Posted by rHornbek on October 3, 2009
Today I drove down to Culver City to the famous Culver Hotel where all of the Munchkins, from The Wizard of Oz, were housed during the shooting of the film. This is where I picked up my $20 day pass which was literally a little blue sticker that I stuck on my shirt. Besides some paperback loot there wasn’t a whole lot to do there, so my friend Simon and I headed over to the first gallery.
The first thing I noticed when we entered the Wonderful World Gallery was the complete vacancy of the room. Between the eight or so computers that were set up, each with a unique game, only one person was actually playing. What was more disturbing was the fact that none of the game’s developers were there to present their work.
The first game Simon and I played was a simple side scroller called Spectre. This is indeed how they spelled it, could be the old English spelling, does it matter? It was a simple game, you move the character around a house passing through memories that would transport you to other rooms. In these other rooms a monotone voice would begin speaking, telling you a little story about the character that was relevant to the room. It was dark and what appeared to be mini-games in each of these rooms were really not much more than unfulfilling tasks.
We quickly moved onto another game called Akrasia where you control a little amoeba like character around a oddly shaped maze. We learned that you could consume little floating objects around the stage, but they did not appear to do anything. We soon found that there was a second creature roaming around in the maze with us, a ghost looking thing. When we approached it it would begin to run away, so logically we chased it. When we finally caught it it turned into a dragon and began chasing us. Long story short we found an exit door that appeared after touching the ghost for the first time and the stage was complete. Enjoyable in its simplicity, but not super engaging, so we moved on.
The next game we found, if you can even call it that, was called Gray. You where a little stick figure who wanted to run left while dozens of other stick figures are trying to run the the right. Simon and I figured, seeing how the other stick figures would push us back, that we had to get all the way to the left of the scree to win… so we did… and nothing happened. I would consider myself a pretty open minded guy, but up to this point it has been mostly confusion and disappointment which leads me to this…
Invest some time in a tutorial or learn how to convey objectives to your user. Otherwise most people are going to get board and move on. This is just what we did.
At the other end of the room we found what looked like an art and animation major’s project. A grim room with eight or so black and red clad girls sat there idly on the screen. We learned quick that we could mouse over each of the girls to see their name and have a ghostly image of them faintly appear over the screen. I was greatly impresses up to this point. We selected Ruby and immediately transitioned to what looking like a dirt road in central park. In big stylized font the title The Path appeared, this was indeed the name of the game. My friend Simon pointed out that this was a game about Little Red Riding Hood and while I had not noticed it up to that point it made sense. The game warned us to “Not Leave the Path” and we made sure not to… for about 60 seconds. I kid you not, we walked about 30 feet off the path and got completely lost. I found this utter failure to be somewhat entertaining, seeing how we clearly disobeyed a simple warning. It got me thinking about human nature for one and how this could make for an interesting premise in a game like Don’t Shoot the Puppy. We decided to restart the game and see if we couldn’t finish the path and actually find grandma’s house and the big bad wolf. Long story short we found the house – dark – then we found grandma – looked dead – and even the wolf who was stuffed in a corner – over it.
I was not so sure what was so wonderful about the Wonderful World Gallery, but we were hoping that the Greg Fleishman Gallery would be better… and it was!
But not by much.
There was only three machines set up there and only two were working. I mean really did any of the developers care what people thought about their babies, or were they all just a bunch of bastard children abandoned at an amusement park?
Despite the quantity of games the Greg Fleishman Gallery had a good and a great game set up to play. Tuning was a simple maze game where you have to roll a ball into a hole at the end without falling off the stage. What made it interesting was how each stage looked and functioned. One stage was blown out like a fish eyed lens where objects in the middle appeared larger than the ones around the outside. As you rolled the ball the lens would magnify new areas of the stage which was sort of fun. Another stage would actually change shape as you moved the ball. Moving it right would change it one way and moving to the left would be another.
Looking at our map, Simon and I learned that we had missed some games back at the Culver Hotel, so we made our way back there. To our surprise we found a couple of fun and interesting games.
One was called Cogs where the user moves panels on a rotatable cube trying to connect all of the cogs. Once all of the cogs were properly connected it would complete and activate the machine. Overall this was pretty cool and executed rather well.
Another game, Mightier, allowed users to drawn images on a piece of paper on their table and scan it real time into the game using a camera. The images could be used to create your character and alter the stages to complete them. Simon in particular likes this game because he has always been an illustrator at heart.
The one game that truly blew us away was Minor Battle. It was a simple 2D side-scrolling game where each team of two controlled a warrior with the objective of destroying the other team’s castle. You did this by finding a bomb on the stage, running it to the enemy castle and throwing it. What made this game so exciting was that it was played on four flat screen monitors that were set on a pillar each facing in one of four directions. As your characters moved to the left or right off one screen they would appear on the next and we quickly found ourself running around the pillar in circles to keep up. I have to hand it to these guys, they made a simple game a dozen times more interesting and interactive.
My favorite game of the day had to have been Aether. You play as a little boy who befriends a big squid beast. You ride the squid around using its tongue to swing from clouds generating enough velocity to leave the planets atmosphere and gravitational pull. You could then zoom through space to find other worlds each with their own puzzles to solve. This was the only game I played to completion the entire day, and I am glad I did. It has been incredibly inspiring and really fun!
I was expecting a lot more from IndieCade but I was not surprised with what I had found. The $20 day pass felt completely unnecessary seeing how there wasn’t a soul at the galleries to check entry. Out of the 12 or so games only a few were noteworthy. Would I go again next year? Most likely I will, and I just might bring my own game and make sure to be available for those who want to play it and ask questions.
In the meantime I will work on improving my blog post’s format and overall language. Thanks for putting up with the noob!