Develop in Brighton will host its yearly Indie Showcase next week. VG247's Dave Cook spoke with each of the ten finalists about their games, and to learn more about the teams behind them.
What does the term 'indie' mean to you?
While it's literally used to bracket independent coders or teams, the name often brings with it several accompanying beliefs.
It implies small teams chasing a dream, an anarchistic view towards the triple-a sector, the creation of unique ideas that would never be allowed to thrive at a big studio, and an artful, almost abstract approach to game presentation.
Given the volume of big studios that wouldn't be deemed 'indie' now breaking off from the publisher route thanks to Kickstarter, mobile store fronts and Steam, it could be argues that the broader definition is shifting, but to many of us, the term 'indie' goes neatly in hand with innovation.
That's what the Indie Showcase is all about. Taking place at the Develop in Brighton conference July 9-11, the event will highlight ten indie projects that deliver fresh ideas, compelling gameplay experiences and most fundamental of all, are simply fun to play.
The shortlisted games were revealed last week, and will all compete for prizes at the show. The Indie Showcase Winner will be chosen by a panel of judges, the Editors Choice Award will be awarded by the gaming press, and the People's Choice Award winner is chosen by attendees.
Ahead of the showcase I decided to speak with all ten of the winners to get some insight into their games and the people behind them, in the hopes of flagging up new, emerging talent and the indie games you could be playing throughout the rest of 2013.
1: That Dragon, Cancer
This adventure game is based on the true-life story of Green's son Joel and his ongoing battle against cancer. "Joel wasn't supposed to live past his 2nd birthday," Green explained. "But while his cancer is aggressive and we're fighting his eighth tumor, he is very much alive.
"When the doctors told us Joel was terminal we had to talk to our sons about things like heaven. My wife told our older boys that Joel was fighting this great dragon called cancer. It's a dragon that Joel, our doctors and we are unable to slay."
Green said that the process of creating a game around these events has been one of discovery, and he hopes that players will experience the same rollercoaster of emotions felt by his family. Set largely in a children's hospital, it's a point-and-click title at its core; an "interactive retelling" of Joel's third year as cancer patient, and the struggle he and his parents had to endure.
Along the way players will discover poems, musical arrangements and other uplifting elements within a dreamscape tethered to the hospital ward, each geared towards delivering a message of hope. There's little in the way of puzzle solving, just a heart-rending tale of faith in the face of death from people who have seen it with their own eyes.
"The thing that’s so great about videogames is that you can experience these themes of hope and struggle and family and grace in a unique and powerful way," Green concluded. "People are willing to explore these themes in other media, but many of them don’t get the chance to in videogames. If you would like that chance, you should check us out."
Otherwise known as the game that recently made its development costs back in 64 seconds, Gunpoint is becoming quite popular as of late. Developed by former PC Gamer writer Tom Francis, the game boasts a neat stealth-puzzle mechanic that lets players re-wire levels to confuse enemies and pull off feats of espionage as a spy.
"Gunpoint's a game for people who like to break into buildings, punch people, and tinker with systems," Francis told me. "Being able to rewire the electronics lets you invent your own solutions, as simple or convoluted as you like. Some people spend ages rigging a level to trick a guard into trapping himself, or accidentally shooting his friend, or falling through a trap door. If you can't imagine why anyone would want to do that, you won't like Gunpoint."
The game was developed whenever Francis had spare time away from his PC Gamer duties, and in the end it's turning heads all over the shop. So there's further proof folks, members of the games press can make for grand game developers too.
Fans of Okami might want to check out this trailer for Tengami, a Wii U eShop game based on a childhood obsession with pop-up books and historical Japanese art. Pop-up books create a sense of wonder with every turn of a page," Jennifer Schneidereit of developer Nyamyam told me. "We set out to try and capture this feeling and discover what a video game that takes place inside a pop-up book could be like."
It's a puzzle game that tasks players with manipulating the paper world to overcome obstacles and Schneidereit explained that much of what you will see in the game started with paper prototypes that were then painstakingly transferred over to the game itself. Making the physical art style on paper was a challenge for the team, but it resulted in the authentic papercraft visuals you see above.
"All throughout development we focused a lot on authenticity and so every pop-up in Tengami could be built as a physical pop-up using paper and glue," Schneidereit added. "Tengami also has a strikingly beautiful and minimalistic art style that is inspired by Japanese concepts of simplicity and beauty.
"The in game textures are based off of real Japanese handcrafted papers that give the feeling that you are almost touching and playing with real paper. The technology we used to create the pop-up world of Tengami was also created entirely by us. We spent over a year creating the tools that would allow us to create digital pop-ups that fold like their paper counter parts."
4. ibb & obb
Ibb and obb is a clever co-op game based around a neat gravity-bending hook that sees the world split in two. Above the horizon gravity acts as normal, but anything below this line has its gravity inverted, so players must use portals to flip between both gravity types in order to collect diamonds, dodge enemies and reach exits.
"ibb & obb started out as my graduation project during which I wanted to create a game with a clear original core mechanic," explained creator Richard Boeser. "I designed the game around the interaction between the players. I chose two player coop, because it fitted the double gravity idea well and it felt like a nice player relation to explore."
Boeser explained that players must collaborate continuously in order to finish each stage, and and that every aspect of the game is wrapped around his 'double gravity' mechanic. He added, "The game is really designed around the two player cooperative play. So if that is your cup of tea and you're looking for some challenging original puzzles, you should give it a go."
You can play Catch-22 on iOS right now. It's a one-button arcade games that casts you as a dot endlessly rotating around a giant sphere dodging past versions of yourself. It's actually quite mind-bending as you have to dodge your previous jumps and rolls, not to mention the way the game switches control between your orb and the enemy at a whim. Check out this gameplay trailer to better understand the concept.
"Catch22 is a relaxing and frustrating one-button arcade game in which you have to evade yourself endlessly and reach a (new) high score," developer Guus Hoeve told me. "Much like an endless runner, this game however poses you with the greatest enemy in existence; you."
"As you take turns, you'll switch between two playable characters when you pick up all the coins with your active character (the other being your past). Once you do however, the magic starts to happen as your previous character starts doing what you did in the previous turn, and you'll now have to evade your own jumps with new jumps."
Hoeve added that much like the Joseph Heller book 'Catch 22', there is no solution to winning the game and crashing into yourself is inevitable. You only have yourself to blame in the end. It's almost sounds like Dark Souls when he puts it like that. Still, it's a fresh concept that has been downloaded many times on iTunes so far, and is coming to Android, OUYA, Facebook, PC, Mac and more formats in due course.
6. Drop That Candy
This physics-based puzzler has something of a sweet tooth. As furry woodland critter Gizmo, players must help him gorge on candy treats by breaking them out of vending machines in as few moves as possible. It's coming out on iOS this August and while it launches with 60 stages, Greenfly will add more themed levels over time.
"We were inspired by the foraging creatures in the film Over The Hedge," Stephen Morris explained, "and their particular interest in sweets & candy. In our game, Gizmo gets a taste of candy when a family camping in the forest drops a sugary lollipop and begins his sneaky quest into the big city. He hitches a ride on the family camper van and spots a glistening vending machine filled with sugary delights."
Having worked with freelancers from companies such as Sega, Nestle, Aardman Digital and Disney, Morris explained that while created by an initial team of two people, Drop That Candy has grown in scope, and he feels it's a game fans of Cut the Rope will surely enjoy.
7. Icycle: On Thin Ice
With a studio name like Damp Gnat you can be assured that the premise of Icycle: On Thin Ice is rather mad. The game stars Dennis the naked cyclist and is the brianchild of developer Reece Millidge, who explained the concept to me. "Icycle: On Thin Ice really came from the limitations of Flash eight years ago when I started the original version.
"I simply wanted to do a game that let you traverse over some interesting vector art, but vector was dead slow back then. No moving scenery, no effects and no enemies. So it made sense to place a character into a frozen ice age setting, and who better to empathise with than a shivering naked man on a little bike?"
But in this sequel Dennis is the sole survivor of the human race, and as you can see from this James-Bond inspired teaser trailer, has entered a world of hilarity.
It's reminds me of XBLA smash Trials, given the game's penchant for platform-based puzzles, and two-wheeled vehicles, but Millidge continued, "I would probably pitch the game as an absurd platform puzzler, for those who want to see what happens next and for those who feel a little sadistic about post-apocalyptic lovelorn naked cyclists."
8. Momonga Pinball Adventures
Available on iTunes now, Momonga Pinball Adventures stars a flying squirrel who curls into a ball and rescue his kidnapped tribe by bouncing around the world pinball-style. Along the way Momonga teams up with a panda, firefly and mole rat as he rolls across nine worlds in search of revenge.
"Momonga Pinball Adventures is a different take on the pinball genre," Derk de Geus told me. "Instead of a "regular" pinball cabinet simulation, you play through different levels using flippers. The hero is a flying squirrel, and there's plenty of exploration, enemies, bossfights - all the good stuff of action-adventure games."
When the concept began it was coined as an 'infinite pinball game', similar in style to infinite runner games, but with a focus on flipping a ball as far as possible. De Geus explained that pinball mechanics were difficult to get right, so the team decided to expand on its idea with something story-based instead.
"We worked incredibly hard on it." De Geus concluded. "We funded, designed, written, developed and published the game, and we poured all our love into it. I hope it shows. There are some other pinball spin-offs around, but none of them have the epic storyline and level-based approach that Momonga has. I hope we break new ground with it, and I'd love to see more games with flippers in the future."
9. Ethan: Meteor Hunter
You can download a PC alpha build of Seaven's platforming-time pausing-block moving-puzzler. As you can tell, it's a mix-up of several game mechanics that all roll together into one mind-bending mix. It also stars Ethan, the first live rodent sent into space, as inspired by the 1962 experiment conducted by French aerospace engineering team CERMA.
"Ethan: Meteor Hunter is a game inspired by plenty of puzzle game and arcade platformer," explained developer Olivier Penot. "In the team, we all loved games such as the Super Mario bros, Rayman or Little Big Planet series.
"All of them have awesome ideas we wanted to see in a single game. Moreover, we wanted our hero to be awesome, and telekinesis is a superpower that makes anyone dream: who hasn’t tried to move the tv-remote with their brain?"
Fans of platform games that bring interesting mechanics to the table will surely enjoy what Ethan has to offer, such as Braid, Vessel and fellow platformers. You can get a better idea by watching this gameplay trailer, which shows off some puzzles in action.
To better explain what kind of game Ethan is, Penot added, "So we're a fast-paced indie puzzle platformer with a telekinesis feature and physics interaction; so many possibilities. Also, we're thinking of hardcore gamers and speedrunners."
10. Epic Eric
Launching July 8 on iOS, Epic Eric sees fearless knight Eric swinging, bouncing and leaping his way to rescuing a princess held captive in a tall tower. If you've played Super Mario Bros. you may remember the flag-pole Mario slides down at the end of each stage? Well, imagine that but instead, figuring out how to reach each pole is the puzzle.
"Epic Eric is a simple but addictive physics puzzler," Neil Glenister explained. "Eric is a hapless knight on a quest to rescue the obligatory princess from whichever tower she has managed to get imprisoned in. The path to the top of the tower is littered with cogs, levers, flippers, pulleys, and other bits of machinery intent on bringing Eric back down to earth in a mangled heap should he mistime a swing, slide or bounce between them."
In order to strike a balance between simplicity and depth, Glenister and his team decided to make Epic Eric a one-button game, where the on-screen obstacles create depth, rather than a reliance on complicated control schemes.
"Development has been a real labour of love," Glenister continued. "The game was developed over the course of a year with no funding at all and was created using time were able to carve out between other projects and in our own spare time."
That's all ten of this year's Develop Indie Showcase nominations. Now, discuss which ones you think are deserving of the final prizes below, and stay tuned for the winner announcements during the show July 9-11.