Category Archives: Indie Videogames

Indie is a tough word to describe. “Not tied to a publisher directly” will probably suffice – mainly aimed at smaller games done by a few people.

GameCity 2010: A Report

Lego, of course always present
Lego, of course always present

GameCity 2010 was a while back; 27th to the 30th of October. This is a late report, with all the pedantry of trying to remember things from it that are worth reporting on!

Talks, Panels and Notes

Firstly, I have done some rather lengthy notes this year. This comes from doing them on my laptop at the time; so there are quite possibly errors and it isn’t a word for word account πŸ™‚ In any case, I’ll link to the relevant ones as I go through what was fun and so forth. I didn’t get to everything though, and I can’t point to a “Calendar of events” on the GameCity website (which was at http://my.gamecity.org/events ) since it has now disappeared.

Before the Event

GameCity was generally well run and fun this year. There was no horrible Gatecrasher venues, there was most of the events up in advance of the week, although knowing about things more then a few weeks in advance is something they need to strive for πŸ™‚ On one hand I was discussing this with someone and having less people coming keeps it more low-key and more a Nottingham feel, but I opposed this and say if I want friends to come I need to show it’s worth booking travel tickets, holiday time (they have jobs!) and hotels in advance. In any case I hadn’t the nerve to get anyone outside of Nottingham to come up, more the shame to me really – some would have enjoyed it πŸ™‚

One oddity: you could “favourite” events which seemed to put you on a list for events. Stewards were weird, so I booked everything on the first day once I got almost turned away from something. I heard some people got turned away in spite of the rooms not nearly being full too…must try harder! either first come first serve, OR pay for tickets, not a bad mix of both. πŸ™

The Tent!

The bomb with David!
The bomb with David!

The tent was good; I never bothered with the EA side, each to his own but exercise can’t be thrown at me like that (with the full set of crass marketing too. I suppose it’s all sponsorship money though). The other side was cramped but good enough – Crysis was well laid out at the side for instance, and the projector games generally were far enough at the back to not get in the way. The other odd thing was not enough chairs and tables, especially for Gambling Lambs! It meant a lot of standing around, and put me off staying there for very long, a shame really. However what went on there was fine even if I didn’t bother with Saturday’s Mario stuff, since I wanted more indie games dammit! πŸ™‚

Oh, and on Gambling Lambs – it was great, got to play Dixit, which is a game where you have to describe a scene in a generic storytelling fashion but not be too accurate; it’s great to play a second time once you work out actually what to do. There were other games to be had too – and David Hayward put on a brilliant Laser Trap Scene Test at Lee Rosy’s, as in any good spy flick needing lots of smoke to see lasers to disarm the bomb! I did it successfully, and was very fun! πŸ™‚

Shame there was no Kinect or Move playable demos. I have no clue what Microsoft and Sony are doing here (apart from Sony apparently hates GameCity) I just don’t know how you can get people to buy such interactive things without being able to try them. There was the Kinect talk, which was okay, but didn’t exactly let me try it πŸ˜‰

Development; the office space was too small originally - foreboding for UK living rooms? :)
Development; the office space was too small originally - foreboding for UK living rooms? πŸ™‚

Spy Party

Spy Party; the room
Spy Party; the room

A really standout game! I loved playing Chris Heckers Spy Party, I took notes from his talk, and am fully looking forward to the game itself.

To outline; it’s a deception and infiltration game, where you as a party guest have to mimic an NPC while performing certain tasks, while a sniper, a second player, tries to find out who you are and snipe them. As the base game mode, this is just brilliant fun in itself and I can see how it can be easily played online. Chris mentioned possible other modes, more players (multiple spies or snipers, working in teams even) and other changes; well worth looking out for. Gets the “Game of GameCity” award from me!

Jonathan Blow

Jonathan Blow had a double act; a nice sum up of Braid’s design, and his new game The Witness which looks interesting, but I hope doesn’t have too many tutorials; it could get annoying. Still, he’s someone you could rely on to really polish and make a very strong game, which is what I’m looking forward to.

The Witness: What are adventure games? What should they be?
The Witness: What are adventure games? What should they be?

Comedy and Music

OneLaughLeft - Simon Byron
OneLaughLeft - Simon Byron

There was an evening of Comedy by OneLifeLeft; the jokes were soemtimes groan worthy from the presenters, but still damn enjoyable and fun (although Ste sure is one who does very harsh critical humour!); they should think more highly of themselves for doing it. The comedians were a fine lot; some geeky stuff, some game related material, and one comedian who I’ve seen before at the Fringe (a shame; since I’ve heard some of his stuff before obviously). Well worth attending, had me in fits πŸ™‚ I’d give it 7 out of 10.

The Choir during the music of James Hannigan
The Choir during the music of James Hannigan

The music evening in the church was good pretty much because the composer James Hannigan did Red Alert 3’s main theme “Soviet March” – and it was done better live with the main part being sung by a woman then the theme in game! (I wish I could have recorded it!). The spy music from Evil Genius was good too – the rest, well, I’ll be frank and say that without them telling us what games they were from, which they didn’t, I had no clue if the tracks were Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, or any number of other different orchestral soundtracks he’s done – a shame really, since some were pretty fun to listen to. There was only the Pinewood Singers in attendance; not a full orchestra, which worked well given it was a church.

Retro Remakes, History and Parks

A Reproductive System
A Reproductive System

Finally, there was a good panel on retro remakes, the only thing that could have improved it was explaining what a remake was and giving some examples then and there. Coupled to the old stuff side is a panel I attended on game preservation, which sadly lacked the major major problem now occurring: DRM. The British Library might want to get a copy of every game made, but it’ll be useless if the consoles and platforms they run on break isn’t it? πŸ™

Also an odd talk was done by Keita Takahashi who is designing a park for the nearby to me Woodthorpe Park; I’m looking forward to it, but I’ve no idea if any of the designs will actually be completed!

Takahashi LOVES the big catapult idea despite its flaws
Takahashi LOVES the big catapult idea despite its flaws

Finally…

Panel on being Independant Game Developers
Panel on being Independant Game Developers

On the indie side was a good panel called “What’s the Point?“; a shame it was over lunch (like the preservation panel) since it was harder to take notes, but in essence it was good to hear the two sides to working, what indie is, about game jams and other things. I did get to play several indie games too – apart from Spy Party, there was Ben Bradly’s Substream, much improved from GameCityNights, and I talked to the creator of VVVVVV a bit too (and the musician too), who are both totally cool dudes. I aim to play more VVVVVV – now I’ve finished some other games πŸ™‚

Iain Simons doing his vision statement; shout it brother! Shout it loud!
Iain Simons doing his vision statement; shout it brother! Shout it loud!

The last thing really to note was the Vision Statement by Iain Simons – good points to note, he wants to do more GameCity and game stuff, but wants nothing to do with Sonys kind of marketing. It was a rather nice thing to see him explain about it and name some names, and I fully agree about many other things he went into detail – always needing the newest stuff, interactive entertainment and “now being mainstream”.

I missed several things however – the music of Limbo, an indie game producer from somewhere, and the morning panels at breakfast – I felt rather ill so got up late every day sadly – it wasn’t too convenient to get there, but sounded interesting.

So overall it was a lot more fun then last year in most places, although it felt more empty with much less to do at times, mainly due to scheduling no doubt. I say bring on next year with agusto, like I said, hopefully with some forewarning about what is going on before the month it is on πŸ™‚

Choice of Games

They do fun browser-based diversions – text-based choice games, which have fun stat-changing decisions and chapters. You can be a roaring Dragon or take part in a Hornblower-esk Navy adventure.

I never really seriously read “Choose your own adventure” books – I did have some but always cheated just to check out how the books worked, which was much more fun. Drawing out maps, getting through the game, was the fun part.

These however are fun and entertaining in their own right – and quite intelligently done. You get several chapters, several vignettes (they explain how to write your own, the blog is great at explaining the choices behind their games (including on genders). Also; nice theme πŸ˜‰ ), which all press you into deciding some major action or other. It’s done so well and gives you a lot of agency – as they explain in their “Why” section.

I’ve not replayed any however; mainly because I’ve been fully satisfied with my own mini-adventure, being a Dragon or a member of the Royal Navy! I expect the choices you do make can be, as in most games, variable between a small change in text and a entirely different branch (and perhaps early end to the story). The interestingly devised stats change outcomes, and it does a great job at making it book-like without taking away your own agency – the actions are widely different a lot of the time.

In any case; these are easier then text-based adventures to navigate, fun to leap into and enjoy, and also are well written. Give them a shot if you’ve got half an hour or so to spare πŸ™‚

AI War

Tutorial Fun
Tutorial Fun

After League of Legends I need some better games to post about, so I’ll be posting about them this week! The first up is AI War, which took a good part of my weekend up. The game itself is a large-scale sci-fi co-op RTS game against the CPU. It also has elements of tower defence (against waves of enemies based at choakpoints), tactical battles (some micromanagement and work there) and the classic Turn Based Strategy stuff like long term resource management, technology research, strategic thinking and so forth.

The aim is to defeat the two AI forces (having very well defended bases) who get increasingly angry and competitive as you take over the map.

Long Time Playin’

Zoomed out on a planet map.
Zoomed out on a planet map.

Just from the outset if you don’t like playing long games, don’t play this game. It’s Civ4-long, hours and hours to complete a campaign. I’ve only played the tutorial and that took all weekend! πŸ™‚

For me this is perfect – I’ll probably play by myself but I hope to get some interested people who frequent the WDG forums to play too. I am sure I’d enjoy it by myself but I want to try out co-op possibilities.

The reason is the strategic long-term elements are well thought out. There is actually some reason to not kill every enemy on every planet (each planet being connected by wormhole chokepoints to other planets, each planet is an 2d RTS map). You get waves of enemies only from planets which have gates that spawn them, and you can destroy AI data banks of the enemy to hinder progress – every offensive action is met with the AI pumping up the difficulty, which this hinders slightly. Raids like this are important it appears. Expand too fast and you have tough ships destroying you before you know it. Some planets just are not worth conquering for the natural resources, or are just chokepoints to more important planets. Some have unique things to capture which require the complete annihilation of the AI on the planet to make it safe.

With co-op the fun would come from multiple fronts being fought, co-operative army usage and gifting and so forth. Should be fun to try! (much like a Civ4 game played in real time).

Battles and Combat

Overwhelming Assault
Overwhelming Assault

All the battles are massive amounts of ships. Simply check all the screenshots I’ve uploaded! You have to get hundreds of ships to do simple tasks, and thousands to do anything remotely hard. Each ship does its own targeting which is a godsend – it is pretty much fine for people poor at micromanagement, and mainly the tactical part comes from positioning ships, formations, groups and luring enemies, hitting them with a timely wave of firepower, retreating and raiding.

The unit types are also varied – there are more then a standard trio of rock-paper-scissors, and certainly is a large part of the strategy (especially which to upgrade into better versions). You get ship caps per tier of ship – so you don’t instantly get every ship to level 2 once you research it, meaning you always have a mixed force of different levels since even the lower level ships can act as cannon fodder to save the higher level ones.

Resources and Tech

Conga Line of Production
Conga Line of Production

Resources come in the Total-Annihilation way of constant streams – crystals and metal being the two base items. They work pretty fundamentally like Sins of a Solar Empire if you’ve played that. You also have power being a constant number – either you’re in the black or red there, with X power costing X crystals and metal a second depending on your power plants. This keeps a cap on the amount of ships and expansion you can achieve with a limited amount of planets.

Technology means unlocking new turrets, defences, economic buildings, higher rated ships and so forth. You get 2000 points of knowledge per planet from science ships docked there. This means you can hop into enemy planets, and if well defended (or not provoked too much) you can sap some knowledge quickly and not have to take the planet entirely to get more technology. I’ve not had a chance to use a lot of it, but there are some interesting things I’ve not tried much of (force fields and turret defences, large powerful star ships, additional economic buildings and so forth).

Agressive AI

Battle! (Not much interesting going on)
Battle! (Not much interesting going on)

I can’t honestly comment much on the AI. The tutorial sets it in “No attacks, AI level 1” – which is pathetically easy to lure out on each planet and destroy with smaller forces. However, I see much potential – and the AI ships do know how to handle themselves. Not thinking will get your entire force massacred (as happened to me attacking a building in the final planet which drew every AI unit there to attack me!). There are obviously AI personalities, and difficulty levels, which will likely make it a lot more fun to defend against and purposely raid. They are certainly out to get the players, even the tutorial warns you that you could lose quite easily if you’re not careful!

Since I built the wrong units the last enemy base took a while to kill too:

Final Base 1: The Beginning of the End
Final Base 1: The Beginning of the End

Final Base 2: More Firepower
Final Base 2: More Firepower

Final Base 3: Carry on Hitting...
Final Base 3: Carry on Hitting...

Final Base 4: Still needs more...
Final Base 4: Still needs more...

Final Base 5: Still needs a little more...
Final Base 5: Still needs a little more...

Final Base 6: Finally destroyed! AI good riddance!
Final Base 6: Finally destroyed! AI good riddance!

20 minutes or so! Mainly because I built the wrong units to attack it at the end. Also I really need to sort the alignment of multiple images. I’ll do a slideshow next time.

Fun!?!?

It is 2D, although since you zoom out a lot to get a better perspective, this matters little. There are some issues getting things done fast unless you know your hotkeys (such as building new buildings means finding a single unit who can build), but I can forgive that – it’s not a game that needs rushing all the time, and if you’re so unprepared to have to build in battle you might have already lost. The core gameplay also hasn’t got any alternatives – it is against two AI’s and that’s that. I guess it is balanced entirely around this, but you can choose a wide option from the amount of planets (thus length of the game) and other things.

In the end though it was fun playing the tutorial. Fun to toil destroying those faceless AI dregs! FUN TO RUIN THAT SILLY AI! MUAHAHAHAH! *ahem*. The competition against more then just an equal opponent makes a nice edge. There looks to be a lot of difficulty and personality options with the AI, and co-op will be fun to try out. It was satisfying to destroy the tutorial AI – as you can see above! Worth trying the trial and playing the tutorial, and was Β£13, which is quite good considering the price of some games πŸ™‚

Gambling Lambs #1

P1000848
Who's a Werewolf eh?

Gambling Lambs went on yesterday evening, and lo, it was good, involving:

  • Me learning finally how to do bits of a Rubik’s cube, thanks to David πŸ™‚ (I’ve forgotten the exact combinations now but I get the theory). He knows his l33t cubes.
  • Being on film for a local BBC documentary on videogames and games (which is due September – but I’ve no idea what the name was)
  • Playing the brilliant Werewolf again, 3 rounds – me and two werewolves killed then entire village of Gibraltar the first time, but I got wasted the next 2 rounds in the first night! (one of which the villages won). I was obviously a very loud victorious werewolf to start with! (the second time was bad though because the werewolf who killed me, while he did think I was a werewolf in the first round, got my sherrifs badge in the second to make amends! Bah, politics πŸ™‚ ).
  • Got to play a little World of Goo, and more importantly showed the indie game to others (I personally get stuck rather easily, but puzzle people loved it).
  • Some awesome rounds of Mario Kart DS πŸ™‚
  • Trading with myself between Pokemon Diamond and Pokemon Platinum. Sooo worth it πŸ˜‰
P1000839
Articulate took them a while to play

It was a tad dark down there – the flash was entirely necessary, as my gallery shows. At least I met a lot of cool people there in the dimness πŸ™‚

The problem is next time, the first Thursday of September is when I’m going to DiGRA, so it’ll be all the way in October before I get to try things like Settlers of Catan which I fully intend to play. Anyone else in the Nottingham area at the time however should give it a shot πŸ™‚ Bring what you want to play too and see if anyone wants to play, is always an idea, but there is plenty of things people bring to play of course.

IGF 2009

11223

The entries are now out, all 226 of them. I didn’t realise so many got past the initial entry phase! (I’ve no idea if it’s more or less then last year). There is a lot of competition, from some great games – I’ve only have the opportunity to play around 5-10 of them, and the others all look good too. I’ll do a post about the ones I’ve played later, once I’ve had time to mull it over, and I’ll also try and see what other games on the list are playable.

Now I just wish I had a clue on what might win so I could play them before GDC!