The Boston Festival of Indie Games Overview 2017, Part 3

The Boston Festival of Indie Games is an annual event where local talent gets together to give the general public a shot at seeing what they’ve been up to over the year.  “Local” is loosely defined, though, so there are developers from as far away as El Salvador, while others just hopped a bus.  For the most part, though, it’s a showcase for creators in the Northeast to get together and put their games in front of as many people as they can pack into a nine-hour day.  The board games are downstairs in the MIT Johnson Athletic Center, beating on each other with foam weapons happens outside overseen by the local LARPing group while right beside it is the Quidditch pitch, and the entire upstairs indoor track room is given to a combination of a small art show, tabletop free-play and the videogame part of the expo.  It doesn’t mean the videogaming section is small, just that an indoor track has a ton of room to put things so even a decent-sized show would struggle to take up all that space.  There were a lot of great indie games on display and this is the final entry in a 3-part series going over every single thing I got to play.

Lucah-  Scribblepunk action/RPG where you’re a lost soul wandering through a strange land that’s had a serious infusion of gothiness injected straight into its blackened heart.  Honestly, I couldn’t make a lot of sense of the story here, but combat works nicely and the game has a unique look that’s a bit chaotic but still nicely readable in combat.  Lucah is the main character and he finds mantras tucked away throughout nightmare world he’s trapped in.  These mantras can be used as either the primary attack or a modifier, or you can double up and have it be both.  You start with Luna, a mid-level ability that’s perfectly average, and along the way find others that have different range and attack powers.  Equip a mantra to the primary slot and it defines your attack, but when equipped to the secondary slot it modifies the main attack to have better range, combo faster, do more damage, etc.  Each attack uses stamina, which refills quickly when you’re just running around, and there’s a dodge move that can also work as a parry with the right technique.  Lucah even has a helper following him around for a ranged attack, and while it can only fire a couple of times before running out of juice it recharges quickly when you hit things.  Lucah’s world is a strange and unfriendly place, and the story will probably make more sense as it goes, but for now the demo is a nice hefty chunk of game that’s worth taking for a spin.

Wildermyth-  Tactical RPG where you start as a group of farmers and evolve your party into a storied band of traveling legends.  Every encounter may leave scars on your party, or kill a member off, or provide a story or bonding experience between members.  The initial starting village is a nice place to begin, but the map is shrouded in mystery beyond its fields.  The adventure starts when a band of monsters starts looting the place and a group of five young villagers decide to fight back.  After the initial encounter they head into the wilds to clear the ruined tower the monsters were sent from, and then claim it for their own as a base to protect their lands.  They’ll need to scout the wilderness, find dangerous sites and clear them out, recruit new members, and every encounter grows their story a little more.  The battling is done on a standard grid, and as the characters find new weapons and abilities they evolve into unique fighters that can control the space in different ways.  What started as a fighter might gain a sneaky shadowstep ability and become more like a rogue, or an archer gets a useful Ambush skill.  There was a lot more to Wildermyth than could be experienced on the show floor, and even an hour with the expo build at home showed a good amount of accessible depth waiting to be explored.  This is one to keep an eye on.

Subconscious-  Gravity is a toy to play with as you will while exploring the minds of people who have misplaced important memories.  While you’re firmly rooted to the floor everything else is free to manipulate as necessary, with gravity able to be applied to all walls and the ceiling.  The set dressing, furniture and such, doesn’t start moving around when you flip gravity unless you specifically target it with the portal gravity gun, but the different colored boxes are always active from the moment you enter the room.  Blue boxes fall to the whatever surface you’ve decided is now the floor, purple also falls in the usual downward fashion but can be grappled on to, and yellow rises to the ceiling.  The trick is to use the boxes to navigate the rooms, setting them on switches to open doors and using the purple ones as both a button trigger and a way to get to otherwise-unreachable areas.  The demo (which you can grab off the developer’s web site) only contained the first few areas, but there are some good puzzles in there once you get past the tutorial bits.  They’re also fully aware that the gravity gun is maybe a bit too similar to another physics-manipulating device, so the plan is to work on its design to make it more it’s own unique thing.

Velum-  This one was a complete surprise, and I’ll have to admit to blowing it off at first due to some fairly rough models and texturing.  Ignore that, though, and you’ve got a great little puzzler about planting seeds to grow a vine system that connects the lights in Boston Common.  Each seed has a pattern on it, whether that be horizontal or vertical stripes, a checkerboard, or a spiral, and that indicates the pattern the vines will grow.  Drop a seed with the spiral pattern onto the grid and the vines grow out exactly as advertised, up over down and around until it hits something like a rock or the edge of the garden.  If the vine goes past one of the lights then that light is now connected to the system, but you’ll need to connect all of them together to progress using multiple seeds to create a network.  There are red lights that need to be avoided, though, and if a root goes past one it’s also connected to the system, causing a failure that means you need to re-think your approach.  The game is still being tested, and a developer actually took a picture of one of my solutions because it wasn’t the right one for the puzzle.  Get enough pieces in place and it takes a lot of testing to make sure they’re interacting properly.  Velum is a clever thing, and its puzzles were a lot of fun to solve, but I think my favorite part was the bioluminescent squirrels running around.  Seeing as I couldn’t see the player-character and in order to see the puzzle gardens it’s necessary to climb to a platform in the trees to get an overview, I like to think the player is an extra-large squirrel cultivating gardens for its winter hoard.

Mag-13-  This was a student project in the New England Institute of Technology section without, as near as I can tell, a single screen or video online anywhere.  It’s a 3D action-explorer that, honestly, was very rough around the edges, but the reason I played it was the design of the player character.  As some type of neon-pink robo-mantis you explore the rooftops of a city looking for coins, swiping with your mantis-claws at enemies that didn’t seem to mind getting hit too much.  There was no impact to the hits, and I never did quite figure out how to get the hover working reliably, but a little practice let me collect all the coins in an area and progress to the next.  The game worked and had an interesting character to explore its environments with, and for a student project designed to learn gaming basics that makes it a success.

Renaine-  2D old-school action platformer where a knight is on a quest to defeat the dragon.  It’s got a unique pixel-art style, like a fusion of 8-bit and vector graphics, and the zippy action is pushed along by an energetic and jazzy soundtrack.  The levels are semi-roguelike, with each run being built from preconstructed parts strung together in a random order, and while the enemies take a bit of learning once you know their patterns it’s nicely satisfying to speed-run through the level.  The game is designed so that the first time through an area you’re picking your way along carefully, but once you understand the patterns can dance gracefully through each section while laying down knightly justice along the way, picking up coins to spend at the shops that appear between one section and the next.  The shopkeepers and villagers also have mini-quests that award you with new goodies that might show up in the stores, but even if you get a nice supply of items it can all be taken away with a single death.  The levels are designed to be fully beatable with the starting gear, though, so while it’s nice to get overpowered it’s not necessary once you’ve got the experience to understand how the enemy movements fit together.  Renaine is currently running on Kickstarter and has a great little demo available linked off the campaign page that’s easily worth an evening’s play.

And that was Boston FIG 2017 for me, although it was only a cross-section of what was available.  There were VR games I didn’t have time to wait in line for, plenty of mobile gaming, party games that had large crowds at all times and of course the board game section I only got to wander through briefly.  Boston FIG has been running six years now and has settled into a nice rhythm, and while it may not have the big-budget presentation of a larger show like PAX East, there’s something to be said about being able to hold a conversation without having to yell to be heard.  It’s a smaller, more personal show, a bunch of tables in a gym packed with developers showing off their games and looking for feedback, with no pretense to be anything else.  Even if you can’t play everything during the single-day show, you can’t help but come home with a new appreciation for the sheer volume of talented people working to make gaming a bigger, richer place to play.