This year the team behind the Bafta video game awards tried something new.
Alongside the lavish ceremony itself there was the Inside Games event, an exhibition designed to show off many of the nominated titles. Spread through a maze of rooms at Tobacco Dock in London, blockbusters such as Titanfall, InFamous: Second Son and Elite Dangerous attracted queues and generated much excitement.
At a glance it was like any other games event: maybe a little smaller, perhaps a shade more extravagant. But a closer look revealed what made Inside Games particularly distinct. Through the throng, it wasn’t unusual to spot UK development legend and Raspberry Pi trustee David Braben chatting with enthusiastic young gamers. Or industry celebrities such as the former Sony Computer Entertainment president, Chris Deering, peering at a screen along with spritely developers and eager consumers. Bafta’s recent devotion to bringing industry talks to the masses was also in effect, as the likes of Broken Sword creator, Charles Cecil, orated to audiences that mixed games makers and consumers.
The jewel in Inside Games’ crown, however, was its showcase independently produced games – the sort that can easily find themselves boxed away as niche products. The Inside Games Arcade took up a whole room situated a wireless controller’s connection range from Titanfall and its contemporaries. Yet the spirit of indie gaming hung in the air. Bafta’s hefty black tablecloths couldn’t quite hide the trestle tables, and the game studio logos on the walls were clearly pieces of A4 paper, home-printed and Blu-Tacked.
Defining indie in gaming is an increasingly fruitless pursuit, but whatever the financial model behind the titles at the showcase, there were many in-development and soon-to-be-released titles that deserve that attention globally. Australian developer Loveshack was showing noir thriller Framed, a curious hybrid of animated storyboard, interactive graphic novel and block-based puzzle game. The player’s role is that of editor, who can shift, rotate and swap around panels in order to change the story and help the protagonist’s progress. We saw the game at last year’s Rezzed event, and since then its innovative interface has attracted lots of interest, including several conference awards. It’s out on iPhone and PC later this year.
Elsewhere, was Monument Valley, a lavish Escher-esque platforming puzzler from east London hipster-belt studio UsTwo. Combining elements of Fez and Echochrome, players progress through a series of starkly drawn environments using rotation and perspective changes to forge new pathways. As we saw two years ago with the gorgeous Whale Trail, this team has a striking talent for beautiful, minimal design that begs to be framed and mounted.
A few tables down, the cheerful team at Wonderstruck were demonstrating that there is still the capacity for innovation in the stealth genre. Their newly revealed light-footed mouse-controlled theft game, The Marvelous Miss Take, is proudly non-violent, and inspired by documentary The Art of the Steal. Here, the female lead must liberate paintings and artefacts to return them to an independent gallery. “It’s the first game I’ve worked on in 15 years in which nobody gets hurt,” mused Wonderstruck developer Adam Langridge, an expatriate from the world of triple-A. Miss Take is due on smartphones and PC soon.
Equally enjoyable – and a touch more mesmeric – was 0rbitalis, a gravity based abstract puzzler by sole trader Alan Zucconi. The former biological modeller conceived the game with the lofty goal of “visualising the beauty of mathematic equations,” and regardless of how accurately he has – or has not – achieved that, his simple, stark creation is captivating both visually and mechanically. Originally developed for the Ludum Dare game jam, Zucconi is now working on a more extensive release for PC and Mac.
Another highlight was Tiki Taka Soccer 2014, from Somerset-based PanicBarn. This fast-paced footie sim serves as an eager homage to vintage favourite Sensible Soccer. While it apes the original’s visuals very closely, it gracefully reworks the formula for touchscreen devices, and strangely enough, uses a control system closer to Sensible Software’s other giant of the Amiga glory years, Cannon Fodder. It’s coming soon to iPad, iPhone and Android devices.
Also likely to register as a constant blip on the radar of open-minded gaming fans was Clarc by German studio GoldenTricycle. This is a traditional block-shifting puzzle game reinvented as an isometric sci-fi adventure where a unarmed robot must progress through futuristic corridors, using simply abilities to best increasingly tangled routes to an exit. Drawn in a beautiful comic book style the game boosts 25 levels and, according to the press site, drunk robots and “sexy nuclear bombs“. It was released on Ouya late last year but is now being transported to PC, iOS and Android.
Game of the Arcade, however, must go to Secrets of Rætikon from Broken Rules. It’s a lavishly realised open-world 2D platformer that does away with ledges and jumping, giving over its world over to a bird that must explore the balance of technology and nature in a rural landscape inspired by the studio‘s Austrian home. It’s already available via Steam Early Access (complete with Steam Workshop support for user-generated levels), but is also coming to smartphone platforms.
So while it was the well-funded giants that enjoyed most of the praise at the Bafta awards themselves, at Inside Games it was the less exuberant creations that conquered. “When we planned the events, we wanted to make sure we represented all kinds of games,” says co-curator Georg Backer. “So we decided to set this space aside. We just wanted to make sure that along with the blockbusters, we also showed non-blockbusters, and that’s not just indie titles. I set about finding a diverse selection of games for all different platforms from all over Europe.”
According to Backer, who famously joined forces with Jonathan Ross to set up game studio Hot Sauce Interactive in late-2012, he was motivated by serving the widest audience possible. “There’s a lot of affection for indie games, and we love that, so you’ll see a lot of indie games in the Arcade, but it’s about more than that.”
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