I was recently sent a pre-release copy of Rainstorm EP released by Ice Water Games, a small development collective consisting of thirteen members and which is run as a nonprofit*, or as they describe it on their site, “a democratically run games label […] controlled collectively by the membership.” Their games are each made by members, sometimes individually and sometimes in small teams, which is the case with Rainstorm EP, which credits Jake Grizzly Pierce with the art, development and design and Jakey Mumfie with sound design, music and implementation.
I don’t usually respond to PR emails, but I was intrigued by this premise and decided to take a look at Rainstorm EP. The game is short and simple, more like a virtual playlist than classic videogame, similar to Sundae Moth’s SoftTelevision. This low-poly jukebox consists of what appears to be a concrete lot with a brick wall, just sort of hanging as a giant single tile out in space. You can rotate the tile, look at it from the front or the back, and click on the various things scattered upon it to find hidden cassette tapes. These tapes, which can be selected from a carousel at the bottom of the screen, can be found around manhole covers and wet band posters, and play a variety of tunes that sweetly play to the sound of pouring rain.
Some of these compositions are eerie, some of them are more sombre, while others are playful, but the one thing they have in common is that they’re all suited to the feelings of being caught outside in the rain, and the muted colour palette of the game reinforces the sensation of being caught in the city on the misty grey evening of a storm.
This game is extremely short, and can be played in a matter of minutes. It’s charming, and well-executed, but isn’t pushing too many boundaries in either aesthetic or conceptual terms. That’s alright, not everything has to reinvent the wheel. It slots in well with a category of indie games that serve to relax, to decompress, to soften the mood. It seems rude to sum them up as interactive screensavers, or “time wasters”, or as a kind of digital stress-ball, but I think for someone looking to kill 10 minutes they can be useful in that way.
I wondered, while looking into Ice Water Games, if this tiny little digital music box gave me enough to draw any conclusion about the collective. So to get a clearer understanding of where these artists are coming from, I decided to play another game: Fire Place by Badru.
Fire Place is similar to Rainstorm EP in that it fits into the same category of short, relaxing game with a single concept and straightforward mechanics. On the description page for the game, Badru even invites players to use Fire Place they way they would use the fireplace channel, for instance during “friendly gatherings.”
But Fire Place is a little bit more complex than Rainstorm EP. Instead of clicking things to uncover cassette tapes, Fire Place quite literally tasks the player with getting a fire going in one of four environments (the main one being, of course, a fireplace.) The first-person game, which has that smooth geometric look of a 3D Unity game, as opposed to Rainstorm EP’s chunky, low-res style, offers the player a variety of tools to use to get their fire roaring. These include paper, logs, matches, a poker and tongs. The paper and logs can be scaled to be bigger or smaller using the mouse wheel on your keyboard, and must be thrown into the fireplace in the right balance to actually catch and create a proud fire.
Although Fire Place is just as simple as Rainstorm EP, it’s actually surprisingly difficult to get a real fire going. It might be harder to complete this task in the game than it is in real life. Both games demand a certain degree of calm and mindfulness, but Fire Place requires a little more focus and concentration to actually achieve the goal. I can’t help but feel Fire Place has a little bit more meat on its bones than Rainstorm EP because of that extra layer of complexity, but both do the job of presenting players with digital environments that are meditative, non-confrontational, and atmospheric. (It’s worth mentioning also that the original soundtrack by Michael Bell is beautiful.)
That seems to be the general vibe I get from Ice Water Games. I wish the artists in this little collective well on their quest to make ambient, gentle, miniature virtual worlds, and I recommend their stuff to anybody looking to take a few minutes to chill out, do something fun without too much demand, and listen to some nice music. Rainstorm EP is available for $3.00 on itch.io right now and Fire Place can be purchased for $5.00 from itch.io or Steam—humble prices for good games from developers working together toward a noble goal.
*12/04/2019 Update: I have been informed by Ice Water Games member Badru that the label is legally a nonprofit, rather than a co-op as I had originally believed. Additionally, there are a total of 13 members, whereas 7 names are listed on their blog. Badru also clarifies that games sales go “100% to the creators, split by labor contribution to the product.” The review has been altered to reflect this.