[NetBehaviour] Sometimes There Is a Free Lunch
marc.garrett at furtherfield.org
Sat Feb 4 14:06:53 CET 2006
Sometimes There Is a Free Lunch (Wired).
Commentary by Clive Thompson.
Has gameplay innovation ground to a halt? Surf the aisles of your local
game store, and you'd suspect that game publishers kinda given up. It's
always the same tired play mechanics, over and over. Shoot the bad guys
while avoiding flying lead. Level up your character in an online world.
Drive like hell in a souped-up rig. Match the pretty colors in a puzzle.
Obviously, part of this endless looping is that success works: Like
backgammon or baseball, these tropes appear to stand the test of time.
But it's also the curse of genre. With games costing millions to develop
these days, few publishers are willing to risk serious bling on some
weird new style of play that might fail.
If you really want to see innovation, there's only one place to go: Off
the grid. You have to find game designers who actively opt out of the
market -- by producing indie games they give away for free online. These
days, this subculture is happily thriving, fed by game-school grads and
underemployed programmers who, like indie musicians, crave to break out
of old boxes and want to get as huge an audience as possible.
Want proof? Here's a short -- and totally idiosyncratic -- list of some
of my favorite free games, each of which innovate one thing cool and new:
Strange Attractors: Are you sick of games that create faux complexity by
forcing you to learn hundreds of button combinations? The designers of
Strange Attractors went in the radically opposite direction: They use
one single button -- the space bar -- to control the action. Your goal
is to maneuver a little craft through free-floating space by using the
button to activate and de-activate "gravity", drawing yourself towards
larger objects. It's like navigating a NASA probe by slingshotting it
around celestial objects. The lesson here? Super-simple control schemes
strip twitch gameplay down to its pure essence: Raw, gorgeous physics.
If you like this conceit, there's a world of other free "one switch"
games out there waiting for you.
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