If there is one lesson I am going to take away from attending Rezzed on the weekend and the Wales Games Development Show today, it is that I desperately need to get myself a business card. My wallet was bulging with them by the end of the show which was capped off with a keynote speech from Ian Livingstone and the first BAFTA Cymru game awards. It was an enjoyable day with plenty of indie games on offer, even though I only actually got around half of the titles on show. Report after the break.
The majority of games that I saw were either mobile oriented or university students’ third year projects. There might have been some more fully formed PC games in the other section of the show which I didn’t get to fully explore, but it was definitely great to see the enthusiasm amongst the various young developers showing off their wares. I attended a BAFTA Games Question Time session which had some interesting debate on the importance of story to games and the age rating systems in place. Ian Livingstone’s keynote speech was very interesting, he talked about his time with Games Workshop, the development of Tomb Raider amongst other stories and advice for the developers in the room. He very much believes that mobile games are the way of the future, I was disappointed not to hear much about the PC from Ian or during the Question Time session. They were worth attending though, and I just wish I’d had the time to attend the earlier talks as well.
My first port of call as I got my bearings was to an upcoming Android game known as Toast Time in which you take control of a toaster called TERRY. Surprisingly enough considering the game name he is a toaster, but one that shoots out toast and other breakfasty bread-based items, his official title is Toast-Ejecting Recoil & Reload System. I played through about six levels and had to force myself to step away otherwise I would have found myself playing it for the entire show. You have to defend a timer against swarms of little beasties by firing your toast, or other bready item if you’ve grabbed one from a bonus box. The only trouble is, firing away launches TERRY into the air and around the levels. It will certainly get tricky further down into the game with 45 levels promised along with a survival mode. It was really great fun and a perfect showcase for what can be achieved on the mobile platforms. The team at Force of Habit are aiming for an August release. It might just be the best thing since sliced bread. (I can believe you went there – Pun Ed)
My next stop was to a stand surrounded by school kid where I spoke to Stuart Ball from Microsoft Partners in Learning. He was helping display the Kodu Game Lab, a program which he is helping get schools to pick up and use within their IT lessons. I had a long chat with Stuart and hope to write about the Kodu lab and its role in education at length soon. Some of the things Stuart told me were fascinating.
After my toasty entry to the event things started to get a little fish thanks to Wild Melon Games. They were showing off a very early build of Survival of the Fishiest, sadly they don’t have any media ready for public yet. It will be coming to Android by the end of the year before possible iOS and Windows adaptations. The basic principle sees you take control of a fish, tap the screen to move them towards some kelp, collect it and return it to a pot. Collect enough kelp and you will gain another fish to play with until you collect enough kelp for the next level. You will also have to manage avoiding big enemy fish and poisoned kelp. It was only an early build I was shown but it seemed quite fun. The team talked about a sub-£1 price point which felt about right. I can definitely see it being a game people will pick up and play a few levels to pass five minutes waiting for a bus and it should fit into that role quite well.
My next port of call was to some PC games that had been made by four groups of students from Swansea University for their third year projects. All four were made using UDK and they were all Alpha or pre-Alpha builds. The first one I looked at was known as Absolute Zero, a third-person horror game set in the Arctic. The premise of the level I played was to get from one end of a base to the other with a few puzzles and some enemy dodging thrown in for good measure. There was a dark atmosphere with various blood splatters and the puzzles were fairly basic with hitting switches in sequence to open doors and finding keycards to unlock others. I’ll be honest, it was okay, but felt quite poor compared to the other three games the students were showing.
There was another horror game, but one that came across much better. It is called Lockdown and the team were discussing ideas to port the game into Unity and develop it further. The key selling point is that despite the appearance of zombie-like infected characters, you couldn’t inflict any direct physical violence. You could either run away from the threat or use environmental tricks to eliminate them such as trapping them in air locks. There was a bit of puzzling with finding power nodes that needed to be plugged back into the generator to give the base power once again. I wouldn’t mind seeing their idea be developed further.
The next game I saw from the students moved away from the dark horror theme and was set on a treasure island with pirate robots. It is called Pirate Bucaneers and while in Alpha, it was a lovely little proof of concept. The team didn’t have any plans to take the game further which was a shame as I enjoyed it and really liked the unique selling point where you use a treasure map in the game itself to solve puzzles. In the first part of the level I had to open the map and find two palm trees matching the outline in the old piratey bit of paper that came down on the screen. There was some shooting of baddies and picking up objects and dropping them in water to get to the next stage. It was pleasantly enjoyable.
My final student game I looked at was The Lost Piloteer. The team showed me two builds, the first and more stable one had issues with how the levels and camera had been created. It led to lots of awkward moments when I wasn’t quite sure where my character was trying to go. In the second version where the levels had been re-configured and the camera vastly improved provided a much simpler way to explore, but sadly after laying planks of wood down to cross a river, I somehow managed to get a plank swept away. It was a moment of amusement for the team as they tried to figure out what happened. I got beyond the stream in the first build and got to a sequence of puzzles in a temple, moving mirrors around to open doors was a simple first puzzle. The second stage was more tricky, but hampered by the poor camera but did feature some more advanced puzzles. I certainly saw some potential for taking it further through development though.
Having hassled the students enough, I turned my attention to graphic-novel in a game Unlimited. The build of the game on show was from six weeks into development yet it was looking quite polished for such an early stage. This is an iOS game with possible Android porting further down the line and looks set to be quite fun. The team only had two training environments to explore out of the total of five that will be in the game. I saw running and falling while there will also be flying, throwing and fighting in the final release. It was easy to pick up and play, while the beginnings of the story had also been introduced with a graphic novel style intro. The team have plans for releasing different chapters of the story in episodic format, as you used to get with comics back in the day. It was quite interesting and worth a look.
My final port of call was to Rantmedia Games who were showing off two mobile games. The first was Vectrex Regeneration which went on to win a BAFTA Commendation later in the show. It is a gorgeous looking app which is currently only on iOS and it brings the ancient and short-lived Vectrex console back to life. There is a fully featured bedroom which you can swipe around to view a shelf of games, hi-scores on a blackboard, original adverts for the console and the actual machine itself. You can play any of the classic games that came with the console, it is frankly an amazing little app and I loved the bedroom setting.
They also showed off an early build of Super Gravity Boy which again will be iOS at first around Christmas, but hopefully with an Android version further down the line while the team also had rough ideas for other platforms as well. There are elements of VVVVVVV and Super Meat Boy along with inspiration from Sonic and Mario. You take charge of Gravity Boy working your way through the levels collecting gold coins and dropping a box onto a pressure pad to open a wormhole to finish the level. As the name suggests, you can change the direction of gravity pulling your character up to the ceiling along with the box, but you have to watch out for deadly spikes. This build was only two weeks old but could be described as being a spiky death kinda game. I was playing it with a retro arcade controller which made it very playable, though I do wonder how it will really work with the touch only environment most people will experience it with. The team have plans for introducing enemies, special abilities, new environments and maybe less spikes.
Congratulations also have to go out to Go Candy from Wales Interactive Limited which won the BAFTA Cymru Award for Games. It is a 69p iOS game and the video shown in the VT looked quite fun, sadly one that I didn’t get to see on the show floor and haven’t played yet due to my Android leanings.
It was really great to see so much talent coming through in the industry, the Swansea University students have potential while I was really excited by Toast Time and Super Gravity Boy. I am really excited for the Welsh games industry and to top it off there was news of 60 new jobs being created in South Wales from Oyster World games.