There is a certain sense of dejà vu in attending Rezzed.
The crowds. The excitement. The shadowy caverns where games are showcased. The sweaty guys and girls getting close to zero sleep for three days in a row.
And there’s always the comparison to your First Time. For me, that meant last year – meeting some devs I’d never talked to before, getting introduced, shaking hands, checking out cool projects, getting a feel for it. Attending as a GameCrimes reporter as well as a game writer surely changes your perspective on the things you see and hear. But it sure feels like you start recognising quite some faces.
On our way to the Tobacco Dock, before we stepped inside, we came across Luis Díaz, designer of Missing Translation and currently working on A Place for the Unwilling (more on that later). And a minute later, just past the entrance, we ran into Rosa Carbó-Mascarell, another designer and friend of GameCrimes who was with a charity raising funds for children. Being Spanish (and hungry), we took that as a sign that our first Rezzed rendez-vous had to be for a pub lunch.
We were joined by the lovely Welsh guys from National Insecurities, currently working on The Old Gods are Dead. We talked game design and the state of the Spanish industry, both topics which apparently necessitate a few pints’ worth of brain lubrication.
Back in the showroom, we dived again into the darkest recesses of the Rezzed dungeons, the not-quite smoke-filled rooms where the deep indies where showing their wares. With so many new projects to check out, it seemed natural to start with the Spanish indies. Surprisingly enough, this year it was really easy to spot them.
Spanish indie devs
Courtesy of Game Boosters, there was a single section devoted to Spanish developers, mostly very young devs presenting their first or second project. We got to know Jon Romero and Borja Ruiz, developers of classic-style 2D platformer Super Helmets, as well as Fran Tapia from Bytecore. He told us a little more about his upcoming game Helion, a promising SF space opera with eye-catching graphics and some enticing hints at a convoluted backstory. (Then I have to confess I am a sucker for the big, bold, red-and-white Soviet-style space-era posters which featured prominently in the Helion booth). Edu Verz and his politically charged games were also present, as an example of the diversity and manifold voices of the Spanish industry, evident even in such a small selection of indies.
One of the things I really enjoy about these events is their flow. There is a certain way in which situations gravitate towards each other. Like one conversation into the next, or how we found our way to a massive indie dinner in an Indian place near Aldgate.
I had been meaning to ask Luis about his A Place for the Unwilling. Instead of just talking, we got to *scream* over a thousand loud conversations, which was perhaps more fun and less informative than my previous approach. The game is still in a very early development stage. Having been successfully Kickstarted, it aims to be a narrative-heavy game using the Ink language (developed by our Cambridge friends at Inkle) where the city is a character in itself.
For personal and all too obvious reasons, I hugely enjoyed Grey Alien’s talk on a topic quite close to my heart – how to be an indie couple and not kill each other in the process. The unmissable couple in cosplay, Jake Birkett and Helen Carmichael talked about the making of Regency Solitaire, how to get funding from the British Film Institute for a game and how to be a parent at the same time as a developer (aka “indie hard mode”) – all this delivered with their usual dose of optimism. A pity we didn’t have time to check out their new and upcoming game Shadowhand, a return to 18th Century England.
From there it was a rush from one game to the other. We meet Harry, working on Failbetter-sponsored A House of Many Doors, a game that fuses Faster Than Light-style combat with a narrative emphasis and setting heavily reminiscent of Failbetter’s Fallen London and Sunless Sea, to the point that I had to ask whether AHOMD was a straight spinoff. It isn’t, and it looks pretty intriguing.
In a rapid blur, Binaries showed a very minimalistic but addictive gameplay, of the kind that brings to mind the likes of SuperHexagon. Wailing Heights from Outsider Games looks every bit as alluring as it did when we first met its amazing team back at last EGX in Birmingham.
And games aside, it was a great chance to make new friends, such as the super bubbly Jupiter Hadley, a YouTuber focused on our side of the industry (“I’ll play anything as long as it’s an indie game!”) and utterly fun to be around, as well as many old chaps from the Spanish industry. One thing to notice this year is the unprecedented and sudden influx of writers and narrative designers. The backgrounds ranged from the purely amateur facet of mainstream narrative to the more alternative, Punchdrunk-style fusion of theatre performance and videogames. Here’s hoping this leads to an increased focus on quality storytelling.
One good example of a narrative game “in disguise” could be Event Zero by the Paris studio Ocelot Society. It is a sort of parser text adventure set within a 1980s space station which could be described as an optimistic version of 2001:A Space Odyssey, albeit in scenario only. We chatted briefly with Ocelot Society’s Sergey Mohov, who told us about the influences and decisions behinds making a 3D game where the main interaction is via typing commands in computer terminals.
All in all, we were delighted to see so much Spanish talent showing up in the British Isles. As we tell Spanish devs who made it there, the representation of indie videogames from Spain is higher than ever, and the general quality of the games has also improved as compared to previous years.
The ideas behind these prototypes and the kind of concepts the gamedevs want to communicate confirm our first impressions: there is a lot of ambition, which only needs some more years and support to succeed both comercially and artistically.
Let us hope next year the pickings are just as sweet!