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Leigh Alexander

Leigh Alexander is editor in chief of Offworld. She's also author of Breathing Machine and Clipping Through, ebooks on games, tech and identity, and recently published MONA, an illustrated moral horror short.

I can't wait for this Finnish summer death car game

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My Summer Car is an upcoming game about building your own vehicle in the reputedly "hot, hot, hot" Finnish summer. It also promises absurd difficulty, lots of death, and all-important physics bugs. Listen to a man with a wonderful accent show you a weirdly-compelling experience:

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Who doesn't miss '90s horror games?

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Ah, the tech and the aesthetics of 1990s games. The terrible framerates, indistinct faces and rough edges seem eerie today, perfectly recalling the horror games of a bygone age. If you miss it too, you really need to watch this:

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This rad Dark Souls remix will save you from the forces of the abyss

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One way to trick your 'gamer' friends into listening to better music is to get them started on remixes of video game songs done by cool people. Laura has posted about that hot Hitmane remix of Juicy J with Saria's Song, and today I give you Torahhorse taking a crack at Dark Souls' "Great Gray Wolf Sif."

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Fun video game fashion critiques for the style-conscious

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Most people don't often think about video game fashion—you mean a plaid shirt and a Zelda triforce tee, right? but Offworld contributor Gita Jackson has a delightful eye for clothing detail, like the zombie-spattered denim of Resident Evil's Claire Redfield.

In the latest installment of her unique "Wardrobe Theory" feature at Paste Magazine, Jackson waxes thoughtful about the role of denim in the post-apocalypse:

I imagine that Claire buys things to last, especially with her newfound maturity and the whole zombie apocalypse thing. Gone are the days of the denim cut offs from Forever 21—I feel like she’s probably in raw denim. Raw denim—so named because, well, it’s essentially unchanged from it’s raw form—is going to be a little pricier than what I’d normally spend on jeans, but it’s absolutely a better value.

When you can afford to, it really pays off in the long run to spend a little more on high quality clothing. If I were living in a post-apocalyptic hellscape where just going out and replacing my pair of BDGs when they get that hole in the crotch after a year wasn’t an option anymore, I’d certainly want to be in raw denim.

There've been plenty of "game-inspired" fashion lines in the past, and some weird direct brand tie-ins, but Jackson's fun fashion critiques of games are much-appreciated. It's always exciting when video game characters' style veers outside the ubiquitous nu-metal longcoat and Hot Topic catalog looks.

The clone that wasn't

Can two designers come up with the exact same idea, entirely by accident?Read the rest

Armel Gibson makes short games that feel like music videos

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Playing with the short games of French creator Armel Gibson is a bit like interacting with a music video. If you're like me and you spent hours of the 1990s falling down weird late-night rabbit holes of shape and sound on late night video blocs, you should look into his works.

USS TLANCY is billed oddly as "kind of like a battleship dating sim without dating." It's ridiculously simple: You languidly swing the mouse around to aim your battleship guns at tiny planes and click to fire torpedos at other watercraft. But it's just slightly offbeat -- a serious-looking Tom Clancy flaps his jaw at you and suggests you destroy an entire fleet, and the stubborn violet color palette seems highly at odds with the author's Cold War inspirations.

It's the music (apparently created by a COM TLANCY) that makes USS TLANCY worth recommending, though. Playing with headphones, the simple, repetitive action becomes inexplicably engaging. You start to feel like you're leading some kind of bright purple bullet hell symphony.

Gibson's 2013 game Gulag Paradise was an entry in a French homebrew contest with the theme of au travail (work). If I wanted to go all critical interpreter, I'd call it a commentary on the labor that popular games often demand, alongside the illusion of choice. But it's a simple typing game with multiple endings that depend on the player's interaction with a sort of work camp counselor/slaver figure, who looms vaguely scribbled against the surreal and beautiful sunset.

Again, it's the gentle flow of the game and how it's paired with high-quality music that makes Gulag Paradise worth experimenting with -- something about it draws you in, makes you nod your head slowly alongside the simple movements of your hands.

What are Gibson's games 'really about?' It doesn't seem to matter compared to the confluence of your senses across these games that feel like songs. If you have a few minutes today, these little works are free and worth playing with.

This magical witch puzzle game is really 'charming'

Charmixy: Witch Academy instantly captured my heart today -- must have been a love spell. The PC and mobile puzzle-dueling game has really cute art and music, plus some refreshing characters and what looks to be a flexible character creator.

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You'll want to poke this doomsday device

You're left alone at a battered, mysterious console, a flickering urban display on the greenscale monitor before you. There is just one big, red button within your reach. After briefly wrestling with yourself, you press it. Pressing it causes a switch to emerge from the console. Flip the switch and a tiny light comes on. Now what?

I've been really charmed by Please Don't Touch Anything, a sort of puzzle box game that tasks you with figuring out the workings of some bleak old doomsday device based on trial and error, some clues scrawled in the environment, and general willingness to prod. There are multiple ways it can all end, and the art is wonderful. So is the soundtrack, which morphs elegantly as your relationship to the device, and therefore your tension, mounts.

It's a pleasure to play with, and the dystopic, pixelly aesthetic has drawn comparisons to Papers, Please. To me, something about Please Don't Touch Anything's stoic refusal to invite me in reminds me lots of the old room escape games I used to play in web browsers last decade -- they were numerous and varied wildly in quality, which almost made the experience of poking around with them feel more mysterious, demanding of me some quality that was part persistence and skill, but part simply a willingness to believe luck.

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I remember in particular the works of Toshimitsu Takagi, whose Crimson Room, Viridian Room and my personal favorite, White Room, were indelible on my memory. Takagi's site shows its age, and no longer seems to host the games. Hunting elsewhere on the internet just unearths lots of poor imitations; "see you someday somewhere in the real world," the creator's site gently promises.

If you like fiddling with machines to unlock their secrets and bring about surprise results, though, there are lots of modern equivalents -- most notably Fireproof Studios' two wonderful The Room games, which turn your iPad into vivid magical chambers full of glittery gears, wooden sliders and delicate dials that hum and click and feel real under your hands.

And even though I'm a VR skeptic, I've had a couple exciting Oculus Rift demonstrations of Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, where the player wearing the gear tries to figure out how to defuse a three-dimensional bomb pack based on advice from a second player, who has a manual full of emblems and associated instructions (see it in action below):

Is drug use a problem for eSports?

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Cyber-athletes and their stim-packs -- it sounds so future-dystopic, but it might be a thing.

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Reddit's hot 'button' game is practically religious

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Big groups can do amazing things with surprisingly few implements, and internet communities can spontaneously become collaborative experience designers. Redditors are playing a new game of sorts with themselves and each other involving a color-changing button and a timer, and the emergent memes are weird and glorious.

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Play it now: Jostle Parent

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As I understand it, being the parent of children is consistently terrifying -- like herding cats, except suddenly minor environmental conveniences, like power outlets and stairs and cars, suddenly turn lethal. Everything is to be either managed with your last shredded nerve or avoided.

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Play it now: Apocalypse Gardening

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I love when games make you balance two sides of your brain at once. It's not because I'm good at it -- actually, some kind of schismatic asymmetry opens up and I very quickly lose my sense of myself. But I think that space feels interesting, and Apocalypse Gardening shoots right into it.

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Lightning Bolt's bassist is making a 'rhythm violence' game

You're a space beetle careening toward a confrontation with a futuristic giant head. That's the premise of Thumper, an upcoming music game from Brian Gibson, bassist of tooth-rattling classic Lightning Bolt, and Seoul-based programmer Mark Flury.

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The loveliest game manual you've seen in ages

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Game manuals are all but obsolete these days. Not only do we rarely buy games physically, but one sign of 'good game design' by modern standards is when the player intrinsically knows what to do, is invited gently into an experience by subtle training. No need to study rules and controls.

The manuals I remember were treasures, though, vividly-illustrated and explicated guides to the worlds I played in. They turned crude, chunky computer images into imaginary places and characters that felt real. The blocky sprite on my screen became a tall, luminous watercolor heroine in my manual. Maps and bestiaries made the confusing conquerable. Sometimes the manuals left space for your own maps and notes, your scrawl of distinction and ownership.

I'd sort of forgotten how much I liked that feeling til I came across the manual for Minkomora, a new game from Joni Kittaka and Merritt Kopas (working together as Kikopa Games). It's a simple exploration game you can play in your browser, but it's valuable to read the beautiful PDF manual first. You can download it for free, or pay as you like.

The game itself offers a world of high-contrast, almost naive colors and shapes inspired by Lois Ehlert's 1992 children's book Circus. But the manual presents gentle terran tones and elegant character design, evoking the imagination gaps of our youth. Characters like "Tak-Tak" "Kitagona" and "Palbatanzer", referred to by name only in the manual, remind of those almost-surreal translations of Japanese game manuals -- the tone is just right. minkomora2

Reading Minkomora's manual brings the warm comfort that also goes hand in hand with nostalgia, and offers clues to the actual purpose of the simple game. It's a guide for how to play Minkomora, mostly intransible by itself, in a way that engenders self-love and clarity, perhaps even meditation. It even has a Notes section in the back, just like the olden days.

On a marginally related note, I enjoy following the Super Mario Facts Twitter feed, which spouts Wiki excerpts about Nintendo's Super Mario universe with the broken authority of a classic, low-budget hints magazine.

Feelings machines: games that capture a moment

ceMelusine makes small, simple virtual spaces that feel as unknowable and vast as the human heartRead the rest

Five games about cats for you to try

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Being wonderfully weird, capricious and regal, cats are easy to adore (even if it's just the brain parasites). Inexplicably compelling, they're also often ideal subjects for games.

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Want to listen to Animal Crossing music all day?

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Sometimes, your workday just needs the kind of pastoral background music that makes you feel like you live in a village full of animals, right? Nintendo's popular Animal Crossing lets you make your living through labor no more complex than collecting shells, fishing, and shaking trees for surprises, which fills one with simple longing.

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