As the video game industry continues to grow, so to do the gaming conventions. If you’ve ever been afforded the opportunity to attend an event like PAX or E3, you know that wading through an endless ocean of smelly bodies, amid the over-hyped spectacle of lights, noise and booth babes, it’s easy to loose sight of what the medium is all about.
Despite having considerably grown in size every year, The Boston Festival of Indie Games still retains its intimate, family-friendly atmosphere. So, if you’d rather play amazingly creative games and chat with the folks pushing the boundaries of the industry rather than stand in line for hours to play the next iteration of First-Person Gun Shooter, BFIG is for you.
In continuing our tradition of snubbing every other website’s tired “Best of” format, we present our BFIG Superlatives of 2015.
The Most With The Least
WINNER – Nothing Good Can Come of This, by Cartwheel Games
This was probably my favorite game of the festival, not just because it was playable in a custom arcade cabinet (the perfect platform for this competitive, local 2-player game), but because of what it achieves with such minimal effort. You and your adversary are locked in a room into which a gun and a single bullet are dropped. To kill your opponent, you must pick up both the gun and the bullet, which is way easier said than done given each player’s ability to punch and “stun” their opponent into dropping whichever item they may be carrying.
If you’re carrying the empty gun, you can also throw it to achieve the same “stun” effect. If the gun is fired but misses its target, another single bullet will drop in the room, but only if no one is holding the gun. While simple in structure, these few rules set the stage for intensely fun battles that can go on for 2-3 minutes at a time, ending abruptly in a brief spray of pixelated, bloody murder.
Why You Should Care – With its minimalist aesthetic and elegantly simple “rock-paper-scissors” balance, Nothing Good Can Come of This is a testament to what is and isn’t really necessary to make a fun game.
Availability – The game is available now at cartwheelgames.com for a mere $0.99 for PC, Mac and Linux.
WINNER – Clash Cup Turbo by Root76
This 2-4 player, local multiplayer game combines the gameplay air hockey with the 4-player intensity of NBA Jam. The overall goal of each of the multiple different modes is the same–to destroy your opponent’s defenses and score on their goal while defending your own. While doing so, you can collect blue orbs to power up and unleash your character-specific special ability which, depending on your character, could be offensive or defensive. The light-hearted art style and easy to understand controls and premise make the game accessible to new players while maintaining a learning curve that let’s seasoned veteran hone their skills.
Why you should care – If you enjoy fast and chaotic couch co-op (and really, who doesn’t?) Clash Cup Turbo can provide hours of entertainment for you and your friends.
Availability – Clash Cup Turbo is currently slated for release in 2015 on PC and Mac with the possible appearance on consoles later on. There is currently no specific release date or price point.
WINNER – The Town of Light by Lka.it
One cannot broaden their horizons and open up to new experiences by staying within their comfort zone. Some artistic works, be it their message or subject matter, are intended to conjure uncomfortable feelings for a variety of reasons and if you simply choose to ignore them because they make you feel squeamish, you can miss out on a lot of thought-provoking content.
Town of Light deals with the uncomfortable subject of mental-illness treatment in the early 1900s. Rather than exploit the topic by just shoving disturbing imagery at the player, Town of Light approaches the subject in a respectful, honest manner. Inspired by real events in real Italian locations, it tells the story of a woman rediscovering her suppressed memories of growing up as mental patient. Taking place in both the present, and in playable flashbacks, the game is both gorgeously detailed and deeply disturbing.
Why you should care – With an emotional narrative that unfolds like Gone Home and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Town of Light is far darker and more unsettling than it’s “walking-sim” predecessors.
Availability – Currently scheduled for release on Steam for PC later this year and, depending on how talks go with potential publishers and developers, a console version may be considered. The exact launch day and price have yet to be announced. Go here for more information on Town of Light.
WINNER – Mushroom 11 by Untame
Winner of multiple awards at GDC, IndieCade and SXSW, Mushroom 11 made it’s 2nd BFIG appearance at this year as its official release date draws near. In this incredibly unique platformer, players must solve puzzle and traverse the 2D world not by pushing or pulling the green blob protagonist, but by destroying it. The blob is comprised of a certain number of cells and when cells are destroyed, more randomly grow elsewhere. This novel mode of transportation requires players to think outside of the box to when solving puzzles and negotiating the environment.
Why you should care – If you like puzzle-solving, platforming, and odd fungal growth, Mushroom 11 was made for you.
Availability – With no confirmed specific release date, Mushroom 11 should be available sometime this October on PC, Mac and Linux on Steam, GoG and the Humble Store for $14.99.
WINNER – F**ktionary by Creepy Doll, LLC
F**ktionary is a tabletop card game that combines the adult humor of Cards Against Humanity with the creative freedom of Balderdash. Following the structure of Balderdash almost exactly, one player (The F**ker) picks a card and reads aloud its obscure (and usually obscene) word or phrase. They then jot down the meaning of the word as everyone else makes up their own meaning. The F**ker then reads each one aloud and players then are awarded points if they can guess the correct meaning or if they get other players to guess their own, made up explanation.
Why you should care – During the few rounds I played, I did encounter a few words I actually knew, but hopefully F**ktionary will go on to follow the lead of Cards Against Humanity and release additional, add-on decks. As with other games of the genre, with the right group of friends, F**ktionary has the potential to be a lot of fun.
Availability – F**ktionary is available now on Amazon for $24.99.
Most Likely to Succeed
WINNER – Vive VR, HTC
More of a tech demo than an actual game, my 30-minute experience with Valve’s upcoming VR headset was pretty mind blowing. After leading me into a 25-foot squared off area, I donned the extremely light headset and headphones and was provided two wireless controllers, each of which had a trigger mechanism, a thumb button, and a circular touchpad for your thumb.
The “demo” was comprised of 4 short “games”, each of which showcased a different aspect of technology. The first program placed me on the bow of a sunken ship, set atop a craggy underwater ravine. Initially, I felt a little underwhelmed as I could do little more than walk around and wave my hands to shoo away fish. But with the underwater ambience and creaking of the ship, it admittedly made me feel present in artificial environment. It wasn’t until a blue whale intimidatingly swam within a few feet of me that felt a sense of what this VR headset was capable of.
My second and third “games” were comprised of a cooking simulation, where I used the controllers to grab and combine items around a kitchen, and a 4D paint program. Using the controllers to manipulate the environment felt incredibly intuitive and I had no trouble whatsoever when trying to pick up, throw, or catch items. With my limited artistic ability, I did little more than draw a cube around myself and write my name in the painting program. A real artist however could potentially accomplish some really impressive things in this 4D space.
The fourth and final “game” was the infamous Aperture Science program, which put me in the role of a new human recruit following (and inevitably failing) instructions given by GLaDOS herself. With “in-person” appearances from Atlas, P-body, and even GLaDOS, I genuinely felt a combination of star-struck and dread that I was in the famously less-than-friendly-to-human-test-subjects world of Aperture Science.
Why you should care – As someone who’s been nauseated by nearly every experience with Oculus and Samsung’s Gear VR, I’ve been skeptical of the future of VR in gaming. That being said, I have to declare that the HTC Vive is the best VR experience I had ever had. The images were sharp with practically zero latency, leaving me with no feeling of motion sickness whatsoever. Valve’s VR headset is the first step towards the Holodeck we we’re promised as kids.
Availability – With the space needed to move around with the headset (which I was told can be calibrated for smaller spaces) may make it tough to use in smaller apartments. However, if you have the space and a beefy enough computer to run the program, I highly recommend checking out the Vive when it releases sometime later this year.
WINNER – Emily is Away, Sign in Again
Emily is Away is a text based, “conversation tree” game that takes place over a charmingly accurate recreation of early 2000s AOL Instant Messenger. The game is a series of conversations you have with Emily, over the course of the five years stretching from your senior year of high school to senior year of college. Throughout this time, the way your relationship with Emily evolves is totally based on the decisions you make during each conversation. Complete with accurate AIM sound effects and era-appropriate buddy icons and pop culture references, Emily is Away is wonderfully endearing nostalgia trip for anyone who created and nurtured personal relationships over AOL Instant Messenger in the early 2000s.
Why you should care – While this game hits close to home for me because I was at the same point in my life as the protagonist when I used AIM in the early 2000s, the heartfelt nostalgia I feel is somewhat niche to my age group and probably won’t be shared by a younger generation. Even so, the game’s ability to emotionally invest the player in characters with nothing more than text is an impressive accomplishment that should be experienced.
WINNER – Alpha One by Space Capsule Games
Developed solely by John Bellini in his spare time, Alpha One is the lovechild of FTL and Asteroids. Much like FTL, you embark on a journey through procedurally generated galaxies, encountering enemies and gathering resources, which you can then use to upgrade your ship. However, unlike the FTL‘s slow, sterilized combat system, Alpha One is more action-oriented, letting you actively steer your ship via the game’s newtonian physics.
Initially designed to as a roguelike (an idea which John later found to be far too punishing to the player), Alpha One currently uses a system similar to (albeit more forgiving than) Dark Souls. When your ship is destroyed, your upgrades are scattered in space and can be recollected in the galaxy where you died. Another feature in common with Dark Souls is the game does not baby the player, allowing you to encounter enemies early on who are far more powerful than you and should be avoided until you can upgrade your ship. However, if you decide to risk it and battle stronger foes, victory does come with some pretty sweet rewards.
Why you should care – Alpha One presents all the fun adventure of procedurally generated outer space with more skill-based, interactive combat than FTL.
Availability – Alpha One is currently in early alpha and only about 50% complete. With no solid release date, the final build will hopefully be available on Steam for Windows and Mac by Christmas of 2016.