30 January 2016

Every year, near the end of January, the Montreal chapter of the International Game Developer Association, the biggest non-profit working on behalf of game developers worlwide, makes a little event called the DemoNight. During that time, indie and not so indie game developers get to show off their current work. The only rule: your game must not have been released already in a finished state, although early access titles are fair game. Your game also needs to be interesting. Oh, and being well connected in the Montreal indie scene should help quite a bit. And it’s a five minute real time demo: no trailers or pre-baked marketing bullshit is allowed.

So, just like last year, I was there. And, just like last year, I figured I’d give my quick thoughts on the subject. For the best experience, read this alongside the list of games presented. I’ll go on them in alphabetical order. As usual, those are just my short impressions based solely on the demos presented… although I might go off on some tangent if a game is particularly worth talking about.

So, let’s go!

Alien Road Rage

It’s an endless runner where you have to drive into stuff in order to unlock more means to drive into stuff. Basically, it’s Carmageddon mixed with Crossy Road. They only presented the first level, which involved bursting into cows, which was a joke that ran out of steam fast. Overall, not really impressive.

Children of Zodiarcs

Ever played Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics? Well, it’s exactly that: the linear in medias res plot, the anime art style, the 3D world with big squares that’s actually a 2D world in diguise… it’s all there! There are unique points, though: characters perform their actions by drawing and playing cards, and you get to customize each unit’s deck in between battles. And, instead of just rolling random numbers, you roll dies that can give various results from increased damage to special effects to card drawing. I’ll keep an eye out for this one, since I always had a soft spot for tactical RPGs, and the special features might be enough to differentiate it from its source material.

As long as the plot doesn’t suck.

Eagle Flight

A VR flying game by the guys who made Child of Light. Probably as good as VR is going to get giving the current state of the technology. Basically, it smells way too much like Assassin’s Creed, and probably started off as a spin off of that franchise. But still, seeing that AAA-level of quality once a while is fun.

Fat Mask

I don’t know about this one, honestly. It’s a multiplayer combat game where, instead of punching people, you stick blocks next to each other to score points, and you try to prevent others from doing the same. and for better and for worse, it didn’t feel nearly as chaotic or frantic as its developers were hyping it up to be. It might get better over time, but, again, I don’t really know.

Feudal Feud

A very slow paced massively multiplayer strategy game where players attempt to vassalize other players. It reminded me of old school Web based strategy games, except more graphical and with more diplomatic options. I’ll keep following it.

Floor Kids the Game

It’s a dance game that’s played with the fingers… or that’s the theory anyway. The presenters made no attempt to showcase how the game was played, simply that it was about cartoony kids showing off to each other with what seemed like a very small pool of moves. It felt like the game was way too early in its development, and that the demo was more of an occasion to advertise their new narrative universe than the game itself.

Fulcrum

Journey on a snowboard, in first person, and without any story. Pretty bland, pretty uninteresting. The devs made a big point about them liking snowboarding and the freedom it gave to them, so this might just be one of those hyper-personnal experiences that will fail to touch you in any way if you don’t have the same history.

Goats & Gongs

A student project from NAD. It’s an interesting concept about guiding a goat through a temple, using shields to deflect beams of fire so that your little furry friend doesn’t get roasted. Good level of quality considering it was made by absolute beginners, although that probably shows how usable game engines are these days.

Leap of Fate

That game was shown last year, and it doesn’t feel like it changed much. Just like last time, it’s an arena-based hack-and-slash that features waves of enemies in a small cramped environment. All of that is contextualized through card drawing: every new game, you get a new deck of card, and each card is a different event, like learning a new skill, or a combat encounter in the aforementioned arenas. And once in a while, you get a boss fight. This is mostly a graphical twist on the usual rogue-like dungeon crawling, since there isn’t much functional difference between picking a card and moving to a new room. As for the combat gameplay itself, it seems adequately twitchy, so I’ll keep half an eye on it.

Moon Hunters

I first heard about it when I went to a presentation about procedural game design at MIGS14. They were talking about the things they’ve learned while working on Shattered Planet, and how they were using it for their next game, Moon Hunters. Then I saw their demo last year, and then again this year. The game is a co-op action RPG in a procedurally generated world where every action build your own mythology. My understanding is that each one of your games gets remembered as a legend in the world you help create. As far as the gameplay goes, it seems closer to the “action” side of the action RPG spectrum, but it’s fine since you’ll have plenty of decisions to make when building your own legend.

I’ll definitely pick this up at one point, the only question is when.

Open Bar

A stylish and clean puzzle game about connecting lines. Probably going to be addictive for a lot of people, but it’s not my kind of thing. If you liked Threes you’ll probably get hooked just as well.

Stories: The Path of Destinies

Another action RPG about smashing people in the face and dumping experience points in the same stats. You’ve all seen that before. This time the twist is that the story is presented as a book with a funky narrator who asks questions about “what are you going to do?”, which is just a super clunky way of showing a level selection screen. They’ve mentionned a “time traveling” mechanic where you can go back and pick different choices, but then again that’s just a level select. The combat was just spamming what looked like one of four different moves.

sU: The Quest for Meaning

A game about jumping from platform to platform, collecting abstract tokens along the way. The developer hinted at a larger meaning, and that decifering that meaning was the true goal of the game. Intriguing, but I wonder if in the end it’s just a marketing gimmick.

Tsuro

A virtual adaptation of the classic board game of the same name. A lot of work went into making the game “feel” like an actual board game. Games can be played asynchronously with other players, or with AI opponents. Probably not my kind of stuff, but interesting nonetheless. If you liked the original board game, though, go ahead, it’s pretty much the same but better.

Ultimate Chicken Horse

Was great last year, still great this year. For the unaware, UCH is a competitive platform game where players try to build a level all at the same time by placing objects and traps. Your goal is to make the level too hard for your opponents but easy enough for you. Has tremendous potential for becoming a super fun party game. They mentionned having online multiplayer that was “almost working”… one month away from release.

You couldn’t pull that shit off before the times of digital downloads.

Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade

Battlefield: Grim Dark edition. The network fucked up in the middle of the demo, so they didn’t get to showoff what they’ve described as a “complex melee combat system”. Aside from it, it looks like a somewhat decent multiplayer shooter, which means I’ll only play it if a sufficiently large amount of my friends pick it up. So I doubt it’ll happen, but who knows?

We Happy Few

Ooooh boy. I was looking forward to this one, because Contrast was flawed but encouraging and I think Compulsion makes at least unique stuff. And… this game is far from ready. It had the distinct honor of being the only game of the night to have actual frame rate drops. Overall performance was atrocious, which is strange for a game that doesn’t look that good and runs on Unreal 4. As for the game itself, it looks to me like they thought about their core idea, which was stealth in plain sight using drugs and disguises, and then built a game around it by stapling together features that were popular at the time. So we have crafting and survival mechanics and a procedurally generated map. And their big unique thing about soma-style “happy drug”? It’s just a post process filter with a different skybox. And I know it’s not out yet, but all the other games shown during the evening ran fine, and Contrast came out with terrible technical issues, so this raises questions about their development skills.

Zombie Cruise

A zombie survival game… on a boat. You get two survivors on a cruise liner, and your goal is to make it out alive, completing objectives along the way. The gameplay was deliberately designed to look like a board game: your characters can move a set amount of tiles each turn, and you have to avoid getting zombie attacks, amongst other things. It surely is a fresh spin on the zombie genre, although I doubt it’ll find its way on my playlist.

Closing words

There were a lot of board games, puzzle games and otherwise turn based games this year. I understand they require fewer resources to build, but it’s still intriguing. As for what I’m looking forward to the most, I have to say it’s Ultimate Chicken Horse, Moon Hunters and_Children of Zodiarcs_, roughly in that order. That is not to say the rest sucks. It’s just that my playtime is somewhat limited and I prefer to focus on what really gets my nethers going.

Which, at the time of writing, is probably XCOM 2.

That being said, it’s great to see that the Montreal indie scene is as vibrant as ever! If I get to play any of those games, I’ll be sure to write about it… as long as it’s interesting enough, of course.

See you in a month!




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