Packing for GDC - That Indie Column

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Posted March 6, 2012 - By Rob Manuel

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Packing for GDC

With GDC already underway and a very flustered Features Editor running around San Francisco, now would be an excellent time to see what I packed. Forget clean underwear and deodorant. You need to bring game knowledge with you when visiting the epicenter of all things game design. In these very halls, the future of gaming lives and breathes. So to share with you my packing tips for GDC, here are a list of games you need to get your thumbs on before heading out to the big event.

What You Should Have Played: Puddle

I’m thoroughly convinced that the water in Puddle comes from gamer hand sweat. The student game that made a splash at IGF 2010 recently hit XBLA and PSN just recently. With the other big games taking the spotlight, this physics-based puzzler needs a little extra love. With the help of dear old gravity by move the screen left or right; you transport a unit of liquid from one end of the level to the next. Sounds simple enough. With the lush greenery and soothing slosh of water, many players might have mistaken it for an environmental-themed LocoRoco.

And then the fire comes into play as timing movement becomes and issue as well as keeping up the momentum so every drop makes it across water hungry gaps. A water heater lies in wait at the end of the first level. As the plates heat up, you slosh the water left and right, hitting switches along the way to increase the pressure as well as open a vent where the water needs to go straight down the middle. Screen shaking. Water gushing. The timer ticks away. You’ve never sweat like this before over a cup of water.

Puddle takes simple controls to a level of difficulty few other games on XBLA dare to touch.

What You Should Play Now: NOUS

This free to play shooter takes the idea of AI insanity to a whole new level. GLaDoS appears refine against the amnesiac that is the computer intelligence of NOUS. Much like that of Portal, you quickly find yourself as the experimental whim of the computer AI as they test and judge your understanding of the game. Besides watching out for the frequent crushing spike block, the game lets you play in one of two way: either through dashing into the orange enemies or befriending them by leading them into moving rings in the arena. Friendly blobs become health for you when you touch them. Play either way; NOUS judges you all the same.

I mean, the shooter actually changes the game against the way you’re playing. Starting off as a friendly kind of guy, the game quickly started to move the rigs out of the area or away from me. Once I started to get aggressive, the game switched everything around and reacted in kind by becoming more aggressive. With health low, I quickly retreated back to the healing circles. More than just enemies, the game throws enough twists and taunts at you to make you believe that you are arguing with a real AI.

Short and to the point, NOUS tells its story and it tells it well. This may just be the first shooter where you need to choose your words carefully.

What You’re Playing Again: WonderPutt

Simple to play and elegant design, WonderPutt reminds you just how wonderful games can be with a little imagination. In a pixel perfect world, you get to tee up on an ever-changing array of holes from an alien designed farm to the inside diagram of a torpedo. What’s most remarkable about the madness is that it all fits together so flawlessly. This easy to pick up and play flash game tells a story one hole at a time through visuals, as every piece moves into position. The camera never changes position from its unblinking vantage point. Through shifting hills to snowy lanes, the player never misses a stroke of the artistry. Now if I could only work on not over shooting the hole.

WonderPutt made the grade this year at the IGF as on the finalists in the Visual Category for its isometric design and sheer beauty of how it all comes together. Not every game can say so much without uttering a word.

What Everyone Will Be Talking About: Under The Garden and Under The Ocean

Always pack a surprise whenever you travel to GDC - and a toothbrush. Both are needed for starting a good conversation when meeting some of the best game designers in the world. This year, I’m bringing along Under The Garden. This open world platformer pits you against the elements as you try to survive and escape from this strange land. Stamina depletes as chop down trees for firewood, kill bunnies for food, or simply explore what the world holds deep within its darkened caves. A fireplace becomes the save point as you venture out further and further to collected new tools and blocks to build pathways. More than just for decoration, you place block against walls or in midair to create new paths for you to explore. It’s the most fun you can have being lost without a mysterious hatch.

After carefully describing how you found a hidden stash of goods at the top of a mountain, you bring up the fact that the developers behind this game just released a walkthrough of their next game, Under The Ocean. Much like the pervious game, you need to think to survive. Fishing becomes an exercise in logic as you create poison bait and craft spears in order to keep your belly full. There’s nothing that breaks the ice quite like talking about a good game.

What Everyone Will Be Talking About: Mari0

Remember that video a couple of months ago about Mario using a Portal gun? Give a developer a good idea and you’ll get a great game out of it. Mari0 gives the plumber a portal gun and lets him go to work. Shoot goombas out into space. Trap Koopas in an endless loop. Always hit the top of the flagpole when you play with portals. At times, it feels like I could use a couple of extra fingers sense you’re platforming on one hand and portaling on the other. Besides portals, the game adds hats, up to four players on the screen at the same time, and the ability to edit your own worlds to create more portal fun.

Mari0 surprises you by twisting your expectations and making you look at old levels in a new light.

Which indie games are you excited to hear about from this year's GDC? Let me know in the comments section below.

Packing for GDC - That Indie Column


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