The Games of IndieCade: Part 3

[11 March 2014]

By Eric Swain

When a developer is told to create a video game, the average mind will always drift to what has already been done. Given a blank canvas with which to work and the mind is assailed by the tyranny of possibility, creating nothing. The mind needs some structure and limitations to create, and often they are the limitations that creators impose on themselves. And often those self imposed limitations are the conventions of what has come before. It is a safety net that those steeped in a medium understand.

Conventionality in the arts leads to the exclusion of ideas that fall outside the norm, not by simply refusing to grant admittance to those outside the boundaries of what is accepted as a game, but through the subtle denial of new thought. Saying those limitations no longer apply in this instance is never enough. New limitations, specially crafted, are needed to break away from the old and into a new arena of possibility.

I have brought up the uniqueness of IndieCade as an event where play and imagination run free. This was not just idle chatter. I honestly believe there is something about the event that leads one to think differently about games and that is quite a feat to accomplish given gaming’s frequent commitmnet to conventionality.


I feel that in some future year this is going on my game of the year list. Antichamber might have broken your mind with its non-Euclidean world, and, well, Relativity seems set to do so within a Euclidean one. You can walk on any surface in Relativity. Walk to a wall, and it will change color and become the new floor. Gravity shifts accordingly. The former floor is now a wall, now colored gray. It’s like walking on the inside of a cube, except the whole environment is really a maze of puzzle rooms.  Maintaining an awareness of your relative orientation is key as the world changes appearance and stairs become walls and blocks become ceiling fixtures.

In terms of its narrative, the plan is to create six narrative threads that will indicate what happened in this world but that don’t quite sync up. They are six different points of view on the same events Rashoman-style. That’s if the developer does end up implementing one at all. It’s not going to feature an explicit plot, but something along the lines of a thematic construction, like that in Antichamber.

I don’t feel like I’ve adequately explained either aspect of the game, but I don’t think I could do a better job. Relativity needs to be seen to be really understood. It’s an impressive achievement that doesn’t sound like it until you see it. “How could you possibly get lost, just because you can walk on the wall?,” you say to yourself. Then you play it, and the disorienting effect of things not being where they should be hits you head on. I love this kind of weirdness and conceptual mind screwing. I can’t wait to get my hands on a finished game. The game has been in development for 50 months so far and will probably take another year or so to finish. I wish Willy Chyr the best of luck in doing so.

Rollers of the Realm

Tired of playing an RPG, but grinding through all that combat? Tired of battles becoming repetitious fights full of barely distinguishable padding? Why not turn those fights into pinball tables? What, that wasn’t the next logical step? I love independent game creators because not only could they make such a game, but the idea would occur to them in the first place is amazing. Who among you would think to turn a fantasy RPG into a series of pinball tables complete with enemies with hit points, balls representing different characters with different abilities, on board quests and boss fights?

The plan is for the game to span six chapters consisting of about 50-60 boards in total. You follow a ragtag band of adventures and misfits as they come together to fight an ancient evil that will be unearthed by a corrupt lord or some such thing. When you’re stepping this far out of the box, it’s okay to keep some basic reference points. I want to emphasize that this isn’t a pinball game with a story and RPG elements, this is a full RPG that has exchanged traditional styles of combat for pinball boards.

Slam of the Arcade Age

This was a game made for a French punk festival. I don’t think that I would have had the opportunity to play it anywhere except at an event like IndieCade. There is a screen that flashes various colors that if stared at too long might induce seizures. There are fours squares at one edge of the screen and a line on the other side. In front of the screen scattered about a small table are 11 different colored arcade buttons embedded in Styrofoam blocks spray painted to match those buttons, black, white, gray, green, yellow, blue, pink, orange, red, brown, and silver. Wires emerge from the bottom of each Styrofoam block all leading to a circuit board next to the screen. Every time that you hit one of the buttons, that square that corresponds to it will move forward a bit. Every few seconds all the squares change color. It is a mad race to the finish line.

Not every video game includes body checking as a nearly requisite part of play. You have to be able to tap fast to make it across the finish line and to be ready to change on the fly. You will lean across the table to reach another button. This is not a calm, nor a respectful affair. It is frantic, hyperactive, and comes with no rules. Cover someone’s eyes, cover the button of the leader, or push and hold it down so that they can’t get to it at all. I learned to grab the person’s wrist and slam it up and down instead. I was almost sweating by the end of a few matches.

It’s perfectly appropriate that it was made for a punk festival. Forget games with crude graphics or a subversive story. This is a punk video game.

What Hath God Wrought? (title subject to change)

This game required its own peripheral, and if you recognize the quote that gives the game its title, you’ll have figured out what it is all about. “What hath God wrought” is the first phrase ever transmitted over a telegraph line back in 1844. The peripheral is a handmade Morse key wired up to an NES controllers B button. The game is Typing of the Dead for a telegraph operator. You have to type out a message on screen as accurately as possible in Morse code.

The developer got the idea when reading The Victorian Internet. Apparently the telegraph was the primogenitor of the internet. In their down time, operators would chat across the lines about their day or pass along jokes and speak in truncated coded speech. At some point, the game developer is thinking about adding in a Papers, Please-style narrative about building the world through messages that people bring in. He also says not to worry about speed as the game informed people they were typing at two to three words a minute. Apparently, the average back in the day of telegraph operators was only five words a minute.

He is going to create a smartphone version at some point, allowing for tapping on the screen instead of a key. But I think the game would lose something without the Morse key peripheral. There is some heft to the device, and it will resist. You have to really hit the key to get a tone. After all, you could play Guitar Hero with a controller, but it just wouldn’t the same.

So concludes a look through 13 independent titles in total. All were and are in various stages of completion and represent different levels of ambition. Each game has something about it that in some small way caught my eye. That isn’t to say that these 13 were all there was to see, though. For some reason the game that my mind drifts back to whenever I reflect back on the show was one made by two high school kids and that was little more than an tech demo for a game engine. The game deposited your figure on a green plane with some brown squares meant to be houses. A black square represented a door that when walked through lead to a gray plane meant to be an underground dungeon. All you could do was move that figure around. You couldn’t interact with anything at all. And yet, these kids just wanted to show off what they had done. There was nothing to it, and no one said that it wasn’t supposed to be there. I wish those two designers and all the other creators at IndieCade the best of luck.

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