Shoegazer – One
The PC indie scene has, in recent years, grown to an astounding size and stature. The developers are numerous and turn around original, creative titles at the third of the price of the average retail release, with the reward of a steady fan base enticing yet more to jump aboard. It’s virtually a platform in its own right, and the ideas bubbling around have lead to an area of modern gaming that should be far more niche than it actually is, birthing content arguably many times more exciting than anything the heavyweight publishers can dream of. Indie developers themselves are evidently doing it for the love of gaming, not profit margins, and the end product is rarely as polished. On the other hand, the scene’s raw essence and experimental nature lend it the air of punk circa 1977, but with more finesse – a melting pot of creativity that’s contained itself so as to create something permanent and sustainable. This is the future. This is indie. This is Shoegazer.
Eskil Steenberg is an enviably talented individual. His frequent blog posts are an interesting insight into the mind of a young man who clearly has a great passion for what gaming is, and he’s a one-man development studio, producing all of the art, sound and code for his upcoming Love. It’s very difficult at this juncture to define exactly what Love is, even for its creator. What we can glean so far is that it’s an online first-person adventure cum collaborative world shaping experience, with beautiful minimalist visuals and so much crazy tech behind it that any normal person’s brain would likely melt when confronted with it. Each server is to support around two hundred users at one time, which is apparently big enough to be constantly active, but small enough so that people can get to know each other in the process of meta-cooperation against the AI. Many aspects of the continuing experience are procedurally generated, including, interestingly enough, the story. Love is something of a social experiment, and coupled with the progressive gameplay and accentuated elements traditionally considered peripheral to it such as story, visuals and music – the things that epitomise current indie trends – it could be something very special indeed.
Closing in on the release of Version 1.0 after a trying development process is Synth. Everything in game is apparently generated by highly complex mathematical algorithms, and what is produced is something that appears vehemently opposed to the rigidly structural and highly methodical procedures involved in calculations. It’s a psychedelic cluster-**** of the craziest disposition, producing blips and beats as the player’s circular avatar is flung around the landscape of rainbow wire frames. It’s demanding for even high-end PCs given the number-crunching going on in the background, so don’t be deceived by the minute twenty three megabyte file size (of which just one percent isn’t audio) and the simplicity of the controls. Synth is a wildly inventive and ambitious project that’s all but finished, and deserves the downloads when the final version is released.
Coming on as a kind of Music Catch meets Teagames’ Blueprint, Auditorium is at first an unfathomable prospect. All that is asked of the player is to direct the “flow” of light to charge up some modules scattered around the screen. When shards of the flow begin making contact with the targets, music emanates from each of them, and the goal is to have every part of the song playing concurrently. The tools used to shape the flow are rudimentary arrow circles at first, which can be increased in size so they better manoeuvre the light, with cyclone circles coming into play a little later and further power-ups of varying utility and effect being introduced through the remaining stages. It’s both beautiful and entrancing, and though some of the puzzles can be surprisingly taxing, Auditorium is engaging enough to hold the attention of any fan of slower paced brain-benders over the duration of its fifteen acts. Possible iPhone ports notwithstanding (a smart fit if there ever was one), this is an excellent example of what can be done with a small team and a little bit of imagination, providing a fusion of the relaxing and frustrating that is just about unique.
So there’s our snapshot into the world of indie PC gaming today. Given that it’s a very active and consistently innovative scene, don’t be surprised if another column pops up in another few months. Until then, be sure to check out all of the games above, and keep up with updates on everything the scene produces on Rock, Paper, Shotgun, the Independent Games Festival website, and The Independent Gaming Source.