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A Nameless Inheritance [Standalone Demo] (Blackmoth Entertainment)

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"A Nameless Inheritance is a survival horror game I’ve been working on for quite a while, the gameplay is heavily inspired by games like Flashback, Another World, 1213 and such, though also combining combat and puzzle solving elements from classic survival horror games of the PS1 era."June 2, 2014

Noyb’s remarks: "The platforming is a functional enough implementation of the pure tile-based mechanics of the games listed above — with a focus on dramatic leaps, grabbing ledges, and lowering the player character safely down drops —  though the controls feel more cumbersome than necessary. There are two separate buttons dedicated to jumping: one for standing vertical jumps and another for jumping across gaps. These two situations are simple enough for a computer to differentiate based on how the player character is currently moving. Separating them into two discrete inputs offloads that cognitive problem onto the player, increasing the game’s mechanical complexity. Interacting with objects while standing uses a separate key than picking up objects on the ground. Crouching also seems to arbitrarily disable your ability to talk with other characters or examine relevant background details.

"Weapon and item management imitates early Resident Evil games, asking the player to continually pause the game to dive into a menu and spend many keystrokes to equip weapons, reload guns, or select the obvious item to solve a puzzle.

"The level design likes placing ledges at the very edge of your vision and sometimes asks the player to drop down onto platforms sight unseen. Combined with frequent instant-kill drops, the cognitive difficulty of learning all those controls, an unforgiving treatment of jumps made near edges and sparse save points early on, I tended to feel more frustration than tension whenever I died.

"The scenario hits generic horror notes — friends exploring a cave, amnesia, humanoid monsters, tentacled beasts — but the writing and atmosphere didn’t elevate any character or scene beyond thinly-sketched cliches. I hope that the upcoming full version, which will tell a different story than the demo, finds a stronger voice."

[Download for Windows]

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soundmap i (Mark Wonnacott)

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I am playing at making audiogames (games where the only output is audio) […] I would like feedback on how easy it is to understand the meaning of the audio output and how easy it is to visualise and learn the layout of the map each time.”May 8, 2013

Noyb’s remarks: “It’s important for game developers to take the time to examine their designs and recognize what players, deliberately or not, they exclude by relying on broad assumptions of the visual, cognitive, aural, mechanical abilities their players possess.

"soundmap i prototypes a navigational scheme that relies on physical input, audio response in English, and a cognitive challenge of building a mental map of a virtual location. The screenshot above visualizes several input methods — joystick, keyboard, and mouse — but provides no information necessary to play the game.

"The player starts at a random location and is audibly tasked to find her way to a series of named landmarks. From each location, the player is fixed in place but able to look in any direction by moving the joystick. If a given direction leads to another location, the game audibly tells the player the location’s name and she can press a button to travel instantly to it. Arriving at her target results in an audible reward and a new goal destination.

"So it’s a game about navigating a space represented as a series of nodes connected with directional edges, similar to how most spaces in interactive fiction games work, with the added dimension of having to move a joystick in the proper direction before traveling. Text-to-speech-friendly interactive fiction interpreters exist as precedent, as do real-time games designed to accommodate blind players moving freely through a virtual space. I don’t know enough about the full scope of accessibility design and research to know if soundmap i’s navigational interface is novel, but I was able to form a rough mental map of the game’s area, navigating with increasing comfort as the game progressed, associating locations with both their position relative to my current location and eventually an exact path from here to there.

"I did found the choice of continually repeating the current location’s name while idle more annoying than useful, although I’d imagine in another prototype this could represent music or a soundscape specific to that area. I also found it initially confusing to mentally parse and retain my objective when this verbal repetition immediately follows the goal dialogue, saying things like, ‘Go to river. Road. Road. Road. Road. Road. Road.’"

Note: Mac and Linux players will need to download the .love game file and the LÖVE application to run it.

[Download for Windows] [Download (.love)] 

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Happy Birthday Hennell + Happy Birthday Hennell: Puzzle Edition 2012 (Alan Hazelden)

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"I didn’t get my friend a birthday present, so I made him a game."February 28, 2010

"birthday"February 26, 2012

"Some games are designed for a large audience. Some for a small audience. Some for an audience of one. Some aren’t designed to be played at all. Gaming as an artistic medium is broad enough to accommodate all of these approaches. There is nothing wrong with the existence of a game designed for someone who is not you. That said, it’s also a valid approach to critique games from perspectives outside of the ideologies and expectations of a game’s target audience.

"Happy Birthday Hennell [2010] and Happy Birthday Hennell 2012: Puzzle Edition are a pair of games presented as digital birthday gifts. (There are more games in this series, but they are beyond the scope of this site.) The first is a facile game of clicking on candles to blow them out. It starts with a single candle. Each level adds an extra flame until the player reaches Hennell’s then-current age of 23, concluding with a short birthday wish and a final gag of decorating the cake with trick candles that relight after a short time. For most players, that’s 276 discrete, monotonous clicks to unlock a message intended for someone else. The game has a low barrier to completion, but a long length relative to its content. I wonder if this was a deliberate design decision to subtly repel players without a personal interest in the game?

"The second game also involves blowing out candles on a cake, but this time it’s a puzzle: draw five straight lines to overlap all twenty-five flames, each subsequent line segment beginning where the previous one ends. It’s a nontrivial challenge with a failure state. With some perseverance anyone could win Happy Birthday Hennell [2010], but I could easily see a player walking away before the ending of Happy Birthday Hennell 2012. 

"The puzzle itself isn’t cognitively difficult — with five lines and twenty-five candles, the player will need to hit an average of five candles per line, but the 5x5 grid means that the player will need to hit exactly five candles per turn, meaning the solution would need to be a zig-zag shape hitting each row or column in turn — but has a high execution difficulty. The flames offer a smaller target to hit than their sprites imply. It’s difficult to make minor changes to a solution. The player must draw all five lines in a single go, without an option to keep intermediate steps if they make a mistake partway through. The game forces the player to sit through a cute animation of an unseen character blowing out the candles, padding out the time between attempts. Most line endpoints will rest on the solid background in places with distant visual landmarks, making it difficult to accurately recreate previous attempts.

"After solving this puzzle, the game presents the player with a deliberately broken space partitioning puzzle as a way to introduce a mean joke and the final birthday wishes. (That is, it looks mean to my eyes, but I don’t have the necessary context to understand if Hennell was meant to see it that way!)

"I find it fascinating that we have here a pair of games made by the same designer for the same player, but with such different design ethos. People, even game designers, change over time. Friendships change over time as people grow closer or apart, learn new things about each other. It’s exhilarating how games made within the context of a long friendship, as a form of communication referencing a specific moment in time, could theoretically embody those changes."

Note: The first game contains flashing lights.

[Play Online (2010 Edition)] [Play Online (2012 Edition)]

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Before the End of the World (Lucas J.W. Johnson, Devin Vibert)

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"The sky is tearing itself open. Fire rains from the heavens. And you’ve returned home to reflect on the person you fell in love with in your dreams."February 25, 2014

Noyb’s remarks: “Before the End of the World is a game about hoping to find closure during the worst of circumstances, grasping onto old thoughts and what sense of familiarity remains in your ruined hometown. It’s a love story told in retrospect, memories triggered by the smallest of objects, not all of them pleasant.

"The developer positions this game as an experiment in ‘how minor differences in context can change one’s actions.’ Structural and narrative spoilers ahead: the game asks the player to specify the player character’s gender identity — male, female, or other — before everything begins, but the text doesn’t change a word in response to this choice. The narration always refers to the player character with second person pronouns, and the player character’s ex remains male in each scenario. The implication here is that this is a work colored by the player’s experiences, by the expectations they bring into the text about how their society treats straight women, gay men, and those who do not fit within the gender binary. Representation in games, like in other forms of media, exists within a broader context, not an apolitical vacuum. Gaming certainly needs more explicitly constructed characters of less commonly represented backgrounds, but there’s also room for this looser approach, which provides a framework for subverting typical gender roles and the kinds of stories developers (and players) tell.

"The experiment also seems to test the impact of a story told in a different order to different players. All players see the same flashbacks, but some might hear of the ex’s betrayal before learning that the player character forgave him, while others might learn these specifics immediately before the endgame. There’s a school of thought that might reduce this game structure to ‘linear,’ since the order of actions has no effect on the game state past this information-gathering section, but I believe that overlooks the effect on players’ differing first-time experiences engaging with the work.

"The developer promised a postmortem with results from this experiment, but never posted one. I wonder if they received any responses at all. If you have the time, do submit your feedback after playing.”

[Play Online]

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Recursive Runner (Soupe au Caillou)

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I’d love feedback on… everything”November 29, 2012

Noyb’s remarks: “Recursive Runner is a rare instance of a free mobile game that’s actually freeware. No permissions. No ads. No downloadable content. No consumable goods purchasable with real currency. Free literally meaning free, the word’s definition not stretched to subsume its antonym. Structurally, the major app stores categorize freeware alongside deceptively labeled ‘free-to-play’ games, making it difficult to even search for games like this without relying on alternative channels. I’d love to hear if there are any app review sites or marketplaces that make this distinction.

"Recursive Runner fits broadly in the same genre as Cyclic, asking the player to perform a task multiple times while dodging her past attempts, but this game does a much better job of forcing the player into conflict with these clones. The player automatically runs back and forth in a foggy park, and can tap to jump. The player earns points whenever she or a past life touches a stationary bulb. So the game sets up a situation where the player is always running directly at at least one clone, and under a score incentive to aim at the same targets, making it a satisfying challenge to remember the movement of her previous runs to avoid unwanted collisions.

"I like how the game focuses on a score-attack without adding an explicit fail state. It’s common for games in this genre to stop play entirely when the player touches one of her past selves. Here, though, the only penalty is to optimal scoring. The past self disappears, making the player lose out on all the points it could have earned in future rounds, but the player keeps running, never breaking flow.

"The precise scoring mechanics remain opaque, though. It’s hard to tell if every lamp the player or a clone hits is worth the same or if there are some kind of multipliers at play. The score is only displayed diegetically on a banner in the center of a multi-screen-width field and offscreen clones can earn the player points, so it’s difficult to attribute specific actions to specific point values."

[Download for Android]

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By the Void (Madball)

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"I didn’t find the original [version of the game], but I made an approximate screenshot of it. You can see it in my journal."December 1, 2013

Noyb’s remarks: ”The player individually controls a number of robots, each initially segregated in their own portion of a maze. Bumping into a glowing circle makes a new robot visible. Bumping into a switch permanently toggles one or more floor or wall tiles. So the moment-to-moment goal is to activate new robots, use them to reveal previously unseen parts of the maze, and hit switches to reconfigure the maze’s structure to repeat this process. I like the level design concept of a number of different characters physically separated from each other, but still able to affect each other’s progress.

"I didn’t find the puzzles compelling. At any given time there is either only one way to proceed, or there are multiple possible actions whose outcomes the player cannot predict. The player cannot visually tell which tiles a switch will toggle, so there is no way to reason about your actions until after you’ve already done them. Hitting a switch might open a path and close another, telling the player she should have moved one of the other robots to a different tile beforehand, but there’s no way to know this was the intended solution until after she already makes this reasonable mistake. The game lets the player undo moves freely, which thankfully limits the potential frustration. It still doesn’t change that the game’s overall design requires hitting dead ends to learn crucial information, and that the puzzles themselves become trivial upon learning this information.

"By the Void was made for a weekend game jam themed around remaking one of your first games. By definition, this theme excludes those who are just starting game development, but the thing about game jams is that such a limited time frame tends to favor experienced developers, ones familiar and comfortable with their tools. Every hour spent learning is one you could theoretically spend sleeping, coding, making content or polishing. Mechanics or systems that might have taken you months to implement for the first time will feel more natural each time you make something similar.

"Everyone starts somewhere and — no matter what implicit or explicit rankings emerge from game jam culture and coverage — there’s no shame in that. Polished or unpolished, small or large, unique or derivative: first games are important.”

[Play Online]

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ClaySHMUP! (Team Danger Falcon)

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"This is probably [its] final form, since the ‘codebase’ I have for it seems messed up for reasons I’d don’t really understand. I might make a remake/[sequel] later though."September 25, 2012

Noyb’s remarks: “ClaySHMUP certainly isn’t the only claymation or found object shoot-em-up out there, but it’s always nice to see developers exploring less common art styles. The flapping player character and grinning enemies are cute! It’s a shame how some of the visual effects clash, with highly pixelated dissolving animations and single-color bullet impact sprites.

"I didn’t enjoy how the enemy design contributed to the game’s focus on memorization. Pink flyers are fast, only staying onscreen for about a second. They take four shots to kill, meaning if you move into a row where one spawns you probably won’t have enough time to either kill it or get out of the way, forcing you to take a hit. It’s even less likely in a few scenarios where multiple flyers spawn at once, covering multiple rows. The intended player behavior is to kill it if it spawns in line with the player ship or avoid it otherwise, but it’s not possible to predict where they spawn, making this a game which punishes the player until she memorizes the level. Two slower, grinning, pill-shaped enemies offer the player more leeway to dodge, though their high health also make it unlikely that the player can intentionally destroy them without encountering one in a narrow corridor or memorizing where they appear. The player only takes five hits before death, with no checkpoints or health items, so repetition is the only way to proceed.

"The level design guides the player around the screen through tunnels of various widths, alternating between high intensity periods of combat and low intensity periods without enemies. It’s a valid design choice to leave spaces for the player to breathe, but I quickly grew frustrated with these periods of downtime upon each repeated play. Still, I played until the unfinished boss, a seemingly-invincible grinning orb with a small moon that jerkily teleports to a different point in its orbit just before firing."

[Download for Windows]

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HAPPY FRIEND (Loon of Nature)

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You have been presented with your first HAPPY FRIEND. He is currently unhappy. You know what to do. He only has two modes.”April 27, 2014

Noyb’s remarks: “HAPPY FRIEND is an inscrutable puzzle game made for a Ludum Dare game jam with the theme ‘Beneath the Surface.’ Before the player is a mottled creature, a colorful cross between a human head and some tentacled monstrosity. The player, with a cumbersome eight navigation keys, can move and rotate around this head. Two more keys lets the player operate a 4-bladed surgical tool to pry open jittering bits of Happy Friend’s skull, revealing miniature art exhibits within.

"I’m okay with the lack of explicit guidance beyond the controls and a high level goal of making the head happy, especially with that wild art, but there needs to be a bit more feedback for your actions. The instructions tell the player that she can click to ‘probe,’ but nothing you click on moves or animates or makes a sound, leaving the player confused when after a bit of poking and prodding she eventually zooms out to a smiling friend and realizes she has already won the game."

[Play Online (Unity)] [Download Source (Unity)]

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Detritus (Mary Hamilton)

image"[A] work of fiction inspired by real-life experiences. Originally it was just meant to be five short elements, each one using a different mechanic, as a way of teaching the author the medium. It got kinda out of hand."January 10, 2014

Noyb’s remarks: “Detritus is a character study centered on five vignettes, each finding the player character preparing to move. The game lingers on her personal possessions: what follows her from house to house, what she leaves behind, what they reveal about her personality and history at each stage of her life. Objects as class indicators, aesthetic tastes, physical remnants of hobbies and moods, friends and lovers. Things that symbolize an abandoned past, a promising future. Items that you suddenly realize you won’t miss when the moving truck’s on its way and it’s time to make a full accounting of your accumulated junk.

"Apart from a font color that doesn’t contrast enough with the background in Act II, the aesthetics work well. Photographs of the sky. Color shifts. Ambient city and nature sounds. Disruption in capitalization and sentence structure when the player character unleashes her bottled-up feelings against a nightmarish roommate and her own possessions.

"The game is full of lovely, lonely human moments. Act IV is particularly effective. The player character is leaving a long-term relationship and standing in a shared living space under time pressure to remove her intermixed belongings, each highlighted with a separate link in a long list of sentences. Click on a link and that sentence now describes the absence of that item. As the player waits, these links start disappearing on their own as her resolve to keep that item wanes. Some of these objects the player has seen before. Some hint at the life she lived between acts. Every item understood to have some memory associated with her former partner. Let them have it. She needs to leave. Now."

[Play Online]

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Raha: Business of the Raha (magicdweedoo, Silbinary Wolf)

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YO check it out. It’s a new game.”December 29, 2013

Noyb’s remarks: “Raha! Some people worship these giant, bronze disks. Others love stacking them in phallic building contests. Still others exploit the player’s demand for raha for their own financial benefit.

"It’s an odd economy. You can slowly gather raha in the wilderness, occasionally pluck it out of the sky, or more reliably sow the land with your slowly accumulating tears to dig up treasure (and disembodied bits of previous treasure hunters) that a local merchant is more than willing to swap for raha. Three currencies: tears as time, treasure as useless accumulations, and raha as a consumable with inherent value to the player’s exploration.

"I’m not a big fan of the arcade sequences. The player clicks to slowly drop raha from the sky, building towers to explore the heights of a desert city, all while dodging bugs moving in simple back-and-forth patterns. Between the bugs’ time pressure and your indirect movement it’s not always easy to course correct the top of your tower to meet a previously unseen exit. There’s also no indication of how many raha each area takes to scale and leaving an area or getting hit resets your tower, leading to a number of wasted attempts and a return to the raha grind. The other required minigame is an agonizing 150 seconds of dodging bugs and aliens in the desert wilderness, which isn’t difficult until the very end and failure means restarting the timer entirely.

"The font could use a bit of work. At a glance, it’s hard to parse lowercase Rs and Ks, and the ‘7’ digit looks too much like a ‘1.’

"Still, the draw of magicdweedo games is their atmosphere. Peculiar characters with undertones of menace, full of inscrutable allusions that slowly cohere as the game progresses. Worldbuilding here comes not from in-game novellas or lengthy background dumps but from a collection of backdrops, artifacts and short lines of dialogue that together hint at something much larger."

[Download for Windows + Mac] [Bandcamp Soundtrack]