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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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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

E.coli-class-

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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