Freeplay’s tenth year saw the independent games festival hold their first ever fête. Although Freeplay has hosted a variety of different events since its inception, 2015 was the first year to feature this type of event. Held at the Carlton Connect Initiative’s ‘Lab-14,’ a cosy venue easily accessible via public transport, the inaugural fête attracted a solid crowd. Freeplay is known for embracing a wide diversity of games, and this variety was reflected in the spread of stalls present at the fête. While most were geared with equipment to demo up-and-coming indie video game titles, a few of the stalls were really something else.
Portrait Landscapes is a novel experience in which the participant can explore a 3D environment mapped solely from an image of their face. While interactions are limited to walking about your ‘face-scape’, I spent at least 5 minutes trawling along, exploring certain features; such as my nose, eyes and cheeks. The most striking and clever feature was the somewhat aurora-styled mirror-face staring down from above. Not only was it an interesting visual hook, but a handy way of positioning myself geographically. Other than a one off “bit of fun” at a festival or fete, I’m not sure Portrait Landscapes has much appeal, however I do feel that engine technology like this, combined with some multiplayer game mechanics, could yield interesting results.
Backyard.SK is a wonderful initiative by SK Games, a studio based in Perth. I spoke with Louis Roots, the director of SK Games, an affable and passionate representative of the group and their various game projects. Louis kindly took me through what SK Games does, from their work in creating custom controllers and exploring the space around video games, to the creation and curation of the games that Backyard SK represents.
SK Games are experienced in running events and getting players involved in the digital medium in unique and experimental ways – mostly through the creation of custom inputs that break down boundaries and norms in social situations. I was lucky enough to get some time with a game in which two players take on the role of mother cats competing to feed a crowd of hungry kittens. Players achieved this by feeding the kittens milk, the angle of which was determind by a rather specialised “controller”.The direction of the milk spray was determined by directionally pushing a set of physical rubber nipples attached to a toy cat as it lays belly up on a table. I don’t think there could be a better representation of Backyard SK than this experience and the unique interface to go along with it. If you’re looking for a unique, exciting and somewhat socially confronting experience, look no further.
Also present was GoTafe, a rural education provider based in North East Victoria. Their showcase featured 3 student games in various stages of completion, all with their own unique topic and appeal. I spent about 20 minutes playing an in-development tower defence game, which had a great deal of promise even in its early stages, especially considering it was a student project. Having rural institutions such as Go Tafe teaching tech and creative courses is great, allowing students access to education topics that would not have been available to them due to their location in the recent past.
Although Western Press was born of a game jam two months ago, you could never tell for looking at it. The polish Bandit-1 Studios have applied to the demo is remarkable for such a recent project. A strange mix between a rhythm game and a fighter, in Western Press you are competing in a pistols-at-dawn style duel, which is all over in a matter of seconds. After choosing your character from an impressive array of pixel people, you face off by completing a sequence of button presses as quickly as you are able. First to finish fires first, thus winning the duel. Although simple, Western Press is addictively fun, and Bandit-1 plan to add a multitude of additional game modes before an expected July release.
Shapeway is an inviting and innovative mobile puzzle platformer from Paperbox Studios. Gameplay consists of two phases: build and play. Taking the role of a small, yet somehow adorable, cube you are dropped into a level and given a set number of blocks which you can add to the map to enable Cube to get from A to B. Once the player has placed the blocks to their satisfaction, they hit the ‘play’ button and attempt to complete the level. You may change your placement as many times as necessary to complete the level. This level modification feature truly sets Shapeway apart from its competition. Although easily as tough as a platformer should be, if you are unable to complete the level, you cannot get angry at it, as you only have yourself to blame for your shoddy block placement.
Oscura is a platformer very much in the vein of Limbo in its gameplay and its visuals. With an added mechanic of ‘light beam’ puzzles the player uses objects to block damaging light beams crossing their path. In my short time with Oscura I experienced a mechanically solid and visually striking demo, another great looking game thats worth bookmarking for a rainy day.
No doubt you’ve heard of ScreenCheat by now. Published by Surprise Attack this ‘second person’ shooter has been the topic of many conversations. It plays much like any other 2-4 player local shooter, except that your character is invisible, as are all of the other participants. For players to score, they have to locate the other players by manually ‘screen cheating’ and finding their position. There are a number of ways to orient yourself in the game, such as colour coded environment pieces; all of which help you in your plight to kill your invisible friends. The idea is as novel as it sounds and is one of those games I’d love to play surrounded by friends and a few drinks.
Aside from the stalls, the fete also offered a diverse range of interesting talks and workshops targeted at independent developers. These ranged from learning how to create your own stuffed toy controllers, to ‘a musical approach to dynamic design’. As so much was shown at the Freeplay Fete this year, the above should only be read as a sample of what was on offer. The gathering of unique projects on display as well as free and topical workshops made this years Freeplay Fete a strikingly diverse and homely place to be. If I had to raise any concerns with the festival, they would involve its scale and marketing. I feel that, were advertising given more importance in the lead up to the Festival, its size and attendance could have been significantly increased. This would be a move that could, not only allow Freeplay to bring greater awareness to its diverse exhibitors, projects and discussions, but also serve to create a central event for the Melbourne games industry – bringing people together as one to discuss the importance of equality, acceptance, creativity and freedom in video games.