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Highlights from the DIY Gaming Frontier

Highlights from the DIY Gaming Frontier (photo)

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Thanks to better access to digital tools and improved distribution methods, indie gaming is on the cusp of a potential surge. But that rise won’t come just from established producers out to do their own thing. It’ll also happen because of upstart amateurs whose enthusiasm for gaming and technological talents lead to passion projects created not to reap financial rewards, but to showcase their authors’ skills and push game development into daring new realms of design and social commentary. In other words, the indie game world should be the first place you look when making the argument that games can be art.

One of the best examples of this is the Experimental Gameplay Project, a venture that was begun in 2005 at Carnegie Mellon University by four graduate students who are all now firmly ensconced in the gaming industry. It started as a web competition for gaming innovation, and continues today. The set-up is simple: every month, contributors submit a game (Flash-based, or downloadable to a PC, Mac or mobile platform) based on a given theme, like “Unexperimental Shooter,” “Failure” or “Numbers.”

The only rules are that the game must be made in less than seven days and by only one person, and at the end of the month, a winner is chosen. It’s a straightforward concept that’s led to amazing results, with countless titles that showcase both technical and thematic ambition, and at least a few that are so good that they’ve gone on to moderate mainstream success. The Experimental Gameplay Project heralds a new future of boundary-pushing homemade indie gaming. Here are some of the standout titles worth a highlight and a play.

01142010_Canabalt.jpg“Canabalt”

Adam Saltsman’s “Canabalt” is the definition of gaming simplicity. Produced in five days for EGP’s “Bare Minimum” theme, the black and white game (available as a free Flash web title or as a $2.99 iPhone download) couldn’t be more basic — as a man runs forward on an unknown quest, you hit a single keyboard button (or your iPhone touchscreen) to make him jump over obstacles and from rooftops to billboards to cranes. There’s no storyline and no predictable pattern (the game’s “level” changes every time you play), just the infectious challenge of trying to top your personal best score while enjoying a rocking soundtrack and admiring a host of sweet graphical flourishes (none better than flocks of flying birds). For pure addictiveness, nothing in ’09 topped “Canabalt.”

01142010_EveryDayTheSameDream.jpg“Every Day the Same Dream”

A game in only a loose sense of the term, Paolo Pedercini’s Flash contribution involves maneuvering a faceless figure through a series of daily-grind scenarios (bedroom, kitchen, car, workplace) set to an entrancing musical score that makes the action feel like, as Pedercini puts it, “a playable music video.” As you explores the game’s various workaday scenes, a puzzle begins to emerge, one in which breaking free from monotonous routine reveals a bleak, haunting commentary on the loneliness of the modern human condition and the limited potential for finding true meaning in life. Heady stuff, to be sure! But “Every Day the Same Dream” is anything but a slog, mixing enigmatic gameplay and social inquiry to mesmerizing effect.

01142010_LoseLose.jpg“Lose/Lose”

Zach Gage’s “Lose/Lose” takes its EGP theme — “Failure” — with deadly seriousness, to the point that it should only be played by those brave enough to risk the safety of their digital property. Gage’s title is a “Space Invaders” clone, except that, in the game’s terrifying twist, the alien enemies are actually real files from your hard drive, and when you blast these files in the game, they’re deleted from your computer. For good. Suffice it to say, only the intrepid or insane would actually play Gage’s game. Still, as a sly meditation on cultural reliance on technology (for practical purposes and for identity definition), it’s a one-of-a-kind work.

01142010MinMe.jpg“MinMe”

An iPhone title with “Tetris”-like appeal, Chaim Gingold’s “MinMe” is a puzzle game made for the “Bare Minimum” theme in just one and a half days that requires you to collapse tiles until the playing field grid is empty. No fancy graphics or music accompany this strategy-based title, but as a portable brainteaser, it’s a winner — even more so now that Gingold has expanded the game from its original, easyish ten levels to include an additional 50 increasingly difficult boards available via in-app purchasing.

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Inauguration Alternative

Bill Murray On Repeat

It's a movie "Murray-thon" all-day Friday on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs courtesy of GIPHY

Democrats, Republicans and Millennials agree: 2017 is shaping up to be a spectacle — a spectacle that really kicks into high gear this Friday with the presidential inauguration. Not only will the new POTUS swear in, but all the Country’s highest offices will be filled. It’s a daunting prospect, and to feel a little anxious about it is only normal. But if your anxiety is snowballing into panic, we have a solution:
Bill Murray.

He’s the human embodiment of a mental “Happy Place”, and there’s really no problem he can’t solve. So, with that in mind, how about we all set aside reality for a moment and let Bill take the pain away by imagining a top-shelf White House cabinet filled exclusively by his signature characters. Here are a few hypothetical appointments for your consideration…

Secretary of Defense:
Bill Murray from Stripes

His incompetence is balanced by charm, and dumb luck is inexplicably on his side. America could do worse.

Secretary of State:
Bill Murray from Lost In Translation

A seasoned globetrotter steeped in regional traditions who has the respect of the whole wide world. And he kills Costello in karaoke, which is very important.

Press Secretary:
Bill Murray from Ghostbusters

“Cats and dogs, living together. Mass hysteria.” Dude knows how to brief a room.

Secretary of Health and Human Services:
Bill Murray from What About Bob.

A doctor-approved people person who knows that progress is measured in baby steps.

Secretary of Energy:
Bill Murray from Groundhog Day

Let’s be honest, this world is going to need a lot of do-overs.

Feeling better? Hold on to that bliss. And enjoy a healthy alternative to the inauguration brouhaha with multiple Murrays all Friday long in an IFC movie marathon including Kingpin, Zombieland, Ghostbusters, and Ghostbusters II.

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Home Run

Hank Azaria Gets Thrown A Curve Ball

Brockmire Premieres April 5 at 10P

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Unless you’ve somehow missed every episode of the Simpsons since 1989, then surely you know that Hank Azaria is one of the most important character actors of our time. He’s so prolific and his voice is so dynamic that he’s responsible for more iconic personalities than most folks realize. Basically, he’s the great and powerful Oz — except that when you pull back the curtain the truth is actually more impressive. And now Hank is coming to IFC to bring yet another character to the TV pop culture hive mind in the new series Brockmire. Check out the trailer below.

Based on the following Funny or Die short and co-starring Amanda Peet, Brockmire follows the story of imploded major league sportscaster Jim Brockmire as he tries to resurrect his career by calling plays for a floundering minor league team in a podunk town.

The series is written by Joel Church-Cooper (Undateable) and produced by Funny or Die’s Mike Farah and Joe Farrell, meaning that there’s funny in front of the camera, funny behind the camera–funny all around. Sounds like a ball to us.

Brockmire premieres April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Car Notes

Portlandia On People Who Can’t Park

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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If flagrant bad parking takes nerve, then retaliatory note writing takes neuroses. Watch Fred and Carrie take passive aggression to next level in Car Notes, the new Portlandia web series presented by Subaru. The first episode is yours right here and now, and you can see every installment of Car Notes anytime online, on the IFC app and on demand.

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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