We’re in a golden age of indie gaming. Spurred in part by the publicity and fund-raising opportunities offered by Kickstarter and in part by what appears to be a robust market for thoughtful, creative titles, indie teams all over the world (some consisting of a single developer) are churning out an endless stream of games that differ from mainstream, big-budget fare.
On Sept. 14, many of these teams will descend on Boston for the second annual Boston Festival of Indie Games at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The festival offers chances to check out upcoming titles, as well as talks about game development and a variety of other activities.
I had a chance to look over some of those titles, and there is some very cool stuff coming down the pipeline. Here are five games that will be featured at the festival that are worth keeping an eye on. They’re by no means the only five that look worthwhile, but each brings some unique element that makes it stand out.
BOSTON FESTIVAL OF INDIE GAMES
“Blocks of Explosive Dismemberment,” Barbaric Softworks.
The rundown: It’s “Tetris,” only there’s a little guy — controlled by your human opponent — running around at the bottom trying not to get crushed by the falling blocks.
Why it’s intriguing: The idea of running around as giant blocks try to crush you, leaping from block to block in a desperate attempt to stay alive, could be an inspired tweak to one of the oldest, most popular games of all time. Given that “Tetris” has been around for a quarter decade and has been released for just about every platform out there, it will be an impressive feat if Barbaric Softworks can actually breathe some new life into the game.
“High Strangeness,” Crystal Labs
The rundown: It’s a “12-bit” action role-playing game in which you can switch between 8-bit (think Nintendo) and 16-bit (think Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis) graphics and sound, and must do so at certain points to complete the game.
Why it’s intriguing: Beyond the irresistible nostalgia factor of a top-down action-adventure game with chiptune-y music, Crystal Labs appears to be taking the “light world/dark world” game mechanic made famous in games like “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past” and doing something unique with it — letting us jump back and forth not only between two similar universes, but between two different generations of gameplay technology. The challenge will be raising this above the level of the gimmick to blend it seamlessly into the game.
“King Randall’s Party,” Gorilla Tactics
The rundown: From the game’s website: “King Randall MCXXXVIII has just been crowned and has decided to throw a massive coronation party. You, playing as the Royal Treasurer, cannot allow the kingdom’s precious funds from being spent in such a frivolous manner; the King must be stopped!”
Why it’s intriguing: So-called “tower defense” games, in which you build towers filled with archers, fire-wielding mages, or the like to slow down an onslaught of enemies marching (usually slowly) toward some vital target you must defend, have been hugely popular. But they’re usually done from a top-down perspective. Switching to a two-dimensional side-scrolling format makes for very different tactics.
“Neocolonialism,” Subaltern Games
The rundown: From the website: “Buy votes. Extract wealth. Exploit the working class. Negotiate. Backstab. Manipulate parliaments. Manipulate the International Monetary Fund. Manipulate the world.”
Why it’s intriguing: How could it not be? It’s one part Marxism, one part global economic collapse. While this looks to be a complex game that will take some careful work from Subaltern to pull off, it’s hard to turn down the chance to be a powerful, amoral, behind-the-scenes conspirator and exploiter. For a couple hours, at least.
“Skipping Stones” by KO-OP Mode
The rundown: You explore a serene lakeside landscape and skip stones across the water. Your actions cause the music to change, as well as lines of poetry to appear onscreen.
Why it’s intriguing: There are some similarities to “Proteus,” a game I wrote about a couple of months ago, in that there doesn’t look to be any winning or losing. Rather, it’s about using soothing visuals and music to generate a powerful sense of tranquility and wonder. And it will be interesting to see if any decent poetry comes out of the game’s so-called “generative sound and poetry engine.”