GDC 2013: 18 indie games in 50 words

Dan Griliopoulos

Every year at GDC we end up sprinting back and forth across San Francisco's Moscone Convention Center from one amazing talk or pre-arranged demo to another, trying to make it on time to each one, or at least not be embarrassingly late. We're running so fast that people start looking all red-shifted and wrong and we don't always get a chance to stop and chat with indie developers wandering the floor, laptops in hand. Fortunately, the annual MIX event (Media Indie Exchange) brings journalists and small, one- or two-person developer outfits together in the same room to mingle, drink beer, and play games without the need for appointments or athletics. It's a bit like speed dating as opposed to getting set up by a mutual friend.

Here are snap judgments on twenty of the unreleased games I played last night in various stages of development: betas, alphas or even epsilons. You can check them out for yourself as well as at the event's official website .

Escape Goat 2

Escape Goat 2

The game that I'm keenest to start a relationship with. You play the part of a magic blue goat imprisoned for witchcraft, who must rescue his witch-sheep friends from a puzzle dungeon with the help of a mouse. The retro hand-drawn look is charming and the puzzles are nicely challenging, with the difficulty levels represented by harder-to-reach exits from each level.

Paradise Perfect Boat Resuce

Paradise Perfect Boat Rescue

This is a simplistic passenger ferry game. Players have to get Darwinia-style passengers from one island to another, struggling against the realistic wave physics which threatens to scuttle your ship. Also features bizarro quotes and island names.

Distance

Distance

A strange stunt-driving game. It looks like a swank, futuristic racing game with genuinely impressive graphics, but it plays like Tony Hawks or Burnout Revenge, with your car performing all sorts of tricks mid-air and on the track.

Dark Side of the Moon

Dark Side of the Moon

Love's Eskil Steenberg is the developer behind this 2D RTS with a cute darkness mechanic. The design is reminiscent of N and the mechanics of Darwinia : two players control morphable units on the dark side of a planet that's stopped turning. It's heavy on the micro and has some nicely flexible and original unit types. Still very early in development.

7 Grand Steps

7 Grand Steps

A genre-buster inspired by penny arcade games. Take generations of your family through the ancient world by balancing resources and skills, and get back stories about the family as time goes by. Hugely inspiring and strange. A must-play.

Pig Eat Ball

Pig Eat Ball

If this game got any more retro, it'd lap time. It's a top-down game involving individually-controlled space pigs eating balls fired into the void by floating tennis serving machines. If you needed any more convincing, the whole thing is inspired by Hungry Hungry Hippos .

Jazz Punk

Jazz Punk

Frankly, this confused me. It appears to be a first-person comedy game, where you wander a retro-cyberpunk city of cartoony saturated Lego-like color. Has a Thirty Flights of Loving feel about it.

Soundodger

Soundodger

As the name implies, this is a game about dodging music. The walls of the screen shoot syncopated missiles at the player situated in the center of the screen, who has to avoid being hit by them. It looked cute, but will need a few other mechanics to shine like, say, Hundreds .

Citizens of Earth

Citizens of Earth

You're the Vice President of the world. You recruit regular townsfolk like the doctor, baker, teacher and so on. You then take them to JRPG-style battles, where they level up, which makes them better at their day job back in town. Has a cute art style and interesting premise.

Toki Tori 2

Toki Tori 2

An extremely-polished so-cute-you'll-vomit platformer that's the sequel to 2001's popular Toki Tori . Surprisingly, the developer's main reference is Metrovania, where you unlock ideas about the game as you go through it.

TowerFall

TowerFall

This was the most popular multiplayer game on the floor. Mingling Joust, archery and Smash Brothers, four players take part in a lethal shootout. With a neat replay after the final shot and a co-op mode, this will be hugely popular online when the netcode is sorted out.

Future Unfolding

Future Unfolding

Looking much like Oblivion's wonderful painted A Brush With Death , Future Unfolding is an impressionistic top-down roaming game where you explore a dangerous, beautiful world.

Fract OSC

FRACT OSC

This is a first-person abstract exploration game inspired by synthesizers. Yeah. You wander the world, rebuilding and creating in a way that looked absolutely amazing and completely incomprehensible on-screen. Could be the next Proteus .

Mushroom 11

Mushroom 11

A strange game where you cut and regrow a giant fungus across a landscape. As you erode part of the mushroom, it grows back elsewhere. The mushroom can be completely split in two by your actions, leading to a range of physics puzzles. A good effort but doesn't really put the fun into fungus.

Tengami

Tengami

A exceptionally beautiful and original papercraft world which folds up like origami and blossoms open like a pop-up book. I'm not so convinced by the storytelling, which seems slightly plodding, but I love the design of this. Up there with Apotheon in terms of appearance.

Cannon Brawl

Cannon Brawl

An extremely cutesy, polished and colorful 2D artillery game with RTS elements. Huge explosions, destructible terrain and a range of gadgets to deploy (and blow up). Made by a former Spore developer.

Storyteller

Storyteller

The ingenious Storyteller hands you a scenario ("Adam rejects his former lover," for instance), and in order to solve the puzzle you must rearrange different characters in comic strip-like panels in order to produce that outcome. It's whimsical, vexing, morbid, and hilarious—often all at once.

Aztez

Aztez

It's a combination of a turn-based top strategy layer and a strange beat-'em up, and it's all in black and white, for the colorblind like yours truly. From Team Colorblind, purveyors of Off-Road Velocriraptor Safari .

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