Free Loaders: MSN_lover Is Typing…

We all know the correct response here.

I told my brother I had to write a column about free games today and he said: “Free games like when you bundle a load of socks up and then get your mates to add their socks and it keeps growing until you have a football?”

No, I said. But I will mention that, thanks.

Emily is Away by Kyle Seeley

Password hint: 'LOL'

Eagle-eyed free loaders will have spotted Emily is Away gracing the pages of RPS a few weeks ago. Well, the final version has been released. This is a game about instant messaging over the years and (for me at least) the slow death of an old friendship. It can feel a bit friend-zoney-wah-wah in places but it still had me shouting at my computer screen like it was a real MSN cyberdrama from my teens. “It’s been a year!” I yelled when Emily was hung up on something. “YOU were the one who came to ME!” when she seemed to be complaining about something we’d done. And “What’s THAT supposed to mean?” when she made loaded statements about a new love interest in my life.

It’s a game of passive aggressiveness, reading into things and admiring the Windows XP throwbacks. But the best touch is a small one. Whenever you type your ‘messages’ sometimes they quickly delete and edit themselves, as your own character self-censors their feelings. At one point “you’re my best friend” tellingly becomes “you’re one of my best friends”. It reminded me both of the lo-fi feel of Digital: A Love Story and the text messaging system from Catholic-guilt-simulator Catherine. Which are not bad games to be compared to.

Emotion Simulator by floribund

My favourite emotion is confusion, followed by shame, then ennui.

Comical emotion-based mini-games. Stave off doubt, grief and fear by smashing the spacebar. YOU LEARNED DENIAL! Bat away balls of inappropriate thought with the A and D keys. YOU LEARNED REPRESSION! Interacting with humans is hard and exhausting, so run yourself through this happy gauntlet of Mii-like human substitutes in their minimalist town square, complete with a dealer hanging out in an alleyway, selling screams, just like in real human towns.

Leon’s Cool Game by Leon Chang

But if you pee sitting down how do you cover the place is piss?

A cool game for cool people. I don’t even know if that is its proper title. It is played entirely on Twitter. You don’t have to type anything or have your own account to play. Just click on the Twitter handles marked A, B or C to progress. I like the little fat bird who waddles around just trying to do his thing. Each scene is a new account and it is worth playing just to see the names of these (“turtle teens!!”, “teens are mean” and “spooky stairs” are just some of the possibilities). I also enjoy how bad the bird is at everything. At one point you find a poor monster chained up in a room. “You try to hack at a chain,” it says, “but fall and impale yourself. You are dead.”

Skeleton Flower by Loren Schmidt

Imagine this happened to all the photos on Facebook. It would be fucking hysterical.

Short dumpster dive into an old, corrupted operating system. A ‘FileStor’ device has not been accessed for two years, and has subsequently compressed all photographs on this person’s drive down to 1 x 1 pixel size. Obviously, this means the files are just blocks of solid colour, so the whole OS now resembles a catalogue of Dulux paint samples. But the clues are in the captions. At first there doesn’t seem to be any reasoning or continuity to these. But later some vague possibilities emerge. I’d like to hear some interpretations of this one, because it is feels like it can be read in a lot of ways. I have a particular theory of what happened here. But I don’t want to spoil it, because spoiling things is for terrorists and reprobates.

Rejection by qwerty

It's okay, I'm used to it. *rimshot*

Nightmare sci-fi memory puzzle. You are trapped in a room with three chunky computer consoles that look like they belong on the Nostromo, and expected to be able to discover a way out. All the buttons have names like “co-routine” or “parameter” or “iterator” or “constructor”. Does this have something to do with it? Or maybe it is something to do with the symbols on the buttons themselves. Or maybe it is the order in which they align? Or the angle they show? Or the colour? This is a game about trying desperately to see patterns in something that feels like it ought to have a scientific solution. I was happy when I finally got out of the room. But only for about five seconds.

IF CORNER!

Midnight. Swordfight. by Chandler Groover

I learned what a kielbasa is thanks to this game, so there's that.

Time-bending tale of two renaissance duelists fighting over and over again. You play a fool who has been challenged by a deadly countess. Figure out how to change the fight by waltzing through time clockwise and counter-clockwise, flying to the moon, and dressing up like a ridiculous pig. An intriguing and dreamlike sausage-based farce.

Grandma Belinda’s Variety Box by Arthur DiBianca

And the sequel, 'Grandma Belinda's Magical Biscuit Tin'

Bemusing puzzle box in the form of interactive fiction. Slap it, whack it, look at it. Eventually some stuff will happen. It is like the intricate and complex box in The Room except you have to use your imagination. Your filthy, filthy imagination.

Swan Hill by Laura Michet

Swans are horrible.

Sombre homecoming story about a chancellor at a university of magic who visits his duke brother for a big party. The magic of the world is called “natural philosophy” and I thought it was interesting the way it causes pain and has a blood cost. Using even a small amount hurts your hands and arms, which I could relate to, being a moody carpal tunnel syndromite.

Got a free game you think Brendan would like? Throw it at him on Twitter: @Brendy_C.

Premature Evaluation will return next Monday, and Free Loaders will return to its normal Saturday morning slot. Need more free games? Check our list of 50 best free games on PC.

13 Comments

  1. Jonnyuk77 says:

    Kyle’s brother sounds cool.

  2. Samolety says:

    Man, Emily is Away pissed me off. It acts like you have a choice on how things proceed but it takes away all agency of the player to tell its one story. Which, fine, if you have a story you want to tell, then tell it. Just don’t act like you’re giving me a choice in the matter when all the choices you offer me are bad.

    • Cassius Clayman says:

      I’m on my fourth attempt at trying to make any significant change in how the story plays out… Absolutely nothing! Maybe a line here or there but that’s it; completely insignificant. I can’t think of anything as stupid as shoehorning a person into just one path in a game that is basically just text and choices! But maybe I just haven’t found the proper combination of choices yet…

      • Spuzzell says:

        I don’t think it’s a game so much as a personal history, I’d be surprised if you can “win”.

        It is very engrossing and actually pretty moving though.

        (even though I’d have been able to fix things using my famous back-in-the-day MSN charm, and it was annoying the idiot wouldn’t listen to me)

      • Samolety says:

        What really bothers me is that in a game full of choices, the whole story hinges on something my character does when I’m not controlling him. It just seems cheap. There were plenty of ways to tell the same story but make it Emily’s choice (which is naturally out of the player’s hands). But, by making me feel in control and then ripping that control away at the most important point of the story, I just feel really annoyed and disappointed.

        • SavageTech says:

          But, by making me feel in control and then ripping that control away at the most important point of the story, I just feel really annoyed and disappointed.

          So you felt in control, then it was wrest away from you, and you were left feeling annoyed, disappointed, and probably a little confused? Doesn’t that sound kinda like the experience of losing a friend?

          I mean, I don’t usually buy into the school of game design that is willing to disrespect players who came expecting a game just so that they can deliver a message, but in this case it seems like the mechanics are supporting the narrative. It may not be pleasant, you may not recommend it, but it’s not totally incongruous. Given the highly personal nature of the game, one has to believe that the author chose to make it that way for a reason. Maybe it’s his way of addressing the sort of “what if I had done XYZ?” doubt that can consume a person when they feel themselves losing touch with someone they care about; by making those little choices have no effect on the outcome in the game he might be telling the audience (or himself) that there was nothing we (he) could have done to change things.

          It’s either that, or I need to add some kind of breathalyzer authentication to my commenting account. Odds are 50/50, I’d say.

      • Truckse says:

        In the same boat here. It works at making me reminiscing about the MSN years (oh, the anxiety of waiting for the girl you liked to answer!), but it doesn’t seem like my imput is having any impact at all. I recognize that at first I was trying really hard to “get the girl”. Wich reminds me a lot of two games that actually are based around how flawed that concept is: ‘Save the Girl’, and ‘Kindness Coins’. After that, I tried replaying a couple of times in a more honest way, but it seems like the story is fixed.

        Anyway, a nice experience. I think parts of the story will resonate with almost anyone who lived the msn era.

  3. Nootrac4571 says:

    I love the way Rejection toys with the way puzzle games can make you feel either clever or stupid. I wonder…

    [SPOILERS FOR REJECTION]

    What would it be like without that final hint? Much harder, obviously, but instead of the takeaway emotion being “oh bloody hell, I’ve been an idiot,” it’d be “oh bloody hell, I’ve been an idiot, but I’M A GENIUS NOW.” Maybe that’s missing the point though.

    • Brendan Caldwell says:

      [REJECTION SPOILERS CONTINUE]

      ***

      Yeah, my parting feeling was: Well this game is smart, but I did spend an awful long time in it just to feel a single moment of “No! NO!” when I saw what was on the other side of the door. Still, that was a fun moment.

  4. Cassius Clayman says:

    Many thanks for reminding me about Emily Is Away! I was really looking forward to it but it nonetheless completely escaped my mind.

    On the down side, WHY WON’T EMILY LOVE ME?

  5. yan spaceman says:

    3. theyre shit

  6. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    Swan Hill is lovely!