With only 1 day, 15 hours remaining to purchase the Humble Indie Bundle #3, there are three things I'm hoping to achieve with this post: explain what it is, talk about how good the games currently on offer are, and to convince you to take a look and see whether or not it's for you.
Because I know that you don't like reading as much as I like writing, I'm going to (attempt to) keep this short.
Edit: Obviously, I failed at the keeping short part, but the post is divided up into what I hope are three fairly easy to jump to sections.
So, if you've been living under a rock for the past couple of years, it's possible that you haven't heard of the Humble Indie Bundle.
Now in its third (or fourth, depending on how you look at it - I'm going to touch on the Frozenbyte Bundle in a later blog post, I think) iteration, the Humble Indie Bundle is best summarised in grammatically flowing dot points, like so:
What started as an initiative to fuel sales of independently developed games through bundling (a collection of 5 diverse titles is more likely to appeal to a wider audience than any of the individual games could have on its own) has grown and evolved into something far, far more compelling and important.
In what seems to have become a trend over the past couple of bundles, additional incentives/rewards are added as the total raised reaches milestones (note, that this is in no way promised or advertised in advance, so don't go buying with the expectation that you'll get more down the track). This has included adding additional games, releasing source code for some games under a Free/Open Source licence, adding games from previous bundles to people who pay more than the average price.
Between the first two bundles, over $3 million dollars have been raised, supporting not only the developers involved, but also the Electronic Frontier Foundation (a not-for-profit that lobbies for, raises public awareness of civil liberties and digital rights) and Child's Play (a charity that provides games, toys and books to children in hospitals around the world).
How awesome is that? A-hundred-billion-hotdogs awesome, that's how.
Let's start with some more lists (the titles are all links so you can investigate anything that tickles your fancy)!
"Wow, that's 12 games," I hear you say. It is. It is indeed. Allow me to attempt to summarise each game in as short a paragraph containing long sentences as possible.
The goal in each level of Crayon Physics Deluxe is to get a ball to a star (not a very good start on the long sentence front there). To accomplish this, players must draw shapes and lines to form bridges, ramps, obstacles, weights to guide/push the ball where it needs to go. On the surface, the game is fairly simple, but its enjoyment comes seems to from doing Cool Things rather than being efficient (though there are efficiency challenges to help with replayability). The childlike crayon stylings and soothing music make for a relaxing experience.
I owned Cogs before the bundle was announced and was over the moon to see that it was ported to Linux. Cogs is a sliding puzzle game. Except in 3D. And the sliding blocks have gears and gas pipes on them that you need to connect to make propellers spin, or bells chime, or balloons fill, or wheels turn. Cogs has a fantastically high visual aesthetic, and it goes out of its way to make what could easily have been a tedious game mechanic into something that is a joy to play and immensely rewarding.
VVVVVV is a 2D platformer with a retro 8-bit feel in both its visual design and awesome chiptune soundtrack. VVVVVV's stand-out game mechanic is the inability to jump, which has been replaced with the power to reverse gravity. Unlike most platformers, VVVVVV is (so far as I've played) a large, single environment that you are free to explore in any order you wish. The story is a little bit save-the-princess, but instead of princesses, it's the crew of a spaceship, and actually finding where they are in this non-linear game is part of the challenge. VVVVVV's puzzles can be pretty tough, but it seems that players are free to walk away from tricky bits and come back to them later rather than being 'stuck' and unable to continue.
Unfortunately Hammerfight for Linux has a couple of bugs, so I haven't really gotten to experience this one in all its glory. Hammerfight is a physics based action sidescroller, where you control a flying machine that has a weapon dangling from it. Using the mouse to control your flying machine's movement, you can indirectly swing the weapon around and cause it to come into contact with enemies, making for a believable and almost tactile experience. There's an update on its way, so if you're running Linux, hang in there - you haven't been abandoned.
And Yet It Moves is another 2D puzzle platformer, this time set in an abstract, torn paper world. In addition to running and jumping, you have the ability to rotate the environment, changing the direction of gravity (allowing you to walk on what was the ceiling, jump around a 90 degree bend, or cause some rocks to fall in a specific location). The soundtrack is eerie, and reeks with a slightly creepy atmosphere.
Steel Storm was added as a bonus game around the same time the bundle reached the $1 million mark, and is a top-down action game in which players control a hovercraft, defeat enemies, collect powerups and perform objectives. I've only played through a couple of chapters, but I'm enjoying the game's snazzy 3D feel, variety of weapons and the tactical gameplay that arrises through complex enemy placement and boss fights.
I first came across Atom Zombie Smasher a month or two ago, and found it to be a pretty enjoyable game. Visually, it's a cross between Sim City and Conway's Game Of Life, with survivors and zombies represented as dots on city streets. The goal of the game is to save survivors by setting landing zones for a rescue helicopter before they come into contact with and become zombies. Beyond this, gameplay is expanded by introducting placeable barricades and offensive units. Each mission represents a district in a city that makes up the game's overarching context. Additional units and upgrades are awarded as survirors and scientists are saved, and a tally of saved vs infected shows the player's progress across the game. Atom Zombie Smasher also has some bizarre spanish-revolution-graphic-novel-world-in-chaos half present pseudo story that is at once enticing and impossible to describe accurately.
I haven't played Braid yet, so take this with a grain of salt. Braid is a puzzle platformer in which the goal is to find and assemble jigsaw pieces. It is visually compelling and actually features time travel mechanics (as opposed to having an 'undo button' like some other games that claim to have time control elements). The reason I've been holding off on this one is because I'd like to play it when I've got time to devote my attention to it from start to finish.
Like Braid, I haven't played Cortex Command either. This game is unique in the bundle in that it is a work-in-progress, with players getting access to the final game upon its completion. Cortex Command is a 2D tactical squad based side scroller, and, by all reports, is pretty cool.
This is another title I owned prior to the Humble Indie Bundle, and I can not speak too highly of it. This game alone more than justifies paying a bazillion dollars for the bundle (in fact, I was glad to have paid for it twice). Machinarium is a stunning point and click adventure game with stunning visuals and atmospheric soundtrack. Its story is told with no written dialogue and no voice acting, using animations and iconography in thought and speech bubbles to convey both internal and external dialogues as the main character Josef, a discarded and downtrodden robot as he searches for his missing girlfriend. If I had to describe Machinarium in one word, it would be "Beautiful".
Another game I'm glad to have purchased twice, Osmos is touted as being an 'ambient' game in which you control a mote which can absorb any motes smaller than itself and in turn will be absorbed by any larger mote it comes into contact with. The player controls their mote by expelling mass in accordance with the principles of the conservation of momentum. From this fairly simple mechanic, a complex set of emergent gampeplay mechanics arise, with gravity and other 'intelligent' motes being added in later levels as the game becomes more challenging. Osmos' visual style is both enticing and ambiguous, and its championing of some of the fundamental underpinnings of the physics of our universe seem to make it a reflection of life and existence (if you want to read that much into a contextless game). Whether the motes represent galaxies or single celled organisms, Osmos is both appealing and accessible on almost all levels.
The number of games in this list that I haven't played is a little bit embarrassing. Revenge Of The Titans is a tower defence game that employs modern graphics techniques to add polish to its retro themed graphics to an absolute shine. Revenge Of The Titans beings a little more micromanagement and RTS style gameplay than most tower defence games offer, and it's one I'm definitely looking forward to spending some time with.
The charaties are more than worthwhile (in 2010, Childs Play raised over $2 million to help keep sick kids happy, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation continues to fight for the freedom of speech and the rights of individuals on the internet). The benefits to the independent games industry should be obvious. The value of the pay-what-you-want model should also be obvious. The value of the Free/Open Source stuff that's followed in the wake of the previous bundles should be obvious. The games are all DRM-free, cross platform, and most of them have won awards.
Whether you care about digital rights, sick kids, independent developers, Free Software or just cool games, there are too many reasons to not at least drop by the Humble Indie Bundle website and take a look.
Update: If you can't get enough of me talking about the Humble Bundle promotions, I've written a lengthy article that attempts to interpret what all the associated numbers, charts and statistics might indicate. You can read it here.