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Live Free Play Hard: Happy Anniversary

offshoots and tendrils

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

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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.

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