Live Free Play Hard: Happy Anniversary

All I care about is my priceless collection of rand(3, 7) gems. All the trees in this forest are humans. FREEDOM OF SPELL.


Happy 1 year anniversary of LFPH, yay.

Over the course of 50 columns I’ve had various scattered thoughts.

The point has always been to look at games from every axis, not just conventional taste. Evaluating games based on what they’re trying to do, not what we want them to be.

If we look only at the safe games, the polished games, the games that follow established forms, we miss so much.

Before joining freeindiegames, I had no idea how many fascinating games are made every single day. We’ve been posting 2 or more games a day since March, 2012, with nearly 1500 posts as of today. They deserve coverage, curation, analyses, to be thrown into mixtapes and organized into compilations, even if they lack the hype, marketing, and shared cultural event of the larger games that appeal to our social natures and desire to participate in a common discourse.

It can be a challenge (for me at least) to write about these games, because:

1) sometimes we’re the first to write about these games and we have to make up our minds without the benefit of examining previous thoughts, which can be scary!

2) we often lack the words to describe games trying something different–but it’s also exciting to be forced to expand our vocabulary.

As critics, we should do our research, especially when covering works by marginalized people.

Context is so important. By looking at context, we can understand things like “Oh, this was made by someone we almost never see making games,” or “This is actually really tricky to pull off in this engine, I had no idea RPGMaker/Twine could do that.” or “This is a story that rarely gets told due to societal biases, and here is some information I can provide to establish context for it.”

The best skill a critic can have is not to be good at videogames, but good at life–to cultivate the perspective and breadth to do justice to the offshoots and tendrils and wild growths of our medium.

I know I certainly can’t do justice to everything and I’m grateful to everyone else who looks at games like these and shows them some love.

Thanks for reading.


Gaurodan by Locomalito, Gryzor87

As far as I can tell, the life cycle of Gaurodan is 5% being an egg that destroys cities, and 95% being a bird that destroys cities.

In between being an egg and a bird you have this super cool transformation sequence where you explode with fire and energy and you’re like SCREEEEEEEE and this establishes the essential theme of the game: exploding with fire and energy.

So you’re all about destroying cities, but the army wants to kill you, which means you need to strike a balance. Like, I want to blow up a hospital, but this helicopter is shooting me, so I have to be a responsible adult Gaurodan and blow up the helicopter first. That’s called maturity.


The Light by Sergey Noskov

The first thing I notice is how beautiful the world is. Through the shattered windows of this post-apocalyptic Russian university, you look out on a campus flooded with sunlight (god, the lighting is gorgeous) and overgrown with ivy.

Sergey gave the camera a subtle drift, hinting, perhaps, at some unsettling secret behind this pretty ruin, but with the definite effect of feeling looser, more naturalistic, complimenting the lack of HUD.

It is in Russian, but that wasn’t a terrible obstacle, since most of the interactions are just picking up items and taking them to other places (I skimmed around this walkthrough to catch things I’d missed). And in this setting, not being able to understand the language is an acceptable level of alienation.

The invisible walls are a little clumsy, especially considering how the lush world invites you to explore it. Fences or walls would be preferable to coming up against a force-field in the middle of a grassy expanse.

It left me wanting a post-apocalyptic game where you stroll through an abandoned world listening to birds and luxuriating in being alone in spaces ordinarily reserved for large crowds of humans. No conflict, I just want to watch the moss grow.


Hello? Hell… o? by Ryuuichi Tachibana

Nightfall. Your girlfriend hasn’t come home yet. You’re getting worried.

This is a one room, one move horror game. Most interactions end the game, each representing a grisly fate or grim clue.

This is a clever use of RPGMaker’s limitations. The interactions are the simplest imaginable (touch something, text appears), but cumulatively, they form something greater than their whole.

The one-move system resembles another RPGMaker game, Savior by mtarzaim, but where Savior delineates a world controlled by a cruel god (the player) and emphasizes through repetition the hell of being an NPC, Hello? saturates with atmosphere by cycling us through many incarnations of the same space–minor variations on a dark song.

As you unlock more endings, the room evolves (I like how the title screen is also part of the games universe), and you get closer to discovering the truth (hint: there’s more than one ending).


Forest by Vince Twelve

A forest of humans, faces covered by their long hair, staring at the ground. No wind, no moon, just darkness, the crunch of grass under your feet, and the whisper of the “trees”.

Each of them has a single sentence they murmur over and over. Instead of a linear, cohesive narrative, you get these dreadful fragments, which is much creepier.

Navigating the forest can be difficult because every part looks the same and the horizon is tiny, but this is still a fascinating experiment done in 48 hours in pseudo-3D (!) in Adventure Game Studio (!). And it has an FMV ending.


1984 by Gideon Rimmer

1984 as a series of vignettes. Certain parts stood out.

The bedroom scene, coupled with the animation, evokes a system where bodies are reduced to joyless mechanical components in a larger system.

The Emmanuel Goldstein scene, swatting aside the deafening screams of the Two Minute Hate so you can read the words they obscure.


The Rogue Less Traveled: Legend of the Rand(3,7) Gems by Steve A, Matthew R. F. Balousek, Regina Mako

The title sounds generic, but the art, with its subdued palette of indigo and teal, has a very definite sense of place: a cool, gem-strewn forest by night. You might die, but it feels somehow relaxing, sedate.

The forest is generated from random scenes, requiring multiple playthroughs to see everything. The familiar gamey structure of exploring the wilderness searching for shiny things serves as a framework for text, reminding me a little of LavosXII’s Cove of Flies.


Headblaster by Loud Noises

Living in the city is stressful. People are always trying to kill you.

Grab pills to keep your stress down.

Enemies can only be killed at a certain level of stress. Otherwise you need to avoid them.

As stress rises (and you get closer to losing), the game gets more intense–faster, louder, visually noisier. Jerking back and forth between states of violence and mobility, a constant berserker tension.

If your stress maxes out, your head explodes like an atom bomb, destroying the entire city.


Freedom of Spell by Karim Muhtar

I hit the man with my sword.

He doesn’t react.

I hit the man with my sword.

Blood explodes from his body. His expression is the same.

I hit him 100 more times.

He dies.

Victorious, I proceed on my path.

Then Leon Arnott posts a comment saying “…attacks do very little damage unless you charge the meter by placing your sword horizontally (or vertically) between swipes.” That would’ve been good to know several thousand frantic stabs ago…

I enjoy the backgrounds taken from real life and turned into a fantasy world where men with swords constantly block the roads. If you like charming live-action aesthetics, magical spells, and hitting men with swords, this is the game for you.


  1. Trillby says:

    Porpentine, you’re a gem, and the LFPH posts are the perfect example of why this site is as interesting and fresh as it is. They are honestly some of the highlights of the week.
    I want to thank you for the many fascinating experiences that I never would have discovered save for your trumpeting about them with such enthusiasm and a deep understanding of what makes gaming such a powerful medium for communication.

    May you be part of the RPS pirate ship for many more years to come =)

    • Aluschaaf says:

      I’ll add to that:
      Thanks for one year of exciting, interesting unpolished gems! Keep up the good work!

    • cpt_freakout says:

      Eight cheers to that!
      (I loved the interview The New Inquiry did to you some months ago – great stuff as always)

    • daphne says:

      I’ll fourth this sentiment. I have played only some of these games (Save the Date was the most recent highlight for me), but not due to disinterest — I just don’t feel like going all rapid-fire consumption mode on these offerings. Porpentine is right in that they deserve a lot more. Unfortunately, they generally don’t get what they deserve.

    • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

      Hear, hear. LFPH is probably the part of RPS I look forward to the most. Kudos to you for the voice you bring to games, and to RPS for giving you space here.

    • toastie says:

      Yes, I will ( *squint* one.. two… three… four.. five) sixth that! You are part of the reason why RPS is the only gaming site that I read. Shamble on!

    • Premium User Badge

      Hodge says:

      Seventh’d. LFPH is tops.

    • tobecooper says:

      Eighteded. LFPH has been my essential Sunday reading for the past year.

    • DrScuttles says:

      Nine 9: the Ninthening. Thanks Porpentine. It seems I never quite manage to get through each weeks offerings, but thanks for the selections, the words, the column.

    • cptgone says:

      happy birthday, LFPH!

    • psepho says:

      Happy Anniversary! LFPH is definitely one of the highlights of the RPS week and much credit to the site for running such a column — no other major sites seem interested in doing so…

      I also totally hear you about the need to give these games the attention they deserve. The last 12 months has been very much the year of amazing and groundbreaking personal games for me. And many of the games reported in this column have been hugely eye-opening and inspiring. Thanks again and I hope you keep it up!

    • Premium User Badge

      Bluerps says:

      LFPH is great!

    • The Random One says:


    • AlwaysRight says:

      FUCK YEAH!

      Porp Rocks!

    • tormos says:

      I will tenth that. I came onto this site one Sunday, having rarely played an indie game at all and was trying to figure out what “the deal” was. I found the LFPH article of the week, clicked, played, clicked, played, etc. Then I went back to the site and read a few more articles… here I am. Thanks a lot, Porpentine!

  2. edwardh says:

    Oh man, The Light was so awesome!
    However, it was a reminder of how unfortunate it is when people think “English? Pah, who the fuck needs that?”. Especially when you only have like 30 sentences in your game anyway.
    The basic gist of the story isn’t hard to grasp but I keep thinking that I could’ve gotten a LOT more out of it had I understood the writings on the walls. (Understanding the writing on the wall… come to think of it… indeed, indeed…)

    AND I kept wondering what the hell was up with that scream one hears at one point. Because I didn’t find another person or corpse.

  3. pupsikaso says:

    How the hell do I move the egg in Gaurodan? It just sits there in one spot and the only thing it can do is jump in the same spot. I’ve tried resetting the controls, assigning my own controls, but I can’t get it to move.

    The Light, too, there’s a problem. When the game starts, the character is constantly moving in one direction, as if I was holding down on a button, but of course I’m not, so I can’t play that either =/

    • mwoody says:

      Hrm, it almost sounds like you have an errant controller somewhere. Do you have any USB devices connected other than keyboard and mouse?

      • pupsikaso says:

        I don’t. But now that you say that I clicked on “disable controller” in the options and can move around.
        So weird that it would be on by default =/

        • Dominic White says:

          Any chance you’ve got a bluetooth dongle somewhere on the machine? Try unplugging everything from your USB ports but mouse/keyboard. There’s some weird device conflict going on there, that’s for sure.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Hodge says:

    Gaurodan is amazing and for my money the best thing Locomalito’s done since Hydorah. It’s like Defender but instead of protecting the little people you’re BURNING THEM WITH FIRE. I recommend it.

  5. Alistair Hutton says:

    The description Hello? Hell… o? reminds me of the absolute classic one move text adventure Aisle. Which is the original “one move” text adventure game. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and uplifting.

  6. cptgone says:

    for a free stroll through a REAL post-apocalyptic world, visit the acclaimed

  7. Nim says:

    The most terrifying thing about Hello. Hell-o is that it crashes at every interaction.

  8. crinkles esq. says:

    Context is so important. By looking at context, we can understand things like […] “This is actually really tricky to pull off in this engine, I had no idea RPGMaker/Twine could do that.”

    I have to disagree with you on this point. Do we say about a painting, “Well, you have to keep in mind those paints she used were really horrible to get clean brushstrokes with.” No, the result is the result. The process is the responsibility of the artist, and cannot be used as an excuse when a piece does not hold up under scrutiny. The game engine being used and its limitations are insider baseball, irrelevant to the game itself.

    • Porpentine says:

      i’m not arguing for tech wankery, more that it can be interesting to discuss the unorthodox ways people use tools or design their games, for works i already like on an immediate, surface level.

    • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

      It’s a fair point. I should say that there are definitely pieces of music which I appreciate even more when I know enough about the technique or instrument involved to appreciate how hard it is to play, or how complex the composition is. But that might only be the case with songs I already appreciate on a “purely aesthetic” level.

    • jrodman says:

      Disagree strongly.
      Hack value is always interesting, in any medium. It’s just not interesting to all audiences.

      • psepho says:

        I totally agree. A good example is David Hockney’s recent adoption of a painting program on his iPhone. He has produced thousands of tiny ephemeral paintings, often just sending them to friends and deleting them. The ones that are publicly available are interesting not just intrinsically but also as an insight into the process of an artist of that calibre when put in those unusual constraints and as an insight into the possibilities of that very limited medium.

        • jrodman says:

          Hmm, that is fascinating, although I think that’s more along the lines of constraints breed creativity.

          I was thinking more like this:

          link to

          That’s a 4096 byte program that produces that output in realtime on a PC. (Yours for example.)

          • JamesTheNumberless says:

            Interesting. Demos always used to be about pushing the hardware but this is rather like seeing how many nails you can hammer into a wall, using the wrong end of the hammer, while holding it in your mouth. If you’re writing something in C and assembly for a Windows/Mac/Linux platform then you don’t really have any restrictions, so you’re imposing artificial ones here for the sake of producing something creative or finding a new way to do something that could lead to other ideas.

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      Disagree strongly. Say I was to write a poem in a primitive pidgin with a deliberately limited vocabulary in order to say something distinctly of that particular culture, yet with universal appeal. The fact that I was able to evoke that level of meaning and emotional depth with limited tools compared with the full arsenal of the English language, would mean something in itself.

      Or, an even simpler example, consider sculptures made of Lego!

      Bending an engine or platform to do something not expected of it, can in the same way, be an art in itself. Many mods are celebrated not just because they are great content but because they have done something that blurs the lines between genres, creates new genres, or does something completely unexpected given what the engine was designed to do.

      Moreover: this! link to