[’Free Play’ is a regular weekly column by Ancil Anthropy about freely downloadable video games, and the people who make them. This week’s column profiles iteration GAMES.]

In 1999, Mark Overmars—professor of game and media technology at Utrecht University—began developing a program called Game Maker. Now in its sixth iteration, Game Maker is a software package designed to simplify PC game development—referred to as "middleware", it allows developers to create games in a straightforward drag-and-drop environment without having to deal with serious coding.

Jph Wacheski discovered Game Maker while searching for a way to make games without having to learn C++, and over the last few years has been releasing Game Maker "experiments" under the name iteration GAMES. Prior to creating games, Jph was "deeply devoted to" designing sounds and creating music with the Buzz synthesizer, and Jph's experience working with audio shows in the sound design of iteration's games.

The games—sadly Windows-only, due to Game Maker's reliance on DirectX—are evocative of the arcade experience, combining Minter-like screen effects and staticky bursts of audio to create an effect that oscillates between hypnotic and unsettling. These games have a presence, and you're never quite sure whether it's playing with you or against you.

Remember when we used to play?

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Iteration's "experiments" (all downloadable from the front page of the site) draw from a library of older arcade games, sometimes literally. Joust 3 applies the mechanics, characters and sprites of Midway's original series to new scrolling stages. Sub Atomic began development as a remake of Taito's Electric Yo-yo, and the first three stages of that remake have to be played before the new game will be unlocked. And there's 100 Invaders, which begins as a straightforward Space Invaders game (using sprites designed by another Game Maker developer, Graham Lackey), until the ghosts of invaders you've slain return to haunt you.

But perhaps the most impressive remake is Wizard of Wor Remix, an expansive recreation of Midway's maze shooter. The labyrinths in the remix are larger and more tangled, with passages that admit players but not bullets. Players can use a new charging teleport ability, and an AI will step in to control player two if there's only one person at the keyboard. But the most compelling addition is the harsh new audio: the static-heavy laughter and mocking taunts suit Midway's dark arena crawl perfectly.

Survive long enough to get the high score.

Lock-On, with its downtempo background music and drum-like sound effects, is closer to the "hypnotic" end of the spectrum. The player and enemies drift on the blue-grey screen like lilies on a pond. Laughter accompanies a miss in this game, but it sounds like a chuckle, an invitation to play another game.

The goal is to clear each stage of enemies. A forward shot fires in the direction and speed the player is moving, but the lock-on shot is more reliable, sending a homing missile toward the nearest enemy. When destroyed, some enemies leave pick-ups behind. As in Joust, if the pick-ups aren't collected quickly, they'll transform into new, more dangerous enemies. Collecting enough will provide a color change and greater firepower. As stages progress, the wind that blows on the pond becomes more severe, and the enemies more numerous.

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Finally, be sure to check out...

Seeds, an "artificial life" sandbox that the player is free to fill with various lifeforms that transform the screen into a living kaleidoscope.

[Ancil Anthropy is a game developer and space invader. She fills dessgeega.com with lots of good stuff and writes for a bunch of places, including The Gamer’s Quarter and The Independent Gaming Source.]