E3! E3! E3! There is seemingly nothing more important right now than checking out the latest iteration of some made-for-14-year-old-girls title at that big LA convention. Feh. You know what the worst thing about E3 is? It's not the lack of awkward-looking hot actors to stare at, nor is it the barrage of press meetings, demonstrations, and pomp and circumstance for less-than-stellar titles. The worst thing about E3 is that all the games you see there cost money. That's right. Cash. For every neat title you're seeing, there's a price tag attached at the end of the day. Want new graphics in a hot sequel? You'll pay for it. Want to blow up 255 of your closest console friends? Ask for your allowance early. Feel like waving your hand around to simulate an activity you can do in real life? Get a real-life job.
This week, I'm strolling down memory lane and profiling some of the best games from that other gaming conference in California. You know the one--good ol' GDC, or the Game Developers Conference. Each year, the Independent Games Festival takes up shop amidst the chaos of this convention and awards a host of independent (and often free) titles awards of various persuasions. There's a long list of contenders that come to the IGF every year: here's a list of five of the most interesting, enjoyable, and free titles I've found.
What it is: Just because this game is so esoteric, here's a quote from designer Jason Rohrer as to what... exactly... Between is. "You know exactly what you need to do -- you can see it shimmering right there in front of you. You can see it while dreaming, too, and the difference has become subtle. Dreams wake into dreams, and people blend in and out: real characters and dream characters, all woven into the same script."
The unique element of Between is that there is no single-player mode for the game. You have to play it either networked with a friend on a local computer or with some random stranger on a server. If you choose the former route, don't look at your buddy's screen -- it'll ruin the breakthrough concepts you'll find in Between.
What it is: It's a puzzle game. Easy, right? You run around as a little engineer guy and solve the various brain-benders that the developers have thrown your way. Finish the puzzles, save the day, feel better about yourself: It's a puzzle game. All that is true in this title, minus the crazy twist that Mightier is actually a pen-and-paper puzzle game. Say what? Yep. You print out the puzzles the game provides for you, solve them, then "scan" them into the game's world by taking a shot of them with a webcam. You can design your own characters the same way too -- draw them out, scan them in, and voila! Your creation comes to life, and Disney comes knocking at your door for "uploading" Mickey Mouse into your game world. Hey, don't say I didn't warn you...
What it is: Were this only a game based on the popular line of vacuum cleaners--now that would be truly awesome. Alas, Dyson uses an ambient, almost minimalistic theme in presenting you with your sole task: mining an asteroid belt for resources. To do so, you remotely command autonomous machines that, as the adjective implies, do your work for you. As you go to leech more and more resources, you have to contend with competing robots seeking to do the exact same thing. It's a giant, minimalistic battleground, fought with circles and lines where you might otherwise find missiles, lasers, and all that 3D graphics stuff. Dyson doesn't need fancy graphics for its fun gameplay. If anything, the "look" of this title is its big selling point.
What it is: I swear I don't plan these things in advance. Osmos is another minimalist game that trades in complicated graphics and particle-based explosions for a nod to artistic, beautiful gameplay. You play as a mote. Your task is to grow your size by absorbing smaller motes and avoid a similar fate by running like the dickens from motes bigger than yourself. The catch is that you have to propel yourself to move around. What happens when you propel yourself? You use up some of your internal mote-juice and shrink. For comparison, Osmos is like a trickier version of that introductory Spore level where you just ran around eating things until you grew. Yep. That one.
What it is: You're a survivor. Zombies are coming your way. You have to kill them. While Zombpocalypse's plot isn't exactly unique in the field of zombie shoot-em 'ups, that's not to say that you'll take any less delight in blasting zombies back to wherever it is the undead come from in the first place. This game has it all: guns, gore, explosions, zombies. I mean, is there something else you expected? Perhaps a pretty song about cake or something?