Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Indie Developers At Eurogamer Expo 2013

Oops, this post has been sitting in my drafts for waaaay too long. This post went live on Forces Of Geek a few weeks ago and I've been super busy so I apologise for the delay. There were some great indie developers at Eurogamer and I believe it's important to support them all. They don't have the same tools available to them as AAA title developers but often have some of the most unique and interesting games! Next time you're at a games convention, I thoroughly recommend you visit the indie games section.  

After Microsoft's cataclysmic u-turn regarding indie games in the Summer,  I've been thinking a lot about independently published games in general. Whilst at Eurogamer a few weeks ago, I spoke to several indie developers and played a number of incredibly fun games such as Octodad, Cloudbuilt and iOS game, Fist Of Awesome among others.

When the Xbox One was announced in May, Microsoft explained that they would be scrapping Xbox Live Arcade in favour of a Marketplace that incorporated all games, meaning that many indie titles were doomed to be lost in its ether with bigger name titles (who can pay for advertising or have publishing houses) taking precedence.

It also meant that indie developers could not self publish through the console like many have done through the Xbox 360. The ability to use a console as a developing kit is a huge help to those who want to make games but lack the resources and backing from publishing houses to do so. It's easy to understand how it upset developers (indie or otherwise).

At Gamescom months later, after the heavy criticism and a backlash from the industry, Microsoft made a second announcement focusing on indie games claiming that their vision was for every gamer to become a creator. The reaction from most was largely that this decision was little too late. Especially as Microsoft now attempt to play catch up with Sony who already have indie publishers developing games for the launch of the PS4 next month. Whereas, Microsoft are expecting to see indie games on the Xbox One in Spring 2014. Overall, a rather embarrassing ordeal for Microsoft especially as many developers have jumped ship and are buddying up with Sony.

I doubt indie games were quite as high on Sony's agenda before Xbox One's original announcement but credit to them because whether they've been riding the coattails of Microsoft's mistake or they always intended to focus so much attention to indie games, they have chosen well because it's a positive for many developers - just as long as they are free to create games and use their console as a dev kit, of course.

I managed to play one of the indie titles due for release on the PS4, Octodad:Dadliest Catch. It's a very amusing game in which you play as an...Octopus who must overcome his excess of legs in order to go about his every day life. Picking up at key and attempting to open a door with eight legs is no easy task, believe me! However, the overall quirkiness of this game won me over (I'm a sucker for an octopus wearing a bow tie, who knew?).

Of course, consoles aren't the only way to get your game recognised and for most developers it's down to luck of the draw. However, Steam have a system in place where their communities can up-vote the games they want to play. Steam Greenlight is a great way for indie developers to gain a fan-base for their game before it's completed. It allows developers to upload videos, updates and start conversations surrounding their game, meaning they get critical feedback from potential customers subsequently helping them fine tune their games and gain recognition.

Many of the developers I spoke to at Eurogamer were in the process of 'Greenlighting' their work. One of whom was Anders Davallius of Coilworks. Their game, Cloudbuilt combines a 3D platformer with precision speed running amidst beautiful, ruins in the sky. It was the game I was most taken with as I explored the indie arcade area of the expo, due to it's pretty, pencil-etched style and interesting game mechanic.

It's easy to miscalculate your speed and run straight off the platforms but somehow, the rage that often comes with traditional platformers when you miss a ledge or fall to your death is replaced by a child-like "Again! Again!". It flows incredibly well and this game is well worth the time it takes to get used to the controls if you choose to speed through the levels.

Coilwork's unique offering has made it to the Greenlight stage and I thoroughly recommend you to go and up-vote it if you have an account on Steam.

Reminiscent of nineties side scroller beat 'em ups is another title I sampled at Eurogamer and with a name like Fist Of Awesome, how could I pass this one by? It's protagonist is a time travelling lumberjack who punches bears and fights hordes of evil deer and er...raptors?!

Originally a Kickstarter project, Fist Of Awesome managed to raise over 200% of it's original goal and you can see why.

This time travelling, side scrolling nostalgia trip is something that every kid in the late 80s and early 90s would have loved. If you long for the days of Back To The Future, Streets of Rage and Jurassic Park then this game is for you.

Fist Of Awesome was created solely by Nicoll Hunt (I Fight Bears) and you can pre-order a copy of the game for PC and Mac on the I Fight Bears website. However, if you can't *bear* to wait (hehe, get it?) the game is available on iOS and android marketplaces now.

What is ultimately a very silly game is incredibly entertaining. Did I mention the part where you get to punch bears in the face?!

I had heard the name of Freekstorm studios somewhere before and so on the train to London I did my research and realised that the reason I was so familiar with the name was because it was based in Norfolk, the county I live in!

Freekstorm was founded by the Bang family and it really is a family studio. Richard Bang is the software developer/games designer and his wife, Lin oversees the marketing and business side of things. Their son Samuel is the artist and their two younger children, Maria and Michael are Freekstorm's very own play testers. I was lucky enough to chat to Richard and Lin at the expo and get some hands-on experience with the game itself.

Doctor Kvorak was originally a short animated film in 2010 but Richard and Lin decided that they liked the character of Doctor Kvorak so much that they wanted to continue his adventures in game form. Of course, being an evil genius, Doctor Kvorak enjoys taking over worlds and this 3D adventure puzzle game sees him capturing a planet and taking several of its inhabitants hostage on his ship. The brightly designed characters must work through a series of puzzles and tasks in order to save their world.

Although it's single player, Richard told me that the game will include time trials so that players are able to compete against their friends to finish levels first or gather the most collectibles as their traverse the levels in Doctor Kvorak's labyrinth of a space ship.

Think, a family friendly version of GLaDOS locking up characters and forcing them to take part in tests. Some of the levels are more difficult than others, requiring creative thinking and experimentation and while others will be simpler than you expect. This mixture of difficulty keeps it varied and as such is a great family game. Interestingly, based on play tests Richard and Co. found that they have been able to challenge players of all ages, though their chief testers are their two young children, one of which wants to be an indie developer when she grows up!

I'd like to hope that more young people will follow suit and aspire to create games, I'm excited for them because who knows what's to come in the future? I wish the best of luck to all of the indie developers I spoke to at Eurogamer this year and I look forward to seeing their games' completion.

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