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Live Free, Play Hard: The Week's Finest Free Indie Games

Alien Functions

THIS WEEK: Ten player Twine game. Martial arts breakup. International Art English. DEATH END.

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

Art Game by Pippin Barr

Art Game, well WHERE have I heard THOSE two words before, in close proximity, just hanging out, STRAIGHT UP CHILLING.

No, this isn’t about that whole “debate”, Ha Ha Ha, Art Game is just a cool game that happens to be about art.

You pick one of three artists and each has a different medium and each medium is a classic game.

Cicero Sassoon works with Tetris, building bleak edifices of black blocks that of course signify something absolutely brilliant.

I can’t seem to make many popular paintings with Alexandra Tetranov--subtle commentary on sexism or maybe I’m just bad at Snake?

The twins William Edge and Susan Needle have an Asteroids-style game for two players--I play it with my friend and spend a couple seconds clumsily spinning around before slamming into the star at the center of the screen--”This is just so primal,” said the gallery-goer. Yeah. Yes. Yesss.

Mmhm. Transcendent works of genius. That’s exactly what I was going for. Art Game pokes fun at “people reading way too much into things sometimes” and "people using fancy words to dress things up" without feeling like lazy reactionism.

If you’re interested in the grandiose vocabulary of the art world, this article or this essay on International Art English makes good reading.

AE always uses "more rather than fewer words". Sometimes it uses them with absurd looseness: "Ordinary words take on non-specific alien functions...And sometimes it deploys words with faddish precision: "Usage of the word speculative spiked unaccountably in 2009; 2011 saw a sudden rage for rupture; transversal now seems poised to have its best year ever."


You Will Select a Decision, № 1: Small Child in Woods by Brendan Patrick Hennessy

A Soviet-era Choose Your Own Adventure book with many choices to ensure the development of proper citizenship and childmanship skills.

I don’t like things that rely on “haha silly foreigners”--I didn’t get that vibe from this. Instead, the device of the bad translation is used to play around with language and make something that is both funny and interesting to read. Every other page I was compelled to stop reading and yell out the description of my latest fate, that's how good these endings are.

Play Small Child in Woods if you miss the bizarre deaths of classic kid’s adventure books (I swear I remember being teleported inside a rock). Play this if you feel like playing a fun game.


The Vermin Throne by Damian Sommer

The Vermin Throne is a 4 to 10 player multiplayer Twine game (playable on phone) designed to encourage “Roleplaying, alliances, backstabbing, whispering, and shouting”. I can’t actually test it at the moment unless I start rapidly multiplying, but these digital flirtations with tabletop gaming excite me.

The premise entails rival rats rallying to roust each other from the regency. Build a character out of various stats, randomize your name until you get something suitably pretty or absurd sounding (Princet Rainpoison the Decorous, Princess Soulblub the Glum), then take turns going to various locations training your skills or fighting your siblings (should they be so unlucky as to cross your path).


A Slow Speed of Light by MIT Game Lab

You’re a dead child’s spirit trying to ascend with the light but it’s too fast for your nubby little ghost legs so you’ve got to find all the spirit eyeballs so they can slow down the speed of light to your walking speed. Naturally this expands your visible color spectrum, saturating your vision with eerie ultraviolet and infrared.

This is MIT Game Lab’s demonstration of their OpenRelativity tech, which is set to be released sometime this year “to allow others to produce more simulations and games about traveling near the speed of light.” It’s difficult not to have at least a particle of interest in this upcoming wave of light-based games.


Think Outside the Box by Stuart Madafiglio

Think Outside the Box is about finding multiple solutions to the same problem, a series of escapes from every angle. See, the box universe has evil kitties, greedy pirates, and stubborn clowns, all conspiring to keep you trapped. Fortunately each room is full of objects that can be applied and combined in many ways ranging from the obvious to the arcane.

Find five escapes to a room to unlock a new ending. I got the one involving coconut milk.


Split Fighters by Pierrec

Pierrec’s narrative experiments are always interesting. This one is a 2D fighter/conversation hybrid, turn-based Street Fighter with relationship issues.

You can block, charge up energy, shoot, and if you charge up a lot, do an unblockable FURY MOVE. Figuring out each enemy’s pattern is key to progressing through your brutal martial arts breakup.

I say enemy, but the game constantly challenges that notion by providing many ways to talk about the breakup.

There are three endings based on your use (or disuse) of Actually Talking About Your Problems.

Like Think Outside The Box (made in RPGMaker), Pierrec uses Adventure Game Studio to make games outside the normal output of his chosen program--useful chassis for independent creators.


Starwhal: Just the Tip by Breakfall

Two players jousting with narwhals drenched in dramatic slow-mo and the 80’s. Fly around trying to stab the other critter in the heart while avoiding a horn in your own. The main reason I’m posting this is because you look really cute flopping around trying to kill each other.


Descension by Elektron

Another minimal black and white indie platformer? But Descension is good minimal, the kind that lives up to the whole point of minimal, every element perfectly in place, a taut instrument that feels good to hold.

Navigate a ball through tunnels of spikes as the timer ticks down, a timer sometimes bound to a single room, sometimes stretched across multiple chambers.


“This is hard.”

“This is hard and relaxing.”

“Oh nooooo spikey...” * 100x

Moments of hesitation come back to kill you--I finished many descents with 0 seconds remaining. Each death sends you back a screen, teaching the finely-tuned controls until once-lethal rooms become second nature. You can't rush this, only serene confidence will be accepted.

The ambient, chime-strewn soundtrack is well chosen for navigating these austere caves--soothing but purposeful, a dampener against frustration. Descension is hard but worth it.

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