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Dear Indie Games - The Indie Column

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Posted February 21, 2012 - By Rob Manuel

Dear Indie Games

As you wake up from your Mardi Gras stupor, your mouth tasting of cheap rum and expired asphalt, think about what really matters in life. I’m talking about indie games. As the big boys slowly put out a couple of titles for the beginning of the year, smaller developers hit the road running and haven’t looked back since the New Year’s clock stuck midnight. Here’s what you’ve been missing out on.

Virtual Trips And Letters Home

There’s no running, jumping, or interacting with the environment. You leave no footprint, literally and fugitively, on the island as you explore desolate caves and ramshackle shacks along the overgrown cliffs. The only hint of humanity comes from a disembodied narrator reading letters addressed to Esther. Instead of hitting a landmark and having him come on like a ghostly tour guide, narration randomly appears throughout your journey. Mysterious and at times unsettling, Dear Esther will go down as one of the essential games for anyone interested in understanding narration within virtual worlds.

Starting out as only a mod for the first Half-Life, this new iteration gains more than just a new coat of paint from shifting to a standalone version. You feel the harsh life of the island as you pass through weedy paths and the remains of boats long since dead. Visuals make up half the experience as you observe each area like a bloated corpse – picking up clues, wondering what happened, and how it all came down to this. Esther lets the narrator tell his half-cooked story while the player fills in the rest through visual exploration.

The house on the hill, the drawings in the caves, the lines on the sheer rock face; Esther works in sections like exhibits in a museum. Much like the story told by the narrator, none of it flows together. Sometimes the imagery becomes jarring or confusing as you meander through each new exhibit. With a little patience and with one of the most beautiful soundtracks to accompany your journey, you search for answers and only seem to come up with more questions. This is a game to discuss over strong coffee and heated debate. If the indie gaming community wanted to start the year off with a love letter to gaming, then they found no better way than with the words Dear Esther.

What You Should Know…

Have I mentioned recently how excited I am for the indie games coming out this year? Even if I only got to play Fez and watch Indie Game: The Movie, this would still be a red-letter year for this little independent gamer. But it seems as though some amazing games are already making their way down the pipeline this year. Fract OSC started out as a student project that went on to win last year’s IGF Student award with its bold style and Myst-like exploration. This year, the developers return with a new twist, music. Take a look at their newest trailer to see how the synthesized sounds will make sweet music when Fract OSC comes out hopefully later this year.

A Machine for Pigs

The guys who put the fear back into gaming return to show off their newest project. Frictional revealed a new picture on their website as well as a little info through their ARG about a game people are calling A Machine for Pigs. There’s more speculation than actual information at the time, but here’s what we’ve pieced together. Blood splattered windows and greasy gears keep the dark mood of the Amnesia game intact as we more to a more industrial setting. Word has it that The Chinese Room, the developers behind Dear Esther, is somehow involved, going along with their mention of a secret project releasing this year. Other than the game coming out this Fall, we’ll just have to follow the clues to find out what this bloody mess is all about.

And finally, Retro City Rampage has a release date for this May where it will appear on every system under the sun. The pre-orders for the PC version are well underway. If you haven’t already, please check out our interview with Brian Provinciano, the lead designer and mastermind behind the game that combines all of your NES dreaming into one virtual cartridge.

Humble For A Cause

Catacomb Snatch

While you were out this weekend enjoying that extra day off, some great developers got together to raise money for charities such as Child’s Play, the American Red Cross, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and charity: water. Though the Humble Bundle website; Mojang, Oxeye Games Studio, and Wolfire Games spent the weekend designing games from scratch and live streaming every second of it. Over 80,000 gamers donated more than 400,000 dollars with all of it going towards charity. In return, donors received three games made in just 60 hours. I'm not saying that things didn't get a little crazy, but Notch was involved in a bacon fight.

Catacomb Snatch, the game designed by Notch and the Mojang team, put you into a tomb filled with monsters as you try to clear a path for your little mine cart. Bats, mummies, and snakes spawn out of coffins littering the area. A couple of well-placed shots will send them packing and make you richer. With the money you earn, you will by turrets, machines to collect the loose change, and bombs to open up the way for your mine cart track. The main game pits you against another player as you both try to get to the fountain and take in all the loot. That’s not bad for a weekend of work.

And Now The Rest of The Story…

You Should Play: Treasure Adventure

This free PC with one of the most generic titles in existence is anything but generic. The game starts you off with dreams of your treasure seeking father and a hook for a hand. From there, you find islands to explore, animals to question, and twelve ancient artifacts to gather in order to stop the sleeping demon down below. Painted in shades of Zelda: Wind Waker, Treasure Adventure is every bit as charming and fun without all the hassle of having to lay down a little cash.

You Should Buy: Dustforce

Parkour meets cleaning in this "think-on-your-thumbs" platformer. It’s not just about cleaning up, but looking good while doing it. Players plowing through the rather short campaign will miss out on perfecting each of these beautiful levels or unlocking bonus challenges along the way. With tunes in your ears and a broom in your hands, you’ll compete against the clock to make the world a little cleaner. Dustforce also allows you go head to head against other players or design your own courses. Grab a broom and keep your fingers nimble if you want to clean up in this game.

You Should Support: The Departure Game App

Sometimes it just takes the right look to set a game in motion. The Departure combines art with a quirky climbing game for you to play on your iPhone. Having already reached their goal, any money you throw at them will only be icing on the cake, or in this case, additional options, power-ups, and modes. For just twenty-five bucks, you get the game and a little art to go along with your hard work.

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