Blendo

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Blendo Games is the studio name of Brendon Chung, and he is who I want to be when I grow up. He’s been cranking out brilliantly weird experimental games for years now, and Flotilla is the most polished and complete one yet.

You can download the demo for Windows, but I’ve been waiting for the Xbox 360 version, which went live last week. It’s in the Indie Games section, and is so far beyond any of the other games there, it’s almost embarrassing; it’s kind of like finding a complete draft of Kavalier and Clay buried in a thread on a comic book message board. Microsoft has done a noble job democratizing game development and distribution, but they kind of need a better filter on their Indie Games category, maybe a “No Really These Are Good” section.

In any case, the Xbox download will cost you five bucks, and the PC version is only ten. Even if you don’t think you’d be into the game, go ahead and buy it just to support the principle.

You can watch the demo video to get an idea of what the “core” gameplay is like — it’s a series of tactical battles in 3D space. Spaceships are more vulnerable on their backs and bottoms, so there’s a good bit of focus on flanking maneuvers and balancing ship speed and seriously this is all missing the point.

The point is that the game has a level of polish in the presentation and imagination in the storytelling that makes it abundantly clear this is one guy’s unique voice. There’s an attention to detail in all of the UI and graphic design that would be in the top tier of “professional” games, and is just plain overkill for an “indie” project. Even better, the tactical combat in Flotilla is part of a whole adventure mode, in which you’ll be encountering space rhinos, stowaway toucans, and psychic dogs. Like the previous Blendo project Gravity Bone [YouTube video of the first level], it’s not just that the whole is better than the sum of its parts, it’s that the whole is a self-contained package of genius that seems to come out of nowhere.

I’m not even any good at the tactical combat, and I can never survive past the second battle. I still bought the game without a second thought and I’m enjoying the hell out of it.

When I first got interested in videogames, it was via the Atari 2600, in the days when most of the games were made by one or two people and then packaged up to support the Activision or Atari brand names. When I got interested in making games, though, was via the old “album cover” games of Electronic Arts, and later the LucasArts adventure games. What those games had in common was that they acknowledged they were creative works, not just a prepackaged toy or a piece of Commercial Entertainment Product. Over the years, having “A Game By Some Dude” on the front of the box became less cool and more a case of ego-tripping on the part of Mr. Dude, but for a while it was a huge deal: a reminder that a videogame can be a medium of expression, just as much as a comic book, or novel, or painting, or film.

That’s what I’m seeing when I browse through the Blendo Games site (although Chung doesn’t feel the need to paste his name all over everything; he mostly lets the games speak for themselves). I’d like to believe that games and the tools for making them have advanced to the point where we can reach that level of artistry and creativity of the late 80s/early 90s, where you don’t need a huge team or a publisher or an established franchise to make a videogame, you just need a good idea.

I’d like to believe that, anyway. It’s more likely that Chung is just crazy talented and/or too weird to talk himself out of making a game out of a novel idea.