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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]

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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]