Antichamber booth, PAX Prime 2012, courtesy of Giant Bomb
Day two of the Indie Game Summit at GDC 2013 placed me in the audience of a discussion called Navigating Live Events: From Big Studio to Studio of One, which was held by between Alexander Bruce, creator of Antichamber and Greg Rice of Double Fine. Covering a broad base of topics, they illustrated a list of best practices to make it as an indie and get not only your game, but your name out there.
Bruce began with three key points, the first of which was simply “Have a plan.” “Making my game and selling it on Steam is not a plan,” Bruce continued. The third was “How about marketing materials? How early will you display your title?” Basing his strategy from life experiences, he found that the more people he met, both industry professionals or otherwise, the more perspectives he had to work with. From there, he could establish a plan of attack. Read more
“We’re trying to scare the shit out of players,” Philippe Morin boldly proclaimed when I asked him about Red Barrels Games’ upcoming release, Outlast.
Judging from the occasional shriek that emitted from the isolated, darkened booths that they used to demo the game at PAX East, it’s clear that they’re off to the a good start.
Outlast is a first-person horror game where you play as Miles Upshur, a journalist who is investigating a long-abandoned mental asylum that has recently been reopened. Miles has received a tip that things aren’t quite Kosher at the hospital, so he’s unwisely taken it upon himself to delve into the issue. The demo began as I climbed up scaffolding to sneak into the asylum, a decision I immediately regretted once I saw the ransacked-state of the place.
We all expect games to look fantastic these days, but Outlast does an uncanny job of actually making you feel like you are Miles. You see your feet when you look down at the floor and he reaches out his hand to open doors. You can hear him grunting and see his arms grabbing ledges to pull himself up. He’ll even automatically turn sideways and shimmy through obstructed corridors. All of these little touches combine to really immerse you in the world of Miles. Read more
Studio transparency and workspace ideologies are often unique from studio to studio, and are affected by prior experiences, cultural norms, and shifting industry patterns.
Jeff Agala and Jamie Cheng discussed Klei Entertainment’s methodology for crafting not only an enjoyable title in the form of Mark of the Ninja, but also a sustainable workplace that allows for creativity to flourish. With a few key points to touch on, the duo discussed a plethora of useful tips for a room full of developers during the Indie Games Summit at GDC.
The first point they considered was “What are the biggest wastes of time during development?” and found the answer to be “Building the wrong thing.” To quote the team, “Imagine walking in a forest. It would be a waste to leave this forest and start in a new one when we’ve already spent so much time in here!” That can be self-destructive, because you spend so much time working on something that will never result in a quality and worthwhile experience.
Gaming these days is no stranger to genre mashing, with everything under the sun being locked on top of shooters and platformers like they were Lego blocks. Surprisingly enough, over the past couple of years there have only been a small spattering of puzzle-RPG combinations, with the only big standouts that come to mind being Puzzle Quest and Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes. Even if you were at PAX East, you may have missed out on this little gem of an almost-match-three-puzzler hidden off to the side behind some of the larger booths, but at the same time seeking to show off that it has the chops to be the next strong contender.
Residing on both an iPad and a laptop, Dungeon Hearts begins showing off a layout that wouldn’t be out of place in an older RPG, with your characters to the left facing off versus an impending opponent to the right. As you would normally be in position to select your characters’ movements via dialogue box, in comes a scrolling grid that developer Cube Roots calls the Fatestream, which contains the systems that control their actions and make it a unique and enjoyable experience. Read more
Nestled right in the heart of the Indie Megabooth on the PAX East show floor was The Swapper, a game that easily takes the crown for the PAX game most likely to make you feel like you’re trapped in a 70s sci-fi movie where everything is going to shit. In other words, it was marvelous.
The game is the product Facepalm Games, a two-man team based in Finland along with a few freelancers, including a script by Tom Jubert, who worked on Penumbra and FTL. I chatted with Creative Director Olli Harjola before sitting down to play, and he told me he was aiming to create a different type of experience. The project began with the idea of a brain in glass jar that could control other people and transfer its mind into other bodies. The more he played with it, the more serious the concept became. “I want to explore the theme of ‘What is mind?’”
Eventually the game evolved into The Swapper, a 2D puzzle platformer set in an abandoned laboratory where the protagonist wields the eponymously-named device that “creates clones and allows you to transfer your mind into the clones,” as Harjola puts it. Read more
There was a lot to take away from Supergiant Games’ booth at PAX East 2013, but the most obvious was that Transistor is on everyone’s radar. Long lines and a consistently crowded booth are usually clear indicators of hype, something this booth had no shortage of. Attendees were willing to spend two hours of their valuable time to give the game a spin, and after playing it, it’s easy to see why.
One might see the similarities to Bastion upon first glance and they wouldn’t be wrong. The top-down isometric viewpoint returns, as does the foundation for combat and heavy emphasis on story. But everything isn’t as it seems and there are some key changes that differentiate Transistor from its forerunner. Supergiant purposefully crafted the game with the intent to further explore their take on the Action-RPG genre.
“The details of [Transistor], and the tone and the atmosphere, the particular feel of it and its identity, that stuff takes a while to find and it’s taken a while to find here,” said Supergiant’s Greg Kasavin. “I don’t consider Bastion an experimental game and I don’t think a lot of people do. It plays like, on the surface at least, it plays like games you’ve played before. It might remind you of Zelda or Diablo (those aren’t necessarily direct influences) but we weren’t trying to invent a new genre with the game.” Read more
In today’s gaming landscape, larger development teams are often focused on tacking on a multiplayer component for the sake of adding another bullet point to the back of the display box. Compulsion Games felt it was necessary to take the opposite approach and focus strictly on a solid single player experience.
Studio head Guillaume Provost was originally a rendering programmer at Arkane Studios, and sparked the novel idea for the team’s’ initial offering while sitting in a café, warm beverage in hand. A blend of puzzle/platformer genres, Contrast offers a unique experience in which players can maneuver within the shadow-stricken art-deco 3D world, and when the lighting allows for it, instantly snap into a flat 2D world where the protagonist takes ethereal shape with only a single button press.
There were enough indie games on the PAX East show floor to fuel the next dozen pay-what-you-want bundles. Tucked away on the outskirts of the floor was the adorable A.N.N.E., a 16-bit style game developed by the one-man team Gamesbymo.
A.N.N.E. puts you in the role of Goomi, a blue, rectangular-headed robot whose girlfriend A.N.N.E. has been infected with a love virus that shattered her into 110 pieces. Now you must track down the pieces to reassemble her and get your robo groove on. Lead Designer Moise Breton was mum on details about who created the virus or if there was a true antagonist, but implied those details would be revealed throughout the final game.
Breton is basically attempting to take everything that you know and love about classic games and cram it into one game. Start with a Metroidvania adventure, add a splash of RPG elements and a dash of shmup action and you wind up with A.N.N.E. “There’s not as much time to play (games) as when I was a kid. I wish I could mash them all up in one and play them at once,” explained Breton. Regardless of whether or not you share that sentiment, there was definitely something special about his ambitious project that feels as if it could turn into something remarkable if he’s able to assemble all the pieces. Read more