The end of the year means the usual deluge of “Best of 2011” lists, most of which are best avoided outright. Of course, such general rules always have exceptions, and one such exception is the “best songs of the year” list that Said The Gramophone, a music blog more indie than Indie Rock Pete (pictured on the right), has been compiling since 2005.
I’ve been spending summer playing a couple of Xbox 360 games situated in dark nightmare worlds. One is Microsoft Studios’ and Remedy’s Alan Wake, which could be described as an homage to Stephen King (so much so that they name-drop him in the opening credits); the other is Limbo, an Xbox Live Arcade game:
Calling Limbo a “2-D side-scroller game” does it as much injustice as referring to Red Dead Redemption as “a cowboy third-person shooter”. Limbo is the most gorgeous and haunting side-scroller I’ve ever played.
The world of Limbo is a monochromatic one, shrouded in gloom and fog and nothing but the game itself. The screenshot below shows what the game actually looks like while you’re playing:
No heads-up display, score or distractions of any kind: it’s just you and Limbo’s world. The controls are minimal – you just use the left thumbstick to move, the A button to jump and the B button to perform actions on things (typically push or pull objects). Where Limbo goes deep is gameplay – this game really sucks you in.
You control your character, a young boy who wakes up in a dark forest, with no idea what’s going on. There’s no opening cinematic, no explanatory text, no little pop-up hints, but somehow the game manages to convey a sense of what to do next solely through the way the game reacts to your actions. The developers, Playdead – an indie game dev shop in Copenhagen – did an amazing job in programming Limbo to communicate just through gameplay.
With its black-and-white graphics, smooth animation, minimal sound (you only hear things you need to hear) and the many, many ghoulish ways your character will die as you learn to navigate the game’s many deadly puzzles and traps, Limbo feels like the sort of ghastly-but-addictive game that Edward Gorey might have conjured up, had he decided to take up programming rather than becoming an illustrator.
Limbo may just be the best Xbox Live Arcade game ever released, and I suspect it’ll be in my “Top 5” for 2010. If you’re looking for a stand-out game for your Xbox 360, Limbo is well worth the 1200 Microsoft Points.
To connect game makers with each other and with an audience, offline
To foster diversity in game creation and public perception of games
I shouldn’t be surprised that one of the people behind the Hand Eye Society is Jim Munroe. He’s a former Adbusters editor turned self-publishing author of a number of enjoyable science fiction books such Flyboy Action Hero Comes with Gasmask and Angry Young Spaceman, developer of indie games including the interactive fiction piece Punk Points (the online version requires Java), maker of movies and all-round Toronto DIY-espousing creative type.
Also connected with the Hand Eye Society are other indie videogame notables including:
At 8:00 p.m. special guest dignitary Brandon Boyer, Chairman of the Independent Games Festival and contributing editor for Boing Boing and Boing Boing’s games blog Offworld, will, as the Hand Eye Society’s blog puts it, “deliver some form of immensely significant communication to the assembled videogame creators, enthusiasts, organizers & slack-jawed onlookers.”
If I weren’t going to be in Montreal that evening for the Make Web Not War conference, I’d most certainly at this event (I’ll definitely catch the next social). If you’re in Toronto and love videogames (especially ones that break from the mainstream) and especially if you love making them, catch the Hand Eye Society’s social this Thursday!