The Boston Festival of Indie Games Overview 2017, Part 2

Be sure to read Part 1 of The Boston Festival of Indie Games Overview here.

The Boston Festival of Indie Games is an annual event showcasing the local development scene.  It covers both physical- and videogaming, taking over two floors of the MIT Johnson Athletic Center.  So far there’s been no movement on figuring out how to incorporate the large swimming pool into the event, but one can only hope it’s just a matter of time.  The point is, there’s a lot of game creation going on in the area, which covers a large chunk of land on the East Coast and even into Canada.  I attended Boston FIG on September 23 and instead of picking and choosing what to cover, this three-part feature lists every game I got to play in the order I played them.  The titles range from high-profile indie gaming to student project, all presented side-by-side just as they were in the upstairs gym/track room that was re-purposed for the expo.  Some titles will light up the Steam charts while others are a learning experience for the developers, and every single game was the result of people pouring a lot of effort into creating something that hadn’t existed before.

Refactor-  You are a shape-shifting tetronimo hopping, rolling, and bouncing through the halls and corridors of a factory built to make perfect game pieces.  The good ones go on to live a life filled with purpose while the occasional defect is destroyed, and somehow you were cast with only three cubes instead of the required four.  After meeting a single cube, also cast aside as a defect, the two join forces to escape the factory and earn their freedom.  The basic shape is the 2×2 cube, capable of dashing and slamming into things, but the T-shape can shoot out a square as a grapple, the l-shape can spring for a larger jump, etc.  Even the factory is part of the tetronimo theme, with the rooms being built in the familiar shapes and able to be spun and reconnect to each other by special machines found throughout the complex, creating new paths and opening up new and hidden areas.  Refactor has come a long way since the Kickstarter campaign when it was Tetropolis, way back in 2014, and is currently penciled in for an early 2018 release.

Make Sail- Build a ship, sail the seas.  You start off with just enough resources to cobble together something you can at least pretend is seaworthy, and then find more bits and pieces along the way to turn the modular ship into something you can call your own.  It has to be functional, though, because while personalization is nice, having the wind drive the prow straight into the waves due to a misplaced sail and inadequate floaty bits (it’s a nautical term, look it up) isn’t going to get you much of anywhere.  You start off in the middle of a storm, with the winds blowing in a circular pattern around the clouds at the edge of where you can travel.  A large chime on the island in the center drives the storm back, and you collect pieces of it to enlarge the map.  More map equals more chime pieces, as well as bits of flotsam to repurpose into a better ship.  There’s an in-depth wind and water system running under the hood, making the sailing as close to accurate as possible.  You start off with a giant square sheet, great for floating ahead but not so useful for advanced maneuvers, but with a few upgrades eventually get triangle sails that can attach to any point you care to designate.  Again, though, while it’s great to be able to build your own glorious seafaring craft, it’s going to take a bit of experimentation to create something that’s undeniably yours and also capable of sailing through dangerous waters.  While Make Sail is still a work-in-progress with a good way to go towards completion, the current plan calls for an Early Access release in January-ish.

Exposure-  Everything is hungry, everything needs to eat.  As a small and tasty creature you’d rather not be eaten, and so you hide in the abstract shapes floating across the screen while changing from light to dark and back again as the red predators drift after you.  Dark and light orbs float across the screen and when you grab one it spawns a youngling that trails along behind, but if the predators eat them all the next thing they’ll be dining on is you.  Nature is not particularly kind.  Exposure is a game of geometric abstract hide and seek, where the trick to survival is to know where you are while being completely camouflaged in the blocks of solid color that act as a safe zone.  It’s a beautiful and deadly side-scrolling world that turns modern art into a hunting ground, and I’ll admit that it killed me on my several attempts at seeing the end of the demo.

Beat Shot-  This is a strange, fast-paced FPS where you need to take action to the beat.  You can move as you’d like whenever necessary, but the left mouse button shoots while the right sees you zipping forward to the target, and both those actions need to be synched up to the music.  There’s a beat display in the middle of the screen to show when an action can be taken, and the level only lasts until the song is complete so there’s not a lot of time to waste.  I found it took a bit of practice per level to get the music in my head, and while constantly dying due to running out of time on level 1 felt frustrating at first it was incredibly rewarding to feel the action come together as I got familiar with the rhythm.  This game looked like it was fairly early, but seeing as there isn’t a single hint of its existence online anywhere (aside from an entry on the Boston FIG page) any other information is going to have to wait.

Blind Drive-  Not technically a video game, what with the near complete lack of a visual component, but close enough.  Blind Drive is an audio-based minigame where you’re trapped blindfolded in a car hurtling down a highway going the wrong way, listening very closely to the sounds of oncoming cars to steer out of the way.  It uses videogame logic for the controls, so moving right doesn’t so much steer the car in a new direction as change the lane, but not having to worry about smashing through a guard rail and into a tree is for the best.  The demo was headphones-only, thanks to the show floor being far too loud to pick up the subtle audio cues necessary to not die instantly.  While it doesn’t feel like a game you’d put a whole lot of hours into, Blind Drive has a kind of high-tension impact that anyone who’s driven or even been in a car can relate to, making it incredibly effective while it lasts.  Plus it seems like the kind of game that would be a lot of fun to strap friends into and watch their reactions, which is always high-value entertainment.

Underworld Ascendant-  The successor to the Ultima Underworld games, complete with developers from those games working on it.  This has come a long, long way from its Kickstarter days, especially after it got an art overhaul changing the style from generic-RPG to something a bit chunkier with just a bit of cartoonishness in its makeup.  The game has settled on an overall structure, with a central hub area holding doors to the individual levels, all of which are designed to be solved by whatever set of skills you bring with you.  The demo level had a shrine to reach, with the paths guarded by patrolling lizardmen.  I got to choose a few skills at the start and then attempt to use them in creative ways to reach the shrine, but I could just as easily have picked up the glue-berries growing along the way and made a precarious staircase of crates instead.  That would have involved not plunking arrows into lizardmen, though, or trying to get them to attack each other, plus the scenery and lighting was nice so I moved on from that idea pretty quickly.  The path through the level is going to be different depending on the character you build, whether that’s sneaking towards the goal, carving through the flesh of your enemies, or coming up with creative options based on environmental opportunities.  Or any combination of the three, depending on how you’ve built your character and what you feel like doing at the moment.  Underworld Ascendant is coming together nicely, even in its current pre-alpha state.

And that’s the second of three parts, with one more on the way.  While Part 2 didn’t end up having any demos or other playable versions available for any of its games, I can promise that Part 3 will have at least three, and maybe more.