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Indie Games

IndieCade 2010 Finalists Announced

Positioned between the main halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center, the Indiecade display was easily the best part of this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo. Here, there were no winding queues, no luxuriously appointed media lounges, no icily smiling PR people to inform the curious that all interactions with the game or the developers were 'by appointment only'.

Here, people just played games.

And what games they were. Physical games that sought to push the usage of peripherals beyond the standards set by Microsoft or Sony stood juxtaposed with games that utilized more familiar mediums to tell unfamiliar stories. In between, there was everything else, from first-person horror to word puzzles to social interaction simulations set in the advent of a certain high school tradition.

Contrasting the rigid formalities of the main exhibit areas, the Indiecade showcase existed in a state of organized chaos. Developers indiscriminately engaged the public in conversation, their enthusiasm seemingly immune to the tedium of repeating themselves time and time again. Camera crews intermingled with non E3-goers. Eloquent volunteers moved one booth to another, readily and competently filling the spaces left by absent creators. Occasionally, there were even developers with games not on the official roster and people, both famous in the industry and not, who were simply there to meet other people.

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Even if you can’t make it to E3, you can still experience all of the awe and wonder with half of the deafening crowd by checking out some of the best indie games around. Forget about waiting in lines for hours just to get your hands on controllers touched by the hundred people in front of you.

Indie E3 never fails to disappoint with creativity, imagination, and you don’t have to wade through the triple-A hype to get to your favorite game. Some of the future learders of the industry as well as those of the past are turning their eye towards smaller teams and downloadable titles that won't break your wallet in order to play.

Let's start Indie E3 right with a trailer.

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I'm always on the lookout for interesting takes on the survival-horror genre, and the trailer you see above shows off one of the most interesting I've seen in a long time. Among the Sleep is a first-person game told from the point-of-view of a two year-old child.

According to developer Krillbite, Among the Sleep lets its players "immerse themselves in a child's limitless imagination. This is a perspective we all have a distant familiarity with, but few can clearly remember what it felt like." If there's anything more horrifying, mysterious and interesting than inhabiting the body of a defenseless toddler, I can't imagine it.

There will be no weapons. The game will take place in the "borderland between dream and reality," where "surreal creatures and diverse environments will present you with both physical and mental obstacles that challenge your creativity."

I tried downloading the game by throwing money at my monitor, but it didn't work. Among The Sleep is set for release on PC and MAC next year.


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The future of gaming graduated this year from USC, the number one game-design school as ranked by USA Today, and I was there this year to take part of their Demo Day activities.

Among the student and their projects, you couldn’t help but run into some of the big names in gaming like EA, Sony, and 2K Games. All of them were looking for their next superstar. With games like flOw and The Misadventure of P.B. Winterbottom coming out of this program, it’s little wonder why everyone is looking to grab the talent coming out of this school.

While you might not have made it for the finger food and cups of coffee, here are some of the big games you need to know about from the USC Demo Day event.

Blink

Not all student games need to look as though those who have never dipped their feet into the professional waters made them. Take Blink for example. From the very first cut scene, you feel as though you’re playing a triple-A title.

As a spy caught by the evil corporation, they try to make you into the perfect warrior by giving you the power to warp over short distances or blink. Even tied down and surrounded by an army of bots, you find a way to escape. (When will evil corporations ever learn?) Now with a new ability and only a knife by your side, you navigate the twisted hallways and training areas as you try to escape.

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A Valley Without Wind

Try to describe A Valley Without Wind, this open world dungeon crawler turned on its head, and you’re bound to forget something.

For anyone looking for a truly unique take on an old standard, try surviving in a world where the game plays against your strengths, taking on randomly generated worlds, and beating the game is only the beginning. Instead of your traditional hack-and-slash, you rely on magic to take on your foes in this 2D post-apocalyptic world where Iron Age collides with the world of technology.

See what I mean? I still haven’t mentioned that you have to build your own civilization or when you die to come back as someone else. Every area presents a new challenge or even a new spell in your ever-growing inventory. Even after hours of playing through it, I still have yet to scratch the surface of this game.

Fortunately for you, I’ll let one of the creators of one of the most ambitious games you’ll play all year, Chris Park, tell you about what it takes to create A Valley Without Wind.

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Every so often, we miss some of the great indie games coming out. With new games coming out on every system and often without any fanfair, the occassional hidden gem sneaks through our grasp, never to be seen again. (Or at least, that's my excuse.) Check out the top five indie games that you need to know about right now.

1. Qasir al-Wasat

I know. Stealth games are a dime a dozen these days and Solid Snake has been doing it since before it became fashionable. Nonetheless, there's something insidiously charming about Qasir al-Wasat.

A stealth action-adventure set within 'one ominous night inside a wondrous palace in 12th century Syria', Qasir al-Wasat will have players taking on the role of an invisible fiend, one that had been forcibly summoned by sorcerer to carry out an assassination attempt.

Unlike many other titles, Qasir al-Wasat doesn't put a limit on how long you can go invisible. It's a permanent thing. This, of course, has a lot to do with the fact that the protagonist is about as fragile as centuries-old china; one friendly nudge and you're dead. To further compound your health risks, you're susceptible to stuff like blood stains and environmental debris. People will take notice if you're careless enough to take a bath in someone else's bodily fluids or if you decide to dance the flamenco in a patch of dry leaves.

To be fair, I could be biased. I'm totally smitten with the aesthetics. In an industry saturated with voxels and big, blocky pixels of all sorts, it's kinda awesome to find yourself immersed in what feels like one of the darker chapters of Scheherazade's One Thousand and One Nights.

And really, what's there not to like about a game that will let you play as a nefarious spirit dragged from another dimension, hmm?

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Indie

The indie world often runs at the speed of lightening which is often faster than me at 7AM before my first cup of coffee. With such a downpour of indie news and games recently in the past week, I thought now would be a good time to take stock of everything that’s going on in the world of indie from events, news, and the games you need to be playing now.

I also never pass up on a chance to talk about

What You Should Know

Speaking of the woman who makes all the geeks swoon and happen to share my love of Kingdom Rush, Felicia Day will be the host of this year’s IndieCade ceremonies. Having just launched Geek & Sundry, it seemed like a match made in virtual heaven as some of the top indie developers and rising talent within the field. And as always, G4 will be there to cover all the great games coming to beautiful downtown Culver City this fall.

Oh geez. If Felicia is going to be there this year, I’m going to start picking out what to wear now. Bowties are cool, right?

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Fez

With one of the most highly anticipated indie games finally hitting the virtual market, there’s only one question on everyone’s lips, “Who’s the next Fez?”

Actually, everyone’s asking, “Have you been to the observatory in Fez? What’s that about? I brought some of the notes I scribbled down real quick. Do you mind looking over them?”

But soon there after beating Fez, we’re off to look towards that next big indie title to pine for as the release date forever looms in the distance. Somewhere out there, someone is coding our next obsession. One of the great things about these smaller titles is that the next big thing might still be an idea in someone’s head just waiting to get out or a program someone’s tinkering with right now. Today, I don’t just want to give you the next big thing – I want to give you five of them.

Get ready to check out the next five great indie titles you need to wait for their grand release.

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Guns of Icarus Online is the spiritual successor of Muse Games’ original turret-defense game Guns of Icarus. Stepping to the shoes of Captain Gabriel of the airship Icarus, players must transport across the world, gunning down pirates that try to knock you out of the sky.

Gabriel and his crew serve as supply carries between settlements in a post-apocalyptic world. Sporting an attractive steampunk aesthetic, Guns of Icarus allows up to four players to man the airship at once. No friends? No problem – Icarus lets you fill your ship with AI should you desire to play solo. As captain you as responsible for the ship’s maintenance, guarding its cargo, and giving orders during battle.

Players can form teams of up to eight airships and engage other teams in matches, scrambling to stay afloat in massive sky battles. When no locked in this PvP “skirmish mode” among factions, attempting to break air blockades or escorting important personnel to secret locations, players must disseminate information and technology to various parts of the world in an attempt to unify mankind. Using airships allows players to travel between pockets of civilization without braving the hostile environment or get caught in combat on the ground.

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The booth at PAX East displaying Alexander Bruce’s mind-boggling psychological exploration puzzler was impossible to simply walk by. Trapped in a maze of white designed to look like an endless M.C. Esher drawing, players must follow the writing on the wall to navigate their way through. There is a catch, though: that writing is offers only vague nuggets of wisdom, not functional directions, and more often than not heralds the approach of a puzzle that proffers no hints for solving. It’s enchanting, incredible.

“It’s obviously very dense to try and learn – so the beginning of the game tries to make players unlearn all those pre-learned conventions you pick up from how other games work,” said Bruce. “There are new kinds of rules in play, and they don’t always follow themselves.”

The start of the game’s framework is a set of geometry puzzles. The first puzzle required me to pick up blocks and strategically place them to prop open trigger-activated doors.

“After thinking laterally for so long with these geometry puzzles, throwing a simple logical puzzle at the player will throw them off,” Bruce added. “It makes it intentionally harder to complete simple puzzles by reprogramming the way you think about them.”

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Against the Wall

You’re stuck. You’re standing on a ledge protruding from a massive wall, a colossal work of stone blocks that extends to the horizon in all directions. In your right hand, a wand that thrums to life as you wave it over the blocks, pulling and pushing them out of the wall, arranging them to form a staircase for your ascent. In the distance you spot – it can’t be – a windmill rising sideways out of the mammoth structure, a pulley system running along its base that is sure to bring you farther up towards your destination. But what is that destination? Is there one at all? Does this wall ever end?

According to sole designer and programmer Michael Consoli, Against the Wall takes place against an infinite slab of stone. As you climb, the game generates itself, creating more puzzles for your brain to click through as you ascend.

Consoli made Against the Wall for the Ludum Dare game making competition, a challenge that asks participants to create a game in 48 hours with a particular theme in mind. The theme for Consoli’s Dare was, “It’s dangerous to go alone, take this!” The result was the wand the player holds in this first-person puzzler, which must be utilized to manipulate the blocks in the wall in order to reach a town an untold number of miles above where you begin.

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PAX East’s Indie Showcase was a smoking hotspot of activity this weekend. Here’s what you may have overlooked, and why you should be singing a different tune.

Lawnmower Challenge

Lawnmower Challenge
Lunar Enigma's lock-and-key path-finding puzzle may look deceptively simple on first glance, but a quick run through a handful of levels professes otherwise. Inspired by late 80s tile-based Chip's Challenge, Lawnmower Challenge asks players to mow a plot of grass in the least number of moves. The plots, divided into squares and broken into sections with wooden fences, are studded with mower-impassable perils such as rocks and mud. While players can walk over the muddier areas, seeds must be collected and used to cross them with the mower. Keys scattered in the grass grant access to locked areas, and all item collection moves without the mower still go towards your step count.

What makes this iOS and Android title irresistible is its fresh and clean approach to one of the more classic game puzzles. That and the relaxing, smooth jazz soundtrack is just the clear and heady mix needed to push the noodles of your brain through the more grueling 500-move levels. The game is expected to release later this year.

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Guns of Icarus Online

Guns of Icarus Online takes to the skies with flying airships, class-based fighting, and more gears than you can strap on your boots when you take on this steampunk adventure. But honestly, you had me at airships. You can judge for yourself this week when the game hits PAX East. To find out more about what it take the fight to the fierce skies, I recently got to talk to Muse Games about what you can expect when you get your hands on it as well as the Kickstarter campaign that started it all.

You are not Rambo. In war, you have a job and you need to do that job in conjunction with others around you in order to survive. Muse Games, makers of Guns of Icarus Online, make the sky the limit, but you can only move as far as the guardrails allow. There’s no wondering what you need to do or where you need to go. Keep the ship running and try to stay alive. How you do that is up to you.

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Help, Support And Money Wanted For Indie Game: The Movie

Indie Game: The Movie moves from the secluded Sundance film festival to your local theater as they make their way around the country. When I ran into them at GDC this year, I expect this to be a victory lap for them after the amazing reviews from both gamers and non-gamers alike. Little did I know that they were still filming and planning for additional material for the final release of the movie on DVD and digital media.

April 3rd in beautiful Santa Monica, gamers in the greater Los Angeles area (myself included) will finally be able to see for themselves what the fuss is all about. If you don’t have a ticket, I suggest that you pick up one now before this one, like so many of their other screenings, sells out.

For everyone else out there, make sure you visit the movie’s website for more information about screenings and how you can pick up your own copy of the movie.

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MolyJam

MolyJam started out deeply rooted in a joke twitter account, but bloomed this April Fool’s Day with thousands of developers, creators, and video game fanatics from around the globe working for 48 to create games from one man’s wild imagination – Molydeux.

Not to be confused with the flesh and blood esteemed game developer, Peter Molyneux, this fake twitter account took on a life of its own as it mimicked Molyneux's often dream-like descriptions of what video games could be capable of. What if the Kinect could detect the tears coming donw your face and you had to cry to get through a door? What if you only had a short amount of time before the end of the world and you could only hug your loved ones? What if you could inspire thousands of people by asking what games could do instead of saying what they should do?

When I entered NextSpace in downtown Culver City, dozens of teams quickly finished up graphics, pieces of music, and bits of code for their game. Developers spent their weekend with strangers, working on games that started out only as twitter one-liners. To them, Molyjam meant something more than just a joke. It was a chance to make a change in the industry that they loved.

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