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Live Free Play Hard: Monsters Need Hugs Too

arcade ecologies

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

Looking for more free games? Check out our round up of the best free PC games that you can download and play right now.

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.

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