RE:BIND

Browsing category: Indienoculars

What is the act of play? When presented with a game, is play the participation of the so-called “player” within structures created for them, acting within the choreographed dance laid out before them? Is play the moments in between, where improvisation takes hold, and the unexpected occurs? Is play the times in which you stop clinging to control, to perceived notions of input and action, to simply be within whatever world it is you’ve chosen to delve?

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Hello to you too, friend!

The crisp refreshing taste of a fresh pear hitting your tastebuds, while the winter wind bites your face. Good Morning, Drifters by @lowpolis is an exercise in appreciating the little things and the picturesque memories we make with friends.

With no dialogue choices, linear paths, nor open worlds to explore for mysteries or tragedies, it would be a disservice classify Drifters so crudely as a “walking simulator” when it politely asks you to engage, instead, as a passive observer. It is so often that we find ourselves as passive actors in our own social lives, crippled by the same anxiety that has befallen poor nervous Dandelion. Drifters is a game that emphasizes the connections that you make with people, where activities are framed simply as a delightful backdrop.

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Among the retro-throwbacks of the current indie renaissance, first-person shooters harkening to the golden era of id and Build engine titles are up there as one of the most commonly occurring iterations on a genre. They tend to be an easy format to recreate: hand the player an armory of guns then turn them loose on a labyrinth of gnarled hallways and rooms stuffed to the brim with enemies lying in wait. Varied enemy types are mix-and-matched in myriad hordes thrown at the protagonist, the interplay between their varying tactics forcing you to stay on your toes as you adapt to rapidly changing circumstances.

You have fun twists on the genre with games like STRAFE and Tower of Guns throwing rogue-lite procgen into the mix, or simply hardcore returns to form with something akin to DUSK. There’s bullet-hell injected MOTHERGUNSHIP, as well as arcade styled Devil Daggers. Of course, along with the overwhelming amount of solid titles fleshing out the FPS space, one can explore more experimental takes on ripping and tearing with things such as DRL, which reimagines DOOM as a pure rogue-like experience. Further down that path, there’s modding tool ZKVN which turns the engine into a host for visual novels.

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Unambiguously, I am grateful for this. It wasn’t always this easy, though…

In 2019, to pan for gold in an endless river of free Web-playable Unity releases, one can simply query itch.io. A decade ago, however, there was no such bounty. In fact, in 2008, Unity was only about three years old, and its expansion beyond Mac exclusivity was still fresh in the memories of those who were paying attention at that point. One had to actively seek out releases akin to those that make up today’s cornucopia. Discovery was far less centralised, much as it was for self-released music before Bandcamp made a name for itself (The story of how game soundtracks gave Bandcamp a significant popularity boost is for another time). Back then, it certainly felt as though a larger proportion of discoveries in “neat little games” came by chance, word of mouth, email, or one of many diverse aggregators.

Of course, to be clear, the engine doesn’t strictly matter. Naming Unity is rather: first, to evoke the meta-genre of “neat little games”, by way of the rapid prototyping such platforms permit; second, the setup to a coincidence of microcosmic scale. Unity Web games these days compile to something that can run natively in the browser; back then, it was the now-deprecated Unity Web Player, akin to Flash Player. Enter the “neat little Web-playable Unity game that turns out to be something truly magical”, hailing from a decade before you had a constant stream of that. Enter a path to popularity characteristically idiosyncratic of the era, a game that held top place for a month in, get this, Apple’s Dashboard widgets directory. Enter… Mars Explorer.

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The original Moon Patrol was a 1982 arcade game from Irem, likely best known for introducing parallax scrolling [1]. The player operates a buggy, which drives through a sidescrolling landscape while jumping or shooting from its dual cannons, simultaneously firing above and in front of itself. Between jumping and shooting, the player is equipped to take care of myriad lunar dangers, such as UFOs, boulders, or pits. It’s quite fun (and readily playable to this day anywhere from the Switch to MAME), although, being an arcade game, it’s obviously designed to be hard in a way that extracts maximum coinage from patrons.

Rather unremarkable as a still, though you can see parallax scrolling in action here.

As with many arcade titles of the time, it found its way onto just about every 8-bit home computer, including the Apple II, the Commodore 64, the TI-99/4A, the TRS-80, and even the IBM PC. However, again, just like its arcade contemporaries, every single port was awful. 37 years later, however, thanks to video gaming’s rich culture of nostalgia, it now has a good home computer release! Enter Yok‘s Moon Patrol.

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Long ago, in the era of Netscape and Internet Explorer, I would spend hours surfing the net trying to find any sort of MMO that, A) could run on my brick of a computer, and B) was free. World of Warcraft and Everquest were the biggest thing around, the novelty of online communities uniting so many around common goals. I would pore over articles on Asheron’s Call, Star Wars: Galaxies, Final Fantasy XI, Ragnarok Online… For every game out there, it had another ten beside it, veritable hydras housing universes inside of them.

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In a far-flung future, cyber-laden Vapor Trails from developer sevencrane (@sevencrane) presents a sidescrolling action game oozing with style. Weaving a plot of intrigue and mystery, the player fills the shoes of Val, part of a robotic line known as Valkyries, thrown out to waste away in The Deeps for being too adaptable. Your abilities take you far, though, as you find yourself working your way back to the surface for revenge.

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ARE YOU A RUSHER, OR ARE YOU A DRAGGER?

Haunted Garage from Games for Ghosts is a short prototype still in development, but it’s already a fun little diversion, full of character.

The basic premise thus far is that you pan around a single-area point-and-click environment, looking for characters or artifacts, ultimately in the service of acquiring musical instruments. You then go through the magic door in a free-standing wall, back to your boundless isometric white room, where you set down these instruments and configure them. Some allow you to write a melody. Others are droning instruments where you just select a pitch; others yet are drums, which let you tweak their sound and step-sequence them. They all sync up, and the general course you take is finding one instrument, setting it how you like, and returning to the point-and-click environment, where the means to uncover yet another instrument have just been unlocked. You go back to your room, make your loop a little more interesting with another instrument, then repeat until you’ve found every instrument the game offers thus far.

The instruments themselves sound quite pleasant, although the granularity of sequencing is a little limited if you’re trying to do anything rhythmically complex. Then again, this is just a toy, and a truly charming one at that. Beyond the fun that can be had composing, and nearly anything with a little thought put into it sounding decent since the instruments are almost all in the same key, it’s such a delightful world to poke around on the other side of the door. The way interactable elements animate under your cursor, the strangeness of the conversations and of the characters’ desires for trades, the faint hint of your loop that you can hear coming from the door when you’re outside, and the stylistic contrast between the grayscale “outside” and the stark monochrome “inside” all make for an experience that’s candy for the eyes as much as it is for the ears.

It’s a great little prototype so far, and I look forward to what may come of further iteration. If I had to give one piece of feedback, it would be that it could do with some optimisation, as even natively it has a tendency to lag, which can really suspend disbelief when the animations of the instruments desync from the audio.

To that effect, a point of advice – give the Web version a miss and download the native executable for your platform instead. Even a modern browser on a fast computer can’t help JavaScript to keep up with the audio side of things, and audio is crucial to this lovely little thing.

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Oblique et coupant l’ombre un torrent éclatant
Ruisselait en flots d’or sur la dalle polie
Où les atomes d’ambre au feu se miroitant
Mêlaient leur sarabande à la gymnopédie

Slanting and shadow-cutting a bursting stream
Trickled in gusts of gold on the shiny flagstone
Where the amber atoms in the fire gleaming
Mingled their sarabande with the gymnopaedia.

J. P. Contamine de Latour, Les Antiques.
Excerpt published alongside Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie No. 1.

Modus Interactive has a way with destructive architecture, with digitized runoff and detritus left over from the transmutation of deterritorialized cityscapes. With A Broken City comes yet another imaginative vignette of comfortable desolation, where Satie’s Gymnopédies haunt you distantly as you traverse urban esoterica.

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When I finally encountered Chet, he was a walking demonstration of why you should never skip leg day.

Networking, whether you do it consciously or as a side effect of enduring social work events, is something we’re all familiar with – or at least the concept is. Often seen as a necessary evil, it has routinely demonstrated that it doesn’t have to be so craven. Our complacency with common structural vulgarities like crunch, poor planning, and fearful avoidance slowly and gently acclimates us to unsustainable modes of being. The industry is, and has demonstrated that it is, capable of doing better. When used tactfully, jaded dark humor can be the very signal flare we need to draw our attention to the desperate need for change.

@corpsepile‘s Networking Event Simulator takes that idea and warps it into a deliciously hellish liminal space. One part cynical piss-take on mundane repetition and one part exhausting omnipresence of cookie-cutter social behaviors, it’s a game that puts you in the position of climbing your way to the top through one of the most passive-aggressive sports known to humanity.

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