The indie game scene in Australia is booming and the recent Indie Games Room showcase at AVCon (Anime and Video Game Convention) cemented Australia’s role as an innovator of indie game development. AVCon is one of Australia’s largest geek culture festivals, and since 2008 the Indie Games Room has been a feature of the event. The IGR brings independently developed Australian games to AVCon’s attendees, providing developers with a platform to get their projects into player’s hands. The showcase has grown larger every year since its inception and the latest installment was the most extensive yet with over 50 titles from 38 developers available to play.

The atmosphere was inspiring and it was awesome to be in a space with so many people excited about indie games. Everyone was super friendly and developers were happy to chat with players about their creations. Of all the games I played, these titles best represent the originality, diversity and eccentricity of the IGR 2015. Some are creating international buzz, while others are still in development, but they all possessed a quality that stayed with me long after I put the controller down.

Adversarial Manifesto

Team Adversarial Manifesto

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Dust off the cobwebs of your mind and ready your wit – you’ll need it for Adversarial Manifesto. Inspired by Cards Against Humanity, it’s a multiplayer text-sparring party game, where words are you weapons. The aim is to outdo your opposition by creating witty commentary, be it logical, poetic, or potato. An endless list of words scrolls side-screen and once the player selects a word to add to their proclamation they repeatedly hurl it at their opponent. When this hail of text hits the other player, the word is added to your masterpiece. Once a pearl of wisdom has been created, a third player judges the quote and gives it a score. The higher the score, the more damage your adversary takes. If this sounds hectic, that’s because it absolutely is. Attempting to clobber your opponent with the word ‘donkey’ while simultaneously avoiding their text assault and composing a killer burn requires quick thinking and coordination. You may create a literary gem, or something that reads like a 90s JRPG translation, but either way it’s rollicking good fun. Adversarial Manifesto evokes the creative absurdity of Cards Against Humanity, but there’s nothing near as crass here. I won’t subject you to any of the awful phrases I devised, because out of context they don’t read as humorously as they did in the moment. Or maybe I’m just awful at it. To keep things fresh, each character has a specific arsenal of words, and every stage has a unique quirk to augment gameplay, such as an AI controlled character who launches projectiles at both players to hinder their progress. Frantic and irreverent, Adversarial Manifesto is an immensely enjoyable party game. BYOB and snark.

I’m always happy to play as a character that represents me.

 

The Desperate Mile

Nineslice

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Top down survival horror game The Desperate Mile features methodical combat, environmental puzzle solving, and a foreboding atmosphere. Players assume the role of an outsider in the small town of Sojourn, which has spiralled into turmoil following a grisly murder. To escape the pointed finger of blame from the paranoid townsfolk, players must solve the crime themselves by investigating the unsettling town. “Interacting with the game’s characters will be a large part of the experience and getting to know them will help players understand the world and their place in it,” audio and design director Simon Harrison explained to me. As well as discovering the events through the residents of Sojourn, environmental storytelling will be a focus, “If we’ve done our job right, the world should support the characters, and the characters should enable the player.” Imagine Hotline Miami as a brooding, supernatural thriller and you’re closer to understanding what The Desperate Mile is. Combat is calculated and deliberate, charged attacks require crucial timing and the procedural gunfire mechanic feels satisfying when executed. The hand-drawn art style has a noir-inspired tone and moody lighting casts long shadows from the ghoulish spectres faced by the player. The demo felt complete and showcased many of the mechanics to feature in the completed game. Satisfying combat and a strong sense of place have captured my interest in walking The Mile.

 

Hollow Knight

 Team Cherry

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Hollow Knight is a visually exquisite, 2D combat-based platformer. As the enigmatic titular character, players traverse the deep, hostile caverns, exploring branching paths to discover the ancient mysteries of The Kingdom of Hallownest. Throughout the journey, players will upgrade their skills and equipment allowing deeper exploration of the insect-infested caves. The project was successfully funded on Kickstarter, receiving almost $62,000 and reached several stretch goals including a second playable character. Hollow Knight is striking in its surreal beauty. The hand-drawn caverns are immensely detailed, illuminated by glowing dragonflies and neon plantlife. Once the controller was in my hands, I discovered Hollow Knight’s truly impressive controls. They’re tight, responsive, and jumps land with razor-like precision. It was a joy to move through the space, something Hollow Knight’s designer William Pellen told me was of utmost importance. “The fluidity of the character is extremely important to the feel of the game,” said Pellen, “The way he moves is the core concept of the game, around which all other game design decisions are built.” The early stages seen in the demo presented little resistance from enemies, but the final release promises a demanding difficulty, with quick reflexes required to surmount boss battles. As ethereal and whimsical as a fairytale, Hollow Knight may soon be crowned the new king of the 2D platformer.

 

Caffeine

Incandescent Imaging

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There’s a buzz surrounding first person exploration game Caffeine, and much of this attention is directed towards its quirky twist on an otherwise typical sci-fi plot. Caffeine proposes a near future scenario in which Earth’s citizens are insatiably addicted to caffeine. After the planet’s supply was exhausted, major corporations built enormous stations in the far reaches of the galaxy to harvest the minerals required to create a synthetic form of the stimulant. You awaken on one of these stations with no memory of how you arrived and begin exploring the cold deserted spacecraft. Caffeine’s sound design is impeccable with haunting synths and droning machinery establishing the psychological-horror atmosphere. Caffeine was one of the most graphically impressive games at the IGR; everything from the futuristic control chambers to the abandoned living quarters looks polished and realistic. The enormous size and intricate design of the environment was imposing with maze-like corridors that led to suspiciously familiar rooms and usher you to more looping hallways. While Caffeine is intriguing, it was difficult to become invested in such a narrative driven experience during a convention play test. At home, alone in the dark, is where Caffeine’s kooky juxtaposition of addiction, corporate control, and coffee will deliver.

 

Catnips

SK Games

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You may never get to play Catnips. That’s one reason I’m compelled to alert you of its existence. The other reason is that it’s a competitive cat-milking simulator, played with anatomically accurate cat-controllers. The innards of the lovingly handcrafted controllers consist of four Xbox 360 gamepads, and the nipples are glued on each analogue stick. You feed hungry kittens by tweaking the eight nips, which spurts milk from the on-screen feline’s teat. Aim the milk stream towards your kitties, and once they’re fed they drift off to sleep. The player with the most content kittens wins.

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It’s bizarre, sweet, and proudly celebrates its absurdity. The game itself can be quite tactical – do you concentrate on one kitten at a time in favour of accuracy, or flail nipples in every direction, creating a feeding frenzy? Catnips demanded the crowd’s attention at the Indie Games Room. Some were intrigued by its novelty, others a little grossed-out by the prospect of getting handsy with prosthetic cat bits. “The response was really positive, even from those people who refused to get in there and grab a nip,” Louie, one of the creators of Catnips told me,“The main response was, ‘I’ve never seen anything quite like it.’” It’s also something they may not see again, as it’s a one of a kind creation. “I enjoyed the reaction people had when I told them we’re not selling Catnips. It’s made for events, and that’s when you can play it. It’s so odd for video games to be uncopiable and undistributable, apparently.” This makes the game even more of an anomaly. These days every game is digitally available, and multiplayer is reserved for online servers. Catnips sheds both of these conventions, so to speak. It instead wants to bring people together in a physical space, to share an experience, and giggle over spilled milk. That’s entirely refreshing, and epitomizes what the Indie Games Room is about.

I had the opportunity to play so many interesting games, unfortunately I can’t write about them all. Besides, you have that thing to do, and I have wine.

When 2K Australia closed its doors earlier this year, it signified the end of Triple A development in the country. While the production of blockbuster titles may have ceased for now, there’s no shortage of creative minds presenting Australia’s game industry on the world stage.