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In the last few years, powerful modeling tools have put massive power in the hands of gamers to change and extend the games they play. Valve, the developer of the “Half-Life” franchise, has taken this a step further and started hiring entire teams of mod developers. Now fan-made mods like “Day of Defeat” and “Counter-Strike” are official parts of the “Half-Life” world.
But amateurs and independent programmers who want to create their own games from scratch still face many of the same challenges they always have. Tools like Flash have made creating your own games easier, but they sometimes come with trade-offs. This week I looked at three examples of indie games that are garnering attention online.

Made by students at the University of Southern California’s Division of Interactive Media, this game is hands down the most attractive of the three. The player is a flying blue-haired boy with the power to control certain kinds of clouds. In the game’s four levels, you must gather the clouds, make shapes in the sky and use rain to fight smog.
It’s an innovative idea that plays fairly well. The art and music are wonderful, reminiscent of the more pensive moments in the films of Hayao Miyazaki. But the game’s limitations are obvious. With only four levels, there isn’t much replay value, and the incredibly slow pace of the game is likely to turn off trigger-happy action gamers.
Still, it’s good to see interesting puzzle games like this one make a comeback, and those who want a break from loud commercial games will want to take a look. “Cloud” can be downloaded for free at http://intihuatani.usc.edu/cloud.

The original “Halo” for Xbox reminded everyone how much fun pointless destruction can be. Now a few of its legions of fans have produced an old-fashioned 2-D platform game based on the “Halo” world.
Like its ancestor “Duke Nukem,” “Halo Zero” is a side-scrolling game with limited strategy aside from destroying everything, though some levels mix it up a bit with time limits or other gimmicks. Fans of “Halo” will be amused to see the old alien baddies and weapons return in 2-D format. Download at www.halozero.new.fr.

Most puzzle games are either bad ideas or good ideas gone wrong, but you only need to remember “Tetris” to know that when a puzzle game works, it’s hard to stop playing. In “Moleculous,” you’re a lab intern assigned to help Professor Von Leakentube discover cold fusion, before the world runs out of fossil fuels. To do this, you must complete “elements” by arranging pegs so that droplets bounce off of them and fall into a beaker.
Like most puzzle games, the backstory’s not important. What’s important is how long the game can keep you playing, and “Moleculous” has real time wasting potential. As the levels increase in difficulty, explosive pegs and other obstacles keep things interesting, all while the number of pegs the drops must hit increases. Though the full game will cost you, the free version, available at www.gametrust.com/moleculous, is enough to give you a taste.

by Ben Applegate
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