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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

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The State of Independence #5

The Indie scene, from life in Slough to death by skin-shedding.

It's a lesson that took me ages to learn: Life is a hell of a lot easier when you're having sex with a beautiful woman.

Or that was what I was planning on starting my first Indie games column in ages with, before segueing into an examination of Postiech's recent Sims-as-reinvented-through-a-Princess-Maker lens game. Alas I'm told that the mysterious Egon Superb has actually bagsied a full review of it, so I'll just mention that it made me realise a dark truth of gaming ("That sometimes watching a number getting bigger is enough") and point you in the direction of the demo for a slice of life in Slough.

While we're talking of slicing [Fired - Ed], Bay 12 Games' Dwarf Fortress is the most violent rogue-like game I've ever played. Rather than curt combat messages, combat is described in detailed blow-by-blow accounts of exactly which implement punctured which internal organ. Characters vomit, fall to the floor, get torn into individual chunks. Hell, my character ended up fighting a cow and left entrails over a three-by-three square. I've never seen ASCII as red before.

Dwarf Fortress also has a hell of a lot more going for it than just being the Soldier of Fortune of the open-source world. If you're a frequenter of internet forums, have a glance around. Chances are, there's a thread on it devoted to Dwarf Fortress already, as its hype wave is picking up. While freely available for download and highly playable, it's still in Alpha. This is a chance to get into something early.

Horses go clipppy-clop. Cyclops don't. Poets cry.

The Rogue-like adventure mode will be familiar to anyone who's had an addiction to Nethack or Zangband, though includes some interesting twists - like the Wrestling skill, which allows you to grapple individual parts of the body, before applying throws or breaking bones. Where it's most developed is the actual Dwarf Fortress mode, which works like a cross between Dungeon Keeper and the Sims. With (er) Dwarfs.

With seven starting tiny-fellas, each with their own personalities, you have to build a sprawling underground community, wrestling with the vagaries of tunnelling, goblinoid invasions and trying to remember what a purple "U" means. Obviously, the biggest hurdle anyone faces is getting used to a game where letters and numbers are used to symbolise everything, but if you're willing to make the leap of faith then Dwarf Fortress will reward you.

(And if you need help making the jump, there's a wiki.)

It'll reward you not just by challenges, but by some of the strangest anecdotes you'll ever hear. I still can't believe the forum post I read about the psychotic, incredibly-skilled leather-crafting dwarf who killed one of his peers after a particularly dark mood took him. Two days later a pair of dwarf-skin boots shows up in the storeroom...


Seriously, if you don't want to download it after that particular story, I'm not entirely sure you're on the right website.

It just came off in my hands, officer.

If you insist on your ultraviolence to look like it came from this decade rather than some prehistoric land where typewriters stalk the Earth, then you should be directed at the absolutely unique strategy/decapitation game Toribash. Manipulate the joints of a doll to kick the living nature of a fellow doll. Download it and just play some of the demo files of bouts that are possible. Be prepared to gape. Seeing a character tear off his own arm and throw it at his enemy or limbs torn from the parent body still grasping onto the head of a foe, and the spasming of the limbs continuing the pummelling... well, it's quite the thing.

Despite its appearances, it's actually a slow moving strategy game rather than a traditional fighting game. You've given control over each muscle in the skeleton's body, allowing you to decide whether it should rotate, contract or whatever at any moment, before letting time progress a little to see the results, then altering it. Trying to work out which series of muscles should flex to make your character perform a spinning kick with enough force to bisect your opposing Tori-fella's torso is a unique and gruesome challenge. The developers are currently accepting pre-orders for their more capable Toribash v2.0 on their site too, which promises more developed modding capabilities.

If both Dwarf Fortress and Toribash require a little too much from the grey matter to get to the red matter, since it's been a while since we've talked indie games, there's a couple of indie shooters from notable subjects which are worth your attention. Firstly, Ray Hound, the latest game by Hikoza, the gentleman behind the all-time-indie-death game Warning Forever. In fact, describing it as a shooter is kinda deceptive: your ship can't fire. However, being equipped with a shield, you're able to reflect any laser beams which are fired at you away at something else. Purely mouse-driven, with a flick of the wrist used to activate your deflecting capabilities, it fits into twitch-based shooting's martial-arts as a direct equivalent to Akido. Currently available in a pre 1.0 state, what it lacks in sound effects it more... than... makes... up... in... game... play.

Death Disco.

Sorry. Had a Sinclair User flashback.

Also on the big-name indie-shooter game, Kenta "ABA games" Cho's Mu-cade has been out for a few months now, and is another example of his distinctive formalist remixing of genre versus crystalline-attack-sperm. It's a closed arena shooter which is essentially a conceptual collision between Worm, Geometry Wars and the ancient art of Sumo. You play a crystalline-attack sperm, whose tail grows with his (or hers - gender isn't specified) success like some rampant tapeworm. Shots don't actually kill anything, but knock back the targets towards the chasm at the edge of the arena. Send them flying into space, and you win. All the while the masses of hostile crystalline-attack sperm are trying to do the same to you. And as far as game concepts go, you can't get much purer.

And before I leave, probably a time to plug the two indie multiplayer games I'm playing between my adventures among the little people. Firstly, I've got advance code of Introversion's Defcon and am taking great pleasure in absolutely annihilating John Walker. Secondly, Naked War where I'm taking great pleasure at absolutely thrashing Dave "Taurus" McCarthy.

Taurus' review of the latter will be on a site very much like this one shortly. My review of Defcon will be up in a few weeks. Further elaboration on their merits will be postponed until then. For now, let's just leave it at the basic fact that I'm much better than both Walker and Taurus.

Seriously, Eurogamer wouldn't publish it if it wasn't true.