Help me curate a list of avant-garde designers!


#1

The podcast’s recent discussion of Kitty Horrorshow sent me down a rabbit hole trying to find notable examples of experimental game design, and I’m sure y’all know a lot more about this kind of thing than me. I’m trying to collect a list of designers and works that push against the limits of their medium and seek to interrogate the assumptions brought by the user/player. Ideally these would be high-concept games that rely on the subversion of preconceived notions, rather than on narrative or art style. They could also blur the line between “game” and art installation/gallery piece. I would also love to include notable works of Interactive Fiction (which I’m mostly ignorant of) in this list.

I think it could be very valuable to build a syllabus of works that force us to reframe our ideas of what computer games are and how they operate. To start, I’m mostly looking to populate a large list, without worrying about the merit or worthiness of any individual suggestion. I’d also like to start with smaller, independent works - for example, I think Nier hits all of these qualifications, but I’d rather focus on other things to keep it interesting. I did search for this topic to see if anyone else already did this, so if this was already done I apologize!

I’ll just start off with a few works to give you an idea of what I have in mind. Feel free to share links/itch.io’s!

Michael Brough - 868-HACK; Cinco Paus
Kitty Horrorshow - Anatomy
Sean Han Tani - All Our Asias
Ian Cheng - Bad Corgi; other gallery installations
Sam Barlow - Her Story
Zoe Quinn - Depression Quest
Aaron’s Reed - Blue Lacuna

These are in no way systematic or encyclopedic, just things I’ve encountered by chance that might fit this category. I also haven’t played all of these, so if anything is secretly super-problematic please lemme know. Thanks!!


#2

Twinbeard Studios’ Frog Fractions and Frog Fractions 2 should definitely be on this list.

Also probably Pony Island and The Hex from Daniel Mullins.


#3

As someone who plays a whole lot of avant-garde stuff here are my favourites.

-David Kanaga’s Oikospiel (!!! This one especially should be considerd an absolute canonical work in the avant-grade space)
-Connor Sherlock’s Walking Simulator Club
-Moshe Links’s Brutalism works
-Jack Squires’ Exit 19 (and the rest of the Ambient Mixtape ‘16 for that matter)
-Paloma Dawkins’ Palmystery & Museum of Symmetery
-Aaartgames Collective’s Dystropicana
-STRANGETHINK’s Art Gallery Works
-princess’ Celestial Hacker Girl Jessica

And there are more I can think of but can’t recall the name of at the moment. I’ll come back with more if I can think of them.


#4

Christine Love’s works, including Digital: A Love Story and Analog: A Hate Story, should certainly be included here.


#5

YES I played Digital and had forgotten the name - I spent 15 minutes googling “virtual a love story? online amiga a love story?”


#6

Oh, and before I forget, Cardboard Computer’s Kentucky Route Zero is (at least in my opinion) perfect for this list.


#7

Some bigger (at least in terms of making a splash) titles that are accessible (free):

Robert Yang - Radiator 2 (seems like the best place to start as that’s on Steam but could also point to individual games rather than the HD remaster compilation).

Nina Freeman et al - how do you Do It?

Edit: oh, and because I’ve just picked off some low-hanging fruit there. Check the Free Play articles Waypoint used to run for loads more.


#8

Yessss I’ll look all of these up. I forgot all about Oikospiel!!!


#9

Stephen Lavelle (increpare) is known for his brilliant commercial Sokoban-likes Stephen’s Sausage Roll and English Country Tune, but he’s also a prolific creator of tiny experimental games as well as the PuzzleScript and flickgame engines for small browser games.

thecatamites is known for Space Funeral and Murder Dog IV. His latest thing, Magic Wand, is a hell of a thing. Luke Shaw wrote about his work on Waypoint a while back.

Jonas Kyratzes wrote for The Talos Principle and the upcoming Serious Sam 4, but his personal work is persistently unpredictable.

I’ll probably be back when I think of more. I’m back!

Emily Short is a legend in IF circles, and while she’s written for Fallen London, Sunless Sea and Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, her solo work is almost unknown to non-IF fans. Galatea is a classic experiment in dialog-focused IF, and Counterfeit Monkey is a fascinating linguistic game.

I’d like to give a shout-out to one of the earliest art-house games I know of, Deus Ex Machina, written/designed by Mel Croucher. It’s an ambitious sci-fi concept album about a life from conception to death, synchronized with a series of mini-games to be played on a ZX Spectrum or other microcomputer of the time. It’s a remarkable work, though fairly cheesy and blunt at times, and I think it’s worth experiencing. There’s a port on Steam as well as a full 3D remake/sequel (starring Christopher Lee somehow).

Cosmo D is doing cool musical things in the walking sim space. Adam Smith over at RPS wrote a good review of The Norwood Suite.

(Flashing lights/colors/movement warning for the following link and the games on it.) Nathalie Lawhead’s Everything Is Going To Be OK has earned a lot of attention as a piece of tragic/hilarious glitch art. If you clicked into this thread and aren’t photosensitive, you should definitely take a look at it and her other work.


#10

Specifically came here to point him out. Tons of his games are the epitome of experimental and avant-garde. Highly recommend people check out his site.


#11

Hubol makes some spectacular games. He published 2, my personal favorite of his, when he was 18 years old, and his creative output and visual style are absolutely wild


#12

I feel like any list of avant-garde designers would be incomplete without mentioning Bennett Foddy; designer of QWOP, Getting Over It, and others


#13

Ian McLarty’s The Catacombs of Solaris is one of my all-time favorite “art games”. I love how you can look at a screenshot of it and gain virtually no insight into what it does, how it’s played, and why I spent so much time with it.

I’d also recommend Cicada Marionette / Lily Zone’s games. If games could have smells, then I don’t even kind of want to know what Crypt World’s is (I mean, it’s piss, isn’t it?).

I think there also needs to be a special section of this list dedicated to all of the people who, over the years, have used something as simple as RPG Maker so create completely esoteric spaces for exploration and non-functional interactions. Kikiyama’s Yume Nikki could be included in this, as well as 14’s Neftelia. I still find it so funny how the most notable RPG Maker games don’t even bother with the RPG stuff.


#14

Top of mind would be Jack King Spooner. While I haven’t finished it, what I played of Dujanah was great, and Beeswing was a delight.

All of Captain Games’ games I’ve played (No Brakes Valet, Freeways, Desert Golfing, Enviro-Bear 2000) carry a simple, strange joy to them.

Seconding Connor Sherlock’s stuff as well.


#15

Ctrl+F Kenji Eno: 0 results

Kenji Eno. He designed the D games (D, D2, Enemy Zero) and contributed to a bunch of other games. He was also a musician. Weird dude.


#16

lots of my favourites already mentioned in this thread! :slight_smile:

Cactus (Jonatan Söderström) is best known for the Hotline Miami games, but I remember Norrland in particular making a really powerful impression on me back in the day - strong trigger warning for rape, graphic violence, homophobia, and suicide. Keyboard Drumset Fucking Werewolf is a slightly lighter-hearted music video game, which i’d also recommend. both available here:
http://cactusquid.com/games.htm

also, they’re pretty well-known now, but everything by the arcane kids: http://arcanekids.com/


#17

So I literally have a document full of devs on my computer so I will just drop some on here

Ryan Melmoth (made Mbibli’s Quest): http://gamesforweirdpeople.com/

Cannot BELIEVE no one’s mentioned Anna Anthropy: https://w.itch.io/

I know he’s not for everyone, but Jason Rohrer is definitely avant-garde: http://hcsoftware.sourceforge.net/jason-rohrer/

You can’t find much of her work anymore, but merritt k made some pretty awesome work: http://merrittk.com/

Marina Kittaka: https://even-kei.itch.io/

Gregory Weir is one of the original artsy devs: http://ludusnovus.net/

I’m not really a huge fan of his work, but Jordan Magnuson did some interesting work: https://www.necessarygames.com

Emi Reed: https://coleo_kin.itch.io/

Once again, shocked by the fact no one has mentioned Porpentine Charity Heartscape!: http://slimedaughter.com/

There’s a lot more but I will be back later :wink: