Nonfiction

Murder is Sah Mainstream

27 February 2013

Ronnen Liezerovitz explores the joys of indie video games.

This summer, I killed over a thousand people. Granted, they were only digital people, programmed by committed game developers and brought to my TV through action of electrons whizzing through my Playstation 3, but I killed them nonetheless. At the time, I was playing through the PS3’s blockbuster action series, Uncharted, a vapid 3rd person action game that follows treasure hunter Nathan Drake, who might be better described as a one-man Blitzkrieg.

Make no mistake; I’ve done my fair share of running and gunning in my games, but for some reason the protracted killing sessions of Uncharted broke me down. Those endless waves of meaningless, high-definition shooting. All executed in the name of a train wreck of a plot and each having likely consumed several hundred thousand dollars in game development, awakened a youthful, innocent voice in my otherwise shrivelled heart. I fell in love with games to experience boundless creativity and watch an exciting medium unfold, not to shoot so many goddamn virtual people all the time.

Second only to my childhood realisation that I could never catch all 150 Pokemon without a link cable, this was the biggest gaming crisis of my life. Just about every game on the shelves oday offers the same old sensations of domination, conquest and combat. I was genuinely unsure whether I might ever muster up the energy to tread through yet another multimillion-dollar modern videogame. It was surely providence, then, that shortly after completing Uncharted, I discovered the simple pleasures of indie gaming.

Just as indie music is produced without the aid of record label, indie games are simply those developed without aid of stakeholders. Original, inventive, short and cheap—a month with indie games single-handedly restored my faith in the wonders of interactive entertainment this summer.

My renaissance began with indie developer Art Jensen’s LIMBO (2009), a highly atmospheric and disturbing piece of work that could only have been developed independently. A 2D platform/puzzler at its core, LIMBO sees you guiding a mute young boy alone through the perils of an eery, murkily-defined forest. Your job is simply to lead him to his sister and hopefully out of Limbo. The game’s greyscale noir visuals, alienating soundtrack and palpable sense of vulnerability create an oppressive, emotional experience unprecedented in gaming. It’s not difficult to see why Jensen adamantly refused to involve a major publisher to fund his vision. The gruesome depictions of the young boy’s death, though brilliantly confronting, would have been unlikely to make it past a marketing team uncensored.

Next on my schedule was the sublime Journey (2012). Charting the trek of an armless, cloaked nomad across an unfamiliar landscape, Journey contains no ‘enemies’ to defeat and provides no explicit instructions to players. With indie developer thatgamecompany abandoning the typical ‘defeat/kill/win’ mentality that has come to dominate the modern gaming landscape, Journey offers players a religious experience of sorts. It is an emotional pilgrimage through a foreign world that strives to awe and humble players, rather than pandering to our egotistical desires.

Indie games being mercifully short, it’s possible to enjoy a huge array of interactive entertainment in quick succession. From the sweeping sandscapes of Journey, to the mind bending 4D puzzles of Braid, and then the storybook innocence of The Innocent Swan, my month was a whirlwind tour of arresting art-styles, fresh game mechanics and engaging narrative. In short: the perfect reminder of why I continue to play and enjoy games. While not all indie games are masterpieces by any stretch, they all share in common an artistic confidence and an exuberance that can only come from passionate developers and the labour of gaming love. Check out the indie scene, ya’ll; there’s still time before GTA V.

RON RECOMMENDS

SUPER MEAT BOY

If you dig an old-school challenge, Super Meat Boy is one of the most rewarding and gratifying 2D platformers you can find today. It’s like 2D Mario, except Mario is now a hunk of juicy meat who suffers a HELL of a lot of punishment.

BRAID

A mix of old-school 2D platforming, ingenious time travel puzzles and philosophical musing, Braid is unlike anything you’ve ever played. Widely considered a masterpiece, it’s easy to forget that Braid was developed by one lone man, living at his mother’s house.

THE UNFINISHED SWAN

While the final levels may have needed some polish, the storybook motif and intriguing narrative of The Unfinished Swan make it well worth the price of entry. Plus, the first level is a wonderful example of show-don’t-tell in videogames.

WORLD OF GOO

Insanely addictive puzzle game with a great art-style and a sense of humour. Once you’ve constructed your first living, breathing tower of goo-balls to cross a chasm, you’ll be hooked.

FLOWER

Developed by those who would go on to create Journey, Flower tasks players with guiding an array of Flower-petals through rolling hills and meadows, offering a humbling and contemplative experience of mother nature not often seen in games.

MACHINARIUM

Essentially a point-and-click adventure game, what truly sets Machinarium apart is its beautiful art direction and its surreal, machine-populated world.


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