[’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 Metanet Software.]

"There are a lot of good games out, but at the same time there is an unsettling trend towards becoming more and more mainstream: to emulate the 'big leagues' of the video game industry. Looking at the music industry, it's depressing when the independent scene becomes a second mainstream." Metanet Software—who supplied the above quote in an interview with The Independent Gaming Source—are developers of freeware games.

Raigan Burns and Mare Sheppard, who comprise Metanet, see independent game development as an avenue for innovation and experimentation. Since they "don't owe anything to anyone," they're free to develop games that mainstream development houses might consider too risky or unprofitable.

The ninja is driven not only by a thirst for gold, but also by a physics simulation

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"Sometimes you want to play a game that doesn't exist yet. So you make it, and all is well with the world again." Metanet's first release, N, most resembles single-screen action puzzle games like Lode Runner and Puchiwara No Bouken: there is gold to collect, enemies to elude, and an exit to find.

Where N differs is in the mobility of its protagonist. N stars a ninja, and where Lode Runner's stages are dense mazes in which getting from point A to point B is a puzzle, the acrobatics of N lay each stage wide open. The ninja is affected by momentum and inertia, and a measured running start and leap will allow the player to soar from one side of the screen to the other, jump up a wall and slide down the other side.

The obstacles in N are not the walls, which bend to the player's motive abilities, but the octogonal robots that patrol the corridors. There are drones which give chase, turrets that launch missiles, and mines positioned in just the right places for the ninja to brush against them. A brush is all it takes. Fortunately N mitigates the frustration of frequent deaths by animating every death. The explosion will blow the ninja to pieces, a limb might fly across a room, brush another mine, and be propelled back in the opposite direction. The most elaborate physics in the game, according to Raigan, are the ones that animate the ninja's death. Death in N is the game's second pleasure.

The stages that challenge the player are lovely to look at, combining smart two-tone visual design with devious level arrangement. In the course of revising and re-releasing the game, Metanet has created over a thousand stages. Thousands more have been created by players using Ned, the N level editor.

One day robots will reach out to the stars

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Currently, Metanet is working on their next game—tentatively titled "Robotology"—developed in OpenGL and C++. Like Umihara Kawase, the protagonist will be able to fire and swing from a wire and use a variety of parkour-like gymnastics to navigate a Phillip K. Dick-inspired future world of robots (some comparable in size to the population of Fumito Ueda's latest release). As with N, a level editor and user-created stages will be an important part of the game.

Finally, be sure to check out...

Freeware Rebellion, a ten-minute documentary on Metanet filmed by Jim Munroe, in which Mare and Raigan talk about freeware, their favorite games, and desktop katamaris.

[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.]