Free Loaders: Make A Spaceship Out Of Pirate Pieces

I was planning to focus this week’s round-up of free games on a watercolour-based walking simulator with lots of flamingos, until I saw that Alice had already coochy-cooed over it. And now I have to write about another spaceship game. A bloody spaceship game in which you have to salvage the pieces of your enemy and click them onto your blocky, Frankenstein vessel and then go shoot things. Okay to be honest I forget why I was complaining.

Lightspeed Frontier by Riveted Games

Build your own spaceship. This is basically a 3D re-imagining of the wonderful Captain Forever. You start at a space station where you buy all the parts you need. Let’s see… armour, satellite dish, mini-guns, reactors, thrusters, shield generator. Yes, yes, all the best space bits. Now you drag and drop them onto your command pod and stick your own ship together like you are piecing together bits of LEGO. Then off you go to explore space and murder scoundrels for cash.

Every destroyed ship leaves behind more pieces for you to salvage. But linger too long and more enemies will appear. If your command pod is destroyed (and you don’t have a backup) then it’s lights out for you spaceman. Back to the nearest space station to rebuild from scratch. There’s some lovely details here, like the way your ship elongates when warping to another system, or the terrifying black hole that resides in one of the systems, whose gravity starts to pull you in.

Spectrum by Dan Smith

Colour-swapping puzzler. You are trapped in a “digital labyrinth” with nothing but a weird electronic device that looks like the world’s most basic smartphone. Use the device to collect and store colours from certain blocks in the world. With the colours stored you can pass through the puzzle chambers. For instance, slurping up all the red from a block will let you pass through a red laser grid. Any other colour in your device and the grid will remain solid.

There’s more than a hint of Portal here, with signs saying “MANY OBSERVE YOU” and computer terminals scattered around offering the creepy testimony from previous puzzle-subjects. The puzzles themselves increase in thoughtfulness as it goes on, introducing new elements like the ability to warp to special “landing pads” or the need to purposefully have the wrong colour so that you can cross grids like they’re a bridge. With 7 levels it’s a short romp, but one that was accomplished enough to win a Young Game Designer award from BAFTA.

Observer: Edge of the Earth by Team Porpoise

Abandoned castle exploration. Step into the elevator in your office building and breathe a sigh of relief after another hard day’s work. Then breathe that sigh all the way back into your body because you are not going home, you are going to an ancient, spooky castle in space. There are red diagrams painted everywhere and not a soul to be seen. Sculptures and stonework is crumbling but the candles are still lit, and papers and scrolls sit at desks. It is the Mary Celeste of castles. Wander through and explore, pulling levers and hitting hidden switches. There’s lots of solid level design in this one fortress, with secret passages leading back to places you have been before. But abandon all hope ye who think you’ll solve the mystery. This is the first of four parts, with the other three planned to come out some time in the who-knows future.

Be Aware Of Your Surroundings by garlic kisses

Driving with strangers simulator. You’ve just been picked up at a gas station. You had no ride and you were hopelessly lost. But now you’re in the warm back seat of a car, with two strangers in the front. The driver is very talkative. He keeps jabbering on about lakes and garlic and his favourite foods. The person in the passenger seat simply looks at their glowing phone the whole time, giving directions and reluctantly answering the driver’s questions. That’s when the urge strikes. You need to go to the bathroom. But can you trust this strange pair not to do something drastic or unpredictable? No, you cannot. What starts off as an uneasy car ride soon becomes a panicked, absurd race against time.

Video Game Critic Simulator by Laura Kate Dale

Review the best generic AAA first-person shooter that has ever been released this year. Type anything with your keyboard to have all the words spill out onto the screen just like that. This is what it is like to be a critic of video games. Plot paragraph? Check. Gun paragraph? Check. 9.5 rating? Check. You are a good critic with excellent speling and grammer. Although it is mostly a piss-take, it still makes good points about the business. This paragraph in particular, focusing on the storyline of the generic FPS, is something that consistently annoys me about the industry and our place in it as reviewers.

“The story tackles surprisingly deep issues for a video game. While that sounds like it’s a compliment to the game, I could easily say the story barely stands up to anything that exists outside this medium. It’s all about framing.”

“But Brendan,” you say, “doesn’t the creator of this game, Laura, write for RPS sometimes? And haven’t you met her in real life?”

Yes, I have. And I would accept all accusations of collusion were it not for the fact that I routinely commit many of the sins pointed out in this simulator.

Want more free games? Check out the Best of Free Loaders collection. Got a free game yourself? Give it to @Brendy_C for safekeeping

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  1. Monggerel says:

    Yeah, videogame writing really *is* utter garbage compared to anything else at all, innit?
    Off the top of my head, Kentucky Route Zero is probably the most competently written piece of… well, interactive story-type software (no videogames here, no sirree) I can think of, and mumch of that competence is the classic “reference checklist” that is admittedly quite common in, say, literature.
    Like, I seem to remember “Last of Us” getting praise for tackling parent-child relationships and such, even though the actual narrative and symbolic depth of the whole thing was slightly below Terminator 2.

    But this is normal. Most media is stupid, tropey shit strung together by a macaque with a banan stuck up his arse screaming about poop. As long as it succeeds in making you feel roughly the intended emotions, it’s basically decent. Form, quality, craft… these are the sort of considerations nobody but conoisseurs could or should give a shit about.

    I mean, unless the point is to look really profound and snobbish by liking the right things. Which is fine too, because praise is more important than food.

    • Monggerel says:

      *not sarcasm. might be crazy, but I do believe that

    • TheAngriestHobo says:

      Just for the sake of playing devil’s advocate… unlike other forms of media, videogames were not originally vehicles for storytelling. They began life as something more akin to challenges or sports, and ever since, games have been almost expected to challenge a player’s reflexes, strategic thinking, or perception, in addition to (possibly) providing a story.

      No other form of media requires that the creator split their focus like this. This is not to say that it’s impossible to make a game with a strong story that is also challenging, but it requires far more resources to build a Witcher 3 or a SOMA than it does to write a Crime and Punishment (sorry, Fyodor). Worst of all, by bringing in more human resources, you run a serious risk of diluting your narrative vision, as other people make contributions or modifications that require acknowledgement by the story.

      • Monggerel says:

        Good point, but arguable. Good gameplay can be married with a decent story, some would say. I’ve never seen an example of this but, I keep hearing about it.

      • Shuck says:

        “videogames were not originally vehicles for storytelling”
        I think the early history of video games – primarily text-based and heavily influenced by pen-and-paper role playing games, with their core element of collaborative storytelling – challenges that assertion. If anything, the failure of storytelling has been despite that origin. This is true for the reasons you mention in your very true second paragraph, and because some grappling needed to be done with the formal nature of interactive narratives (many of which were occurring in “art” spaces rather than “game” spaces), but also because the original people making games were programmers rather than storytellers, and they created a tradition of telling particular types (of highly clichéd) stories, which in turn created expectations in the audience about what sort of games were “acceptable.” Only now are we beginning to see games approached (on the indie level, at least) as vehicles for telling more diverse stories as they are being played by an audience with more diverse interests who grew up being exposed to the medium (and as the interactive “art” space merges with the “game” space).

    • Raoul Duke says:

      I demand you retract the implicit slur against Terminator 2, which stands as one of the greatest works of art of our entire species.

      • Monggerel says:

        Terminator 2 is one of my favourite movies ever, but it’s not exactly high filmmaking.

        Of course, its subject matter is a part of that. Killer robots just don’t have the cultural capital that sociology books and high literature do.

      • Canadave says:

        I think that The Terminator is the far superior film, and I’m prepared to fight you over that opinion if necessary.

    • MajorLag says:

      The fundamentally interactive nature of the medium makes it difficult I think. With a book or movie people seem more willing to be outright told how to feel about things, but gamers expect interactivity.

      For instance, I played LA Noir long ago. It was ok enough, right up until I was forced to pin a murder on one of two suspects who clearly didn’t do it. I knew this, because it had become obvious to me who did do it. Never the less, here I was forced, for the sake of the plot, to pretend I didn’t and help lock up an innocent person. And then I was expected to go through the rest of the game like that I suspect. I don’t know, because that was so immersion breaking that I lost all interest and stopped playing.

      In a movie, book, or TV show, I’m watching someone else figure it out. They aren’t me, so there’s still a story there. Every single Columbo episode starts by showing you exactly what went down, but it’s still good TV (opinions may vary on that).

      Maybe it isn’t really possible to do with the interactive component. How many great works of literature were Choose Your Own Adventure books after all? But it’s also possible it’s just something we have to work out how to do in this relatively young medium.

      Part of what made Undertale so great, for example, is how the telling of the story changed at a very fundamental level based on how the player chose to interact with it. And it wasn’t even that much, only 3 or so paths really. Maybe that’s the key though? To have the game adapt the telling of the story to the player, instead of constantly trying to force them back onto the same story experience regardless of how they choose to interact.

      • Monggerel says:

        The thing with the forced choice is interesting, because it is a very unusual way of making use of a very unique form of media.

        You can decide how to feel about a book or a movie, or how to interpet them, but you have no bearing on how the events unfold and characters act and how and what the prose ends up being about. In games, however thorough or shallow your contributions are, there is a degree of complicity; “You did that” is the standard form of interacting, which is why it feels bad to have choice taken away for your character to do something stupid or terrible in a cutscene.
        So the trick in LA Noire that Spec Ops uses too is to make the player feel complicit in the horrible actions of the character they ostensibly are in control of. It works, because you *dpo push that button, but it is obviously coercive and disingenuous. It’s basically the creator(s) of the game trolling you for playing it, saying “ha! we can make you feel bad without narrative buildup or any actual effort by cynically exploting your (pre-assumed) empathy! suck it!”.

        Which is sophomoric shit. You can make the player feel those emotions and have them be appropriate. It’s just incredibly difficult to not make it ring false and mean-spirited, and I suspect that lies well outside of most writers’ ability, let alone that of most *videogame* writers.

  2. Bobcat says:

    I feel there needs to be a sequel to Video Game Critic Simulator about critics who will crow on about any remotely arty game that comes out about how deep it was and how much they got it, when really the game just had some obscure and pretentious stuff in it and a tokenistic shout out to having minority/female characters to look smart. Making a game about an important or complex issue does not mean you did that well. I love ‘arty’ games, but some/many of them (*ahem* Sunset) are just dire.

  3. peterako1989 says:

    I find it kind off disapointing that lightspeed frontier is in alpha. Is it going to be released commercially?

  4. MajorLag says:

    The best writing about games I ever read was from a single contributor to something called Gamer’s Quarter, a free online quarterly publication that ran for 8 issues starting in 2005. The writer was Amandeep Jutla, and there was just something really relatable about how they expressed their relationship with gaming. I’d like to see more writing like that in games journalism, and some of the stuff on RPS comes close I guess.

    Alternatively, I’ll take a resurrection of the Game Player’s/Ultra Game Players style ridiculousness. Maybe that’s just the nostalgia talking.

  5. phelix says:

    Lightspeed Frontier is quite fun, but currently suffers from a number of problems.
    -Afwul optimisation: The game starts off with framerates in the 30’s, quickly dropping down to below 15 when more than 50 or so blocks are on screen at the same time. Ditto for the black hole, I was almost sucked into it because it made the game unplayable.
    -Combat is ridiculously easy: strafing always works. When you get enough cash for a large number of plasma blasters every foe explodes after a few shots. This leads me to point 3:
    -Pirate spawn rate is ridiculously high, presumably because of the easy combat. I barely had enough time to scavenge a few parts before the next hopeful turned up behind me.
    -There is very little to do except exploring and combat. Missions appear to be underway, but are not available as of now. Combat is shallow and exploring often unpleasant because of the aforementioned spawn rates and performance issues.

    I really like the concept, which is why I gave it a shot. Blasting off parts of ships and then attaching those parts to your own Frankencraft is novel and fun. The game is a nice proof of concept but very little beyond that right now. I’m curious to see what the Kickstarter can accomplish.