Hey folks. SXSW Interactive has been hitting me pretty hard, which may have something to do with all the free alcohol they keep passing out. If you’ve been able to attend, then you know what I mean. I’ve certainly gathered no shortage of topics for us to discuss, but today was the last day of the free ScreenBurn arcade, discussing the highlights. I can’t claim to have had time to see and give a comprehensive overview of everything, so this is only the tip of the iceberg, but I’ll cover what caught my eye.
There were plenty of AAA titles on display, as one would expect. I was able to play a few minutes of Insomniac Game’s much anticipated Resistance 3. The single player portion of the demo took place in a seriously wrecked American town, and it looks like the human race is continuing to lose ground to the invading Chimera aliens. Insomniac has made some interesting design tweaks from the second game in the series. Health no longer regenerates, and weapons can now be leveled up through use.
THQ’s Homefront was also on display, although I didn’t get to spend quite as much time with it. It felt very polished and very much in the style of modern shooters like Call of Duty. The brief segment where you drive around a little military robot was fun.
Guns are fine, but sometimes you just need to decapitate a few dozen Orcs. The Lord of the Rings: War in the North aims to provide you with those Orcs in the form of an action heavy RPG. The level I was able to play had a team of three heroes (Human ranger, dwarf warrior, elf spell caster) fighting their way up a suitably epic snowy mountain while a vast army marched past below. You’ll apparently always be in control of this mini-fellowship, with the AI stepping in to control them if human co-op players aren’t available.
Less traditional gaming tools and systems could be found if you looked. Poptank studios were showing off a fascinating program that involved plugging a real guitar into a computer. You then play a Rockband like game on the computer, through the actual guitar, not a stylized controller. I’m not heavily musically inclined, but I imagine this could make long hours of instrument practice a lot more enjoyable. This also ties nicely into the subject of “Gamification”, which we’re not going to get into quite yet, but was a major topic in one of the keynote speeches and a number of panels.
I’d have to say my favorite booth was the one run by indiePub Games. indiePub is an community of independent developers, and they were showing off the finalists for their Independent Propeller Awards, with a grand prize of $50k for the winning entry. One of the themes of this year’s Interactive fest is that the future of gaming is going to be in smaller, more agile games. Mobile, social, and indie games can take risks and do things that a 20 million budget AAA project simply can’t, and I’d say the sheer level of talent and creativity on display at the indiePub booth proved this beyond any doubt.
Doing each entry justice would take more time and space than we have, so I’m just going to give a brief description of the standouts and provide links with more information and videos of the games in action.
“Deep Sea” is a purely audio experience that involves wearing a terrifying gas-mask like sensory deprivation helmet.
“The Uncanny Fish Hunt” has an utterly gorgeous hand drawn/cardboard cut-out art style that has to be seen in action to be appreciated.
Moving onto dry land “
My personal favorite was “Chewy”, a charming and elegant little game that has you maneuvering a living piece of gum through giant environments by exploiting your sticky and stretchy properties.
Finally GLiD took home the $50k grand prize, with a beautifully ambient adventure about controlling a tiny crawler robot with insect like powers.
Most of these games are available for free on the indiePub website, and I strongly recommend spending a few minutes to check it out. The more support we can possibly give Indie gaming the better.
Last but certainly not least, Azeroth to Zork was able to get a preview of an upcoming space adventure/exploration MMO based off the venerable Traveller pen-and-paper RPG. Traveller AR (Augmented Reality) looks to be one of the first IPhone based MMO’s, and takes advantage of the hardware platform to do some very cool things.
You physically move the phone around to control your point of view, and the ships appear to be designed around following real world rules of physics and inertia in space, as opposed to the WW2 prop-plane mode used by many space combat games. This means you can, for example, boost away from an enemy ship at high speed, and then spin you craft (and the IPhone) around to face backwards and fire on your pursuer.
The “Augmented Reality” feature is fascinating, and I predict we’ll be seeing a lot of similar implementations in the near future. The game allows you to project gameplay over the live images of the real world that appear on the Iphone’s screen, which meant I got to see the convention hall flooded with ships, space stations, and planets. Apparently your real world home city and determines your characters home world, and physically traveling around our planet moves your ship through the game universe. (Although there are other ways to get around in-game than hopping on a real world bus or train = P)
It’s exciting stuff, right on the edge of science-fiction, appropriately enough. The Traveller AR project is ambitious, boasting tens-of-thousands of unique star systems, and a host of viable gameplay styles and options, from trade, to combat, exploration and more. The game is slated to come out summer 2011. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing more of the AR feature in action.
I think we can declare this year’s ScreenBurn event a success. I almost wish they would schedule it before or after the rest of SXSW, so I wouldn’t have to keep leaving to attend the panels I want to see. I’ll be attending the remaining days of SXSW Interactive, and we’ll have plenty more to talk about. Make sure to keep checking back at Azeroth to Zork for more coverage!
indiePub: http://www.indiepubgames.com/ (You can search for the games mentioned by name)
You can see the complete results of the Propeller awards, including who won what and details on the other contestants, here: http://sxsw.com/node/7004
More info on the Traveller AR MMO and beta sign-up: http://www.traveller-ar.com/#
Articles copyright James Cousar, games and images copyright their respective owners.