31 January 2015

Last tuesday, I went to this year’s edition of the IGDA Montreal DemoNight. Let’s back up a bit to explain what all those words mean.

The IGDA is an independent non-profit that serves game developers. It is the largest such organization in the world, and its Montreal chapter is incredibly active, thanks to size of the industry in the city. Every year, typically in late January, they organize an event called the DemoNight, during which various game developers, most of them Montreal-based and independent, get a small amount of time to hop on a stage and show off what they’re working on.

This year, 20 devs each got 5 minutes to speak. That is, after 5 minutes, the screens to black and they’re booted off the stage. No time to fuck around, I guess.

So, I figured I’d give my quick impressions on the games I saw there. Just a quick reminder: these are just “eyes on” impressions. I did not get to play these games, and I only saw 5 minutes of them. You can get the full list of games, along with links to their websites, on the event page. I’m gonna go through those in alphabetical order. Also, despite their website mentionning Time Machine, it wasn’t there, probably because of how hard it is to show VR on a stage.

Trigger warning for massive unwaranted snark.

The games

Black the Fall

The devs tried really hard to not mention Limbo, which is obviously their main inspiration of the game. That being said, they positionned it as a more emotional experience, as well as an allegory for the fall of Communism in Romania, and all the funsies that happened there. Seems to contain a bunch of dark humor, and interesting stealth-based gameplay.

Close Castles

In short: super cute, super simple, and I really wonder how long you can play that without getting bored. It is local multiplayer as well, so… yeah. Cool concept, but can you make a game out of it? We’ll see. Also features bears and birds. Banjo-Threeie confirmed.

Curses ‘N Chaos

From the developers of the more-than-decent Mercenary Kings comes an equally stylized co-op brawler. Basically you stand in a small 2D arena and kill waves of respawning enemies, hoping to hold on until the end. The blurb mentions crafting, but they didn’t show anything like that in the demo. I’m guessing they want to implement crafting because every indie game these days has to have such a mechanic by law, just like platforming puzzles five years ago.

Dead Years

Just like Black the Fall dodged the Limbo reference, Dead Years went a full 5 minutes without even name dropping Fallout. Because this game is Fallout 3. Although you can control your dog this time, so this is interesting.

Gardenarium

The woman presenting this abstract acid trip was probably high on MDMA or something. If she wasn’t and it’s her natural state of being, then that explains how trippy this game is, considering she’s the lead artist (or whatever is the equivalent in indie studios).

Glimpse

At first I thought they were going all forced perspective on us, but no, it’s all scripted. Oh well. Also looks floooaaatyyy as fuck. Pretty good looking however, especially since 3D art is so expensive to make.

Hitman: Sniper

It’s a AAA game. What got me the most interested was the control scheme and how intuitive it looked. Also, slick UI. Good job Square-Enix, good job.

Jotun

Finally, a game about vikings without longships or horned helmets. It really looked like a top down version of Shadow of the Colossus, with the non-boss segment being procedurally generated, obviously to save up on development time because an indie studio doesn’t have hundreds of artists and level designers to throw at the problem.

KatanaZer0

A 2D platformer that’s basically Hotline Miami with branching dialogue trees and bullet time? Sign me up! The game looks super hard, just like Hotline was.

KWAAN

I have no idea what this is or what you do in it. If anybody figured it out, let me know. The way it was described, it’s some sort of artistic journey that’s probably gonna be ruined super fast the second a griefer gets on a server.

Land of Traps

It’s nice to see that, 20 years later, our 3D platformers still look and feel like Mario 64. Sure, the game is unfinished, but aside from an interesting twist on the whole score mechanic (the time only goes up when you move), it’s a bog standard “3D-platformer-with-moving-platforms”, like we’ve seen a lot of in the last two decades.

Leap of Fate

Urgh, that pun. Just like the similarly-named Hand of Fate, Leap of Fate contextualizes action segments by replacing dungeon crawling with card drawing. The action itself seems to be a very fast paced top down isometric shooter with a lot of importance on movement and strategic positionning.

Mafia Casino

The presentation started with a racist joke and it all went downhill from there. I’m gonna stick to Gangster, thanks.

Moon Hunters

I saw these guys at a MIGS14 presentation on procedural level design, and I was pretty excited about seeing the game. I’m not disappointed so far: it really looks and sounds great, and its one of the few times where procedural generation is used to bolster the gameplay rather than simply saving up on development resources.

Mordheim: City of the Damned

In the grim darkness of the poorly defined past, there is only gray. I’m guessing the license wasn’t cheap. But hey, turn based tactics with a third person perspective? I’m down! Really needs work on the camera transitions because whenever someone finished his turn I got dizzy.

Subaeria

It seemed really boring and unengaging for me. I don’t know, maybe it’s because it was a super early demo, but, yeah. Not sure about that. Also, the only demo with visible bugs. Woops.

Ultimate Chicken Horse

One of the highlights of the night. Seemed really, really fun, with tons of replayability and potential for being a great drinking game. Plus, they hinted at a single player mode that sounds like it’s gonna be like The Incredible Machine! What’s not to like?

Wicked Witches

I don’t know how you can make a third person shooter feel boring, but they did it. It looks like Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, but single player and more boring. Yeah. I don’t really know what to add to that.

Words are power

Intriguing premise to contextualize what is essentially Scrabble with a theme. I hope they really take their time with the writing, because gender issues is not a very simple subject to deal with. Seems to feature incredibly aggressive and wrongheaded monetization schemes of the “pay hard cash to skip a level” variety, which isn’t surprising considering who the lead designer is.

Z’Isle

Okay, so, this game is set in Montreal! And, it’s a builder/resource management/stragey game! And it’s based on a comic series, with hints at the actions of the players nudging the direction of the comic’s storyline! What a refreshing way to look at zombies.

Closing words

Overall, it was pretty fun, and I’m looking forward many of these games, especially Jotun, KatanaZer0, Moon Hunters, Ultimate Chicken Horse and Z’Isle. If I get more details about any of these games, I’ll be sure to talk about it here! What I found interesting was how 17 out of the 20 games are on PC, which is a stark contrast with last year’s mobile frenzy. I’m guessing indie devs finally realized that, just because shipping a game on mobile is easy, that doesn’t mean you’re gonna sell it without marketing.

And that kicks off 2015. I’ll see you in a month! Take care everybody.




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