Art Perspective: Distractionware

Sometimes it can be hard to see the gaming industry as much more than the stream of high budget titles, but there is a whole world without any sort of budget; this is the land of indie gaming.

Sometimes it can be hard to see the gaming industry as much more than the stream of high budget titles, but there is a whole world without any sort of budget; this is the land of indie gaming. Some of the most progressive, atmospheric and thought-provoking games of today are being created by one or two individuals, and usually released for free. This week Art Perspective takes a look at some of the games from Terry Cavanagh's library. With many games free-to-play and relatively short, the collection on the site is well worth a look. Cavanagh releases his games under the developer name of Distractionware, creating games, usually alone and collaborating with various composers for the sound track. Distractionware€™s games are so special because the games are more concerned with the conceptual value and gameplay than their graphic prowess.
The brilliant Don€™t Look Back, is a haunting 2D platform/shooter, in which the player descends into the underworld in search of a lost lover. The gameplay is challenging but the player has an infinite amount tries to get to the end of the screen. This is a game about the player experience, the gameplay and the tense musical score creating a sense of urgency. The game isn't by any standards long and is capped of with a compelling ending. The games art style looks as though it was created for the Atari 2600, which sported such games as the terrible E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and the classic Pac-Man. American Dream is a tragically witty adventure. Again using retro graphics the game is a concept piece that makes a humorous comment on the modern world. American Dream demonstrates what can be done with gaming as an art form, creating a memorable and thought provoking experience using the most basic of techniques. The key to this game concept is that within a game, the player is always active, the events are not happening to someone else on a movie screen, they are happening to the player.
Perhaps the most famous of Distractionware€™s releases in VVVVVV, a platformer that quite literally turns the genre on its head (Apologies for that). At first the game looks like any other platformer, with a graphical style influenced by the Commodore 64 era. After a brief intro the player finds themselves alone in another dimension. In this world the player can not jump, but must flip gravity to navigate tricky world around them. Such a simple idea, yet very effective, forcing the player to rethink familiar gaming challenges such as avoiding enemies and getting from platform to platform. This notion is similar to Portal€™s ability to invite the player to rethink the game-world, based upon one change in the game mechanics (Portal itself was based upon the indie title; Narbacular Drop by Nuclear Monkey Software). VVVVVV was release as part of the Humble Indie Bundle, a collection of games that aims to bypass big companies, allowing the proceeds to go straight to the indie developers and specific charities. There are many other games worth a look at distractionware.com; 3D platformer Red Sky is a surreal experience, in which it feels as if the game is playing with you. memmrtiks, suashem is a challenge for the eyes, and as the website boasts, it is almost unplayable. N.O.T.T.U.B. is a hilarious multiplayer experience like no other, which can make you look at gaming in a different light. These games are but a few from Terry Cavanagh, these are examples of what the world of indie gaming has to offer. Indie developers are able to create games without the constrains of bigger titles. Making use of relatively short development cycles, developers can produce more conceptual and artistic games that are able to comunicate with the player on a deeper level than high budget money making games. The only down side is the lack of graphical finesse, which is something some players are unable to see past. Games are being viewed more and more as art, which can been seen in the art exhibitions in which Cavanagh displays his work.
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