Live Free Play Hard: The Spacebar Plays A Crucial Role

This Sunday: skulls, signals, stuttering, and sinewaves. Send submissions to @nobodybutyours.

Skulljhabit by Porpentine

With Porpentine in hibernation the column gets to include one of her games for once, and this new systems-rich Twine game is a treat. It’s also delicate, its sense of purpose emerging over time in a way I want to be cautious not to ruin by trampling its gray flowers — or are those bones? — before you’ve had a chance to see them for yourselves.

The game doesn’t tell us we’re unhappy arriving at Skull Village, but rummaging through our knapsack reveals hints of a former, brighter life. The game’s world has an iron curtain feel to it. It’s possible we’re so saturated by its thick oppression that we don’t think to remark upon it.

There’s a massive pile of skulls in town and it looks like it’s our job to shovel them into a pit. No one talks about where the skulls come from. They feel like a bare fact of nature. The task is so draining we can only manage a few shovelfuls each day.

Do a good enough job and maybe the store kiosk will sell us a calendar today. Or a cuckoo clock. Or, if we’re feeling especially diligent, maybe a better shovel?

Or we could save up for that train ticket. Leave all this. Somebody loves us, I think, but nobody loves us here.

SigNull by SaintHeiser and ArrogantGamer

This is a remake and expansion of an earlier PuzzleScript game, Signal. What I thought was so brilliant about the original is that while the rules never change, the level design is such that your ability to fully comprehend and exploit those rules shifts radically over time. The early levels are trivial to figure out — it looks at first like a standard block-pushing game — but it turns out that even the basic mechanism through which you were interacting with those puzzles works differently than you could have intuited. There are at least five revelatory moments and each delivers a nice little jolt of discovery and recontextualization.

This new version is much prettier and much larger. It expands on that initial ruleset to include some new tricks, and the puzzles get much, much tougher.

The prettier graphics also make it more difficult to get your bearings, especially in discerning which tiles are important and which are just background, so if you’re having trouble even getting started I’d recommend trying out the original before giving up.

The new version also doesn’t quite make clear that in addition to the arrow keys, the spacebar plays a crucial role after the first few levels.

SK_SERIES by Michael Brough

A series of four sublime playthings for your personal computer. My favorite one isn’t even interactive! But you can imagine how it very well could react to input, and that’s enough to provide an extra bit of traction beyond what it might achieve as a pure video piece: my computer is doing the work and s/he’s having a ton of fun at it. The other gamethings are great as well. Mouse around to see how they operate.

The readme cites Andi McClure as an inspiration. I especially like her Sweet Nothings collection.


Ghost by finny

This is a Twine game that prompts you to make your own Twine game. You should! You’ll need the free Twine editor to access this metagame’s editable source file. Double-click on each of the passages to open them up and make them your own. It’s as easy as replacing text in a text editor. And when you’re done you can send your file in to be hosted on finny’s site.

The game’s ostensibly a meditation on life and death, but really that’s up to you, isn’t it?

74:78:68 by Sergey Mohov, Fabian Bodet, Clément Duquesne

The goal of this 3D glitch-aesthetic game is to overwhelm your computer until the framerate drops to near zero. That’s clever, the way the game incorporates the precise conditions of the machine it’s running on. You’ll have an easier time at it the less powerful your computer.

Move around with the WASD keys and look around with the mouse. Collecting the angular objects gives you “Form,” which you can spend by clicking, spawning a duplicate of yourself surrounded by a processor-intensive particle cloud. Avoid collecting those clouds, since forcing a lot of them on screen at once is your most likely path toward framerate zero.

This next part I didn’t understand until I saw it described on Sergey’s site: you and all your duplicates are constantly shrinking, and when your body shrinks to nothingness you’re teleported into your most recent copy. There’s an awful game over screen if you ever wither away without another duplicate ready to go.

I was convinced the game would be better off without the loss-condition — it adds a dull interruption while you’re still getting your bearings — but it turns out it brings interesting pressure to the stuttering endgame.

(via Warpdoor)

You and the Three Bears by Katie Brooks

A hypertext retelling of a familiar story, a bit more modern and a bit more dangerous. I particularly like the feeling of steering it toward and away from the expected fairy tale plot points. Like reading a traditional Choose Your Own Adventure book, you’ll meet a lot of unfortunate ends.

Climb by Simon Klein

A neat physics-based wall climbing game that uses a controller’s two analog thumbsticks to simulate the motion of the climber’s two arms. It’s intuitive but also tricky, especially once it introduces special handholds that make it more difficult to maintain your grip. Some, for instance, only work properly if you come at them from a certain angle, and others will slough you off if you swing too quickly or bend your arms too far.

(Note: game controller required.)

Kinetectonic by headchant

A mysterious game. I don’t understand all the rules, but I’ve gathered some of them: Click to raise a column by one or two squares, unearthing the objects visible beneath the surface and sending your character racing across to gather whichever ones are precisely just above ground level. There are creatures under the earth, too, and running through these will injure or defeat them, using up one of your swords and possibly some of your hearts as well.

It took me a while to realize that running out of hearts is what triggers the shop screen, letting you replenish supplies for your next attempt or, if you’ve saved up enough treasure, letting you purchase permanent upgrades. The ability to dig deeper each turn looks particularly tantalizing. What are those bright objects flashing far beneath the ground?

Reverberant by Emmett Butler

You have a job to do — maybe assembly language programming? — but you’re obviously having trouble maintaining focus. Get back to work. You can’t afford to mess this up.


  1. shark jacobs says:

    I blew the money they gave me for a train ticket on a new shovel squandering all hope of ever getting out of skull city.

    • mgardner says:

      …and I blew the money earmarked for a new shovel on a train ticket, squandering all hope of ever getting out of skull city.

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        Bluerps says:

        I just jumped.

        • Rizlar says:

          I got the game stuck on a certain section by spamming the same option over and over. Not sure if this is supposed to happen, but it kind of seems like the only beautiful/not bleak description in the whole game. So maybe that is the actual end of the game? :S

          • trout says:

            did you make it to the library censoring/vortex maintenance section located in the forest, away from skull village? you can eventually get reassigned by your superiors

          • Tacroy says:


          • Rizlar says:

            Urp, no. Back to the shovelling!

          • Shazbut says:

            Me too. Did it involve a book?

            Edit: – In Firefox, the links seem to stop working after a while

  2. arrogant.gamer says:

    Thanks for the writeup nobody! I really like the title “the spacebar plays a crucial role”. Nice observation. The links you’ve included to the original Signal are actually linking to an earlier build, and not the one that got published. The published on, on GameJolt, has music by an old friend Galen Elfert and is more polished.

  3. sub-program 32 says:

    Signull kept failing for me and I do not know why. I tried to load up a actual game level and it just crashes. :(

    • SaintHeiser says:

      sub-program 32
      Build was updated on GameJolt and author’s site. It fixes the error with game crash on level start (I hope). Try it please.

      • sub-program 32 says:

        Long time since I last said anything but thanks for the info! :D

  4. JamesPatton says:

    Decided to try Sig.NULL without reading the description so as to avoid spoilers. Got mega stuck on level 4. Tried levels 5, 6 and 7 and did not understand.

    Went back to article. “The spacebar plays a crucial role.” Ohhhhhhh…