This past weekend a good friend as well as a great videogame journalist proposed to his girlfriend at the premiere of a film that he helped to write. Granted, that film was Evil Bong 3D: Wrath of Bong, but hey, we're not nitpicking. Congratulations again to Patrick Klepek and Kate Hayden. All of this nerd love got me thinking about another proposal that might have even been trickier to pull off than getting an entire movie together. If you’re a lonely grump like myself and want to skip the romance, you can skim down to the bottom for some free games to keep you busy during those long and lonely Friday Nights.
There are many reasons that people make indie games. Some do it to tell their own story while others do it just to get themselves out there and hopefully seen by the bigger companies. And then there’s Matt Gilgenback – co-founder of 24 Caret Games and a developer you’ll be hearing about in the near future. He made a game for only one purpose and for one person. While he wasn’t seeking fame or fortune, the stakes were just as high. Maybe even higher. Read on for more.
I first met Matt right before Indiecade as I was setting up interviews with some of the developers. Soft-spoken but passionate about his work, Matt instantly struck me as someone brimming with creativity. It didn’t hurt that he came in wearing a gold bowtie and miner’s helmet. Interviews are often the downfall for many developers, but Matt came fully suited up to show off his game, Retro/Grade. You play this sidescrolling shooter backwards, sucking in shots and bringing enemies back to life in complete backwards fashion. Instead of a regular controller, you use any guitar peripheral you have lying around the house to play. Part music, part action, and completely ingenious; Retro/Grade would go on to win the Audience Choice as last year’s Indiecade. If you haven’t gotten your hands on this downloadable title, it sounds crazy but works amazingly well.
A couple of months later, I ran into Matt again at an art opening. This time he had two games picked for the IGF nominations – Retro/Grade and a game I had never seen before, A Möbius Proposal. With a sly smile, he told me the story of Möbius and play testing it with one of his toughest critics – his girlfriend.
If you don’t already know, a Möbius strip is a circle with a single twist so that both sides of the circle run in one big loop, and it only has one side.. Travel far enough at any point on the circle and you will touch both the inside and outside edges before reaching your point of origin. The game, played on an XBox 360, takes place on one such circle with a character playing on opposite ends of the strip. The players, one being a boy that looks just like Matt and one being a girl that happens to look like his girlfriend, must work together in order to traverse the landscape. Blocks often intersecting the landscape can move to affect the blocks on the other side. The transparent floor lets both players see where their partner is in the maze. At the end of the game, the couple meets at the twist and you get a low battery message.
I know that it’s not quite the fireworks and celebration that you usually have in mind when beating a game. For Matt, however, it was his cue to drop to one knee, pull back the battery cover, and pull out the ring. And with that, the bar for proposals has never been set higher. Matt admitted that there were a couple of times where he didn’t know if his girlfriend would get tired and stop playing the game. Patience, cooperation, and one of the most original proposals won out in the end. Möbius might have not made it into the IGF finals but I think it received one of the greatest rewards of all – one woman’s heart. If Matt is any cue at all, then nerds everywhere needs to step up their game.
What You Should Be Playing
Okay, enough of that love stuff. You probably want to waste away your week with some free games. Here are three titles to make your time a little shorter or your life a little less lonely.
Okay, this is a bit of a cheat, but since you get a dozen or so games on one site, what does it matter? The typical Grow games work around the idea of combining somewhat related objects in a particular order to see how they work together. You pick one and then another. There’s no time limit or way to lose actually. There is, however, one best possible outcome. All of the Grow games are so unusual and charming that you won’t mind trying to mix and match the combinations in order to find out the correct key. It only takes minutes to play but it will take you a good lunch break to find the best ending.
Flash RTS games have always been difficult to pull off but this little gem seems to do it. Orbital Onsalught pits you against another player in who will control the fate of a planet. Each mission gives you the chance to upgrade your troops or hire new mercenaries to fight for your side. Time is a resource here since you can only redeploy your army or robots at the beginning of every turn. Bigger bots take more turns but usually last longer in the battlefield. The key here is variety and setting up the right troops to face off against your opponent. The biggest bother about the game is that you only get three losses. Once you bite that third big one, it’s game over, man. Game over.
You asked for heaven and we give you hell. Bullet Heaven, as you can probably figure out, is a flash-based bullet hell shooter – with an emphasis on the hell. All the characters come from the Epic Battle Fantasy series, if you are familiar with it, and all of them have the cartoonish look and feel. Don’t be fooled since you'll be fighting every inch just to stay alive. You can pick from two characters to begin with and slowly grow your troops. You’ll earn money to buy upgrades and be able to replay pervious levels to earn a higher score to unlock more along the way. Like any bullet hell, it’s frustrating, mind-boggling, and completely satisfying once you get the hang of it.