[5 March 2014]
I sometimes wonder if it is form that dictates content or the content that dictates form. We have conventions and genres that sign post certain content and indicate whether the content of a game will meet our expectations. Computers, lasers, and space means sci-fi and all the connotations that go along with that genre. Alternatively, fantasy immediately dictates a mental image of a feudal medieval Europe with swords and sorcery. Do these tropes comes arise from the content of a fictional work or does certain content mean that we automatically shift into telling a story a certain way? It’s an eternal back and forth in all things, not just art. It could also be true of venues.
The broad variety offered by IndieCade East would be unimaginable at a trade show like E3 and is pretty much absent from a fan convention like PAX as well. Does the museum environment persuade developers to display games that would feel out of place and alienated in another setting? Or does a commitment to the games that you wouldn’t find elsewhere lead to the adoption of the museum setting in order to comfortably contextualize this particular set of avant-garde gaming options?
In picking up where we left off last week—going alphabetically through the games that caught my eye for one reason or another at IndieCade—and I see a great range in our next four. They create a sort of comparable narrative, from most esoteric and least likely to be seen on a show floor to the more traditionally indie and right on through to being so traditional that we enter the territory that video games like to forget, namely their heritage.
This is one of those games that will surely get people up in arms over whether or not it is a game. I don’t care. It’s weird and fascinating, and I had to eventually shake myself and walk away. Made for a 48 hour game jam in 2014 that asked designers to confront the theme “we don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are,” Moon Rabbit is a game in which you feed procedurally generated creatures. Once fed, one of these creatures will disappear and will be replaced by another one.
All the creatures are created from a single line that loops, bends, and contorts itself into a symmetrical image outlining the creature’s features. Use the mouse to find the hidden mouth among the lines and then click to feed. It’s shockingly engaging. I couldn’t stop playing even while talking with the developer Aaron Keeth (his partner Mario Von Rickenbach couldn’t be there). It was a zen-like experience of new shapes and new creatures, all of which was soon to vanish back into ether and then: Click. Click. Click. Click.
I’m pretty sure few if anyone else gave this little experiment much thought after playing it. You are sitting at a table with a cup of coffee in front of you. You can drink the coffee or look out the window. Your view is limited at first. As you take sips, you are allowed more movement with your head. Eventually you can turn to pick up your keys, at which point the character will stand up. You can wander around the kitchen in front of you or through the living room behind you. There is a door that leads to an anteroom where there is another door that leads outside. It is time to go to work. Then it goes all 2001 on you and zooms out beyond the furthest stars and drops you back onto the menu screen.
The game is first person and solely controlled by the mouse. hold the left button to move forward and the mouse to direct that movement. An object that can be interacted with will be highlighted when moused over (aka looking at it) and interacted with when you click on it. Yes, it is a one button, keyboard agnostic first person walker. It seems the genre wasn’t as minimalist as I had thought. The control scheme is pretty fascinating and opens up simpler narratives to be played with by those not brought up on WASD.
I know many are bored with puzzle platformers, but what if you played one as a green ooze instead of a person? That is the basic concept behind Mushroom 11. You play as a green ooze of a certain mass that will regrow itself should you lose any of that mass. With the mouse, you create a circle that you use to push the green mass along and through obstacles. Along the way, you will have to use unique properties and behaviors to make it through various challenges.
The game came out of the 2012 Global Game Jam, and following that event, its developer got backing from the Indie Fund has been working on it ever since. It’s already on PC, but he’s working on a tablet version and hopes to bring it to the PS Vita at some point. I didn’t get to play it myself, but watching someone try and make their way through it was almost as entertaining.
This was the other board game that I got to play at IndieCade East. I lost both games that I played. You play as one of four Ancient Greek city states, 2 on 2. The object of the game is to get at least one of your phalanxes to your partner’s city. It’s a lot harder than it sounds. I swear that the strategic quality of NIKA is on the level of Chess or Go.
The game’s designers had a laminated board with counters to represent the phalanxes, but after the first game, they brought out a big tablet, a tablet about one and half feet by three and a half feet. The board game is currently being worked on for release on Android and iOS. Thankfully, the table sized tablet isn’t necessary. It will work on your phone.
The game had a successful Kickstarter back in January of this year that earned almost three times as much as the original $5000 goal. I dare not even try to explain the game, check out the rules and the game board for yourself. I really liked this game, despite knowing that I will never be any good at it.
That’s a few more games looked at. Next week, I conclude the rundown of games that caught my eye at IndieCade East.