Monday, April 06, 2009

Unusual games at GDC 2009

Two very interesting events at GDC were IGF (Independent Games Festival) and experimental gameplay workshop. I immensely enjoyed people presenting new creative ideas, prototypes and finished games, and I wrote down the names of the games that caught my eye into my little black notebook. So today I want to share the list with you, my dear readers. But I have to start with three disclaimers.

1. This by no means is a comprehensive list of all interesting or unusual games presented at GDC. It is not even a complete list of the games I liked! And I want to say, that I admire everybody who had imagination to invent new games, willpower to make them, and guts to present them at GDC.
2. Some of the games are not completed yet, and exist only as prototypes.
3. Some of the things I am going to mention are not games. They are "game-like creations". Be prepared – here be some weird stuff.

Complete Games.

  • "Dyson". According to the game’s site the game is "an ambient real-time strategy with abstract visuals". The game is about controlling self-replicationg machines to take over asteroids. The game looks strange and interesting!

  • "Musaic Box". Created by a Russian team, this game won an "Excellence in design" award at IGF! Congratulations, guys! It was cool to hear "Spasibo" from the stage! The game is being sold now by Big Fish Games.

  • "Closure". This is an in-browser flash game, built around an idea, that if you can’t see something (because it’s too dark), then it doesn’t exist. Try it!

  • "Rom Check Fail". I’ve seen this hilarious game some time ago, but I will happily share it again. If you’ve ever played some old arcade classics, such as "Pac-Man" or "Frogger", then you must play this delightful parody!

  • "Storyteller" and "I wish I were the Moon". These are not games – more like a study in alternative storytelling. They are short and very unusual. Give them a try – they are in-browser.

Ideas, prototypes etc.

  • "Blueberry Garden". Beautiful and strange graphics make this game a piece of art. I didn’t get an opportunity to play it myself, but I watched other people playing, and they seem to like it.

  • "Feist" seems to be some sort of platformer – but I just love the art!

  • "Machinarium". From the creators of "Samorost" and "Samorost 2". Again, look at the art!

  • "The Unfinished Swan". This is a first – person exploration game, which takes place in a totally white world. The player runs with a (probably) paintball gun, which shoots balls of black paint, so the player can see some parts of the world. It’s hard to explain – check out the trailer.

  • "Miegakure". Unfortunately, the game’s site has only one paragraph about it, but I just had to mention it – a game which happens in a 4D world, which can be somehow manipulated in 3D…

  • "Achron". The site defines it as "meta-time strategy game", which means RTS with time travel enabled. By “enabled” I mean all interesting possibilities which arise from a capability to change future by changing the past. Weird – but I do want to play it!

Thursday, April 02, 2009


As I said in my previous post, OnLive attracted quite some attention at GDC 2009. Here are some more details about this new service. The details come from my conversation with one of OnLive representatives – unfortunately, I don't remember his name.

The general idea of the service can be stated as "Games on demand" (similar to movies on demand). The user gets a client for the OnLive service, which can be either software client in form of a computer program, or hardware client in form of a “microconsole” - a small box which is connected to broadband Internet and to TV via HDMI connection. Then the user is connected to OnLive server and can play any game he or she wants. The came runs on the OnLive servers, and the image, sound and control commands are transmitted between the client and the service over the Internet. So, essentially, your TV (or computer) becomes just a remote terminal for OnLive servers.

I've heard already some talks about OnLive being the tomorrow of the gaming and about the imminent death of consoles as we know them now (and of PC gaming as well). From my point of view, these claims are a quite exaggerated (to say the least). First, the service currently works with maximal resolution of 1280 x 720, that is in 720p mode. From what I understand, this is a limit imposed by the bandwidth (actually, I think it is a miracle they provide stable image at this resolution!). As you can see, the resolution is even worse than 1080p, provided by Xbox and PS3 , to say nothing about decent gaming PCs. Another fact is lag. At the expo the demo run from the server located approximately 50 miles away from the convention center, and the feeling of the games was OK – though even with server that close I felt some “softness” of the control – not a lag, just some unusual feeling. In real life the distance to server will be significantly larger, and this effect will, probably become more noticeable.

So, I think hardcore gamers will not switch completely to this service. As for more casual gamers – this, of course, will depend heavily on OnLive pricing system. From what the OnLive representative told me, they are still unsure about the model, but, most probably, they will charge the users some subscription fee, and then charge some amount per game. Until we know more about the prices, it will be hard to tell whether it will be less expensive to use the service, or, maybe, in the long run the purchase of a console will be more financially reasonable.

Another interesting thing about OnLive is that it makes easy to continue playing your game when you are traveling – as soon as there is a good broadband connection, the player can access the games from anywhere (if there is a server not too far, of course).

For developers OnLive might be interesting because of several features:

  • Stable target platform – knowing target hardware will make development much easier;

  • Direct distribution channel, with possibility to dynamically adjust pricing and get real-time business data;

  • Reduced piracy and cheats.

Porting the games to OnLive platform is not transparent – developers will have to use special SDK (available for free) to implement, for example, save/load and multiplayer features in the new environment. As of now, there are no plans to support any sort of community or indie game development for OnLive.

By the way, as for now the multiplayer happens only within OnLive network – though in future it might change.

To sum it up: I don't think that OnLive will "kill gaming as we know it", but I do think that the service is extremely interesting and promising.