itchy tasty: Games on itch.io / July 2019

Built In A Day Games
Jul 20 · 5 min read

Hey everybody, ‘itchy tasty’ is a series about games I’ve played on itch.io recently. The goal here is to give some encouragement to other indie devs and hopefully learn a thing or two about game design along the way.

You can check out my games on itch at: builtinaday.itch.io

Profile: Steven Miller (@stevenjmiller37) — steven-miller.itch.io

Game: Pulsation

I’ve played some of Miller’s games before and always really liked the low-key visual style and the consistently clever concepts. Pulsation is in a similar vein to Miller’s “Capture Horizon”: a puzzle game about manipulating the environment.

Each level has a spot you must reach, but it is either blocked by walls or placed at unscalable heights. You must use a contract/expand mechanic (think of a heart beating) to change the level’s layout so you can reach the goal.

Jonathan Blow said that good puzzle games should not just make you feel smarter but actually MAKE you smarter. Miller achieves this by following a foundational element of game design: concepts and mechanics are introduced and then layers of interaction are continually added. The level designs are varied enough that you can’t just use the same approach over and over.

Also, I know some of you prolly groaned when I mentioned Jonathan Blow and the rest of you were prolly like “Ah yes, fascinating…” I think both reactions are valid.

Anyways, kudos to Miller for including adaptable difficulty (for lack of a better phrase). The ‘level select’ menu is laid out so you can choose any level, so if you’re stuck on one but want to keep going you can. The store page also has ‘solution pics’ if you’re stuck and want to reverse engineer (or ‘back-engineer’ if you’re a crackpot scam-artist) a solution.

This appears to be the most recent game by Miller, but there’s one from a few years back worth discussing…

Game: Permanence

… Another great puzzle game by Miller. This one also happens to have a well-written narrative element, which is hard to pull off in any genre. And I have a long list of reasons why I think traditional narrative styles are ill-suited to video games, but ‘Permanence’ manages to deliver a nice emotional punch.

Kinda like if ‘Stephen’s Sausage Roll’ was about a (justifiably) sad dad.

The core mechanic is when you look away from something it stays that way. So if you step on a switch and open a door then look away, the door stays open even when you move off the switch.

Anyways, if you’re an aspiring game designer that wants to include narrative elements in your projects, then it’s worth checking out ‘Permanence’. The narrative and core game mechanic complement each other in a natural way; nothing about the narrative feels forced or tacked on. I mean give me something like this anyday rather than overbearing, talky nonsense like ‘Thomas Was Alone’.

Profile: Tooth and Claw Games (Dan McGrath / @daninfiction) — toothandclaw.itch.io

Game: Delvedown

I’ve been using itch for two years and this is still one of my favorite artists on the site. He’s made games in all sorts of genres already and it looks like he’s currently working on a PS1- style horror game.

I wanted to include Delvedown not just because I enjoyed playing it, but because it’s a great example for other aspiring devs. It shows how to take an existing formula and create a game that feels fresh and new, despite its obvious source of inspiration.

In general, an indie dev pitch is “it’s this [game people are familiar with] crossed with [other game people are slightly less familiar with], but this time you have [game mechanic from another genre].” Nothing wrong with that formula necessarily, assuming you nail the details like ‘Delvedown’ does.

So at first glance it looks like a (pardon the harsh term) ‘ripoff’ of “Downwell”. But it tweaks the formula in very meaningful ways, to the point that the similarity is mostly at the conceptual level. Even the visual designs are not similar, with ‘Downwell’ using black and white and this using the green palette of the Gameboy. Also:

-The combat is different: you can’t jump on an enemy’s head and you have a spin attack instead of a gun.

-The movement is different: you can grab the walls and you start with a double jump.

-The incentives are different: a wave of bats is constantly chasing you; you can’t linger and collect loot but need to keep a steady pace.

There are enough tweaks that it feels like its own thing, despite the surface similarities. And the tweaks feel substantial, not just done for the sake of being different. It’s a lot of fun as a game, and also has plenty of worthwhile lessons for other devs.

Profile: Jusiv (Henry Stadolnik, @Jusiv) — jusiv.itch.io

Game: Night Fright Flight

This is a charming endless runner, which is a genre that’s REALLY hard to find charming at this point. But some titles can overcome the bad rap the genre gets thru sheer personality. It has that signature Pico-8 look: vibrant color palette and great animations. Even with a darker, ‘spooky’ color scheme, the game can’t help but pop off the screen.

You play as a ghost that can phase thru objects and collect coins to recharge the effect. This mechanic feels great and the ghost’s movement feels appropriately floaty, just the right amount of glide to it.

There’s also a nice variety of enemy types to contend with. The genre has a habit of using lazy enemy behaviors but this game avoids that. It also escalates the difficulty nicely and avoids the flat, drawn-out feeling these kind of games can have.

Even tho it’s summertime, you might as well play a spooky game or two, especially if it’s this fun and well made.

Profile: McLean (@mcccclean) — mcccclean.itch.io

Game: Cyber Crime Driver

I’m a big fan of ‘Morphblade’ and this looked like it a nice tweak to the formula, so I took a chance. I’m glad I did, too.

It took a minute to figure out, but once I got the hang of it I was able to beat the three sectors. You have a hex-shaped map and you try to collect the briefcases while avoiding the police. The ‘highway’ hexes allow for extra movement and are your best chance at success. Movement is turn-based, so you have plenty of time to ponder each move.

It’s a fun concept with tons of potential, but very much worth playing as it is. The visuals are charming, love the in-level sprites and other illustrations. The “ARRESTED” screen is particularly choice; I mean the expression on the cop’s face cracked me up every time. I can just hear him turning to the camera and saying something from a PSA: “Crime doesn’t pay”.

Crime doesn’t pay… indeed. I could make some easy joke about “you know what else doesn’t pay? being an indie game dev, har har har”. But I’m willing to bet this: if you’re reading this or if you’re playing/making these kind of games, my guess is that for you… the action is the juice.

Thanks for reading, now go play some good games, dammit…