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The IGF 2015 Finalists are up, my work has begun

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In 2014 I wasn’t going to dig through all of the hundreds of entries in the Independent Games Festival but I slowly started looking over the contestants and wound up doing just that. This year I knew the finalists were going to be announced in January and I was almost looking forward to the gargantuan spectacle. They did not disappoint.

Down from last year’s record-breaking total, 639 games is still an impressive collection of work to peruse. It helps when 40% of the games are entries I’ve seen in previous years, 20% are Oculus Rift games that I’ll never play, 10% are “competitive multiplayer arena fighters”, and another 20% involve cards, card collecting, or are social experiences. That leaves 10% with the potential to be right up my alley so there’s been a lot of glancing and moving on. Two days in and I’m over halfway through but I’ve already got 45 games on my short list. With another 45 (or more) to be added before the end, it’s narrowing things down to my traditional Top Twenty list that will take some time.

As usual, I’ll leave the link here and encourage everyone to take a look. I’m sure our tastes and interests differ wildly so don’t just take my word for it.

IGF 2016 Spotlight on: Those Good Ol’ Games

As I continue wading through the 775 entrants in this year’s Independent Games Festival, whittling my way to a highly polished list of the Top Twenty, I thought I’d highlight some of the categories I’ve been filing games into. Today’s post features those repeat offenders, the games I’ve pinned my heart on year after year and maybe still haven’t bought.

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Affordable Space Adventures by KnapNok Games and Nifflas’ Games
Along with past IGF favorite, Hex Heroes, Affordable Space Adventures is one of the very, very few Wii U games I’m interested in. It combines 2D, physics based puzzle solving with FTL-style system management. And it’s got that asynchronous design where one person is on the Gamepad while the other is playing on the TV. I’m up for playing either role and I love the combination (and separation) of the various mechanics.

Amazing Discoveries In Outer Space  by Cosmic Picnic
Also known as A.D.I.O.S., this one was just a mysterious demo in the IGF 2015, promising a 2D universe with realistic outer space physics. It launched just last month in February but I haven’t yet picked it up.

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C-Wars/Crystalides by Onipunks Studio
This one’s been an IGF favorite every year since I started this thing in 2012! It’s been kicking around so long that it’s changed almost entirely and was originally in the works for Java based cellphones. I’m still not sure if C-Wars’ final mix of 2D, grid-based strategy will be as appealing as Crystalides’ original promises but I remain hopeful and excited even four years later.

Captain Forever Remix by Pixelsaurus Games & Future Crayon
Originally entered into the IGF 2012 as Captain Jameson (as an expansion of the already addictive web game), Captain Forever Remix has kept me on the line for almost the entire duration of my IGF series. I finally pre-ordered it in 2015 and poked at it a little in Early Access but I’m still holding out for the final build.

Distance by Refract
Distance started life as Nitronic Rush and was one of my favorite, oldest IGF entries all the way back in 2012. The DigiPen student project has gone on to become the much more gorgeous looking Distance but I’ve always felt it was missing the San Francisco Rush inspiration that I loved so much in Nitronic Rush. Nevertheless, one of these days I’m going to pick up Distance and give it a fair and complete shake.

Mini Metro by Dinosaur Polo Club
Two years running, Mini Metro continues to captivate me with its super simple style and its abstract gameplay based on plotting ever more complex subway routes. It’s like a living subway map and even when I’m failing miserably it looks great.

Prison Architect by Introversion
For the longest time I was sold on Prison Architect by its logo alone which was the only thing submitted in the IGF 2012. I eventually bought into it on Early Access and have spent close to 50 hours building miserable prisons and watching my grand architectural designs be foiled by bathroom knife fights and cafeteria outrage.

Submerged by Uppercut Games
Another 2-year contender, Submerged instantly won me over with its promise of non-combat exploration based around a drowned world. It was a little clunky but it packed enough mystery and intrigue to elevate me over any shortcomings. I even translated the made-up language in the game!

SUPERHOT by Superhot Team (in 2014, then 2016)
Superhot hit the IGF in 2014 when it was still in its basic web demo version and it still floored me. The concept that “time only moves when you do” puts an astounding spin on bullet time making it a true mechanic and not just a cheat in a typical shooter. It’s back again in the IGF this year and out now in a full, expanded and totally crazy release which I’m waiting to pick up soon… ish.

IGF 2016 Spotlight on: VR Games

As I continue wading through the 775 entrants in this year’s Independent Games Festival, whittling my way to a highly polished list of the Top Twenty, I thought I’d highlight some of the categories I’ve been filing games into. Today’s post features all of the most unique VR games and experiences I took a liking to.

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I’m not super hyped for the oncoming virtual reality craze. I’ve had a few different experiences with the Rift and Gear VR over the years but it has yet to move me towards a purchase or pre-order. I may eventually jump in and buy a headset thanks to some of these noteworthy titles I earmarked from this year’s IGF entrants. Some of these even made it into my Top Twenty!

08:46 by 846Studios
A “narrative driven experience [where] you embody an office worker in the North Tower of the World Trade Center during the 9/11 events”. Leave it to an indie team to finally recreate “the forbidden calamity” in video game form.

Fantastic Contraption by Northway Games & Radial Games
I think this one is a pretty widely regarding darling of the VR scene and rightfully so. It combines the engineering ingenuity of stuff like Besiege and Scrap Mechanic with the Vive’s unique motion controllers. What’s not to love about seeing a haphazard automaton you created come to life at your feet?

G.T.F.O. – Gravitational Testing Facility & Observations by VR Bits
Not nearly as whimsical as Fantastic Contraption, G.T.F.O. still wins me over by basically being The Incredible Machine in VR. Using the Vive’s motion controllers you place components to build ramps and manipulate gravity to build reliable physics machines.

I Expect You To Die by Schell Games
As you’d guess from the name, I Expect You To Die is an homage to all things James Bond. But even 007 had to start as a 00 Nothin’ and bumbling around with spy gadgets and dangerous situations looks like a ton of fun.

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Irrational Exuberance by Buffalo Vision
If ADRIFT is the hard science VR equivalent to Gravity then Irrational Exuberance is VR’s “Pink Elephants on Parade” from Dumbo. I don’t know what you actually do but it’s got an amazing style with its colorful and low-poly universe that I can’t stop staring at.

Job Simulator by Owlchemy Labs
Possibly THE most critical piece of software for the acceptance of VR, Job Simulator is planned as a launch title for all three major VR platforms. It’s bizarre and colorful rooms are the perfect environment to introduce newcomers to how VR works in a humorous and risk-free way.

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes by Steel Crate Games
While Job Simulator might be the game that sells the world on VR, Keep Talking was one of the first VR experiences that sold ME on it. Of course, you can play with a laptop but the sensory deprivation of having your view of frantic, fellow bomb disposal “experts” adds to the nerve-wracking tension.

Narcosis by Honor Code Inc.
Apparently Narcosis has been kicking around the VR scene since 2013 but I hadn’t really noticed it until this year. The combination of immersive VR with a terrifying and crushing undersea environment is probably too much for me to handle but it looks fabulous and enticing all the same.

P·O·L·L·E·N by Mindfield Games
Investigate a derelict space station to unravel the spooky mystery of the crew’s disappearance… by picking up and fiddling with every object in sight! It’s a physics based mystery and after the short lived but fantastic Firewatch I’m up for more walkin’ around and throwing stuff.

Subject REDACTED by DigiPen Team Mocha
Along the same lines as Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, REDACTED utilizes multiplayer in and out of VR. One player is navigating a first-person labyrinth filled with cameras and traps while the VR player sits in the security room behind consoles and multiple screens. Manipulating and hacking the facility, the VR player will have to coordinate and provide the other player with an overview of what’s around the next corner. It reminds me of another IGF game from 2015, Black Hat Oculus, that did the same thing but in reverse.

My Top 20 from the Independent Games Festival 2015 (Part 2)

Here we are again. It’s early in another new year and I’ve gone through all of the entrants in the Independent Games Festival. There were 639 games entered for 2015 and I wound up with a “short” list of 93. From there I hemmed and hawed for a while and ultimately decided on just 20 that I think are the specialest. Today is Part 2, the final ten of twenty (in alphabetical order). Check out yesterday’s post if you’re a fan of indie games that start with the letters A through H!

Megaton Rainfall by Alfonso del Cerro Aguilar
“Don’t you think that superhero games [should] transmit the sense of power and freedom of movement, that these characters apparently have in other media?” This is the premise for the most impressive first-person gameplay I’ve seen in years. It’s still very early but the scale of environments it’s able to push around is astounding and the movement already seems so smooth. I hope this makes it out as a finished product!

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Nubarron: The Adventure of an Unlucky Gnome by Nastycloud
Another one with ‘gameplay mechanics that help as well as hurt’, Nubarron is a hatless gnome, constantly followed by a vicious storm cloud. Stop for too long and you’re toast, but you also need to use that lightning to defeat enemies and solve puzzles. It’s a clever and wicked spin on 2D platforming and the art style is lush. Unfortunately, it didn’t hit its Kickstarter goal and the team is working on a smaller project to help fund Nubarron. It’ll be a ways off but I’d love to see more.

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Painters Guild by Lucas Molina
I wasn’t sure how to handle this game when I first played the alpha. I was gingerly moving Leonardo Da Vinci from tiny, simple paintings to studying… and then I got overwhelmed by angry customers and a pope died in there somewhere and then I lost. There’s much more to be added in the final version but I think it’s succinct to say this feels like Diner Dash with art, and it’s great. I can’t wait to see and play more of it. Also, here’s Katy and I playing the demo.

Poncho by Delve Interactive
May I introduce you to ‘The Next Fez’? Ok, maybe it’s more Mutant Mudds than Fez but you can’t deny Poncho has a gob-smackingly gorgeous 2D aesthetic of its own, especially when you see it in motion. It also rings just a little of the mystery of Fez but that might be because the trailer is so vague. Either way it gets my vote for the love of parallax.

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Road Redemption by DarkSea Interactive
Look, I know the IGF is the place for innovation, invention and even enlightenment. But I also know that I love Road Rash and Road Redemption is the closest thing to it we’ve had in nearly 20 years. It looks like the biggest, dumbest mess of physics and motorcycles and flying bodies and somehow roguelikes. It’s just too bad it’s still Early Access.

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Small Radios Big Televisions by FIRE FACE
Absolutely stunning to look at even in the early demo version! It’s simple and gorgeous and mysterious without being pretentious or talky. In fact, it may be the silence and lack of characters I love the most. You can watch me play through the demo for more ineloquent ramblings about how I love it.

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Submerged by Uppercut Games
I was already intrigued by the characters floating ominously in a boat. When I realized it was the rooftops of a flooded modern metropolis they wash up to, I was instantly sold. It feels every bit like a Team ICO game but with zero combat and an open world to explore. It is, in concept, my dream game. We’ll see how much is there in the final product but I couldn’t not include it here.

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Sumoman by Tequillabyte Studios
There’s something oddly pleasing about the way Sumoman balances, jiggles and moves that makes me want to play this game. Basically it’s another physics-based, side-scrolling puzzle/platformer but it’s got a spirit I really appreciate. Plus if Sumoman topples over you die and that’s hilarious.

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THUMPER by Drool
As I said in my follow up post last week: Is it an endless runner? Is it sort of like Rock Band but without the emphasis on instruments? I don’t know but it looks splendid and incredible and I will hold on as long as needed in order to play a release version.

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White Night by Osome Studios
White Night is absolutely THE most visually stunning game that I’ll probably never play. I appreciate the admitted inspirations of the original Alone in the Dark and I love the gameplay of keeping the lights on. But when you add things that chase me into the darkness, I cash out. Still, it is so unbelievably gorgeous. The thinnest edges on the things just barely in sight; the perfect whites and blacks in starkest of contrast to one another. The gritty 1930’s setting with matchbooks and gas lamps. I want to see more and hopefully give it a shot myself but I’m probably going to run away.

My Top 20 from the Independent Games Festival 2015 (Part 1)

Here we are again. It’s early in another new year and I’ve gone through all of the entrants in the Independent Games Festival. There were 639 games entered for 2015 and I wound up with a “short” list of 93. From there I hemmed and hawed for a while and ultimately decided on just 20 that I think are the specialest. Today I’ll post the first ten (in alphabetical order) and finish it up with another post tomorrow.

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Against the Wall by Michael Consoli
It may not have been on my Top Twenty list last year but I am all about it in 2015. I played the alpha version again, climbed as high as I wanted to and said “enough, enough now”. I need to know that whatever happens next is final release before I go any higher.

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C-Wars by Onipunks
What looked so fascinating in Crystalides has been refined and distilled into C-Wars and… I’m not sure I’ll love it. The demo build is very rough but it holds the same pixelart cyberpunk vibe I’ve been into since 2012. It’s now equipped with an FTL vibe where you choose to confront or avoid conflict, a leveling systems and a peculiar real time strategy combat mechanic. It’s still promising but far removed from what I was originally so in love with.

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Captain Forever Remix by Dean Tate and Brian Chan
I first discovered Captain Forever in 2012 and obsessively played the web demo version but never bought into the expansion. This has been corrected now that I’ve pre-ordered the reimagining that is Remix. Crazy new art accompanies what will be a deep, terrifying hole of frantic ship building and salvaging. Everything I loved about the original with a hopeful glut of new stuff on top.

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Chained by DigiPen Team Those Guys
I’ve found my mini trend of the year and it’s ‘gameplay mechanics that help as well as hurt’. In the case of Chained it’s a ball and chain attached to your character that you use to demolish your way through an already distraught dreamscape. The modeling and animation are fantastic while the platforming sections are augmented just enough by the ball and chain physics to be interesting.

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Cosmonautica by Chasing Carrots
When they say a “fresh, funky and funny blend of space trading and life simulation” they look to deliver. It’s The Sims in managing your crew’s needs and making sure your ship has all the rooms they need. It’s also got a Spreadsheets in Space economy and FTL’s real time terror combat that I love to hate. Soon as it’s out of Early Access, I’m all in.

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The Curious Expedition by Maschinen-Mensch
I told myself I wasn’t going to get into more procedurally generated, roguelike adventures but The Curious Expedition has super sweet pixelart. Thankfully, it’s top-down, hex-based perspective and party management are equally enticing. Like Gods will be Watching you have to manage your crew’s emotions as well as the external forces threatening to end your expedition with each move. It also looks like you can discover dinosaurs!

Donut County by Ben Esposito
I do-nut what to say about this one. You control a hole that gets bigger as it swallows up colorful scenery and ridiculously cute critters. Very much what I’d call Noby Noby Boy meets Katamari. It looks perfectly, magically insane.

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Fort Meow by Rhys Davies
It’s like Angry Birds in reverse. You’re the one building forts out of furniture to provide solace for a young girl from needy, clingy cats.  Between waves you can scavenge the house for new items — some provide unique bonuses, some are just hefty — to fend off an increasingly persistent array of felines. It’s a downright pleasant experience from the art to the adorable cat animations to the endless purrs you hear on the game over screen.

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Hero Generations by Heart Shaped Games
I came across the beta of this game years ago on Facebook and played a ton of it. Not long after the beta was taken down and promises were made that Hero Generations would reemerge. I’m still waiting (but it’s finally very close).

The concept is simple and grand: each square you move on the map is a year in your life. Youth, middle age and elderly phases have their own benefits and drawbacks. You’re out to maximize your time adventuring (and pillaging and fighting) while also winning over a quality mate. Because when you die you take over as your child with inherited strengths, weaknesses and inheritance. It’s roguelike, terrifying and awesome. I can’t wait to play it again!

Hex Heroes by Prismatic Games
Much like the FPS/RTS mashup, Savage, Hex Heroes aims to do some unique stuff with co-op. Potentially a Wii U game I’d buy a Wii U for, the player with the GamePad is given a top down view of a strategy game style map. They command up to four other players on the TV who have their own roles to play; be it combat, resource gathering or dispelling the fog of war over the map. I doubt I’d ever get together with enough people to make it work but it’s a fantastic idea and I’d love to see it happen.