Indie Hell Zone – Game of the Year 2018!!

Gamers! Gamers. Gamers…. welcome. It’s that time of year where video game blogs put out their lists of their top games of the year. Whether it’s to validate the the opinions of readers or to sincerely show appreciation for the things they like, these lists are one of the Video Game Outlet Traditions.

Last year, my article was mainly nonsense because in the end, Indie Hell Zone is a one-person joint and that one person goes to school, has a horrible job and wants to work on their own games, so experiences were limited. This year, instead of letting my dumb ass be the judge, jury and executioner, I put the role into the hands of you, the people, since there’s no way I can play everything. Of course, considering the scope of this blog, only indie games that were made or had a substantial update this year were valid to be voted on.

And so, let’s get to it. For these categories, I will also put which games won second and third place – you’ll understand why. All screenshots are mine unless stated otherwise.

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Plug & Play and Games & YouTube

Plug & Play 9_16_2018 11_23_11 AM

Plug & Play is a game by Michael Frei and Mario von Rickenbach, based off of a short film the former did that can be watched here. “Based off of” might be the wrong phrase, though, as the game is essentially an interactive version of the film.

Plug & Play is about connections, whether they’re created or severed. Humanoid creatures with plugs and sockets for heads interact, trying to find love sometimes, other times acting hostile to each other. The interactive nature adds a layer to the game’s themes that the animation lacks, with you acting as a facilitator, a matchmaker in a weird world.

…After playing this, I realized that I’d have a hard time writing about this. This is mainly because the game is pretty much 10 minutes long. To go in-depth would ruin your own experience playing it. In fact, by linking the short film, I fear that you’d be turned away from the game to watch the film, since you’re essentially getting the same takeaways.

But that line of thinking led me to thinking about people watching other people play this and YouTube in general.

Plug & Play, even if it wasn’t intended to be, is YouTube let’s player bait. It’s got the bizarre imagery for people to react to, it has that subtle horror atmosphere for them to be comically scared by. Look the game up on YouTube and you’re guaranteed to get a bunch of thumbnails of let’s players in full “what the hell is this” mode (as well as videos for plug and play consoles).


Let’s plays normally act as advertisements for games to a let’s player’s audience, but, when it comes to linear narrative games, it might be a different story. With games focused entirely on narrative and nothing else to engage with, potential players might instead turn to watch a playthrough. This became a sore point for the developers of That Dragon, Cancer, who felt that let’s plays hurt the game’s profitability, believing that many are satisfied merely watching a let’s play than getting the game and experiencing it for themselves. Looking Plug & Play up on YouTube, you can see videos on that game having millions of views (like Markiplier, above) – but you can probably guess that actual sales are less than one percent of the views for a single video.

Another thing that I feel works against games like Plug & Play is Steam’s refund policy. The policy, if you don’t already know, allows people to refund games if they’ve played for less than 2 hours. While this policy lets people demo big games, the policy gets abused when it comes to shorter games. This sort of thing infamously cropped up with the narrative game Firewatch, with people abusing the game’s short length to finish it and get refunds – even if they enjoyed it. Of course, with Plug & Play being about ten minutes long, it’s easily suspect to being refunded, another potential victim of the value of games being cheapened.

Reading through this, you might be wondering: is the game worth it, do I think it’s worth it? Well, Plug & Play is inexpensive and I do think it’s interesting. However, ignoring the let’s plays that easily show off the entire game, there’s the fact that simply watching the original short movie cheapens your personal experience with the game.

But that led me to thinking: has the original animator seen money for the original Plug & Play animation? It was acclaimed, yes, but did he ever get financial gain from it? Surely, he could put the short film up on YouTube and rake in views from crowds interested in this kind of stuff.

However, back on the subject of YouTube screwing people over, there’s little appreciation for animators. The Algorithm(TM) favors videos with long watch times, which puts animators at a disadvantage, as long videos mean way more work for them. Changes in YouTube monetization at the beginning of the year didn’t help things either, only allowing channels to be monetized if a collective of 4000 hours was watched within 12 months. Chances are, the only animators that can see success in this system were already successful to begin with.

The way I see it, the game adaptation provides an avenue for the animation to be supported, exposing it to new audiences that might otherwise not have seen it. According to Steam Spy statistics, Plug & Play is owned by 100,000 – 200,000 users, which is still respectable, even if there’s a huge disparity between that and YouTube views on videos of Plug & Play. Of course, it helps that it was previously part of a Humble Bundle and it is still pretty cheap – and come on, you’d have to be pretty stingy to refund $3.

Plug & Play 9_16_2018 11_32_58 AM

To summarize: playing Plug & Play somehow led me to thinking about how these big content platforms suck ass for small creatives. The game’s interesting, yeah, but I think Plug & Play‘s place in this online culture that can easily devalue it is also interesting. Ultimately, I feel that people should support interesting animation/games any way they can in a brutal web hellscape filled with gamers that flip their shit over puddles.

Looking at the IGMC Winners

Indie Game Maker Contest 2017 is officially over, now that the results are out. My game didn’t get very far, but there was a lot of cool stuff in that jam so it’s not as if I expected to win. Out of the games I previously looked at, PALETTA managed to place 7th while Dungeon Down took 11th. The Golden Pearl didn’t place – as it turns out, some people had a way worse time with bugs than I did and marked it down heavily (though it was still blessed with four judge reviews because of a judging system that I think is dumb).

So, what did take the top three spots? Let’s take a look, assuming that you haven’t just checked on the IGMC page and seen yourself.

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Attempts at audio

Soundcloud: Episode 1Episode 2

I guess I tried making a podcast type thing for Indie Hell Zone, since it’s important to branch out. I haven’t properly mentioned these attempts on the site yet so I’m posting it up now. This is something I want to try doing, but I want to know how to improve and I’m too embarrassed to properly approach my friend that runs a podcast about it. Anyway, if you listen to this, please tell me what you think and how I could make this better in the future!

Dr. Darley and the Case of the Deboned Children

I’ve spent the last month of my summer trying to get through the last two Zero Escape games: Virtue’s Last Reward and Zero Time Dilemma. If you’re into visual novels or want to get into them, I really recommend getting into this series – like, check out that Nonary Games collection. Forget Danganronpa, this shit is more my speed. I’d like to talk more about Zero Escape, but given the scope of this blog, I cannot, as niche Japanese releases don’t count as indie games. Life is simply unfair. However, it has gotten me on a visual novel kick so I decided to look at a short visual novel that found its way on’s front page.

Dr. Darley and the Case of the De-boned Children 8_29_2017 9_19_10 AM

Dr. Darley and the Case of the Deboned Children is a visual novel by Lars Martinson, an artist known for the graphic novel series Tonoharu. It’s billed as a sort of crossover between Sherlock Holmes and Grimm Fairy Tales, or at least, a crossover of their general ideas. This game is sort of a prototype, a step into the pool of making visual novels.

A Holmes-esque Dr. Darley and Watson counterpart Mr. Homain head to the mining town of Pelso, on a doctor’s call to check on the son of Mayor Cunderfore. To the shock of Dr. Darley, he finds that the bones in the boy’s arm has disappeared. In fact, he’s not the only victim – the children of the entire town have been losing their bones. What seems like an epidemic turns into a mystery as the setting takes a turn for the supernatural.

Going into Dr. Darley, you shouldn’t be expecting a straight laced mystery. The game kinda does that thing where the culprit is somebody that hasn’t been seen until the reveal, which is iffy for mysteries if we’re going by Knox’s Ten Commandments. In fact, if we’re going by that, the culprit being supernatural (I mean come on, that’s not a spoiler – but the exact cause is) is also a violation. That’s not to mention the bizarre leaps of logic Darley makes to justify the motives behind said supernatural cause.

But, being a crossover with Grimm Fairy Tales, some suspension of disbelief is welcome. In fact, it’d be better off if you view Dr. Darley as a general story rather than as a mystery to be solved. As a story, Dr. Darley is entertaining, the mystery aspects giving it intrigue and fantasy elements keeping things unique. There’s also a lot of humor, as the story isn’t afraid to not take itself too seriously. A lot of it comes from Darley, who, while wise and well-intentioned, really doesn’t understand stuff that is considered normal. The story even wraps up in a way that I did not expect – even knowing the fairy tale angle – which is a great thing.

Dr. Darley and the Case of the De-boned Children 8_29_2017 9_26_42 AM

The art of the game is nice and clean, as you would expect from a cartoonist. The character designs avoid being samey and the backgrounds set the scene nicely. The game’s color palette adds to the Victorian mystery feel of the story, while not being too muted, inviting the occasional lighthearted shifts (usually through humor). It also does well in communicating¬†Dr. Darley‘s small bits of horror – this is a story revolving around children without bones, after all.

The biggest problem of Dr. Darley, one that you would notice immediately and something the author acknowledges himself, is the complete lack of sound. Visual novels give that audio-visual quality to a reading experience and with no audio, the experience feels empty. Granted, the creator makes graphic novels, not music, and he was operating under a short timeframe as well. If this story were to be updated in the future though, audio stuff is an absolute must. If the need for music is a big requirement for you to read this, user RexTGun suggests some jazzy easy listening.

Dr. Darley and the Case of the Deboned Children‘s a nice story, though one that lacks a fundamental aspect of visual novels. It’s about the length of a short story, being around 10,000 words long, so it doesn’t take long to read through. There are hints that there could be more Dr. Darley stories, both in the story and the fact that the URL is “darley01.” If more ever does come to fruition, I’d be interested to read them (though hopefully with audio).

luminous corridor 0

An arcade game screen greets you, flashing messages urging at least one player to start the game. An attract mode plays underneath boxes, holding high scores and what little context there is for the world shown underneath, wobbly landmasses growing forth as enemies unnaturally walk upon said boxes. From what you can glean, an awful wizard has taken control of the psi crystals and Repletes have a fiery disposition. Say no more. You hit “1” and hop right into the game.

the luminous corridor 8_25_2017 1_44_06 PM

luminous corridor 0 is a pay-what-you-want twin-stick shooter by Loren Schmidt (or, vacuumflowers), because I haven’t talked enough about shooters this month. luminous corridor 0 is a sequel to, uh, luminous corridor 2, adding and improving a bunch of things from that game.

You are the almighty Psi Guy, blasting away at waves of enemies with your psionic powers. The main goal isn’t to beat these waves, rather, the goal is to collect the psi crystals that occasionally appear. Collecting them seems simple, yes, but they’re a force to be reckoned with if you’re not careful. If you’re firing without care and hit one, it begins to violently shake, doomed to explode in a telegraphed radius. The now explosive crystal can be diffused if you pick it up before it does so, but if you don’t, not only can the explosion hurt you, but it can also set off nearby crystals to explode, causing a chain reaction if you’re not quick and careful about things.

Characterizing the game is its cellular terrain system. Atop the black void background, paths for monsters called sowers appear on the screen (either as checkerboard patterns or a plain red, depending on settings). These faces begin streaking across the screen, planting cells behind them. These cells grow and connect, forming structures across the playing field. The line-based structures in particular, as seen in the screenshot below, are especially beautiful with how they weave and connect together to form a large mass.

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The land drawn into the world by the sowers is harmful to touch, which can be somewhat frustrating if you touch a small chunk and die. The generated land ultimately poses the problem of limiting your space, which can be a problem as enemy waves get more threatening. Thankfully, the land is destructible, the cellular land breaking away to shots; the mighty Chew Chew enemies will also chew away through land in their path, building tunnels that you can take advantage of. It may also be beneficial to rig a crystal to explode; sure, you’ll lose out on points, but the explosion also clears out a lot of land, which is handy for when the screen gets too crowded. This and how the terrain builds itself makes the game’s arena feel very dynamic, which isn’t something I can say for a lot of twin-stick games I played for this blog.

Aside from structure generation, I feel that the game’s music – by Katie Rose Pipkin – helps define it. Instead of something high energy, the game’s music feels calm. It gives an adventurous mood, but the adventure is that of an archaeological dig, carefully combing through dirt to unearth the psi crystals hidden within. Certainly gives a different feel from other twin-sticks, at least.

There is a co-op mode and while I couldn’t rope my sister in to play this with me, I dared myself to play both characters. Needless to say, I was bad at it, but the co-op seems to work. Two heads certainly seem better than one, but these two heads also share lives, so there’s also that greater risk of getting a game over.

luminous corridor 0 is a nice shooter with an interesting aesthetic that’s in line with vacuumflower’s other works. Though, that aesthetic may be troubling to those that are photosensitive, so the game includes accessibility features that hopefully helps some players out and the instructions suggest reaching out to the creator for accessibility feedback. It’s always great to have games more open to people, ya know?

Indie Game: The Movie (and Life After)

I’m going to veer offtrack from my usual content today, but it’s going to be perfectly on brand. Today, I’m looking at Indie Game: The Movie, directed and produced by James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot.

I remember watching the movie years ago, back at an old apartment. My memories on it are fuzzy, so I thought that it warranted a rewatch. Another thing that called me to rewatch it was Indie Game: Life After, a separate listing released in 2014 that includes a bunch of supplementary material that came later, which wasn’t around back when I first watched it, its running time rivaling the original movie.

Also as you may see, there are no screenshots of the movie. Movies exist in a different realm of legality so I might get in trouble posting stuff from it. If you want to see the movie, hop onto Netflix or hit up a friend with a Netflix password. Maybe I could make a room for ya’ll to watch it? But anyway, here’s my ramblings on the movie.

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Shmup Stuff by Yal

I debated whether I should look at stuff from LD Jam 39 or Hydorah for this week. As you can see from the title, I ended up doing neither. I remembered that I saw this neat thing on, an engine for bullet hell games. I’ve previously tried making a Yume Nikki-themed shooter and while I’m happy that I made it, I still think it’s mediocre. So I look into this a bit and I see that the creator, Yal/Yaru, has made a whole bunch games, engines and asset packs. In looking into this bullet hell engine, I decided to look into her other shmup works, so let’s dive into this together.

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Do not let the title alarm you, my friends. Sure, there are a lot of dangerous things going on in the world, but I’m an optimist. A depressive optimist, but an optimist. Everything will be okay.

WE ARE DOOMED is not another fatalist creed, but the name of a game! I was going through my stuff from’s A Good Bundle and decided to pick this up for review. Hey, remember when this bundle and a bunch of other game stuff helped raise the ACLU like millions of dollars and then they went on to help give white supremacists a big platform that resulted in injuries and a death? Anyway.

WE ARE DOOMED 8_12_2017 9_29_47 PM

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A Growing Adventure

Ludum Dare 39 finished up a while ago and is currently in the phase where people can play and rate the games. The jam’s theme was “Running Out of Power,” which has resulted in a bunch of games revolving around, well, power. I would like to look at some stuff from this jam soon, preferably the stuff I got real excited about.

GameMaker_ Studio 8_10_2017 12_04_48 PM

But I won’t be looking at a Ludum Dare 39 game today! Once again, we’re looking at an entry from the 38th jam. I’ve previously looked at Bureaucratic Deity Simulator 2018 and Little Lands, games that revolved around the theme of “A Small World.” Today, we look at a simple RPG that recommended to me called A Growing Adventure.

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