Indie Game of the Month – Marbles on Stream is exactly the game we need for these weird times

We’re living in pretty bizarre times. With the COVID-19 pandemic going on, people are stuck at home and the pastime of gaming has boomed in popularity. Unfortunately, the business of gaming hasn’t fared nearly as well. Without being able to come into offices safely, dev teams have been working from home, and this has rattled productivity especially in bigger AAA studios. Games are getting delayed left and right and our release schedules have gotten thin. It doesn’t help that we are smack dab in the middle of the summer dry season.

And so, things are changing. Many outlets are now reviewing a lot more indie games than usual, which makes Indie Game of the Month a particularly interesting piece to write. It was originally conceived as a place to showcase good, weird, or otherwise artistically notable indie games that weren’t getting as much press as they should, but now the entire industry is leaning on the indiesphere for content as we adjust to the new normal.

As a result, nearly every candidate I had for Indie Game of the Month this month has already been actively covered, and you know good for them. Indie developers are being noticed now more than ever and the indiesphere of development is booming. But what would we cover here? Well, that answer came to me in the form of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

In a recent episode, Oliver presented an alternative for standard sports in the time of the pandemic: marble runs, massive complicated almost Rube Goldberg style sporting events featuring marbles, each of which belongs to a particular team with a particular backstory. And wouldn’t you know it, as I slowly grew addicted to this new past-time, I found a small little indie title that has existed for some time, is getting new content each month and has barely gotten the attention it deserves especially in our current weird times.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, Marbles on Stream, this month’s Indie Game of the Month.

Now I’ve talked a lot about why I’ve chosen this game this month, but I haven’t talked about the game itself, and that’s because it’s unbelievably simple. The game is a marble physics simulator. You can build whatever wacky course you want (or pick from tons of courses already built by the community) drop some marbles in and watch and wait to see who wins. There are even mods for other non-racing marble events, like pachinko.

The thing that makes Marbles on Stream so interesting is the stream part of its title. This is a game built for Twitch, a relatively new but popular mechanic in the indiesphere. You aren’t necessarily meant to play the game, you are just meant to set it up. Your Twitch viewers are the players. By simply typing in a chat command, Twitch viewers from all around the world can add their own marbles to any race you run. The entire world can participate in your very own marblelympics.

And the neat thing about this is that you keep your record. It’s tied to your Twitch account. So if you set a world record, that world record is yours to flaunt. As is the case with real-life marble runs, Marbles on Stream sets itself up to allow you to create your own backstories, team rivalries, and much more, all for digital approximations of glass spheres.

Marbles on Stream is such an interesting game if only because of the power of its creation engine. With a little bit of ingenuity, you can design courses made to simulate any sort of marble event. There are marble battle royales, marble endurance competitions, incentives to tilt maps to allow other marbles to win, and if you are bored you can even generate an infinite number of procedurally generated tracks so that you always have a totally new race to show off to your viewers.

And on top of all of this, Marbles on Stream can very easily be run while you are streaming other games. It’s lightweight, you can run it on your phone if you want to, shove it in a window, and go for literal time breaking world records as you also play literally any other game in your library. There’s practically no reason NOT to run Marbles on Stream alongside any other game.

Marbles on Stream originally came out two years ago but has been getting updates and new content consistently since its release. So why am I giving it Indie Game of the Month now?

Well, because much like real life marble runs which has just seen a surge of popularity, Marbles on Stream has just received a similar surge of popularity in the streaming world. I, honestly, think that this game, this tiny little free to play (pay to unlock) game is strangely iconic for our current times. It’s a game based on a pastime that has blown up recently due to the pandemic, and it’s a game that couldn’t be a game if it weren’t for other people coming together and doing something collaborative from long distances. It’s weird, but times are weird.

So if you have a stream, I think you owe it to yourself to check out Marbles on Stream, and maybe even keep it running in a small window in your overlay. Who knows, you might set a world record without even trying.