This past year I have been busy working on my own game and finishing up school. In short I had little to no time for new games so I decided to take a look back at some of the games I never got around to in 2016. These are small indie games that tell stories in interesting ways and I believe that there is something to be learned from them. Each of these games are definitely worth taking the time to play at least once.
We Become What We Behold
Developers: Nick Case
Genre(s): Point and Click, Experimental, Comedy
Release Date: October 2016
Playtime: 5 minutes
We Become What We Behold is all about vicious news cycles and the influence that the media has on society. Aimless circle and square characters wander around a TV that is stationed in the middle of the screen, and you play as “the media” taking snapshots of these people and events; which are then displayed on the television. Depending on what is presented to them the circle and square people will react accordingly.
If you take snapshots of events that are considered uninteresting then only crickets will watch the TV and you will be prompted to look for something more interesting. It is the demand for something exciting that forces you to start following people around who “stick out” from the crowd, actively ignoring everything else that goes on. There are several characters with different behaviors that you can take pictures of some of which are peaceful and others violent. In this case, you are to look for conflict. Once you do the game starts to take an interesting turn. Beneath that cute exterior is a dark commentary on the role media plays in creating fear and violence towards those we perceive as being different from one another.
We Become What We Behold is a funny and ironic experience that gets right to the point. Nick Case does an excellent job of getting the player to participate in creating and perpetuating the cycle of fear. It is a short yet powerful game that everyone should take the time to experience.
Highlight: Having the player actively participate in creating fear, panic, and cruelty by having them follow around characters and catch them at their worst moments. It is simple phrases, a few quick snapshots, and your actions are what drive the story.
Play Here: https://ncase.itch.io/wbwwb
The Shadows That Run Alongside Our Car
Platform: Windows, Linux, macOS
Developers: Lox Rain
Genre(s): Role-playing, Visual Novel
Release Date: August 2016
Playtime: 30 minutes
Cost: Name your own price
World War Z a novel by Max Brooks, takes an interesting approach to the zombie apocalypse. Instead of focusing on the madness and gore that is often associated with such media, The Shadows That Run Alongside Out Car takes a much more interesting approach and tells the story through interviews of various survivors of the apocalypse. The stories focus then shifts from the zombies and over to the characters retelling the horrors they lived through; the result is a more human story. Lox Rain did just this with The Shadows That Run Alongside Our Car. You play as one of two characters, Dustin or Shelby, both of which can be renamed; and experience the story through their eyes. The premise is simple enough, stick two strangers in a car together during a zombie apocalypse and see what happens. At first, both of these characters are wary of one another and it is up to you whether or not they will ever truly open up to one another. Depending on which character was chosen you will be able to read their thoughts, often commenting on the person next to them or hinting at something far more sinister, as well as choose dialogue options for them.
The characters facial expression will change depending on your dialogue option, providing vague hints as to what they are thinking; at times this can be misleading other times it is not, either way, it only helps to strengthen the narrative and replay-ability of the game. There are plenty of dark moments highlighted by brief moments of hope, it is the natural dialogue combined with the change of colour palette really help to set the stage for these moments. Overall, for such a small game it has a lot to offer with multiple different endings and dialogue options not to mention polished artwork and sound. This game presents an interesting way to deliver a story that is seldom if ever, used in games. I was pleasantly surprised when I played this game and sorely wish that I had played it sooner.
Highlight: Telling the same story from different perspectives and using body language to convey characters thoughts. Playing as one character makes you inherently interested in the other characters thoughts.
Play Here: https://loxrain.itch.io/shadows
Platform: Windows, Linux, macOS
Developers: Florian Veltman
Genre(s): Walking Simulator
Release Date: April 2016
Playtime: 30 minutes
Cost: $3.99 CAN
When it comes to games telling a story it’s not just about dialogue. Story comes from the way that the world is presented and how the player experiences the world. In a good game the aesthetics, gameplay, and narrative are balanced and come together to create a successful experience, Lieve Oma is one of those games. Veltman has received several awards for Lieve Oma including 2017 IFG Nuovo award; the game is often praised for its beautiful visuals and emotional story. This is a slow-paced game where you walk around the woods collecting mushrooms and conversing with your grandmother.
As you make your way further into the forest it becomes apparent that you really aren’t there to pick mushrooms, in truth you are really there so that your grandmother can talk to you about how you have been struggling to find out where you belong at your new school. As you progress through the game you start to open up to your grandmother, at this point, the timeline begins to change and you find yourself jumping between present and future events. It is in doing this that you are able to see what becomes of the granddaughter you play as, providing a satisfying sense of closure. The objective presented to the player, collecting mushrooms, acts as the catalyst for conversation; it gives the characters common ground and allows the grandmother to approach her granddaughter about what is really going on. This is a clever way to integrate the story with gameplay objectives and having the player actively participate in this story helps with the pacing and allows the grandmother’s true motives to be revealed naturally, showing a sense of wisdom that grandmothers are known for.
All in all, every element in Lieve Oma from the controls to visuals and the music are polished and help support the overall calm tone of the narrative making that much more emotional.
Highlight: The use of mushroom picking gameplay as being the vehicle for conversation, creating an emotionally rich experience.
Download Here: https://vltmn.itch.io/lieve-oma