Last weekend, IndieCade, the annual event dedicated to independent games, took over a stretch of Culver Blvd. for indoor and outdoor events. Whether they're 3-D video games, iPad puzzles or physical games, the products showcased at this festival aren't just new — they push the boundaries of how we play. Below, are eight unusual games we spotted at IndieCade.
Earlier this year, Desktop Dungeons won an IGF award for “Excellence in Design.” It was the first African game to be nominate, let alone win a prize. Developers Danny Day and Marc Luck of QCF Design are based in Cape Town, South Africa and have spent about a year-and-a-half working on the puzzle game that takes about ten minutes to play.
With Desktop Dungeons, you're exploring a new kingdom where the biggest export, according to Day, is “monster bits.” Your character gains more health by uncovering uncharted terrain in the kingdom. With more health, you're able to defeat more monsters. The developers note that one of the unusual aspects of the game is that you will always start as a Level 1 player, but the terrain changes with each play. I played Desktop Dungeons three times in a row, with essentially the same character, but none of those games featured exactly the same layout.
A beta version of Desktop Dungeons is available for free download through the site.
Bit.Trip is a series of six, rhythm-based games for Nintendo Wii and 3DS with an old school arcade flare from Gaijin Games.
“It's basically our take on what would rhythm games look like if they were made in the late '70s, early '80s,” says developer Alex Neuse.
This might not seem particularly odd, but what makes the Bit.Trip series a little different is the philosophy behind it, with “music and rhythm” becoming symbols of the human experience. The first game in the series, Bit.Trip.Beat, says Neuse, is relatively simple. Games gradually get more challenging.
“It follows this rhythm that I think we have in life,” says Neuse. “As you grow, things change and eventually you die and return.”
Created by Zach Gage and Kurt Bieg, Halcyon is an iPad game that is also a musical instrument.
“It is a spacial, ambient, action puzzle game, which is a lot of words,” says Gage with a chuckle.
In Halcyon, your job is to match up triangles of the same color as they move across strings. Dragging triangles towards each other essentially forces you to pluck the string, so the soundtrack is constantly evolving based on how you play the game. There are several different levels of the game and each one has a theme like wind or sea, so there's a constant change both in color scheme and music.
Halcyon is already available. Check it out through the game's website.
Sissy's Magical Ponycorn Adventure is a free game that has already become a viral hit. Designed by Ryan Henson Creighton and his five-year-old daughter Cassie at a game jam, the game has been covered everywhere from their hometown press in Toronto to Japanese papers. It's a short adventure game chock full of Cassie's imaginative drawings that takes users on a quest for more “ponycorns.”
“I've had numerous people write me up and say when I have a bad day at work I load up Sissy's Magical Ponycorn Adventure to make me happy,” says Creighton. “I could not have hoped for any other outcome from any other thing I've built.”
The Depths to Which I Sink is a 3D game from Canadian developers Bigpants. It's so 3D, you have to wear the red and blue lenses to play.
“Totally old school, but not by choice. That's all we had to work with,” says Jim McGinley of Bigpants.
The game, he says, is about “having a good time floating.” You're represented by a dot that expands as it floats, sinks and moves back and forth through space. You're job is to guide the dot through a series of coils and rings.
The Depths to Which I Sink is not as easy at it sounds. The 3D graphics can mess with your depth perception, so it's hard at times to tell if your above, below, behind or in front of objects. The game also has some of the most immersive 3D graphics I've seen.
“Everything in the game has been sacrificed to make sure that the 3D effect is the best 3D effect you see,” says McGinley.
When the students from Savannah College of Art and Design were sent to Hong Kong to work on a collaborative game project, the Microsoft Surface was well over $10,000. So, they figured out a way to replicate the device cheaply, using plastic jars that double as controllers and other odds and ends.
The game they created for the device is Black Bottom Parade. Inspired by a stop-motion animated short called Balance, the game follows a skeleton band consisting of the first people to die from absinthe poisoning, as they traverse the River Styx set in 1920s New Orleans. Their job is to carry others who suffered a similar fate to the other side. The problem is that, because everyone is kind of, well, drunk, the boat keeps tipping. Players have to keep the balance.
“We really wanted to call the game Tipsy,” says Hanlon, “but our professors would not let us. “
Developer Douglas Wilson calls Johann Sebastian Joust, one of the most popular games at IndieCade, a “digital folk game.”
“The idea is to get players looking at each other rather than at a video screen,” says Wilson, who is a game design researcher in Denmark.
Johann Sebastian Joust isn't a video game, but you use PlayStation Move controllers for it. Players stand in a circle with each one holding a controller. Since the controllers are motion-sensitive, you have to hold it very carefully. As slow music plays, you move around in the circle and try to knock your opponents controller. If the controllers start bumping around, they make a noise and the light goes off, signifying that you're out of the game. The last one standing wins.
Truly the most bizarre game I've ever seen, Kiss Controller started out as an art project Hye Yeon Nam put together at Georgia Tech in which people made music by moving their tongue. The game, designed by Nam and Sam Mendenhall, requires one person to wear a headset, another to wear a sensor on the tongue and the two to kiss in order to control bowling and racing games.
“You just kind of make out and race at the same time,” says Mendenhall.
It's an intimate game, not necessarily the sort of thing you typically see people demo at a game event, but Mendenhall says that they have been getting a good response, particularly at IndieCade. Nam added that she's heard from people who feel like they're fighting during the tongue-swapping episodes. They're thinking about creating a boxing or fighting game version of Kiss Controller next.