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Indie | Nestlings

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It almost got to the point that I couldn’t take it any more – the dread had consumed me and my every subsequent movement and action was shaped by it. Crates and other assorted household miscellany, everything you’d expect from a secluded living space cum-pseudo-scientific laboratory, began to deceive my brain in its perturbed state, forming twisted, tortured semblances of faces, hunched bodies or at times entire creatures.

There’s no “game”, nor any particular objective, at the heart of Nestlings. Broadly speaking, to see the ending there’s only one entirely necessary action beyond movement itself. It could be over in under twenty seconds, because the single real-time plot event lies in wait beyond a locked trapdoor, the key to which can be found in the adjacent room at any time. It’s unlikely many players will define their engagement on such a casual level, however, because the meat of the episode is anchored firmly in, well, itself. An experience exists, contained in this relatively limited box, and it’s up to us to engage with it and allow it to do the same to us.

What makes it strictly a videogame and not a film is this quality. It hinges on non-linearity, like a kind of short choose your own adventure book whose pages have been ripped out and stapled back together at random. The player is eventually revealed to be an observer, as opposed to participant, in this perverse nightmare. This is unusual, and arguably is the reason it’s purported to fill the gap between its host media and film.
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However, it’s an unmistakably participatory non-participation. Interactivity is absolutely vital for the immersive, highly personal experience Nestlings provides, and this is where only videogames can truly deliver. Rather than conflating into film – as many acclaimed mainstream titles are guilty of – it exploits the potentials of its chosen medium almost as far as more ambitious titles have proven to.

Nestlings is powerful. Though it wears its influences proudly, it’s less meandering and far more direct than other comparable interactive works, occupying a twisted space of its own unique making. This is neither a positive nor negative aspect, just one that marks it out against an already unclassifiable field, and for that Lewis deserves recognition.

Furthermore, to say that it packs a punch is an understatement. Short-form games can exploit certain elements of design in unforeseen ways, and the very fact of Nestlings’ truncated length allows it to be one of the most consistently psychologically intense and potent gaming experiences I can think of. It’s utterly captivating from beginning to end – and that’s more than can be said for even the very best in any given field. By Fraser McMillan

Get Nestlings from its ModDB page. It’s free, but you’ll need copies of Half-Life 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode 2 installed.

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3 Comments

    I’ve had this in my Steam list since it was released, but only just now did I play it. Wow.

    I’m far more impressed than with Lewis’ first mod (although I gather he’s remaking it). And that it was made in three days! Constraints really are a boon to creativity. Simple, but effective. And surely one of the creepiest Wallpaper designs ever?

    Didn’t realize Kevin McLeod did the soundtrack for the fantastic Small Worlds as well, very cool.

  • For the record, I think Nestlings is much tighter than Post Script Ep1 v1 as well. There are still things I’d change, though. For example: what Fraser thought was “inherent nonlinearity” in the notes setup was just me not being able to think of a better way to present the story in time.

  • I actually read the first half of them in order and I thought that you might have made it that no matter which note you read, it would always become the next one linearly. There are definitely bugs still in it, mattresses flopping through the floor, odd shadows, but they add to the atmosphere! I think, with more time, it could’ve benefited from shorter notes, and more narrative revealing rooms as well.

    And I do understand you were trying to do a lot more with Post Script whereas Nestlings was much more a self enclosed affair. One thing that disappointed me with Post Script is how it felt like a long path gated by a couple simple puzzles, and not a town at all. After seeing all the lush screenshots beforehand when I discovered, by circling the perimeter, that the field and small lake was just a tiny enclosed dead end, well. There’s no question that the distance between what I think I should be able to do and what I actually can is a lot smaller when you are just concerned with a single house.

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