Live Free, Play Hard: Look Incredulous For The Dragon

THIS WEEK: Level 9 eyebrows. Homeopathic potions. Epistolary Twine. VOLCANO OF BEES.

Porpentine’s at the Allied Media Conference, so this week you get me, Noyb. Let’s get to it.

Terror Cave by Chuchino

You begin in an empty room. A cursor chases you, begins to lay down square platforms at a steady beat. You juke left, juke right, climbing and dodging through an increasingly constricted space. The way you move determines the way the cursor moves, determines the level’s layout. There’s no one to blame but yourself when the cursor finally plops a tile right on top of you.

Spike mode ups the ante by adopting the central mechanic from Cactus Block, which you may remember from a previous column. Every tile the cursor lays now has an equal chance of being either a solid block or a deadly spike. Now nothing is certain, and you must react on the fly to limit the influence of bad luck.

There may be even more modes, locked behind a door requiring a level of mastery I have yet to attain.

King of Bees in Fantasy Land by Brendan Patrick Hennessy

Pick an old manshooter at random and you’re likely to find an unreliable narrator, the kind which strips nuance away in order to justify a game where an entire people, nation, planet is uniformly EVIL and must be EXTERMINATED to bring PEACE to the land.

Soundodger by OneMrBean

Crafted with love for both bullet hell games and musical structure. Waves of bullets develop a vocabulary within each song, picking out salient features to translate into quick drum hits, thick chord clusters, spiraling arpeggio strands. Repeated motifs in the song emerge as patterns to dodge. A visual record player metaphor extends to game’s treatment of time. For a more coherent analysis, see Nathan’s Wot I Think.

Michael Tucker’s Eyebrow Quest by Marek Kapolka

Fuck combat mechanics. The RPG-styled world of Michael Tucker’s Eyebrow Quest values appropriate facial expressions above all else.

Controlling each eyebrow individually, you begin the game with limited ability to move and rotate your hairy temple guards. But a raised eyebrow here, a look of concern there, a regimen of waggling during your free time will soon level up your empathetic abilities to unprecedented heights.

Hipnopotamus by Artūrs Grebstelis

A game of interstellar choreography. Hypnotic bullet patterns guide you and a friend (do grab a second person for this and not your other hand) through dance moves that naturally conjoin and separate the two ships. Each player eats and avoids a disjoint set of bullets, creating situations where you must rely on each other to carve a safe path for you both to take.

Like Artūrs’ previous game series Psychedelics, Hipnopotamus thrives on a sense of continuous flow. Player error never brings the game to a halt with explosions or discordant screeches. The dance goes on, waiting for you to jump right back in until you both get it right enough to see the next pattern.

A Dark Room by Doublespeak Games

A Dark Room takes direct inspiration from Candy Box. The game starts in a dark room and gradually fills in the world outside that room through the player’s exploration of each new system it introduces.

Unlike my experience with Candy Box, it eventually makes the initial act of waiting less integral to the game, establishing an economy that churns at a steady clip while still allowing you room to tweak, experiment, and progress elsewhere.


To my Grandma by Kim Delicious

“They’re in a better place.” “You’ll see them again someday.” While well-intentioned, these words don’t easily soothe those bereaved who do not believe in an afterlife, who must cope with the knowledge that their time with a loved one is unequivocally at an end.

To my Grandma is an online memorial of happy moments and regrets, guilt and earnest appreciation. Lyrics from “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” float at the bottom of each page, flat and hyperlink-free, easy to tune out as you explore each preserved memory.


Amulets & Armor by Lysle Shields, David Webster, and United Software Artists

Deep in a fantasy library, the sun is setting and it’s getting hard to see. So I eat a few carrots to help out my weak, paladin eyes. Druids line the walls of the flooded room ahead. A trap. I throw a few fireballs ahead of me, magic I technically haven’t learned yet but instead discovered by playing with the arbitrary combinatorics of the game’s rune system. The druids respond with a barrage of poison. I retreat, fiddling with my inventory system in real time, downing unmarked potion after potion trying to find an antidote. A colorless, transparent elixir does nothing but quench my thirst. Water. Cute. Not what I need.

Amulets & Armor is an action-focused first person role playing DOS game made in the Doom engine. It was originally released to dismal sales in 1997 as a commercial game but was recently made freeware by the original developers, who never ceded rights to any publisher.

It’s absurd, ambitious, more than a little clunky. The entire game can be played cooperatively with a friend. You can choose from among eleven character classes, all of them men. The only penalty for death is the loss of a little money, and the time it takes to return to your corpse to recover and reequip your items, assuming you didn’t fall into a trap that left your body inaccessible. Controls sprawl across the keyboard and mouse-driven screens, a rune system difficult to use in the heat of combat on laptops without numpads. Still, get past the initial learning curve and you might find something with legs.


letters from my father by David Goldfarb

When you cut someone out of your life, they don’t stop existing. A call you let through to voicemail. An email that breaks months of silence. Unexpected, innocuous updates that can nonetheless ruin your day because of who made them and what memories they dredge up.

The narrative tension here is that the player character would be much happier ignoring these letters, but they’re also the only way for the player to gain insight into the characters’ lives. Curiosity gets the better of you and you read them, though you know you shouldn’t.


Dog of Dracula 2: Cyber Monogatari by Team Batsu

Since the last game Cid is back on the sauce (ketchup, ponzu, whatever he can find) and growing more distant from his roommate, Dracula’s old pet dog, while their world has taken a turn for the cyberpunk.


  1. Dr I am a Doctor says:

    Only three twines this time. Maybe… one day………….

    • Harrington says:

      Lord, yes. I get the appeal of Twine from a developer’s point of view. From a player’s standpoint, though: damn guys, either write a short story or give me a proper bit of IF, because this pseudo-interactive choose-your-own-adventure stuff just isn’t all that fun.

      • Prokroustis says:

        So much this. No twine “game” can ever come close to something like this.

    • lowprices says:

      Ah, the customary moan about Twines. Now here I am delivering the customary moan about moaning about Twines. Now if someone would be good enough to moan about me moaning about moaning about Twines we can complete the ritual, and prevent Raph Koster rising from his eternal slumber and destroying the Earth for another week.

      • misterT0AST says:

        It’s not as if complaints at some point will stop. If there is a problem, and the problem persists, people will keep pointing it out.

        • lowprices says:

          Thy cycle is complete. Earth is spared Koster’s wrath for another week.

        • Niko says:

          More like “if there is something, people will keep pointing it out”.

          • BooleanBob says:

            There is something here. People are pointing it out. Exits are N and W.

          • The Random One says:

            > point it out
            What do you want to point out?
            > something
            I don’t know how to do that.

      • Raph Koster says:

        You called? :)

        FWIW, I quite like Twine…

    • LIVELIKE21 says:

      my best friend’s aunt makes $86 an hour on the internet. She has been fired for 7 months but last month her pay check was $12593 just working on the internet for a few hours. Here’s the site to read more WEP6.COM

    • tormos says:

      goddammit, I was consoling myself in Porpentine’s absence with the fact that this annoying thread wouldn’t be in the comments and then it was. Now i’m just sad.

  2. Aaax says:

    So… are any of these good enough to spend my time on?

    • Harrington says:

      A Dark Room is very good.

    • Samuelson says:

      I always ask myself the same question.

    • Gazpacho Soup says:

      No, your time is much too important Mister Prime Minister of All of Space. Now, we need you to kiss these babies. Space babies.

      • Samuelson says:

        Ok, but only after kissing my space pets.

        • Aaax says:

          Right, I can already see it in the news: “HUGE scandal, Prime minister of all space caught kissing with babies AND pets.”

          • lowprices says:

            Or worse:

            “I thought it was her space-baby” claims Prime Minister, not helping matters.

            The space Murdoch papers would have a field day.

          • Aaax says:


    • AlwaysRight says:

      “are any of these good enough to spend my time on?”

      To answer this question accurately we need to know how much your time is worth in pence per second. We also need to know the level of enjoyment you receive from another game you plan on playing, the time you intend to spend playing it and how much it cost you. We also need a score for every game you have ever played and a list of preferences/dislikes.

      I’m willing to work it out, but I’m warning you that it may waste more time than actually just picking a game you think you might be interested in and trying it out… Or I may have just massively over-analysed a throwaway glib response.

      • Aaax says:

        If we look at it from another angle and proceed with the analysis considering only two goods, first being time spent with, say, dota 2 and second being time spent with free games in the column, in contrast with yours proposed monetary valuation, we arrive at the conclusion that marginal rate of substitution would reach zero only for negative amounts of the second good.

        Also, I triend A dark room and would much rather kiss all venusion space babies than to play it anymore.

        • blind_boy_grunt says:

          honey, just play the damn games or not. Don’t be so precious about it.

          your spacemom

        • DrollRemark says:

          All those words when you could have just played a game.

    • futurememory says:

      King of Bees in Fantasy Land is fun in a subversive way, and A Dark Room is a better Candy Box.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    Oh! And I thought we wouldn’t get a LFPH this week. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to look at most of that right now, but I at least was able to play King of Bees in Fantasy Land and it was delightful!

    Also: Yay, Dog of Dracula 2!

  4. futurememory says:

    I lost an entire night of my life to A Dark Room. It’s a better game than Candy Box (less waiting, more doing), and it has a neat little creepy story to boot.

  5. Hattered says:

    Quest: Look serious for the comments section.
    The comments section has cursed your left eyebrow!

    You think back fondly of past times in sand.

    Those are the days you’ll remember. Nothing from the cybertimes, just those brief, delicate moments where everything was in absolute harmony.

    The sky is grey and the wind blows relentlessly.

    It is rainy and grey and misty like you once imagined the moors to be. When you were young sometimes it seemed as though the only place that was safe was somewhere like this.

    She didn’t lose to despair.
    She was always so very kind.
    Even though I’ve already forgotten what I’d learned, I will never forget this.

  6. Coriform says:

    Ooh a new Dog of Dracula!

  7. Porpentine says:

    wow, more twines? this columns a joke. someone fire this fucked up Computer Lesbian

  8. The Random One says:

    “Amulets & Armor is an action-focused first person (…) game (…). It’s absurd, ambitious, more than a little clunky. (…) The only penalty for death is the loss of a little money, and the time it takes to return to your corpse(…)”

    Oh God there’s a Bioshock Infinite joke here but I can’t draw it into the light

  9. piratmonkey says:

    I showed the EVIL BEES no mercy. KILL BEES