This past Saturday I had the pleasure of attending the fourth annual Boston Festival of Indie Games.
This was the first year I have the opportunity to attend, but I’ll certainly be adding it to my annual list of conventions going forward. With a huge offering of both digital and tabletop games, there was plenty of entertainment to fill two floors for MIT’s Johnson Athletic Facility.
I don’t know the actual attendee count, however the show certainly seemed well attended without ever feeling massively overcrowded. While my focus of the show for this site was of course the iOS offerings, the wide variety offerings made it easy to sample all sorts of games whether they be mobile, tabletop or virtual reality.
I’ve seen the future of gaming and it’s absolutely brilliant…
In fact, the first thing I checked out was the amazing HTC VIVE virtual reality experience. I am so glad I booked this one early as all of the day’s demo spots were quickly snatched up by early morning. While I haven’t had a lot of experience with the growing number of VR options, this one absolutely blew me away. The setup consists of a couple of sensors which are places in diagonal corners of the room, these help to define the room and detect when the VR headset is reaching the limits of the (15×15 ft in my demo) play area. The player wears a standard headset (which was wired in my demo, but will be wireless when it’s done) and has two hand-held wireless controllers. The controllers have small thumbpads as well as triggers and a few other buttons. They get skinned as necessary in the virtual world.
The four-part demo eased me into things with a cool 3D menu area where I could hang out, blow up and bob around very realistic sounding and looking balloons of any color of my choosing.
The main attraction started by putting me in a realistic underwater world where I was standing upon the deck of an old ship and I could look over the side to see way down into the depths below. I was surrounded by fish and I was convinced that at any time a shark was going to show up and scare the crap out of me. Fortunately my expected undersea visitor ended up being a massive whale which came so close I felt like I could reach out and touch him. The second demo was a really neat art program where you could paint in three dimensions with a variety of brushes. The entire space is your canvas and you can walk through and around your artwork…a rather very surreal experience. Next up was a quirky and super fun cooking challenge called Job Simulator from developers Owlchemy Labs. It feels like you are really present in a cartoony kitchen and you must pick up and prepare the specified ingredients to make the meal and deliver it to the serving window before time expires. It was like you were participating in a real gameshow or a physical version of Cooking Dash….this will make a supremely entertaining game. And saving the best for last, the HTC VIVE planted me in the Aperture Science labs and oh man was it hilarious, exciting and a little bit frightening all at the same time. I don’t really want to spoil this one for those who haven’t experienced it yet, Let’s just say, I now know how it feels to be one of GladOS’ test subjects. The amount of detail and depth of field this one offered was breath-taking. If they were to use this technology to craft a full Portal game…well they could not possibly take my money fast enough. If you are ever at a show where you have the opportunity to experience HTC VIVE…it should be an absolute must.
Mobile gaming was well represented….
Since this is an iOS-centric site, once the show started I immediately went about trying to find as many iOS titles as I could pretty much only passing over a just a few titles which I had already previously seen earlier in the year at PAX East.
First up was CloudKid, a talented and award-winning Massachusetts-based animation and interactive content studio who has worked with PBS, Hasbro, PBS, Cartoon Network and more. They were showing off number of titles from their growing catalog of work including Detective Elmo: The Cookie Case and their very cute 2012 iOS release Negative Nimbus.
Pizza Fast is a quick-paced game about making and delivering pizza. The player swipes finger in circles to spread the dough to the correct size for a small, medium or large pizza, then sprinkle on the correct toppings and use the pizza paddle to put it into the oven. Pull it from the oven and put it in the box to earn some money.
Peticore Games was at the show promoting it’s recent quick reflex/endurance arrow tapping game “Mind The Arrow” and their upcoming game Gelato Flicker where players frantically try to fling scoops of gelato onto the correct ice cream cones (in the correct scoop order) in increasingly quicker varied scoop combinations.
I got to try out an upcoming language leaning app called Lyriko, which combines music, pictures and repetition to help you learn a second language, . Whether you are an English Speaker trying to learn Spanish, or a non-native English speaker trying to learn English, the app utilizes the power of song and images to help users practice listening and reading while discovering great music. Being a native English speaker I tried a brief demo to learn Spanish and by the end of the short song I was getting fairly good at identifying a few specific Spanish words. The developer plans to add additional languages in the future.
Developer and father, Chris Foster and his now-6 year-old Ian son were showing off their game Loose Nozzles, which was inspired by a drawing of a rocket his son had made when he was 5.. The hand-drawn Atari-era–ish artwork and humorous sound effects were all performed by son Ian. The game has players tapping on the left and right side of the screen to fire their rocket’s left and right boosters and fly around various moonscapes, rescuing stranded people. In each level, the goal is to safely pilot your craft to pick up stranded people and bring them back to your launchpad without running out of fuel or smashing into cliffs or the ground which causes damage to your ship. Would you happen to break off one of your thrusters, the physics start to become all wonky, in a fun QWOP-like way as you limp along trying to get your rocket back to the base any which way you can. The rough charm of this father/son effort reminded me a little of Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure, but in its current state, Loose Nozzles may put up a little too much of a challenge for younger gamers. Chris, said that he is still trying to find a way to balance the gameplay so that it would appeal to both adults and kids.
The star of the show for me on the mobile gaming side had to be Super Happy Fun Block. Ball’s world was black and white until vibrant alien Blocks fell from the sky and destroyed civilization”. While it may sound like more like a dark drama from that one-line description, charming, fun and humorous, the game was released at the show and had me captivated from the get go. It is a superbly entertaining puzzle platformer with a really cool level manipulation game mechanic revolving around color. Levels are nicely illustrated and animated using solely black and white line drawings with the exception of a splattering of color thanks to some blue and red colored blocks. Using a control on the right side of the screen, you can swipe to the left to hide all of the blue blocks, allowing ball to jump or pass through them. Another swipe to the left and they reappear. Swipes to the right have a similar effect on the red blocks. So it becomes a matter of timing swipes and jumps to allow you to navigate where you need to, resulting in a really clever and challenging platformer as you try to figure out how you need to manipulate your environment to reach stars, unlock secret levels and more. I highly recommend this one!
What about analog gamers?
A strong tabletop gaming presence provided BFIG attendees with a good deal of analog fun!
I tried quite a few board and card games at the show as well, and there were several highlights I wanted to tell you about.
First up was a brilliant light deduction game called Oh My Gods! by designer Tim Blank. Having somehow missed the Kickstarter campaign for this one I was eager to check it out. One of the Greek gods has stolen Zeus’s lightning bolt and you need to try to deduce which of the 20 suspects is the thief. Players are dealt a hand of cards which represent the various gods who are under suspicion, one secret card represents the thief. So (like in Clue) it helps you eliminate several suspects right off the bat. Each of the gods have unique special power which can be triggered once to help you find out more information , but at the same time it gives your opponent(s) useful information as well and means you’ll have less cards in your hand, making it more difficult to keep certain gods secret from the other players. If you are the first player to identify the thief you win. We played n abbreviated demo, but it was a lot of fun. I’m definitely going to be picking this one up once it’s available.
One game that I saw at PAX East earlier this year, but never had chance to play was a neat one or two player press your luck game called Pleasant Dreams. So I was excited to see it at BostonFIG. The large double-sided cards featured gorgeous (but also somewhat creepy) artwork which transported players into a dreamworld where they try to fend off nightmares. Players take turns deciding “how many dream fragments they want to resolve” with the pleasant ones helping you to relax, and the unpleasant ones bringing you closer and closer to waking up. There was some nice push and pull, because at the end of your turn you get to secretly insert cards back into the dream deck which could be planting to help you out later, or to jar your opponent awake. The goal of the game is to “trick your opponent into drawing so many nightmarish dream fragments that he or she wakes up” or be the first player to finish the dream without waking up. It’s a fun game and the designer said that they are working on a mobile release of the game as well.
Flashlights and Fireflies is a really cute kids bluffing game about kids using firefly powered flashlights to play freeze tag in their back yard. It was just released by Gamewright games. The designer Jeff Johnston was there with his wife showing off the game as well as one of Johnston’s earlier titles Toasted or Roasted. Johnston was setting up a really cool looking new game he was working on called MoonQuake Escape, it had a space theme and a crazy sort of multi-level round 3D board which looks. Un fortunately I didn’t get a chance to go back and take a look at this later, but certainly will be keeping an eye out for it in the future.
I also played a fun party drawing game with a play structure similar to Apple to Apples called Doodle Fail. Players pick various cards from their hands which are combines to form a crazy picture that the players must all attempt to draw and then the judge for that round picks their favorite three (or less with less players) and points are awarded to each player. I didn’t know any of the other players at my table but we had a blast playing it.
Finally, I was really excited to see Formal Ferret Games’ The Networks being demoed by designer Gil Hova. This is currently (already funded) on Kickstarter and I was on the fence about backing but after seeing a quick demo, I know I’m going to love this game about running your own TV network and I backed it as soon as I got home from the show.
There were loads of other digital and tabletop games that I didn’t even mention here. If you live in the Boston area and like to play innovative and fun games, then I highly recommend checking out this inexpensive event next year.
NOTE that this post has been updated since it was first published to add some additional photos of games that have since been released.