Yesterday marked the day of the annual Boston Festival of Indie Games, or BFIG, held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). At the festival, indie game developers gather to show the attendees what they’ve been working on in hopes of getting noticed by the gaming community.
Most people at the festival came for the games that were put on display, understandably, but as a student of game design, I was curious about the backgrounds of the games I saw. Why did these people make the game they displayed, specifically? In the chaos of the showcase, I managed to speak with some of the teams to find out more about their inspiration and motivation. I also sent out an email the day after BFIG so the developers I was unable to talk to during BFIG could tell me their experiences.
Below is a compilation of what I found out, along with information about the games themselves. If the platform isn’t mentioned in the game description, it’s a PC-only game.
DinoTrucks by Yaya Play
In this iPad game for kids aged 3 and up, you are given access to a literal sandbox and an inventory of items, including toy versions of construction vehicles. You can interact with items into the environment and use an excavator to dig in the sand to find additional items. Along with hats and other accessories, there are dinosaur bones in the sandbox, and completing full skeletons with the bones cause the skeletal dinosaur to come to life.
I was not able to play the game, but from watching it I felt the little boy in me start bursting with joy from the idea of playing with dinosaurs in an interactive space. I don’t think I could explain myself to my housemates if they saw me playing it without young children around, but that won’t stop me from looking into it more when it’s released this fall.
I contacted Yaya Play through email since I couldn’t talk to their team, and got the following reply:
I wanted to create DinoTrucks because as my daughter started to seriously interact with the world I became interested in kids games which are more about exploration and self-directed play than forced achievements or outcomes. DinoTrucks is a sandbox where kids use an excavator truck to dig up dino bones, trucks, and other items that all interact with each other in a variety of ways, allowing lots of surprising experimentation.
-Jason Wiser, Creative Director of Yaya Play LLC
Revolution 60 by Giant Spacekat
A self-proclaimed mash up of Heavy Rain and Mass Effect, Revolution 60 is a fully 3D game made for iOS that focuses on interactive storytelling. You control Holiday, a special operatives agent tasked with retrieving an American orbital weapons platform that has gone off course. Failing means nuclear war, but succeeding means following or rejecting the orders and ideas of other special agents. You can either follow commander Minuete, who is hellbent on completing her mission no matter what, or engineer Amelia, who thinks there’s something fishy about the situation. The game is very focused on dialogue and decision making, and will have alternate story lines for different interactions with the other characters.
My love of storytelling in games has made me a huge fan of The Walking Dead and Mass Effect, so I’m planning on keeping my eye on this game. While the character models aren’t helping fight the “all video game girls are hyper-sexualized” argument, a full 3D and animated game is something that hasn’t been seen on non-gaming mobile devices.
I was able to talk to the girls behind Revolution 60, and I learned that the thought behind Revolution 60 focused on the device on which it was released. The team noticed that there were no full 3D and/or well-written storytelling games available on mobile devices, and decided to fill that hole.
Shattered Planet by Kitfox Games
A procedurally generated RPG, Shattered Planet brings you to the future of humanity, which is fighting an incurable disease called the Blight. There’s hope for a way to fight back left on an abandoned Earth, so it’s up to you to find it. The developers plan to have the story composed of many small Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style choices, allowing you the most roleplaying ability.
I had a very brief conversation while watching the gameplay, though I didn’t have a chance to ask my main question, which was answered in an email quoted below. There’s a lot of work still to be done before the game will be released, but the team is dedicated to making the most fun experience possible. I also noticed later that their website has pictures of a plushie Kit the Fox making the game, and foxes are simply adorable, so how could I not want to play this game?
I founded [Kitfox] after leaving the AAA game industry to try and put my design skills to the test, with more freedom. Shattered Planet is our first attempt at a commercial product but it won’t be our last! We developed the concept organically from multiple prototypes, with the end goal of making a player experience focused around exploration.
-Tanya Short, Creative Director of Kitfox Games
Skipping Stones by KO-OP Mode
Less of a game and more of an interactive environment, Skipping Stones is a generative music experience that lets you walk around a natural landscape and observe the effects your presence and actions have on the world. Similar to Proteus, existing in the world and doing actions results in music, and in some cases change the environment at large, such as weather or season.
I learned from talking to the team that a lot of the artistic inspiration for the game came from a French painter, and the still screens in the world are framed to be recreations of his work. The minimal design and focus on color use creates a beautiful world just waiting to be seen.
I began to make [the game] after finding out a close friend of mine took his own life. I took a walk in the woods to get away from everything and try to reflect, and I was struck the beauty of the solitary nature around me and that really helped me deal with some of what I was going through. Skipping Stones is a game about exploring nature, its wonders and beauty, and having a space to reflect and relax and get away from it all for a little while.
Saleem Dabbous, part of the KO-OP Mode collective from Montreal
Lost Marbles by Binary Takeover
Combining the joys of platforming and small round objects, Lost Marbles is a puzzle platformer race-to-the-finish. The main mechanic of the game is switching the active marble: paper shrinks, rubber bounces, and metal can charge through things. The marbles also have different interactions with the level hazards; metal sticks to magnets, for example. Using the three marbles, you have to get to the end of the level without falling off.
I spoke with the team while trying the game out, and I learned that the game was a school project that returned to development after the team’s graduation. The game was quick to learn and easy to control from the minimal game rules, which was another goal for the team.
Lost Marbles was created as a school project at Fullsail University created by Keith Morgado, Jonathan Delong, Mike Vittigilo, Curtis Shovan and Dustin Holtz. Keith and Jonathan founded Binary Takeover and decided to resurrect the game a few years after graduating.
–PressKit website for Lost Marbles
Lost Marbles was our opportunity to make a game that anyone could really enjoy, just like the games of our youth. Simple games were always very endearing to us, constraining the rules really forced us to think critically about game design.
-Keith Morgado, Co-Founder of Binary Takeover
Fire Escapes by headRUSH
Another game made for Apple devices, Fire Escapes puts you in the position of a pair of firefighters returning tens of hundreds of babies to their singular mother. The babies fall out of the building and bounce if they hit your safety net, and making them bounce enough returns them to Mom. Missing a baby causes a death that matches Pikmin in eeriness; the baby becomes a ghost with a halo and angel wings, and floats around while you try to save the still-living babies.
I tried playing the game and found that the baby-hater in me preferred to let them fall rather than actually playing the game to win. The controls worked well and other players seemed to actually care about the well-being of babies, so it definitely has an audience which does not include heartless people like me.
I decided to make the game Fire Escapes because it was originally the first game I wrote for Palm OS back in 1999. After some moderate success with game/app development, I switched gears and went into traditional IT work. What you saw this past weekend at Boston FIG was my first attempt in 10 years at writing a game for a modern platform. I thought it made sense to come full circle and remake my first game.
-Brian Kokernak, Business & Development for headRUSH
Every five seconds a woman gives birth. Stop this woman.
-Relevant popular Tumblr post
Tower of Guns by Terrible Posture Studios
Inspired by the lunch-break style games like Binding of Isaac, Tower of Guns is a randomly generated FPS/Rougelike that is meant to be beaten in an hour or two per playthrough. Enemies, bosses, loot, and power-ups are all randomized at the start of a play, and it’s pretty difficult to beat, mostly because of the bullet hell style that the enemies and obstacles have. It also has the rule of “if you can see it, you can get to it,” rejecting the frustrating invisible walls present in many other games.
The game is in pre-alpha currently, but the build that exists shows the basic concept of the game pretty well. It played smoothly and the enemies were varied enough to not feel like retextures of the same thing over and over again. I learned from the developer that Tower of Guns is a game he decided to work on after the studio he worked for went under. It was his game, with his ideas, and his execution.
I used to work for the ill-fated 38studios. After the collapse of 38 Studios the idea of working for another large studio seemed strange to me. Anywhere I might work could face a similar collapse scenario–nowhere was safe–and no one else out there was going to make some of the zany game ideas I had floating around in my head.
-Joe Mirabello, sole developer for the game
Jungle Rumble by Disco Pixel
Bringing together monkeys, rhythm, and RTS, Jungle Rumble is an iOS and Android game that lets you help moneys gather and protect bananas by tapping their moves rhythmically on the screen. The game’s soundtrack responds to how you’re tapping, making the game world match your activity. The game is a self-proclaimed mix between Patapon and Advance Wars, which is very clear in the gameplay; the game mixes two completely different genres to make something not seen yet in games.
I was able to speak to the developer’s wife about the game, and she told me that Jungle Rumble is her husband’s passion project, which he made after noticing that the genre mash-up “rhythm real time strategy” had never been tried out before. I attempted to play the game, and though rhythm is not my strongest point, I had a fun time making the monkeys bounce around.
I have a short attention span tendency to drum on anything. I hate our culture of disposable plastic junk. I wanted to make a game out of it.
-Trevor Stricker, developer for Disco Pixel
Big Action Mega Fight! by Double Stallion Games
A modern recreation of the arcade brawling games of the 90’s, Big Action Mega Fight! is an iOS and Android game that is designed around the touch screen rather than joysticks and buttons. The goal of the game hasn’t changed from it’s predecessors; move to the right and beat up anything that moves, and sometimes things that don’t. Attacking in chains causes combos, which are more powerful and award more points than attack spamming. You can get stronger and acquire new attacks by spending coins at the gym, so you can move to the right and beat things up more efficiently.
The team says their game focuses on fluid movement over clunky port controls, and it’s evident when you play the game. I had to remind myself to go to other booths after trying out this game; the act of swiping and tapping comes very naturally with the interface, and there were very few input recognition errors with all the different types of swipes and taps. While I spoke with some of the team members, they told me that their game is a revival of old-school brawlers, and an attempt to get one that isn’t a poorly designed port onto the App Store.
We decided to build a brawler when we realized that there weren’t any good ones on the App Store, and yet it was a favourite genre from our childhoods. The only things to be found on the App Store today are still crappy ports of the old games themselves, with on-screen joysticks and buttons that get in your way, feel finicky, and just don’t do justice to mobile devices and touch screens in general. So we’ve built this game from the ground up to have really intuitive swipe-based combat that feels fluid and natural, without ever getting in your way. Along the way we also added over-the-top characters, ridiculous special attacks, and gave everything a humorous retro feel with all kinds of throwbacks to the old classics.
-Stephanie Beniak, Game Designer for Double Stallion Games
Crystal Brawl by Studio Mercato
A 2v2 fighting game on a hex map, Crystal Brawl brings four very different character types into one dynamic warzone to fight over a McGuffin-esque Crystal. Each grid space has a different terrain type, such as mountains and forests, which affect characters differently. The characters themselves, along with having general attack abilities, also have secondary abilities that change the terrain; for example, the archer character can either poison enemies or explode tiles and set fire to forest tiles. The game is also planned to go onto Ouya as well as PC, taking advantage of local multiplayer options.
The table for the game was very popular, but the team had a TV set up so people could watch the match, much like real-world sports games. One of the developers told me that the game is a mix of the team component from the sports of reality and the tile-based strategy from both RTS and TBS games.
For Crystal Brawl, we wanted to make something that combined elements of sports and strategy – and as a challenge to ourselves, we set up a week-long game jam (weekjam!) to see if we could pull it off under pressure! At the end of the week, we were pleasantly surprised with the playability of the game, and we continued work on it as it eventually evolved into Crystal Brawl.
-Ben Serviss, Co-Founder and Producer of Studio Mercato
Synthesis by Hart Laboratories LLC
An award-winning molecule simulation, Synthesis is an interactive environment that is much more complicated than it seems. Different colored dots move around the space, and dragging lines between them make bonds. You can create huge chains of dots and watch how the bonds change their movement in the space. You can also choose to do nothing, and watch as the dots hit each other and connect on their own. The game’s core is a sequencing particle accelerator, which you can edit to change the way the world behaves with itself.
The game had a crowd around it constantly as people connected the dots together and watched them move around. I’ll be honest: I’m not a physics major, and I don’t really know the complicated relationships that the game was simulating, but it still looks really cool, and it’s fun to see what happens while you’re not interacting with it; for example, you can tab between it and the huge article on indie games you’re working on.
I was lucky to have grown up with a computer in the house and have programmed for fun since I was in Middle School (15-20 years ago now). Synthesis started as an experimental project to fill some free time. The idea was a game with simple nodes, with simple relationships, that do complex visually appealing things when left to ‘simulate’. It actually started as a 2D grid based game, taking some inspiration from John Conway’s Game of Life. The original prototype is actually online here if you are interested. It was interesting enough to me that I started working on it full-time. It went through many iterations, adding features and changing engines as technical capability was needed. Now it is a custom engine made in C++ and OpenGL, using SFML as a framework. I never had a firm design document or end goal, instead focusing on letting the game evolve on its own. This has allowed me to experiment with lots of mechanics, and resulting in something I am very happy with. I am continuing to develop using the same method, and definitely want to use player feedback to bring in more ideas.
-Christopher Hart, sole developer of Synthesis
Parkourasaur by Uranium Squid
The title says it all: Parkourasaur is a game about dinosaurs that dodge or destroy obstacles while constantly moving to the right. As the dinosaur, you can either jump to avoid gaps and walls, or charge into large boulders and tap to destroy them. The goal of the game is to get the best distance ran as possible, with the distance being compared to not only your old scores, but also the leaderboards for all players of the game. You get coins for playing, which can be used for either power ups for subsequent races or for customizing your dinosaur with different clothes and skins. There are no in-app purchases in the game; all the items and skins are bought with coins only.
I got a chance to play the game and talk with the developer manning the table at the time, and learned that Parkourasaur was inspired by creating a game that all ages could enjoy. I also got a pretty good score, though the highest score to beat was hundreds of meters away from my personal best. It just launched for Andriod the day before BFIG, and already has a set of 5/5 star reviews.
One of our many theories as developers is that games can be exciting, even action-packed, without being violent. We went with a cute concept and an exciting theme to entice our users, but to ultimately make a point: Too often games are based on violence and destruction … we wanted to create something appropriate for everyone. Even beyond that though, we wanted to make a game with a theme and mechanics that children will enjoy and master, while having gameplay that still grasps the attention of adults and equally challenges players across the board. … To directly talk about the theme, everyone loves dinosaurs. That’s all. We needed to land on a concept that our two person studio could create, could perfect, and could launch in a reasonable amount of time. We didn’t do that, so we rebuilt this game a dozen times over the lifetime of it’s development and we’ve shipped something better than we had ever imagined almost by accident. … All in all we’re proud of what we’ve created, what we learned in the process, and what we will continue to learn as we update and add new content to our game.
-John Groh, CEO of Uranium Squid
Tiny Tycoons by The Tap Lab
Self-described as Monopoly on iOS, Tiny Tycoons combines the real world with money-making fantasy. The map is made out of your local real-world locations and businesses, which you can virtually work at to earn coins. The coins can be used to buy the business and get upgrades, along with buying character accessories. The goal of the game is to build your fortune by buying and working on businesses. You can also share your map and play with friends, so you and your friends can compete to own the most property or make the most money.
I downloaded Tiny Tycoons while still at BFIG (it’s currently free to play), and determined it’s pretty much a mix of Foursquare and Farmville; you go on the game at set intervals to do jobs and work on upgrades, and your real-world location changes the map you’re working on. I am not the sort of player that enjoys this style of play, but seeing as Farmville has millions of players, Tiny Tycoons definitely has a player base waiting to find it.
As my co-founder, Ralph Shao, and I graduated from Boston University in 2009, Foursquare and Gowalla were popularizing location-based applications for a mainstream audience. We were fascinated by the potential these services – which often called themselves ‘games’ – created for the videogame industry, and we thought “we could do this better, we could build a real gaming experience around this technology.” We start experimenting with mobile games driven by a player’s location right away – those first few projects were sort of a test kitchen for what became Tiny Tycoons.
-Dave Bisceglia, founder and CEO of The Tap Lab
Starlicker by Heartonomy
A 1v1 competitive strategy game starring bunnies in space, Starlicker puts you in both the offensive and defensive position of battle. You have a city you need to defend and an enemy that wants your city dead, and your enemy has a city of his own that you want to destroy. In order to attack the other city, you put down towers that shoot energy balls at the cities. During defensive turns, your opponent’s towers fire at your city, and you control the bunny ship. Blocking the energy balls stops the shot and helps fill your Energy meter. On offensive turns, you use your Energy to set up your own tower system and fire at your opponent, who defends the same way you did. The game continues in this turn-based battle until one player loses all the buildings of their city.
I had heard about the game on Reddit’s Gaming forum before I saw it at BFIG, so I already knew the basics on what it was and how to play. I focused more on letting other people try it while talking to the team. They told me that Starlicker is their answer to hardcore e-sports; the complex strategy component is present in their game, but the basics are easy to learn and the game is quick to play a round or two of.
When Starcraft II came out a few years ago, I found myself really enjoying watching casts of professional games. The commentators of these casts had a way of explaining what was happening during a match that made me feel like I was able to experience some part of the highest level of skill and strategy in the game. This is despite the fact that I was nowhere near that good at the game myself since my busy schedule simply wouldn’t allow me to put in the intensive practice it requires. This inspired me to create a unique sort of competitive game that would allow players to experience high levels of skill and strategy without having to devote most of their life to it.
-Hayden Cacace, Project Lead for Starlicker
Bit Blaster by Null Foundry LLC
A four-person deathmatch made for both Ouya and PC, Bit Blaster is a top down dual stick shooter with one goal: kill the other players. Neon colored ships made of individual pixel blocks fly around on the totally black background, and when you fire at opposing ships or are hit, the blocks that were hit fall off. The blocks actually resemble specific parts of the ship, such as guns and thrusters, and losing them changes your ship’s behavior. When the center block, the cockpit, is destroyed, your ship has been shot down. You can also customize your own ship in the customization screen in order to make your own ship layout.
I played a few rounds at the table against one of the developers and some other attendees, and found the game’s simplicity is it’s strongest point. With only two sticks as controls, it’s easy to start flying around and shooting, and after the second time you’re shot, it’s clear that being hit means something significant to your ship. I’m looking forward to it’s release on Ouya; the console is pretty much an emulation console to me, since many of the games it currently has in it’s marketplace are poorly made ports from mobile devices. In response to my email follow-up, developer Etienne Magnin, quoted below, gave me the full history of the company and their game-making choices. The game was made with no financial help and focused on having a small scope in order to make the most of having a small budget and no assistance. While the full email is too long to reasonably fit here, she also provided a short version of the message:
Bit Blaster was a game idea we felt passionate about that we knew we could keep low scope and build on a budget out of our pockets. It’s unique core concept of destructible ships in a head to head multiplayer arcade arena scenario allows us put it on a variety of platforms including the Ouya, which was appealing to us as a new studio looking to make a name for ourselves and generate the exposure Bit Blaster needs to get in the hands of players.
-Etienne Magnin, Founder and Primary Developer of Null Foundry
The Beard in the Mirror by Lizo & Paul
An adventure game focused on story and puzzles rather than combat, The Beard in the Mirror is a point-and-click game inspired by the games of the genre released in the 90’s. It focuses on a typical 22-year-old boy who finds himself in a world of magic and wonder after being awoken one night by a mysterious girl. Much like choose-your-own-adventure books, there are choices that can result in the death of the character, though it’s very easy to go back and try something else.
I did not get a chance to try the game out or talk to the creators, but games that focus on stories are a love of mine, and I hope the game finds success once it’s completed. A passion project for a game-loving couple, their love for their game and story has worked well for them so far; what they showed at BFIG showed a great mix of storytelling, humor, and exploration that doesn’t fall into the common cliches of modern indie games.
[Lizo and I] both grew up playing classic point-and-clickers (she was raised on Sierra; I was raised on LucasArts), and after discovering the Adventure Game Studio toolset in college, we decided to give it a try and see if we could make a game like that on our own. It started off just as a hobby, but the further we got into development, the more and more we realized that we really liked the characters, and the story, and the puzzles–and then this past year, we decided to really commit ourselves and try to get this game out to the public.
-Paul Franzen, co-creator of The Beard in the Mirror
Codename Cygnus by Reactive Studios
A game that has chosen audio over visuals, Codename Cygnus is a story-based game on iPhone that follows the missions of a spy in the 1940’s era. The game plays like a radio story; you hear the events of the game rather than see it through the communication of in-game persons and environment sounds. While listening to the events you make choices on how your character will act, such as acting FOCUSED or IMPULSIVE on a mission. The different choices change the events of the story. You can choose which choices you’ll act on by either touching the button that appears or using the device’s microphone to say your choice.
I tried out the game, and as a game that focuses mainly on audio, Codename Cygnus sounds amazing. During my test there were no parts of the game where the sounds failed to tell me what was happening in the game world. The prologue and first chapter are free, and the game is now on my iPhone waiting for me to have the time to play it more.
We endeavored to create this game because we are huge fans of story-based games. We thought the idea of adapting serialized radio dramas of the 30’s and 40’s for today’s audience would be a lot of fun and a unique, immersive experience. It also helped that one of our founders is an interactive narrative expert. So we created an all audio-based game where the player is the main character and much like a Choose-your-own-adventure book, determines how the story unfolds through the decisions they make in the game. We wanted to make the game accessible to the blind and playable really anywhere so we incorporated interactive voice technology and offer it on smartphone devices.
-Matt Albrecht, developer for Reactive Studios
Gimbal Cop and the Case of the Objectionable Hypercorrection by Defective Studios
A game that’s just as different as it’s name suggests, Gimbal Cop is a racing game planned for release on PC, iOS, and Android where you create the track you race on as you’re racing. There are two different modes, with you either creating track or racing on the track. With track creation, much like Snake, a path is created wherever you move in the 3D space, which is used as the racetrack. Otherwise, you can have the track be generated a little in front of you as you’re racing on it. If you’re playing multiplayer, you can have the other player(s) either make the track or race on the one you’re creating. There are different modes of play and types of tracks, making each race something new.
The current build of Gimbal Cop has support for the Occulus Rift, and having never used one before I simply had to try it. It’s easy to get disoriented while making the track, which is understandable considering it’s a fully 3D space with no ups or downs. Regardless, the game is pretty amusing, and I can easily imagine creating crazy tracks to mess with my friends.
Gimbal Cop revolves around one player creating the world for the other players. This creation-based gameplay stemmed from our love of making games and 3D art, and our want to pass a little bit of that feeling on to the player, letting them be part of the creation process.
-Jono Forbes, Co-founder of Defective Studios
The Time Tribe by The Time Tribe LLC
A point-and-click game focused on teaching real history, The Time Tribe tells the story of four kids in a mansion that have the ability to travel through time, but don’t know why they’re in the mansion and want to solve the mystery. Your interactions with other characters while solving puzzles will change what they think of you and how they act, which makes changes to the story. It also has full historical accuracy; all the artifacts and historical information in the game are accurate and have not been changed for storytelling purposes. All dialogue is voice acted and the world is filled with puzzles and quests that both entertain the player and educate them on the wonders of history.
I spoke to the lead designer behind The Time Tribe for a while, and learned that the game comes from her wanting to make a game as fun and educational as possible while telling a story. Dr. Karen Wehner, quoted below, had been searching for a way to tell her story idea in different mediums, and decided a game was the best way to tell it while being both engaging and educational. She is an anthropologist and wants to create a game that doesn’t tweak history or make segments up for the sake of the game’s story. The game is also planned to be sent to history departments at schools along with a curriculum, so the game can be used as an educational tool in the classroom.
As an anthropologist and a parent, I worry about the state of humanity. Technology is creating an ever smaller global society, and yet we remain divided by cultural differences and misunderstandings. Schools are not equipped to prepare today’s kids for the global society they will inherit. This is my small contribution to the cause of fostering educated and compassionate global citizens, with an immersive and epic adventure that is as fun as it is enriching, for the entire family to enjoy!
-Dr. Karen Wehner, lead designer of The Time Tribe
Apsis by Apsis Team
A game without competition and scoring made for Google Play and Android, Apsis puts you in charge of a flock of birds in a beautiful world. The birds fly around without your input, but pressing down on the screen causes the birds nearby to fly towards you and stay in the general area of where you’re pressing. The world is filled with obstacles like wind, walls, and predatory birds, all of which will break your flock apart. You can get the birds back by pressing near them, otherwise they fly around on their own without any sense of direction.
I tested Apsis on a stormy level with a lot of wind, which led me to, sadly, lose a lot of my birds. I also somehow managed to exit the level boundary, resulting in me leading a swarm of birds into the endless plane of eternity. Despite this, the experience was a positive one, and the game both looked and sounded very nice. Talking with the team informed me that the game is the result of a school project, and was built in a single semester.
Largely our goal with Apsis was to take a different look how games are generally designed. If you take a look at most games, most have a number of common features: score, competition, skill challenges. We wanted to take a step back and build a game that was intrinsically enjoyable to everyone who picks up the tablet — gamer or not.
-John Oliver, part of the five-student Apsis Team
Propinquity by Hexagram-Concordia
A game focused on the body, Propinquity is an answer to the question “what would a game without a screen or board look like?” A projector creates a circle on the ground that acts as the game’s play area, and rounded sensors are placed on the bodies of the two players. The goal of the game is to score points by hovering over, but not touching, the sensors of your opponent. You can place the sensors wherever you want on your body, but you cannot block them with your own body, as that would cause the sensor to count points for your opponent. The result is watching a strange mix of fighting and dance where the players are trying to simultaneously get close to each other and still defend themselves.
As I watched people play, I learned that the game is more of a test of design than a game in and of itself, though it became a game with some minor changes. It is the result of exploring the world of games without screens, and trying to make a game that focuses on the movement and interactions of two bodies, without them touching each other.
Pathogen by Birnam Wood Games
A reimagining of the ancient and popular game Go, Pathogen is a strategy game for tablets and PC with the goal of controlling the most space on the game board. The moves you make cause a cascading effect with other adjacent pieces of the board, turning them into your color. While the rules are simple, the game is not; just like Go, there is a lot of strategy and planning that goes into playing the game.
The game is planned for release this Fall, and it shows; the look and feel of the game is solid. While watching a family play, I talked to the team about the background of the game. The goal of Pathogen was to make a game that simulated family game night; while cardboard games are slowly being replaced by computers and tablets, there aren’t many new games that take advantage of the tablet’s ability to be used the same way as a game board. Pathogen, while being both easy to learn and extremely strategic, allows even non-gaming family members to join in for the fun.
Blocks of Explosive Dismemberment by Barbaric Softworks
This game’s trailer claims that it’s “as asymmetrical as it is sadistic,” and it’s not lying. Blocks of Explosive Dismemberment is a two player game, where each player does drastically different things. One plays a red-tinted Tetris clone, trying to build up the blocks without letting them hit the top. The other player plays a third-person 3D platformer that takes place inside the game that the first player is playing.
When talking to the team, I learned that the goal of the game was to embrace the idea of someone being trapped inside of a video game, and all that entails. One player acts as the sadistic player, the other as the poor soul trapped and trying desperately to survive.
I decided to start developing Blocks of Explosive Dismemberment because I wanted to corrupt an innocent abstract puzzle game with gratuitous gore and a disturbing new context; I’m just that kind of person.
-Sam Rodgers, Founder and Lead Artist of Barbaric Softworks
Depression Quest by Pixels Or Death
An interactive (non)fiction about the real struggle with depression, Depression Quest simulates to players what it is like living day-to-day with the debilitation of depresssive thoughts. As the story progresses, you are given a set of choices on how to proceed. During the game your depression meter can go up, which crosses out some of the action choices, resembling the lethargy and apathy that comes with depression. The game warns that its subject matter is treated seriously and may be dangerous for some players.
At BFIG, the game didn’t have a table so much as a blanket fort with some computers set up in it, which separated it from the fun and cheery atmosphere of the showcase floor. The creators told me that the game is their way of trying to show how they feel in their struggle with depression, and their website says that the game is meant to both inform non-sufferers what depression feels like and release the stigma as well as show sufferers that they are not alone in their struggle.
There are a number of games that were present at BFIG that I did not get to write about here, so keep an eye out for additional game articles!