Another great year for GDC! They broke attendance records again and have become a mecca for developers of all levels—from the big boys at the major publishers to a couple of kids making games in their dorm rooms and everything in between. Each year, I buzz around the Independent Games Festival and hit the floor to check out whatever catches my eye. As the con grows, there are more and more games to try and lots of young people with big dreams! Here are the winners of these year's awards!
The Coolest Solution for Writer's Block
Elegy for a Dead World
Wanna be a writer, but you have no idea how? Well this game aims to fix that problem. And in a most interesting way! The game features a variety of writing challenges that serve to give you inspiration as a writer. In the level I played, I was a space archaeologist chronicling the death of a civilization. Using my trusty jetpack, I would fly from writing prompt to writing prompt finishing the half-written stories by plugging in my own words. I could make the story beautiful, funny, nonsensical or whatever I wanted. Other levels have you playing a thief completing a song about the valuables you're stealing and more. Some levels have a guided narrative and others you can write whatever you want. And it all somehow ties into an overall theme of British Romantic Era poets like Shelly, Byron and Keats. And you can share the stories with people who are also into the game. I only wrote about farts when I played. Probably not going to share those.
The game is available on Steam and you can get more info at their site.
Most Laborious Labor of Love
Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma
Yes, they're making another one! But not "they," one man who has a big dream...to create more Afro Samurai! The first was published by Bandai Namco, but this sequel will come from an independent publisher. I had a chance to chat with the guy who was the driving force behind it, and it was an impressive labor of love to say the least. And the game looked pretty neat too. The story focuses on Kuma, the robot/bear guy from the original series, and will give you some new insight into his character. The game features a new combat system that allows you to change styles on the fly. In fact, you'll have to keep changing styles in order to rack up bigger and bigger combos. The game was still in development, but it looks like it'll give fans of the series something to look forward to.
Proof That Claymation is the Superior Art Form
If the California Raisins didn't convince you that claymation is a superior art form, Armikrog will. To me it's obvious, but I suppose some people may need more convincing. The game's lush claymated world and stop-motion animation provide a visual feast for the eyes that makes polygons look boring. A spiritual sequel to Neverhood, this game's puzzle-based, point-and-click style gameplay are perfect because they give you lots of time to enjoy the details in every level as you guide the hero Tommynaut and his "dog" Beak-Beak. The game's filled with lots of amazing things to look at. For instance, in the demo, we were able to look out of a window and see a whole bunch of hilarious animals outside doing all manner of hilarious things. The amount of detail put into this game should keep the curious type busy for days. A truly beautiful game!
Armikrog is heading for several systems in 2015 including the Wii U! More info here!
Most Relaxing Day Before You Die
Ephemerid: A Musical Adventure
"Ephemerid" is the Greek word for mayfly, which is what you play in this game. Mayflies have one of the most unusual life cycles on earth. They spend nearly their whole life as waterborne larvae, and then for one day, they're an adult with wings. And they fly around in a mad dash trying to mate before they die the next day! Sound stressful? Well it isn't in Ephemerid: A Musical Adventure. It's relaxing. And beautiful. A soothing experience for your eyes and ears. You guide the mayfly through a series of fairly simple touch-based puzzles using a variety of visual and audio clues. It's not really hard, nor is there any real way to fail. It's about the experience, not the challenge. The graphics are all composed of bright, colorful, hand-cut paper, and the music ranges in styles, but is all rather nice.
The game is available on Steam and at the App Store. More info at their site.
Coolest Guy Wearing Ridiculous VR Gear
Random Guy with Beard
A big part of GDC is dedicated to showing off the latest video-game tech gadgets, and VR headsets have taken over during the last few years. It used to all be about 3D tech, which is pretty much dead, so VR is the new "big thing." The thing about VR headsets is you almost always look like a complete doofus wearing them. There's just no way to still manage to look cool with this big black brick strapped to your face. Or is there? Ladies and gentlemen, I present the coolest looking guy at GDC wearing a headset! Note the beard...and the gun! This is as cool as it gets, folks. Congratulations, guy with beard!
The "Someone's Going to Get a Job Out of This Game" Award
There are lots of multimedia experiences to be had at GDC, but few are as slick as Pry. An iOS game that's part movie, part novel and truly multimedia. You are experiencing the thoughts of a Gulf War veteran named James. Often it's a wall of text, but you can "pry" open the text and suddenly you're looking at a movie that relates to the words on the page. Then you can close it and go back to text. In another level, you trace virtual brail with your finger, and a story is read to you while home movies play in the background. And still another lets you read text and unfold it for more sentences that fit into the overall narrative. The whole experience is truly unique and comes wrapped in some very high production values. Whoever made this is definitely going to get a job out of it somewhere. Impressive stuff.
This game is available on iOS. You can get impressed at their website right here .
Most Impressive Depressing Game
There are usually a few sad or depressing games around GDC. A lot of games are artsy, and art is often depressing, mainly because the world is a painful place and artists tend to be more sensitive than others. This is my theory, anyway. Well, if you're depressed, I do not recommend a•part•ment! It's super sad! The story of a relationship gone wrong, you play as a comic artist who has just been dumped, and you walk around the apartment looking at objects that remind you of different times in your relationship, both good and bad. It's actually quite a beautiful experience. After you're done exploring your apartment, you can head into other people's and take a look at their sad lives. It's an interesting game worth playing so long as you're not having relationship problems.
You can get sad by checking out there game right here.
The Staring Contest You Can't Win
Another depressing game! But one with a unique twist—this game watches you and reacts to your facial movements. Specifically blinking. Every time you blink the scene changes. It's quite disorienting, but it's supposed to be. You play a character that's gotten into an accident and suffered a severe brain trauma. Now you struggle with memory loss and confusion. Just as you enter a scene and start to interact with the characters, you're suddenly in a new place—because you blinked. The more you try not to blink so you can get your bearings, the drier your eyes get, causing you to blink more. You'll be very confused as you jump around time and try to put together the pieces of your life. And the "minecrafty" cartoony graphics add to the overall surreal nature of the experience. Oh, and the name is a clever pun! "Close your" as in close your eyes and "closure" as in the closure of a life experience.
For more info and to see people's reactions to the game, check out their site.
The "Who Needs an Art Degree?" Award
Become a Great Artist in Just 10 Seconds
Have you ever gone to an art museum, seen something crazy hanging on the wall and thought, "I could do that! A four year old could do that!" Well, this game is made for you! Actually, not sure if it really qualifies as a game as there is no goal, but it is definitely an interactive experience. To "play" the game, you just sit at your computer, hit buttons and watch the screen go nuts. You can change colors, manipulate patterns, zoom in, replicate the pattern, and more. And it never ends. You can keep making the art look more and more abstract. It's quite a bit of fun, actually. And it finally answers the age old question, "What is art?" This is art, folks! This is it!
You can get artsy at their website, right here.
The "Most Ridiculous Thing on the Floor" Award
Three Person Rope Swing
GDC usually has a couple of kooky contraptions various companies cook up to capture con-goers attention, but this thing took the cake! It was huge, swung back and forth, and looked mildly dangerous. Oddly enough, I can't remember what the heck they were even trying to sell. Total mystery!
The "You Can Be Artsy and Fun" Award
A collection of super-fun, totally bonkers arcade games loosely based on 80's classics and billed as a "satire of the internet," these games, which are bordering on the insane, come with colorful crazy graphics and hilarious cartoony sound effects. The Tetris inspired game, Tetrogeddon, has you dropping Tetris-shaped blocks of trash on people turning them into bright red splats of blood. But you have to kill them! They're destroying your trash blocks and ruining your game! Another game called Offender 2: War on Rabbits has you trying to beam up rabbits that spit at you. The whole project feels like a love letter to the crappy internet graphics and memes of the 90s. There are a handful of different games, and all are free to play in your browser or mobile devices. See! You can be artsy and fun! This game proves it!
You can play all these games for free right here!
The "Only at GDC" Award
how do you Do It?
The Nuovo Award section of the Independent Games Festival is a must-see for con goers. That's usually where the farthest-out of the far-out stuff ends up. The stuff that pushes the envelope of what's considered a game. And this year's stand out game was, how do you Do It? You play a little girl playing with her dolls, trying to figure out how grown ups "do it." You can rotate the dolls in any direction and use another button to bang them together. It's not much of a game, but it was a lot of fun. And I think I actually did learn a thing or two. About dolls. Anyway, this definitely falls under the "only at GDC" umbrella. And that's why I love the show.
To play the game and possibly learn something, head to their site.
Best Chance of Hooking Up at GDC
Wanna hook up at GDC? It's not easy, trust me! Actually, I've never tried until I played Pixel Galaxy, where you must hook up with enemy pixels to create a larger and more powerful...group of pixels! In the game, you play a pixel (well a square to be exact, probably a few pixels actually). Other pixels fly around the screen trying to shoot you. But if you can dodge their bullets and touch them, they're on your side and will become part of your cluster. The more pixels that come, the more you can add to yours. They'll even shoot bullets back at the other guys. But the bigger you get, the larger of a target you are and the harder it is to avoid the bad guys. It's a simple concept that makes for some fun, fast-paced gaming.
This game will be available on PC, Mac and the Wii U when it comes out. You can find out more right here.
The "Owl Boy! It's Finally Coming Out!" Award
Well, owl be...this game is finally coming out! I saw it at GDC years ago and thought it was a hoot, but then it sort of disappeared. But now it looks like it's finally coming together. Who? Who...would take so long to make a game? Someone who wanted to do it right. Owl Boy is a side-scrolling action game where you play an owl boy named Otus. In order to defend your village from pirates, you must traverse many vertical caverns carrying your trusty pal. You fly, and he shoots. Together, you are strong. Separated, not so much. As far as gameplay is concerned, this was one of the best titles I played at GDC. They were as wise as an owl to take their time with this one.
You can watch a trailer and learn more at their site.
Best in Show
Into the Stars
I've always dreamed of being a starship captain. Ever since I was a kid watching Captain Kirk barking orders to fend off alien attacks. Space is the final frontier, and if we can't actually go out there and explore it, the next best thing is playing a video game that simulates that experience. Especially one as beautiful as Into the Stars! The graphics are gorgeous and space has never looked so inviting. You play a starship captain and galavant around the galaxy exploring planets, upgrading your ship, managing your crew and fighting scary-looking space aliens. The combat is about timing and resource management and not doing barrel rolls. This is not an arcade game experience by any means, more like a management RPG. Like being a real space captain would be like, I imagine. It's gorgeous, has cinematic music and more polish than anything I saw at the show. I only wish it came with a special captain's chair I could fly out of when hit with an enemy laser blast!
The game is headed for Steam. You can find out more at their site.
And that concludes the 2015 GDC Awards! Hope you enjoyed them,and please go to these people's sites to check out their games! Support indie games!
by Urian Brown
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