Last weekend I got the chance to visit IndieCade, a festival of independent games in the L.A. neighborhood of Culver City. Featuring galleries of video, board and card games, developer competitions, titles like Guacamelee and Aatheuo and presentations by game industry bosses, it was an awfully fun convention to visit. The underlying feelings I left with were of exhilaration and awe at the creativity of the ideas I saw and the resolve by their authors to realize them.
The ‘cade was broken up into four areas, two for the conference talks aimed at people in the game industry – with tickets costing $300/head – and two that were open for the public: an outside area with tents and a dozen tables set up for table-top games with developers inviting hovering attendees to join in, and a gallery set up in a firehouse, populated during the weekend by stations of monitors, controllers and tablets. My first action at IndieCade was trying to play LittleBigPlanet on the PlayStation Vita by pressing buttons for a distressingly long time before realizing that the system employed a touch screen and the game deployed it, so I stood further away from the industry pros afterward. The game people were there, though: I saw Doom and Quake creator John Romero, journalist and Valve historian Geoff Keighley and a dude with a blond fohawk who did an unintentionally funny interview with Jonathan Blow, the creator of Braid and The Witness (who was there as well).
In the gallery, a quarter of the entire space was reserved for Open Source – a recreation of 40-year-old Pong in an area the size of a mini tennis court. Two players, acting as the paddles, try to guess where the ball is and defend their goal solely by auditory cues sent through surround sound headphones. Two Kinect cameras record their movements and the game displays their input as a Pong match; the developers set up a monitor on the side of the court for instant comparison.
Super Space ____ and Hidden in Plain Sight were two party games that drew the largest crowds. The former entails four players acting as four guns on the same, tiny spaceship in the midst of a Geometry Wars-like continuous starburst of asteroids and invaders. The guns have recoil that impacts the ship, so players are required to work – shoot – together so that the ship stays out of harm. The controls weren’t faultless, but the game causes an awesome effect of instant strategizing and feelings of togetherness by people unknown to each other. Also, the game displays both the team and individual scores on screen, leading to split-second moral decisions by players about which score to really go for. The latter game is a 2D, graphically-light batch of game modes emphasizing hiding your character as a computer-controlled character in midst of dozens of computer-controlled characters and other player characters who are attempting to do the same. Stealthily killing other players is often the part after that, similarly to the multiplayer mode of the Assassin’s Creed series.
The non-playable demos were largely glossed over by the attendees, however, not earning themselves much honor. I watched a minute’s gameplay of what looked like a 16-bit remake of Counter-Strike’s de_dust map interspersed with shots of a man and his son talking and walked away shrugging. That clip was a scene from Unmanned, the Grand Jury Award winner of the festival and, indeed, an awesome game; it’s a pity that most visitors won’t have actually played it.
In the Village, I was called upon playing something called Yamove, a dance game utilizing motion sensors on smartphones attached to your wrist. It pits teams of two against one another by scoring free-form (but wrist-heavy) dances by measuring the degree to which you and your partner are in sync and how much movement your dancing involves. Me and my partner met and were paired with one another in the same conversation, so we resolved to mimic simple swimming and boxing motions to try to match two guys who seemed to have grasped the appropriateness of “Gangnam Style” for this game. Now I know what I should’ve mimicked to really get our scores up, but it was only the afternoon in a family-friendly zone.
Later, I tried out the card game Metagame, which gives its players cards displaying famous videogames of all eras and a thick deck of questions of the “Which game is the most…” variety. In one game mode, players sift through their hand for the best option, prepare a defense for their choice as they lay it down and enter a debate with each other on the merits of why their pick is the most that. A judge picks the best-made case and the game continues with less and less cards until you have to convince the group that FarmVille, your one remaining card, would be the basis for the best feature film – in a pile of Mass Effect, Diablo and Splinter Cell cards. It does require extensive knowledge about videogames from the players, but it’s an awesome experience if such a group can materialize.
There were dozens more tremendous games: The Stanley Parable, a short interactive adventure featuring a plot of free will and determinism, built on Valve’s Source engine; Chroma Shuffle, a Bejeweled-like puzzle game on the tilt-, touch- and neighbor-aware Sifteo cubes; Splice, a beautiful iPad/PC puzzle game involving splicing, mutation of cells and more science stuff that proved to be beyond me; Boss Monster, a card game in which players control video game bosses who aim to construct dungeon traps well enough to kill heroes trying to get through; Buffalo, a card game pairing adjectives and nouns of types of people (e.g. a soul-searching politician; an annoying musician) for players to call out possibilities (John Edwards!) and defend their choices to win points; Reality Ends Here, a card game utilized by the USC Film department for project ideas to give to freshmen and Sphero, robotic spheres which you can drive from an app on your smartphone and tablet. Great ideas seemed to float all around me and the whole thing was awesome to be at and highly recommended to visit next year.