When people think of GDC, they usually think of cutting-edge technology put on display by the industry’s leading companies. Or inspirational and thought-provoking panels from the greatest minds in game development. And while GDC 2015 definitely had all of those things, it’s worth mentioning that the indie development scene is just as active here as it is at any PAX or Indiecade, albeit with an added layer of true dedication and professionalism that you won’t find elsewhere.
Since there were so many great games to see and play this week that were all in various different stages of development, I couldn’t rank them in any particular order. Instead, I’ve just collected 10 of the most awesome games that I played for your eye holes to feast upon. Consider this my “Greatest Hits of Indies at GDC,” or perhaps my “Hey, I Actually Remembered These Games After Playing Them for a Few Minutes” list.
I actually met the developers of this game prior to GDC on Twitter and after a little Google-fu, I knew I had to check it out when I had the chance. A Dragon Named Coal is interesting in that it’s an elegant combination of so many sweet spots for indie games. Small development team? Check. Metroidvania design? Check. Emotionally charged story about acceptance and self expression? Check. Simplistic and charming art style? Check.
There is a lot to A Dragon Named Coal, so a more detailed feature about this game will be linked here once it’s finished, but suffice it to say that there is much more going on here than meets the eye. You can check the game out for yourself over on GameJolt right here – they’re looking for as much feedback as possible!
Check out my hands-on preview with the developers right here!
Extreme Exorcism is a very specific type of game. It really shines when you’re playing with multiple people and it’s best to play in short bursts. As a result, it was perfect for a convention setting. If you’ve played Towerfall: Ascension, then you’ve got an idea of the art style and general gameplay, but there are a few other quirks here.
For one thing, there are an absolute ton of levels to pick from, in both competitive and cooperative modes. In the competitive mode, there is a really unique “ghost” mechanic involved. These ghosts copy your actions and the actions of your enemies, meaning that they truly come back to haunt you. Check out more on Extreme Exorcism right here.
Funnily enough, this was the first game I played at GDC. After getting my press badge, I did a little browsing at one of the Xbox Lounge stations. Inside My Radio immediately jumped out to me – bright colors, awesome music, and clean designs. The station was empty so I hopped on and started the tutorial. Inside My Radio is, at its core, a side-scrolling platformer – but it’s a lot more than that too.
A lot of games claim to be rhythm-based, or claim to have a heavy reliance on music, but that’s actually true in the case of Inside My Radio. Every action other than moving left to right is entirely restricted by the beat of the music. Whether it be jumping, dashing, or anything else, it has to be done with the beat of the music to work. This creates a great balance between the audio and visuals that’s hard to orchestrate in other games. You can find out more information over on Inside My Radio’s site here.
When people think of indie games created by small groups of people, they usually think of the games above that have simple graphics and simple concepts. But that isn’t always the case. Legends of Eisenwald is one of the most visually impressive indie games I’ve seen in recent memory, let alone at GDC, and it has ultra-tight gameplay to go along with it.
The developers are focusing on a hyper-realistic interpretation of medieval times. This means you won’t be seeing mages flying in on the back of dragons that fling fireballs at knights with giant tower shields blessed by angels. Instead, you’ll have to manage a chess-like match of turn-based strategy combat reminiscent of XCOM, but grounded entirely in reality. You can get into the Early Access version of Legends of Eisenwald on Steam right now.
I’m a sucker for pixelated graphics. Pixel art is fascinating to me, in that it can be both incredibly simple and incredibly detailed at the same time. Part of it could be my nostalgia, but another part of it is that developers can stop caring about the surface coat of paint on their game and pay more attention to what makes everything tick. Pixel Galaxy is a pretty simple concept, but it’s so fun and addictive that everything just works.
Bu there’s an interesting twist with Pixel Galaxy – it’s not just your standard take on the typical top-down shooter. You don’t shoot aliens and asteroids. You’re not just dodging bullets. Instead, you have to play a delicate game of dodging hostile blocks while adding friendly blocks onto your ship on a constant basis. Each time your ship grows, it increases its powers and abilities, but it also makes it more difficult to evade hostile fire. Find out more about this hectic pixel adventure at the Pixel Galaxy website here.
The last time I got excited about a winter-sports game was probably the 2012 SSX reboot. Plunging down deadly mountains on a snowboard or skis is certainly exciting, but the genre has never gotten a proper realistic take on the experience. I have fond memories of 1080 and Snowboard Kids on the N64, or Cool Boarders on the PS1, but those were always more akin to Tony Hawk Pro Skater’s over-the-top antics than SKATE’s hyper-realism.
While playing SNOW at the Crytek booth, I was absolutely in awe of how beautiful this small indie game looked running on Crytek’s CryEngine. The powdered snow kicked up realistically behind me as I sped away at breakneck speeds and the physics on display had my character realistically respond to each turn and bump along the way. Luckily, a rewind mechanic is forgiving enough to let you line up your descents. Follow along with updates over on SNOW‘s official website here.
Successfully showing a horror game at a busy and crowded game convention like GDC is hard. Successfully showing a horror game that is heavily audio-focused at a busy and crowded game convention like GDC is nearly impossible. Somehow, Antagonist’s Through the Woods pulled it off in a big way.
Through the Woods is being developed in Unity and at first glance appears to be similar to other “wander around until you get scared” games like Slender, but it just does everything so well I couldn’t help but take notice. The game’s setting is heavily influenced by Norse mythology and Norwegian folk tales and features dynamic narration that evolves as you play through everything. Check out more at Through the Wood’s website here.
If Limbo and Journey had a baby, I’d be really surprised because two games shouldn’t be able to create offspring. If they did somehow do it though, it’d probably be called Jimbo, since that just fits nicely. If they had a second child though, then I bet it would look something like The King’s Bird.
This game is absolutely gorgeous and mesmerizing. Before GDC even started, I scheduled a time to come by and see this game (and Pixel Galaxy, which is actually made by the same people) just because I knew I wanted to fit it into my schedule. The animations are incredibly fluid and the seamless transition from standard platforming to gliding with the wind is wonderful. Do yourself a favor and read up on the game a bit more over on The King’s Bird‘s site here.
Here’s another game that was created in the Forge of Dream Game Combinations. Take equal part Dark Souls and The Elder Scrolls, mash it together, and you’d probably get something pretty similar to The Memory of Eldurim. Gameplay is very similar to the former, with third-person action as you block enemies, swing your weapon with light and heavy attacks, roll around baddies, and everything else.
All of that’s wrapped up inside of a big, open-world game reminiscent of The Elder Scrolls, but with far fewer loading times – something the developers were clear they wanted to avoid in order to maintain the seamless atmosphere. The Memory of Eldurim is another CryEngine game, meaning it looks stunning and runs smoothly. You can get involved with the Early Access version on Steam right now.
Finally, the last game I want to highlight from GDC, is Umbra – yet another CryEngine game. It’s made by a super-small team of just a handful of people, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at the game in action. Diablo and Torchlight need to watch their back, because Umbra as some serious potential to take the hack ‘n slash action RPG genre by storm.
Extract the core elements of Diablo, add in a more seamless open world, and you have the basic idea behind Umbra. The camera allows you to zoom in extra close to the action to see all of the wonderful effects on full display. Rather than being restricted by a stringent class structure, Umbra has free-form character development in both singleplayer and multiplayer. You can see more about Umbra over on the game’s official site here.