- Chuck Gray
Counter-culture revolutionary that I’m not, I am nonetheless always on the lookout for media that has been produced outside the mainstream. The catchall term for such media is “indie,” though such a mass grouping for what is actually a very diverse market is woefully oversimplified. But you get the idea:
- Movies that weren’t released by Warner Bros., Paramount, Sony, etc.;
- Books that weren’t published by Random House, Simon & Schuster, Houghton Mifflin;
- Music that wasn’t put out by Warner Bros., Sony, Universal;
- Games that weren’t published by . . .
Wait, what? Games? Oh, yes, you know those mind-warping, soul-devouring, evil bits of entertainment your kids beg you to spend $50+ dollars for at Best Buy and Wal-Mart? Yes. There are indie games. Games that weren’t published by Electronic Arts, Capcom, Konami, Ubisoft, Microsoft, 2K, and a handful of others.
Some such games have production values nearly as high as major titles on sale right now and others are far less costly to make, though production costs are never a sure sign of entertainment values. Some are sold. For money. Others are given away for free.
In my experience, the majority of indie games are released via the Internet, using what is referred to as digital distribution. This is merely fancy talk for “I downloaded it from the Web.” You’ll find them available for PCs, game consoles, and even phones – Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch especially enjoy a growing community of creative game developers.
Some of these games are available to play only in your browser, while others need to be downloaded and installed on your PC or game console. One of the major sellers of indie games is Steam (http://store.steampowered.com/), an online store from which you can purchase and download a great number of today’s hit games, as well as indie games. But there are enough such games available on the Internet for free that you probably would never need to purchase another one again, unless, like me, you’re content spend more of your paycheck on the newest games than on such things as food and rent and personal hygiene.
The point is, if you enjoy games, there’s a whole new world out there that you have yet to explore. Here are just a few that I have enjoyed immensely:
Braid is a puzzle game developed initially for the Xbox 360; by the time you read this, it will be on sale for your PC via Steam or Greenhouse Games (http://www.playgreenhouse.com/). In Braid, you cannot die. Any mistakes you make are easily corrected through the use of time manipulation. But you’ll need to master the use of time in conjunction with each level’s unique properties to progress through the game. For instance, in one area, everything you do will be recorded and performed by a “ghost” version of your character after rewinding time. That ghost will perform the same action you just performed while you’re free to do something else; this comes in handy when you need to pull two levers at the same time to open a particular door. Such mind-bending puzzles, accompanied by beautiful visuals, lush music, and a wonderfully melancholy story make Braid a must-play. A demo of the game is available at http://www.playgreenhouse.com/game/NNONE-000001-01/
Auditorium is a browser game, meaning that it is played through the web browser without the need to download and install it. When you begin you will probably have no idea what to do. You’ll see a black screen, a stream of white particles, one or more bubble with a directional arrow, and a volume gauge. You’ll have to position the arrow bubbles in such a way that the particle stream flows into the volume gauge. When you do this properly, music will begin to play and the puzzle will be solved. At the end of a level, all of the puzzles’ music combines to form an entire orchestration. Play the first few levels for free at http://www.playauditorium.com/.
Gameplay video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljV-d6VfCkU
Jumpman is a retro 2D platform game, done in a visual style similar to old Atari games, but augmented with modern gaming mechanics, such as stage rotation, physics, infinite repeating patterns, and layered imagery. Old-school gamers will have problems mastering the physics while younger games will wonder why the gramphics look so messed up. Both should have a very fun time playing it. Download it for free from http://runhello.com/.
Fancy Pants Adventures
Fancy Pants is a 2D platform browser game, with highly simplistic yet beautiful imagery, fluid animation, with high speed running and jumping puzzles. You can race straight through the levels, but you’ll be missing all the fun above you. And frequently you won’t have any choice but to go up in order to proceed.
This game is free to play at http://www.kongregate.com/games/DrNeroCF/fancy-pants-adventure-world-2
Scary Girl is another browser game absolutely huge in scope. It consists of 14 levels with cartoony, colorful graphics, fantastical in styles from bright and candy-colored to dark and moody, as well as a mash-up of game-play styles, including adventuring, platforming, and even fighting. This game is free to play at http://www.scarygirl.com/
And Yet It Moves
And Yet It Moves possesses a graphical style all its own; the landscape, objects, and player are all made up of ripped and crumpled construction paper. In addition to this unique look are the rotational puzzles. For instance, as you walk along you might run into a wall – you won’t be able to jump to another ledge or go anywhere except back . . . unless you rotate the world 90 degrees. But be careful; if you rotate too far in the wrong direction, you may end up falling to your death! A demo of the game is available at http://www.andyetitmoves.net/.
Plants VS Zombies
Yes. Well. An unusual title to be sure, but this game is brought to us by Popcap, the designers responsible for such productivity vacuums as Bejeweled, Zuma, and Peggle, so you know it’s going to be fun. Defend your property from the zombie hoard with plants bestowed with potent and hilarious powers; collect sunshine to keep growing new plants. It sounds silly, I know, but it’s fun. A demo of the game is available at http://www.popcap.com/games/pvz/
Again, this is only a small taste of the games available and there are more coming out all the time. If you want to keep up with what’s going on in the indie game world, you’ll need to know where to look.
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