The German Game Days
Every year in the last week of April, Berlin celebrates games with an indie festival, business meet-up, specials and a retro games market at the Computer Games Museum, and the Computer Games Award Lara.
Friedrich and I participated at the "A MAZE. Indie Connect" festival. Last year's location was a cuddly little bar with a separate conference room; this year it was located at the Urban Spree: a huge location with clubs, galleries and - of course - a Taekwondo sports club directly at the river Spree in the middle of Berlin. No place could have been more perfect than this creativity sparkling area with graffiti, street art decoration, installations and metal sculptures.
A MAZE Indie Connect is four days of pure indieness with talks, music, performance, installations, multiplayer picnic, game jams, Night of Machinima and the inevitable Most Amazing Game award.
At the A MAZE you won't get lost in overcrowded conference rooms like at overpriced conventions; instead you will have time to talk to your favorite indies in a relaxing atmosphere full of inspiring and playful moments.
The heart of the A MAZE is the exhibition, where all 11 nominees were presented together with games of the people who gave talks. The whole exhibition was an amazing color gradient of classic platformers, mobile games, AR installations, Kinect games and student projects with experimental inputs. Additionally, on the first day you could play a selection of fine multiplayer games arranged by Kitty Calis and Jan Willem Nijman. Plus even more games that came from the co-operative exhibition A MAZE Interact which took place in South Africa last year.
The more time went by the more people placed their own laptops near the exhibited games and asked the audience for playtests and showed around their prototypes. This is the point where I wished that TRI would be an easy-to-dive-into game on a tablet. I think this is the first time we presented our current game to an audience that either plays for hours or pushes some buttons to just leave the game after a minute in search for explosions. I think we should do this more often, for this is the ultimate playtest arena!
The games we loved
Although I knew most of the games there were still some new to me, some of which I highly recommend, like BROFORCE by Evan Greenwood who is from South Africa. He also was part of the jury and gave a talk about emergent humor.
In BROFORCE you play one of the 1980s heroes like the Terminator, S.D. Bob "Snake" Plissken, MacGyver and so on, and use their special weapons to kill enemies and destroy the environment; at the finish of a level you leave the chaos by just smoothly catching the rope-ladder of a flying-by helicopter. Pure awesomeness + team-play + explosions!
Or SURFIZE by Miguel Alvarez, who created an arcade space shooter that looked quite classic at first glance, but emerged one interesting component after the other - like creating a net of co-operative ships or an endless screen to distract enemies.
TOREN is a game from Brazil, where you play a little girl that is growing while you play the game. Find out what this strange temple is, where you come from and why you are left there. The atmosphere reminded me of games like ICO, where you are thrown into a mystical world you need to explore in order to know what this is all about.
SLOWMO SHOWDOWN - and believe me, the name is the motto here. You have to fight each other with moves captured by the Kinect. Fire energy balls Kamehameha-styled with hands and feed and try to avoid the other player's attacks. Can somebody please help those guys find a publisher so this game becomes available for every party?!
Sosowski made and brought his own arcade with him. You could nearly play every one of his games on the ACHTUNG ARCADE. Alle Achtung (well done), Mr. Sos!
Talks and Walks
In the same room the exhibition takes place, semi-separated by a blanket, people could listen to the 20 minutes talks. None of them were about monetization, sales, numbers and not even very much about making games actually, but to inspire the audience to find more creative ways in game design.
Nifflas wondered where all the secrets in modern games have gone. He explained how glitches should not be removed from games, because they add secrets to games like The Journey, where players can explore hidden geometry that you wouldn't find in a normal play-through. The whole talk was spiced up with photos from him taking a walk through Swedish woods, that seem to contain tons of secrets and which hopefully inspired the attendees to add hidden paths in their own games instead of the endless same-looking tubes only.
Sos talked about the thing he explores best with each of his games - humor and why even serious games should be fun to play in his talk "Why so serious?".
Jonas Kyratzes claimed back the original meaning of the word epic and why it's necessary to deal with story and characters more in-depth.
Mattias Ljungström gave a glimpse on Spaces of Play's new game "Future Unfolding" and the process of inspiration. He also named some wonderful books like the Book of Boring Postcards or a practical guide to explore ghost towns.
Lea Schönfelder, one of the very few female speakers, talked about the development of her art style and how these works and the places she's been at influenced her games. Lea is known for very artistic games that always deal with serious themes but add a super black humor, which makes projects like "Ulitsa Dimitrova" about a Russian street kid, "Ute - a game for adults" or "Stage Diver" so memorable.
The exhibition presented her new game "Perfect Woman" as well, where you have to make poses captured by the Kinect. In the game you have to strike harder and harder poses in order to become a more interesting female character throughout your life time as a woman - like a rebel or an MIT professor.
Michael Brough talked about the beauty of glitches and what leaving them in the game instead of patching them out can add to your game.
Last year's award winner Ed Key ("Proteus") talked about plants around Cambridge - and although some visitors thought the title of the talk would be a joke to catch some interest ("Flora and Fauna of South Cambridgeshire") - nope. He talked about plants and how the different curious little things in our environment can enrich the games we make with little stories.
Rami Ismael of Vlambeer spoke about the need of curation for the indie games scene, so that all these little pearls of games like "Starseed Pilgrim" or "Papers, please" are more visible to the audience.
Friedrich and I talked about the embrace of limitations and that every indie needs to have some kind of a boss. For some it's money, but better use limitation to cut off unnecessary features from your game in order to create a piece of art. Because restricted games are more likely to become a perfect piece of art and are easier to communicate to your audience. Also: Take part in game jams, they will teach you exactly that.
And these are just the ones we attended to, because most time we were outside in the gorgeous court yard, having a beer and talking to national and international indies.
German Indie Forum
Martin Nerurkar and I used the A MAZE to gather the German indies attending the convention. Germany might have this beautiful festival, but it still lacks a strong community. Most communities in form of forums are for programmers only or for the amateur development scene. Furthermore, there are just very few locations in Germany that have regular gatherings for indies, like Munich, Berlin, North Rhine-Westphalia and Hamburg.
But there is no forum or meet-up where all the German indies can gather, exchange and be visible to each other. In addition to that most of the more well-known designers are focused on bigger national events or forums and meet each other at GDC. That's why German developers are often mavericks who can seldom name more than five other German devs. We want to change this!
So at the second day we united with every German who was attending the A MAZE and feels indie, to establish a forum where digital creatives can meet each other and talk about typical problems working and living in Germany can cause.
Martin and I are looking for a cool name and he is setting up a forum in the next weeks.
11 amazing nominees
I was part of the jury, together with Rami Ismael, Evan Greenwood, Ed Key and Julie Heyde. We had a real fun time discussing all the games without exactly knowing the manifest of the A MAZE. But although everyone had their favorite projects we totally agreed on this one game. And I think this was the best choice, because gameplay still is the thing that amazes me most before graphics, atmosphere and presentation. And local multiplayer games seem to have a comeback these days! Moreover you can download the game on your iOS device - for free!
If you have at least two iOS devices and some people nearby, just grab them and play the game! You will feel like a child again, playing "Star Trek" while fighting a random space encounter. Win by yelling tech-gibberish at each other! So, "do you like discharging Clip-jawed Fluxtrunions" or what? One of the most impressive co-op games that really let me dive into a game which somehow wasn't actually "visible", except through some control dials, buttons and modulators on your phone/tablet. Imagination meets teamplay!
A.R. installation about beauty and eternal life. Although the showroom was just a small extract of the actual installation I was quite impressed by the combination of digital visuals on the iPhone I scanned the codes with, and the decorations composed out of knives, cleaver, posters for beauty ads in that old boiler room at Urban Spree. "O.R.pheus" creates an interesting peek on what games can be - especially by using an environment that is already there to explore - spiced up with this weird sci-fi-like digital visuals. Can't wait to see the full installation in Berlin soon.
"Reus" is a building game where you control a bunch of giants with different abilities to reanimate a planet. In the freeform mode you can experiment with the different tools given to the player in order to create wood, swamp, mountains and oceans with little settlers. The second mode imposes challenges you need to beat while raising a prospering and mighty civilization. The little patches of land where your people settles down need to be used to place food, technology or wealth, and upgraded with your giants' abilities. The challenge is to use the little space as effective as possible - and keeping your settlers humble, so they don't fight each other or kill the giants.
A game that already earned a lot respect and praise through their unconventional storytelling, although it felt quite conventional amongst the others nominees.
I seldom play platformers, especially together with other players. But this one was a special case of a game that started to frustrate me at first because of the accurate placing and timing needed, but turned out to be super exciting exactly because of that. Succeed a passage through throwing and lifting each other, just to high-five in the end was worth the stress. Couples - this is the perfect game to check if your relationship is strong enough!
One game caught all the interest - and this already at the start of the exhibition, while there wasn't even a game at all but the controller standing in front of an empty canvas. If you think you saw every kind of controller or tracking system, you didn't experience the human hamster wheel - a set of tires you have to walk on, while balancing and holding a bar. In this installation-like game you guide a cylinder around a strange, atmospheric forest that changes the mood and sound while you progress.
Super sweet game where you play a little ghost that possesses objects to give humans the creeps. This game felt a bit like "Grimm", but with a lot more fun to explore all the possibilities you have with the objects. For PSVita only at the moment, but hopefully on more devices soon.
Super weird composition of shitty graphics, audio-surf gameplay and great music which you compose while playing. When you and your partner finished the play you shoot at each other and listen to your on-the-fly composition.
David Kanaga - the composer of the "Proteus" music nearly would have won again. The music this time gets more important with this toy to create instant art. You really can dream away while adjusting the sliders on screen, with a tablet or a Corg regulator.
Very "Braid"-y puzzle game that might melt your brain while playing it. Sometimes solved by accident.
A platformer where you play Shadow fearing the light and Light getting killed in shadow. Each one has a special ability you need to exercise cleverly and/or fast enough in order to reach the exit.
The A Maze Indie Connect really did a great leap forward and achieved to get the interest of thrice the people of last year, attract even more press people and was a nice mixture of home match and people from outside of Germany. Berlin is a great location, especially when you want to escape all the blip-blop for a while to get great food and see interesting places off from the tourist paths.
Thanks to the organizers Thorsten Wiedemann, Matthias Löwe, Iwan Gabovitch, Miguel Alvarez, Lorenzo Pilia, Nike Wilhelm, and the helpers. It was a pleasure to be there and see how well all your plans worked out. You managed to create an unique game festival that achieved to not only attract Germans, but interesting people from outside to show what games are capable of.
See you next year!
More articles by me: