Rezzed wasn’t just about the big publishers. Far from it, in fact – the indie presence was huge, with the bigger studios mostly relegated to the over 18s section in the corner, which had tits and swearing in it. Indie developers on show ranged from relatively well-known studios like Introversion and Unknown Worlds, to one or two-man projects that I’d never even heard of before. Big titles like Borderlands 2, Far Cry 3 and Aliens: Colonial Marines are all well and good, but the indie booths are where the truly exciting stuff was. So, in no particular order, here are a few of my favourite indie games from the show floor:
One of my few regrets from the weekend was that I didn’t get to spend enough time with Prison Architect. The Introversion booth was almost always packed, so I only got to spend about five minutes running through the tutorials, whereas the game really deserves a couple of hours worth of fiddling. Nevertheless, its influences are clear, and it would seem that the spirit of Theme Hospital is alive and well. Yet underneath the cutesy graphics – a real departure from the digitised style of previous Introversion titles – lies a detailed management sim that’s not afraid to deal with serious issues. Racism and sexual abuse are just two of the sensitive topics that the IV guys feel it would’ve been wrong to ignore, although exactly how they will be portrayed in-game is yet to be finalised. The systems behind the prison are also simulated as realistically as possible, down to the pipes used to pump water to the showers, using tech left over from the indefinitely postponed Subversion, the details of which are explained in their fantastic on-stage presentation. Prison Architect will be entering a Minecraft style paid alpha this year, and it’d be, aha, criminal to ignore it.
Described best by a friend as “Like Pong, but really violent”, Barabariball is a 2D platform brawler for up to four players, in which the objective is to wrestle the ball away from your opponent(s), and hurl it into the water on their side of the screen, without falling in yourself. This can get pretty tense, especially in the final seconds of a match. Graphically, its bright neon style reminds me of indie platformers like VVVVVV, with a dark twist somewhat reminiscient of an early Edmund McMillen game, Time Fcuk. Most importantly, it’s just good fun. The matches I played against my friend were genuinely quite tense, especially as time went on and we got more proficient with the fighting mechanics. I can definitely see myself firing this up with friends after a few beers, as it’d doubtless be a great argument settler. It’s also pleasingly difficult to pronounce.
There’s clearly a lesson to be learned here, that being a fan of Deus Ex makes you a much better game designer. Made mostly by a single man (Tom Francis, of PC Gamer fame), Gunpoint is all about giving the player options. You are given the objective of entering a building and stealing some data – will you choose stealth, violence, or a mixture of the two? Will you try to silently break in through the glass panes upstairs, or hack your way through from the lower levels? At its heart, Gunpoint is built around one key mechanic – the Crosslink. This rather novel device allows you to re-wire the electronics of an entire building to suit your needs. A simple example would be re-wiring a lightswitch to open a locked door. A more complicated situation might involve setting off an alarm to attract the attention of a passing guard, causing his gun to malfunction, then overloading a plug socket to knock him out whilst he’s busy trying to fix it. Add to this a shop stocked full of interesting gadgets, and a mission system that pays better depending on how well you followed the client’s wishes, and there’s some serious depth on offer here. Tom does send out the odd beta for his fans to test, but your best bet for a more in-depth look at this title would be TotalBiscuit’s video.
Here’s a game I’d heard of before, but never really had a chance to investigate. Trash TV is a puzzle platformer with a fantastic sense of style – not only are the tiny anthropomorphic televisions pleasingly human, but the game itself is bordered as though it were being played on an old CRT television, with static and distortion effects when the player character takes damage. It was pretty tough for a show floor demo, with some puzzles taking a good few minutes to work through, although I did have some help in the form of lead developer Lawrie Russel standing right behind me. That in itself is a fascinating experience, actually – it’s not often you have someone mentally redesigning a level out loud as you’re playing it – and this kind of access to developers is one of the main reasons that Rezzed was so good for the indie scene. From our quick chat, it’s clear that he’s got a lot of great ideas, and that the show floor demo of Trash TV is just the start.
Yes, this is actually an indie game. I know, I was surprised too. The original Natural Selection was a Half-Life mod, first released in 2002. In it, aliens and marines battled for supremacy, in a game which seamlessly blended first-person shooting and real-time strategy. This time, they’re pushing for quicker, more tactical games, with one player from both teams taking the role of the commander, viewing the map from a top-down, RTS-like perspective, giving orders and building structures. This mix of play styles is their main selling point, and it’s a lot of fun with the right team. On top of all this, they’ve built a gorgeous new engine to run it all on, with full mod support, and they’re also hoping to turn NS2 into an esport. Clearly, there are a lot more words to be written about this game, and it’s still only in beta. You can pre-purchase from their site, which allows instant access to all future beta versions, as well as the final release, which is scheduled for late summer.
Brutal, visceral and thoroughly addictive, to the point where I was genuinely upset when I had to stop playing it to go and see Peter Molyneux. Hotline Miami is a top-down combat game, reminiscient in style of the original Grand Theft Auto. Death comes swiftly – any weapon will kill you with a single blow, spreading pixellated blood all over the linoleum. However, you do have the environment on your side – if an enemy is hit by a door, they’ll be knocked to the ground, and all weapons can be thrown. Or you could grab a goon as a hostage, use him as a bullet sponge, then smash his brains out on the bathroom sink. What ensues is hyper-violent, but also quite tactical. instant respawn and constant, thumping music meaning that you’re always ready for that precious ‘just one more go’. The booth was always packed with onlookers, laughing hysterically with every gunshot, knife-throw or door-slam. I’d never even heard of Hotline Miami before Rezzed, but now I’m looking forward to it more than anything else.
That’s just a small selection of some of my favourites from the weekend – there were lots more, and they all deserve far more words than a round-up like this can provide. Doubtless the majority of them will get a full review as and when they release, so do keep an eye out for that.