Friday, 19 November 2010

Why Free is the Future: 5 Must Play Free Games

I was giving an interview to a journo from Moviescope magazine today, for a piece he was putting together on the interplay between interactive entrainment and film. His controversy-generation angle (because, seriously, sometimes we all need one) was "Are games Film 2.0?". Clearly the answer's 'no' - games may have taken some of film's audience, but they never will nor should replace any other industry. However, I think one of the insights he found most interesting was my stressing that just as cinema has Hollywood vs art film, games have AAA vs indie scenes. It's something even studio execs within our industry often fail to recognise.

A crucial corner of that scene, naturally, are products like Braid, and Darwinia, and Limbo. It's indescribably fantastic that important, artistic, independent games can now turn a profit for the first time in our industry's history. Those games wouldn't exist, however, were it not for their short, free, web-based cousins blazing the frontiers.

Let's celebrate that.

A simple, olde worlde take on Britain, and a tale of carnival freak redemption, this point & click is simple, short, but wears its heart endearingly upon its sleeve.

Take a Walk
A snail's pace Canabalt, the music stops jarringly every time you screw up, reinforcing the value of that often overlooked element of video game design.

Don't Shit Your Pants
Interesting stuff can sometimes be satirical, and satirical stuff doesn't always avoid toilet humour. 'Don't Shit Your Pants' concerns itself with nothing else, but is nonetheless a very smart take on the text adventure. A 'survival horror game' which sees the player standing outside the loo door and having to type his way to the bog while avoiding the titular, the game successfully rips trad IF for its often ludicrous inaccessibility by making something so mundane seem quite such a challenge.

I Can Hold My Breath Forever

An underwater platformer that pits your desire to explore against a tight oxygen countdown, this is a touching tale of with predictably a slightly nonsensical ending that I'd interpret as commenting on the blind draw of true friendship.


Aether is one of the earlier projects from the professional indie darlings behind Super Meat Boy. It's a rambling discussion of childhood seen through the cartoon perspective of a child exploring the universe on the back of a giant sling-shotting blob thing. Of course it is.


  1. My personal favourite here is probably Don't Shit Your Pants. It just seems like the most coherent vision, even if that vision doesn't have quite as much to say as some of the other examples (though by no means nothing).

    What's your take?

  2. Of these five dsyp was the most effective, coherent, and in all honesty, enjoyable. Yes, it was due to a certain amount of parody, but it was the "best."

    Loondon suffered from being very much on the low interactivity side of things, and to a certain point i wish it had been even lower interactivity and possibly become a short animation. The interactivity simply didn't add anything for me, personally, beyond slowing the story down.

    Take a walk was excellent. The rules didn't reveal themselves to me at first, which was interesting (I thought I could die). It was a simple escapist game and it was enjoyable (though due to music more than interaction).

    I Can Hold My Breath Forever confused me. There's not much else for me to say about it, as beyond having interesting visuals and feeling vaguely like Small Worlds there wasn't too much there. Most of my interest comes from the theme it was based on.

    It's been a long time since I've played Aether, but I remember being a mix of bemused and confused. I think I like it more than most of McMillen's games I've played, if only for the exploratory aspects. Of these five I think it's the most ambitious and has a lot to say, though it is not entirely successful.

    Aaaand done.

  3. @anon

    I agree with everything you've said.

    Apart from I Can Hold My breath Forever. I'd agree that there's not a whole lot going on beyond a text-driven discoery narrative and some basic gameplay. However that narrative really quite grabs me.

  4. So far I only played Loondon and Take a Walk.

    Loondon reminded me a lot of Machinarium, especially the screen before entering the city. I think in both games these screens with their unpassable valley and the anonymous, rejecting policeman express very good the situation of the heroes which seem to be outsiders that want to enter a society that follows its own rules.

    Take a Walk was very intersting to play. I didn't know that u were supposed to jump to the beat, at first and only when i discovered this i started to feel the flow. I discovered it at the barrel pyramide, which introduced me in a very intuitve way to the "jump to the beat-rule", though I think, it should have been placed earlier in the game.