Indie Title Safari

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Mechanical Ape
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Indie Title Safari

Post by Mechanical Ape (?) » Fri Jun 26, 2020 10:29 pm

A buddy gifted me the Bundle for Racial Injustice and Equality from itch.io, consisting of hundreds of downloads ranging from "real games" like Night in the Woods and Celeste, tabletop games and modules, to non-games like art assets and soundtracks.

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I have some cool buddies.

Small projects like the ones in this bundle are where you sometimes find the most creative ideas. And I believe it's healthy to stay open-minded and seek new ideas, whether in the videogames you play or in anything else in life but mostly videogames. So I made this thread to share my discoveries as I sample (at least a few of) the 600+ titles in this bundle, the insights and disappointments, the hits and misses, the gems and the junk.

The vast, heavily pixelated horizon stands before me and I am ready to explore it.
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Re: Indie Title Safari

Post by Mechanical Ape (?) » Fri Jun 26, 2020 11:59 pm

Review #1: BEAR-LY THERE

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The Premise: As a bear, eat as much as you can before hibernating
The Gimmick: You can't walk, you can only fling yourself around ragdoll-style

I want to make clear from the start that I will never, in this safari, call any game "bad". For one thing, that's neither a helpful nor relevant term -- what I'm in search of are interesting and fresh perspectives, not quality per se. Related concepts? Perhaps. Identical concepts? No. Second, I feel a "good/bad" label would be unfair to the creators and their own goals. Some of the items in my bundle were never intended to be "good"; they were written for a game jam, or perhaps as a creative programming exercise, as a vehicle to explore a specific concept, or entirely for shits and giggles on a rainy afternoon. All are valid motivations and I'm obviously not going to judge these creative flights of fancy as I would an AAA title. Third, and most importantly, all of these titles were free, so what the hell am I complaining about? If I got 0.0001 nanoseconds of entertainment, and it didn't cause physical damage to myself or others, then that's pure gravy.

Which brings me to Bear-ly There, from Toronto-based Pale Moon Games, written for a game jam in 2017 and you can definitely tell.

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This is a five-minute game where, as Barris the bear, you have that much time to stuff your gut with berries (found on bushes) and salmon (found in the river), then return to your cave. Simple premise. Complicating matters is that Barris, for some reason, has no walk animation. Instead you press the space bar to propel him ass over teakettle in the vague direction you want him to tumble, as if some offscreen handler had jolted his lazy ass with a gravity gun. When you get near food you click the LMB, and if Barris' ursine maw is more or less next to the item, he eats it and your hunger bar fills up a little.

Additional features include a pair of sunglasses you can pick up, so now you're wearing sunglasses; and also you can press the RMB to shit, so now you have shat.

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So obviously this was a game made for laughs, not intended to be the next Death Stranding or anything. Even by those standards, though, I found Bear-ly There more frustrating than charming. Launching Barris inelegantly about, gravity gun-style, never felt smooth to me, nor was the ragdolling complex enough to provide the cheap physical comedy of, say, a QWOP.

What I will say in its favor is that "you're a bear, go eat everything" is a fine concept for a video game, and I think Bear-ly There would have been more fun if it had just let you do that, rather than design a movement gimmick that keeps you from doing it.

Was this a hidden gem? No.

Did it explore concepts, tackle fresh ideas or overlooked subjects, or expand the definition of what games could be? It did not.
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Re: Indie Title Safari

Post by Jill (?) » Mon Jun 29, 2020 1:36 am

this is a good thread

i haven't gotten around to playing anything i got from the bundle but there are a handful i had already played and would recommend:

beglitched
water's fine
palace of woe
10S
nuclear throne
night in the woods
celeste
starseed pilgrim
minit
super hexagon
runner3

if you're fine with others joining in, i'll report on new findings if/when i get around to delving into this bundle :flutterhat:

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Re: Indie Title Safari

Post by Mechanical Ape (?) » Mon Jun 29, 2020 1:57 am

Thanks! Everyone who wants can join in; it's a huge bundle and there are plenty of titles for everyone. I want to know what you think!
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Re: Indie Title Safari

Post by Fizzbuzz (?) » Mon Jun 29, 2020 2:41 pm

A goon set up https://randombundlegame.com/, which is a website for randomly picking or browsing through all the games, books, and other pieces of media in the bundle.
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Re: Indie Title Safari

Post by Mechanical Ape (?) » Tue Jun 30, 2020 11:49 pm

Review #2: CAMPFIRE COOKING

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The Premise: Toast marshmallows and other food items...
The Gimmick: ...but don't burn them!

From designer Layton Hawkes comes puzzle game Campfire Cooking, which is super fun and everyone should play it. And then tell their friends so they can play it too. It's what every puzzle game should be: simple rules and simple controls leveraged creatively into brain-teasers, wrapped up with an appealing presentation. I mean, who doesn't like campfire cookouts? I wish I was doing that right now instead of wrangling spreadsheets eight hours a day then playing video games in a desperate and futile attempt to decompress, but enough about me.

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Your job in Campfire Cooking is to toast up some marshmallows on a square-based play space. You want to get your 'shmallows over the flame squares. Move them around with the skewer; push forward, pull back, or roll left-right. Rolling laterally also flips the marshmallow over, which is crucial because you need to get both sides a delicious golden brown. Toast the same side twice and it'll burn! I don't have to tell you how to roast marshmallows, you know already.

Your skewers can get in the way of one another, but you can also nudge one skewer with another to move it without rolling. Some skewers are good old-fashioned sticks, and these can be rotated in the four cardinal directions, while metal skewers have to keep the same orientation.

These and other basic mechanics are the core of the game's yummy puzzles, manipulating your marshmallows around the limited space to toast them all just right. I found the difficulty and the difficulty curve pretty much on the nose, though be advised that I am not particularly bright.

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With each set of puzzles, new mechanics are included. For example, Starfish Island Trail introduces fondue pots. You push these around with your skewer, and they must end the level on a flame square.

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Fern Jungle Trail adds pre-burnt marshmallows to your skewer; once ignited, these can be used to light tinder squares to make new flames.

As I hope the screenshots show, the graphics in Campfire Cooking are simple but attractive. It's got a pleasing audio-visual aesthetic, and every trail has a different look and music. Steam page is here if you want to see it in action. For six dollars (or free in the bundle), it's definitely worth the investment.

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Was this a hidden gem? Yes.

Did it explore concepts, tackle fresh ideas or overlooked subjects, or expand the definition of what games could be? Well, I can't recall any other games about marshmallow toasting. It's a creative idea executed successfully. You should play it. The game deserves to be popular.
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Re: Indie Title Safari

Post by Mechanical Ape (?) » Sun Jul 12, 2020 2:46 pm

Review #3: EQUABOREAL 12.21

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The Premise: A quick journey into a dark forest.
The Gimmick: You're a plant wearing a sweater.

Equaboreal, authored by Phoebe Shalloway, takes perhaps 10 minutes to play, and there's a sense in which it feels like an unfinished work or demo. But there's also a sense, one I'm feeling more strongly as the experience recedes, that it's just as long as it needs to be.

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You are Lily, a plant person in a world of plant people, and the winter solstice is nigh. During this holiday, the plants rely on bottled light imported from southern lands, which they pour out -- so the tradition goes -- to keep spirits away. This year, the delivery plant bringing a batch of super-potent equatorial light failed to arrive, and a disappointed Lily goes searching for them.

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There's not much to do in Equaboreal, it's a straight path through a very short adventure. I said it takes about 10 minutes, but it's closer to 2 if you click through all the dialogue (although obviously you shouldn't do that on your first play). There are few actions to take and no dialogue options.

The graphics are simple and the characters are cut and pasted from photographs, like someone making a collage from magazine clippings. This primitive style kinda grew on me. I mean check it out, there's a plant wearing a hoodie, you don't see that every day.

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Much like the graphics, the worldbuilding -- such as it is for an experience this short -- ended up charming me with its simplicity. The handful of dialogues hint at things that are never explored or resolved. How did this tradition get started? Are these forest spirits really to be feared? What is the significance, if any, of the giant cogs seen in the forest, or of the hints that the climate has been changing? We don't know. I could imagine an expanded version of this game which addresses these concepts further, maybe builds on them to create a proper story. But there's also something to be said for what we did get: a quick 10-minute glimpse into this strange world, which ends exactly when it ends and not a second longer, and leaves you to speculate further should you feel like it, but if you don't that's fine too.

Was this a hidden gem? I wouldn't go that far, but the experience is so short it's not like I felt my time was wasted.

Did it explore concepts, tackle fresh ideas or overlooked subjects, or expand the definition of what games could be? A plant wears a hoodie.
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Re: Indie Title Safari

Post by Mechanical Ape (?) » Thu Jul 23, 2020 12:00 pm

Review #4: GOLEM CREATION KIT

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The Premise: Build golems to scare pitchfork-waving villagers.
The Gimmick: Resources are finite, some villagers have immunities, and there's a time limit.

I struck gold when I landed on Golem Creation Kit, by Illuminated Games, a charming title with clever mechanics and lots of replayability. One reason it's taken so long to get to this review is I've been busy just playing it.

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You control a sorcerer's apprentice, and while the Master is away it's your job to drive off the angry villagers who attack the tower on a daily basis. The tool for doing this is the Golem Creation Kit, which lets you build a monster from stuff you find around the neighborhood. Cows, banners, rivers, sunbeams ... things like that. Click on objects in the environment, drag them into the cauldron and say the magic words.

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The type of golem you build depends on what you put in the cauldron. There are eight elements -- Fire, Water, Stone, Wood, Sound, Cloth, Sand, and Flesh -- and each object in the environment provides some quantity of these. Rocks yield Stone, obviously, but metal items provide a mix of Stone and Fire. You need sufficient quantities of at least one element to make a viable golem. And you only have 90 seconds to slap something together.

As you throw forests and clouds and sand dunes into your cauldron, hidden layers of the environment will be uncovered revealing more stuff, such as a sunken ship beneath the ocean. But everything you throw in the cauldron is gone forever, so in later levels you'll need to think smart to build a viable golem from the materials you have left. Fortunately, you have an array of magic words which, when used cleverly, can help you do more with less.

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With all the element combinations, there are 24 different types of funny golems you can build. Above is your basic Fire golem, but mix Water and Sand and you get a Sandcastle golem, or Wood and Cloth for a terrifying Kite golem, or Flesh and Sound for a sparkly Disco Ball golem.

You have to scare away ALL the villagers to win the day, and some villagers have immunities -- a lumberjack isn't going to be fazed by a Wood golem, for instance. So that's the gameplay loop: review the villagers who are attacking you that day, decide on an appropriate golem, then try to scrape together the combination of materials and magic that'll get you it.

In between, a story happens.

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Golem Creation Kit is a funny game with clever (I assume British) writing and interesting characters. The graphics are not particularly high-res, and it would be nice if some of the items in the environment were better rendered -- is that a rock or a sand pile? -- but with practice you eventually learn what's what and what its properties are.

Illuminated Games describes their work as "the most fun you’ve ever had dragging and dropping" and yeah, I'll go along with that. GCK has charmed me with its excellent writing, its silly-but-deep mechanics and the variety of golems you can create, all of which make for plenty of replay value. I recommend it, and if you don't have this bundle then there looks to be a free demo on Steam. So, yeah.

Was this a hidden gem? Heck yes.

Did it explore concepts, tackle fresh ideas or overlooked subjects, or expand the definition of what games could be? It's another creative idea executed successfully. Also ( :spoiler: ) there's other stuff going on I didn't talk about.
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Re: Indie Title Safari

Post by Mechanical Ape (?) » Sun Aug 09, 2020 10:36 pm

Review #5: DEMOCRATIC SOCIALISM SIMULATOR

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The Premise: Save goddamn civilization as the first socialist POTUS.
The Gimmick: We're talking about the United States. Bit of an uphill climb.

Until the revolution starts, bringing with it the final glorious victory over capital, we can spend our time playing video games. It's no surprise that the Racial Justice and Equality Bundle has a lot of leftist and socially progressive titles, making it a good match for designer Molleindustria, a fountain of such titles as their website testifies.

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The premise of Democratic Socialism Simulator is simple, as is its interface. As the United States' first socialist president (the game is from February 2020 when the Sanders campaign was still a thing), you must navigate your two terms as best you can, balancing your policy agenda against political and fiscal realities. Proposals appear on the big screen; you swipe left or right to decide their legislative fate. That much is easy. But there are a number of variables to consider.

The big 3 yardsticks are budget, "people's power" (a measure of equality, labor empowerment and political engagement), and greenhouse gas emissions. During your presidency you obviously want to get PP maxed out and carbon minimized, and to support policies that achieve this. But they often come with steep price tags, whether in terms of $$$ or simple popularity. You won't be able to do everything.

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At the bottom of the screen are a row of people representing the electorate. Each voter has their own priorities, and your decisions will change their feelings about the job you're doing, moving farther away the more they disapprove. Many voters value progressive things such as the environment and social justice, while a few are chuds who want social conservatism, white supremacy and a strong security state. And others are less easily pigeonholed, supporting social justice but also tax cuts, for example. It's rarely possible to please everyone, but you'll want to keep your support broadly high for elections, both presidential and midterm, or else you won't have enough majority in Congress to push your big reforms through. And tanking the economy is a surefire way to ruin your support with everyone.

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So that's the idea. There's a lot to fix in the post-Trump US, but sadly you won't be able to sign every single proposal that crosses your desk. You'll quickly drive the economy into DEBT, or alienate too many groups, and put an untimely end to your political career. And you can't help anyone if you're out of office! So you will need to pick your battles. You will have to decide which reforms on which to spend your capital, both political and literal. You might not be able to go full single-payer healthcare if you already blew your budget on national high-speed rail. You might have to pander to conservative Christians now to gain seats in the midterms later, so that you'll have the majority you need to pack the Supreme Court or overturn Citizens United. And you'll definitely disappoint your base more than once. They're leftists, though, they're used to that.

Of course, some decisions are freebies. Legalize pot, reduce aircraft carriers and stop building the damn wall.

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My first game of Democratic Socialism Simulator went super well -- I curbed greenhouse emissions and laid the foundation for a socialist future, while keeping popularity high and putting the budget only slightly in the red. And I was ready to jump to conclusions and declare the game too easy, less a game of strategy than a Progressivism Is Good And Easy persuasion piece. But each game is a little different, and subsequent playthroughs didn't go nearly as well for me, so with the perspective of experience I would say the challenge is just about right. The difficulty is not punishing, but it's enough to push you to think. Obviously the game takes a leftist position and isn't shy about presenting policies like The Wall as obviously undesirable. But it also recognizes the difficulty of enabling big progressive changes, and the tradeoffs that might need to be tolerated to get them implemented.

I haven't talked about the presentation, but I hope the screenshots have adequately shown off the charming and colorful graphics. Everyone's a cute animal person, my personal favorite being the Sam the Eagle-esque military advisor. There's also a limited but enjoyable soundtrack. I would've liked more variety in the music, but since a game takes only 20 minutes it's not that bad. My wishing for more is a testament to the fine quality of the music we got -- not as satisfying as the sweet, sweet song of the guillotine, alas, but good enough for these latter days.

Was this a hidden gem? Yeah, I think so. Obviously your chud cousin will dismiss it as garbage, but would it serve as a good edutainment tool for the non-progressive middle? Maybe? I have no idea. At any rate it's enjoyable and pleasant in its own right.

Did it explore concepts, tackle fresh ideas or overlooked subjects, or expand the definition of what games could be? We could certainly use all of the games of this type we can get. Solidarity forever, comrades.
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Re: Indie Title Safari

Post by Mechanical Ape (?) » Sun Sep 06, 2020 6:26 pm

Review #6: HOPE'S PEAK

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The Premise: Read about a mysterious Old West town.
The Gimmick: Do it one random paragraph at a time.

Hope's Peak is a jam project, created for the Mystic Western Game Jam (theme: "constellation"), and it's less a game than a short little narrative concept.

There is a land of dry dust and strong wind and in that land is a town named Hope's Peak, which has all the expected features of an Old West cowboy town. It has a sheriff and a mayor and a saloon. There's a blacksmith and a tanner and a mine on the outskirts. Its residents mainly raise cattle. But there's something not quite normal about Hope's Peak, something tasting of the supernatural, and it's not just that our cowboy narrator was raised from the dead and is now immortal. I mean that's obviously your first clue, but there's more than that.

This is all revealed to the player through short vignettes and half-scenes which are offered to you in random order. Hope's Peak describes itself as "a mystery told five paragraphs at a time" but really it's a mystery told one paragraph at a time, it's just that after five you get an arbitrary "End" and then you can play again to get another random sampling. Again, this is a game jam project and so is more an exploration of an idea than a full work stuffed with complexity and content.

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At each screen you're offered 3 random prompts out of a pool of, I would estimate, 150 -- I've played enough to have seen nearly everything, as far as I can tell. You click a prompt to display the corresponding paragraph, then you do that four more times, and that's that. A sample run might yield the following:

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The prompts offered appear to be entirely random (you might even be offered the same prompt more than once) so the paragraphs you get in a particular playthrough aren't connected by topic, theme or causation. So it's not as if you end up with a five-paragraph narrative at the end, which would be neat; instead you just get five unrelated paragraphs. And eventually, if you play enough times, you will have seen them all. I bring this up not to offer a criticism of Hope's Peak as it is presented, but to point toward the potential that could be realized by a work of this format. There's not a lot to this game, but it's got its finger on something.

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Okay, so what about the content we do get? Like I said, I played enough times that I think I've seen everything. Hope's Peak is not a story, more a series of glimpses into a story; it is a mystery in the sense that it is mysterious, but not in the sense that there is anything to be solved or resolution to be had. It's a mood piece, really. You get brief peeks into this small slice of Weird West worldbuilding, and for that, it's pretty good. As you read, you start to notice recurring details about the frontier town of Hope's Peak and the world it occupies. A mysterious fever is mentioned a couple times. There are unsolved disappearances. The town is in a seemingly endless war against a seemingly inexhaustible supply of outlaws. Despite the dangers of the outside, the town has no defenses except its uniformly-armed citizens; they'd like to build a stockade but they lack wood to do so. Between this and the general barrenness of the climate, it is not clear how or why this village came into existence in the first place. Also, there are two suns and on the other side of the plateau is, per our narrator, "fields and fields of nothingness".

There's no resolution to any of these uncanny details. We never learn what The Constellation is or why it made our narrator immortal, the meaning of the "AMC" tag used by the outlaw gang, or even which planet Hope's Peak is on. The game's not trying to provide answers. It just wants to give you a taste.

Was this a hidden gem? No, but like I said there is potential in this format if it could be expanded, perhaps with a thematic link between the paragraphs you're offered so that it feels like story generation, or a way for the player to navigate this story-space instead of hitting the randomize button a bunch of times. Her Story is what comes to mind when I think about this: like Hope's Peak, it consists of a library of short narrative bits, but Her Story provides the player with agency to search, explore, and analyze these bits to progress and to reach conclusions.
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