Live Free Play Hard: Monsters Need Hugs Too

Sandbox pinball explorer. Card-based vertical platformer. Jake Clover’s Escape Velocity.

Well I was down in LA last week playing Netrunner talking at the Playthink game salon but I’m back! Bwamp.

MARBLE SAFARI by Todd Luke, mushbuh

“discover and explore the systems of life on a desert planet using your trusty saucer and agate marble drones.”

Sandbox pinball! UFO exploring planet!

You can control the ball by holding the mouse button, or just let it bounce around hitting critters or destroying walls. I like this mode of indirect interaction because it allows for fortune-based exploration. Like choosing which slot machine to play because you like the look of it, knowing that the rest is up to chance.

MARBLE SAFARI is a pinball zone made out of beetles and locusts and sandworms. I can directly interact by dragging my ball, but it’s enjoyable to hurl myself into the unknown and see what happens.

Discovering all the cool little interactions is the best! The read-me says, “think twice before explaining the mechanics, controls, and/or your personal story speculation to your friends because it will dispel the sense of playful discovery,” so I won’t say anything more about that!

The achievements are actually useful here because their titles indicate directions to experiment in, like oh there’s some beetle stuff I haven’t figured out, etc. I would love to see an expanded version of this, maybe playing around more with the pinball aspect–pinball biomes with their own wonderful chain reactions–arcade ecologies.

MARBLE SAFARI is part of the ARCHITECTS EP, a compilation of games, music, and animations by multiple people. Check out the rest!

You can download MARBLE SAFARI for PC as well.

 by ANDREWFM (the fourth link down)

Also part of the ARCHITECTS EP, this is a vertical platformer where you build your way up a tower. Real time mode is for jumping higher and whacking enemies, then time freezes and you can place things like platforms and ladders and bouncy pads from a limited pool, requiring you to design the level as you beat it.

Everything is part of a deck that you fill by killing enemies. Cards can be level architecture or items to use on your character.

(via Ben Esposito)

Train Song by Tympanum, Dave McCabe, and Ronan Quigley

A businessman from Dublin gets on a train and things get surreal. Materials demarcate realities–FMV turns to a paper train full of clay people. You walk around and talk to them. Some tell you stories or engage you in Alice in Wonderland style conversations. Others have more surprising reactions.

The vivid colors of the clay are very pleasant. Everything looks beautiful and crisp. I love Ronan’s music, the lush strings with occasional laugh track adds to the dreamlike feel.

Patrick by michael lutz

Unsettling short story in the style of Ligotti, about a man who gets constantly mistaken for someone else. I like the small piece of randomness at the beginning.


Michael’s stories tend to be dark yet restrained, interested most of all in creating a mood, savoring a tense build-up. This is one of his most understated works–exploring the fear of something that will never touch you, a permanent whorl in your identity.

Space Pirate Denshous by Jake Clover and Jack King Spooner

“Dernshous was basically what I liked from Escape Velocity, which was seeing little spaceships flying around and shooting and docking at space stations, and the idea of going aboard other ships.” I really admire Jake’s penchant for taking what he likes about certain pieces of media and remaking them in his image. Destroy. Scrap. Recycle.

When I was a kid there was a period of time where the only computer I had access to was an iMac, so I got really into Escape Velocity. I love that game, it combined trading, adventuring, pirating, and exploring into one efficient package, succeeding at the ambitious and often-promised goal of being a Spaceship Game Where You Can Do All The Things. There were loads of factions with all their own missions and aesthetics (I remember the poor backwater world with ships made out of wood in one of the later games in the series, valiantly fighting against a technologically-advanced empire).

So yeah this is totally shards of Escape Velocity through a Clover filter. It opens in classic fashion: a star system with ships flitting around like insects. I blow up a ship and fly through the debris, snagging some loot. I dock at the station and go to the shop. The prices fluctuate rapidly, turning this usually static task into a test of reflexes.

Deal enough damage to ships and you can board them. Some crew-members cower helplessly, sliding along the wall as you menacingly approach (sadly for their lifespan they’re full of precious credits). Others blast lasers at you. Cargo is scattered through the ship.

The weapon upgrades are interesting: the surgical shots increase the credits you get from kills but make enemies harder to kill. Heavier shots deal more damage but start fires. Fires are great because they add to the chaos, sapping precious oxygen.

Jack King Spooner’s music is versatile, heavily influencing the way I felt about each station. Sometimes it evokes a sleazy smuggler’s port, sometimes mysterious alien beauty.

(via Paul Hack)

Mooremonster by CanisLupus

(use the Sourceforge link to download the exe, the other one doesn’t work for me)

A shooting gallery where you click on goofy monster faces to turn them into points. They proliferate rapidly, there is a kind of carnival atmosphere to it, monsters swarming around looking like the pages of a children’s book come to life. They have so much character, heads swinging from trees, ornery little puffs parachuting from the sky, etc. I wish I didn’t have to shoot them, it would be cool if the cursor was a hand so I could pet the monsters instead. Maybe I can use my imagination to believe I have a Very Loud Hand.

The sound you make when you miss is kind of annoying, which is the biggest incentive for precision. If you hit a monster, the sounds are much nicer and fun.

What Now? by Arielle Grimes

Arielle describes What Now? as an “interactive digital expressionist game/art piece….TRIGGER WARNINGS: ptsd,social anxiety,anxiety disorder,hopeless,depression, SEIZURE WARNING, OVERWHELMING STIMULUS WARNING, loud repetitive noises.”

I wander through a brightly colored void of warping patterns. Tortured thoughts pop up when I near scenery. I’m reminded of thecatamites’ Wrath of the Serpent, the way the claustrophobic roaming aperture frames a scene populated by text.

I would be interested in seeing what it felt like if the text were superimposed on the center of the screen. Right now the eye has to look away from the scenery to read the text, and it could potentially increase the impact to merge them–plus What Now’s aesthetic is already comfortable with risking illegibility. Also the green arrows depicting the controls could disappear once the player has started controlling the game.


The text remains the same but the environment gets glitchier, louder. The passing of time brings bitterness, a form of mental scarification. Trauma is no longer tied to coherent, solvable situations–it becomes a texture, part of our body, skin growing over shrapnel. I found the noise cathartic though. It made me think of a breakdown. The body ejecting toxins. Sweet release.


  1. skullBaseknowledge says:

    i liked escape velocity back then, too. nice to see someone remembering it.

    • webwielder says:

      Yes. No series do I have fonder memories of. Much love to Porpentine for her specific memory of the Emalghans struggle against the Voinians.

  2. Lambchops says:

    Absolutely no idea what’s going on in that Train thing, the music is pretty though.

  3. GameCat says:

    “The Game Police? I want to report a case of some linear hypertext who thinks he is a game.”

    • misterT0AST says:

      “Hello? No here’s Tom’s Bakery, the Game Police disbanded when they realized their efforts were futile logomachy, along with the rest of the Word Police: the Art Police, the Moba Police and all the others. However, the arguments of whether or not Zelda is classifiable as a RPG still echo in these halls, reminding everyone how pointless definitions are.”

      • Kaeoschassis says:

        Great! Maybe you guys can tell me the different between an apple pie, an apple tart and an apple crumble?

        • Dances to Podcasts says:

          Also, how does an Apple Betty fit in there? I’m so confused!

      • RanDomino says:

        It’s not logomachy. I read this column because I expect it to tell me about games. When they turn out to be pointless, smug Twine novella, I feel misled. If your actions have no impact on the outcome, it’s not a game.

        • Kaeoschassis says:

          I kind of thought everyone had already got bored of this argument by now. No?
          Oh well, I’m in an indulgent mood. Go ahead, show me the passage in the Official Rulebook of All That is a Game, and All That is Not, where it states that “If your actions have no impact on the outcome, it’s not a game”.

          Because while we’re inventing definitions wholesale, here, I’d like to throw in one of my own. Games evolve. All the freaking time. That’s why we don’t have just text adventures and ascii rpgs anymore. It’s why we have games that are dedicated to storytelling, and games that scarcely need even the loosest, most arbitrary plot to justify their gameplay. It’s why you can pick a genre, any genre, and find more sub-genres than I would care to count. It’s why there are entirely new types of games that never existed – were never even considered – back when gaming was young.
          It might be more accurate to say that gaming is still young. Still learning, still developing. Still evolving. Is there anybody who’s genuinely willing to say that this evolution is a bad thing, that it’s harmful? Because if you’re not against that evolution, there’s no reason for that attitude of yours. That belief that you know in absolute terms what is and what is not a game, and that developers and reviewers alike must submit to that absolute definition of yours as if it’s law. And if you are against that evolution – fine. I don’t agree with you, not one bit, but even if I did, it wouldn’t matter. You can’t stop it. If you don’t like a game, or an entire genre, you still can’t stop it. There will be hundreds of games you don’t like, I’ll wager, entire groups and styles and ideas that you just can’t stand. That bore you, even offend you. But they’ll still be there, because devs can make whatever the hell they want and a self-important little internet commenter who’s probably never created anything in their life most certainly cannot stop them.
          And that’s what I LOVE about gaming.

          Well, that and the shmups.

          • El_Emmental says:

            This comment was a great game :)

            More seriously, there is nothing wrong calling yourself an interactive story, which a lot of Twine stories are – including/especially the excellent ones.

            On the official website of the software, it says “Twine is an open-source tool for telling interactive, nonlinear stories”, why would you refuse the name of interactive story (I love it to be honest, it reminds me of these books with tiny levers and hidden compartments that you can open, revealing a picture, a short text, or even more items – a wonderful experience), why would you pretend these stories are “just like” any other AAA video games ?

            it isn’t a competition or hierarchy, video games aren’t above or below interactive stories, just like books or movies don’t fully compare (both have tons of shitty examples, and a handful of great masterpieces, both have pros and cons).

            A game implies a level of interactivity that go beyond turning the pages, there is personal choices for everything (including the very basic controls) – it can easily break the story, break the pace, the player is in full control (even when there’s barriers to bring the player back on the rails).

            It does NOT mean it’s any better than any other entertainment/storytelling/art form: plenty of stories are much better told in the form of Twine stories than they would be told in some kind of TPS or FPS filled with cutscenes.

            Also, when someone say “___ isn’t a game”, IT DOES NOT MEAN that person said “____ is a game”. It does not. That person only excluded a single element, or a smaller group of elements, that are not part of what would be considered “a game”, according to that person. Transforming a mere draft of a negative definition into a positive definition is completely hyperbolic.

            I know it’s neo-RPS, so now everyone is expected to start a flamewar, so everyone can be offended, so everyone can feel their existence matters in society (defining yourself by the things that offend you – who hasn’t done that at some point in their life ? “I am against war, racism, violence, discrimination, bigotry, colonization, unfairness, etc”), but please make an effort to keep it for some specific articles.

            Also, the fact that gaming is “evolving” doesn’t mean “everything and nothing gaming lol relativism”, it specifically means we need to find new names, new genres and sub-genres, new definitions to make sure we build a comprehensive history of gaming, something that isn’t “lol gaming got lots of new games on new platforms, it was so new back then”. For Twine, it could simply be “non-linear interactive stories”, being a bridge between video games (interactivity) and short novels (text-based stories).

            A good example of such detailed description would be how the metal music genre crafted an entire family tree with countless branches and influences, where you can clearly see how each style and sub-genre evolved, branched out, met with another branch (with a common ancestor dating back to decades ago). Of course every element was and is debated by metal fans, but it is done in a constructive way most of the time (actual discussions – not the very visible Internet flamewars nobody care about).

            Regarding Live Free Play Hard, the author made it pretty clear the column wouldn’t be about “common” games that happen to be free, that’s why you see very little 3D freewares (even if they exist) here, that’s why most of the featured games are Twine/Twine-like stories and pixel art games. Maybe the title should be more explicit, and explained properly, so people don’t mistake it for a “The Free Games News !” column.

            Personally, I don’t really mind the focus of LFPH. I enjoyed a few Twine games but I’m not that crazy about them (too many stories rehashing the same old things), so I guess that column is interesting for people really into these things. I only check it to see if there’s some really original or funny pixel art game that I might have missed (stuff similar to Enviro-Bear or Papers, Please (back when it was a free alpha)).

  4. Rufust Firefly says:

    One of the perks about running a computer lab in college is I could open it way late at night and play Escape Velocity with friends. We’d all have our own little empires on each machine.

    It grew more ornate with each incarnation, but there’s something about the first one that is still my favorite. Plus, Cap’n Hector was the best shareware enforcement agent ever.

  5. LennyLeonardo says:

    Man, I’ve been trying to remember the name if that top-down space game I was obsessed with as a kid when we only had my dad’s iMac.
    Escape Velocity! Ah, memories.

  6. FrumiousBandersnatch says:

    When will you finally learn it, Spambot? No one cares about your weird relatives and their dubious sources of income. I am sorry.