Crayon Physics is part physics engine, part MS Paint: Every object you draw behaves (more or less) according to Newton's laws of motion. Like so many of the best indie game designers of the last few years, Purho takes this simple concept and develops it into a thought-provoking, charming and completely unique experience.
Crayon Physics' "story mode," consisting of 76 individual puzzles created by Purho, introduces you to the game's core mechanics. The objective is always the same: Guide a red ball into a yellow star through whatever means you can dream up. The game slowly ramps up the difficulty by introducing new construction elements to the equation - you start out drawing basic ramps and platforms, but it won't be long before you're building horrendously complex networks of levers and pulleys to carry your payload across the field.
You can also design your own levels, using the same tools that Purho used to construct the original 76 puzzles, and upload your creations to an online UGC community, the Crayon Physics Playground. The game sounds a lot like the next (though smaller) Little Big Planet - Deam makes the comparison in his review, and the game's description seems to follow the LBP formula of sandbox + UGC + puzzles + cuteness.
The independent games market is really heating up, and producing some absolutely wonderful and unbelievably sophisticated new titles. From DigiPen's Narbacular Drop (the inspiration of last year's dark horse Portal), to Jenova Chen's deeply influential fl0w, to the PixelJunk titles and the plethora of new independent titles coming available via WiiWare, Xbox Live Community Games, Steam and other channels, a growing number of the most highly revered and innovative games out there have been independently designed and/or produced (or inspired by an indy game).
For instance, I just finished playing yet another big indy hit that came out in 2008 (also an Independent Game Festival winner) World of Goo (downloaded via WiiWare) -- a unique, challenging yet intuitive game that allows for casual play, creative problem-solving and fun with physics, all within the very stretchy confines of an appealing game environment populated by tiny adorable gobs of Goo. The game has been getting rave reviews since it first previewed at last year's Nintendo Media Summit, and ends with a not-so-subtle hint of a sequel.
Another example is Mousechief's Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble, a PC game/digital board game/interactive "choose-your-own-adventure" style story that was initially launched last year. Since then, the game has been revamped, and its creator Keith Nemitz has been nominated in the second annual Writers Guild of America awards for games. You can find out more about the game over at Leigh Alexander's SexyVideogameLand, which has been following Dangerous High School Girls... since it first came out (it's also where I first found out about it). The game skews a bit older than Crayon Physics or World of Goo (it's rated Teen by the TIGRS, but in a very tongue-in-cheek, funny, cute and subversive way.
Yay for indy game developers, and yay for enabling emerging designers to share their creations with the rest of the world. And yay for free demos, which you can download following these links:
World of Goo (Available for PC and Mac)
Crayon Physics Deluxe (Available on PC only, unfortunately)
Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble (Available for PC and Mac)