IndieCade 2011 has just concluded in Culver City, CA, but the preparations have been going on for months before hand. Almost all the staff are volunteers—from the network techs all the way to the people stuffing the event lanyards (yay for grunt work!). We, yes, this writer and the photographer both, volunteered their time, have spent the past week building the IndieCade Village, installing the Finalist Games, running the power and network cables, hanging banners from the tops of fire stations and doing anything else requested of us, even if it involved risking life and limb. It did not matter, the goal was the best possible festival and this is a goal that has been met.
Unfortunately, we missed all of Day 1 and most of Day 2 due to our volunteer work, but we were able to get free time in for the Welcome Party and Game Slam hosted by PlayStation Home. This party was open to staff, conference badge holders, developers, sponsors and media. After grabbing a drink in the Party Tent, the Game Slam began, allowing Indie developers a three minute shot at presenting their game to the audience.
Some of those games were insanely awesome, with a favorite being “Jumpkick Justice” for its unique take on the American legal system.
After doing the mingling thing and talking to all kinds of people—from fellow press to developers to sponsors over a steady flow of drinks—the taco stand started calling my name. IndieCade knows how to treat people right: They hired a taco stand to make fresh chicken, shredded beef and pork tacos that were perfect after a few drinks. After eating, Ashley and I decided that a 13 hour day was long enough—combined with the increasingly rowdy nature of the remaining crowd (not a bad thing, by the way), we headed back to our apartment. Not a bad day at all and more to come over the next two days!
IndieCade Festival: Day 1
Saturday, October 8th, was the first day of the IndieCade Festival that was open to the public and even though I arrived later than I had intended, all of downtown Culver City was awash in festival-goers. Since just going to the festival and the Game Walk were free, there were a lot more families and small children than would be found at a bigger conference like E3 or GDC. It was great to see all the kids getting involved in the Big Games, especially Humans vs. Zombies, and watching them play the games of the Game Walk was remarkable. They loved the ability to be a part of the gaming world.
Speaking of little kids, they are almost impossible to defeat in Johann Sebastian Joust, which was by far the most popular game being shown this year with pretty much everybody I spoke to.
As you can see from the picture, the game is a little bit hard to describe, but I am going to do my best. Every player has their own PlayStation Move controller, which is sensitive to sudden movement. The game starts with a “GET READY TO JOUST”. Next, the music starts and the attacks and defensive moves begin. The music is really the key to this game, as the controllers are most sensitive when the music is slow and significantly less sensitive as the tempo increases. The player must be careful, as the music can go from fast to slow in a heartbeat. If you are not paying attention then it is possible to knock yourself out of the game.
The goal is to be the last player standing with a still lit controller. This can be accomplished by playing defense or by actively trying to hit the opponents arms, body, or legs in order to cause a sudden acceleration of the Move controller. A fantastic party game for all ages—I would really like to see this become a full fledged product one day as it is the most fun I have had with a video game in a long time.
The Game Walk was pretty cool, with lines at almost every station and hordes of people—many of them just general public wandering in to see what was going on. It was great to see the public have the ability to enjoy these fantastic games. A couple of personal favorites, besides Joust, were Hohokum, Skulls of the Shogun, and Solar 2. Solar 2 presented one of the few downsides to the Festival: poor user time management. I tried to play this game for almost an hour, but one kid (and his over-protective father) hogged the machine the entire time I was in the building. Now, I had the chance to play Solar 2 at the Festival setup during some down time, so I wasn’t overly concerned, but other members of the press and public were unable to play for long stretches of time. This problem also occurred with many of the tablet games as well, especially if the developer was not there and only a volunteer was manning the station.
One more minor complaint, then its on to more interesting things—trying to find games at their respective Game Walk locations was a bit of a nightmare, especially in the crowd. There were no real signs, just small, hard-to-read placards on the table next to each game. Those small signs were great for providing a description of the game being played, but you could not read the game title from more than about five feet away if you had a completely unobstructed view. Just walking by, there was no hope of telling which game was which.
After the Game Walk, Ashley and I headed to a Happy Hour Mixer hosted by OnLive in the Booze/Party (the “Creators Lounge”) tent in the IndieCade Village. I was a bit skeptical about the OnLive system, but after playing both Borderlands and Space Marine, I can see the potential of this tiny console. The games, while they did not look as good as on my personal gaming rig, nonetheless looked great and played really well. The only downside seems to be that you need a pretty significant broadband internet connection and (initial) load times were pretty bad. I did not get a chance to try multiplayer on this platform and to me, that will be the final test of the system. They also fed us some wonderful Mediterranean food that really reminded me of the Expo Icrontic Taste of Detroit Food Tour for some reason.
After the Happy Hour Mixer we headed over to the Big Games area for some night games—Joust in particular. As we were waiting for Joust to begin, we noticed problems with the sound setup.
ICRONTIC TO THE RESCUE! Ahem, rather, Captain Ashley to the rescue as she sorted out the sound board, got the mic working, and adjusted the speakers. Conveniently, Ashley works as an Audio Engineer, Boom Operator, and mixer for her day job. After a few rounds of Joust and talking with staff and the Joust developer, we decided to call it a night and headed back to the apartment for some much need relaxation and sleep.
IndieCade Festival: Day 2
With Ashley feeling a bit under the weather after working for nine straight days, I headed to the festival by myself for the afternoon. Upon arriving, the first thing that was noticeable were the hordes of kids playing Humans vs. Zombies along the streets and sidewalks of Culver City—”kids” here being a loose term here, with the age range running from ~6 years old up to some parents playing with their kids. Most seemed top be in the middle school to high school age range. It was really great to see all the kids running around playing outside.
After navigating through a cluster of zombies, I made my way to the Fire Station Game Walk to attempt to get on Solar 2, Bridge, Fez, Deepak Fights Robots, and StarDrone. I managed to get some time in on Bridge and StarDrone, but the lines (and the time management) of the other games was awful. Bridge, well, wow. I really liked this unique puzzle game set in abstract paintings. StarDrone was a fun and colorful time killer using the PlayStation Move controller—but I left after playing for a few minutes as I did not have a bottle of Mountain Dew or a bag of Cheetos to sustain me.
Next I headed to the Game Walk in the NextSpace office, which was featuring the Mobile Games with several stands set up by LG. I wasn’t able to play any of the mobile game, as all the phones were out of battery! It would make sense to have a way to charge these phones so that the attendees can get a shot at playing them! Since there were not enough phones left working to check out the games, I headed over to a tablet game called “Jigsaw Mansion 2” and left quite impressed. The game allows you to take any photograph and turn it into an interactive puzzle on an iPad or Android tablet. You can then email your new picture puzzles to other people who have the game. I was very impressed with how smoothly the game responded, even with two or more people working to complete the puzzle at the same time, on the same machine.
On the way to the next Game Walk stop, I ran into the guys from Vicinity Games, who had one hell of a story to tell about losing backpacks and conference ID cards and parties and stuff; I don’t know, they were still a bit out of it. We all did comment on the much more thin crowd on Sunday vs Saturday before parting ways as they headed to the Fire Station and I headed to Gregg Fleishman Studios to try to play some superHYPERCUBE. SUCCESS! I got to play a couple rounds of superHYPERCUBE and the best way to describe this game is Tetris in 3D with one piece that constantly changes as you progress futher and further. I really liked this game, though the 3D never wanted to correctly center for me, so I was always leaning to one side just to keep the image straight.
Afterwards, I left the Studio Game Walk location in time to get some food being provided for the end of the Festival Party, hosted by GameFly, in the IndieCade Village. After food and some soda, I met up with one of the other volunteer-turned-media guys, Paul, and we settled in to watch the closing ceremonies—which included a rap about Parappa the Rapper during the MetaGame and closing comments by the organizers and sponsors before they announced the Developers Choice and Audience Choice awards. “Way” won the Developer’s Choice award and “The Depths to Which I Sink” won the Audience Choice. I really thought that Joust would win the Audience Choice award, as everybody who played the game could not stop raving about it.
It was a long week (and weekend) of not only helping set up this amazing event, but also covering it as media. I am exhausted. I am bruised. I think I am getting sick.
A big “THANK YOU!” to my photographer, schedule keeper and wonderful girlfriend, Ashley, for keeping me focused on the task at hand. “They are already out of Jack Daniels! It ran out first! ARG!” Yes, Ashley likes her JD.
The game and developer winners from IndieCade 2011 are as follows:
- Grand Jury Award: FEZ, Polytron Corporation – The award distinguishes the game that cultivates artistry and embodies complete passion for game development. This year the jury chose from 36 game finalists from 14 different countries.
- LG Mobile Innovative Game Award: Hungry Hungry UFOs, Asher Vollmer, Sam Farmer and Ben Bharier- The nominees for this award were brought together and established the prototypes for consideration at the IndieCade 3D Mobile Game Jam, presented and sponsored by LG Mobile.
- Visuals sponsored by Nvidia: Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, Superbrothers, Capybara Games, Jim Guthrie
- Audio: Proteus, Ed Key
- Impact sponsored by G4: Johann Sebastian Joust, Douglas Wilson and Friends
- Interaction: Ordnungswissenschaft, Till Wittwer, Marek Plichta and Jakob Penca
- Game Design: Deepak Fights Robots, Tom Sennett
- Technology sponsored by Transgaming: Johann Sebastian Joust, Douglas Wilson and Friends
- Story/ World Design sponsored by BBC Worldwide: FEZ, Polytron Corp.
- Special Recognition: The Swapper, Facepalm Games – it’s a game specially selected by the Jury for being a stand-out game, but not one that could fit into any other category very well.
- The Trailblazers Award: Megan Gaiser
- Developers Choice Award: Way, Coco & Co (Carnegie Mellon)
- Audience Choice Award: The Depths to Which I Sink, Bigpants