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Free and Indie - That's a Game Combination That Can't Be Beat

by: Dabe ; edited by: Michael Hartman ; updated: 4/17/2012 • Leave a comment

As the industry grows, so too do the hobbyist's willingness to enter it. This leads to tech demos, student projects & independent games being released by many hopeful future game designers. Our list tries to whittle down the plethora of indie games into a comparably short list of the best available.

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    A surge in independent development coupled with the growing popularity of the gaming medium has created a vast culture of new free indie games on the PC platform. Often the quality of these releases is nothing short of a tech demo or student project, however there are some free indie games that rise above this paradigm, through intelligent design or a contrite spark of inspiration in its developers. This list will provide a selection of the best free indie games currently available for the PC format. Read on for the full list, with this first page charting numbers 10 through 6.

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    #10 - Digital: A Love Story

    Indie 011   This text based interactive novel takes players back to the fledgling days of the internet. In it, players make online friends via BBS message boards and learn ways to exploit the new system. With a penetrating story and some referential treatment, Digital: A Love Story is a great free indie game to play over the course of one or two hour long sittings.

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    #9 - Within A Deep Forest

    Indie 012   Thematically similar to A Boy and His Blob, Within A Deep Forest affords players the control of a malleable ball shape, circumnavigating or completing puzzles with its context sensitive usage. A small palette and minimalist style help this Nicklas Nygren game to rise above other 2D sidescrollers. In addition to this pick, the Knytt series of games by the same developer, provides an aesthetically similar and as rewarding experience.

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    #8 - Warning Forever - Free Indies Games Pick

    Indie 013   Warning Forever is a shoot ‘em up that utilises emergent AI and constantly evolving enemies. Once defeated, the boss characters or ships will evolve to their next stage, taking into account how they were previously defeated and subsequently defending against player usage of the same strategies as before. This intelligent counterpart makes Warning Forever a game that doesn’t truly end, instead changing dynamically based on how the player defeats the previous bosses -- this makes for a great innovation.

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    #7 - Gravity Bone

    Indie 014   A short spy-thriller set in the first person and played through a heavily modified Quake 2 engine, Gravity Bone takes players on a short but profound journey across its twenty or so minutes of play-time. Blendogames, the erstwhile developers, have a plethora of great free indie games on their website that can satiate any further desire for their own particular quirky and imaginative style.

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    #6 - Gravitation - Free Indie Games Release

    Indie 015   The first of two Jason Rohrer games on this list. As previously discussed in the Sleep Is Death review, his games often indelibly reinforce emotive concepts through their gameplay mechanics, with Gravitation being no different. Themes such as loss, love & coping with a day-to-day existence are all present in this game, which furthers the idea of games as an art form and tries not to pander to the idea of shooting or adversarial combat mechanics in the medium.

    The benefit of critical thought or analysis when dealing with games is often overlooked when dealing with the impact of mechanics on the overall narratology inherent to the experience. Gravitation -- and the other Rohrer game found on page two -- both reinforce their interpretation through the mechanics, which is a sign of mature, intelligent game design.

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    #5 - Transcendence - Free Indie PC Games Choice

    Indie 016   We’ve already discussed the potential of emergence with previous free indie PC games pick Warning Forever. Transcendence however, takes this idea to a whole new level of procedural generation, by creating an entire dynamically charged galaxy for your exploration. A game that took near fifteen years to make, players are set with the task of finding the galaxy’s core, in a quest spanning hundreds of planets and ever-changing story elements. The idea of individualisation when it comes to the experience of a video game is sought by many developers -- see Heavy Rain or The Elder Scrolls series -- and none do it better than Transcendence.

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    #4 - Cave Story

    Indie 017   When it comes to creating free indie PC games, a 2D adventure is often the first port of call for potential game designers, which leads to a platform game saturation in the indie market. Few will rise above this abundance of titles and fewer still will reach the acclaim of Cave Story. Although tropes such as a silent protagonist who has amnesia or the evil Doctor adversary may sound slightly derivative, the game manifests a stunning story with amazing depth in both its difficult traversal elements and characters. The popularity of this 2004 Japanese made game also led to a Wii release in 2010.

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    #3 - Chzo Mythos - Free Indie PC Games

    Indie 018   This pick incorporates four separate games, all made by Ben “Yahtzee" Croshaw, of Zero Punctuation fame. In chronological order the games are 5 Days a Stranger, 7 Days A Skeptic, Trilby’s Notes and finally 6 Days a Stranger. Furthermore, Trilby: The Art of Theft is a prequel of sorts to the first game. The games are point-and-click adventure in style while thematically sharing similarities with older adventure titles such as Beneath A Steel Sky or Monkey Island. Expect some fruitful humor and intriguing plot from this exceptional free indie PC game.

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    #2 - Passage

    Indie 019   The second and final Jason Rohrer game to make this list. Passage has players travel through the life cycle of a man, as he battles with love, jobs, time management and regret. It may only last between 5-10 minutes or so, but the emotive nature of the game -- in a similar style to Gravitation -- transcends the actual time spent with it. There isn’t really much to say about this game other than play it and think about it afterwards.

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    #1 - Dwarf Fortress

    Indie 020   A running theme in this list has been on either mechanical interpretation of emotion or meaning and the use of emergent & procedurally generated game worlds. Dwarf Fortress takes both of these elements to a new level of detail and role playing. Building a fortress -- deep into a mountain-side or somewhere equally well-fortified is always a bonus -- you control a settlement of Dwarves as they battle the oft times harsh & unforgiving world around you.

    Although the code page 437 interface and mammoth difficulty curve may put some off, reaching the summit of this game and triumphing in creating a viable society is one of the greatest gaming experiences you can have. Also, there is no harm in being destroyed or watching the slaughter of your dwarves, as its part of the game’s crushing difficulty that this will eventual happen.