Roguelike-influenced design will continue to rise

-300% rise in femme aesthetic across all genres

-Princesspunk roguelike will unite these predictions in grand apotheosis

—–

Thanks for reading, and good luck in 2014.

__________________

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53 Comments »

  1. Bluerps says:

    Thanks for writing! It was a great year of Live Free Play Hard.

  2. ividyon says:

    No thecatamites? Color me disappointed.

  3. webwielder says:

    I tell women that their bodies are beautiful all the time, but they never seem to appreciate it.

  4. Lambchops says:

    Seems a good enough place for my last bit (I promise) of “everyone should play Counterfeit Monkey” evangalising!

    Hopefully this year I’ll have the time to give some of these things a shot, rather than mentally filling them away in my “must remember to play this” cabinet and then losing the keys to said cabinet.

    Both 86856527 and Blues for Mittavinda caught my eye but have I played either of them, no I haven’t. Hopefully I’ll remember this time around!

    Scanning the lists seeing Jelly No Puzzle raised a smile, that was a far trickier prospect than it initially appeared and I seem to remember having a good time with it.

    4 Scepters completely passed me by but looks like the kind of thing I might enjoy.

  5. itchy01ca says:

    You try telling a woman she’s beautiful. See how fast you get slapped or called a pig or misogynist. Women don’t appreciate compliments. It’s sickening.

    • Jac says:

      Dear Deirdre. I just called my girlfriend beautiful and i’m concerned she may be malfunctioning and in need of repair as I haven’t received a slap. Please help.

    • Ich Will says:

      Maybe you just say it in a really creepy way or maybe your face is just really slappable.

    • mouton says:

      Our cultural standards limit the amount of interaction we can do with strangers, be it positive or negative. You don’t compliment some random dude’s abs on the street and expect a positive outcome either.

      Women will not object to compliments once certain familiarity is established. Neither will the abs guy.

    • equatorian says:

      A long cultural tradition has taught women that when someone, especially a guy and a random guy at that, compliments their bodies without having earned their trust, it means that they’re looking at their bodies as a commodity. Oh, look at that lovely piece of meat. Would make a tasty bacon. Sad but true.

      If a woman has a reason to believe that you’re genuinely complimenting her because she looks nice and you’re glad to see that she looks nice, not commenting on her aesthetic values as an object, then most women that I know would be rather flattered by it.

    • Eddy9000 says:

      No. The majority of women enjoy being called beautiful, or told they have a good body by a man they are in a position of trust with and have a relationship with that is primarily based around an appreciation of their character. Here’s a hint, if women are offended when you compliment them physically then you are a poor judge of appropriate social behaviour – it is your problem not theirs and if you took this on board then you might actually find that you can progress in your relationship with a woman to the point where she feels you appreciate and value her as a complex human being, and accepts compliments about her physicality from you because they do not make her feel like a bag of meat that exists for the sole purpose of pleasing your eyeballs. Or you could just go on blaming women and prude-shaming them, never able to form the meaningful relationships that would challenge your views and leave you fulfilled, banding together with other misanthropes on MRA forums to allay the sense of isolation and rejection that leaves you feeling so empty otherwise.

    • Gap Gen says:

      I am sick, but I attributed it to a winter bug and ingesting hella mucus. But now you mention it, it does sicken me how people I identify as women don’t appreciate my efforts to judge their worth largely on their appearance.

      Actually now I want to go up to people I think probably identify as men and tell them they’re beautiful, and that their skin is very soft, like a child’s. And oh my, I don’t know you, but those eyes.

    • itchy01ca says:

      Oh the white knighters unite, at least for some of you. I was told about this here :) I never said anything about her body being beautiful. The anti-male prejudice will automatically assume that when a male says a woman is beautiful they assume that it will be the body that is being spoken of. How about her voice? How about her laugh? How about her mind? Are these things not beautiful as well? Can I not comment on those? Suddenly I have to be familiar with a person to call them beautiful? Im sure a girl calling a guy beautiful or any other word meaning the same is just fine.

      • Gap Gen says:

        We are the Knights in White! All the sex shall be ours, despite being anonymous blob creatures with no easy way to trace our physical identities! If that’s the bizarre assertion you’re making, of course.

        Also maybe listening to people will result in fewer slaps? Unless you like that kind of thing.

        EDIT: Since you edited your post, I thought I’d reply to “Suddenly I have to be familiar with a person to call them beautiful?” with “yes, basically”, and “Im sure a girl calling a guy beautiful or any other word meaning the same is just fine” with “possibly, but also weird, and indeed gender flipping isn’t always the point, see above.”

      • Raiyan 1.0 says:

        People go through the trouble of explaining to you proper social conduct and etiquette, and all you can come back with is a lazy, childish insult?

        Edit: Ah, I see you have edited your post. I’m pretty sure no woman would ever slap you for saying she has a ‘beautiful mind’, so you’re grasping at straws here with your victim complex.

      • joa says:

        Girls are somewhat more pleasant than guys overall, so thats why a girl calling a guy beautiful is more welcome, albeit weird.

        • Gap Gen says:

          Yes, it’s important to bear in mind that women tend to get creeped on a lot, whereas men don’t. Sure, some advances can be welcome, but it’s important to know the context, etc. There are quite a few sites that talk about this kind of thing (without being skeezy pick-up sites that view women as adversarial/mechanistic sex robots).

    • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

      Are you sure you’re placing the correct denomination of Compliment Tokens inside the proper Gender Relations slot? Women are finely-honed standardized instruments; if you follow the flowchart, the results should be predictable and repeatable across models.

  6. Jac says:

    I thought seal porps were meant to be cute, fluffy and adorable. That purple porp scares me.

  7. Ham Solo says:

    Room of 1000 snakes is exactly what it says on the tin, so I guess I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was.
    Still funny, especially whatching others play for the first time.

  8. The Random One says:

    I predict a roguelike game where you are the Cutest Princess of Atlantis will actually be made and be the GOTY 2014.

    €: One game I really liked that’s not on the list is that one where you’re a farmer and you have to find the girl and you have to answer the questions. I forgot what it was called which is too bad because I wanted to play it again! :-(

    Also, as Porpentine mentions, if you liked SABBAT there’s now a DIRECTOR’S CVT that costs like five bucks but is actually illustrated and shit. I’ll probably be picking it up and so should yoooou.

  9. Dintin says:

    >2013+1
    >Using ‘cis’ in anything resembling a serious manner
    2tumblr4me

    • Lambchops says:

      I assure you when I tell you the substituents on a molecule are in a “cis relationship” I’m being entirely serious.

    • zeekthegeek says:

      You heard it here first: using Latin words correctly is such a tumblr thing.

      • Docm30 says:

        I have no idea what’s being discussed here as I’ve only ever heard ‘cis’ used in English in the name of the Cisalpine Republic, but being a preposition in Latin I don’t believe “thin white cis depictions” is a correct usage.

        • zeekthegeek says:

          It’s evolved into a contracted form but cissexual is a perfectly valid descriptor, with cis being the opposite to trans. Can you think of a more clear and not-clunky phrase to say ‘people who are comfortable in their birth gender identity’?

          • Dr I am a Doctor says:

            Normal.

            8)

          • Kitsunin says:

            And then how does one describe everyone who isn’t normal? And what does that imply, even ignoring that? Oh yeah, that’s why that doesn’t work.

            And to be fair, I don’t think most of us who are cis are really as 100% comfortable in their assumed gender identity as they say. Maybe I’m just projecting though…

          • darkChozo says:

            We describe people who aren’t normal as tangent.

            (yes I know this isn’t strictly true but it’s for the joke!)

          • joa says:

            It seems dangerous to simply accept the terminology of a disturbingly idealogical group.
            There seems to be very little scientific understanding of the nature of transgender-ness.

            I have no problem accepting if someone says hey I feel very much inside that I am actually a woman and not a man as I appear to be. However when people say they’ve got it all worked out into these categories and this is how it is, and if you don’t use these words then you’re a bigot, I’m skeptical. Especially when those people are of the dogmatic, left-wing sociology-degree holding persuasion.

    • rightyeauhuh says:

      It is almost as embarrassing as greentexting outside of 4chan.

    • tasteful says:

      “i’m mad because i’m asked to adapt to the existence of people i do not want to have to think about”

    • TheBarringGaffner says:

      Translation: I’m afraid of having my beliefs challenged.

  10. tasteful says:

    “I’m fascinated to see how capitalist designs look when overgrown by nature.” gah you are the best commentator on videogames period. or maybe any art form? you and the guy that makes ultima ratio regum are the two biggest internet dreamboats in the world.

  11. PopeRatzo says:

    one of the best games about death …

    Indie gaming has become a parody of itself.

  12. Dr I am a Doctor says:

    “Reveal puts you inside a windowless exitless room. You see a mirror, but it’s clouded. No reflection. By clouding the mirror, the designers hint that the magazines on the wall are your true source of reflection–the mirrors that society provides for women, and any mirror of glass is just a place of private agony to contort yourself until you resemble those thin white cis depictions.”

    Hahahahah

  13. psepho says:

    Thanks to LFDH for another excellent year of commentary on the weirdest end of games.

    Of course, Porpentine’s lists are entirely flawed as an end of year resume due to the omission of her own free games. Since no one else has linked yet: http://aliendovecote.com/games.html. I haven’t played all of the very many games she put out this year, but ones I particularly did like were Ultra Business Tycoon III, Climbing 208 Feet Up the Ruin Wall and How to Speak Atlantean.

    • tormos says:

      Ultra Business Tycoon III obviously deserves a place in the top ten here.
      Easily my favorite free game, enjoyed it more than a lot of games that I paid money for.

  14. bill says:

    Thanks for a year of good writing. RPS should get you to write some other stuff too. Assuming you’d be interested in that.
    (If you are listening, hive mind?!)

  15. mouton says:

    “Boohoo, why are comments closed?”

  16. Porpentine says:

    they call me Porp “Comments Closed” Entine ;)

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