Tag Archives: indie game

New Horizons

Late last month, Alan Williamson (whom many of you will recognize as half of Split-Screen and the man behind Critical Distance‘s latest incarnation of Blogs of the Round Table) approached me asking if I wanted to be in on a new webzine of his, Five Out Of Ten. The timing was short notice–he wanted to approach me for the next issue, but another contributor had had a scheduling conflict and needed to back out, leaving him a writer short for the premier issue–so I gathered up some ideas that had been kicking around and tried putting them into words. They each came out decently–at least, enough so that I don’t stand out too awkwardly next to the likes of Brendan Keogh, Lana Polansky, Bill Coberly and Alan himself, all of whom are spectacular writers and whose work here is as grand as always.

The zine comes priced at £5.00, although you can donate a little more, if you like. The cool thing is that revenue for the magazine is split evenly among the five contributors, so basically if you pay £5, you’re paying each of us £1, which is cool because that means I can take that money and start saving toward the things I need to Write More Stuff for you, like coffee and antidepressants. That’s a pretty awesome cause, right?

Each author contributes two pieces to the collection, one pertaining to the theme “new horizons” and the other on a subject of the writer’s choice. Here’s a little preview of my two so you can sneak a peek before buying your very own copy, which is available as a DRM-free PDF suitable for most platforms.

Piece #1 – New Horizons – “Letting the Sunlight In”

On indie games, Papo & Yo and the virtue of an individual voice.

The final summit of Papo & Yo is set far above the familiar Brazilian favela in which the rest of the game takes place. Our player-character, Quico, travels above the clouds on a magical skylift which bears him and the monstrous alter-ego of his father toward the floating island of a mystical shaman. Around them, rusted iron siding and discarded tires float alongside the fragments of family homes, suspended weightlessly across the sky just as other improbable mountains of shacks and lean-tos rise up to meet them.

It’s a profoundly destablizing moment, even in a game premised on a departure from the normal laws of physics. What starts out as an imaginative trek through the muddy, rain-drenched city streets of a boy’s childhood adventuring spaces soon becomes an increasingly desperate escape from violence. Finally the world Quico has spent the entire game cleverly bending to his will is coming apart at the seams of its own volition, as reality starts to seep back in.

Piece #2 – Writer’s Choice – “Unfinished”

On the nature of unfinished things, unfinished people, and The Unfinished Swan.

“This is your college education,” my father says, waving a hand toward the home studio he had invested countless weekends into, to say nothing of far more money than his railroad job paid. It’s lined with hand-made sound insulation panels and stocked with enough recording equipment to make some professional studios green with envy. “So we all need to work together to make this record label work.”

In the end the biggest barrier to our father’s dreams of a music career is himself. Every weekend and most evenings he cloisters himself away inside his home-made studio, plucking at the same chords over and over, searching for a note that doesn’t exist. Later, he loads the recordings into his Mac and plays the clips again and again, iterating by degrees, never finishing. Eventually he scraps the whole song and starts over on guitar, plucking strings, never finding whatever it is that he’s listening for.

Sooner or later he’ll say that it’s our fault that he can’t find it.

-

The Unfinished Swan isn’t simply the title and explicit goal of the game; it’s the singular work which ties the family of three together, and provides the player with the game’s theme. Unfinished things, unfinished people. Children doomed by their genetics to the sometimes-beautiful, mostly-horrible agony of being artists. Of facing the void of boundless creativity and having to sort out the path to not going insane for themselves.

Those who enjoyed my previous bit in CTRL-ALT-DEFEAT on growing up among hoarders will recognize some resonance here–but hopefully not too much familiar territory. You can go buy your own digital copy of Five Out Of Ten now.

Burning Invaders: A Return to IndieCade

“I hope one day this thing is huge,” a young games journo tells me breathlessly. He wears a fedora and a pixel tie and I would peg him as not old enough to drink.

I frown. The kid has just finished bragging about “sneaking in” to his first E3 this summer, a so-called industry conference about which I have some pretty strong feelings. E3 is still not back up to its tottering pre-2007 top-heaviness but it’s still horrifically large, unsustainable in its girth and the inertia of its own technological obsolescence. I do not want IndieCade to ever resemble that.

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“Namjon yeobi”: ‘Analogue: A Hate Story’

Indie game dev Christine Love is a Trekker. I know this because half our conversations on Twitter seem to revolve around Lt. Worf, but also because part of Digital: A Love Story consists of a snarky retrospective in which a BBS poster named “Tiberius” (strangely not one of the Shakespearean AIs the game revolves around– or is he?) waxes nostalgic for Captain Kirk’s, um… unique brand of diplomacy.

So it shouldn’t surprise anyone, then, that Love’s latest work, Analogue: A Hate Story (sequel to Digital), bears no small similarity to the TOS episode “For The World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky”, about a generation ship which has reverted back to a superstitious and hierarchical society. In this episode, Kirk, Spock and McCoy stumble upon the Yonada, whose captive population are controlled by “obedience devices” to prevent them from learning of or discussing the true nature of the ship. Why is never really explained, although the AI in question (“the Oracle”, another name which reappears in Digital) seems to have driven the ship off course as well, so we can probably project a little about its reasons.

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The ‘Ruins’ at the ‘End of the World’

('Until the End of the World', dir Wim Wenders, 1991)

Reposted from PopMatters Moving Pixels.

It’s hard to play games on my little netbook. Cardboard Computer’s Ruins barely runs, but it still manages to be strikingly beautiful. A brief, branching dreamscape involving several layers of metaphor, there isn’t much I can say about the actual contents without making the game sound more mundane than it is, so I encourage you just to try it.

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I Loved “Loved,” But I’m Not Sure I Love “Love”

Reposted from PopMatters Moving Pixels.

2010 was either a very affectionate or very cynical year in the field of independent games, with at least three single-named titles taking a spin with ol’ l’amour.

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Player Guilt Revisited in ‘Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer’

Reposted from PopMatters Moving Pixels.

Note: Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer features disturbing themes including abduction, torture, mutilation and rape. Please read with caution.

Today marks my third and final article on Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer, the controversial independent game released earlier this year by psychotherapist Nicolau Chaud. I tend not to spend more than a couple weeks devoted to any one subject, but the swirling back-and-forth discussion surrounding the game in recent weeks has been exciting, thoughtful, and highly rewarding if you wish to read more about it. The designer himself has compiled a roundup of his favorite reviews, interviews and in-depth articles over at the game’s main site, which I would recommend.

In the course of writing about the game, I’ve refrained from lingering too much on my personal feelings regarding it. This is to the exception to remarks I’ve made about the writing quality, but I attribute that not so much to my gamer side as the parasitic twin in the back of my mind who never got to be an English major. As a calculated metatextual counterpoint, the game’s become quite effective. No one could argue that. But interpersonally, when friends and colleagues ask me about the game, my final line always comes down to: “Don’t play it. Really. It’s not worth your time. I wish I’d never played it.”

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Beautiful Escape Dungeoneer: On Gender Ambiguity in a Binary Paradigm

Reposted from PopMatters Moving Pixels.

Note: Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer features disturbing themes including abduction, torture, mutilation and rape. Read with caution.

Whatever else may be said about Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer, it’s an experience which sticks with you. I don’t ascribe this to good writing so much as a great hook with tolerable writing supporting it, but if there is one area where the narrative and characterization grabbed me utterly, and put me at odds with the reviews for the game I had encountered, it’s in the character Daily.

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