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Strange Play: A Further Selection of Gaming Oddities

Contributor:
Adrian Hatwell
Adrian Hatwell

Indie games, art games, little bundles of digital weirdness, call them what you will but the stuff coming out of the digital underground these days is pure-grade fantastic. If you enjoyed the unconventional offerings of our last foray into the fringe, dear reader, I submit for your titillation some more of the gaming world’s bravest and boldest:

Today I Die

A browser-based puzzler of a kind, Today I Die isn’t anywhere near as emo as its title suggests (do the kids still say emo?)  Emblazoned across the top of the screen is a short poem that reads:

 

Dead world
Full of shades
Today I die

Below the words floats a wispy nymph-like figure, seemingly doomed to sink through an endless ocean pursued by menacing shadow predators.

The player influences the world, like many of creator Daniel Benmergui’s wonderful games, by simply moving objects about the screen. In order to escape the existential horror of this world the player needs to find new words to slot into the poem, each edit altering the location, type of enemies, and abilities of the protagonist.

The simple ideas of bringing light to a dark world, combined with a whimsical storybook-like art style and dreamy, sometimes nightmarish music makes this short play a real treasure to explore.

Spelunky

Proving that traditional gaming contains enough of its own romance without resorting to poetry, Spelunky is the clever mix of two deceptively simple gaming ideas combining to make something frightfully intelligent and addictive.

At a glace the game looks like a straightforward, old school platforming homage, a hallowed tradition, to be sure, but not exactly cutting edge. Spelunky’s coup comes in the marriage of its humble visage to elements of the roguelike sub-genre – referring to the kind of game in which situations are randomized rather than static, so that each replay yields a different experience.

 The roguelike model is usually associated with Role Playing Games, but by using these elements to undermine the traits of standard platforming games Sperlunky literally changes all the rules we’ve had etched into our brain since Lode Runner.

The unpredictability of game elements interacting, the random nature of the levels, the destructible environment, and the speedy adrenaline of hectic platforming mingle in this singular, inspiring experiment.

And the title is not even finished yet, in fact it doesn't even have an official webpage but you can check out the almost-done build over here. This game and its creator Derek Yu should be watched very closely indeed.

Crayon Physics Delux

Stripping things back to their barest essentials and retooling fundamentals is a staple approach to indie game development, and the immensely entertaining Crayon Physics Delux is a real testament as to why.

The world of Crayon Physics consists of a sheet of white paper with simple crayon line drawings making up the environment. The player influences the environment by drawing items into existence in an attempt to guide an inert ball from one point in the level to another.

The physics simulation in this little game is inspired, accounting for gravity, mass, momentum, and kinetic energy as the player scribbles levers, bridges, pivot points, wheels, ropes, and whatever else comes to mind to motivate that stubborn little circle to its intended goal.

Simple, elegant, and robust; the very mantra on the indie developers’ coat of arms. Check it out here.

And Yet it Moves

Whereas blockbuster games out of the giant studios will be eviscerated for the slightest evidence of amateurism, indie developers can get away with a certain level of punky rawness, which And Yet it Moves pulls of with dizzying aplomb.

Set inside a claustrophobic nightmare world of ripped cardboard caverns, the sketchy protagonist of the game must make his way through the labyrinthine tunnel system without falling or getting crushed to death by rock falls.

The path to freedom would be physically impossible to traverse if not for the player’s ability to spin the world at a 90-degree angle. Up suddenly becomes left, a pathway becomes a hole, running becomes falling, and stationary rubble becomes a landslide.  
 
The ever-shifting perspective gives the game an intoxicating feel to the point of queasiness, but its novel innovation simply can’t be overlooked; the title has a great hook despite its limitations. See for yourself.

Frobot: Fuelled by Dancing

Frobot isn’t the acutely polished or daringly bizarre kind of project that the rest of the games on this list are, in fact the disco-robot yuppie shooter is pretty rudimentary. That’s hardly surprising, however, when you consider it was part of the Experimental Gameplay Project in which a lone developer is given a meagre 7 days to produce a functioning game based on a monthly theme.

The Experimental Gameplay Project is gonzo gamemaking the way only dedicated no-budget indie developers could possibly pull off. Ideas are birthed, slapped together, hurriedly tested, and thrust upon the world where it’s not uncommon for them to fall apart completely. That’s just the price one pays to be a gaming guerrilla.   

Perhaps the most illustrious alumni of the Project is Tower of Goo, a slimy physics-based bridge-building game that eventually went on to cross into the (sort of) mainstream as World of Goo, available on Nintendo Wii via the WiiWare service.

Frobot might not by the most breathtaking of spectacles but it works, you can play it, and for 7 days work that’s not bad. Keep an eye on the Experimental Gameplay Project, boys and girls, that’s the sort of place where magic can happen.

Blueberry Garden

Another beautifully stylized game that toys with the bare conventions of the platforming game; it seems as though Mario’s favoured genre is going through something of an indie renaissance these days.

Blueberry Garden is perhaps the most visually striking of the games on this list, it’s inky, sparsely coloured dreamworld seems to best encapsulate that childhood illustration feel that so many of these little games take aim at.

The game, more an exploratory experience than challenge-driven quest, tasks the player with entering its delicate world, taking a look around, and just enjoying the process of learning how things work there.

The game’s draw is in its chic simplicity, its quiet charm, and its self-assured gentleness, so unlike the image usually conjured by the term video game. The title quite deservedly won this year’s Independent Games Festival Grand Prize. You can check it out here.

Between

I’ll take my leave with the latest offering from gaming’s poet laureate, Jason Roher. Like the idiosyncratic gamemaker’s previous title The Passage, Between is a game that resists conventional description and begs instead to just be experienced. So that’s what I think you should do: It’s baffling, provocative, basic, and impossible to ignore - play it here.

That will probably do for now, but if anyone has any strange, horrible, brilliant odd, nutty, frightening, or otherwise exciting gaming oddities they would like to share please do drop me a line.

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