Ten Gems From The GDC Indie Mixer
Tonight at the IGN offices, 47 indie titles were on display ranging from early alpha to near-final builds. We had a chance to play many of them, and have a list of 10 you should keep on your radar.
Hack 'n' Slash
Developer: Double Fine
Projected Release: April/May 2014
Double Fine's Amnesia Fortnight, two weeks each year when studio employees forget what they are doing to work on new projects, has been the source of many unique, creative titles. Costume Quest, Stacking, and Iron Brigade are some of the most notable, but Hack 'n' Slash is the most ambitious.
The title puts players in charge of a traditional fantasy protagonist, but instead of a sword, Alice wields a USB hacking device. By plugging into any object with a port, she can alter the properties of the object.
The most impressive part about Hack 'n' Slash is that this isn't a gimmick. Players actually alter the game's code. Double Fine's Duncan Boehle tells us that the biggest challenge is making sure players can't break the game or make it unplayable.
Finding books (which are actually named for and give access to game files) allows players to manipulate deeper levels of the code. Everything is open to the player, giving players god-like abilities to change the rules of the game to solve puzzles.
Space Base DF-9
Developer: Double Fine
Projected Release: TBA
Imagine a world that you're micromanaging like Theme Park or The Sims, but with even more unpredictability. Space Base DF-9 is Double Fine's venture into a sandbox builder that’s completely open-ended. The space simulator has you building and tearing down existing structures to sustain a populous to the best of your abilities. You can build pubs, fitness centers, lodging, and other structures to keep your inhabitants happy. But to do this, you need resources, which you obtain from mining nearby asteroids. Pouring the resources into research grants you additional structures to build.
Every so often, alien forces try to make their way into your space station. You have the option to refuse entry. But beware – they won't always listen to your wishes. Even though I denied a ship's entry to the base, they still insisted on making their way in. This can be for better or worse – sometimes it's merely that they'll start living on your land and helping out, others it's a hostile takeover, where you must throw citizens into war. Your goal in Space Base DF-9 is simple: sustain. The thrill is seeing the outcomes of your actions, like unexpected visitors who are either hostile or friendly. Space Base DF-9 is still in its early stages, but it looks on track to hook players the way the best simulation games do.
Developer: Tom Francis
Projected Release: TBA
Tom Francis' Gunpoint created a lot of buzz last year thanks to its clever hacking gameplay and superpowered pants. That's why it was with great interest that we sat down to talk with Francis and check out an extremely early build of his new game, Heat Signature.
Francis hasn't yet decided exactly what kind of game Heat Signature will be, instead he showed off some of the core mechanics he's been working on. The premise puts players at the helm of a helpless ship in treacherous space. As you use your thrusters, your ship heats up and makes it easier for hostile forces to detect.
The goal of the demo we played was simply to sneak up on larger, procedurally generated ships, dock, and commandeer it by eliminating the crew. The larger vessels have weapons that can destroy one room on an opposing ship, each of which are modular in design.
Francis tells us that he's considering making Heat Signature a hunt for a specific ship that players must board for an assassination mission, pillage, or destroy. He's also planning on adding more room types and incorporating hull breaches into the design.
Super Comboman: Struggles’ Adventure
Developer: Interabang Entertainment
Projected Release: Spring 2014
When you’re $10,000 in debt, it might be an indication that it’s time to get a job. That’s the predicament that Super Comboman’s hero, a fanny-pack wearing goof named Struggle, faces at the beginning of his adventure. Spurred on by an ad featuring his hero, Comboman, Struggle seeks employment at shady company DoDoCo. All the while, he digs into a surprising arsenal of punches, kicks, and other maneuvers that will be familiar to fans of classic beat-em-up games.
Super Comboman may come from an unabashed love for games like Final Fight, but its visuals are an upgrade from the 16-bit days. It’s rendered in a gorgeously animated sticker-like style, where characters and interactive elements are bordered with a slight white border. The effect is clever, as is the gameplay. Players can defeat low-life construction workers by mashing buttons, but they also need to keep their combo meter going if they want to survive against more difficult foes. Higher combo counts means foes drop higher currency, which in turn can be spent on moves like lariat spins, dive kicks, and fireballs, and special damage-boosting perks.
Developer: Nevernaut Games
Projected Release: 2014
Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, Wii U, PC, Mac, Linux
SlashDash is the latest entry in the 8-bit arena fighter genre, joining Towerfall, Samurai Gunn, and Foiled. SlashDash changes the formula by putting two teams of two in a capture the flag battle.
Players can teleport short distances, throw kunai to stun opponents, and knock them out with a sword slash (resulting in a nod to Naruto as felled ninja turn into logs). Carrying a flag slows a player down, but ally sword slashes give a temporary burst of speed.
Dropped flags return to base after a period of time that can be shortened by standing near it. SlashDash introduces a new game mode and maps designed to take advantage of the teleporting ability, making it more than just another party game with a throwback aesthetic.
Developer: Love Shack
Projected Release: 2014
Platforms: iOS, PC
Framed is one of those rare games that’s unlike anything I’ve played before. Players help guide a briefcase-toting thief out of harm’s way and away from the ever-present eyes of the law in a series of puzzles. Each section begins by showing how things might have gone (wrong, unfortunately for our hero), and then players have to set things right by rearranging the comic-book style panels in the correct order.
The presentation is fantastic, with sparse jazz elements accompanying the actions of the silkily animated silhouettes. I played about a dozen puzzles, and I was surprised to see the amount of mileage Love Shack squeezes from the concept. Sometimes I purposefully failed in different ways, just to see how my hero would wind up caught or killed. And just when I thought I had it all figured out, a new character emerged and turned the puzzles upside-down by letting me flip specific panels in different directions.
Developer: No Goblin
Projected Release: 2014
Platforms: Xbox One, PC, Mac Linux
When Dan Teasdale left Twisted Pixel to form No Goblin, we weren't sure what to expect from the studio. Whatever our minds might have conjured, it couldn't be nearly as absurd or amusing as Roundabout.
Players are put behind the wheel of a rotating limousine. The car is fragile, which means weaving in and out of traffic and around obstacles becomes a matter of timing movements to coinside with the rotation.
Roundabout captures the moment-to-moment gameplay of Crazy Taxi, but veers sharply left with its '70s motif and absurd live action cutscenes. Oh, and there's a skeleton passenger running a triathalon from the back seat that orders you to run over his competition.
Affordable Space Adventures
Developer: KnapNok Games
Projected release: Fall 2014
Platforms: Wii U
Affordable Space Adventures is a reference to what could happen if you decided to scrimp on your next interstellar trip. The game begins as your tiny marooned vessel spurts back to life, with the Wii U’s screen running through a reinitializing sequence. Over the course of the next few levels, players learn how to pilot the ship manually, as systems come back online.
At first, players can only navigate through the dim corridors with a sputtering engine and a light. As time passes, the gamepad screen fills with additional systems, such as controlling the ship’s mass (helpful for sinking in water), sending flares (for hitting alien buttons), and scanning objects (useful for navigating around hazardous mines). It reminded me a bit of the original Xbox version of Steel Battalion, where part of the challenge (and fun) came from manipulating a variety of controls. You can enlist several friends to make things easier, too. Players can divide flying, scanning, and light duties, but they also must coordinate their efforts if they want to escape the twisting caverns of the mysterious planet alive.
Developer: Beehold Studios
Projected Release: 2014
Chroma Squad is all about nostalgia. From its 8-bit graphics to the clear callback to Power Rangers, Chroma Squad resurrects those feel-good memories. The turned-based strategy game has you playing out TV episodes, where you hire actors to fill the main roles of lead, assist, assault, scout, and techie. Each actor has his or her own salary and unique bonus attributes, such as 10 percent attack increase. To succeed in episodes, you need to team up your five all-stars. Team-up attacks not only allow you to hit the enemy multiple times, but also let you move your combatants farther. As you record episodes, you want to give fans the best one possible; create more thrilling attack combos and you gain audience approval, which can lend bonuses.
Build your audience meter high enough and you can transform your group into what clearly is a parody of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. You can even morph into what mimics the Megazord. These battles play out just as strategically, as you try to combo attacks as long as possible while using specials. It gets especially complicated as attacks increase in power the longer you can keep a combo going, but the chance of attacks hitting diminishes the longer you go. Also, special attacks all run on a cooldown, so you can't just spam them. The lightheartedness of Chroma Squad keeps you smirking, while the gameplay keeps you on your toes. You can't just attack and get by; you must exploit every opportunity that comes your way. For more on Chroma Squad, check out our in-depth preview.
Developer: Samantha Kalman
Projected Release: Fall 2014
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, Ouya
Sentris developer Samantha Kalman has set out to make a music game that is unlike our current understanding of the genre. Unlike Rock Band or Chime, which Kalman calls "perfect performance games," Sentris allows players to make their own music without an underlying ideal.
Each of the different "songs" includes different sets of musical elements, like beats and instrument voices. Target sections are configured on the perimeter of an inner circle and rotate like a record. A button press drops segments down from the outermost concentric circle by one step, ultimately filling in the song and creating new musical patterns.
Kalman will be implementing a way for players to download their creations. Right now, she's exploring ways to convey progress and inspire competition that isn't based on traditional scoring mechanisms. "I will avoid doing score for as long as I can," she says.