Day 13 - 10 and Alignment 

Just a few hours left, and then there will be the next Ludum Dare! Although not the oldest and by far not the onliest game jam out there, it most certainly is the biggest online game jam, happening three times a year. Right now you can still vote on the theme – and of course plan to participate. I really recommend it, as doing a game in 48 hours (or less) can be a very interesting experience. Even when you fail, you still tried and will be prepared better next time.

But let's not talk about failure, let's talk about Benn! Benn Powell is a member of the Ludum Dare community since quite some time, and what's so special about him is the nature of his contest entries (among other things, of course). He mostly does very minimalistic games, as minimalistic as games can be. For example, he made at least three games with circles only, two of them even with nothing more than full, single-colored circles (no outlines) only, and yet the games are all very different, memorable and fun to play. Just have a look at his Ludum Dare entries.

I really like his last entry, 10. The theme back in August 2013 was "10 Seconds", and Benn decided to ignore it completely – so there you have it, an abstract 2.5D platformer, only using circles with a single color each. You move around and with Space you jump from platform to platform, just to reach the exit of each level. You might wonder, how is this 2.5D – well, just try the game called 10 for yourself. Looking at the screenshot only won't do it justice.

But just because Benn is in love with two-dimensional shapes only, neatly drawn in Flash, doesn't mean he can't do the 3D. For the 7DFPS, another online game jam (where you create a first-person shooter within a week), he made a game called Alignment, and it pleasantly doesn't involve any guns. Instead, it's a yet again minimalistic Portal-esque game about extruding blocks from the floor and walls. A neat touch in this game are the hand-drawn hints and backgrounds.

Both games are free, by the way. :-)
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Day 12 - The Cat Lady 

I never played as many adventure games as this year. And all of them were extremely good, very unique and everything else but the typical point&click adventure. The Cat Lady is one of them and got me when I first saw the trailer. What a weird and original look! Although the design might look a bit crappy on first sight, the collage style makes the whole game very memorable and full of details, which creates a deep and believable atmosphere.

The Cat Lady begins when the 40-year old Susan is committing suicide. But instead of fading away, she arrives in a surreal place that is confronting her with her own death. There she meets a mysterious old women, who tells her if she kills the five so-called parasites (serial-killers), she will regain her life.

While she encounters these people mostly in unexpected ways, you learn a lot about Susan and a mysterious girl named Mitzi, who moves into Susan's apartment. While Susan is a very depressive and sarcastic women, Mitzi is the lively and funny one, which seems to be a facade that the game is going to deconstruct bit by bit.

The Cat Lady is a game with very strong, expressive characters resulting in dialogues that makes them almost real protagonists, completely supported by voice acting.

Every chapter is full of creativity and nice little ideas like playing a cat, being blind for a short time, the flashbacks that show the character's past, the re-awakening or the surreal drug scenes.

Although I don't like this serial killer stuff and some of the parasites, the psychological depth of the two characters made it for me! One of the very few adult adventures supported by a very diverse soundtrack.

Get the game here.
Watch the trailer here.

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Day 11 - Hammerwatch 

What's not to like about a bunch of heroes of four different professions in a dungeon filled with vile worm creatures and other nasty enemies? Of course, we all heard this kind of story before, and yes, you have to have some kind of nostalgia virus going on to appreciate it fully, but Hammerwatch is worth it to just try it out even when you don't.

We (the same group of four enthusiasts that played Cube World) downloaded the free beta version and were delighted from the start. Hammerwatch has a nice presentation, with optional fullscreen effects for the extra retro feel (like scanlines) and pixelart to drool about it. It also helps that the gameplay is quick, easy and intuitive, and very rewarding, especially when you disable permadeath. ;-) It's delightful to hack'n'slay your way through the well crafted levels – at least in co-op multiplayer mode. I can imagine that the game is a bit dull when you play it alone, but in my opinion Hammerwatch shouldn't be played alone, just like its spiritual precedessor Gauntlet.

Of course, the game has its quirks, as does every other game. For example there is no story at all – you just get thrown in the dungeon, and you have to figure it out for yourself why exactly you want to kill animals and get a lot of loot from barrels. And I'm sure this is fixed in the buyable version, but when we played the game through (the first dungeon), the end boss didn't have any balancing at all, you just needed persistence. On the other side, even when we respawned constantly and endlessly tried to dodge a giant laser, just to decrease the end bosses' health by a laughable 1% each time - it was fun!

What I really want to try out soon is the level editor that is now included even with the free beta version of the game.
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Day 10 - The Sea Will Claim Everything 

Games appeal to me through their style. I care about gameplay and story mostly in second place. And this adventure has a very special and notable art style rare to be found: the children'S book drawings with crayons by Verena Kyratzes.
Together with Jonas Kyratzes and two cats (who seem to be particularly involved into the development for they got their own Twitter account!) they create very personal, political and picturesque adventures. Not in the usual sense, as the graphics are rather static, but in the way of storytelling which is much more evolved and detailed than you might know until you played Kyratzes' games. And they do without the stupid and typical combination of stupid and typical object combinations!
But as every good children's book there slumbers a heavy subtext that is often in contrary to the naive and colourful adventures.

In The Sea Will Claim Everything you play the visitor on the Fortunate Isles, arriving in Underhome. The place where 'The Mysterious Druid' and his fellow creatures live and recently suffered the attack of a hoard of creditors. Although 'The' (it's his forename) never had a credit, Underhome is insolvent. But its not just Underhome's problem only, but of the whole islands surrounding the place. Greed has taken over. People's work isn't worth anything and they got accused for being lazy. And soon you will realize that this story is not about a fantasy island, but a land that appears in the newspapers every day.

But instead of dragging you down with hard facts and numbers, TSWCE achieves to carefully take your hand from humorous, absurd entertainment and mushroom puns to a deep and very personal view on the sad reasons for the economic disaster the Greek people are suffering from.

If you love well-written amusing as well as sad as well as absurd stories with one of the finest soundtracks by Chris Christodoulou I call my own since recently, combined with an unique art style, this is your game!

Get the game here.
Watch the trailer.

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Day 09 - Tolles Spiel III 

TGGC is a fellow German game developer, and he is very humble person. (That's probably why his name means "The Great Game Coder".) He works for Related Designs, which isn't called Related Designs anymore, but they still don't have a new name, so we might want to still call it Related Designs. He worked on a lot of the "Anno" (or "Dawn of Discovery") titles there, and still does it as far as I know. Also, since some months, he irregularly livestreams when he plays German indie games and calls this SpieleKost ("GamesFood").

The Devmania is an annual event in Mainz, Germany, and it is about hobby game development. As the scene became smaller over the years, the event (called "Dusmania" up until five years ago) also lost a lot of visitors, but it still is a highly entertaining and interesting meet-up of individuals with the love for games and development. There are project presentations and talks, but also a game jam. This game jam is the oldest game jam I know, as the first Dusmania happened around 1999 or so, and its game jam always was called The Overnight Contest.

TGGC participated in this contest (and won 1st prize) more than anyone else, and as he is so humble, his games are mostly named "Tolles Spiel" (= "Great Game") from the beginning. In a sense, TGGC is one of my heroes, as I take part in many game jams nowadays.

A game that particularly stood out for me was Tolles Spiel III (Download). It was made in 2006, using sounds and graphics handed out before the contest began (that's the reason why the snakes are skulls and spiders). So yes, it's a bit ugly – but it is pure fun, if you play it against at least 2 or 3 other people. (The problem with single-system multiplayer games of course is that the situation of having 4 people playing a contest game is very unlikely outside of a game jam.) It's a Snake inspired game where not only the players' tails get longer and longer, they also create permanent walls or become faster depending on power-ups. The great fun we all had playtesting "Tolles Spiel III" for hours, while TGGC polished it bit by bit until it was perfect, is one of my fondest memories of any Dus- or Devmania.
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