Think of IndieCade as a film festival for interactive experiences. Tabletop, virtual reality, augmented reality, even just putting a unicorn horn on and smashing big buttons; IndieCade welcomes some of the most inventive and creative artists pushing what gaming experiences can be. This year’s show taking place this weekend at the Santa Monica College Center for Design was no exception. Out of the dozens of games, attendees can try, I present to you the five best.
I WAS HERE (Kate Smith)
As I sat down at this exhibit decorated with tat you’d find in a teenage girl’s room, you couldn’t help but presumptuously believe this was just another story-driven walking simulator. Little did I know, I Was Here, would turn out to be one of the most well written and effective uses of the genre. You’ll find yourself in the consciousness of Skye Lockwood, a woman taking a retrospective look into her memories of her high school relationship with her roommate at their all-girls boarding school Greybrook Academy. The whole thing takes place in a single room through three different stages of the girls’ relationship. While the story unfolding between these girls will hit close to home for many people, it’s the little details that set I Was Here apart from its peers such as Gone Home. The voice work is incredibly professional level recorded and implemented, the developer treats this as performance over a mechanical element. Then there’s the mood it sets through specific moments. Even when you realize where this short story is headed, you can’t help but feel that raw emotion as you pick up the guitar to examine it and the girls sing a cover of Blink 182’s “I Miss You”. It’s powerful storytelling which luckily you can check out for yourself here.
WHERE THOUGHTS GO (Lucas Rizzotto)
This isn’t so much a VR game as it is a social experience that uses VR, in a similar way to that of comics use of illustration to tell a story. You’ll be dropped into a 360 surreal world where sleeping creatures represent thoughts. These thoughts aren’t simply pre-written stories for the game, according to the game’s creator, they’re the stories of people who have played this game before you. The only way to progress through and complete the game part of the experience is to leave your own stories behind. Each is anonymous, even if you knew the person telling the story you’d likely not be able to discern who they are simply based on listening to it. Some are cheeky, some are quite personal. Much of is due to therapeutic ambiance going on around you, as you progress through different stages of life you’re guided into thinking about your own stories to leave behind through five introspective questions you’re asked to consider. Where Thoughts Go mixes gameplay beauty with real-world therapy psychology and could become a useful form of help to those who can’t afford the high bills of mental health care. You can find out more about Where Thoughts Go, here.
UNICORNELIA (Sad Unicorn)
One of the most embarrassing things to be photographed in at IndieCade also proves there is nothing you haven’t imagined as a kid which can’t be transformed into a real world experience. Unicornelia is all about balance, you’re anointed with a horn containing haptic sensors and crouched in front of a screen with one goal. “Keep everything from falling apart”. It sounds simple, but you’ll be presented with dilemmas which, depending on your choices, affect your personal, professional, social, and romantic lives. Just like in the real world everything you chose has a consequence towards another part of your life. You could end up saying the wrong thing, choosing career over love, or even simply getting unicorn drunk and making calls you shouldn’t. At the end, you’ll see a chart of how well you balanced it all. Unicorneila is probably going to be the most fun and interactive personality test you’ll ever take.
Check out their game, here.
NISHAN SHAMAN (Next Studio)
I’m a sucker for things that explore cultural folklore and Nishan Shaman, while simplistic, delivers an authentic experience in the tale it depicts. This mobile rhythm tap game follows an ancient tale passed down by ethnic minority groups in Northern China. Our protagonist, the Nishan Shaman, is a female shaman who delves into the underworld to rescue the soul of a young boy. As you walk the path towards the underworld, you’ll be attacked by evil spirits catapulted at you in sequence. Your weapons are the drum you carry along with the rhythm of the Asian music. There’s something exceptional in the beauty of getting this timing right. It almost makes you feel like you’re in an orchestra. Complimented by a paper cut art style that reminds me of Guacamelee on PlayStation. Nishan Shaman might be my favorite game I’ve ever played on a phone.
Find more info on the game, here.
VESTIGE (Aaron Bradbury and Paul Mowbray)
Think of Vestige as if someone said “I want to VR make a Lawnmower Man” and someone replied “You want to make a game based on Lawnmower Man the movie?” to which the final answer was “No, I want to make a game that makes a Lawnmower Man.” That’s this f**king trippy VR experience. It’s a room-scale VR creative documentary that uses multi-narrative and volumetric live capture to take the viewer on a journey into the mind of Lisa as she remembers her lost love, Erik. In this sort of floating void, you’ll uncover fragments of these memories that lead to the ultimate traumatic experience. How you get there is always different as the branches of story splinter but join back together at the end. What sets Vestige apart is the feeling of being on pop rocks and Adderall as you could swear the things going on in the VR headset and your earphones are somehow happening in the real world because the scale of walking here is as 1:1 as VR tech has been able to accomplish. This is an experience that needs to be seen to be believed.
Check out more from Vestige, here.
IndieCade continues to encourage boundary pushing in the art of games and you should definitely follow them on all the socials @IndieCade and at IndieCade.com for information on upcoming shows.