Down the hallway past the old movie posters of stars long gone and empty sets waiting for their next moment of inspiration, the future of videogames is being created behind wooden doors and warm computers. This wasn’t the secret basement of EA’s campus or a Microsoft war room I was walking into. Instead, it was the first IndieCade Mobile 3D Game Jam session where new developers and indie legends would get a chance to develop a game in the span of two days. From concept to playable demo, groups of eager designers would get the first crack at LG’s new Real3D mobile phone. For a company looking towards the future, they were in no better hands than the group that sat before me in that classroom.
Chris Bell, from thatgamecompany, said it best when he was asked what piece of advice he had for the budding developers – "Go deeper." Challenge what other people know about games. Move past the notions of gaming conventions. Don’t be afraid of failure. In other words, go deeper with the understanding of how 3D works, go deeper with how we perceive games, and challenge yourself above all else. Talk to a couple of the developers and you’ll understand what an exciting time it is right now to be in indie games. As Celia Pearce, the IndieCade Festival Chair, pointed out, it’s all about innovation. More companies like LG will and should follow suit by using indie games as a way to create content and push the technology forward. In that classroom on USC campus, I witnessed the future and indie games were leading the way.
More Than Blue and Red Glasses
Ask Eric Kurland, 3D media historian, if 3D is just a passing phase and he’ll tell you that it has been passing for the past hundred years. Even before there were photographs, we knew that 3D picture creation was possible. Imagine sitting in your parlor viewing 3D slides of foreign countries or even the president. Go ahead and look at that 3D picture of Lincoln with bedhead. Polarized movies have been around nearly as long as movies themselves. Even some great films where once 3D such as Dial M for Murder, but were deemed too expensive since they required two reels of film in order to work. The need to see past the first two dimensions was put aside until the technology caught up again. That’s what happened to movies and to gaming right now.
Even after a long night and a pool’s worth of energy drinks, you could still feel the excitement resonating from every team. Drawings and post-it notes lined the white boards as teams pored over last minute lines of code. In talking with the teams, one resounding idea rang out across all fronts – today’s 3D game fails to explore what the technology can truly accomplish. Not a trick or a gimmick, 3D enhances aspect of the experience by drawing the player into the world. Each of these teams molded the Unity platform into eleven different takes on the 3D design. Though each team accomplished a huge feat in those short 48 hours, only a handful will make it to Indiecade in Culver City and only one will be awarded the highest prize. The following list is but a glimpse into the future of mobile gaming.
Hungry Hungry UFO
Across a procedurally generated city, UFO’s shrink and gobble up the skyline one building at a time. Take the alien wheel of one of these flying craft as you try to out maneuver and out capture your opponents. Buildings take time to shrink under the power of your ray. Go for the small quick snack or try for big points with a skyscraper. As you capture more buildings, you grow in size, slowing down your movement and making yourself a bigger target for other alien crafts to attack. Even after two days, the team ran multiple players through the same panicked city in multiplayer matches. I know a couple of console games that couldn’t get that much together.
Imagine a first person shooter in your head. Instead of shambling zombies, you face down an even worse foe – concepts in your mind. I’m not good enough. Flying scares me. Why even try? Concepts float through endless space like planets spitting out words and phrases. Bullets won’t help you here. You fight ideas with ideas. Collect the words to create new ideas. I can do it. Flying is nothing. Bacon is fun. Creating opposing ideas and shooting them at the concept destroys them. It’s a mind game you might actually feel better playing.
If there’s one thing that 3D gives us is a sense of depth, especially when the ground rises to meet us. Strap on a couple of wings and try not to kiss the ground with your forehead as you try to make it through the winding canyon below you. Future ideas include collectable coins that you can use to buy better gear or just a nicer sweater. You might as well keep warm while you plunge to your death.
The only thing better than shooting enemies is doing it as you rush down a wormhole, right? As you collect different weapons falling through this endless tunnel, enemy craft of all types comes rushing towards your face. If given more time, the team was already starting to implement coins you could shoot for a higher bonus and a boss that comes in multiple sections.
Made by a couple of the good gents from thatgamecompany, this deceptively clever game gives you a box to explore. Poke, move, and interact with a seemingly ordinary box in 3D space. But that’s where you’re wrong – oh so wrong. This box contains a secret, a mystery, and an amazing clever way to make 3D work on the small screen.
Sometimes Santa could use a little help. Drop presents from the sleigh into the right houses to cheering kids. Miss the chimney or shoot down the wrong package and all you get are tears. Paperdoll houses painted in primary colors add to the playful quality of the title. In just a couple of minutes and missed packages, you’ll find some respect for that man in red.
From a star filled sky, random items and shapes fall down to the Earth below. Collect items to create your own junk masterpiece. These items from heaven come together in a pile that you throw together by… well… tossing items together. Objects converse in symphony of sound and colors that you can build to the sky. There’s no winning or losing – just you and your art. Further ideas include tracking where you build each of your masterpieces and leaving them in the real world. Others than can stumble over your art and can even add to your work with their own ideas.
Action Figure Rescue
Heroes sometime need a little help, especially if they’re buried in the back yard. You play the role of a boy who has lost his action figure. Dig your way around the yard to find it. With every clump of dirt you turn over, you must place it at your same level. What you end up with is a puzzle that becomes progressively trickier as you turn over every rock trying to find your prized toy. You can even trap yourself if you get in over your head. Keep your shovel and your wits about you if you want to claim your prize.
Grab your SUBA gear and strap yourself into a minecart. We’re looking for treasure. In this flooded cave, you need to watch out for some rather vicious fish and ghosts. I know, it’s too much for one adventurer. With a tazer in your hand and a watchful eye, you can make it through. Enemies appear to stick out of the wall. Use the power of 3D and observation to keep your character alive.
Getting lost is easy. It’s finding your way out that’s the tough part. You take a bird eye’s view of a girl lost in a vineyard. With every step, you lose a little energy in this randomly generated maze. Pick up grapes to regain strength but watch out for the unripe ones that will zap your remaining reserves. Picking up compasses will move the camera out, allowing you to see more of the maze. Gain even more points by finding your lost dog in the maze and getting out with enough energy.
No, this game isn’t about what you think. You are a simple hunter moving through the tall grasses of the savanna. You move forward by pushing away the tall stalks. With spear in hand, you take on vicious rabbits. To get a better view of the world, you can pop up over the edge of the grass to observe some of the wild animals hunting you. Bring home the meat or don’t come home.