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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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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…