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Calamity Anna's Shootin' Starcade: Six Glorious Trainwrecks screenshot

Calamity Anna's Shootin' Starcade

Game released: 2009

Text written: Dec 22, 2009
By: Jordan Magnuson

Developer: Anna Anthropy

Production: Independent

Platforms: Windows

Price: FREE

Get it from: Developer's Website
Jordan Magnuson's picture

I’d like to share with you today a few games that were made in two hours each. You read that right. Two Hours each. But why on earth would I do such a thing? Can a game that’s made in two hours possibly be worth playing, much less writing about and encouraging others to play? My short answer is of course yes, and the reason is this: some games can only be made in two hours.

What do I mean? I mean that some games, if they are to be good games, require weeks, or months, or years of effort and dedication to produce (granted, I haven’t actually played many games that have taken years to produce that I would actually consider very good, but you know, it’s a theory: we can perhaps imagine an inspiring triple-A title). Other games require not to have that time, because there is nothing for them to do with it. I’ve used the novel/haiku/sentence analogy before, and I’ll use it again: some games are analogous to novels in their scope and their ambition, while other games are more akin to short poems, sentences, or even singular words. We need these shorter games, just as we need the longer ones because, as Ian Bogost expressed two years ago in an article he wrote for Gamasutra, we need games of every shape and every form, expressing every kind of thing. Read more »

Destructivator: Ramblings screenshot

Destructivator

Game released: 2009

Text written: Nov 2, 2009
By: Jordan Magnuson

Developer: Pug Fugly Games

Production: Independent

Platforms: Windows

Price: FREE

Get it from: Developer's Website
Jordan Magnuson's picture

I recently found myself sitting in the Frankfurt airport, twiddling my thumbs, waiting for a miniature plane to take me to Slovenia to visit my parents-in-law. My one-year teaching contract in Korea has expired, and my wife and I have a two-week break before next year’s contract kicks in, ergo the trip. I’m typing this from the comfort of my parents-in-law’s home in Ljubljana, having already been here a week, relaxing and taking in the sites, but my story takes place in the Frankfurt airport… twiddling thumbs. So I’m sitting there feeling very sorry for myself—being six-foot-seven, and all, and already having had to endure eleven hours of economy class torture—mind wandering, cold blue lights slowly sucking the life from my bones.

With no direct imperative from my mind, my hand slips into my backpack and finds my laptop; out it comes. Zip zip, open click, the hum of fans, the Windows chime. I am reminded of another mind-numbing airport wait from several months ago—one that felt like death, in my state of depression at the time—and suddenly I know what I must do: the same thing I did then: Destructivate.

Alt-Space for Launchy, and I type the title in; nothing; the launcher must be acting up. Start menu then; searching.

But the place where Destructivator should be is blank, is not there at all. I remember a hard drive formatting… of course. And suddenly I’m almost depressed again, because I realize that Destructivator is not simply the game I played last time I was numb, waiting at a gate. Rather, it is the game that I must play at every airport gate, always. Like the airport, the world of Destructivator is cold blue steel; humanity’s ability to control the elements, inverted; modernism at its peak, above its peak, below its peak; Kurtz; despair. Read more »

Photopia: Not a Mediocre Short Story screenshot

Photopia

Game released: 1998

Text written: Sep 22, 2009
By: Jordan Magnuson

Developer: Adam Cadre

Production: Independent

Platforms: Glulx, Z-Machine

Price: FREE

Get it from: IFDB
Jordan Magnuson's picture

If you have not played Photopia, you should play it now. You should play it because it is a beautiful work, but if that’s not enough to encourage you, you should play it because it is a very important game, and it is very short. Really, if you’re not interested in taking an hour out of your day to play one of the most significant pieces of interactive fiction of the last twenty years, then you probably won’t be interested in what I have to say anyway. All games should be experienced before they are analyzed, but some games absolutely need to be, or they cannot be analyzed at all. Photopia is one such game.

If you have not played interactive fiction before, or if you have tried and given up, then this is a perfect chance to bite the bullet and finish a piece of IF. Because Photopia is not only short, but also very easy to play. If you shy away from IF because you don’t have the patience to read, then Photopia is made for you in its brevity; if you like to read, but shy away from IF because you don’t have the patience to learn a confusing syntax and interface, then Photopia is made for you in its simplicity and linearity. “Talk to” everyone you can, use “who am I?” and if you don’t know what else to do, try “wait”-ing a few times, or just keep walking north. I promise you, you’ll finish the game in no time. Just try not to rush through it so fast that you don’t enjoy those moments that should make you say “ah.” Read more »

Canabalt: A One Button Miracle screenshot

Canabalt

Game released: 2009

Text written: Sep 5, 2009
By: Jordan Magnuson

Developer: Adam Atomic

Production: Independent

Platforms: Browser, iPhone

Price: FREE

Get it from: Developer's Website
Jordan Magnuson's picture

Canabalt is pure genius, and possibly the best Flash game I’ve ever had the pleasure to enjoy. It is a true single button game, in that you use a single button to play, period: there are a lot of “arrow keys + one button” games out there, but this isn’t one of them. You control a protagonist in an urban dystopia who is attempting to make “a daring escape.” From what we are not told, but if you observe the backdrop closely you can make an educated guess or two. The running happens without your input: all you need do is press “x” to jump from one building to another: offices to rooftop, rooftop to crane.

This game is a beautiful thing to watch, and my single complaint for its designers is the lack of a recording/replay option. The first thing you’ll notice here is the atmosphere: with a few shades of gray and some delicate pixel work Adam Atomic and Danny B have created the Blade Runner of Flash games. Academia has conditioned me to feel dirty for comparing a canon film to something made in Flash, but I’m not going to back down: considering its scope, context, and medium, Canabalt does what Blade Runner did for its own context and medium. It is a stark, atmospheric, posthuman platformer. Read more »

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis screenshot

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis

Game released: 1992

Text written: Sep 1, 2009
By: Jordan Magnuson

Developer: LucasArts

Production: Commercial

Platforms: DOS, Mac OS 9, Wii, Windows

Price: $5.00

Get it from: Steam
Jordan Magnuson's picture

Who doesn’t dream of donning a fedora and leather jacket, grabbing a 10-foot, 12-plait bullwhip, and diving into the nearest cave in search of treasure, danger, and adventure? Who doesn’t want to look like an Average Joe on the outside, but secretly be a professor of archeology on the inside, and even more secretly be a globetrotting daredevil?

There are a bunch of games out there that let you do the whip-wielding archeologist thing, but most of them aren’t that great. Two very good ones though, are Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, released by LucasArts in 1992, and Spelunky, released by Derek Yu seventeen years later (that’s 2009, for the mathematically challenged).

The fascinating thing about these two games is that they are quite similar in terms of theme and mood: both do a fantastic job of imparting that sense of earth-incrusted derring-do – both make me feel like an armchair Indiana Jones—and yet the mechanics that make the games tick are very, very different. Fate of Atlantis is a classic point-and-click adventure game, filled with puzzles and featuring a well-developed but mostly linear plot; Spelunky, by contrast, is a an action-platformer-roguelike with procedural level generation, whose player-created story arcs are less defined, and never go the same way twice.

As I recently finished playing through Fate of Atlantis for the second time, after fourteen years away, I was struck that these games, with their similar themes yet different mechanics, present a great opportunity to compare and contrast two breeds of interactive experience… [This game was reviewed in conjunction with Spelunky. To see the full comparative review click here.]

SCMRPG: Time to Pick up the Gun screenshot

Super Columbine Massacre RPG!

Game released: 2005

Text written: Aug 20, 2009
By: Jordan Magnuson

Developer: Danny Ledonne

Production: Independent

Platforms: Windows

Price: FREE

Get it from: Official Website
Jordan Magnuson's picture

When it was released without fanfare in 2005, Super Columbine Massacre RPG! was met with near-universal shock, horror, disbelief. News of the patchwork game spread slowly at first, and then like wildfire, fueling anti-video game crusades near and wide. CNN said the game was part of a subculture that worshiped terrorists; PC World labeled it one of the ten worst games of all time. “My god!” cried parents, journalists, and senators, “Jack Thompson was right all along: video games come from the devil direct!” How else can you explain such glorification of violence? Such worship of bad guys?

What nobody bothered to do was play the game.

I won’t lie: SCMRPG is a difficult game to play, for multiple reasons; for some—like the parents of the deceased—I suspect it would be impossible to play. The game puts you in the shoes of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold on April 20, 1999, the day they shot and killed twelve high school students, one teacher, and themselves. It is an RPG in old-school style, featuring homemade sound and graphics, and real pictures of the boys, their schoolmates, and the event. What makes this work very differently from a biography, or a film—even ones written from the perspective of the killers—is that in SCMRPG you are the killers: you must go to the school, you must load the weapons, you must shoot. This, I think, is one of the reasons that this game met with far more resistance than a book or film from the perspective of the shooters ever would have done. The other reason is that as a culture we despise computer games, and never consider that one might exist to make a point, to be thoughtful, to breed discussion, introspection, reform. Read more »

Seven Minutes of Confusion screenshot

Seven Minutes

Game released: 2009

Text written: Aug 12, 2009
By: Jordan Magnuson

Developer: Virtanen Games

Production: Independent

Platforms: Windows

Price: FREE

Get it from: TIGdb
Jordan Magnuson's picture

Seven Minutes is a very short existential platformer. Part of the goodness of the game comes from not knowing anything about it before you play, so if you haven’t tried it yet I’d recommend downloading it first, and reading this review after; the game, true to its title, will take you exactly seven minutes to play.

All games are metaphorical to some extent, but Seven Minutes is blatantly so, representing you, who are specifically said to be human, as a small black square (with eyes) on the screen. This square presumably represents your mind or spirit, during your last seven minutes of life. You touch a flame against the warnings of what appears to be a higher spiritual being represented in the form of a talking head, and you then have seven minutes to explore the game world however you choose; a world which is not generally as it appears. The talking head follows you throughout, telling you constantly to turn back. Read more »

These Simple Delights

04 Aug 2009
These Simple Delights screenshot

When Pigs Fly

Game released: 2009

Text written: Aug 4, 2009
By: Jordan Magnuson

Developer: Anna Anthropy

Production: Independent

Platforms: Browser

Price: FREE

Get it from: Newgrounds
Jordan Magnuson's picture

When Pigs Fly is a devilishly hard little flash platformer of 50 screens. A poor little pink pig has fallen into a cavern while on her morning stroll, and to escape she “wills herself to grow a pair of big, feathery wings.” But can she learn to fly? That’s where you come in: the wings are fragile, and the barest graze of a stalactite can mean disaster.

WPF is a perfect example of a game that is more than the sum of its parts. It has a charm and likeability factor that just can’t be explained by analyzing the individual pieces that make it up. Ultimately, it is the handcrafted nature of the thing that won it over to my heart: the graphics aren’t stunning, but they are beautifully hand-rendered in retro style; the sound and music have a similar appeal, and you can feel Anthropy’s thoughtful hand on the levels. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the game is that overall it is a joyous experience, despite the fact that it is wretchedly hard! Games 100 times the scope of this little beauty could learn a lot from it.

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