This article can also be found at The Yorker.
It's rare that movies and books get preview releases, and services like Spotify are making album previews more common; but in the present age of gaming, the demo is king in promoting a product. As all current-generation gaming devices have the ability to download software from the internet, putting an early build up for a free download will attract a lot of people, to the point where developers who don't are starting to receive flak from fans who insist on trying before they buy. Since hey, if their game is as good as they promise it to be, they have nothing to hide, right?
Navigator - Have you ever played a puzzle game where you accidentally misplaced a block just slightly out of place, and wish you had the ability to nudge it back into place? Navigator takes that idea and runs with it. The main aim is to keep Nav, a cute little guy trapped in your playing field, alive as blocks slowly push their way up from the bottom. You have a block cannon that can create clusters of similarly-coloured blocks, causing them to vanish, giving Nav a little more breathing room. But at the same time he's not entirely helpless; he can push blocks around too, assisting in setting up combos. Controlling both Nav and the Block Cannon at once takes some getting used to, but it's a wonderful dynamic once it clicks. The controls are designed so a second player can handle Nav duties while you operate the cannon. After that, it comes down to how much you like taking risks - do you make small, conservative drops that keeps Nav as safe as possible, or do you pile on the blocks to set up some huge score-filling combos?
Navigator (At time of writing V1.0 Beta) is available for download here.
Level 2 - The premise of this one is a little strange. A metal band, Last Chance To Reason produced an album entirely about Computers and A.I., named Level 2. An incredibly nerdy premise, and the decision to turn the album into a scrolling shooter is a master-stroke. The way that the music is used is the impressive factor - all of the obstacles and enemy movements are synced perfectly with the music. This is helped by the high quality (and somewhat creepy) art direction. Gigantic cybernetic heads that spit skulls as they scream "ERASE" is either awesome or terrifying. Definitely worth a play through, even if metal isn't your genre of choice.
A demo of the first stage, 'Upload Complete' is available for download here.
SpyParty - Any game that involves more than one player has a deep-seated element of mind games. The world champions of Street Fighter and Starcraft know their game well, but to win they have to know the mentality on their opponent. It's this aspect that's the source of thrill and excitement for some; for those people, SpyParty exists. It's the competitive mind game in the purest sense.
There's a thriving party in an apartment building, watched in the distance by a sniper. Why the sniper? Because one of the guests at the party is a spy, and he or she must be taken out before they manage to complete their mission. Only the sniper and the spy are controlled by humans - the spy must blend in with the computer-controlled crowd, assisted by being able to 'see' the paths the other guests can take. The sniper's job isn't so easy when the A.I. occasionally acts suspicious too...
SpyParty's Early-Access Beta is a paid program (But if you paid for Minecraft, this isn't so shocking). You can sign up for it here.