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An Ongoing Look at Indie Gaming, part one

By Aaron Robinson
27 March 2009 As much as I enjoy gaming, I have to admit it's not a cheap hobby to keep up with. With games getting more expensive, it's becoming increasingly harder to get all the games that pique my interest. I guess that's why I've started turning more towards indie gaming. Now that all three major consoles have download services, smaller development teams have another avenue to release their games. It's led to a surge in popularity for games that previously might have never seen the light of day. And with so many indie games being released at budget prices (or even as freeware), it's well worth looking into both current and older releases.

So in order to help promote some of the better indie games out there, I've decided to create this series called An Ongoing Look at Indie Gaming. Every few weeks I'll do a write up on five different independent games that won't be hitting store shelves. I'll be covering games both new and old, for both PCs and consoles, to ensure I get a nice variety of titles for each new installment. But with all this talk of how expensive gaming is, I think starting off with five freeware games is the way to go. Whilst free games have been made for consoles in the past, these games will be specifically for the PC.

Legend of Princess

If you couldn't tell from the title, this little game is a love letter to the Legend of Zelda series. Konjak, the developer, took his experience working on side-scrollers, and used it to create a more action-based 2D Zelda. The final product is pretty much Zelda on crack, with exploding enemies, frantic bosses, a few simple puzzles and some really well-balanced platforming. It helps that Konjak is a talented musician and artist, too. His cartoony designs and upbeat music really adds a lot to the experience.

As it currently is, the game is just one level long, with no plans for additional levels. It's still an incredibly entertaining way to spend half an hour though, and it easily warrants multiple plays.

Download it at http://konjak.org.

Spelunky

Spelunky is an interesting experiment, essentially mixing the roguelike and platforming genres together to create a nifty little hybrid. For those unfamiliar with the term roguelike, it's a particularly difficult kind of dungeon crawler built around turn-based gameplay, randomly generated items and high death penalties. Generally, when you die in a roguelike, you're forced to start from the beginning. It's a genre that's lived on for decades thanks to a small but dedicated audience.

Spelunky takes that hardcore style of gameplay and attaches it to a platformer. You take an intrepid explorer armed with a whip, a few ropes and bombs and you make your way through the dungeons, rescuing damsels and finding treasure along the way. As the game progresses, you'll encounter new enemies, gain new items and traverse even harder dungeons. And should an ill-judged jump or trap manage to kill you, you'll have to start the experience from the start.

It's strange in that you'll never get the same experience twice, and so it can't really be played like a regular platformer. It's very much a game designed for a niche audience that enjoys a challenge. But if the concept sounds at all intriguing to you, I'd still recommend downloading it.

Download it at http://forums.tigsource.com/index.php?topic=4017.0.

Dyson

I'm not normally one for real-time strategy. Between managing resources, ordering troops, deciding what to build and where to build it, it's all a bit too complicated for my simplistic brain. I'm terrible at formulating strategies too, especially on the fly. Despite all that, I still found myself getting into Dyson. It takes the basic fundamentals of an RTS and boils them down into something much more simplistic, whilst still offering enough depth to keep things interesting.

The first thing you'd probably notice is that it doesn't look like an RTS. You aren't sending your troops over to an enemy base, or managing a fleet of ships. You're in control of a group of plants and seedlings floating around a set of asteroids. The goal is to capture every asteroid on screen by sending out your seedlings taking out any rival plants along the way and defending your own asteroids from invasions. It might sound like a strange and confusing concept, but I can honestly say it didn't take me long to get the hang of it. The game does a great job of taking things slow and getting you used to the mechanics, before slowly turning up the challenge in the later stages.

Download it at http://www.dyson-game.com/blog/?page_id=8.

Gravity Bone

This might be one of the strangest games I've ever played. It's a first-person adventure game with a quirky sense of humor, set in a world filled with box-shaped people who speak in indistinguishable jargon. You play as a spy tasked with infiltrating different locations and completing a set of bizarre objectives. To explain the plot and gameplay further would only spoil a lot of what makes Gravity Bone so charming.

Despite being created with the Quake II engine, it's a marvelous game to look at. Rather than pushing what the engine can do, everything is overly simplistic, yet stylized. The strangely shaped characters are given cartoony faces and wear pasted-on clothes, and it works so well with the style of humor. The same can be said of the environments; there's nothing overly complicated about them, but the simple fact that there are planes flying overhead or shutters clanging outside adds so much to the experience.

The biggest flaw I can really think of is that it's over so quickly. After a brief tutorial, the next level builds to an exciting sequence of events and then it ends. It really feels like an idea that could be expanded into a full game, and it would be a shame if it doesn't end up happening.

Download it at http://www.blendogames.com.

Knytt Stories

Knytt Stories is the latest freeware platformer released by Swedish developer Nicklas Nygren. There's so much I like about this game, but what I especially enjoy is the atmosphere it generates. Visually there's not much to it; Juni (the main character) is essentially a little round body with stick-like appendages, and the world you travel really just consists of a bunch of rectangles. But it's the little touches that add to the experience. As you move about, the color palette, backgrounds and obstacles around you will change. Most of the creatures that populate the world aren't even hostile. Some will happily follow you around, whilst others will go about their daily lives oblivious to your existence. But what really stands out is the soundtrack. It shifts from area to area, mixing in new instruments and taking on different styles, yet it always manages to create a lonely, solemn atmosphere.

Rather than being a single experience, Knytt Stories is a collection of relatively short adventures that can be played in any order. The original game contains just one tutorial level and one adventure, but two loosely tied together adventures have been added since. They all follow a similar structure, but there's enough variety in level design that they're all worth looking into. On top of all that, Knytt Stories comes with a fairly robust level editor, and there's a decent-sized community out there making user-based levels.

If you only end up trying one game on this list, make it Knytt Stories. It's a beautiful and clever little game that has a ton of content available. It's one of the best indie games I've played, freeware or otherwise.

Download it at http://nifflas.ni2.se/index.php?main=02Knytt_Stories&sub=03Download.


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