IGC 07: The Indie Games of InstantAction

At this year's IndieGamesCon, event organizer GarageGames pulled back the curtain on one of its most ambitious projects, IntantAction.com. Announced earlier this year and meant to fill the void left by traditional casual gaming portals, InstantAction aims to provide hardcore gamers bite-sized nuggets of addictive, skill-based gameplay.

But as I came to find out, InstantAction is more than just a standard gaming portal. When it launches next year, the site and its free memberships will offer up a variety of community features that rival those of Steam Community and Xbox Live. Beyond mere friends lists and profiles, InstantAction promises a party system that will allow players to form a group without entering a game, and then let them move from game to game without having to reinvite everyone or reform the group. Furthermore, inviting others to the party is a simple matter of pasting a link in an IM or e-mail.

Better yet, this all occurs in a web browser, meaning it will be accessible from almost any location with a computer. That means no more waiting to get home from work to play a quick game with your friends, no more fussing about as you all decide you want to play a different game and have to invite everyone all over again.

Best of all though, GarageGames is working with a variety of independent developers, such as Wideload Games, to get a number of different titles and genres on the service. Below are some of the InstantAction-bound games I experienced during my time at IndieGamesCon 07.

Cyclomite by Wideload Shorts

The first product to emerge from Wideload Games' Shorts division, Cyclomite is the poster child for InstantAction. The concept is a simple one--rotate the center wheel to match the colors of its pipes with the incoming colored orbs--but the execution is anything but casual.

Much like Bizarre Creations' Geometry Wars (PC, X360), Cyclomite takes it easy on players at first, with only two colors on the wheel and a few incoming orbs. However, the action quickly ramps up. More and more colors are introduced, and before long, players have a huge backlog of mismatched orbs obstructing their pipes. Matching a properly colored orb to a blocked pipes reduces the cloggage, requiring careful attention to the oncoming balls. As the garbage lines grow and grow, the game demands more strategy as the blockage threatens to snare more orbs if rotated at the wrong time.

At seemingly random intervals, the wheel's colors rearrange themselves in a new order. It's both a blessing and a curse: there's a chance the new color will absorb one of those mismatched blobs, but it's more likely that the shift will temporarily result in even more blockage.

Along with its single-player component, which allows players to pick their beginning difficultly from the start, the game also features four player co-op and versus modes. Though only announced for InstantAction at the moment, Wideload tells Shacknews it hopes to take the game, which was demonstrated with an Xbox 360 controller, to other platforms.

AstroMiner 3020 by Tapout Games

Reminiscent of HAL Laboratory's Kirby Canvas Curse (DS), AstroMiner 3020 has players drawing lines to direct colored asteroid ore into the proper receptical. The game features a wide range of selectable locations across the universe, each with a different arrangement of asteroids and moving bins. Only three lines can be drawn at a time though, calling for lots of fast movements, especially if players aim to get all the bonus points acquired by clicking on ore to speed up its descent and collecting the pickups scattered throughout the levels.

Hit the next page for more InstantAction games, including Screwjumper, Virtual Dude, and Marble Blast Online. _PAGE_BREAK_

Screwjumper by Frozen Codebase

A port of the upcoming Xbox Live Arcade title, Screwjumper is all about expulsions and moving fast. Following the exploits of rogue mine workers, the game has players diving into an open mine shaft and causing as much destruction as possible, chiefly by throwing dynamite and running head-first into obstacles. Though players can tuck their bodies to move faster, they have to be careful as too much velocity will cause them to catch on fire and lose health.

If players do enough damage during their descent, as indicated by a bar on the right side of the screen, they detonate the mine's core when they get to the bottom. If they fail, their in-game avatars are gassed to death. Assuming they are successful, they are then rocketed through the shaft, forced to outmaneuver obstacles and the tailing explosion in a frantic race for survival.

In addition to the single-player campaign, the game will also feature a multiplayer mode where players race to the bottom of the shaft in a competition for points, which Frozen Codebase plans to expand beyond that of the Xbox Live Arcade version.

Planet 12 by Frozen Codebase

A deathmatch game unlike many others, Planet 12 has players duking it out for survival in the 2D realm. Currently supporting up to eight players, the game features multiple character classes, each with their own attributes. Some run faster than others, some jump higher, some do more damage. The selected weapons comes into play as well, as certain guns, such as the sniper rifle, zoom the camera out for a better view of the surrounding chaos.

Toss in the standard variety of gameplay modes, including King of the Hill, and an incredibly intuitive control scheme that puts movement on the keyboard and aiming on the mouse, and you've got a game that takes seconds to pick up but should provide hours of entertainment.

Virtual Dude by GarageGames

Thought up by GarageGames co-founder Jeff Tunnel and programmed by Eric Hartman and Ben Garney, a version of Virtual Dude will be used for InstantAction avatar creation. Much like Mii creation on Wii, the title provides a ridiculous amount of shapes and parts, such as boots and black eyes, that players can drag into their canvas and bring to life through pre-set animations and simple frame manipulation. Though not a traditional game, it's definitely entertaining, and carries that same addictive, creative twinge many feel when booting up MS Paint or Photoshop.

Marble Blast Online by GarageGames

Based on GarageGames' Xbox Live Arcade offering Marble Blast Ultra, Marble Blast Online adds ten new multiplayer maps to the game and features two methods of competition. The first is an individual challenge, in which players race through a level on their own and attempt to beat the best times of their opponents. The other is a more traditional versus mode that has players facing off against one another, trying to knock each other out of the level while collecting the point shards that appear throughout.

Control is handled by keyboard and mouse, which works quite well and is easy to pick up, though that does little to help beginning players when they face off against GarageGames' expert ball handlers.

InstantAction.com is slated to launch in early 2008.