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

Where does free beer bear originate from? Anyone?

Presenting the first of a new weekly series, in which Porpentine of the excellent Free Indie Games takes us through some of the most splendid, er, free indie games released/discovered over the last few days. You may notice this column is in need of an appropriate title image, a la Bargain Bucket and Sunday Papers – if you fancy creating one, in exchange for IMMORTAL GLORY, please email a 600x250pixel JPG here and we’ll see what we can do.

Now, what have you got for us this week, Porpentine?

Unleashing rat chaos. Inventing more powerful letters. Shrieking at paddles. A homicidal planet trapped in Space Prison. How poetry can help you navigate ruins.

Rat Chaos

Rat Chaos is the funniest Twine game I’ve ever played, and the most human. Rat Chaos is about games and real life because they’re the exact same thing. Chastain’s voice for making manic mockery of old games is pitch perfect. And hearing how the voice cracks is when it goes from good to brilliant.

“Well, you found some good planets today, chicken dinner waiting back in your Quarters.” Finding planets. Or WHATEVER we do in space.

Rat Chaos is the game melting to become real life. Throwing up hands and saying, there’s a human being making this game. There always was. There was never any separation.

I see backlash against all these little indie games. How dare a game last 5 minutes, 30 seconds, a couple clicks. Mainstream game culture can be obsessed with endlessness: the treadmill, the New Game+, the level cap, the unlockable-upgradeable-medal-star-rating reiteration. Reset your game to play through the exact same game again but this time with a little tag that says you’ve reset your game. Movies and albums are an experience of hours, but for a game to last 60+ hours is a fact that gets trumpeted from the rooftops. Games as total retreat from the world, as oblivion.

We have all these guns, they say excitedly. They count precisely how many levels, power-ups, items, and enemies are in the game, like they’re selling us something as exacting as kilos of cocaine or ammunition to fund a war effort. The qualitative nature of those things is never mentioned.

Short isn’t a crime. Short fits a game into life’s cadence. A kiss is short. Ice cream melts.

PLAY RAT CHAOS

Mercury

Mercury is a roguelike where the high scorers of each cycle design an addition to the game–monster, class, or item. The play lends itself to this model–fast, arcade-like, limited turns per floor replenished by killing enemies and reaching the next. The style is illuminated roguelike, ornate symbols battling on a vellum arena.

When I logged in a week ago, there was one class, one enemy, and two items. I logged in this week and there was a Squire, Hashashin, and Bleedzerker to pick from. Coming at me from either direction was a Janissary and a Karkas. On the next floor was a snake and a Snog. Snogs are horrible, don’t ever mess with them.

Balance is obviously a concern, but fuck balance, interesting and new is worth the experiment. I hear the range of victors is being raised from 2 to 5 next cycle, which could open things up nicely or just turn on the faucet marked Chaos full blast. The gameplay itself can be haphazard and I’m not always sure how meaningful my decisions are in this environment, but I’m interested in seeing where this ends up.

Audio Pong

Audio Pong was my favorite entry in Experimental Gameplay Project’s Audio Input comp. High and low notes correspond intuitively to the paddle being high or low. The best part of every game that came out of that competition is that you end up making ridiculous sounds into your microphone of escalating desperation or gutturality depending on whether the game in question is demanding a high or a low note to postpone your inevitable murder. Growling and shrieking to make a dragon spit fire or a glass pane shatter before the lava catches you.

The controls become the focus of the experience, a way to coax absurdity out of ourselves. More designers need to take brutal advantage of the fact that we interface so readily, so wantonly, with whatever a game demands of us.

Planet Floop

Planet Floop is in Space Prison, so naturally you have to knock it into an escape vortex using a limited supply of repulsor and attractor beams. Space Floop takes the sterile shape we’re so accustomed to punting around in puzzle games and puts little people on the surface. Watch in dread as the planet spins slowly, unpredictably across your poorly placed beams. If a citizen hits a surface, they’re smushed. Losing depends on whether Australia or Greenland is hitting the edge of the screen. Australia’s been wiped out, but Greenland still has a chance. One tenacious sucker hanging on there. Then the planet smacks into the wall with a bloody spurt.

Most of my attempts ended in Pyrrhic victory, a single citizen clinging to my battered planet. I felt bad in a way no time limit or moves-used scoring could have instilled in me. How fun to make the object living. Imagine a puzzle game where you badger a piece of breathing meat around a level, your clumsy play causing bruises, infection. Cronenberg’s Marble Madness.

In Ruins

[N.B. this was created by Tom Betts, who regular readers may know works with our own Jim Rossignol at Big Robot. No-one at RPS has anything to do with Porpentine’s selections for this column, however – Conflict Of Interest Ed]

In Ruins has you wandering through an island out of a romantic painting. Extinguish the beams of light scattered throughout to make words by Lucretius appear on screen. I went and looked up “On the Nature of Things” to try and understand better. Turns out some OLD GUY wrote it in the BEFORETIMES. The piece itself is dense as a whole but the excerpts are perfect, suggesting ruins, primordial creation, immensity. The centerpiece of the map is a high tower lit by a radiant flame. Leaping into the fire completes the map. But at first we are too weak to reach it. Becoming stronger in these ruins is poetic and complimentary–the more beautiful words you read the higher you can jump.

So I searched for the beams of light. Along the way I found haunting spaces that could have been drained canals or flooded streets. Wandered down a lonely alley, weed-grown and water-logged. Imagined the history of this place that never was. Day faded and shadows overtook me. Clouds like pink milk swirling through water.

Spoilers follow.

I covered the whole island. One pillar of light remained high above my head on a massive edifice, four lofty stone walls topped with a mysterious garden. I tried finding high ground to leap from. I circled those sea-lapped walls one, two, three times. Was this the lesson I was intended to learn? Unattainable beauty? Stuck to the earth like a crawling, horrid thing as the “ethereal fire of those limpid regions” (to reference Baudelaire’s Élévation) taunted me? I went back to the central tower and, gathering all my strength, leapt up and into the light. I was reborn near the same edifice I had sought so long to conquer. I watched the land sink into the sea, the bones of this ancient city swallowed up by the waves. But before they sank I leapt onto the plummeting, hitherto unattainable garden and snatched the words from the light. I forget what they were. I think they were from the same pool as all the other words. But getting them was sweet. And then I was alone on a tiny patch of dirt in the vastness of a great ocean.

Completing that cycle unlocks parameter control for generating new maps. This excited me because I’ve always longed for a ruin simulator, a game that generates cities with the same fervor as Minecraft generates biomes. Alien architecture, sprawling networks of beams and rafters, rooms for giants, claustrophobic hallways that get narrower and narrower, houses inside houses inside houses, mutated merging structures of disparate styles–I want to see architecture as processed by a machine, our history of design and space filtered through a random generator. This island alone gave me many fragile moments crafted from the myriad intersections of water, foliage, horizon, light, shadow, and stone.

I found In Ruins to be almost unbearably beautiful at times. I want more.

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Hivemind

The all-seeing eye of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, the voice of many-as-one.

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