IndieCade: indie gamers geek out with latest tech

Displaying an astounding array of virtual and interactive games, IndieCade shatters any illusions of what it truly means to be a “gamer.” Video game developers and artists from across the globe gathered this past weekend to showcase their creations ranging from tabletop games and sports like Tumball- a competition in which players must use leafblowers to blow a tumbleweed through a small goal- to complex and meaningful games integrated with virtual reality platforms.

The international event held in Culver City gives independent (“indie”) video game developers the chance to showcase their new projects and technologies for professionals and game-enthusiasts alike. While some projects are primarily designed for entertainment, some serve as eye-opening socio-political commentary.

Winner of the 2014 IndieCade Impact Award, “Use of Force,” is a virtual reality immersive journalism game that uses real audio and computer generated recreations of a clash between US border patrol and Anastasio Hernandez Rojas as he was tased and beaten to death. Participants were given the opportunity to “record” their experience with an in-game cell phone as they roamed the scene through a modified Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset designed to immerse a user in a 3D world. “It’s not watching, it’s experience,” said Naoki Yoshimura of the gaming magazine Famitsu. “I almost cried,” she said.

With the rise of accessible virtual reality platforms, more companies are integrating bodily motions with visual experience. Headed by designer Tristan Dai, team Perception Neuron presented its professional motion capture system which allowed players to wear specialized gloves to control their hand motions in-game. Similarly, Leap Motion displayed a tiny 3D controller that sensed hand movements and translated them into animated versions on-screen, ranging from robotic style to a realistic rendering of an elderly man’s hands.

These companies all predict the rising popularity of Virtual Reality, marking it as the upcoming innovation to change the face of gaming.

Unlike larger gaming festivals, IndieCade is designed to give smaller developers a chance to find success. Game designers are given the chance to reach a wider audience, finding support for their projects through volunteer-funded Kickstarters. “Here at IndieCade, you don’t know which game’s gonna be famous,” said SMC student Jassi Patayon and member of My Geek Review, “The next big thing could be right in front of you already and you don’t realize it.”

The gaming company Ouya welcomed attendees to play new Indie games on its console of the same name. “Neverending Nightmares”, a psychological horror game based off designer Matt Gilgenbach’s experiences with OCD and depression, proved to be a popular pick among guests. Released on Ouya and Steam on September 26, the games served as an outlet for Gilgenbach’s intrusive thoughts of self-harm, allowing him to translate his anxiety into art.

The festival also presented a large variety of non-virtual games, including Henka Twist Caper. This party game requires players to turn different colored controllers until they flashed and buzzed when at the right orientation. The twist, however, is that players are confined to small space and permitted to interfere with their opponents as much as possible. Perhaps one of the most entertaining games was the Muppets-inspired party game “Hoot Patooter”. Four teams used aprons to launch various vegetables at each other in an attempt to make a pot of soup without dropping any ingredients. The head chef shouts the instructions in faux Swedish, mimicking the popular character from the Muppets.

Along with interactive events, the festival also showcased a series of speakers focusing on certain aspects of the gaming industry. One presentation called “Let’s not Make a Scene: The Ups and Downs of Independent Community,” deviated from the general upbeat tone of the conference, focussing on the negative aspects of online and offline gaming communities.

Toni Rocca, president of the LGBTQ-geared gaming convention GaymerzX, spoke of difficulties both women and those in the LGBTQ community experience online. According to Rocca, gamers who use anonymous identities are more likely to say hurtful and rash things to other in the community, unaware of how their actions affect others. In turn, peoples’ response to these harmful comments can be violent and equally hurtful. Rocca claimed this “call-out culture” only adds to segregation in the community.

For the most part, speakers emphasized an increased need for communication in the gaming community. Archie Prakash, a computer scientist and 3D artist, argued that online forums have become a “sound war”, with both sides arguing and neither listening. As some indie games grow bigger audiences, they can no longer function as they did with smaller communities attached.

Late Saturday marked the beginning of the infamous Night Games. After sunset, the outdoor IndieCade village was converted into an ethereal festival of light, sound, animation, and music. Using the darkness to their full advantage, developers set out couches and consoles while projecting their games onto massive screens.

Some of the more creative exhibits included a camping tent with pressure-controlled lights projected onto the top. Using electrical currents, one participant held an electrode and formed a human chain with the others, allowing them to control the lights by tapping different parts of the specialized blanket underneath them. The result was a beautiful array of lights, music, and animated dinosaurs flying over a projected starry sky.

This year’s IndieCade served as a small peek into the ever-growing future of gaming. “There’s so much greatness, you have to sift through it to find the greatest of the great…” said SMC student Sam “Knash” Green. “I can’t wait to find my personal favorites for the new games that I’m going to be playing nonstop and making my tendonitis worse!” he said.