Boing Boing 

Developers mourn a canceled project in this short 'cave painting' about grief

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The Mammoth is an atmospheric little work, like a cave painting come to life: The great, tusked prehistoric beast is chalked against a tan background, searching for its herd and its children. Against a sparse soundtrack of drums, a soothing voice narrates the movements of your mammoth.

Your job is to protect your children from hunters, an impossibly steep task that I was not able to do. It seemed possible at first, but the spear-wielding figures, dark lines slashed against the world, just overwhelmed me in the end. Without her children, the game says, the mammoth is no longer a mother. Do you want revenge? Would it help? And what will the hunters become when there's nothing left to hunt for?

Jan David Hassel is one of four developers who made this game for the recent Ludum Dare 33 jam. He and his team are veterans of Yager Interactive, a studio celebrated for Spec Ops: The Line. Yager had been at work on Dead Island 2 when the team received word about two months ago that the game would be canceled (reports in the press suggest the indefinitely-delayed game has supposedly been moved to another developer).

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"It didn't take us long to realize that most of us would be fired," Hassel writes to me. "So we decided to jam for Ludum Dare 33 to cope with the situation somehow... at its very core it wound up being a game about the inescapability of loss."

The Mammoth is a lovely little game, but it takes on a poignant weight when you think of it as the expression of developers who have lost a project. The work of large-scale commercial video game development is famously disillusioning, often crushing and regularly inhumane, and moreover personal expressions like anger, unhappiness and grief are often frowned upon as violations of the professional code of secrecy.

So it's sad and beautiful at once to see this team (they call themselves Inbetweengames, fittingly) do the work they love most to express the end of an era of their careers. Here's hoping that one was just prehistory, and the next era will be better. Give them an encouraging shout today if you can.

Play the game for free here (HTML version here).

$10,000 fellowship available to aspiring game developers with disabilities

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AbleGamers is a long-running nonprofit foundation devoted to advocating for accessibility in game design, and to working on ways to improve the lives of disabled people through games. Now, the group has launched a fellowship for college students with disabilities who want to break into game development.

The AbleGamers Fellowship will offer $10,000 in mentoring and scholarship funds to eligible computer science and game design undergrads and masters' students. The recipient of the fellowship will work on a case study focused on accessibility in video games, and how the medium is beneficial to people with disabilities.

The deadline for current applications is the end of October 2015; to learn more about applying, visit the official site.

Flywrench will kill you until you like it

Flywrench often feels a bit like a zen koan: a game that is both punishing and forgiving, overstimulating and patient; a game where you die constantly, yet never really stop playing. Ostensibly, you are are trying to acrobatically navigate a spaceship through a series of deadly barriers by changing your color to match them. Throughout the course of over 170 levels, you are told, you will ride a carrier wave from the outskirts of Pluto into the sun.

The first thing most people say about Flywrench is that it's very difficult; they're not wrong. It's probably fair to call it punishing; some people might describe it as "old-school hard," hearkening back to the days of yore when games would let your bang your skull against the wall until it cracked.

But Flywrench is the good kind of punishing, the kind that wants to make you better. There's virtually no pause between the moment when you go careening into a barrier and smear the wreckage of your ship across the sky, and the moment when start over at the beginning of the level. The moment you fall, you are already standing back on your feet; time to try again.

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Created by Messhof, the developer of the minimalist fencing game Nidhogg, Flywrench packs a similarly intense experience into some very simple graphics. Although you're supposed to be a spaceship, you look more like a flat white bar that bends in the middle to propel itself upwards; I kept imagining it as a butterfly or a flying book. Despite taking place in space, gravity is constantly pulling you down, and you have to time your bursts of speed so that you climb and fall through the color-coded barriers at exactly the right moment.

The lack of delay between death and rebirth—and the shortness of the levels—not only helps to reduce your frustration, but makes your mistakes more obvious. It's easy to get impetuous, particularly since the game is so kinetic and exciting, but after you die fifteen times in a minute doing the same foolish thing, chances are you'll consider slowing down, and perhaps letting your little butterfly ship tread water for a second before you throw yourself once more into the breach.

You will fail often—and you need to, because that's how you acquire the instincts and muscle memory you need to survive. Early on in the game, I hit a wall (literally) in one level for about ten minutes straight. But as I kept trying to twitch my way past the color-coded obstacles, something eventually clicked, and suddenly I sailed to the end so easily that it was hard to remember why it had been difficult. It felt like what I had meant to do all along, I just hadn't known how until that moment.

Flywrench is available on Steam for Mac and Windows users.

Old Sierra adventure games transformed into lovely glitch screens

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If you played the early Sierra adventure games back in the 1980s, chances are you that you spent a lot of time wandering back and forth between its simple, bitmap screens, trying to gather and deploy odd bits of treasure. That's why the images produced by the Twitter bot @quest_glitches may feel a little bit like childhood dreams for fans of games like Kings Quest, Space Quest and Leisure Suit Larry: the familiar forests, beaches and old houses you used to wander, drifting back to the surface of your mind out of context, strangely deconstructed down to jagged wireframes or flooded with color. Or maybe just the face of a woman you once knew, but whose name you can't remember, half-dissolved by time.

@Quest_glitches was created by Adam Mathes, who also made a bot called @Quest_ebooks that remixes the narration of the old adventure games into strange new tweets. In an interview with Kill Screen where he explains the process he used to create his glitch screens, Mathes explains that "there's some sense that with these generative programs, simple and primitive as they are, there’s this little bit of illusion of infinity and immortality to these things we loved." For players of a certain age and a certain time, it's a strange and lovely way to remember.

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Become a ruthless, noble lady in this 'Renaissance revenge simulator'

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Your wealthy father and brother have been killed by distasteful schemers, and now you're to be married off to one of them. Can you plan your brutal revenge without arousing suspicion—while acting like a perfect courtly lady?

Masques and Murder, by James Patton, is part interactive fiction, part statistical role-playing game. You manage the life of the orphaned Justitia, a young woman at court who must prepare for masquerades and music concerts while secretly nursing your fury and winning over your distasteful suitors so they'll be easy to kill.

It's a real delightful concept: There are all sorts of "princess maker"-style simulations about raising a character, often a girl, to grace and success by prizing certain skills over others; the wonderful Long Live the Queen turns this formula on its head, forcing you to keep one step ahead of a courtly world that wants to kill you.

But in this game, the statistics that are used to make a "lady"—your knowledge of verse, theology, music and dance—actually lull your evil suitors into vulnerability to the more lethal trades you study. During the tutorial, the three distasteful nobles are introduced to you after the fashion of a visual novel, a fun subversion of the "which bachelor do you choose to pursue" trope.

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The goal is to manage your statistics such that you can quietly kill off all three evil men and avenge your family. The Renaissance setting, full of classical music and maudlin paintings of skulls and roses—all the art the game samples is genuine period pieces—is a wonderful tonal backdrop for feeling like a creature of grace with steel and fire underneath.

You can play Masques and Murder for free, but the developer suggests a $5 donation if you enjoy the game.

You're a laboratory mistake. Can anybody love you?

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In A Heart Between Parts, your first act as a player is to unsnip the thread that sews your lips shut. Some scientist tried to make himself a wife and was unhappy with how you turned out, so you've been locked away.

This brief but piquant point-and-click adventure game by Stefan "leafthief" Srb has the beautiful pixel art that is the creator's trademark, and it's full of beautiful little beats about choosing life, even when you don't know when or why you are. It's another "You are the Monster" 48-hour game from the recent Ludum Dare 33 game jam, which helps explain why it's so little, but its smallness helps it feel delicate and restrained, never too maudlin. The game's puzzles are easy to solve; it's more about the journey of thought and hope you take along the way.

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Download A Heart Between Parts for free or donation here.

This gamification 'documentary' is a work of art

Gamification is one part of the world of game design that easily excites outsiders: Ideas about how systems and rewards motivate people, and how designed "playfulness" helps make labor more palatable, are easy for people to understand. Finally, game design has a purpose and a use beyond frivolity.

These ideas are appealing to companies, who effectively see means of getting employees to feel a greater sense of reward and happienss on the job without the employer actually having to pay the employees more. And the idea that everything, everyone in the world can be designed and controlled is central to the business ethos of Silicon Valley.

I am often asked if we will be reviewing popular gamification books on Offworld. We won't. While the authors are perfectly lovely people and in some cases are our friends and colleagues, we are only interested in play for its own sake. We think it's dark af otherwise, and this wonderful video, "Games & Gamification: The New Nihilism" by the game designer Katharine Neil showcases this brilliantly.

It was done a year ago but has recently begun making the rounds again: as well-known experts in the gamification field discuss the fickle nature of human motivation and our struggle to feel intrinsically rewarded, historical footage of political movements provides a startling and often funny contrast.

Try AURA, a meditative, musical twin-stick shooter

AURA looks like an inventive take on the traditional "twin stick" shooter experience, focused primarily on exploration. It seems really interesting sonic experiences are involved too—the fuel you gather for your tiny flying ship is linked to musical "nodes", and you assemble a song as you go.

I've actually not played it; I think it requires a traditional controller be connected to your computer, and you might not have one just lying around under your desk. I do, but I'm not getting up to go over there right now, to be honest. I wanted to show it to you, though, because I think the trailer is absolutely lovely and musical, and because it's easy to recommend the work of UC Santa Cruz's Games and Playable Media Masters students: AURA was made by Patrick Trinh and Lun Ca for that wonderful and reputable game design program.

$5 will buy you the chance to experience it for yourself.

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Buy Windows 95, Dances With Wolves and Myst in this vaporwave classic

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I might have been part of the last generation to grow up valuing "hanging at the mall" as the ideal pastime. I love abandoned mall photography, and basically any movie from the '90s that employs malls as the backdrop for Gen X cynical anti-consumerism.

Mall Quest is a fun dirge for that age, shuttling you among self esteem-ified pixel goons and chunky graphic renderings of the things you have to buy: Games like NBA Jam 2 and Myst, Silly Putty and movies like Dances With Wolves. It has the glossy Windows 95 look of the "vaporwave" digital art movement, whereby a generation of creators old enough to remember the innocent consumerism of the mall age and the home computer boom but too young to have it for themselves resampled its phrases and imagery.

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This game, free or pay-what-you-want, came out a year ago, but I only just heard of it recently. It's gleefully dystopic—and procedurally-generated, giving you a different mall-sprawl and shopping list of forgotten pop culture every time.

Run a Renaissance art guild in this Leonardo da Vinci simulator

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If you've ever dreamed of being—or perhaps of micromanaging—the great artists of the Italian Renaissance, then it's time to play Painters Guild.

The simulation game begin in Rome, Venice, or Florence, where you open the titular guild and must decide how to spend your limited funds: by hiring the best apprentices, buying furniture to will keep your artists rested and creative, or decorating the guild with opulent trappings that will increase your prestige. As patrons approach with commissions, you'll decide which artist is best for the task, and try to keep them healthy and productive as various randomized events threaten to distract them from their masterpieces.

Created by Brazilian history teacher and game developer Lucas Molina, Painters Guild does a bit more than just simulate the creation of art; it also integrates elements of the politics and religion that might have impacted an artist from that era. When you begin, for example, you can choose whether to make your initial character gay, which the game notes was punishable by death at the time—a threat that may come into play later. Other events can involve the rise and fall of popes or individual artists running afoul of the law.

It's a charming little game, and one I felt quite content to play for several hours, guiding my artists as they brought pixelated versions of great (and often familiar) works of painting and sculpture to life. If you're interested in more art history games, Molina previously made Avant Garde, a 19th century painting simulator set in Paris that you can play online.

Painters Guild is now for sale on Steam for Windows users, and is sadly not available on mobile, though I'd love to play it there as well.

Ultimate Chicken Horse is like Mario Maker for asshole animals

Sure, Mario Maker looks like a lot of fun. But will it let you and your friends turn into horses and raccoons and cut each other up with buzzsaws?

That's what awaits you in Ultimate Chicken Horse, a Kickstarted platform game where you and your competitors build the level together, adding traps to trip each other up, while making sure your animal avatar can still make it to the end. As the trailer for the game notes, "it's a fine balance between being an awesome level designer, and being a huge jerk."

Being a huge jerk is very tempting indeed, especially with all the buzzsaws at your disposal, but be careful: get too vindictive in your level design, and you'll only hurt yourself. When I played the game at the recent PAX gaming expo, I quickly discovered just how fine this line could be; my competitors were initially so excited about sabotaging other people that they quickly made the level impossible for anyone to win, even them.

Fortunately, the Party Box of itemz you open at the beginning of each round contains not only flaming projectiles and rotating platforms that you can toss into the madness, but also bombs that clear away the troublesome traps that keep killing your animals.

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As the title of the game promises, you can play as a chicken or a horse, as well as a raccoon, sheep, and four more unspecified animals. Despite the playful charm of the art, I enjoyed its macabre notes as well: if your animal dies on top of a springboard, its lifeless carcass will continue to bounce up and down like a ragdoll until the level is complete.

Ultimate Chicken Horse will have a single-player mode as well, but the selling point is clearly its party game chaos, as well as the self-regulating malice of its DIY level design, which forces you to push the game to the highest level of difficulty you can handle without dooming yourself to frustration and failure.

You can download a free demo of Ultimate Chicken Horse for PC, Max and Linux here, and the complete game is due out from Clever Endeavor in February 2016.

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This Grand Theft Auto V wildlife documentary is surprisingly good

Although it's easy to miss when you're shooting your way through Los Santos, the fictional world of Grand Theft Auto V is teeming with wildlife who are as busy going about their lives as you are. In a documentary titled "Onto the Land" by the Youtube channel 8-Bit Bastard, you can take a closer look at the cougars, deer, rabbits, hawks, coyotes and cows that live, hunt and hide in the digital hills of the game.

It begins with the same sort of bombastic narration atmospheric music you might hear in a BBC nature miniseries, complete with background music full of drums, flute and ululating female singers.

"65 million years ago, four and a half miles beneath the surface of the Pacific ocean, there were titanic stirrings," says the narrator. "Molten lava rising from the earth's core forced upwards a dome of rock thirteen miles in length and seven miles across: the island of Los Santos."

While that's not strictly true, since Los Santos is fictional—and the creators note that "we're not professional wildlife researchers, we're still just idiots who play computer games"—the fifteen-minute video captures the aesthetics and tone of a professional nature documentary with surprising accuracy. Even if you're not a big fan of GTA V—and there are some fair reasons not to be—it's still a fun watch.

This isn't the first GTA V nature documentary by the 8-Bit Bastard, either; their previous GTA V nature documentary, "Into the Deep," focused on the oceans of GTA V.

[via Kotaku]

You are Bigfoot, so don't let anybody film you

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All we know of the mythical Bigfoot is a famously-indistinct strolling blur, and as such the legend of the sasquatch remains. In Found Bigfootage, you play as that strolling blur, making sure invasive camera-wielders get anough footage to leave you alone, but that none of it is clear.

Developer BluShine made the "reverse stealth game" in just 48 hours—I love how even with so little time, the developer managed to get the twangly, remote-forest aesthetics any sasquatch-hunter could hope for. Found Bigfootage was made for Ludum Dare 33, whose "You are the Monster" theme has been interpreted in all kinds of ways: You can work for a form letter company, weigh human life as a refugee smuggler, or generally be a misanthrope.

Equip all children with scissors, reject capitalism?

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I am an arbitrary silhouette on a wanly-lit hillside. To my right waits a horde of lamp-eyed children. Before me, helicopters drop giant pairs of scissors at ruthless angles. I go and get the scissors and bring them to the kids as instructed, but I'm not sure if I've passed the scissors on or stabbed someone.

Every so often, an enormous fist hovers over me. When it strikes I can see the faint outline of my ribcage flash before my eyes.

Mortimer's Bakery developed Run With Scissors (free to play in browser here or here) for the ongoing and broad Fuck Capitalism Jam. Screenshots promise I might eventually get to "comply or haggle" with needful individuals, but I don't know: I cannot survive the fist for long enough. Maybe you can.

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Can working on violent video games mess you up?

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In commercial games, we celebrate beautiful game art, but how often do we think about what it takes to make the really gruesome stuff? Apparently, to create Halo 3's Flood-infested "Cortana" level, artist Vic De Leon immersed himself in images from colonoscopies, and pictures of tumors and lesions, until he'd get nauseated:

"They’d come up when I was least expecting it. Something would just pop into my head -- an image or something -- and for a while there I felt...I wouldn’t say traumatized, but haunted, like when you’re a kid and you see something really disgusting or gory or scary in a movie,” says DeLeon. “I started associating that level with feeling disgusting. Once it was built it took months and months of polishing, and in those months I couldn’t wait to work on something else. The level was so disgusting, and what I thought was neat at first really came to bear down on me."

At Gamasutra, Alex Wawro speaks to game artists and animators who spend their careers elbow-deep in grotesque reference materials, creating the lifelike gore and impact that some players might experience only fleetingly, but that the artist often spends months getting close to. Steve Bowler, an animator on the famously-gory Mortal Kombat series, had this to say:
“The guys I always feel the worst for are the cinematic artists, because they have to make sure that like, each bone is cracking in a realistic way,” he says. “Even the audio guys probably have a bit of like, PTSD, because they have to spent all this time carefully picking out and putting in all these gory, juicy, crunchy, eviscerating sound effects.”

The full article is a really interesting read on a question most people wouldn't think to ask.

Smash the city in this riotous 'slam-em-up'

Jane Friedhoff describes Slam City Oracles as a "rambunctious, riot grrrl, Katamari-meets-Grand Theft Auto physics game"—you grab a pal and slam into as many objects as you can in two minutes. As hard as you can, so that you can send things flying as fast as they go.

The bright, poppy art is by Friedhoff's fellow New Yorker Jenny Jiao Hsia, and the soundtrack is by Scully, a women-fronted rock band from Brooklyn. Originally commissioned for 2014's No Quarter exhibit and recently shown at The Museum Of The Moving Image's Well Played series, the game is out today for free or pay-what-you-want.

This radiant moshpit from an all-girl team feels especially subversive because you're smashing cuteness—the visual and physical comparison to Katamari Damacy and other justly-loved (but slightly twee) indie darlings makes you feel like you're part of a girl squad rocking up to clear out all the plaid-shirt beardos, or something.

Mobile game of the week: Sage Solitaire

Zach Gage is consistently one of the most elegant designers of our time. This week, we can say he's done a meaningful refresh on computer Solitaire (one of the most-played video games of all time, thanks to the iconic Windows bundle), and not really be exaggerating.

Recently-released iOS game Sage Solitaire is part Solitaire, part poker, in its way: You have 3 rows of 3 cards each (so nine piles) to clear from top to bottom, and you do this by building "hands", like pairs or straight flushes. When you're stuck you can use a limited "trash" ability to remove a card, and you may get extra points for using a certain suit.

Even its aesthetic decisions are subtle but bold: Gone are the traditional red and black suits, in favor of a fresh four-color scheme that helps in suit-matching and hand-building. I never really understood til now why I had so much trouble "reading" poker hands and whether or not I "had anything"; Sage Solitaire's system of rows and hues very gently makes it all easier to manage, clear and clean.

The basic game is free on the App Store, with a fuller, ad-free version available for purchase. Currently there is no official Android version, so beware of malicious imitators on the Google Play store.

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