The Boston Festival of Indie Games Overview 2018, Part 3

The Boston Festival of Indie Games is an annual event that offers local developers the chance to display their games to an interested public in the heart of MIT.  While this is going to be focused on the video game aspect of things there’s also a large room devoted to board, card, and other physical gaming, plus outside events too.  There’s more going on than any one person can see in Boston FIG’s single day running time, so like any show of this type it’s necessary to focus on the things that catch your attention and not worry too much about what you might miss, because there are only so many hours available and trying to do everything is both counterproductive and the opposite of fun.  This feature is the last of three breaking down everything I got to see while there, whether weird art game, student project or top-tier indie.  They’re all at the show side-by-side, and while some booths are more ornate than others, it’s all worth looking at.  Part 1 is over here, and Part 2 is here, and when combined with the games below it made for a truly fantastic day of gaming.

Depths of Sanity-  The darkness of the ocean can hold just about anything. We’ve got the bits near the surface pretty well sorted but then it just keeps going down, thousands of feet below where light can reach. It’s a perfect home for the terrors and mysteries of the unknowable old ones and is a lively setting for a metroidvania too. As a submarine pilot you need to navigate a series of caverns that are home to hostile sea life, starting off familiar but getting weirder and more eldritch as you go. The Boston FIG demo mostly featured the familiar, and there’s something highly entertaining about a submarine getting knocked about by a line of brightly-colored tropical fish. Thankfully the submarine is armed with a nice variety of guns and tools, and the pilot can even swim out to explore the tighter caves.  A little exploring turned up the drill, which is a secondary tool used to burrow through weak walls, and you can find those either by paying very close attention or using the sonar.  Sonar is also used to get through pitch-dark sections of the caverns, and seeing as light only goes down so far under the ocean depths those will probably get more frequent as the game progresses.  The demo ended with a huge boss encounter, and huge sea-snake with a handful of attack patterns that went down after soaking up a reasonable amount of firepower.  In addition to putting on a good, meaty demo, developer Bomb Shelter Games does good swag with everyone getting a business card and cute little finger-puppet stuffed fishy, plus those who find the super-secret section of the demo get a limited shiny pin.

Exposure-  Eat or be eaten is the law of the jungle no matter where that jungle may be.  Defenses come in many forms, but in Exposure it’s all about camouflage.  As a small creature traveling through a modern-art landscape you can switch from light to dark and back again, turning invisible by resting in the shapes of your color.  Of course, it means the in-game player avatar is invisible to the actual player when this happens, but you can feel where you are easily enough and if you need a bit of reassurance then poking a bit out of the solid shape you’re hiding in won’t give away your position.  Dash into action to save your children, grab the occasional gold mote flying about, keep hidden to stay safe, but not too safe because otherwise you’ll miss all everyone you’re supposed to rescue.  It’s a balance between stealth and action in an abstract landscape designed so any random screenshot is its own colorful piece of art.

Miasma Caves-  Treasure hunting is a risky job but at least Lesath doesn’t have far to go to start her search.  The cave is right on the edge of her village, open to anyone who wants to head on in and risk their life seeing what’s hidden inside.  It’s not safe at all in there, though, with the miasma that slowly drains your health through the course of a day’s exploration being only one of the things that can kill an adventurer.  Cave-ins caused me the most trouble while exploring in either first- or third-person, but other environmental hazards such as poison gases crop up to make life difficult.  The object of each day’s spelunking is to bring up enough treasure to fund the next day’s expedition while setting aside enough to also upgrade the town.  Different shops provide better items for more thorough exploration, such as bombs and pickaxes to take out walls, opening up the way to new catacombs in the earth.  I liked the idea of this one quite a bit but its demo was time-limited and I didn’t get enough of a run to form a solid opinion other than it needs work on the character animations, which are fairly stiff at this point in development.  Dropping into a mine to see what you can pull out and sell has been a gaming staple since at least the Commodore PET’s Miner, and Miasma Caves has a fun fantasy setting to make it even more inviting than normal.

Go For a Walk-  The title says it all. There’s an environment to explore, various bits and pieces react in interesting and fun ways when you play with them, but for the most part it’s a VR stroll through a pretty, low-poly playground. Which can be awfully nice when all you really want is a chilled moment of peace. Point the motion controls at a cloud to start the rain, at flower-balls to make them shed pollen, or rotate the sky to change the time of day. Balls of light are kicking around the area and you can pick them up and toss them about, including straight up into the sky and possibly into orbit.  Every action comes with a musical cue in addition to playing with the world you’re also adding to the music.  The area on demo was fairly small but still nice to explore, and will hopefully grow into a larger world as it gets closer to release.

Evergate-  This puzzle-platformer was one of the bigger unexpected treats of the show, and popular enough that I had to come back to the booth a couple of times before I finally got to play.  The main character is a little wispy spirit-thing firing beams of energy through crystals and into wooden receptors, with differing results depending on the crystal it’s targeting.  The common yellow ones, for example send it flying backwards, which is great if you want extra jump height but not so helpful at the edge of a platform.  The spikey red crystals send out explosive feedback, destroying the wisp unless there’s something else like a thorny barrier between it and the crystal, which gets destroyed instead.  Time slows down to a fraction of standard speed when the energy-beam is in use, giving you a little time to line up the perfect shot so long as you aren’t too slow about it.  I got to play through about seven-ish levels or so before the final bell closed down the show but was happy to see that the challenge was ramping up nicely, with experimentation leading to logical breakthroughs in figuring out the way forward.  Evergate is a clever and very pretty action-puzzler that I could have happily put more time into.

Desolus-  The dimensions of orange and purple appear to be broken, or at least the remains of the civilization that spanned both worlds is. All that’s left of the buildings are their crystalline ruins, but there are still plenty of portals between the two dimensions so a clever traveler can find a pathway through. A collapsed stairway in purple might be whole in orange, leading to a burning key that flies to a portal. Which is awfully helpful for progress except odds are good you’ll still need to walk back to the first dimension to make use of it. What happens in one world is reflected in the other, and the seamless transition through the triangle-gates lets you easily check the results of your actions. It doesn’t take long for black holes to show up and you can use these to swap architecture from one dimension to the other and back again, creating paths through the ruins that didn’t exist before. The lonely worlds are incredibly beautiful, with the ghosts of ruins from the other side leaking through while the ground is carpeted by swaying plants and light filters through the particles floating through the air. I’ve been following Desolus for a good long while now and it looks better at every new showing.

And that’s my version of the show all wrapped up, although I wish I’d gotten to see more.  There was an arena shooter I couldn’t get to play that for the life of me I can’t find any information about online, Boyfriend Dungeon was too crowded to get to, and I completely spaced dropping by 39 Days to Mars, but the nature of this kind of show is there’s always something left behind.  Hearth looks like a nice survival game, and you can get that at plus cat-herding VR game CatCart: The Beginning and a VR shooter with one person in the headset and a group of friends trying to take down the VR player’s dreadnaught, Nova Swarm.  There’s always a huge amount of gaming being created and shows like Boston FIG drive home the point that anyone with the hardware and interest (plus the ability to keep the scope manageable) can build something incredible.