• The 20 games you shouldn't miss in 2016

    Since I last presented a year-end videogame wrap-up for Boing Boing readers, it's become an exponentially harder task. The number of games released per day has – even just since 2014! – risen a few times over, so narrowing a list down means leaving amazing and creative work behind. That's not even to mention the herculean task of staying on top of the pile of games still unplayed.

    2016 gave us a generous amount of powerhouse titles hoisted by massive budgets and massive marketing efforts: hello Overwatch, Dark Souls III, Doom, No Man's Sky, Pokémon Sun & Moon, and especially Uncharted 4. But I did my best to wander the far corners of the internet, searching and sometimes blindly stumbling upon weird, beautiful, thoughtful videogames.

    Below you'll find 20ish games (actually quite a good number more) that sang to me the most, and I think exemplify the best that 2016 had to offer. You'll find interesting places to explore, unique achievements and re-inventions of old standards, and brilliant ideas executed simply. I hope you find them as surprising and delightful as I did.



    by A.P. Thomson & Jenny Jiao Hsia • Get it: Windows/Mac/Linux

    Beglitched is, on its face, a fairly simple match-3 type game, on the same family-tree branch as Bejeweled or Candy Crush or any other number of similar clones you may have spent all your idle moments thumbing around with on your phone over the past few years.

    But here, its creators — then NYU Game Center students A.P. Thomson and Jenny Jiao Hsia — have added an honestly quite engaging & effective narrative layer about hacking layer-by-layer deeper into an intentionally-misplaced laptop, and battling against other hackers, each of whom are trying to keep you out of their various network nodes.

    The game is rife with refreshingly on-point commentary about life & vulnerability on the internet in 2016, and stacks of secrets for you to pierce through, all of which lies on top of a great twist on match-3 mechanics. This is one of the best entry points into the world of indie games this year.


    Capsule Silence XXIV

    by Anamanaguchi & Ben Esposito • Get it: Windows/Mac

    In one of the year's best low-key art stunts, New York City electronic pop band Anamanaguchi had a spectacular melt-down this past March, in which they deleted their entire Twitter archive, overnight. The move, according to all-caps tweetstorm before the mass deletion, was in protest of contractual disagreements over a 33 million-dollar videogame extravaganza (codenamed Project Homunculus, a 'Millenial Game & Culture VR Development'), which they'd secretly been developing & alpha-testing behind closed doors for years.

    Just prior to their entire social media presence being taken over by their "manager", "Devin" (whom no one seems to have managed to photograph, let alone meet in person, in the months since), the band managed to "leak" an in-progress version of the game, which then spread almost exclusively via confused & bemused tweets and reddit posts.

    Created with the help of developer Ben Esposito (part of the LA-based game collective Arcane Kids), the Capsule Silence XXIV demo begins with the promise of an epic (if overwrought) sci-fi/fantasy storyline starring the band members themselves, before suddenly crashing entirely. Only then are you presented with the hidden option to venture behind the curtain into its "developer sandbox", where the real game begins.

    What happens from there on is best left discovered yourself (though you can watch a good portion of it in my playthrough above). Coming in blind to Capsule Silence now will almost certainly feel like you're in over your head on a joke you totally missed the setup for, but it quickly becomes one of the most intriguing experiences of the year, backed by some of the best people working in both music and games.


    Dishonored 2

    by Arkane • Get it: Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

    In a year packed back-to-back with massive AAA games, Dishonored 2 stood apart, managing to create something truly original that both spoke with its own confident & distinct voice, and was tremendously mechanically pleasing.

    Though you'll have to go pretty far out of your way to find footage of the game that shows much beyond hyper-violent jump-cuts of soldiers being knifed in the neck (see: above, and which is, of course, an entirely legitimate way to play the game), that wasn't quite the game I played. My version featured far more silent sneaking through some of the most beautifully & intricately crafted spaces I've seen in big-budget games in a while, trying to leave behind as little of a mess as possible. Others tried to find as many creative ways to dispose of some characters as possible. Everything is permitted.

    Whichever way you might want to wend your way through, if you want to see what's been happening in "big" games over the past few years, you won't find a much finer example.


    Dragon Quest Builders

    by Square Enix • Get it: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita

    You'd be 100% forgiven for presuming what Dragon Quest Builders is at first glance. For as much as it builds on the lineage & narrative of the very first game in the series (known here as the mid-80s NES role-playing-game Dragon Warrior), it wears its Minecraft very plainly on its sleeve.

    But, for as much as you might be convinced (as I initially was) that the game was a simple grab for Minecraft dollars with a franchise-branded clone, the actual meat of the game here is really uniquely structured. Played out as a series of storybook chapters, each quest starts with you again dressed in rags, back at the drawing board, and tasked with venturing out into the unforgiving world to gather everything you need to plant and nourish your home base, both to the whims of your own design, and at the request of other wanderers who happen in and take residence.

    Most interestingly, the game repeatedly drives home that you're not the or even a great, conquering warrior in this game – you're more or less just a humble servant with enough pluck to pull together resources and lay down bricks side-by-side. On top of that, the fact that each subsequent chapter continually subverts the way in which you solved the previous one made this way more compulsive than I'd expected — this ended up being the equivalent of my "bedtime-story game" for several weeks.


    Earth Defense Force 4.1

    by Sandlot • Get it: Windows, PlayStation 4

    Next up is actually a game that I brought up back in 2014, which was re-released this year for modern consoles and also for PCs for the first time. But, until every person I know is playing this, I'm going to bring it up forever.

    Earth Defense Force 4.1, for the uninitiated, is a continuation of a series that's been around for some 13 years now, since the PlayStation 2. There is nothing more to this game than basically exactly what you see above: over a series of about 100 levels, you get dropped into a quasi-futuristic Tokyo suburb, with nothing more than two weapons of your choice. Then, the game spawns something like a billion giant bugs or strange UFOs half a block away, leans back, shrugs its shoulders, and sees how you endure.

    I usually describe it as the 21st-century super-literal B-movie answer to Space Invaders. It is unrepentantly so dumb, and so fun, and now supports playing with your friends online. If you've ever wanted to climb aboard a cumbersome giant mech and literally just punch Godzilla square in the face, Earth Defense Force has got you more than adequately covered.



    by Campo Santo • Get it: Windows/Mac/Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

    A lock for strongest studio debut of 2016, Campo Santo's Firewatch is infamously a hard game to pin down, so here I'll simply say that it's a narrative adventure where you're uncovering intriguing morsels of plot simply by moving forward through the world, and that it's one of the best true "mystery" games we've had in ages.

    Played from the vantage point of a park ranger who took the job of watching out for forest fires to get away from the world for the summer, you're essentially alone in the woods the entire time, only communicating over walkie-talkie with a fellow fire-watcher in a tower across the park. Without the ability to actually meet your compatriot, let alone ever even really see her, over the course of the game you begin to wonder if you should be opening up to her as much as you are, or whether something more nefarious might be at play.

    Many of the folks who crafted this story also worked on a number of chapters of the Walking Dead adventure games, so if you liked the way those stories were constructed, or just want to experience fantastic storytelling in a genuinely, jaw-droppingly beautiful simulacrum of the Wyoming wilderness, this is a perfect game for you.


    Hidden My Game By Mom

    by Happ • Get it: iPhone/iPad, Android

    By far the "smallest" game on this list, created by a one-man Japanese development team who drops three or four free games on mobile devices every year, this still manages to be one of the funniest.

    The premise here is that Mom is continually upset that you spend so much time on your Nintendo DS, and so decides that every single day she'll hide it in a new place around the house. Your job is simply to tap around until you unearth it.

    That might be as simple as the first level you can see above, where she's just shoved it behind some books on the bookcase, but day-by-day she makes it more outlandishly hard to find. Even better, Mom herself begins to lurk in various places alongside the DS itself, ready to pounce on you if you slip up and root around too recklessly.

    This game is entirely free and won't take you more than an hour or two to finish. By the end of its 30-something levels, though, it becomes so self-aware and -referential, and so laugh out loud funny, and then caps itself off with such an oddly emotional ending, that you should not end the year without giving it your time.



    by Playdead • Get it: Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

    First announced in 2014 and finally landing on consoles and PC this year, Inside is by the same team that previously created Limbo, an indie classic in its own right from many years back. If you're familiar with Limbo, you will know more or less what to expect here: it's a game heavy on simply moving from left to right, pausing in areas to solve an environment puzzle or two before moving on to the next.

    That said, what makes Inside truly remarkable is the amount of cinematic fidelity and polish they've manage to wring out what seems at first glance like a fairly low-detail world. The subtlety and fluidity of its animation, and particularly its sound design (recorded, it turns out, by piping through the sound through a replica human skull) went largely unparalleled this year.

    The developers pride themselves the most on its end-game twist, and with good reason. It's a twist which hopefully no one's spoiled for you by now, and one which you should try super hard to leave unspoiled by before you hit its final hour.


    Islands: Non-Places

    by Carl Burton • Get it: Windows/Mac/Linux, iPhone/iPad

    Another "small" but fantastically beautiful game, Islands was released by a designer named Carl Burton, best known as the artist behind indescribably intriguing hyper-real spaces, which he releases primarily as animated gifs. He's got a Twitter and a Tumblr feed full of them, and each one is a place that you desperately want to reach your hand into and touch.

    Perhaps most famously, when the podcast Serial returned for its second season, they commissioned Burton to illustrate each episode with one of these gifs, all similarly meticulously constructed but entirely devoid of human life.

    And so it was super exciting to learn that he'd quietly also been creating an actual interactive version of those illustrations, that being Islands: a version of his worlds that you finally actually are able to touch and interact with. It's the year's best example of what happens when you bring artists who haven't previously worked in games and let their imagination run wild.


    Kentucky Route Zero

    by Cardboard Computer • Get it: Windows/Mac/Linux

    Another game that got a mention in 2014 – but made a very strong return with the fourth of its five chapters in 2016 – is Kentucky Route Zero, consistently my first answer when someone asks where they should start exploring modern indie games.

    Not only does KR0 have one of the most unique senses of art direction and scene design, all drawing inspiration from theater set design and arthouse film, it's also one of the best games akin to The American Novel, maybe most easily described as a point and click version of a magical realist/Southern Gothic story.

    This latest chapter takes place on a version of the Echo River that flows through the Mammoth Cave system in real-world Kentucky – which not coincidentally was the same network of caves that inspired Colossal Cave Adventure, the 1976 text adventure that created the genre. As much a lovesong to videogame adventures themselves as anything else, if you don't play any other indie game on this list, I hope you're at least are inspired to go try this.


    The Last Guardian

    by gen DESIGN • Get it: PlayStation 4

    Just released a few weeks back, and a game that probably has come closer than many others to not existing at all over the past decade, The Last Guardian likely has not escaped your 2016 radar, but is listed here to confirm that it was wholeheartedly worth the wait, and is arguably the actual best game to come out of the year.

    Designed by Fumito Ueda, also behind Ico & Shadow of the Colossus for PlayStation 2, The Last Guardian caps off the trilogy and seemingly effortlessly establishes itself as another videogame version of the "arthouse classic".

    As you can see above, its core conceit is the relationship you, as this young boy, have with the giant dog/cat/bird/griffin Trico, one of the most "alive" & independently-minded creatures you've ever interacted with in a game. Even though Trico is your primary "vehicle" through these massive labyrinthine spaces you've woken up into, it's anything but at your actual beck and call. Instead, you have to slowly eke out a trusting relationship with it, and learn to read its signals as you would an actual animal.

    Just as in real pet life, Trico can be maddeningly deaf to your commands, and enormously frustrating to work with, but that's precisely what gives the game its emotional weight and makes it unlike anything you've ever played before. Anything more I can really say about this game will sound even more like over-earnest platitudes, but it truly is one of the best videogame experiences I've ever had, and an absolute essential 2016 game.


    The Mystic Western Game Jam

    by Various • Play them: Here

    This one's may be cheating a bit, as it isn't actually a single game, but rather a collection of games that came out of the Mystic Western Game Jam, a jam organized by the videogame non-profit I co-founded, JUEGOS RANCHEROS, many of which which we toured out to the actual mystical West Texas desert, for this year's installment of the Marfa Film Festival.

    I bring it up not to be entirely self-serving and say boy what a wonderful thing we did, but because more than a handful of the games that people ended up creating were truly remarkable, and introduced us to incredibly talented folks that we'd never really talked to or collaborated with before.

    In particular, Black Gold, the game you see above, comes from Conor Mccann, who himself lives alone in a tiny house out in the middle of West Texas, and was able to perfect nail the spirit of the high desert that we were were hoping to evoke, and a number of the other games like Pippin Barr's modern rumination on the classic game Oregon Trail did the same.

    In general, nearly all of the 50ish games submitted to jam were great for one reason or another, and all are playable for free by visiting the jam site itself. More than anything, the jam was just a great way to feel connected to a bunch of independent artists and creators from all corners of the globe, all coming together under a single theme.



    by Bennett Foddy & A.P. Thomson • Learn more: Here

    Easily one of the most interesting experiments/developments in games that has happened in quite a long time, Multibowl is another entry from NYU Game Center's A.P. Thomson (in addition to Beglitched above), created along with Bennett Foddy, a Game Center professor known best for his web games like QWOP & GIRP.

    Often described as a "videogame mixtape", Multibowl is a two-player game where players are dropped smack in the middle of a bunch of different games, with seven or so seconds to figure out what to do, and how to play. So far, so WarioWare, but what's interesting about Multibowl is that all of the 300 games you can find yourself inserted into are actual PC, console or arcade games from throughout the past four decades.

    You might one moment be playing 15 or so seconds of Street Fighter II, and then suddenly get dropped into the middle of a Super Nintendo Mario Kart race, followed by a jump into an obscure Intellivision game no one has even thought about for the last 35 years. In essence, it's a first-hand playable trip through all of videogame history, as much as it is a competitive game in and of itself.

    Because it's obviously entirely not legal to distribute 300 console and arcade games, currently the only way you can play Multibowl is at live events. In addition to this year's XOXO Festival, we brought it to our Fantastic Arcade indie games festival as an official tournament (see the video above), as well as various other Austin, TX meetups, and it's likely to pop up around other places around the globe throughout 2017. Your best bet is to follow Foddy's Twitter for upcoming news, and if it ends up somewhere close to you, jump at the chance to give it a go – it's a truly remarkable technological and historical achievement, and one of this year's greats.


    Orchids to Dusk

    by Pol Clarissou • Get it: Windows/Mac/Linux

    Another "small"/easily digestible game, Orchids to Dusk is by French developer Pol Clarissou, and puts players into the role of an interstellar traveller who crash lands on an unfamiliar planet. After coming-to from the crash, you quickly discover that you've got about two minutes of oxygen left, and no hope of extending that or escaping your fate.

    It's therefore a foregone conclusion that at the end of this game you will die – and you do! – and so as you start over and replay again, the question becomes: what would you do with your last two minutes of life?

    Re-playing each time allows you to strike out in different directions away from your crash site, with different vistas and landmarks to explore, or you can simply sit down in a nice patch of alien flora and spend your last 90 or so seconds drinking in the melancholic serenity.

    It's a really beautifully existential little game, and is networked to other players in interesting, somewhat opaque ways, and, as tiny games go, this is one of the best.


    Picross 3D Round 2

    by Nintendo • Get it: Nintendo 3DS

    The sequel to one of the best original Nintendo DS games, Picross 3D Round 2 is a puzzle game in which you carve objects out of the mathy stone blocks you can see above.

    Each of the numbers is code for how many of the blocks in each column or row you need to paint either blue or yellow, or break away entirely, with just enough information obscured that sculpting the result requires logical deductions on the player's part.

    For as confusing as it might seem at first glance, once you get into the groove of these puzzles, they totally take over your brain. I played at least a few rounds of this every day for something on the order of six months, and the game continually fed me more and more – it's a sprawling & super rewarding game, and if you've got a 3DS, it should definitely be your next download.


    Quadrilateral Cowboy

    by Blendo Games • Get it: Windows/Mac/Linux

    Quadrilateral Cowboy is the magnum opus of Blendo Games' Brendon Chung, one of the best voices we've got working in indie games, who is formerly best known for his tiny, ultra-cinematic, jump-cut-heavy narrative essentials like Gravity Bone and 30 Flights of Loving.

    Here, he's created a late-70s/early-80s type low-tech cyberpunk adventure, where you pull off a series of heists by jacking into security systems and literally reprogramming them to do your bidding.

    As you can see flashes of above, at its lowest level, you actually have to telnet into and script laser tripwires and security doors to shut on and off on cue, in order to give yourself a clear, timed-out path to enter and egress buildings with, say, stolen blueprints in hand.

    It does a masterful job at building off its own fundamentals, if you have zero scripting background, and is in general is one of the best hacking games ever created, where hacking isn't as much a one-off puzzle-solving minigame, but is rather — like in real life! — an ugly, basic sequence of command-line fiddling and batch execution.


    Rhythm Heaven Megamix

    by Nintendo • Get it: Nintendo 3DS

    Another essential Nintendo 3DS sequel, Rhythm Heaven Megamix is the latest in a series that's been around since Game Boy Advance days, but never really got its due in the U.S. Thankfully, Nintendo's choice to course correct that was to pile in nearly every minigame that its ever created for the series' GBA, DS and Wii installations into this one 3DS collection, giving you the best of all entry points, if you've never crossed paths with the franchise before.

    And what's great about the Rhythm Heaven minigames is that – unlike games like Dance Dance Revolution or Guitar Hero – you're not just tapping buttons along to a staff of notes flying at you. Instead, nearly all the games are about performing in step/on time to other performers on screen. That means that most of the tension in the game comes not just from simply staying on beat, but the idea that slipping off-rhythm is actually letting down your stage-mates and ruining a minutes-long performance for everyone. Less "I missed this note", and more "I'm blowing this for everyone."

    All of these games end up being super funny just from that slapstick, "god-don't-screw-this-up" sensibility, and if you have even the slightest rhythmic inkling to you, this is super worth checking out.


    Trienalle Game Collection

    by Santa Ragione • Get it: Windows/Mac/Linux, iPhone/iPad

    Another collection of games compiled into a single entry, Triennale Game Collection was put together by Italian game designers and art community organizers Santa Ragione for an exhibition in Milan this year.

    The best of the bunch here is a game called Neighbor, created by the same folks that made Kentucky Route Zero above, and a super beautiful 'mystic western' game in and of itself. But all of the four companion games in the package are great as well – including work by generative-art creator Katie Rose Pipkin, and another by Orchids to Dusk designer Pol Clarissou – and all five are available on PCs and mobile devices for free.

    If you're at all curious to discover what's been happening in the world of capital-A "Art Games", this is the best, most concise resource around.


    Zero Time Dilemma

    by Spike Chunsoft • Get it: PlayStation Vita, Nintendo 3DS, Windows

    Released this year on both Windows and both the 3DS and PlayStation Vita, Zero Time Dilemma is actually the third and final installment in a series of adventure games collectively known as the Zero Escape games, and this recommendation comes with the red-letter caveat that while you should definitely play this game, you should definitely not play this game without playing the other two first.

    The first was a game released in the latter days of the Nintendo DS called 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors, and all of the games in this series follow that game's same basic plot: nine strangers wake up in what you'd probably now recognize as a "room escape" puzzle scenario, only, of course, a dramatically deadly version.

    In each of these games, like the second one here, Virtue's Last Reward, those strangers have to figure out how to escape each sealed-off abandoned-warehouse location by playing a series of games that loosely based on "game theory", John Nash's (paraphrasing extremely loosely) thought-experiment, where players are incentivized to win by screwing over their opponents, but if all the opponents decide to screw over the others, everybody loses.

    So, with those nine contestants split into smaller groups, at crucial points in each game, you are given the option to decide whether or not they screw over the others, and then view the fallout of each scenario with, as above, deadly consequences.

    But what's really interesting about these games, especially beginning with Virtue's Last Reward, is that you're also given a full flowchart of your decisions from the beginning, mapping out all of the branching points of consequences, and allowed to jump around at will. That is to say, if you didn't like the way decision A fell out, you can rewind and see what would have happened if you'd gone the other way.

    But that's not even really the interesting part! The interesting part is that the characters themselves, over the course of the game, start to become dimly aware that there seems to be some really weird monkeying-around going on with branching timelines. For instance, how is it possible that a character knows a password to a computer they've never come across before, when the answer is that you, as the player, know that password because you saw it written on a scrap of paper, in another location, at the end of timeline A, before everyone died and you rewound to see what would happen if you'd chosen a different path.

    And Zero Time Dilemma, the final chapter of the series, builds on that even further by not just letting you back up and see the alternate outcome of a decision, but by allowing you to jump around the entire storyline willy-nilly, like beginning a Choose Your Own Adventure on page 23, confident that you'll eventually come to build the entirety of its story in your head by the time you chart out every path.

    This introduces entire new layers of flowchart complexity, and makes wringing out every last corner of its narrative – and filling your head with who knew what when, and why – so much more rewarding.

    And it should be said that while these games are narratively amazing as they might sound, they're also completely ludicrous – occasionally hyper-violent, pulp-comic silly, and with (as you can hear at top) let's just call it not exactly top-tier voice acting (switching to the game's native, subtitled Japanese audio is highly recommended) – but if you can make the leap beyond that and just let it take you for a ride, all of the Zero Escapes taken together add up to an incredible overarching storyline, one which folds back in on itself to include the events and characters of all three games in surprising ways.

    If you don't have either handheld to get your hands on the original two games, the creators have recently announced that those two will be released on Windows in just a few short months as The Nonary Games collection, so even though they're making the list now, you may want to hold tight and get in on the ground floor with the new version of both early next year. But I genuinely hope you do — I can count on one hand the number of people I know that have come along on this ride with me, and we've all come away superfans, and I'd love to make a superfan out of at least a few more of you.


    Yakuza 5

    by Sega • Get it: PlayStation 3

    And finally, we break alphabetical rank to end on Yakuza 5, the latest game of the franchise that I played more of than anything else throughout 2016, starting with the PlayStation 2 entry Yakuza 2, and ending on this most recent installment.

    Best described as a modern day role-playing adventure, the Yakuza series is unique in that, first: its "overworld" is modeled hyper-realistically on real-world locations so accurate that when I took my first trip to Japan this year, I was able to blindly navigate a swath of Tokyo solely because of my experience in this virtual, semi-fictionalized counterpart.

    Second: like traditional RPGs, Yakuza's enemy encounters are somewhat random & scattered around that "overworld", but aren't played out via menu-based battles. Instead, a group of low-rank, swaggering, sleazeball street punks will suddenly appear, who – for various reasons – are not clued into the fact that you are in actuality a former high-ranking mob officer. This ignorance is then punished via cartoonishly brutal arcade-y beat-em-up gameplay, where you proceed to grind them mercilessly into the pavement.

    That said: these knock-down/drag-out streetfights really only make up maybe a third of the game. In addition to the main storyline – which is honestly as gripping a crime-family drama as any you've seen in film – Sega has fleshed out the rest of the world with a hundred daily-life diversions, like batting cages, or billiards, or karaoke, or fully-equipped Sega arcades, or hostess clubs where you flash around your hard-won earnings on top-shelf booze and snacks.

    But where Yakuza 5 in particular shines is in one of the game's five chapters, which has nothing to do with roughing up punks at all, and instead centers on…

    …this girl, Haruka, who has featured throughout the entire run of games, starting from around the age of 7 in the first Yakuza installments, to the 15- or 16-ish year old girl you see here. Haruka's nascent dream, beginning in Yakuza 3, has been to sign with an agency and train to become one of Japan's top pop idols, and so instead of beating up thugs on street corners,

    Haruka finds other street-wise teenage girls and who challenge her to curb-side dance-offs, suddenly morphing the game into a rhythm-battle version of maybe say like You Got Served.

    Even better, though, all of the other minigames surrounding Haruka's rise to fame mirror those in the real entertainment-world: going on TV talk shows and crossing-fingers that you won't say the wrong thing and embarrass yourself in front of an audience of thousands, conducting interviews with lecherous journalists hoping to trip you up into saying something scandalous, and, my absolute favorite, doing meet and greets with weirdo 20-something geeks, who get ten seconds to shake hands with you and stutter out inane niceties, and who – should they linger too long – get tossed out on their ear by your bouncer.

    Already a mainstay franchise in its native Japan, it's only within the past few years that the series has started to gain cult traction in the West, its legacy here still eclipsed by Shenmue, Sega's decade-plus-old epic adventure that would serve as the framework for what the Yakuza has become.

    It might seem like a daunting task to jump feet-first into the fifth game of a franchise, but with three more entries due out in the West over the next 2 years (the 80s-era prequel Yakuza Zero, a modern-generation remake of the original Yakuza game, and the series' first true next-gen installment, Yakuza 6), there's never been a better time to take the plunge and discover why the games have become a global – if still massively under-appreciated – phenomenon.


    If you'd like to find more even games like the ones above, subscribe to the Venus Patrol Steam Curator page, where you'll find an up-to-date list of all the latest beautiful games added to their store.

    To find more mobile, console, and freely downloadable games like these from 2014 and years prior, flip back through a long-running archive of A Fistful of Indies, a monthly top-ten-ish feature I present live here in Austin, Texas, at meetups of our local independent game collective, JUEGOS RANCHEROS.

    And if you've discovered or created a game you think would make an ace addition to the collection presented here, don't hesitate to get in touch on Twitter!

  • The 20 games you shouldn't miss in 2014

    The 20 games you shouldn't miss in 2014

    By Brandon Boyer

    I spent most of 2014 just as I have for many years: wandering the far corners of the internet, searching for and sometimes stumbling upon weird, beautiful, and thoughtful videogames. The best of what I discovered challenged long-held ideas about What Videogames Can Be. I documented my findings at Venus Patrol.

    Over the past year I played hundreds of amazing games across a wide spectrum of team sizes, budgets and ambitions. Below are 20 games that exemplify the best that 2014 had to offer: interesting places to explore, important achievements, or just nice ideas executed simply. I hope you'll find them as surprising and delightful as I did.

    Broken Age

    by Double Fine • Get it: iPad, Windows/Mac/Linux

    If you pay attention to the world of games at all, Double Fine's Broken Age will be a familiar name — the modern take on the point and click adventure genre was funded through Kickstarter a few years back–at the time, one of Kickstarter's first massive successes, and one that served as a gateway for many into the crowd-funding service itself.

    One of the reasons the game was so well-funded was a lingering desire by many for this sort of quietly-told adventure–still somewhat a rarity in a landscape of more high-octane action games–a desire for a game that essentially moves at your own pace.

    And Broken Age does that beautifully. At the same time, it also modernizes the genre to strip out much of the frustration that went along with early games of its kind, leaving you with a genuinely heartfelt, warm and very funny story, nicely voice-acted, wrapped around a set of super clever puzzles.

    Side note: the entire production of the game has been meticulously documented by video production house 2 Player, which has resulted in footage that's perhaps the most valuable and instructive we have about the highs and lows of mid-to-high-budget game development. If you haven't already, spring for that additional footage for what amounts to one of my favorite TV shows of the past few years.

    Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

    by Nintendo • Get it: Wii U

    The latest game from Nintendo's Tokyo studio, Captain Toad is is actually my favorite Wii U game of the year, soundly beating out more traditional fare from the company like Mario Kart & Smash Brothers.

    The premise of the game is super clever: this is a Mario game with no jumping. It's a puzzle game entirely centered around the idea of obscured information. Each of its tiny, intricate diorama worlds has to be twisted and flipped endlessly for you to piece together exactly how to find your way deeper into them toward the goal at the end, with additional secondary secret goals that ask you to deconstruct the puzzle-box further.

    This is without question one of the most charming things you'll play all year.

    Desert Golfing

    by Captain Games • Get it: iPhone/iPad, Android

    A fascinating exercise in austerity, Desert Golfing this is a game called Desert Golfing is, on its face, the absolute simplest expression of a 2D golf game — what you see above is exactly all the game is. Its cleverness is all hidden behind the curtain — namely, that there is only one golf course, and it runs, as best as anyone can tell, literally forever.

    You don't play, say, different 'sessions' of Desert Golfing, you play one, for your entire life, and it's not until about hole 1000–the point at which it adds your score to the global leaderboard for the first time–that you realize that this is it, this is all you get.

    You can't try to better that score. Not without cheating, anyway. All you can do is keep moving forward, forever. There are people who are currently still playing who have progressed into the tens of thousands of holes–a testament to the understated and masterful controls, if not simply the to the stubborn singlemindedness of the players).

    Without spoiling too much, it's this sort of dreadful existential monotony that makes the rare occasions that the game does throw you a curveball almost the stuff of urban legend — you almost can't believe your eyes.

    Earth Defense Force 2025

    by Sandlot • Get it: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

    This next game, Earth Defense Force 2025 is basically what Space Invaders looks like in the 21st century, and though it's the latest installment in a series that has been kicking around for about a decade now, what's most brilliant about it is how little it's evolved.

    It's a perfect B-movie of a game: you grab two of your favorite guns, lock and load, and dive into Japanese suburbia, where the game's creators then throw at you about 5000 identical, bargain-basement stock-3D-model spiders, or ants, or giant robots, or UFOs.

    That's basically all it is, and it is totally amazing. There is no attempt at a deeper narrative beyond "there are bad things here and we need them dead", there are no convoluted mechanics other than "point your gun at these things and shoot them". It's just a perfect, pure expression of exactly what it wants to be.


    by Kyle Reimergarten • Get it: Windows/Mac

    Next up is a game that instantly became one of my favorites of all time, a tiny, mysterious and alluring little adventure called Fjords, created — in his spare time and on daily ferry work-commutes — by a second-grade teacher from Seattle named Kyle Reimergarten.

    While it vaguely recalls something like an old Commodore 64 game, and plays pretty similarly, and simply, scattered around its world are computer terminals which give you the power to more or less tear the entire game apart, blunt forcing your way through its walls and floors, and allowing you entrance into parts of the game that feel entirely forbidden and almost outside the creator's control.

    It's a game where everything is permitted, and there is no real wrong way to go, and it's just when you finally get a hold on how you can master your surroundings that you realize that, actually, this whole time, it's just been a game about collecting and delivering pizza.

    Side note: this is definitely the first videogame I've ever played where I've been compelled to create my own one-off shower curtain from one of the areas in the game, just to have a little piece of it actually exist in my own world. That's just a tiny taste of how nuts I am for this game.


    by Phosfiend Systems • Get it: Windows, Mac

    Next up is a game of special note to any music or particularly synthesizers nerd out there.

    The premise of FRACT is that you're tossed–head-first and cruelly–into a cold, dead, abstract and nearly entirely silent alien world. Right from the start, it can be a bit impossible to know where you're meant to go, or even if you're pointed in the right direction. With dedicated exploring you'll realize that you're suddenly standing in the middle of a puzzle, and that puzzle–and in fact the entire game–is all about the process of programming synthesizers.

    The entire game is modeled on and controlled by a soft synth, so that as you progress further into bringing the world back to life, it pulses with its own music. By the end of the game, it teaches you more than you might have ever thought you'd know about creating electronic music.

    This is absolutely one of the most challenging games on the list, less for the mechanics of its movement, but more just in how cold and opaque it can be. It also means that when you actually solve one of its puzzles, you feel like an absolute super-genius who's just cracked an alien code.

    Gang Beasts

    by Boneloaf • Get it: Windows/Mac/Linux

    Still in the active process of being developed, but currently available for you to buy now, Gang Beasts has quickly become the star of the show at any live, public play event forward thinking enough to exhibit it throughout 2014.

    It's essentially one of the most realistic fighting games of all time, by which I mean that as opposed to, say, something like Street Fighter, where players pull off almost magical ballets of beautiful moves, the majority of Gang Beasts battles consist of awkwardly grappling, hugging, and rolling around on the floor with your opponents, with a healthy dash of the more death-defying moves that you can see above.

    This is one of the best games this year which have turned combat into an amazing, slapstick spectator sport. It's incredibly funny to play, and just as funny to simply watch other people play.


    by Honeyslug & Richard Hogg • Get it: PS3/PS4/PS Vita

    Just as engaging, but for entirely different reasons, is Hohokum, one of the most zen-like game experiences of the year. Your only goal is to control this snake-like creature you see above, zipping around several handfuls of different worlds, and enjoying nothing more than the ideas of color, and shape, and beautiful music.

    It's also a game about tiny ecologies: places that have a sort of stasis of their own, most of which have been thrown ever so slightly out of balance, and it's up to you to correct that balance just through the act of moving and exploring and touching.

    If you've ever thought videogames were too noisy, too stressful or too chaotic: Hohokum is your antidote, and is undoubtedly one of the best relaxation games of the year.

    Sidenote: created in collaboration with electronic music label Ghostly, Hohokum also sported one of the best soundtracks of the year, available here digitally and on amazing rainbow-spattered vinyl, and also spawned this incredible all-ages art-book Almanac featuring the work of the game's lead visual artist, Richard Hogg. Both are essential artifacts if you find yourself taken with the game.

    How Do You Do It

    by Nina Freeman, Emmett Butler, Jonathan Kittaka & Deckman Coss • Play it: Here

    Next up is a game from one of 2014's brightest up-and-coming names, Nina Freeman, a designer from New York City who more traditionally was schooled in poetry, studying especially vignettes from people like Frank O'Hara, Langston Hughes and Elizabeth Bishop.

    Nina's work now is centered on applying that same vignette sensibility to videogames, with tiny, one-off interactive scenes, and How Do You Do It (created with frequent collaborators Emmett Butler, Jonathan Kittaka and Deckman Coss) is, so far, her best achievement. In it, a pre-adolescent girl works to wrap her head around the mysteries of adult sex before her mom returns home. This naïvely honest scene and vantage point have gone nearly entirely unexplored by all videogames that have come before it.

    What you see above is almost the entirety of the game, and that is exactly all it needs to be.

    Kentucky Route Zero

    by Cardboard Computer • Get it: Windows/Mac/Linux

    Kentucky Route Zero. It's actually an ongoing series of smaller chapters that have been trickling out over the past year or two. This is the new videogame that, when I get drunk, I get annoyingly hand-wavey and ranty about, and try to force everyone I meet to play.

    Like Broken Age, it's another softly-spoken point and click adventure, but here, it's so aesthetically brazen–especially as their own confidence in their methods has increased from release to release–that it's accompanied by this sense that its developers are from a far-future, and have time travelled back to now, dropped this on our laps, and humbly said "this is how storytelling in videogames will eventually work in a few centuries".

    It's at heart a magical realist game that is–so far!–about art, and aging, and bureaucracy, and the broken promise of America, about finding beauty in the mundane and the romance of the open road, and about the ancient technology of the '80s and how early pioneers tried to express themselves with videogames.

    If you only play one game I mention here, please make it this one.

    Sidenote: in between each formal episode, Cardboard Computer have released free interstitial mini-chapters, each expanding on the world and experimenting even more boldly with new forms, to the point where the last, Here And There Along The Echo, can be played by picking up a telephone and dialing (270) 301-5797. Do not miss these additional episodes, nor should you miss The Kentucky Route Zero Guide to Film, a key to understanding the series' theatrical and cinematic influences.


    by Messhof • Get it: Windows/Mac, PS4/PS Vita

    Like Gang Beasts, Messhof's Nidhogg has been a perennial hit at live multiplayer events for the past handful of years now, and was just finally released in early 2014 for wider public consumption. Unlike Gang Beasts, as you can see above, it's fast, balletic and brutal, but also just slapstick funny. It's Keystone Cops Do Fencing.

    Messhof has spent those past few years honing, sharpening and focusing how players move and parry to make it a true tournament-level type game, but at the same time has also done an amazing job at ensuring that the game is super accessible for first-timers, and ultra-clear even just to spectate.

    All you will need is about a minute and a half of playing Nidhogg and you will almost certainly fall in love.

    Monument Valley

    by Ustwo • Get it: iPhone/iPad, Android

    Next up is a game that probably a number of you with iPhones out will already have come across, as it's nearly unanimously been regarded as one of the most visually stunning games to be released this year.

    This is a perfect little jewel-box of a game — a tiny, impossible MC Escher world, super intricately constructed. Once you pick it up it'll almost assuredly be over before you're actually ready to leave — you'll want this to last forever — but it's delightful enough that you'll just be happy you got to spend time in it at all.


    by David OReilly • Get it: iPhone/iPad, Android, Windows/Mac/Linux

    The reason I called Hohokum above one of the most zen-like experiences of the year is entirely because of Mountain, the actual most zen-like game of the year, and the first from animator David OReilly. If you don't know him from his brilliant shorts Please Say Something & The External World, you likely may recognize him as the designer of the hologram-esque videogame played in Spike Jonze's film Her.

    It's difficult to explain what makes Mountain compelling, or what the act of experiencing Mountain is like, and so it may be best to just say:

    You are a mountain. You are born at the beginning, and you spend quite a long time in the middle, alone and mostly just idling, maybe listening to music, or having brief moments of clarity where you delight in the profound beauty of simply existing. At the end, you die.

    If that sort of existential reflection on the human condition sounds interesting to you, grab this especially for your PC or Mac, and just let it sit with you as you go about your day.

    Pale Machine

    by Ben Esposito & Bo En • Play it: Here

    This next one isn't so much a game as it is an interactive music video, but I wanted to be sure to include something by Ben Esposito, who, like Nina Freeman, is another up-and-coming name that I think is one of the best and brightest working in games right now. This is the only thing he released this year.

    Whatever you call it, this is a great example of why I think he's one of the best: a tiny series of scenes that are softly surreal expressions of beauty in the mundane, all of which add up to a lonely day-to-day routine, and reflections on and of the lyrics penned by the song's creator, Bo En.

    Bo En similarly commissioned a handful of other fantastic independent developers to create interactive works for other tracks off his album (find them linked on the left hand side of this page, and the album itself here), but Pale Machine is where you should definitely start.

    Rusty's Real Deal Baseball

    by Nintendo • Get it: Nintendo 3DS

    Another of Nintendo's top releases this year is Rusty's Real Deal Baseball, a charming collection of little baseball-themed minigames–batting, pitching, calling strikes–for the Nintendo 3DS.

    At least, that's all it is on the surface, and even if that was all it was, it would still be a fantastic little album of games, each of which feel incredible and are full of subtle environmental detail.

    But what Rusty's Real Deal Baseball is actually about is this:

    A devastating short story about a middle-aged sports-shop dealer whose best years are very well behind him now, and whose wife has left him with a litter of children he can't even begin to raise himself, especially when he's busy minding his failing business.

    But even that's not entirely what this game is about, because it's also about this:

    It's a game about Nintendo's reluctance to enter into the age of "free to play" games, the kind that cajole you out of money by blocking your progress through gates of inconvenience.

    The base bit of Rusty's is actually free to download, and even your first mini-game is free, but in order to unlock the rest, you'll have to actually support Rusty's shop to the tune of 4 real-world dollars each. Or! Or:

    You can feed Rusty a donut, and be there for him to lean on in his emotional time-of-need, and at that point you can haggle with him relentlessly, until he trusts you enough to give deep discounts to, all against his better judgment.

    This is Nintendo at their smartest and most experimental in a way that they aren't able to as much as I think we'd all like, with fantastic writing and a super clever and totally self-aware framework. As a bonus, all the games themselves are fun to play, too.

    Samurai Gunn

    by Teknopants • Get it: Windows

    Next up is another local-multiplayer game, like Gang Beasts and Nidhogg: this is Samurai Gunn, a sort of dizzying feudal-era brawler where, true to its title, each combatant has a sword and a gun with a stock of only three bullets.

    This is one of the most stylish fighters of the year, and one where all its efforts have gone into perfecting the feel of all your actions, whether reflecting bullets with sword-strikes, or parrying swipes and sending both players careening backward with outrageous force.

    Played at its highest level, this actually feels like cinematic samurai battles, with both opponents holding still, just waiting for the other to strike first and granting an opportunity to move in for the kill. It also works beautifully as a hectic, brutal blur.

    The Space Cowboy Game Jam

    by Various • Browse them all: Here

    Here I'm going to cheat just a bit and lump a ton of games together, and recommend all of the games that were put together for the Space Cowboy Game Jam, an effort I helped lead in order to construct an actual Space Cowboy Arcade in the West Texas desert this summer, alongside the Marfa Film Festival.

    We had an open call for anyone to create a game in around two weeks, and got about 60 games back from around the world, almost all of which were tried to do something unique and amazing.

    The one you see at top is Lunar Teletext, a game about routing messages between Earth and a moon colony, but you can also find a fantastic corgi simulator, a great game about absent, working fathers by the aforementioned Nina Freeman, there's one of the best games I've ever played about boredom called Always Stuck Minding The Store, and a brilliant procedurally-generated game about bounty hunting outlaws called Expat.

    Selfishly, I wanted to put this jam together because I wanted more games that explored that space cowboy vibe–games about 'loneliness, romance, and the void'. Everyone delivered beautifully. I also mention it here because I'd love to see a wider audience grow more comfortable with the idea of playing games like these: pure, raw, tiny gems created sometimes over the course of just a single weekend.

    Even if I hadn't worked on organizing this jam, this would still have been one of my favorite things to happen in games in 2014.


    by Die Gute Fabrik • Get it: PS3/PS4, Windows/Mac/Linux

    As you might have noticed from a number of the entries above, 2014 was a bit of a banner year for independent developers creating games that you bring friends together to play, swimming against the current of the past decade or so, which has established "multiplayer" to mean playing online, with strangers, alone in a darkened room.

    The super-group of developers that put together Sportsfriends have for years been at the vanguard of this idea of creating and championing live events across the globe where people can come together in public and play. All four of the games they've assembled in this collection are some of the best reasons to do so: pole-vaulting team-sport Super Pole Riders, the low-res/high-intensity hockey-esque Hokra, low-gravity ball-brawler BaraBariBall and Johann Sebastian Joust, an extraordinary game about poise and balance.

    Super Time Force

    by Capy • Get it: Windows, Xbox 360, Xbox One

    Next up is a game that is actually every bit as insane to play as it likely looks above.

    At heart, Super Time Force is a game along the lines of old run-and-gun games like Contra, which you may recall from when you were young, but the hitch here is that pretty much everyone you see shooting on the screen above isn't a bunch of different players. They're all you.

    When you die in Super Time Force, or really at any point, at will, you can pause the game to rewind or fast-forward time. You can even rewind all the way back to the beginning of the level and spawn a new version of yourself, which will then fight alongside all of the old versions of yourself that you've already played.

    So even though the odds are nearly insurmountable, the more you die the easier the game gets, as you stack several handfuls of yourself all moving in formation to take out the same target. This may look like a crazy chaotic action game, and it is. But at the same time it is a puzzle, which you work to solve along with yourself.

    Side note: what is harder to convey with screenshots is that Super Time Force is one of the funniest games that's come out this year. It's a neverending stream of great jokes. And, a disclosure: if you think this guy looks sort of familiar: that's definitely not a coincidence.

    Tomodachi Life

    by Nintendo • Get it: Nintendo 3DS

    And finally, the last in this year's list of 20 great games: this is Tomodachi Life, the third out of an really amazing year of first-party games from Nintendo.

    Like Rusty's Real Deal Baseball, this is Nintendo going far out on a super-experimental limb, and creating what amounts to a tiny dollhouse village of people who live in your 3DS. The key here is that ideally, all of the other villagers are cartoon versions of your real-world friends, which you can either create yourself, or trade with your friends who also are playing. You can, for example, add me to your village by scanning this code.

    Then, sort of akin to The Sims, they play out amazing and tragicomic little lives. They have insane dreams, they get into raucous fights, they break up and console each other over coffee, and eventually fall in love and having little monstrous babies that you then send out into the world as hitchhiking teenagers.

    The caveat here is that this game is only really at its best if you have friends that are playing too, but if you do, the dynamic stories that come out of this are some of the best of the year.

    If you'd like to find more even games like the ones above, subscribe to the Venus Patrol Steam Curator page, where you'll find an up-to-date list of all the latest beautiful games added to their store.

    To find more mobile, console, and freely downloadable games like these from 2014 and years prior, flip back through a long-running archive of A Fistful of Indies, a monthly top-ten-ish feature I present live here in Austin, Texas, at meetups of our local independent game collective, JUEGOS RANCHEROS.

    And if you've discovered or created a game you think would make an ace addition to the collection presented here, don't hesitate to get in touch on Twitter!


  • Top iPhone indie game devs partner for charity-driven IndieSale


    In other holiday charity game bundle news: six indie developers are also working together on the IndieSale, a week-long price drop on truly the best original games on the App Store: Canabalt, Eliss, Drop7, Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor, Osmos and Solipskier.

    While they can't quite bundle themselves in the same way as the Humble Indie Bundle, what they have done is collectively dropped their prices to 99 cents for the week, and are tracking sales to donate a full third of the proceeds to the Child's Play charity.

    Like the Humble Bundle, though, they've also added a number of freebie ringtones, soundtracks, wallpapers and extras as incentives, and Canabalt developer Semi Secret, at least, is promising new features for the game if the group can raise at least $10,000.

    To take part, visit IndieSale, or use the App Store links below to get each game (all of which are wholly worthy of collecting-them-all):

    Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor

    Indie iPhone Holiday Sale

  • Humble Indie Bundle 2 adds games from first bundle


    Cory mentioned this campaign when it first launched, but the team behind the charity-driven Humble Indie Bundle 2 — which lets you pay what you like for five top-tier indie games — have now added all six games from this year's previous Indie Bundle, if you donate more than the overall average amount.

    That means that for at least around $7.60 (you choose how much goes to the developers or organizations like EFF and Child's Play), you get eleven games: World of Goo, Aquaria, Gish, Lugaru HD, Penumbra Overture and Samorost 2 from the first bundle, along with newcomers Braid, Cortex Command, Machinarium, Osmos, and the newly released and super-stylized Revenge of the Titans.

    Further unlocks like this are also expected — the Bundlers have also just announced that Titans will go open-source if donations reach $1.75 million in the 2 days remaining in the campaign.

    Click here to contribute! (Humble Indie Bundle 2, illustration by the ever-amazing Nikklas Jansson via Amanita)

  • Shadow play: Sony enters the shadow-game ring with echochrome ii

    It all started — it should be noted — with Steve Swink and Scott Anderson's Shadow Physics, revealed at the Game Developers Conference's Experimental Gameplay Sessions in 2009, and still in production at their upstart studio Enemy Airship (as yet offline, but already with this amazing logo designed by Phil Fish). After that came Lost in Shadow, Hudson's own upcoming fantasy/storybook platforming take on shadow-play.

    And now, spotted very briefly at E3 in Sony's PlayStation Network reel, but now shining in a stronger light on their PlayStation.Blog, is echochrome ii, an upcoming downloadable that'll use the PlayStation Move motion controls as a flashlight to modify the game's cast shadows to solve yet more puzzle/platforming levels.

    Sony's take does, to be fair, appear to be a logical next step from their original optical-illusion puzzler echochrome, but it is a curious case of Hundredth Monkey game design, and will be interesting to see how each makes its own mark as they all come to market.

  • Get These Games (a bit cheaper): Xbox Live Chime, Darwinia, more on sale

    This week's 'Deal of the Week's on Xbox Live contain a few former Games To Get names, including charitable music puzzler Chime (above, truly one of the Xbox 360's top downloadables) and Introversion's Darwinia, alongside another top recommendation, the time-shifting action puzzler Misadventures of P. B. Winterbottom.

    If you've been holding out for whatever reason on any of the above, now's the time to pounce on each.

  • Ambient touch: Hemisphere Games' Osmos due July 8th for iPad

    Above: the first video of multiple IGF award finalist and all around fantastically ambient game Osmos running on the iPad, ahead of its July 8th App Store release date.

    I've been lucky enough to spend the past couple weeks with a pre-release version of the game and it's quickly become one of my iPad favorites. You'll have to reconfigure your brain slightly to adjust to its particular brand of ambient play: though it shares some of the same basic consume-to-consume-more mechanics as something like Katamari, attempting to approach it with the same carefree knockabout spirit is a quick way to instant failure. Instead, you'll need to more slowly and strategically work your way around each level, looking for openings and playing the waiting game.

    Hemisphere have more information on the new additions to the iPad version (and the iPhone version to follow a month later), and, coincidentally, Steam has the PC and Mac version of the game currently on deep discount for a mere $2.50 to give it a whirl ahead of time.

    Osmos for iPad, coming July 8th [Hemisphere]

  • Hulu due for PlayStation 3 in July, Xbox 360 in 2011


    While it might not quite be on artistic par as Europe's score with arthouse film streaming service MUBI, the announcement of Hulu Plus — an ad-supported and subscription based alternative to the current TV streaming service — has also brought word that both the PS3 and Xbox 360 will be getting their own on-dash version.

    The guided tour of the $9.99 per month service notes that the PS3 version will launch in July with full seasons of current programming (full list here), along with full series archives of shows like Buffy, X-Files and Arrested Development (full list of those here, too). An Xbox 360 version will follow after the holidays.

    Currently the service is invite only, with the iPhone and iPad viewers already available as a free download on the App Store.

    Read more about the new service via Hulu's latest blog post, and see the video tour here.

  • Indie Games Festival opens 2011 submissions, adds mobile games


    Finally, I can show off what's been keeping me so preoccupied for the past week (and all morning as well!), as we announce the opening of the 2011 Independent Games Festival and explain all the changes we've prepared for its 13th year.

    Chief amongst those is the addition of a new category for iPhone/iPad, DS, PSP and all other mobile devices (ie. Android), as well as allowing those mobile games to compete in all categories, as handheld games have matured to the point where they can compete with their PC/console counterparts. Previously, those games were confined to the IGF Mobile competition, which is now entirely folded into the main IGF.

    But we've also expanded the focus on art/games, with more finalists in the Nuovo category — a category specifically for more experimental games, like last year's Nuovo winner Tuning (above), from the aforementioned Cactus.

    Over here I've discussed the full list of changes to this year's IGF (including some inside-baseball type changes to the judging system, of interest particularly to indie devs keen to enter). If you're spurred on to enter yourself, all the submission info you need is over here.

    Looking forward to a wicked festival this year, and hope to see your game included!

    2011 Independent Games Festival Opens Submissions, Adds Mobile Category, Expands Experimental Focus [IGF.com]

  • Steam offers deep-discount game sale


    PC (and now Mac!) digital download service Steam has kicked off a site-wide sale offering big discounts on everything from AAA to indie, including bundles like the 'Northern Lights' pack (above) — which includes Crayon Physics, the aforementioned Saira and the excellent UK indie Plain Sight — and the Best of the Underground pack.

    Also of note, all the games from Darwinia creators Introversion are bundled for $5, and even recent releases like BioShock 2 and Borderlands are around half off (and available in their own 2K bundle).

    The Steam store site has the full listing of discounted items, which remain on sale until July 4.

  • Now available: Game Seeds, the card game about game design

    A few months back, I mentioned Game Seeds, the card game created by Utrecht School of the Arts, Monobanda and Metagama to help game designers brainstorm both character design and entire games, by playfully combining their specific mechanics.

    The post quite happily got far more attention than I would've imagined, and (especially after I'd posted that Monobanda had sent me an early deck of the cards) I was a bit deluged with people wondering how they might also get their hands on the Seeds. So I'm happy to report, then, that as of today the decks are now available for worldwide purchase at €10 a deck.

    The team have also put together the ridiculously adorable video above to explain how the system works, and have created a new official Game Seeds site for more information on the project. Let us know if and when you create anything with it!

    Game Seeds [Monobanda]

  • Rock of Ages: a different kind of art game

    While I'm still in the thick of preparing the deluge of words on the good things I did see at this year's E3 (somewhere buried underneath the thick strata of identikit first person shooters were several truly rare shining gems), here's the one game I'm depressed I didn't see: Rock of Ages, the sophomore effort from Chile's ACE Team due for downloadable release in spring 2011.

    At heart a seemingly simple defense-busting action-physics game, ACE Team (the same as behind recently released [and just as fantastically stylized] first-person beat-er Zeno Clash) has upped their own ante and dressed it as a fully realized art-historical world from the Renaissance, Rococo and Gothic eras.

    More information should be shortly forthcoming from publisher Atlus via their teaser site here.

    Rock of Ages [ACE Team]

  • Missed connections: E3 edition


    Via my trusty E3 companion Sarah Brin, the missed connections from this year's Expo, for when you really, truly, honestly thought that booth babe (or bro) only had eyes for you:

    You were the tallest one of them all, armor clad and looking rather delicious. I don't know- I suppose I have a bit of a costume fetish (and video game boys), but wow. You looked astounding in that gear. I can even begin to imagine what you'd look like without it, nor do I really care. All I am sure of is that I really want you. Seriously, haha. Costumed and masked- your identity is safe. Hell, I don't care which Helghast soldier I get. I just want one of you.

    los angeles missed connections classifieds "e3" [craigslist, via Sarah Brin, photo via flickr's ze_bear]

  • Get Zach Gage's 8-bit iPhone dodger Bit Pilot for free

    NYC artist Zach Gage should already be a familiar name both for his accidentally-controversial art/game Lose/Lose (the Space Invaders-alike that deleted a file from your hard drive on every successful kill) and, more recently, Sonic Wire SculptorAmit Pitaru's generative sound app which Gage helped bring to the iPhone.

    As I mentioned in the writeup of the latter, Gage has been quietly released a steady stream of stylishly low-bit apps for the iPhone, among them block-puzzler Unify, audio toy synthPond and Bit Pilot, an 8-bit asteroid dodger with sound design by chiptune artist Sabrepulse.

    If you've been waiting for a good excuse to experience what Gage is all about, your chance has now arrived, as Bit Pilot's been set as a free download for today only — grab it on iTunes here for one of the best tastes of his signature game design aesthetic before the deadline ends.

    Bit Pilot [Zach Gage, iTunes link]

  • E3 2010: first gameplay video of Valve's Portal 2

    Saving you the trouble of coming all the way out to LA, IGN have published off-screen video of the Portal 2 demo Valve's currently demonstrating here at E3. The first gives you a bit of story background — taking place as GlaDOS resurrects herself years after the events of the first game — while the second two below the fold dig further into the new gameplay features, including the "propulsion pudding" paint-gun enhancements added when Valve employed the fresh student indie team behind Tag: The Power of Paint.

    The best part? As always, the hapless turrets and your merciless blanking of them a minute or so in that first video.


  • E3 2010: Rez creators Q? announce Child of Eden

    My new first stop tomorrow when the E3 halls properly open: the Ubisoft booth, hoping to get a closer look at Child of Eden, the new motion-controlled game from Rez creator Q? and Ubisoft.

    Q? have evolved Child of Eden beyond the sharp, vector-line world of Rez to a lush, bio-luminescent seascape, but look to be retaining its tunnel-vision gameplay, now with Kinect and PlayStation Move gesture control. More on this if and when I get my hands on it!

  • E3 2010: the 4 things you need to know about Microsoft's press conference

    newxbox360quarter.jpgMicrosoft were the first to bat at this year's E3 videogame expo, before its official Tuesday opening (following Nintendo and Sony's own presentations), with both the bacchanalia of Sunday night's Cirque du Soleil-headlined event to reveal the final form of its motion-control system now known as Kinect, and with this morning's press conference to show what the next year has in store for their flagship Xbox 360. Here's a quick rundown of what we learned:

    1.) Microsoft are releasing a new, slimmer Xbox 360 model this week.

    The new model, simply being referred to by Microsoft as The New Xbox 360, will be sold at the same $299 pricepoint as the current Xbox 360 Elite, but will increase the hard drive size from 120 to 250 gigs, and come standard with a built-in wi-fi adapter.

    2.) Microsoft are banking on motion-interface Kinect to make the Xbox 360 a new "family console" choice.

    Previously known as Natal, Kinect is a motorized camera and motion sensing bar that adds a controller-free gestural interface to the Xbox 360, due for release in North America on November 4th for a yet-unannounced price. On the console level, Kinect will add both voice and virtual touch controls to the 360's interface, as well as face recognition — selecting your profile amongst the many on your console was demonstrated by simply facing the camera and waving.

  • Hey LA: come see Bit.Trip devs Gaijin at Giant Robot June 14th


    Tomorrow I'll be headed out for week at the yearly-roman-orgy-of-videogames that is E3, and while it's not quite the indie tour-de-force of GDC, there will be a good enough number in town to make for some interesting times.

    Case in point: before the expo properly begins, games-culture shop Attract Mode, Giant Robot and upstart non-profit LA Game Space will be partnering to do a free, public live event with Gaijin Games, creators of yesterday's top recommended game, Bit.Trip Runner.

    The Bit.Trippers will be having their games projected onto Giant Robot's GR2 building itself — as all games should be — and GR.eats (their accompanying restaurant) will be offering a special Bit.Trip menu, as well.

    So, you should come out! It's probably going to be pretty amazing. It'll all be taking place Monday, June 14th, from 7:30-10pm at GR2, 2062 Sawtelle Blvd, and will mark the first of a new bi-monthly series of similar 'Game Night's.

    More information is available via Attract Mode and Gaijin Games. See you there!

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