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15

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

surgeons sitting around drinking

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Masocore as designed by 11 year olds. Painting Tycoon. Simian mobile discord. Underwater multiplayer Cactus Block.

 

 

Coletânea Esses Games Violentos by Pedro Paiva’s 11-Year-Old Students

I’m so excited about all these kid’s drawings converted into deadly levels.

The audio is 100% juvenile mouthwork. I died frequently to the fanfare of children making death sounds. It was utterly worth it. Or take the moment where a level’s soundtrack stops to giggle.

Easy to call these masocore designed by 11 year olds, but they feel more like puzzles framed in the vocabulary of video games.

Each drawing has its own rules, which constitute a puzzle of sorts. Part of the puzzle is figuring out the eccentricities of each animation. For instance, some levels don’t use conventional free movement, instead moving around takes you to wildly variable frames of your avatar.

The other part is discovering the properties of each scribble and what they’re intended to represent:

How do I control my avatar? What is my avatar?

What kills me? Are those coins or drops of toxic acid? Oh no0ooo, walls are deadly in this level.

Play this to experience what kids can do with just a desk mic, drawing supplies, and raw imagination–arranged by their superb liaison from the adult world, Pedro Paiva.

 

 

The Fable of the Mermaid and the Drunks by Lauren Vincelli

A beautiful port of the Pablo Neruda poem framed in stop motion art (water and scales and crystals dancing above and below), a Twine installation embedded in cyberspace.

The mermaid’s journey is told as half text, half imagery–coarse black minerals as leering hands reach for her, sun-bathed seaweed against descriptions of her golden skin.

 

 

OCTOPY by merritt kopas

Cactus Block is about leaping across pits while placing objects that have a 50/50 chance of being either a…block….or a….cactus.

OCTOPY takes that unpredictable mechanic (coin/spike replacing block/cactus), adds multiplayer, then hands each player half the controls.

Player 1 wields the cursor, player 2 decides when the cursor drops stuff. Meanwhile you steer your own octopy.

Spikes kill you, collecting five coins wins the game.

The result is this big noisy mess that is almost impossible to coherently deal with and that’s GREAT. Like Shotguns in the Dark from a couple weeks ago, OCTOPY tangles the player’s brains together at the mechanical level in the service of mind games and chaos.

 

 

 

Avant-Garde by Lucas “AD1337″ Molina

Avante-Garde is a gorgeous art sim set in 19th century Paris. Train your skills, plan out projects, submit to competitions, and get drunk with famous painters.

Fun things you can do:

Craft paintings from a variety of materials, movements, etc.

Make up silly names for your paintings.

Declare a manifesto (mine is mainly about color, fuck everything else)

Avant-Garde is grounded in historical limitations, like the fact the Salon will only accept realistic paintings (the creator talks about adding counter-cultural Salons in future releases where rebellious styles can flourish).

So this is still in the alpha stage but looks promising, and there can be no better recommendation than simply taking in the brooding piano and the menu, Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day (a lovely realization of his flirtation with photographic perspective).

 

 

simian.interface by Vested Interest

Frictionless puzzles where you rotate clouds of shape and color until they align jusssst right. If block-dragging brainteasers are earth, simian.interface is air.

Feels like repairing optical damage in a futuristic operating theater, all the surgeons sitting around drinking coco-infused rum as a parade of holographic eyes are restored with each languid flick of their fingers.

 

 

 

Melodisle by Andrew Gleeson

Melodisle has the control scheme equivalent of an infinite supply of bubble wrap–that is, you carry around your own instant gratification in the form of pretty sounds bound to your keyboard. Use them to find notes hidden inside the cryptic landmarks of these melodic isles, and maybe find…true love? (no.)

Some puzzles I grasped fairly easily, others I couldn’t figure out, but I had fun just playing songs for the critters. This is a wonderful first game that leaves me wanting a full length musical landscape to wander.

 

scarfmemory by Michael Brough

The heartbreaking story of Michael Brough’s scarf.

Scarfmemory’s text unfolds so naturally (using Leon Arnott’s “replace” macro), and in this case lets you control Michael’s stream of consciousness, his depth of introspection. I would include this in a compilation of hypertext construction.

These hyperlinks are more than portals to other pages, they are infections waiting to spread on the current one. Now I’m thinking about links that preview outgoing content, slivers of text/imagery like adjoining windows, or, as in this game, you decide if you want them to be part of the story or not.

 

 

 

Auti-Sim by TaylanK

Auti-Sim’s goal is to depict the experiences of “an autistic child with auditory hypersensitivity.” The creator is careful to note this represents one type of experience out of many.

Games seem aptly suited as non-typical sensory filter simulators–the visible made invisible. This is especially valuable because unlike a broken leg where no one will doubt you, a child screaming because of abnormal pain is often dismissed as “misbehaving” or a bunch of other words that don’t really mean anything.

I played this a couple ways.

I tried to get close to people and experienced unbearable disorientation so I went to the swing set at the edge of the park and sat by myself. I like that a space was provided for me to retreat, a spatial narrative of eagerness turned to isolation. This feels like the way Auti-Sim is intended to play out (turns out Nathan Grayson had a similar experience).

You can also exploit your preternaturally powerful legs to jump over the fence and explore the forest. I’m in love with the vast grass plains and border abysses of Unity games, a geographic feature that persists across worlds.

 

 

 

J-J-J-Jump by Nitrome

PRO TIP: The rain is falling and you have to jump to higher ground or you drown.

PRO TIP: Jumping is a resource. Touch the prismatic sludge lying on the ground and you get a point of jump.

PRO TIP: Use your jumps wisely or risk a sense of hamstrung helplessness as you wait for the rising waters to engulf you.

PRO TIP: J-J-J-Jump has the bright wetness of rain on a sunny day, a palette choice much more creative than defaulting to storm greys.

 

 

 

Psychedelics by Artūrs Grebstelis

Psychedelics compiles Artūrs’s previous work (Konfeti, Polar, PonPon) plus a new title (PifPaf). They are all mesmerizing reflex games full of motion-trails and hallucinogenic color.

Konfeti looks like a rippling bed of sea anemone, and would be a soothing toy if it weren’t for the dark presence flowing after you.

Polar is my favorite. You guide a ship through a spiraling vortex with just one button to reverse your direction. It has the perfect flow of relaxing movement patterns segueing into hyper-chromatic terror mazes. Sadly I think the incredible retina-punishing pulsations near the end were toned down for this release. :(

PonPon is the kind of game where you race naked across sidescrolling clouds and try not to hit anything.

PifPaf is bullet hell except instead of shooting, you’re evading.

I appreciate that Artūrs’s games don’t annoy you with death. Instead they say, hey, let’s get good at this game, you don’t need a tedious death animation, you don’t need to go back to the beginning. The only penalty is simply not moving forward.

This let me focus on the pure experience rather than stressing over a framework intent on punishing me (something something game design tropes as seldom questioned authoritarian figures persisting in too many games).

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