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gdc 2015

Kim's 10 Favorite Games From GDC 2015

by Kimberley Wallace on Mar 11, 2015 at 01:10 PM

The Game Developers Conference is one of my favorite shows. I love searching the show to find new games on the horizon, and it always seems to have a wide range of talent on display. This year was no exception, and I walked away with tons of games to spotlight and discuss. As such, I’ve decided to compile a list of some of my favorites.

The Flame In The Flood
Platform:  Xbox One, PC, Mac
Developer: The Molasses Flood

In the Flame in the Flood, your goal is simple: survive. Unfortunately, it’s a lot harder than you think. You must scavenge, explore, and learn to make your way through the harsh wilderness. Your biggest obstacle is an unpredictable river that’s procedurally generated, so you never know if it’s smooth sailing or choppy waters ahead. You’ll need to make sure you manage your character Scout’s hunger, thirst, warmth, and energy. For instance, if she gets rained on, you need to warm her by the fire. Everything is a decision, whether it’s where to dock or what resources to gather. You have limited inventory space, so you must take into account your immediate needs. For example, if you’re hungry you can craft a trap to catch a rabbit. The game has permadeath, so it’s all about surviving and making your way along the river. How long you can survive and best each challenge is part of the lure. The Flame In The Flood won’t hand you anything easy, but I had fun thinking my way through every situation in my brief demo. 

Alone With You
Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Developer: Benjamin Rivers

You are the only functioning entity left on a planet in the far-off future. Unfortunately, that planet is decaying to the point where it’s becoming uninhabitable. You have 21 days to find a way out, and your only companion is an A.I. that can bring up holographic recreations of past crew members to help you repair an escape ship. During these conversations, you get to know the former crew and have dialogue options to boost your relationship. The creator, Benjamin Rivers, said he was inspired by Persona’s social links. In a way, these intimate interactions are tragic; after all, these people are merely holographs and are long dead. However, I liked the somber nature of Alone With You. Although you’re tapping into high tech and conversing with an A.I., the conversations have something very genuine and real about them. I’m hoping there’s a happy ending to all these bleak circumstances.

Platform: PC, Mac, and Linux
Developer: Campo Santo

Firewatch remains my game of the show. Exploratory storytelling is becoming more prevalent since the emergence of Gone Home, and I like how your own curiosity can drive the experience. Firewatch has its own enticing mystery to unravel. You play as Henry, a man who’s had a rough year. His marriage is crumbling and he’s had trouble with drinking and driving. You take a job as a fire lookout in the middle of nowhere, Wyoming to gain some perspective. Your job has you exposing drinking teens, investigating shadowy figures, and seeing the harshness of the wilderness up close. Henry’s only lifeline is his supervisor, Delilah, whom he communicates with via radio. The game starts on Henry’s first day and then jumps around, so you can see Henry’s progression. Most surprising so far is just how much humor is present; it’s not merely an introspective affair. 

For more on Firewatch, check out our hands-on preview from the show

Platform: PlayStation 4, Wii U, PC, Mac, Linux
Developer: Pencil Test Studios

Armikrog caught my eye due to it using stop-motion clay animation, and I was thrilled to see it have a successful Kickstarter. The developers are putting so much love and care into the project and it shows; every physical object and set in the game was built in real life. Think of the backdrops as mini-dioramas. The adventure game tasks you with exploring this strange tower you randomly landed in. You’re trying to figure out what the place is about, but also how you got there. Along for the ride is an alien space dog who can duck into lower areas and retrieve objects. Once he retrieves an object, he eats it, and then throws it up to give it back to you. You have first-person puzzles to tackle to open up doors, which usually consist of placing clues in the right order. It plays how you’d expect for an adventure game, but I love how it feels like you’re interacting with playable art. Ordinary objects become magical. For instance, one room is an accordion, and it’s actually built out of one. The team captured it opening and compressing down, so you could feel right in the experience as you traverse it. These little fun details make Armikrog stand out. 

Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Developer: Broken Window Studios

The trend for exploratory storytelling is alive and well, but Reflections caught my eye because it’s attempting to do something different. What do the little choices you make say about you as a player? Reflections analyzes that. You begin on the day before you’re off to college, and explore your surroundings in first-person; plenty of doors are locked and environments light up once you’ve fully uncovered them. Where you explore and what you choose to do affects your future and says something about you as a person. Simple tasks are all around to spend your time on, such as playing horseshoes, calling the movers, and repairing a sink, but you can only spend your time doing so much. At the end of the game, your personality type is assessed based on what you did your day before college. Your choices can lead you down the path of being an office executive, going out in the wilderness, living with your family, and more. I’m most interested in playing Reflections just to see how the little choices can matter in the end. 

Up next: A turn-based RPG, running your own newspaper, and building your own dungeons

Platform: iOS, PlayStation Vita
Developer: Kobojo

Zodiac may be spearheaded by French company Kobojo, but it will definitely remind you of JRPGs of yore. Final Fantasy VII scenario writer Kazushige Nojima and Final Fantasy: Tactics composer Hitoshi Sakimoto have also signed on to the project. The art style is breathtaking and reminds me of something out of a Vanillaware game with its beautiful hand-drawn environments and animations. You move via the touchscreen by holding down your finger in the direction you want to go. Enemies appear on screen and if you hit one, the battle starts. Battles are turn-based affairs with three battle companions. You can swap jobs on the fly. In my demo, I saw the monk, alchemist, and earth wizard in action. The earth wizard can heal others, but takes damage in the process. The monk, with the most health, can draw the enemy to target it. Zodiac also boasts an elemental system, where if you’re facing off against a water-based enemy, you’ll want to use earth attacks. I enjoyed strategizing with the turn-based battle system; victories weren’t handed out easily, which kept me on my toes.

Guild Of Dungeoneering
Platform: PC, Mac, iOS
Developer: Gambrinous

Guild of Dungeoneering is delightfully fun, and one of the most engrossing roguelikes I’ve played. You run your own guild and hire heroes to send on dungeon runs. The big draw is you build the dungeons without direct control of your hero (only in battle). You decide via randomized cards where enemies go, place rooms, and make different paths to give your hero access to gold. Your end goal is to get your hero to the dungeon’s boss and win, but getting there is a trial in itself. All battles are turn-based, and you get three random cards to choose from to select your battle actions. These clashes are tense; you must make sure you always pay attention to the battle at hand. For instance, some cards can block an incoming physical and magic attack. I enjoyed the challenge and being strategic with where I placed rooms. Even more exciting is that you also level up your guild, allowing you to build new rooms like a library for better magic equipment. 

Moon Hunters
Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC
Developer: Kitfox Games

You can play Moon Hunters cooperatively with up to four players to build a culture’s mythology. A storyteller is relaying your journey to a future generation. Basically, you’re creating your own legend, going through levels (all procedurally generated), having moments of triumph and tough decisions. Your dialogue choices shape the journey. For instance, if a villager asks for food, you can choose to be compassionate or selfish. You’ll then gain the appropriate personality trait with your response. Your story could end up being one of rags to riches to gaining and losing pride. Moon Hunters is an action/RPG, complete with swords and magic. Each character has a regular attack and a more powerful one that’s on a cooldown. Playing with others is fun, and I enjoyed how talking to NPCs brought up amusing dialogue, like a lady villager who hits on you. Hey, it’s your choice if you want to return her admiration! 

The Westport Independent
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux  
Developer: Double Zero One Zero

A good simulation game puts you in an interesting role with great dilemmas. That’s exactly what censorship simulator The Westport Independent does. You’re editor-in-chief of an independent newspaper that the government is shutting down. It’s your decision of what to do with your paper’s last days. You could sensationalize headlines, speak the truth about the government, or continue to follow the rules. But remember, what you print has impact. Managing your writers will be tougher the more they don’t agree with your views, especially on government. Even more so, what you choose to print affects the town and people of Westport. Will you change things for the better or worse? I know I’m intrigued to see if I can get the town to a better place.  

Platform: PC, Mac, and Linux
Developer: What Pumpkin Studios

Hiveswap is a 3D point-and-click adventure game that’s based off the Homestuck comic by Andrew Hussie. The game reached its Kickstarter goal in two days, being the highest funded Kickstarter at the time with $2.48 million. Even if you haven’t experienced the comics, you can still dive into Hiveswap; the characters and setting are brand new, it’s only set in the same world as the comic. The first episode centers on Joey Claire and her dorky kid brother Jude. The game begins with the two living a normal life, when one day they activate a portal to an alien planet. The adventure is set in the ‘90s, so you’ll see remnants of the decade scattered about, such as an SNES, Tiny Toons, and Bugsby. Joey’s primary weapon is a flashlight, and she also has ballet and tap skills to take on baddies. Jude can communicate with her via walkie talkie from his treehouse and pass her items via carrier pigeon. She eventually makes it to an alien planet, where she discovers an evil plot to destroy the world. The adventure features branching paths for replayability, but what I loved most was the fun creativity in the world. For instance, Troll Twitter exists and you can learn about other NPCs, making friends or enemies with them using the social network.  

To see more cool games from the show, check out our list of the best indie games from GDC 2015