A little bit ago, I wrote about Glorious Trainwrecks, that site that embraces the messy do what you want” attitude of early indie game development. I mentioned that thecatamites, also known as Stephen Gill Murphy, was a frequent contributor to the site. Alas, if only there was a way his works for the site were in one neat package, it’d be troublesome to find them one-by-one!
Not to worry, 50 Short Games is here!
The 50 Short Games collection popped up on itch.io in 2014, its contents made throughout 2013. What you’re getting with the collection is a program that acts as a launcher for all the games within, along with accompanying notes. 50 Short Games is normally $4, though, I got it during his Disintegrating Commerce Sale for $2. Well, technically speaking, the games are all free, but in this case, you’re supporting the dev, which is good.
The games absolutely embody the spirit of Glorious Trainwrecks, graphics made out of quick drawings slapped together to form short experiences. And those experiences aren’t necessarily the finest quality. In fact, some of them are barely interactive. If you’re expecting something like a minigame collection and not experimental stuff that’s more on the narrative side, I can already say that this is not for you.
In fact, I’m just going to get this off the bat and say that if you have no interest in alt games or thecatamites’ previous works, you won’t like this game. However, as somebody that can appreciate the game design philosophy of “just do whatever the hell you want” and a fan of thecatamites’ stuff, I can and did enjoy it.
Along with the titular 50 Short Games is an html file filled with notes on the games. It’s not exactly a dev log, but it gives context to these games that strangely made me more appreciative of them. In reading these notes, I became aware that some of the stuff I saw in the games weren’t intended. I looked inside Stephen’s kitsch mirror and came back with some nonsense ideas. But maybe that in itself was intended? Well, I can definitely say that these games were at least propped up on ideas and not drugs, like some lazy YouTuber would say.
Below are brief overviews of games and my comments on them. You’ll see some of the ideas I walked away with, playing these games, but perhaps you’ll have a different perspective if you play them yourself.
Criticism Round-Up 2013
The game starts with your character fighting cops like a dashing anti-villain. Fast forward years later and they’re an esteemed game critic talking at GDC, ending their speech by rambling that they’re dead and in hell. I threw this in my favorites because man, that’s what I aspire to be. Thank you, Stephen Gill Murphy, for giving me a vision.
Wrath of the Serpent
A game where two people are arguing while a giant snake revolves above them. I really like the framing of the game, it feels claustrophobic and gives this ouroboros a sense of place. Really, all arguments should have giant snakes hovering above.
One of the longest games in the collection, which doesn’t mean a lot. It’s a goofy take on a character based action story, your ensemble of heroes with different talents ultimately being ineffectual. Like, imagine the Avengers or some other Marvel movie, except its shitty and absolutely revels in it in a way that it works. Like one of those movies, you may not think of it as high cinema, but you can walk away with a sense of fun.
A quick slideshow of an RPG parody shows up before segueing into the creator wanting to work on the next Final Fantasy. Again, I like this because it’s a big mood. Regardless of age, we all sorta think about making our own version on something we like. I remember thinking “I wanna make a Mario game” and making slapdash garbage with Mario level editors on that Mario fangame site when I was younger. Good times.
Nowadays, I’m like thecatamites, yearning to make the next big entry in an RPG series. Except in my case, it’s about Persona. Give me control of Persona, Atlus. I promise that with my power, you can play as both guy and gal protagonists and they can both be gay. I promise that Tartarus/Mementos dungeon garbage will never exist either.
Moppy Returns initially seems like something that’s most like a traditional game, the obvious goal of getting a key to open a door. But alas, as soon as you get close to a key, Dark-Moppy descends from the sky, a drone of dread playing as they approach Moppy.
But… it’s not a bad thing? Moppy is unharmed, but they find themself worrying about their own health. Yet, they urges themself to continue on collecting keys. Dark-Moppy continues to shadow them and Moppy reflects on their health again. It may occur to you that hey, Dark-Moppy isn’t actually hurting Moppy – rather, Dark-Moppy’s trying to get their counterpart to realize their pre-existing issues.
Moppy continues to work while Dark-Moppy tries to warn them that it’s not healthy. It’s not healthy to keep going for the keys, to keep working while in poor health. We all should have a Dark-Moppy shadowing us, warning us to not strain ourselves to the point that the pain becomes unbearable.
Also, there’s crocodiles.
Mashkin Sees It Through
This one’s a Twine game, allowing thecatamites’ to go all in with his writing. Rambling yet eloquent, the story of Mashkin is a vague drama layered with meta drama that becomes straight up nonsense – but enjoyable nonsense.
Pamela’s Adventures in Dreamland
A short linear game about a girl trying to dream. There are plenty of games in the collection that are about dreams or trying to capture the feelings of a dream, but this game also captures the nightmarish sensation of something crawling on you in the middle of the night. All these dang dream simulator games forget about those little moments when you are aware of something outside of REM sleep and I approve of the game’s attempt to create a sensation like that. I hope that new Yume Nikki project is Yume Nikki Except Madotsuki Gets Thirsty Sometimes and Wakes Up to Get a Glass of Water.
I like it because it captures that anxious feeling I get when I hang out with other people. The scrolling, hard-to-read text is like my confused thinking when trying to figure out how to fit in. Just gotta smile, nod and drink until you don’t have to deal with this anymore.
The Quiet Man
A bunch of people gather to watch a movie about The Quiet Man. They then proceed to ignore the values of the film by loudly commentating on his actions. It’s a game that sorta embodies when a movie gets an annoying audience and audiences that ignores the core values of this work (in this case, shutting up). It kinda reminds me of something that went on with my friend on Twitter, who went out to see The Room but unfortunately had to deal with people that were extremely invested in memes.
Those were some of my takeaways. Would you learn something from these games, if anything at all? Maybe you’ll be inspired to just make something, rules of quality be damned. Embrace the trainwreck, become the game maker.