What do cosplayers, kawaii plushies, Rock Band, indie games, hats, and Balloonicorns all have in common?
The answer is nothing – but they’re all to be found at Adelaide AVCon, Australia’s largest anime and video games convention. Apart from featuring some rad-ass cosplays and tournaments (including one co-op tourney where the players have their screen switched), it also has a whole room devoted solely to upcoming indie games made by the locals.
As you’d expect, I spent quite a bit of time in there, and you can hit the break to read my thoughts on the games I had time to play. Some are excellent – others, not so much.
In three words: generic, but fun. Sapience places you in the boots of an unnamed officer who wakes up in the medical bay on the Starship Caelum, a ship that’s been overrun by aliens. Sound familiar?
Despite being rather generic in terms of gameplay mechanics, it’s still quite fun to play, and difficult to boot – the constantly decreasing oxygen meter on your hazmat suit requires you to push forward constantly, blasting away aliens and humans alike to find out what really happened on the ship. The combat is pretty basic, but manages to pick up the Doom vibe that old-school gamers will enjoy immensely.
In terms of art, it’s about as basic as it gets: pixel art and sprites. However, these mix with some really pretty dust-bokeh effects on the visor to make a nice mesh of old and new.
Verdict: Promising. I’m interested to see what it’s like after it gets some proper writing and more levels.
It’s a rare moment when you see an early version of a game and think to yourself, “Holy crap, that game is going to sell millions,” and it’s even rarer when the game in question is about kicking cats.
Yes, that’s right, kicking cats. Before playing, I brought up my worries to the developer, Ken Wong (famous for being the art director on the critically acclaimed Alice: Madness Returns), and he assuaged my doubts by assuring me that the cats being kicked were, in fact, evil cats. Pirate cats who download MP3s, even.
With my doubts allayed, I moved to the iPads displayed on the table and began to play. Within moments, a goofy grin had spread across my face as the onscreen character began bouncing kittens around with his feet.
The gameplay is relatively simple – basically, all the player needs to do is tap cats to launch them into the air and stop them from hitting the ground. The closer to the ground the cat gets before being launched back up, the more points are earned. Additional points opportunities are available in the form of cheeseburgers to be launched at the cats and “super-kicks” which remove cats from play (more cats eventually parachute down from the top of the screen as the game goes on). All of these gameplay elements eventually converge to create an experience that’s frenetic yet extremely fun, and I personally can’t wait for Hackycat’s impending release.
Verdict: I couldn’t love this game any more. Actually, I could, but only if it had a cat named after me.
The wonderful thing about the Indie Games Room was that I was able to have in-depth conversations to the developers about their motivations behind making the gems that flickered from screens like succubi from the ether. One conversation that stuck with me, in particular, was my brief chat with Matt Trobbiani, one half of Team Fractal Alligator, developers of both Hacknet and Hatland Adventures (which I’ll talk about below). The general gist of it, since I won’t bore you with details, was that Matt thought that Uplink (a very similar indie game) wasn’t realistic enough.
Of course, he then set to work making his game as realistic and faithful to real-world hacking as possible. Players actually have the choice to (gasp) use Unix-like commands to navigate around the game, though a slightly more simplified graphical interface is available for some tasks. Most importantly, though, the game allows for the unbridled joy of typing “rm *” into a command line – however, if you run the command on your own ingame PC, you’ll lose everything. Matt, when questioned about this, opined that if people were silly enough to do that on their own PC, they deserve to lose the game.
The game’s currently available on both Desura and IndieCity for free, though Fractal Alligator intends to flesh out the game extensively and re-release some time in the future.
I’m trying really hard not to make a Team Fortress 2 joke.
Wait, damn it. Never mind.
Hatland Adventures is a pretty simplistic platformer which has health mechanics similar to Sonic – basically, in that your pile of hats indicates your health, and they fall off if you take damage. That’s all there is to the gameplay – the art style goes for pastel colours, and I’m informed that the player can have a pile of over two million (the value of an integer) hats before the game starts to bug out. Oh, and there are certain effects which come with the hats, but they don’t change the game much.
True story: every time I try to say the name of this game, I say Master Chief instead. I don’t even play Halo!
Anyway, Master Thief is a stealth simulator which closely emulates the sneaky portions of the classic Metal Gear games. It’s not much to look at right now – guards walk around with flashlights representing their field of view and the player is tasked with collecting objects (which resemble gold bars) to take with them to the exit of the level.
It’s fun, but the gameplay is ultimately limited to good reflexes and observational skills.
Verdict: Fun, but could use much more variety.
This game’s control scheme was quite different from the rest – instead of having a gamepad or a mouse and keyboard, the screens had joysticks situated in front of them. Unfortunately, this novel control scheme actually lessened my enjoyment of the game, with the complicated and unintuitive controls causing many an accidental death.
Regrettably, the gameplay (and, indeed, the visual fidelity) is no better. It’s slightly reminiscent of that one game which was included on the Windows 98 install disc (Hover), but with less sophistication and only slightly better graphics. Seriously, when I say this game had shitty graphics, I mean that some most Nintendo 64 games looked nicer than this. I tried my best to find a screenshot, but the developers didn’t bother to make a website for their game, so you’ll have to make do with the showcase video at the bottom of this article.
Verdict: Don’t even bother.
Shift places you on a cube-based platform in the sky, with the ability to pick up and place certain blocks. Sounds like Minecraft, right? The developer, Jamie Williamson, readily admits this, but emphasizes that the actual gameplay is quite different – and he’s correct.
The game plays like Minecraft, but set in the sky and with Portal 2’s movement-modifying gels turned into cubes. It’s based around platforming and using the aforementioned cubes for tricky, long-distance jumps.
Given the inspiration, it’s hard to believe that this game couldn’t be fun – and it is. Surprisingly fun, at that. The developer has done a great job with striking a balance between fun and difficulty, and I personally can’t wait to see what it’s like when Shift sees a full release.
Verdict: Even more promising!
Aside from Hackycat, this was the most addictive game in the room. The story is as follows: you’re an animal that’s about to be tossed into a cookpot, when you spontaneously escape and start running from the homicidal chef. From then on, the gameplay is almost identical to Robot Unicorn Attack, though it has more opportunities for points – colourful pieces of fruit are scattered around the levels and it’s also possible to rescue your friends from cages, who then follow you until you die. Painfully.
There’s not much else to say about Animal Dash!. It’s great fun and I’m looking forward to its release on iOS (it’s already available on Android, for those who are interested).
Verdict: Fun and cute – definitely a winner.
No, seriously. While I did say that it’s a Pretentious Cube Navigation game, it’s also the best one I’ve ever played. I’m not quite sure why I liked it so much, to be completely honest – the gameplay is simple (in its current state) and the soundtrack is okay. It’s the art style and accompanying level design which really redeems Expand.
Everyone I spoke to in the room agreed with me, too: the simple black-and-white, rotating, clock-style levels are both simple and fun to navigate, while offering a nice poetic juxtaposition between wrong and right. The music, composed of heavy piano strains, fits along with (and, indeed, is triggered by) the dynamic movement of the level, though it sounded particularly low-quality (which I think won’t be a problem in the final build).
Verdict: I’m smitten.
AVCon was pretty damn great, and the best part, in my most humble opinion, was the Indie Games Room. With some great innovation happening, and extremely talented and imaginative developers driving it, I’m very much looking forward to what’s in the room next year.