I went to IndieCade with Marissa exactly a week ago. We arrived at the venue and it surprised me to find that the event was entirely outdoors. One small Los Angeles block housed the 20 or so tents where all the games were. The setup didn’t impress or excite me like the grandeur of GameStop Expo did, but the experiences I had during my four-hour visit left me with an optimistic reverence for the developers who are doing big things with their smaller titles.
Disclaimer: I did not play all the games, nor did I attempt to. I only went one of the three days and gravitated toward trying games I already had my eyes on. IndieCade is not meant to be ingested in such a short amount of time. I’d estimate that I tried about a quarter to a third of the offerings there, but some of the titles I got my hands on still have me thinking about them days later.
One of the first places I visited was the Oculus Rift Virtual Reality trailer. They had two different demonstrations: one outside the trailer and one inside. I sat down in their chair as the sun breathed down my neck and watched the Oculus rep clean the VR headset thoroughly with antibacterial wipes. As advanced as this piece of technology is, it is not immune to forehead sweat. I exchanged my glasses for a small controller. It was primitive, made with cheap plastic not unlike the OUYA controller. The rep placed the VR headset on my head which, unlike most hats, was able to sit comfortably over my dreadlocks.
The first thing I saw with the headset over my face was a giant tentacle waving about out of a murky pool of water. I found myself in a medieval dungeon complete with wall torches, crates, and irregularly laid bricks. I moved the control stick and saw a little goblin begin prancing on top of the screen. I pressed the face buttons to learn that I could make the goblin jump, attack, and change weapons. I directed my avatar down the stairs and off screen. I tilted my head down and the camera moved down with it. I switched my weapon to the bow and a red reticle appeared in the center of the screen. Since there was only a single control stick on the controller which was used to move the character, I wondered how I would aim my arrows. Moving my head to center the camera on my goblin hero, I noticed the reticle followed which made me realize that I was supposed to aim my shots with my head. Unlike all the demonstrations I’d seen before that put the player in a scene from a first person perspective, this little dungeon crawler showed me another perfectly viable use of the Rift’s unique capabilities.
The demonstration on the inside of the trailer could be compared to the on rail flying sections of Kid Icarus: Uprising except instead of an angel I played as a rookie space fighter in an exo-suit. She exchanged witty banter with her commander who spoke directly to her from a remote location yielding yet another parallel to Kid Icarus. I navigated her through asteroids and space debris using only my head. In fact, I didn’t even have a controller this time. When enemies sprouted up, I tilted my head at them to lock-on and homing missiles automatically ejected from my character’s space suit to destroy them. I would have been completely immersed into the game had it not been for the soft exchange of words between the Oculus reps. When I finished I stayed back to observe other people playing it. It didn’t look as ridiculous as I imagined it would. Four people sitting on a bench in a hollowed out trailer is certainly a strange sight, but in a typical setting like a living room using a VR headset, I suspect, won’t be very hard to accept.
Leap Motion had a big presence at IndieCade as well. Leap Motion allows you to use your hands to directly interact with the computer, kind of like Kinect except it only tracks your hands. It is capable of tracking every individual finger’s movement to a fair degree of accuracy using a censor connected to the computer by USB. One of the Leap games I played had me simply interacting with this little box of cute robots and toys. I could pick up the robots with a CG rendering of a hand that emulated my real hand’s movements. I could pick up balls and throw them at varying velocities. I dismantled robots simply by picking them up and shaking them around. It was pretty nifty getting to interact with a video game in that way.
Over at the Nintendo booth I got my hands on Runbow for Wii U, the world’s first 9-player local multiplayer experience. This is achieved by attaching four Wii Pro Controllers or Classic Controllers to the Wii Remotes. One person uses the Wii Remote while the other person uses the attached controller, thus expanding the number of setups to eight. Finally, adding in the Wii U Gamepad gives you the 9th controller. It’s an awesome idea, showing the kind of creativity Nintendo is known for. It brings to mind that moment of The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass where the game asks you to stamp a piece of parchment on the bottom screen of the DS with an insignia from the top screen by literally pressing both screens together.
Sunder is another great example of a local multiplayer game that goes so far outside the box that it needs a passport to get back in. Sunder is a 2D platformer where two players work together to solve puzzles. What makes this game so fascinating is that each player has a set of glasses that filter out some of the colors on screen so that they can see things that the other player can’t. The only way to progress is for both players to verbally communicating about what’s happening in their respective views.
Unsurprisingly, IndieCade showcased a large amount of 2D platformers. Honestly, this is a format I think is over-saturating the gaming market. It makes sense though. These games are cost-effective, easier to make than most 3D games, and it is a tried and true formula. I’ve played a lot of them. I’m a Nintendo fan after all. That’s why it was so refreshing to play what I considered to be the game of show: Night in the Woods.
Night in the Woods is the kind of game I want to someday make and, most importantly, the kind of game I want to see more of. Night in the Woods is a 2D platformer, sure. But it is tightly wrapped in narrative and character development. Marissa and I waited for hours to play the game. When we finally got on, we sat side by side swapping controllers and the headphone set every so often. I legitimately chuckled at the main character’s inner dialogue and her funny conversations with others. The art style is unique, the music is serene, the animation is fluid, and the story promises to be thoughtful and heartfelt. Night in the Woods doesn’t innovate with its gameplay but it definitely explores mostly untouched territory in the realm of story topics in games. It is the kind of game that can only come from an independent developer.
IndieCade is something special. Despite its modest presentation, it is the epitome of what gaming is and could be. Having fun, challenging the perceptions of what games are, and celebrating the industry’s small but mighty heroes is what IndieCade is all about. The people seem to be united by the common goal of wanting to create and play games that will push the industry forward. That may sound like the obvious goal for any video game fan, but I’ve never been surrounded by so much creativity, free-thinking, and passion in my life. “Inspire. Create. Play.” That is the mantra of IndieCade and, as of last Sunday, my personal life mission.