Friday, 4 April 2008

IndieLog One: Knytt

I’m often found rambling about indie games, about how they’re entering a golden age and how everyone should send their creators lots and lots of money. Though for some reason I never properly talk about individual releases, which is silly because there’s a lot to talk about. I have the ‘Pixel Diaries’, which proberbly makes up 80% of my posts and doesn’t really do anything other than repeat what IGN said months earlier (I just like writing them, okay?), but indie games are less discussed, less known about, and far more chatter worthy. They’re also typically free and quick to play through, which means if something sounds interesting you can just download it and get stuck in. So here it is, the ‘IndieLog’ (see how the capital ‘L’ and lack of a space makes it look all alternative and bitching? That’s street language, that is), essentially another online diary where I ‘critique’ what I’ve come across. Enough mindless gum flapping. Today’s feature: ‘Knytt’.

‘Knytt’ was created by Nicklas Nygren, better known as Nifflas, and released as freeware in 2006. Like a lot of his games, it’s a simple to play two dimensional platform adventure with an emphasis on atmosphere. You play a little creature that gets abducted by aliens who go on to crash land in the middle of nowhere after getting hit by an asteroid. Your task is to explore the surrounding area to find the scattered parts for the alien craft so you can get back home. It’s a short game, not much longer than half an hour or so, and does away with any form of combat leaving you merely with the abilities to jump and climb. Movement is fast, and save points are everywhere in case you touch one of the enemies or fall into water.

The first thing that hits you is the visuals. They’re strikingly simple, yet hugely effective. Texture detail is ignored in favour of unique colour palettes and unusually shaped landscapes and plants. Similarly stripped down is its music, not in quality, but in occurrence. A short dreamy tune will fade in and out whenever you enter a new form of environment, and it really sets the tone and stands out more than if the music were to be continuously active. Landscapes vary widely, from the darkest and mistiest of caves, complete with huge spiders and little ghosts, to lush forests and snow peaked mountains. You’ll be hoping over lava as much as you’ll be hoping from cloud to cloud, which makes the short adventure unpredictable and completely dreamlike. You’re not alone either. Throughout your travels you’ll encounter many harmless creatures and even people, all with a story to tell but no way to tell it. A woman sits at the edge of a cliff looking out to sea, but you’ll never know who she’s waiting for. You’ll stumble upon little round houses hanging from the mountains, but never do you learn who lives within them. The world is lonely, you’re character is speechless and isolated, and nobody is concerned with your arrival. You feel like you don’t belong here, which only makes the search for a way out more engrossing.

There are many things in ‘Knytt’ that mainstream titles could do well to acknowledge. Not forcing the player to redo lengthy sections of a level if they make a mistake would eliminate situations of frustration. Environments stay interesting if they’re changed regularly, a downfall of a game like ‘F.E.A.R’. A sparingly used soundtrack can be dramatically more memorable, with the silence in between acting just as effectively as a full blown score, as demonstrated perfectly by ‘Ico’. And leaving things unexplained for the player’s imagination to interpret can be a lot more interesting than tagging a few lines of dialogue to every occurrence you’ll encounter. ‘Knytt’ is one of the more well known of the independent scene, and its accessibility is proberbly the reason why. So give it a download, and then play Nifflas’ other games, (they’re all high quality), and don’t forget to keep an ear out for his upcoming ‘Night Game’ which will proberbly hit later this year. ‘Knytt’ is a good starting place for those new to indie games, and for how little it asks you to put in, it gives you a whole damn lot in return.

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