As a rule I used to avoid any games that were labelled “casual” as they were usually aimed at the bored housewife, cube dwellers on lunch break or those who wouldn’t identify themselves as gamers. Additionally they tended to be of very low value game wise deriving their replayability from pseudo-random puzzle generation or simply luck based game mechanics. Still when my copy of Half Life 2 came with a free (albeit gimped) copy of Peggle I decided I might as well give it a go, I didn’t really have anything to lose. I must say it was pretty enjoyable despite the short length but my stigma about the casual game scene remained in tack and I left them to whom they were built for.
Fast forward and the game has changed significantly, so to speak. Whilst just 3 years ago it was nigh impossible for a lone developer to build, distribute and profit off a game they built today there are a multitude of platforms that enable them to do just that. For the most part games made by independent developers would fall into the casual genre (although there are many notable exceptions to this), usually due to the fact they don’t have the time or resources to develop anything more in depth. What that also means is that the indie/casual space has seen an explosion of titles over the past couple years giving those typically non-gamer gamers a whole wealth of choice that they just didn’t have previously. For someone like myself who used to shun the genre I’ve found myself playing quite a few more examples from this fledgling genre and I have to say I’ve been surprised with how enthralling they’ve become.
Whilst I snoozed on the Humble Indie Bundle I was intrigued by the idea and kept my eye peeled for any other deals like it that might cross my path in the future. After buying a couple indie bundles on Steam (mostly for a single game out of the lot) I eventually came across the Bundle of Mega Love from Cipher Prime Studios which I snapped up since I had been meaning to buy at least 2 of the games on the list already (World of Goo and Captain Forever) but I figured that the others would be worth the price of admission, and boy were they ever.
The first of the unknown lot that I got into was Eufloria a sort of colony simulator where you direct your little flying “seeds” to inhabit other worlds, turn into trees and fight other colonies vying for the same habitats. I think I lost 2 hours in it initially, losing myself in the tranquil music and muted colour palette. What kept bringing me back was that most levels could be done in 10~20 minutes but there was still a real sense of completion afterwards, something I had found lacking in many of the other casual games I had played previously. Flush with success from playing one of the unknown games I set about looking for another and I eventually settled on Auditorium, an online light and sound puzzle game.
The concept of Auditorium is pretty simple, a single source of particles that when passed through the meters starts a music loop playing. You’re given various implements which can redirect the stream in certain ways and there can be a multitude of colours in one level. Since each of the meters plays a different loop the full song develops right in front of you as the puzzle progresses, hopefully culminating in your success. It’s absolutely addictive and the possibilities of emergent game play are quite spectacular. There have been many times when I’ve managed to complete a level in a completely random way by some random interaction between the modifiers that would not work if any one of the pieces were a fraction away from their positions. It has the added bonus of really annoying anyone who isn’t playing it, especially if you’re stuck on a single level for more than 30 minutes (ask my wife about it ;)).
I guess it just goes to show how powerful these platforms are at enabling those with a desire to create to have that work made available for the world at large. There’s some amazing stuff coming out of independent studios these days and in a world where the major titles will set you back $100 or more here in Australia the mere pittance that they ask for their wares is far beyond the value that they deliver. You can then imagine my excitement when I learned that one of my good friends started up his own independent games house, TOME Studios, and is currently working on his first title Lost Company. Whilst I might not have made the cut for an alpha tester I’ll more than happily shell out for a copy of the game once it’s released just so that he and people like him can keep doing the great work that’s kept me away from the 2 other major titles I have sitting by my desk, waiting to be finished.