I’ve been chipping in for the Humble Bundles recently – the pay-what-you-like for charity independent games compilations. It’s a nice way to pay something to some very worthwhile charities (EFF and Child’s Play) and get some very interesting and unique independently-developed games as well. This time it caught my eye for a couple of reasons, both involving games that aren’t really games, depending on your definition.
Dear Esther is an atmospheric, possibly creepy (I haven’t played it yet) storytelling-through-exploration game, with an apparently very beautiful and realistic game world. You wander an island, find clues, and get a sense of what happened, but there are no goals, puzzles, or other characters. Proteus is similar, but even more abstract. The landscape is totally different from Dear Esther – it’s rendered in a kind of 8-bit pastorality – but the gameplay (if you can call it that, and I’m going to say you can) is similar. In fact, there is no story to follow, you’re just experiencing the landscape, as the sun crosses the sky and sets, the stars come out, and the standing stones start hooting. The difference in the music is similar. Dear Esther has a haunting suite with strings and piano, Proteus has a generated electronic score that varies depending on where you are, and what is nearby.
I bought the bundle, but I’ve ended up playing another one of the games more than the others: Capsized, a 2D side-scrolling run-and-gun game which feels very similar to one of my favourite flash games, Zombotron (and Zombotron 2), thanks to its controls, physics, and hand-drawn graphical charm. While running around, using my gravity gun to throw rocks at the natives, and shooting at buzzing balloons with claws intent on carrying me away, I realised that the music was really good. I remembered that the Humble Bundle folks make a point of including the music from some of the games, so I checked the website, and saw that Capsized‘s music is basically a whole album from electronic psych-ambient Scandinavians Solar Fields. Their album Movements is eleven tracks of sweeping lushness which reminds me of William Orbit or Ulrich Schnauss, with some beats dropping at just the right moments. It blends really well with the game’s premise of being marooned on an amazingly detailed alien world. Here’s Das Bungalow, which comes in handy when trying to collect energy cells in the low-grav highlands, swinging between sentient balloons on your electro-grapple.