“What is a game?” “What should be counted as a game?” Questions such as this have been seen all over games discourse for the past several years, especially with the emergence of “walking simulator” games.
But today, I pose a related question: “what makes up a game?” Is a game, no matter how you define it, made in a studio of hundreds with state of the art technology? Does each individual aspect of a game need to have meaning, does it have to be fun, does it all have to have hours of effort?
The Glorious Trainwrecks site materialized into existence on April 25th, 2007. Its founder, SpindleyQ, whose current avatar is a glitchy astronaut, descended from space to declare their mission of “[GETTING] DOWN TO WRECKING TRAINS.” The home page of the site so proudly declares:
“Glorious Trainwrecks is about bringing back the spirit of postcardware, circa 1993. It’s about throwing a bunch of random crap into your game and keeping whatever sticks.”
Postcardware was a spin-off of the shareware model seen in the early gaming industry, when most efforts were independent and not ruled by soul-sucking megacorps. The difference between this and shareware is that creators asked to be sent postcards in return. A notable example is Thomas Biskup, of Ancient Domains of Mystery, who collects postcards and appreciates them.
Shareware was a form of software distribution used to get around dealing with retail space and other middlemen standing between developers and gamers. People were given either a full game or a portion of a full game and were encouraged to share it among friends. If people wanted to get sequels or more content, they can directly pay the game’s creator for them, the free offerings making a good case for purchasing. Games like Jazz Jackrabbit and Doom were among the popular shareware offerings. Nowadays, shareware is pretty much nonexistent, now that there’s plenty of room in retail for games and online distribution sites giving space for smaller games that would have been ripe for shareware.
But, Glorious Trainwrecks isn’t about the success stories like Doom or ADOM. It’s about the smaller things. It’s about the days of young amateur developers making something for the sake of making something and sharing it with friends. It’s about floppy discs sent to local homes to show off messy yet passionate creations. It’s about the jamming together of assets ripped from other games to create a game collage. Glorious Trainwrecks is about recreating all of this, from the experimentation to the reckless design philosophy of “just doing whatever the fuck you want,” tied together by a small community.
As a site that encourages just doing whatever, there’s an awful lot of variety, both in content and how the content is produced. Klik n’ Play, the earliest product by Clickteam (aka, the Multimedia Fusion people), is a heavily favored engine, especially in the early days of the site, being an early game engine that was easily accessible to hobbyists. Nowadays, Twine is a comparatively popular engine, due to its accessibility.
It doesn’t even have to just be about making a fresh game, but making stuff within other games. Knytt Stories is a common avenue of creation, with a few jams for making levels. The site even had a few game jams dedicated to cranking out content on WarioWare D.I.Y., that WarioWare game where you can make your own minigames.
(As an aside, holy shit, Nintendo must hate money, because they haven’t made a sequel to this yet.)
For fans of Space Funeral and Magic Wand, you’ll be happy to see that thecatamites was a common contributor to the site. Which honestly isn’t surprising if you’re familiar with Space Funeral‘s stylings. In fact, his 50 Short Games collection is the amalgamation of a whole bunch of stuff he cranked out. If you’re familiar with his work, consider him a gateway to this site.
Do not stop at the guy you may already be familiar with, because there’s a treasure trove of content to see. Original works? You got it. Fangames? Absolutely. Content crafted from original sprites, sprites ripped from pre-existing games, hasty MS Paint drawings, scanned physical art, collages of old art, all permeate the site, a digital monument to old independent game development.
While the site’s last news post is months old, there’s still some regular activity on the site, especially if you’re looking at the game submission feed. What of the quality of all these games? Who cares? Glorious Trainwrecks is a bastion of experimentation, of doing whatever, and it’s creative confidence that’s inspiring to see.