Indie Adventures: The Games of IGC 07

Transformers were the key, PixelJAM artist Richard Grillotti explained to me. The idea was to fund his games by selling off his collection of classic Transformers toys. The timing of the auction coincided with the release of the movie, and as the bids entered the tens of thousands, he was confident he'd be able to live off the money for a while as he designed games and crafted pixel art.

Then the buyer didn't come through. Time and time again, they promised the money, but it never arrived. Eventually, Rich relisted the toys, but the hype was gone.

Now he's working in a tree nursery, and attempts to do the games in his free time.

Rich's story is just one of the many that I heard while at the GarageGames-hosted IndieGamesCon 07, many of which I'll be telling in the coming weeks and months. These folks are slightly different than developers behind the InstantAction.com games I wrote about last week.

For the most part, these projects are entirely self-funded and progress only as free time permits. Most of the designers are not developing their own games as a career, but are instead stuck working on someone else's project or slaving away in a tree nursery. Their games are nothing more and nothing less than labors of love. Their ideas are not constrained by the demands of a publisher, the limitations of a budget, or a strict schedule of milestones.

They are, in a sense, the true independent developers.

For now though, here's a brief rundown of the efforts the independent community had on display at IGC 07.

Dino Run by PixelJAM

Of the many titles Grillotti had on display at IGC, Dino Run was both the most exciting and the most elusive. In fact, the only way you could see the game is if you hunted him down and asked him very, very nicely about that awesome dinosaur pixel art you saw him working on earlier in the day.

Dino Run takes a simple gameplay concept and presents it in the form of delightful old-school hand-crafted pixel art. As a small yet nimble dinosaur, players must outrun the ever-looming, world-ending wave of destruction. The closer it gets, the darker the game's aesthetic grows, the redder the skies, the more charred the landscape.

Other PixelJAM games follow in the developer's mantra of "neo retro flash games for the good people of Earth!" Ratmaze 2 puts players in control of a rat stuck in what is most likely one of the world's biggest and confusing mazes, whereas Gamma Bros. calls to mind numerous classic shooters without being too incredibly difficult.

In addition to Dino Run, other upcoming projects from the studio involve a bee-based game as well as a moon game reminiscent of its interactive website, which offers playable versions of completed PixelJAM games for free.

The Gondolier of Love by Just One Cookie Games

Perhaps one of the most original games at IGC, and definitely among the oddest, Just One Cookie Game's The Gondolier of Love was also the crowd favorite, winning the coveted Player's Choice Award as the event drew to a close.

A cross between Crazy Taxi and a dating simulator, The Gondolier of Love has players acting as a boat-steering cupid, trying to match up interested parties and providing a romantic enough ride to get them in the mood for love. The various profiles list a variety of attributes, including food, music, and turn-offs, for the game's array of entertaining characters, which should help players in their quest to replace Cupid.

Along with a smooth ride, pickups scattered through the levels help the characters' infatuation with one another. After running across one of those items, the leprechaun and the gal in the gondolier, who previously had been listed as "unhappy" and were sitting on opposite ends with their arms crossed, were now gazing into each other's eyes, their heads surrounded by hearts. However, an unfortunate collision with a wall ruined the moment, bumping the passion meter to "curious," and then back down to "unhappy." Eventually, they both jumped into the waters instead of continuing the haphazard journey, and I was left all alone yet again.

Following The Gondolier of Love's warm reception at IGC, Just One Cookie Games is currently in talks with several publishers regarding a possible retail release. Based on the options in the game's menu, both Wii and Xbox 360 editions are possible in addition to the demonstrated PC version.

Turn the page for more independent goodness, including Debris and Oust from Alessi Games, Gameflood and Turbo Squid's mod-focused Infinity, and Eric Hartman's Two Guns Vs. and Blockland. _PAGE_BREAK_

Blockland by Eric Hartman

Think about playing with LEGOs. Now imagine that experience was online and you were playing along with other people. That's Blockland. Well, except they're not called LEGOs because of copyrights and trademarks.

Similar to Garry's Mod for Half-Life 2, Blockland is all about creation. The game has an "add-on loading system" so players can easily import their own assets and maps, which has led to a number of models that come awfully close to copyright infringement, but it's all in good fun.

Developed by GarageGame's Eric Hartman in his free time, the chap who is also behind Two Guns Vs., the Blockland.us website offers up a demo and a purchasable full version of the game, along with hosting the game's dedicated community.

Two Guns Vs. by Eric Hartman

Mirroring the side scrolling brawlers of old, Two Guns Vs. has players moving left to right, moving up and down the screen as they lay waste to an ever-increasing number of opponents. The only difference is, this time around, everyone has guns, and lots and lots of bullets.

"The basic idea was to recreate a 1990s arcade brawler aesthetic but with a lot more shooting and a little bit of 3D," designer Eric Hartman told me.

The premise is as simple as the controls, which have players moving with the keyboard and rotating the mouse to determine the firing direction, somewhat like Geometry Wars. The guns range from realistic uzis that to sci-fi inspired blasters that vaporize opponents.

Though only in a prototype stage, which consists of about three weeks of work, the game already sports an addictive challenge as the quick-to-die player strives to get through as much of the level as they can before being overwhelmed. Hartman claims he is pleased with the positive reactions the game garners when it is demonstrated, but due to his job with GarageGames, is unsure when he will return to the project.

Debris by Alessi Games

Billed as "the controlled demolition game," Alessi Games' latest combines the easy concept of clicking with the satisfying payoff of explosions and destruction. Placed in charge of a demolition company, players are simply asked to lay the charges and bring the building or buildings crumbling down.

The challenge comes from trying to accomplish this goal in as little clicks as possible. While it is undoubtedly entertaining to place 30 explosive charges in and around a simple two-story apartment building--which then causes debris to rain down from the skies and destroy helicopters and cars--it's not all that cost efficient. More complex buildings and larger demolition zones add to the difficulty as well.

Infinity by Gameflood, Turbo Squid

Infinity marks a new direction for GameFlood and Turbo Squid. Currently, the companies supply software with which users can create 3D models and provide a channel for those models to be distributed, with the creator determining what price, if any, their work should go for. For mod and game creators, it's meant to be a resource that simplifies out-of-house asset creation.

With that model in mind, GameFlood has created Infinity, a fully customizable multiplayer first person shooter. Players can tweak nearly all of the game's attributes, changing gravity, speed, and bring in their own weapons, levels, and characters. It's basically a "do it yourself" kit for a multiplayer PC first-person shooter, and it will arrive with a number of predetermined game settings and modes as a demonstration of what is possible.

From there, the companies will allow users to distribute and, if creators so choose, sell Infinity mods on the Turbo Squid website. They hope to foster a community that will keep the game alive with new modes and content, all the while gaining experience, notoriety, and possibly addition revenue from the realm of game development. It's an interesting concept for sure, but the real question is, will anyone actually be buying those mods?

Oust by Alessi Games

At first glance, Oust appears to be a generic third-person multiplayer shooter. In short, you wander around giant levels, pick up new weapons and guns, and try to kill your opponents.

The difference here is that players don't have the traditional health meter, and slaying opponents isn't a simple matter of pumping them with lead. Instead, the only way to reign victorious in Oust is to knock them off the level, literally "ousting" your opponent from the stage. Think of it as a 3D Super Smash Bros. and you'd be on the right track.

It's a simple twist on an existing formula, but that's part of what makes Oust so fun and approachable. You already know how to play this game and you already know the rules. The joy comes from barreling at an opponent, sword in hand, and watching them fly past the point of no return.

Check back in the coming weeks for the next entry in the Indie Adventures series.

Know of an independent developer that deserves some attention? Let me know at chrisf at shacknews dot com or via Shackmessage.