Friday 28 March 2014

Play Blackpool Indies (Part One)

If you're a UK-based indie developer, then the chances are that you've received an email from me in the past few months, inviting you to exhibit your work at Play Blackpool on May 3-4th (TL:DR? Low cost table rates! £150-250 a pop!). If you've not heard from me, my mail is probably tucked away in a spam folder, or perhaps something terrible happened like I put an underscore instead of a hyphen during my 'email crunch' sessions - either way, if its something you'd be interested in, drop me a line :)

But hey, I'm jumping ahead here. This story begins at GameCity 2013 after a drunken 'C64 versus Spectrum' curry night (where I met and chatted with Ed 'Proteus' Key by all accounts - and totally failed to recognise who he was). After gorging on curry and watching in horror as the C64 lost the debate, I ended up drinking with Andy and old-school RGCD-discmag contributor Gordon of Replay Events in some random drinking establishment with particularly dreadful karaoke. We discussed all things indie and retro, and when the topic came up regarding attracting indies to their own events (Play Blackpool in particular) I enthusiastically offered to volunteer for them as their 'indie-liaison' and to help nurture and develop their indie profile.

I'm not saying I'm like the Don of UK indie or anything. I write about indie games, I publish indie games, I program indie games and I play indie games ... but to be honest, none of that makes me an expert, it just means I'm incredibly enthusiastic about the indie and retro game development scenes. However, I'd been touring the GameCity festival with Rami Ismail and Adriel "TrainJam" Wallick (who ARE experts), and during our conversations they'd reinforced in my head that what indies wanted most at events was "cheap rates in the main expo space". So I fought that corner, and I'm super proud to say that is what is now happening at Play Blackpool. Instead of being tucked away in the trader section, indies exhibiting at Play Blackpool will be in the main hall at Norbreck Castle where all the people are. £150-250 for a table at an event that pulls in over 4000 people isn't a bad deal at all.

The event itself draws a diverse crowd due to the variety of systems, exhibitions and activities on offer - some people come for the coin-ops, pinball and retro stuff, some for the current gen and indie games, others for cosplay, highscore tournaments or talks from game industry legends - but the majority embrace the entire spectrum of video gaming culture as a whole. It's very family friendly, and the seaside location gives it the feel of an old arcade hall. Oh and there's a bar, which is good news too.

As a result of all this, I've been sending out invitations to everyone I know in the indie scene. I've had to compose literally hundreds of emails, messages and tweets. It has been a mammoth undertaking, especially with EGXRezzed and GDC going on within a similar timeframe, but the work has finally started to pay off.

When inviting people, I've promised to help promote their attendance on confirmation, but at the time of writing there's a bunch of news posts sitting as drafts on the Play Blackpool site that I don't have authority to publish. So I've decided to do the next best thing and write about them here in the meantime. Megadev, Cake Collective, Ben Bradley, Pixel Trip Studios, Retroburn and LudoPhobia - this article is dedicated to you.

Southampton based Megadev blew-up the indie scene last year when they dropped their first feature-length title Super House of Dead Ninjas on Steam via Adult Swim Games. A procedurally generated, hardcore hack-n-slash platformer full of attitude and undead ninjas, SHoDN's high production values and knowing-nod to the golden age of videogames secured it both popularity and critical acclaim. Hell, I sent my first ever indie-game fan letter to the artist, we gave it 5/5 in our review and I think I declared it to be Indie game of the year 2013. Bottom line? Megadev rock.

Known in the scene for their well-received catalogue of smart phone and Flash-portal mini games (with Atomic Gringo, Holy Crap, Bears!! and Bomboozle 3 being recent examples), Mike, Jon, Nick and Stef from Megadev will be showcasing a variety of their titles at Play Blackpool, including a super-exciting new Adult Swim collaboration that is yet to be formally announced (all I’m allowed to say is that it's the studio's first RPG).

Remember Diddy Kong Racing and Mario Kart 64? In their latest project, indie studio Ludophobia are bringing some of that same timeless multiplayer party action to Play Blackpool, running exclusively on that ├╝ber-tiny rubiks cube of fun that is the Android-based Ouya.

Still in active development, Bears Can't Drift is a fast-paced kart racing game for up to four players on a single split-screen, currently with two maps and four different bear characters. Still on the fence about the Ouya? Maybe this will be the game to change your mind.

Completely free to download and with development funded by donations, Bears Can't Drift is an superb little racer that acts as a good example of what the $99 console is best at; fun, casual multiplayer games. Also, as LudoPhobia are currently the only Ouya representatives confirmed as exhibiting at Play Blackpool, if you have any questions about developing on the console these are the guys to chat with!

Another new name in the indie scene, Martin Caine of Retroburn Game Studios will be attending Play Blackpool with the latest build of his Tron-inspired fast paced 3D light cycle game Positron.

In development since 2012, what started out as a modern tribute to the 1982 coin-op has now evolved into a surprisingly complex arcade title game with challenging new maze and race modes as well as featuring the all-time retro-gaming classic death-match.

Hurtling at breakneck speed towards a release date (no doubt followed by a neon tail-wall), Positron will be hitting mobile, desktop and console screens in the very near future. The game also has a Greenlight page with a couple of demos, videos, additional information - and of course you can give the game a 'yes' thumb if you'd like to see it on Steam.

I'm also proud to announce that the Pixel Trip Studios will be showcasing their adrenalin-filled 'Secret of Monkey Island meets The Great Escape' indie adventure The Breakout at Play Blackpool!

Born of the idea of combining a classic point-and-click adventure with an intense escape/survival game, The Breakout sees you playing a captured soldier attempting to escape from max security POW camp, gathering supplies, maps, tools and looking for ways to escape whilst sticking to the daily routine of the other prisoners.

Yet breaking-out of The Breakout is only half the story. You may have escaped the POW camp, but can you make it to the border with the guards, attack dogs, motorbikes, jeeps, tanks and even planes hunting you down?

The Breakout launches on Kickstarter on the 2nd of April, and we wish Pixel Trip the best of luck - although with it's quintessentially British dark humour and nostalgic visual style we're sure that the game will be a success.

Come and meet the team and play the demo of The Breakout at Play Blackpool!

Next up on the list is Ben Bradley, who'll be attending Play Blackpool with a work-in-progress build of the stunning-looking Substream, a musical abstract shooter, with animated environments and enemies that are choreographed to the moods and rhythms of an eclectic soundtrack.

As an avid shmup fan I'm really excited about this one. Substream looks like someone dropped something a bit naughty in Star Fox's morning cuppa before heading out to battle in the Lylat system - and that's a good thing. I mean look at those screenshots; who on earth wouldn't want to play a game that has digger arms swaying hypnotically in the wind, floating alien shellfish and a star imploding in the background? No? Perhaps flying over a desert of integrated circuits whilst being shot at by a million red cushions is more your style? Joking aside, the three year old early preview video still looks amazing, and I can only imagine how the game has further evolved from that early prototype stage.

Substream has been in development since 2011, and although Ben has recently announced on his development blog that it is unlikely to be released this year, the game is fully playable in its current form. I'm going to be all over this one.

Another up-and-coming indie confirmed for Play Blackpool, Middlesex University lecturer and game designer/artist Kevin Colegate will be representing Cake Collective and exhibiting some of his recent projects - such as the excellent and super addictive KiloBite. Yes, that game we reviewed a few weeks ago.

The ethos behind the Cake Collective - currently consisting of Kevin (visuals/design) and Piers Gillingham (programming) - is to to bring together a group of people with similar interests working on games, resulting in a shared pool of resources and knowledge that the members can all dip into.

KiloBite, their most recent release, is a superb example of their work, an evolution of the classic 'snake' game into a 3D high-score chaser - and somewhat unbelievably - the result of one of the duo's occasional 24 hour game-jam sessions.

With considerably more than 24 hours left to go before the doors open at Play Blackpool, I have no doubt that Kevin and Piers will have some more experimental little indie games on show!

So, that's the first six announced, with several others still to confirm. There's not a huge amount of space left, so if you are interested in getting involved and showing your games to the public either drop me a line or complete the form on the Play Blackpool Contact page choosing the option 'Exhibitor Enquiry'.

Exhibiting is quite simply the best way to get honest feedback about your game, giving you the perfect opportunity to fine-tune areas of your design that perhaps your family, friends and fans are too kind to question. It's also an invaluable experience, and you just cannot get the same level of discussion and interactivity with players of all ages any other way. It can be a little daunting, but it's great for networking, meeting press contacts and making new friends. Hopefully I'll see you there?

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