I spent the whole time editing this podcast on a yoga ball. So Gabe, I get you.
With restrictions still in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, shows everywhere have been scrambling to figure out how to translate their physical events into the digital space. Indie Arena Booth, boosting itself to be one of the largest indie games showcases in the world, is one of many shows tackling this endeavor.
Indie Arena Booth took things completely online this year by hosting an expansive, virtual chatroom where attendees and developers can directly engage together. Trying to simulate the full-on convention experience, you could create avatars and navigate digital exhibits appropriately designed to thematically match the game they’re representing.
There was actually a small customization aspect to making the avatars, using different parts from some of the games being showcased to originally designed assets specific for IAB’s event. I personally settled on being a cat head floating in the void of space.
Walking around in a digital convention can be just as overwhelming as doing the same in a physical one, so you could’ve easily opted to open the map and jump around wherever strikes you as grabbing instead. Steam also ended up hosting a landing page dedicated to the event, so you could scroll through the games and streams like a traditional catalog. IAB typically goes hand in hand with Gamescom every year, and the two events collaborated again, with IAB fashioning itself as connected to the latter.
Given many scheduling push backs and delays due to the current world circumstances, games continue to be a nightmare as many anticipated AAA titles scheduled their releases all at once at the height of the holiday season this year—and unfortunately, even the indies are not immune to this release chaos! Indie Arena Booth Online states that they hosted about “185 games from 53 countries” this year, and you can bet I barely have scratched the surface in trying to tackle a majority of them.
I narrowed my focus on titles with available demos that I have never played before, even if they had already previously appeared in the Steam Summer Fest lineup. You can also find my other impressions of many other games I have tried from that event not specified in the aforementioned piece here. Ultimately, here are several games that I was able to try:
As Far As the Eye
A turn-based Eurostyle city builder, you take the role of the literal wind as a guide to beings known as Pupils. You have to help them manage their skills and resources before the world is submerged in an impending flood. The game is procedurally generated and there are different tribes of Pupils you can choose to start off with, each with their own benefits and disadvantages. The game is very cute looking with a storybook-like artstyle and mechanics that are pretty simple to learn. As Far As the Eye presents what seems to be a very meditative, peaceful experience that one could easily immerse many hours into, with only time and potentially poor choices serving as a threat to this journey.
This is the third point-and-click, noir-themed, mystery game with anthropomorphic animals that I know of in development that is pending release for the last quarter of 2020 or early 2021. I am not sure what is inspiring this trend, but good for the furries, I suppose. What stands out immediately about Chicken Police is its zany art direction in using photo collage by merging real animal heads with humanoid bodies, which fits the absurdist, comedic tone it immediately gives off. Playing as a rooster detective, the game is fully voice-acted (with incredibly high production values) and is just screaming hamminess similar to the Ace Attorney series and its pastiche Aviary Attorney, but it takes it even further with a sprinkle of raunchiness. Unfortunately as with many works that feature animals as the primary population of focus, I’m already erring on the side of caution given the game has already made it clear there is going to be some exploration of their own version of an allegory to racism heads on, but I am definitely intrigued so far in how the rest of it is going to be such a trip.
Jessika was released earlier this year and is an FMV containing many elements similar to Her Story, Emily is Away, and the Simulacra games. You work for a group that specializes in processing the digital footprints and data of the deceased at the request of their family. Like the aforementioned games, Jessika has you peruse through media left behind on a computer in order to find the information needed to move forward. The game puts you in the perspective that this job is noble at first, but after being thrown into a case revolving around a woman named Jessika, things take a dark turn. Jessika tackles heavy themes such as suicide, abuse, and privacy, so I am wary approaching the game given how consistently there seems to be an unfortunate standard with how women are treated in mystery titles like these. The game otherwise has a very intuitive, smooth UI and a system worth revisiting to see where the narrative takes a turn and can possibly exceed my expectations.
Neurodeck: Psychological Deckbuilder
Neurodeck is a different take on the deck-building genre; instead of aiming to build a collection of characters to fight, the goal is to rake up cards themed around psychology and the subconscious. You start off each “session” by selecting a particular character’s profile with a starting palette of different skills and passive abilities. The cards collected include things like memories, emotions, and other miscellaneous sources of comfort to combat monsters in the form of phobias and negative feelings. The goal is to complete each profile’s tree by tackling a sequence of battles, personality tests, or even meditating. It is currently unclear to me right now how much went behind the game in following this theme and if the information conveyed is something backed by proper research and consultation, but the premise is definitely interesting.
Over the Alps
Over the Alps is another game that has already been released as of this writing. A text narrative game, you explore a branching thriller taking place in Switzerland in the midst of World War II, making dialogue choices through the form of postcards. The game is extremely stylish, emulating the artstyle of Franco-Belgian comics contemporary to the game’s setting like The Adventures of Tintin. Although what seems to be very simple in execution, Over the Alps’ visuals and engaging writing are sure to be its main hook.
This game is pretty incomprehensible in every single way, but that doesn’t lend itself to be a bad thing at all—far beyond it. Paradise Killer is a murder mystery game where you take on the role of Lady Love Dies, an investigator freed from her exile to investigate a mass murder in Paradise. Paradise is an island that regularly gets destroyed and regenerated every few millenia thanks to the constant meddling of demons, and the recent incident disrupted the island’s latest cycle to finally achieve a near-perfect state. Paradise Killer is drenched with the colors of lo-fi, vaporwave dreams and PS1-era aesthetics, so it is a little hard at the moment to determine if there are aspects to the game that are still unfinished or deliberate. But eccentric is clearly an understatement to describe a game like this, as it is filled with layers of cryptic lore and utterly surreal visuals that want you to keep asking questions. The game has the promise that there is no true answer to the mystery at hand and that there are multiple ways you can tackle the narrative. It is certainly something I am looking forward to and I too, hope to enjoy my own time in Paradise.
Sword of the Necromancer
Your girlfriend is dead and now you have to find the forbidden Sword of the Necromancer to try to revive her! Roguelite, dungeon crawler games like these are not my jam at all and I personally find that many of them just end up blurring together in my mind. Yet, Sword of the Necromancer definitely has promise for those who are into this genre as another one that can be added to the personal library with pretty solid visuals, straightforward mechanics and even a co-op mode.
Weaving Tides is a puzzle adventure game in which you mount the back of your carpet dragon friend in order to weave across the textile-laden world to solve obstacles along the way. At some points, with your dragon’s tail acting like a thread, you need to patch up holes in the map by weaving through them. Enemies encountered can also be defeated by trapping them within the weave you make. The game’s concept is very charming, entirely themed around textiles and the processes behind fabric and embroidery. It has a visual style that is textured to look like everything is made from arts and crafts in some manner, presenting tiny, subtle details craftspersons would recognize and appreciate.
Many games events that have happened in 2020 have proven the resiliency of an industry when it comes to easily translating things for a community that has already been so normalized to the idea of being online and plugged in 24/7. Indie Arena Booth Online has presented a very unique and fun take on what a virtual show can do and look like. They continue to ask the questions on what future in-person events should do to innovate and be as accessible as possible, now knowing that a virtual event is more than capable of fulfilling everything a real life one can. In some ways, events such as these are possibly paving the path to large shows like E3’s obsolescence, and this also begins to beg other questions on how valuable some physical events were to begin with and what that means for them when they return.