Ambient Mixtape 16 is a collection of itch-hosted games that were all built in Unity, all use the same first-person camera controller, and were all themed around the concept of “After Hours.” The site says:
AM16 intends to showcase a diverse spectrum of independent developers and how their process interacts within shared constraints.
I played all the games in the collection and I pretty much liked them all. You should definitely check out as many of them as you can manage. Here’s my short thoughts on each of them:
The Migration – Connor Sherlock
Connor Sherlock is a Very Good Developer whose work I have played and enjoyed before, and The Migration is pretty much More Good Connor Sherlock Stuff. This is a long atmospheric walk through a cold desert night. The colors are swell. There are pillars and monoliths all over the damn place, and eventually you reach a booming catharsis with some good-ass music. Please play this one. Please play all his stuff, actually.
THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD – Lycaon
This one lets you know right off the bat that it’s about the creator’s depression. I’ve played kind of a lot of games about depression over the last six or seven years, and this is certainly the one that has made me feel most physically anxious and uncomfortable– which is, like, a serious achievement! If you’re sensitive to flashing or flickering lights you might want to skip this game, but the rest of you should check it out. Really effective use of sound and disruptive visual effects. Short and strong, like a punch to the chest.
t- e ni hтm-are of·`a c ty – Pol Clarissou
This game is evocative of a place and a feeling– being in a rainy city at night, feeling and hearing the cars pass by with violent speed in the dark. There’s no story content, but there’s some very cool disorienting effects. You can probably get a good feel of it in only two or three minutes. I am honestly not sure if there’s anything else here– I got quite turned around and lost, which is the point of the experience, i think.
Rotting Crescendo – René Rother
A cool puzzle and some atmospheric boat environment work. Beyond the mood, I am not sure that I “got” it– it ends with a an image-heavy but context-light poem that I am not sure is there to be “got”– but I did enjoy figuring out the puzzle.
touch me2 – animal phase
There’s a cool gag here involving a FPS hand that I really enjoyed. Short as hell, but the gag is pretty sound, and it’s well-centered in the game. I feel like the creator could do a lot more with it– but regardless of whether or not they plan on that, this is Funny and Good and I liked it.
Panoptique – emptyfortress
A short walk through increasingly static-y hallways while dudes in shirts and ties shirts with computers for heads tell you how fucked society is. A little rough, compared to the others in the collection. I think I completed it in less than a minute.
Exit 19 – Jack Squires
This one uses a neat noise effect on near landscapes and structures. Right away, this establishes a really interesting, coherent mood. Lighting and colors help a lot, too. There’s a huge environment to explore, though, and the signposting is not great, so I almost quit a few times before I suddenly stumbled upon the ending. The game will return you to the correct path if you wander away from it too much, but that brute-force method doesn’t feel great and there are a few environments where you can wander in circles again and again without figuring out where you should go. The scenes dotted around the desert are really damn spooky-good, though, and the music and sound design are great, and the weirdly Lovecraftian text snippets are fun. Worth checking out.
I Have Been There Twice – RoboCicero
A mysterious walk through a rainy brown city. You leave a track of glowing polygons behind you in the dark as you pass mothy orange lights and sealed-off doorways up the hill toward a glowing pillar of light. Another example of a really efficiently-captured and spooky mood. I ended the game by doing SOMETHING weird, and I’m not sure if I really saw the whole thing, but it was chill nevertheless.
Media is dead, you are alive – MrTedders
Perhaps the most explicitly gamey of all the games in this collection. It has puzzles with rules and a learning curve. It has an appealingly noisy pixelly aesthetic. It has calm robot-y voices that chant quotes from games studies texts at you in environments made of throbbing polygons. I am not sure that I actually completed it– got to a pulsating greyish screen at one point and just figured I was done. I am a big fan of weird throbbing polygon environments, though, and these were some good ones.
About the collection in general: the site seems to say that the collection is meant to show people making diverse works within a shared set of constraints– perhaps to show a lot of very different takes on a simple idea, the way a game jam does. The restraints were pretty loose, too: just a shared camera controller and a vague-as-hell theme.
However, these games were pretty damn similar across the board. That’s not bad, really! All of these were pretty much the kind of thing I like to play in a single-session environment-explorer. But these creators did demonstrate a common fascination with rainy city nights, giant (Lovecraftian?) edifices, and a kind of blurry-edged cosmic-horror-slash-existential-despair. I was glad to see touch me2 explore some different ground, tonally.
Similarities aside, though, these creators are really really talented at capturing that kind of vague dread. I was particularly impressed by The Migration, Exit 19’s art and audio aesthetic, the rainy distortion in t- e ni hтm-are of·`a c ty, and the repetitive thudding despair of The House that Dripped Blood.
I hope the organizers do another one of these in the future!