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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]

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Cardiff_Insane Letters (Sébastien Zürcher, Lindis Farne)

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"An autobiography/autofiction of a month in Cardiff. In which we talk about gay sex, cigarettes and alcohol. It also involves imaginary lovers and imaginary murders. […] TW for violence and suicidal tendencies."March 31, 2014

Noyb’s remarks: “Cardiff_Insane Letters is a deliberate attempt to make a game that functions as a daily journal. Game development tools like Twine or Ren’py make it possible to create games fast enough to chronicle events and thoughts almost in real time. (For a good example, check out Courtney Stanton’s fascinating December 2012 project.)

"I dig the art style here. Ghostly sketches floating above photos processed with a swirling, thick, impressionist effect.

"Structurally, Cardiff begins with a few scenes from a more traditional dating sim: moving to a new city, meeting someone new, bonding over physical intimacy and media consumption, confessions of feelings just before one character moves away. The player is then told that this love story is a complete fabrication and never actually happened to the developer.

"The rest of the game consists of loose, daily vignettes (and the occasional poem or short fiction piece) building a more cynical worldview than the one in the fictional prologue through conversations with friends and housemates, philosophical tangents, existentialist monologues, accounts of awkward Grindr dates, emotional responses to musicals and Miyazaki films, peppered throughout with violent fantasies troubling in their content and frequency.

"The narrator’s train of thought constantly switches tracks from STDs to hookup culture to family illness to a Holden Caufield-esque obsession with people who fake kindness to the creation of art as a personal outlet. It’s the kind of manifesto that feels raw, personal, equal parts confident and flailing. A product of youth and drugs and late night conversations trying to definitively explain and extrapolate the world’s inner workings from incomplete data sets."

[Download for PC, Mac, Linux]

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Spark: De Sacrificio (Andrea Montagna)

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"I was scared of what people would say about it. I’m not new about getting feedback on stuff, and I have a thick skin for [harsh] comments. But the reality is that I had put a lot more of myself in this game than I would have ever expected. It’s no use to have a thick skin if you have your most vulnerable parts of yourself out in the open. Spark isn’t just a game for me but more of a piece of myself I digitalized and put in a form that others can experience and live. As someone who is extremely reserved, this is terrifying: it’s like [leaving] an open door on my soul." — January 6, 2014

"I kept it for myself for the most part but after a friend of mine said it was an interesting idea I’m curious to know the opinions of other, more experienced developers."February 12, 2014

"experience a challenging and atmospheric adventure, make a small and passionate dev happy"February 12, 2014

Noyb’s remarks: “I think this is the first game we’ve seen on Zero Feedback that the developer shared with three separate communities without getting a comment on their post. Heartbreaking.

"Spark: De Sacrificio is a tense, claustrophobic series of single screen mazes, an oppressive, unsafe environment for the player character, a tiny spark whose light gets snuffed out in a manner of seconds while visibility rapidly dims.

"Unlike many games with this constant time pressure, there are no safe zones, even around checkpoints, portrayed here as giant eyes with awful, protruding tendrils. The only way to reset the timer is through death. The only way to clutch every precious second of a life is to move as soon as you respawn.

"I like the unnerving aesthetic touches: jittering tiles, eye motifs, low sound of wind or breathing in the background.

"The level progression begins with simple navigation then adds new respawn points, deadly tiles, and toggling gates, quickly partitioning each level into sections that require much more than one life to solve, often asking the player to send a spark on a one-way mission to learn the level’s layout or open a new path for the next spark. The design embodies the act of clawing your way forward one inch at at time, even when the goal always seems just out of reach."

[Download for Windows]

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Life Experiences (Daniele Bianchini, Chiara Rossi, Sara Torda, Steve Petruzza)

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Less than 48 hours of work and this is the result”January 30, 2013

Noyb’s remarks: “Life Experiences is a dating sim in the guise of a puzzle platformer. The player character and love interest are both depicted as separate halves of a mechanical, steam-powered heart, each pumping to their own beats. The player can run and jump around a level, touching icons that represent various life experiences — parties, drug use, death of a loved one, sickness, physical contact — that affect both your health and your heartbeat. Match heartbeats with the love interest before dying to win.

"I like how the premise acknowledges that two people might be incompatible in the present but may become compatible in the future after personal growth and change, though the metaphor is muddled in terms of character agency. The love interests remain stationary in each level with a constant heartbeat, a sign that they aren’t undergoing continual change like the player. Each becomes a static object, an expected prize for solving each navigational puzzle.

"There’s a narrative conflict between the player’s free movement through each level and the inclusion of symbols representing unexpected developments like sickness or death, which, apart from a single level that funnels you past a gravestone, the player can choose to avoid entirely. Compare this to Hubol’s Live Forever, which gives you some leeway to avoid unwanted experiences, but often forces you to choose among several bad alternatives.

"By the halfway point I settled into a degenerative strategy of guzzling caffeine (+bpm, -health) until I’m shaking and half-dead, then repeatedly holding hands (-bpm, +health) until I’m at the right heart rate, a courting tactic that looks disturbing from the outside but works in the game because these two actions directly complement each other’s effect on the player and because the game’s level design ethos almost always places the hand icon next to the goal.”

[Play Online (Unity)] [Download for Windows, Mac]

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Don’t Fall Out of the House (Aaron Angert)

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"DON’T FALL OUT OF THE HOUSE!!!!!!!! DON’T DO IT. 

also there is a pirate ship”February 26, 2012

Noyb’s remarks: “The living room spins around a random axis with an unsteady tremble. Floors become walls become ceilings to a percussion-heavy track as this familiar space slowly reveals its surreal circumstances, open on four sides, lit by the pink glow of a television, floating above a watery landscape. A score ticks up, encouraging the player to use bolted-on furniture and pillars as platforms, means of temporarily resisting the pull of gravity.

"It’s not perfect — I’ve fallen through a few solid objects and one time the random rotation kept the house as stable as a revolving restaurant — but it hits an unnerving mood.

"I like how the game embraces a soft failure state. After falling you’re free to wander the world below, a world you’ve only seen glimpses of, tracing your way through hills, walking on water, trying to get into a distant pirate ship. All while the house spins overhead, out of reach until you choose to restart."

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

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Alpha Channel (Spooner)

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"Alpha Channel was originally a Ludum Dare entry, but I’ve added bits and pieces over the last year."December 15, 2011

Noyb’s remarks: “Alpha Channel is a single-screen arena shoot-em-up where the player character doesn’t have any bullets, but instead temporarily takes control of enemies to ram them into each other.

"The game suffers from a number of clarity issues. I was confused when the stationary green boxes seemed to do almost no damage to the mobile red enemies, since the help screen only said that squares can hurt each other when they’re different colors. It’s never entirely clear which enemy you’ll possess when you tap the action button, a problem when you’re being chased by multiple enemies, a boss, and surrounded by stationary boxes. I assume it’s the closest enemy, but more often than not I found myself possessing a weak green box when I wanted to possess an enemy closing in on me. Each non-boss level ends when you defeat a certain number of enemies, but it never displays that quota onscreen. It also took a few tries for me to parse the small rectangles on the top of the screen as extra lives.

"Still, there’s something compelling to the core loop of shoving enemies into each other and dodging while your possession meter refills. The normal levels with just the mobile and stationary enemies start to feel repetitive after a while: possessing a red enemy kills it quickly when it’s in a large swarm of enemies to bounce off of, and the optional challenge of milking extra points by leading enemies into the green boxes grows tedious. The unique boss behaviors — throwing enemies at you, being immune to possession, sucking enemies in — change things up every four levels, but not often enough for my tastes."

[Download for Windows, Mac, Linux]

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After Dark (Cardboard Computer)

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"Just playing with the editor & getting a feel for it :)"May 22, 2010

Noyb’s remarks: “This isn’t the first Knytt Stories level we’ve seen on Zero Feedback, but it’s certainly the most experimental. Rather than give Juni, the player character, a world to explore and powerups to collect, Cardboard Computer has trapped her in a 2x2 tile room. Beneath her prison rest a number of enemies, most filling the screen with particles that would be dangerous were she not confined to a solid room. Though she cannot escape, she can affect the outside world, triggering a plant to shoot fireballs, a cyclopean spike monster to jump. The calm background track fades out leaving only the sound of wind, percussive beats of futile attacks, fireballs sizzling against the ground, Juni’s own footsteps. A soothing meditation on Knytt Stories’ aural ambiance.”

Note: This level requires the free Knytt Stories to play. You can also play it by downloading GloriousTrainwrecks.exe and looking for the After Dark entry in the Knytt of the Month Club #3 event.

[Download (.knytt)] [Download Knytt Stories for Windows (required)]

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Cave Excape (Alejandro Ramallo)

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"Cave Excape is a 2D arcade game where you have to try to avoid incoming boulders, and avoid the cave walls. Created with gamemaker 7.0"June 13, 2009

Noyb’s remarks: “Mechanically, Cave Excape is a variant of the one-switch arcade game genre typified by David McCandless’ Helicopter Game. The player’s ship constantly falls. Hold a button to continually add an upward force to the ship. (Variants like Flappy Bird only add this force at the instant you tap, creating a punctuated rhythm requiring more discrete actions to counteract a steep descent.) Avoid the endless, undulating cave walls and midfield obstacles. Gain points for every second spent alive, eventually learning how to weave up and down with a practiced grace.

"Where does Cave Excape differ? Unlike its inspiration, Cave Excape doesn’t challenge its player to follow a winding tunnel. The cave here is on average half a screen tall but the cave walls vary by a little over 1/10 of the screen’s height, giving the cave an architecture characterized by perpetual flatness, a massive open area in the center of the screen flanked above and below by noise minor and random enough that there are only small pockets where the player can even fit her ship. The obstacles — rotating heart-shaped boulders — take up almost half of that open area’s vertical space. The player character is relatively tiny, about 1/10 the height of a boulder. These sizes taken together mean that the player spends most of her energy dodging boulders, only worrying about minor ripples in the ceiling and floor when certain boulder patterns make the center unsafe. This change in focus doesn’t make Cave Excape worse than its inspiration, just different

"That’s not to say the game lacks design flaws or clarity issues. The fish and eel sprites move towards the player like boulders and visually contrast against the background, giving me the false expectation that they’re also obstacles to avoid. Boulders sometimes spawn over a cave wall, distracting the player as they’re drawn for a few frames then destroyed, giving each playthrough a difficulty curve determined mainly by how many of these lulls the random number generator grants. The post-game screen lets you retry instantly with a press of the action button, but since it doesn’t exclusively check for the start of that press it’s easy to skip that screen with a lingering tap from your last try, irrevocably robbing you of the chance to register that run’s score on the local high score table.”

[Download for Windows]

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At the Bonfire (Finny)

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"Semi-autobiographical game about interpersonal conflict."December 15, 2013

Noyb’s remarks: “At the Bonfire is a game about empathy, not in the way the term ‘empathy game’ is usually meant — an often uncomfortable reframing of the developer’s personal narrative to focus instead on the subset of players who refuse to believe another’s shared experience without digitally living it themselves — but rather one fascinated with the ways people think.

"The player character introduces herself with a written sketch of her current perspective, beginning with a factual observation of her ‘quietness,’ how she or others might negatively judge her based on that behavior, ultimately ending with positive affirmations refuting those surface judgments and reinforcing her core personality and emotional needs. She applies this delving, conceptual framework to three other characters at a bonfire party — a shy stranger, an abrasive dudebro, and her distant sister (to whom this game is dedicated) — and recognizes she can’t fully sketch any of their characters from surface observations alone. She needs to speak to them, the player choosing how to allocate her limited ‘time-energy.’

"A woman silenced by strong self-doubts, a man who uses people different from him as punchlines, a sister who has grown accustomed to placing her own needs last, a player character in the process of focusing her analytic mind towards empathy and a sense of self. Three branches, four characters with unique perspectives and capacities for introspection, all believable and well-sketched by the developer.”

[Play Online]

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Landers (James Earl Cox III)

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What is your war story?”February 12, 2013

Noyb’s remarks: ”The aliens in the original Space Invaders attack in a rigid lockstep, marching across the screen as one unit, dropping down and marching back when they reach the screen’s edge. A terrible tactic designed not for winning wars but instead for providing a fair, predictable challenge in the arcade. Landers asks the player to control a single soldier in this alien army, but gives her the ability to move freely, allowing the option of disobeying these implicit orders.

"My war stories. I fled boot camp, which led to my execution. In a second try I fell in line. On the battlefield, fearing an assumed punishment, I followed orders until a stray shot ended my life. In other lives I used soldiers as shields without firing a shot myself. I placed myself on the front lines. I charged directly for the enemy. I deserted my comrades.

"There’s a solipsistic feeling as your fellow soldiers march onward without concern for their surroundings, pushing you around to reach their predetermined destination, sometimes moving directly in the line of fire. Other soldiers never break rank or flee, despite the direct conflict between survival and these unnatural movements. You’re the only one with agency in a system that expects obedience, treats your peers as disposable."

[Play Online] [Download (PC)]