A(s)century is a cyberpunk twine game by Austin Walker.
This is me punting; I wrote about this game, and particularly how it fits within cyberpunk literature, in March. Of particular interest (slightly edited):
An inherited ambiguity (what is the role of the player character?) meets an inherited theme (the contested body) by way of a formal declaration: your choices are tracked, and you are meant to know this.
What still stands out most about the game, to me, is its scope. As noted (and per the title), it takes place over the course of a century. The second most standout is that the writing holds up; it’s a game that was clearly written with a smile, which works. And then the third is that it just looks pretty cool.
And then there’s a whole bunch of other stuff which I wouldn’t classify as standing out but is cool.
Lullaby for a Heartsick Spacer is a cozy space by Merritt Kopas.
You appear in something like a cavern. You press keys to move; move on the ground, or lay on it, jump into the air, and keep puffing your way up and around. You’re alone.
The caverns themselves are procedurally generated, with lighter-and-darker blues forming rocks against a blueish-black background. Every time I have played there has been one or two wide open spaces and some things resembling corridors. The spaces aren’t very big, as a whole, as far as I can tell.
What makes the game is the ability, when earthbound, to just lie down. A short animation happens (presumably a death animation elsewhere), and you lie there for a few breaths, and then a pleasant song plays. It’s really wonderful.
The flying – presumably a jetpack – is also a wonderful touch. Something about the delay in the animation, and how it seems to be the dust sprites from the abandonauts pack. The little mote that lingers, especially, gives the game a beautiful weight.
You can also press down while lying to do something like pushups and turn the song into something like a round, which is neat.
Real Folk Blues is a side scrolling adventure game by Jord Farrell.
If the name’s anything to go by, it’s a sort of Cowboy Bebop vignette with a squiddy protagonist, set in what would probably be best described as the subgenre of “science fiction” (scare quotes as part of the genre name: decomposing postindustrial paintings as backdrop, hoverboard/car/things, a DDR club, and a lot of random executions).
It’s mostly a game about how neat it is to watch your character walk, as far as I can tell. And be stoked about that sequence where you pick things up with your squiddy arms. Then you shoot a bunch of stuff and die and that’s cool too.
The game starts with a static scene with an image of a Z encased in a box at the center (after the credit). You push the corresponding button; the screen shakes. You press it again, a bunch, and the screen keeps shaking. When you’re about ready to give that up, your avatar pops up, and then you walk around. You grab some stuff, you shoot some dudes, &c.
After the jarred introduction and the first person sequence, you have an inventory (and a cape). The game controls with arrows for movement, Z for action, and numerals for using inventory. It’s weird and unwieldy. I dig it.
Mystery Channel is a collection of minigames/stories by the catamites.
Opening the game throws the player into a screen filled with a screen; a static-filled television takes up the whole game window, and a remote control floats in front of it. Clicking the remote opens the frame narrative; a Vincent Price/Crypt Keeper style host greets the player, and gives short explanations of the various “films” that can be chosen. Clicking any of them causes your computer to open a prompt asking you to authorize a new executable to be opened; it’s horribly unimmersive, which is great. Or, it’s a form of immersion which leaks from “the text” into the operating system, which is also great.
The games range from clicking through dialogue to wandering abstract spaces with little signposting and fluid player-avatar relations. Often, the game will simply dump you into a screen, forcing you to press the arrow keys and hope for a response. Then you end up wandering toward the edges of the screen, hoping for a new screen. Sometimes your avatar just wanders off.
In one game, which consists entirely of a screen with a small, static-filled television and a(n umodified) Final Fantasy VII-style dialogue box, an reading of horror films is given; they are “the depiction of a world only a single failure of luck or attention away from becoming a screaming, nightmarishly stupid monster dimension.” This, on the other hand, is a game where villains will menace, but can ultimately do no harm.
The Rats in the Walls is an adventure game by Shilov.
It’s an adaptation of the Lovecraft story (with The Cat, you know, though he makes no appearance here) of the same name, as you might expect. As an adventure game, it is entirely about walking, though it tries occasionally to trick you into thinking it’s about the story or the occasional non-narrative fetching it requires of you; luckily, the walking is neat.
It’s also a game with a strangeness to its controls; one moves with the arrow keys, interacts with the F key, and continues with the space bar, always accompanied by the SPACE TO SKIP prompt. There’s an obvious way to streamline this — which is taken advantage of (to a degree) in Shilov’s cancelled followup adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness — which, in its obviousness, creates the illusion of intention. Or, at least, the tension of mediums, or the reflection of Lovecraft’s own purple tendencies in the implementation of the adaptation.
There, too, are, in this game, the restrictions imposed by assets; particularly, art. It is a game of static environments in which the avatar breathes, which itself is worth watching. And the walking is neat. But this labor intensive stasis is perfect for the tale, especially in the ways it fails it. Which is, perhaps, the lesson.
Rituals is a first person adventure game by oleomingus.
It’s promise is that it is a standalone build of a larger, forthcoming game, in which the player will wander through environments set in colonial India, searching for the city of Kayamgadh. That there will be a unique stealth mechanic that allows the player to possess other non-player characters, in order to alter the interactions; and that there will be mechanics for walking into paintings or drawings, which is one way to take advantage of the representation of space that manages to both adhere to best practices regarding communication and leverage the reality of the spacelessness of videogames.
What Rituals itself is, of course, is hardly any of this. Mostly, it’s a short walk through a series of dialogues, set in a modest Magritte. That’s hardly a knock, of course, and it isn’t even necessarily obvious that that’s a direct influence; Carroll’s Alice is obviously more immediately present. Though there is something of a sanitized L’Age d’or, with an inventive colorist, to its look as well.
All that is to say that there is a certain amount of weight (or, we’ll hedge our bets, a peculiar kind of weightlessness) that is well reflected in the playfulness of the proportions of the objects. Because even if loading it up and interacting with it is playing with the absence of a game, that particular absence is one of object relations, and better those be playful than the alternatives.
Supermoons is a small game/tool by Lana Polansky.
It’s a single screen with two background options. Pressing the space bar spawns moons from upper right, and pressing any of the letter keys on the keyboard makes a sound and causes slight effects on the screen. Many of them cause the spawned moons to shake and jitter. The moons bumping into things also makes sounds. It’s a really neat thing to play around in for a few minutes.
There isn’t a lot more I have to say about it — beyond that the choice of wind chimes for the majority of the sounds contrasts pretty wonderfully with the glitch aesthetic — so instead of more words, I made a little song demo thing. You can click on that to listen to it.
Moonlit Tower by Yoon Ha Lee is a free online parser IF game from 2002.
At the end of last year, I wrote a thing in praise of Lee’s writing, and Moonlit Tower is very much a vehicle for the same. As with many things he has written since, Tower is a story with the texture of fantasy and the economy of science fiction, where words (which is to say nouns) are not just estranged but overdetermined, forced to perform the heavy lifting of fabricating context with only ignorance as leverage.
Tower in particular is rich in description and diversion; the core path takes only 14 moves (though you’d never get to fly the kite that way). A richness in parser IF is different than a richness in printed prose, however. Here, what is implicit in ray guns or ansibles becomes mechanical, as the entrance to a room describes a painting to be examined describing a scene with multiple interactive parts. Words become things in both cases, and seeing both can be a bulb.
Which isn’t to say that it is a revelation. But for an author who has no shortage of writing with a fantastical materialist conception of language, being able to see how he anticipated being talked back to in return is a joy.
9/16: minor fix
Dust City by Kitty Horrorshow is a pay what you want game for computers.
It’s a strange mix of genres; the Quickstart Guide bundled with the download is a pleasant little infodump, while the opening landscape is very Lavastorm Mountains or certain parts of Neriak. It’s low-poly millennial-turn dark fantasy with science fictional overtones, in other words.
The play is wandering through a series of abstracted spaces, (dis)connected by doors. The doors are, like King’s The Drawing of the Three, communications through other than space. And, similarly, in each is a thing to be found, and saved, and taken out of its context.
In Dust City, this means exiting the game itself, and returning to those password protected files in the download folder. For each door completed, one subfolder can be unlocked; two have mp3s, one a twine game, and one some writings.
The twine game in particular is phenomenal, and really underscores how much Horrorshow is able to do with a conditional sense of space. The idea that things do things to things, and that things do things to a person’s perception of things, seems to be a sort of necessary precondition, often erased, in videogames. Dust City is, among other things, a reminder.
Dust City by Kitty Horrorshow
The Moonlit Tower by Yoon Ha Lee
Supermoons by Lana Polansky
Rituals by Oleomingus
The Rats in the Walls by Shilov
Mystery Channel by thecatamites
Real Folk Blues by Jord Farrell
Lullaby for a Heartsick Spacer by merritt kopas
A(s)century by Austin Walker
Eco Fighters by Capcom
Room of 1000 Snakes by The Arcane Kids
Crypt Community by Avery Mcdaldno & Karl Parakenings
Stick Shift by Robert Yang
Chocolate by Talha Kaya
Wolfgirls in Love by Kitty Horrorshow
D by Kenji Eno
Line Crossing by Aeryne Wright
You, Me, and the Cubes by Kenji Eno
Winterstrike by Yoon Ha Lee
Chain Blaster by G-STYLE
Helix by Michael Brough
Grassfires of Veldstar by Porpentine
Frail Shells by From Smiling
After The Credits by Acid Wizard Studio
Evoland by Shiro Games
Mystery Tapes by Strangethink
Art Game by Pippin Barr
Ritual by Lana Polansky
Tribal & Error by Grotman Games
Uni by Ryan Rosaceae
Engare by Mahdi Bahrami
Gathering Sky by A Stranger Gravity
Blush or Burn by Kim Hoang
60 Seconds! by Robot Gentlemen
Abzû by Giant Squid
Seven Day Band by Jeff Lait
Crypt Worlds by Lilith Zone
Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival by Nintendo
Bellular Hexatosis by Porpentine & Neotenomie
Way to Go by AATOAA
Splatoon by Nintendo
Obéissance by merritt kopas
Super Mario Maker by Nintendo
Trigger by Amy Dentata
Downwell by moppin
Stick Shift by Robert Yang
We Know the Devil by Aevee Bee & Mia Schwartz