The lights are on
Update: We continue looking at the greatest indie games of GDC 2015 with Push Me Pull You, Super Slam Dunk Touchdown, and more.
The Game Developers Conference in San Francisco is a mecca for intelligent
talk about triple-A game design, but it also hosts a huge assortment of indie
games. We've got boots on the ground at GDC 2015 and controllers in our hands,
playing and vetting through dozens of upcoming indie games to let you know
what's worth getting excited for. Check out our evolving, expanding list of the
best indie gems from GDC 2015.
This story includes contributions from the GDC 2015 crew, including Jeff
Cork, Kim Wallace, Matt Bertz, and me (Tim Turi)
Megaton RainfallDeveloper: Pentadimensional GamesPlatform: PCRelease: 2015
Megaton Rainfall caught my eye the first time I saw it in the Indie Megabooth. It's a first-person superhero game, where you fly around the world and fight robotic aliens. As someone who may or may not have spent his formative years running around his house with a towel clothespinned to his shirt, I was immediately sold on the concept. I waited to play the until an Oculus Rift was connected to the PC, and it was worth it. It looked interesting displayed on a monitor, but the sensation of flight that comes via the VR headset ratcheted it up several notches. The demo was fairly simple – waves of enemies came from a saucer-shaped mothership, and I had to intercept and destroy them before they wrecked the city. I zipped around and fired energy beams at them, and quickly learned that I was just as much of a menace as the robots. My first errant shots tore apart skyscrapers and blew up cars on the street. Try as I might, I couldn't fly faster than the speed of guilt. Lesson learned. From then on, I got better at pinpointing my shots with subtle head movements. Aliens' weak spots were helpfully marked with red lights, and they came in a variety of tricky forms. One looked like a dumbbell, and had a series of panels that fanned out like petals in a flower. I only had seconds to hit the red panels, a tricky feat considering they were spinning around behind shield panels. The battle culminated with a fight against the mothership itself. After I destroyed it from below, I celebrated by knocking down a few buildings, standing in traffic, and sending cars flying. Even good guys need to blow off steam sometimes. – Jeff Cork
Through the WoodsDeveloper: AntagonistPlatform: PCRelease: Q1 2016
Creative director and game designer Ole Helland says he doesn't want to subject players to strings of jump scares in his horror game, Through the Woods. Instead, the goal is to sell a feeling of overwhelming dread throughout the whole story. Considering the setup, it shouldn't be too tough. You play as a mother whose son has been taken by someone (or something) called Old Erik. The demo begins with audio of her being interrogated by the police, which also cuts in as a narrative device as the story progresses. The mother heads into the forest at night to rescue him, armed only with a flashlight and her resolve. It's creepy, and I got the sense that she's just as apprehensive of what lurks in the shadows as I was. The excellent audio does much of the heavy lifting, whether it's the sound of the wind kicking up, her son's sing-song voice off in the distance, or her own breath hitching up with fear. I followed a series of clues her son left behind – fortuitously enough, he collected reflective toys – working my way through a cabin (complete with a pounding door), before running into something terrible. Helland says the game borrows from Norse mythology, and the troll that chased me down fit that description. I tried again, and died after noticing too late that the tree I was edging closer too was actually the same murderous creature. I finally sprinted past him, and my headphones filled with the sounds of her gasps and its frustrated bellows. I made it safely into a cave, where I made an awful discovery: The tunnels were lined with piles of toys and clothing that belonged to Old Erik's victims. At the end of the passage was her son's coat. The demo ended with more audio, as she explained that seeing evidence of her son sent her into a rage. She was going to find Old Erik, and she was going to kill him. Why is she telling her story to the police? Is her son OK? Did any of this even happen? I left with a lot of questions, but I'll have to wait until early next year to get the answers. – Jeff Cork
DaydreamerDeveloper: Roland StudiosPlatform: PCRelease Summer 2015
This strange gem has been on my mind since I first stumbled upon it in the Moscone Center’s GDC Play area, and that’s mainly due to its insane art style. The simple premise involves a little boy trying to rescue his little brother while using weapons like laser guns and flamethrowers, as well as pet companions to take out huge, twisted bosses. These huge enemies, like a demented rabbit with laser eyes or a huge, bipedal lip monster, are bizarre and captivating. These characters are rendered and disturbingly detailed in 3D, then turned into 2D sprites, giving them a uniquely physical appearance (think Donkey Kong Country on SNES). The resulting janky animations give Daydreamer a signature look that could make up for the unremarkable GunStar Heroes gunplay, which still needs work. – Tim Turi
Outer WildsDeveloper: Team Outer WildsPlatform: PCRelease: TBA
The latest in an ever growing expanse of space faring adventures, Outer Wilds took home the Seumas McNally Grand Prize at the IGF Awards earlier this week. The game puts you in the spacesuit of an budding alien astronaut prepping for its first journey off the homeworld.
Not unlike a Zelda game, before lift-off the character explores his home village, chatting with residents, learning the basics of flight mechanics, and visiting a heritage museum that chronicle's the race's forays into the unknown. Once I practice controlling a model spaceship and learn the basics of zero gravity navigation it's time to take off, but not before some strange sense of contact is made with the ancient artifact housed in the middle of the museum.
Leaving the home planet, players can explore the rest of the solar system, visiting a host of hand-crafted planets and discovering their secrets in the hopes of unraveling the truth behind the ancient artifact. In a nod to Majora's Mask, after every 20 minutes of playtime the universe ends with a supernova explosion, leaving you to start from square one again with only the data you recorded in your spaceship to guide you.
With no player leveling, proper mission structure, or resource gathering to worry about, you can devote all your time to unraveling this charming game's mysteries. Outer Wilds is currently in early access, and the team of USC students who are making the game won't push the final version to market until it's ready. Since the team just won a $30,000 prize, they can take their time. -Matt Bertz
One of the finalists for the Best Narrative IGF award, Three Fourths Home is a visual novel that explores the struggles of a family trying to cope with a traumatic event. The player character, Kelly, is driving through the rural expanse of Nebraska on her way home after being away for quite some time. Along the drive, the weather takes a turn for the worse, with the pounding rain bringing the greyscale art aesthetic to life. Along the drive, Kelly's mother calls, and the 45-minute conversation that follows gives the player a glimpse into the family dynamics. The conversation choices the player makes peels back different layers of the complicated relationships, changing the course of the story. Look for the Extended Edition version of the game, which adds an epilogue that takes place in Minnesota, to release on Steam in the coming weeks. -Matt Bertz