Cheers, Ryan Davis

I don't think I've laughed harder than at your disgusted outbursts against Jeff's WiiWare announcements. I've listened to every last episode of the Bombcast and Arrow Pointing Down, the vast majority multiple times. I've heard your voice more than anyone else's, very probably including my parents'. You were a stellar entertainer, because you weren't being an entertainer. You were being yourself, and your total mastering of entertainment enabled you to let your hilarious, lovable self shine through everything you did.

I never met you. I never saw you in person. I never even played you on TNT. You still managed to be one of my best friends. It was a one-sided friendship, but it was all you. You spent thousands upon thousands of hours to keep me informed, to keep me interested, to make me laugh. Sure, it was your job. Sure, you were doing this for several thousand other users also. That doesn't matter. You loved your job; you poured your heart into it. That's what made this place special and that's why we--I--felt like you would give us a bear hug and prompt us to gasping laughter if we ever met you face to face.

A forum thread showed up a while ago about the future of Giant Bomb, about what would happen when the Old Guard hung up their hats.

I roughly remembered my response but I looked it up.

"I doubt I'll care about Giant Bomb in a decade. Tastes change."

I imagined I would eventually walk away, leaving the Bombers as they worked in other directions. I never thought a Bomber would be the one to leave.

You were the best, Ryan. You've left a beautiful, indelible sweat stain on my life.

Now I really need a hug from my old pal Kenny, 'cause he's always reminded me a lot of you.

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A tribute to late, great indie developers (and free games).

I’m sure quite a few of you have heard of Game Maker, the drag-and-drop game and application design software. Originally created by Mark Overmars, a Dutch teacher, the development and licensing is now handled by YoYo Games. Most of you have played or heard of Spelunky, a game designed and programmed in Game Maker before being ported to XNA.

But before YoYo Games, before Spelunky, and before Game Maker became available on Steam, there were tens of thousands of earnest, passionate individuals working on personal projects. As you’d expect, most of the results, my own included, were poorly made, unoriginal, or even completely plagiaristic.

But there are a few notable exceptions. These games, released for free by people who loved the exercise in creativity, are held aloft by their fellow GM developers. Names like Shawn64, darthlupi, clysm, and Mr. Chubigans weren’t just other Game Maker forum users: they were the people who made the games you pointed to and said, “Look at what’s possible!”

Unfortunately, most of these labors of love are becoming difficult to find, and that’s assuming you even know to look for them. The user-funded and maintained repository for classic Game Maker games is on its last legs, its founders and supporters having moved on in life. But there are some real gems hidden within the vast catalog. If you actively support indie developers on Steam you’ve probably played a few of these games’ successors. You’ve heard of Cook, Serve, Delicious!, but have you played Ore no Ryomi?

I wanted to bring you a sample of the prime community releases. This isn’t exhaustive, and it won’t include indie games being released now. This list is certainly missing some stelar offerings, but I’m hoping this vertical slice of the best-of-the-best-that-I-played-or-tried will give you some of the enjoyment I experienced while in the thick of the GM community.

NOTE: Due to limitations with the older versions of Game Maker used in compiling these games, some may require Windows XP or earlier, though I’ve successfully played some of these on my Windows 7 x64 machine. If you have a license for Windows XP, a virtual XP machine can be run using VirtualBox, the free and open source virtualization software.

The first link to each game leads to a place to download each game. These games are all freeware, and as many links as possible lead to the developer’s website. The link below those leads to the gamemakergames.com page for that game. This page may have a review by the gamemakergames.com staff, a screenshot, a content rating, and a download link. Gamemakergames.com is a dying webpage, so please, only go there if it’s really necessary.

Let’s get started!

And why not start with my favorite…?

Seiklus

clysm

2003

Platformer

2.6 MB

This beautiful, soothing, and polished adventure platformer is the one GM game I have installed right now. Released by clysm in 2003, with some wonderful MOD music by five composers, this game looks and feels as good today as it did when it was completed. It’s simple and quiet, and there are few games I find so relaxing.

http://www.autofish.net/clysm/art/video_games/seiklus/index.html

http://www.gamemakergames.com/archive/seiklus

Let’s jump to the opposite side of the spectrum:

Explodin’ Crapola: Helicopter Cacophony 2

Mr. Chubigans

2004

Action

5.5 MB

Would you guess that the man behind Cook, Serve, Delicious! previously made a game called Explodin’ Crapola? Harkening back to JumpJet, your task is simple: fly your helicopter and shoot nearly everything else. To quote Ryan, “It ain’t high art,” but man if it isn’t a ton of fun.

(The link below takes you to the page containing all of Mr. Chubigans’ [now Vertigo Games] older freeware titles.)

http://www.vertigogaming.net/blog/?portfolio=the-rest-of-em

http://www.gamemakergames.com/archive/helicopter-cacophony-2

Ore no Ryomi 1 & 2

Mr. Chubigans

2003, 2004

Simulation

11.1 MB combined

These were Cook, Serve, Delicious! before it existed. They’re BurgerTime long after it existed. They aren’t the prettiest games but looks aren’t everything. In games like this, balance is everything, and Or no Ryomi is beautifully balanced. There’s time enough to handle the orders, dishwashing, inspections, and random events, but only if you keep on your toes.

http://www.vertigogaming.net/blog/?portfolio=ore-no-ryomi-1-2

http://gamemakergames.com/archive/ore-no-ryomi

Infection

Shawn64

Release date unknown

Platform Shooter

6.9 MB

Shawn64 was legendary among the GM community. By the time he passed away at only seventeen years old, the majority of his expansive release catalog was viewed as among the best GM had to offer. Infection is a tribute to the Metroid series, but it plays nothing like it. Combine Mario-like platforming with Abuse’s shooting and Metroid’s paranoid tension and you’re getting close.

http://www.shawn64.com/games/game3.php

http://www.gamemakergames.com/archive/infection

Sandbox of God

Mr. Chubigans

2004

Simulation

13.8

This “game” is not terribly deep. In fact I’m not even sure why I find it so fun, but I do. You play as a god with several different powers. Wielding those powers in different orders produces different results. What happens when you make rabbits, then send a meteor? What if you plant trees, then scorch the earth? This is a game of experimentation. You may only have a handful of powers at your disposal, but it’s remarkably satisfying when you manage to use them in just the right order to instigate thermonuclear warfare between humans and rabbits.

(The link below leads to a page offering the remastered release for sale as well as the freeware original. The original works on XP and earlier while the upgraded one works on Vista through 8).

http://www.vertigogaming.net/blog/?portfolio=the-sandbox-of-god-remastered

http://www.gamemakergames.com/archive/sandbox-of-god

The Cleaner

darthlupi

Release date unknown

Action Adventure

6.9 MB

You’ll rarely find a more polished GM game. Honestly, I haven’t played much more than an hour or so, but the care darthlupi took with his releases is immediately obvious. Despite not being within my gameplay tastes, its consistent inclusion in Top Five lists demands its inclusion here.

(The developer’s website no longer exists. The link below leads to YoYo Games’ page for The Cleaner.)

http://sandbox.yoyogames.com/games/26070

http://www.gamemakergames.com/archive/the-cleaner

Legend of Shadow

darthlupi

Release date unknown

Action Adventure

6 MB

Another darthlupi game, this one I have completed. Many, many times. As expected, it’s polished to a sheen not seen in indie games when it was released. Legend of Shadow is one of those games that walks the line of challenge very well; it may sometimes require crackerjack timing, but it’s fair and you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment when you’re done.

(Again, darthlupi’s website is now a 404, so the link leads to YoYo Games’ page for Legend of Shadow.)

http://sandbox.yoyogames.com/games/24105

http://www.gamemakergames.com/archive/legend-of-shadow

Ark 22

Srehpog

2005

RPG

20 MB

The magnum opus. An RPG in the Zelda vein, this gem took home Best Gameplay, Best Music, Best Sound Effects, Best RPG, and Best Overall Game in the 2006 GMAs. This is the other must-play GM game on this list I haven’t finished, but I've never finished any Zelda game so I have an excuse. Even so, I offer this as a gleaming icon of what a single person could make back when Kickstarter didn't exist and Unity was just a glint in an eye.

(Another hard-to-pin-down link. The only one I could find directly related to the developer leads to his former university page, now a 404 error because he's long-since graduated. The link below leads to YoYo Games’ page for Ark 22.)

http://sandbox.yoyogames.com/games/1066

http://gamemakergames.com/archive/ark-22

These are the games I played (and a couple I didn't), and these were my fellow GM developers whom I looked up to. I stopped using Game Maker several years ago, but the games I discovered through it and its community were just as influential in my gaming "career" as any of the polished, expansive games that currently surround us. There's been an uprising lately, a swell of respect and recognition for independent game developers. With games like Fez, Papers, Please, Cart Life, and, yes, Spelunky suddenly dead center, vying for my time just as convincingly as only big budget games could before, people working incredibly hard for very little return are starting to get noticed, and that's terrific. But sometimes I like to return to the time when a game maker could do little but offer a download link and hope people enjoyed. It wasn't kinder, I think it wasn't even more honest; the honesty just stared you in the face harder.

You may try out these games and think they're too sloppy, awkward, or boring. Maybe the fact that I was allowed to interact with the guys and girls who made them has given me permanent rose-tinted glasses toward these games. Maybe "you just had to be there." But I hope you'll give 'em a shot. I believe this hobby of gaming is thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding, and any opportunity to expand your experience into unusual or unexpected directions is a good thing. And if one more person knows who darthlupi is and one more gamer has seen some of Shawn64's creativity, I'll think my job done.

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The problem with character cutscene deaths

Several months ago, a member of the Giant Bombcast brought up an interesting point. He mentioned how so many game characters can soak up an insane amount of damage in game, but be taken down by a single shot when necessary for a cutscene. 
He suggested the idea of a "luck meter" replacing the health bar, and a discussion followed on the possibility of implementing such a system. 

 "Aim slightly away from our hero"
 
It's really a brilliant solution. Currently, A.I. antagonists are programmed to aim directly at the player's character model and any protagonistic NPCs. Each hit lowers the health. The luck system doesn't seem to be much harder to design.
 
Not being a game programmer, I'll explain the hand-off in compete layman's terms. Say your character's luck is 100. The A.I. are programmed to aim for (luck) number of pixels away from you, plus or minus 10. If they manage to hit 90-99 pixels away, that lowers your luck meter by the amount of the difference (e.g. if 96, subtract 4 from luck), and the cycle restarts. Each "near miss" lowers your luck until down to 10, where the enemy finally has the possibility of killing you with a single shot.
 The (usually) Indestructible Spartan
 
I've always found a sense of disconnect through that ability of characters to survive a hail of gunfire for 8 hours before being cut down by a 9mm shot to the arm. 

When, in Halo: Reach, Kat died from a sniper shot in the head I felt irony rather than sadness; I could have sworn I just saw her get hit in the head by a sniper shot about FORTY-FIVE TIMES. 

What do you think? Should game developers replace the invisible, regenerating health bar with an invisible, regenerating luck bar? Should characters be able to take 9 hits before going down, or should they be able to nearly get hit 9 times before dying from a single shot?
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