Sometimes a brilliant idea will hit us all of a sudden. Sometimes a moment of intense inner turbulence will be met - all at once - with a moment of intense inner revelation. Sometimes our brains will inexplicably provide us with all the answers.
Sometimes our brains will throw us a really shitty pun and make us figure out the rest for ourselves.
Wanna guess which one I got?
I really wish I could play more indie games!
I really wish I could write more cblogs!
These are the thoughts that have recently been making the rounds in the hollow cavity some refer to as my head. The solution to this conundrum is simple; it's just taken my intermittently functional brain a while to figure it out. Write a blog about indie games!
With this in mind, I am very happy to present:
The Humble Indie Bungle!
A (hopefully) weekly blog I which I report on an indie game I have played during that week. This will (hopefully) force me to play a minimum of one indie game every week whilst also (hopefully) forcing me to write a minimum of one blog every week.
It isn't meant as an educational blog. I'm certain that most of you will have already played most of the games I discuss. And I don't really have a plan for how or what I'm going to write. If I want to go off on a tangent, I'll let myself.
But enough about me. Let's get this shit-show started. The first game I want to look at is one that I've already played. I talked about it in my intro blog and I've wanted to write something about it for a long time. It is Balloon Diaspora by the talented gentlemen over at Cardboard Computer.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Cardboard Computer are undoubtedly my favourite indie developer. Balloon Diaspora was the first of their games that I played, but I'd been aware of them for some time before that. I saw the trailer for Kentucky Route Zero and proceeded to curl into a ball and cry myself to sleep over it's splendour. But due to unemployment and a lack of funds - which, quite frankly, was due to the difficulty of getting a job while being curled up in a ball and crying- I couldn't buy it at that time.
So, being the frugal (read: cheap) person that I am, I wandered over to their website in the hope of a free demo or - even better - a free game from earlier in their career. What I found was Balloon Diaspora. I started playing immediately and completed the game in one sitting.
And - due to the game's intense brilliance - I have not stopped shitting myself since that day.
Needless to say, I am still unemployed.
But what's the game about? Well, many things. It's the story of a stranded traveller, it's the story of a destroyed civilization and it's the story of a lost soul looking for adventure and a purpose. The Cardboard Computer website summarises the experience as follows:
Explore a foreign culture, make new friends and ride through the clouds in a hot air balloon.
But most importantly of all, I think, the game is about a cultural exchange and the friendship that is borne out of it.
Balloon Diaspora begins with your character seemingly stranded in a foreign land with nothing but a busted hot air balloon. A sympathetic local, Silas, offers to help you fix the balloon if you can find some suitable bits of cloth with which to patch it up. In order to do this, you must travel through the clouds in his personal hot air balloon and aide various people in exchange for patches of cloth.
The game consists entirely of dialogue trees and requires almost no skill to complete. There is some light problem solving, but it basically boils down to knowing which characters to speak to and in what order.
You might notice that I say "your character". This is very important. One of the best things about Balloon Diaspora (and Cardboard Computer games in general) is that they are all very much concerned with the player crafting their own distinct character. But rather than a standard character creation screen, or even the slightly contextualised character creation setup in the Elder Scrolls games, they opt for a very subtle and organic approach.
The NPC's ask you questions (just like the one in the picture above) and your answers "create your character". But it doesn't feel contrived at all. It doesn't feel like you're "creating a video game protagonist". It just feels like you're having a conversation with someone you haven't met before. You have to tell them a little about yourself.
What's more, the questions don't adhere to the typical character creation clichés. A good example of this - and a particular favourite of mine - is the conversation you have with an NPC regarding the popularity of Seagull Salmon Casserole in your home country.
And just in case you were wondering, the writing in Balloon Diaspora is absolutely genius. Whenever anyone argues (as they often do) that all videogames have the subtly of a sledgehammer to the dick, I direct them straight to Cardboard Computer games.
The NPC's are, for the most part, a disenfranchised people, hailing from the Balloon Archipelago. Something terrible has happened there and various characters hint at what it might have been, but we're never told outright. Instead we're left to piece together the few hints that we are given. This ambiguity lends the game a really mysterious and intriguing atmosphere. It kinda feels like the Myst games. You're in a bizarre foreign country and something fishy is going on, but you're not really sure what.
Another good example is Silas, your companion throughout the game. You speak to several members of his family and they all hint that he seems to be wandering aimlessly through his life. There is also a strong implication that he feels stifled within, what he sees as, a very successful family. Again, we're never blatantly told anything; the game trusts us to figure it out for ourselves.
Balloon Diaspora may be beautifully subtle, but I'm certainly not! The fucking writing is top shit!
All in all, Balloon Diaspora is a tremendous game. It's weird, wonderful, funny, intriguing and - at times - incredibly sad. Boasting a gorgeous art style and an even gorgeous-er soundtrack, it's easily one of my favourite indie games.
Also, I want to do a sex on it.
I give it a rating of:
5Poorly photo-shopped Walter Sobchaks/5
~ So there it is! The Humble Indie Bungle! This one turned out kinda like a review, but I doubt they will all be like that. Seeya next week!