A Semi-Arbitrary List of Experimental Art Games

expanding on earlier discussion from the News Thread:

here’s a semi-arbitrary list of experimental art games that was requested, in no particular order. this is stuff that i’m actually confident is good or at least interesting. this is not a comprehensive list and i didn’t put anything before the 2000’s i.e. multimedia/interactive pc games from the 80’s and 90’s or like artsy playstation games or whatever. but maybe that’s a goal to incorporate more of that stuff. i don’t know where i’d begin to separate out the good from the bad there - but feel free to make suggestions. i will definitely be updating this list from time to time as i find more stuff.

also what is considered experimental or art game is arbitrary and there’s lots of stuff i didn’t put on the list either because don’t have much experience with it or i had to draw the line somewhere. a lot of people might consider “experimental” to mean they have one or two experimental mechanics, whereas i tended to focus more on ‘art’ games here.

also i imagine i will probably have to update this with more people who got MeTooed at some point lmao.

also should mention that if you bought the itch.io racial justice or Palestinian aid bundles from the last couple years you probably own some of these games already and don’t even know it.

Space Hole Trilogy by Sam Atlas
Off-peak trilogy by Cosmo D
Oikospiel Book I by David Kanaga
Black Room by cassie mcquarter
50 Short Games + 10 Beautiful Postcards by thecatmies + others
NORTH and others by Outlands
Fuzz Dungeon and others by Jeremy Couillard
At a Distance by Terry Cavanagh
Circle0 by yesyes
PAGAN trilogy by Oleander Garden
The Space Between by Christoph Frey
Promesa + Cucchi by Julian Palacios
Nightmare Temptation Academy by Lena NW
THAT NIGHT by Taylor Swietanski
Chasing Light by Vittgen Inc.
Infini by Barnaque
Life Tastes Like Cardboard by Demensa
Tetrageddon Games + Everything is Going To Be OK by Nathalie Lawhead
Tarotica Voo Doo by TPM DOT CO SOFT WORKS
La La Land series by Matt Aldridge
Cruelty Squad by Consumer Softproducts
Cosmic Top Secret by klassefilm
BECOME A GREAT ARTIST by Michael Brough and Andi McClure and Icosa by Andi McClure
Cart Life by Richard Hofmeier
Strawberry Cubes by Loren Schmidt (note: while i don’t personally trust the Sex Offender Registry as a CSA survivor myself and very much prefer using the testimony of actual victims over someone being on these lists, guess i should mention that this dev is a registered sex offender)
many games by Lilith (crypt worlds, crypt underworld (when it comes out), museum of deadwifery, song of homunculus, onieric gardens etc)
many games by Increpare (slave of god, subway adventure, untitled, universal history of light, home, judith, terrible whiteness of appalachain nights, opera omnia)
Salad Fields and Sparkles and Gems by resnijars
Uurnog Uurnlimited by Nifflas
several games by Tale of Tales
several games by Jack King-Spooner (Dujanah, Sluggish Morss: Pattern Circus, Beeswing etc)
several games by Pedro Paiva
several games by Ice Pick Lodge (note: the lead of Ice Pick Lodge was Metooed recently i guess)
All Our Asias by Melos Han-Tani
Anodyne 2 by Melos Han-Tani and Marina Kittaka
Airplane Mode by Bacronym
Memory of a Broken Dimension by xra
Engare by Mahdi Bahrami
MU Cartogropher by Titouan Millet
several games by Marginal Act Developer
several games by Vasily Zotov
several games by Jake Clover
Yume Nikki by Kikiyama
Zelle by fuming
Baobabs Mausoleum Grindhouse Edition by Celery Emblem
Beckett by The Secret Experiment
Kairo by Richard Perrin
Vidiot Game by GZ Storm
Revenge of the Sunfish by Jacob w. Buczynski
Middens + Where They Cremate the Roadkill by John Clowder (note: this guy got metooed i guess)

also:
Problem Attic by Liz Ryerson (okay, you got me. shameless self promotion)

suggestions by @thecatamites:

Bat Castle by im9today, which has a really brutal rpg fight at the very beginning but afterwards is one of the best of the “maze made entirely out of trapdoors” school of game design

games by Roman who had one of the earliest weird 3d games with “funny pizza land” in 2002

EJ Gold and Gary Acord are maybe vying with each other to be the vgames version of Godfrey Ho, really dense and insular back catalogues of recycled assets and casually startling decisions

0th dimension , by the person who did mibibli’s quest, i guess it’s an anthology of sex games which made an impression on me for the sense of dread and ambivalence with which the author seemed to regard their own desires

ticket - jumping game where you play as a shoe, there are more games by the same dev + others at http://wetgamin.com/ , i also like “adlus: mouse of truth”

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Do I need to play Anodyne to enjoy Anodyne 2? Asking as someone who loves formal genre shifts generally.

not saying this necessarily answers the question for me (or you), but this is the first screen after the title:

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Excellent!

Mu Cartographer is definitely a game thing I will recommend that people check out

I love this tidal wave of unknown and mystery. I have heard of some of these, but…I’ve played very few.

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Nope! There’s some stuff there for people who have played the first one but the bulk of the game is entirely it’s own thing.

If you do play the first one though there’s a few bits that will re-contextualize it and raise interesting questions about hidden in Anodyne 2, though.

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Hey, I just bought Salad Fields in the last Steam sale, neat!

FWIW I am a really low vote on The Space Between, I appreciate its ambitions but it could possibly be described as a twenty minute game that takes forty solely because of how slow the unskippable text is (I legit timed the single word “yes” on screen for 7-8 seconds if you are curious just how slow I mean) and it just tanked the entire experience for me.

cassie mcquarter had an installation at one of the satellite events during trip metal fest 1. it was a prefect environment for some klik n play style chaos.

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i really enjoyed the way that game played with that kind of montony intentionally and built to the end. i feel like there are very few games that really do anything like that. also just the narrative themes are really interesting and it builds in a way that makes sense vs. something like Paratopic which yeah maybe is more aesthetically neat/snappy but doesn’t have nearly as much meaning or resonance to me in terms of its themes. that’s probably one of the reasons it won the Nuovo award a couple years back. so yeah, i get it - i certainly was bothered by it initially. but feel like the game plays with that in an interesting way.

basically i really suggest anyone who plays that game to get past the initial awkwardness of it because i personally found it really rewarding and cool by the end. it’s kind of like a Chantal Akerman film or something in it being a test of patience (though a lot shorter than that).

I mean the rest of the package is unquestionably strong, but I am scarred by years/decades of unskippable slow text so a game basically built around that is basically a personal poison pill. I mention it because if someone else has that particularly quirk it could be a problem for them.

Like there are very few forty minute games that will get me shouting about pacing or being too slow (I have played several that are but at that duration it generally doesn’t matter enough to complain about) but every so often one will find a way. I think the other recent game that made me do that was Fugue in Void and some people think highly of that as well so this could very easily be a “me” thing.

incidentally, I quite enjoyed the first anodyne, though I can’t recommend it with as much enthusiasm as the sequel. it’s less focused and less mature, but I love its atmosphere of oppressive strangeness. it also has one of the most bizarre, compelling post-game sequences I’ve ever encountered, though ymmv on how much you actually enjoy it.

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my favorite thing that happened in this game was getting a genuine glitch where i was pushed out of bounds by a boss, and just wandered around OOB for a while seeing that, yes, they had planned for this eventuality and I would be able to revisit this purposefully later. Very cool moment.

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WARNING if you actually intend on playing on anodyne 1, please do not de-blur what's below lightly bc I don't want to ruin the chance of you having the same experience on your own. if you're on the fence... well, it might help decide for you but view at your own risk.

Click to reveal

there are multiple other ways* to get out of bounds by your own volition, and even prematurely explore many of the post-game glitch areas. and what I love is that works true to minus worlds on old 8 bit games, where you’re exploring a range of cells on a map that are just full of garbage data (although I believe the collision data still corresponds to the last zone you left), so there still is this sense of wild chaos and that you’re truly exploring unmapped zones that were never meant to exist, or like you’re traversing physical manifestations of garbage data leftover on the console’s memory. so many games do the whole NES glitch aesthetic thing as a dumb gimmick but anodyne is the only one that feels committed to it, even though that entire part of the game is optional to the main experience. but that’s what makes it feel so special – if this was the focus of the game, discovering it on your own wouldn’t feel transgressive and it would ruin the entire experience. honestly, it might be a true icebergvania in that regard.

*my favorite of which involves being in mid-air during a horizontal screen transition and wiggling your way upwards while rapidly pressing left and right to maintain the transition as long as possible – I’m not 100% sure this is intended but it’s extremely similar to how you can get out of bounds in the top down sections of NES Rygar and I love it for that alone, since that was my first minus world experience as a child. there are certain map cells where you can jump over a pit to the screen border and it will just take you out of bounds as well, which is how I first found my way out there.

there is a lot to love about it beyond this but this is a large part of why I feel so fondly about the game. my experience with it was so special in a way that no other modern indie game can compete with.

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Two of the games I am most looking forward to.

Also, the sequel to this one. It’s been in development for a long time.

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Finally joined this site, haha. So I guess this is my first post!

Wanted to say thank you for the list - a lot of great stuff here I haven’t thought about in years. I love it when people bring up Kairo–I played it at launch and was so impressed by how melancholy it was, and how it managed to very clearly have some kind of mysterious meaning I could puzzle out without having much of any content beyond the bleak architecture. I feel like it got a little ignored, but I really liked it.

Nightmare Temptation Academy is another one that made a huge impact on me but I rarely see talked about. I helped to put together a games event in public once and we had NTA in a room off to the side… there were people in there crying laughing over how funny it was all night. Nothing else had that kind of reaction at the event. It’s one of those things that doesn’t take off in games communities for a variety of reasons (the content and tone maybe) but it’s actually incredibly relatable to normal adults who don’t really have preconceptions about what games “should” be like. Great stuff.

This list also gave me a kick to check out some other stuff I’ve been putting off. I finally checked out Revenge of the Sunfish and loved it–so much carefully weird art only onscreen for like, half a second at a time before I died and jumped to the next one, haha. However, I was playing it on a Windows 10 machine and unfortunately it started slowing down and becoming unplayable after maybe 25 screens. Curious if anyone else had this problem?

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10 Beautiful Postcards is excellent. Here’s the SB thread:

And Space Funeral is also still very much worth playing. It might even introduce you to some new music.

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Space Funeral is absolutely top-tier, Cuba Libre approved material

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Last night, I kind of had a depressing Hades bender and fell asleep during a meeting today. So! I decided to poke through some of these games instead. I am, spiritually, richer as a result. Basically, for a half hour, I went on a yoga retreat and opened my mind.

Looking for synchronicity, I started with the limitation that the games I try be released in 2012. Looking turned into finding because my double feature had a billing of Tape Dream by Cicada Marionette and Slave of God by Increpare, two immersive atmospheres. The page for Slave of God even gives a shout out to Cicada Marionette.

Slave of God starts with me tumbling into a club, my companion quickly walking away from me and into the chromatic haze. I tried to orient myself, but the walls warped, the halls seemed impossibly long, and stepping onto the dancefloor made the whole world spin. I felt my way into a bathroom. I tried to open the door to the stall but I couldn’t figure out the handle and wound up pissing all over the room. Delightful.

In Tape Dream, I’m in a cabin and there are candles around the room. There’s a sort of sacrificial altar with a giant mask staring at me. In another room, a VHS player is surrounded by a couple of tapes. I insert one and hear music and chanting. I swap it with another and hear some conversation that I don’t get the context of. In a room that looks like a kitchen, there’s a figure that looks like sacks of blood being held up by a floating stone. Holes in the wall look like ovens. These are actually mechanisms of an alchemy machine. If I place tapes into it, I can make new tapes. Bizarre, yet familiar.

With both of these games, I felt satisfied just to walk around. However, I still have gamer brain that made me think, “Okay, but how do I beat it? Are there any secrets? Did I miss anything?” I looked both games up and had a good time reading similarly gamer-brained posters asking similar questions. Except some of those posters were weirdly angry about not understanding. Couldn’t be me.

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Lilith’s (same person as Cicada Marionette she just doesn’t use that handle anymore afaik) recent little game/experience Betsy’s Hospital reminds me of Tape Dream a little: