This weekend marked the seventh IndieCade Festival held in Culver City. IndieCade, the largest event of its kind in the U.S., seeks to celebrate independent games, known as indie games.
Unlike in previous years, there is a good chance you’ve played an indie game if you’re a current-gen console player. Companies like Nintendo and PlayStation have realized the potential of indie games, and brought many of them, such as Shantae, Shovel Knight, Guacamelee and Secret Ponchos, to consoles.
Along with those well-known indie games, which focus on nostalgia, cool designs and solid, accessible gameplay, IndieCade often features games that push the boundaries of what you think of when I say the word “video game.” You’ll find one-dimensional dungeon crawlers, a homebrew RPG world that blends Alice in Wonderland with vicious vampires, games about consensual sex with aliens, and moving fiction-or non-fiction-stories about cancer, sex, race, the criminal justice system and heartbreak.
This is also a gaming event that features many female protagonists, and has queer, trans, female and other minority developers front and center. It is a place that inspires and empowers budding game developers from all walks of life.
But the great joy that I take in IndieCade, what keeps me coming back year after year, is watching developers push the boundaries of play. IndieCade is full of games that ask questions, games that seek to answer questions, and games that are just plain fun.
The talk of this year’s conference was Her Story, the critically acclaimed PC FMV game released earlier this year, but there were many, many other games to be sampled, previewed and played.
Here are a few of the games I saw at IndieCade that I think you should check out. For a full list of games shown this year, head to the official IndieCade website.
Walden, a game
Created by Tracy Fullerton and her small team at the USC Game Innovation Lab, Walden, a game, is a first person simulation of the life of American philosopher Henry David Thoreau during his experiment in self-reliant living at Walden Pond.
Players can choose how to live their life, from deciding to finish his cabin and survive in the wilds to becoming a towney, working and paying taxes. The game seeks balance, which is strange in a survival game, where the goal is usually to stock up on many supplies and to build bigger and better things. Instead, Walden, a game, asks you to consider the true cost of such actions. What is the point of being in nature, if you cannot appreciate its natural splendor? Through subtle cues, the game guides you to find a balance between living and truly being alive.
Developed by Dr. Mary Flanagan, a professor and game designer, Monarch is a tabletop game in which players are each potential heirs to the throne, who must vie to prove which heir deserves to rule.
Monarch is unique because in this case, all of the heirs are female. Each of the Queen’s daughters must use strategy and ingenuity to create the most successful court. It is a princess game, but calls to mind none of the possibly gendered images of that word.
In addition to being fun and incredibly gorgeous, Monarch challenges the stereotypes surrounding female leaders and our traditional concept of what it means to be a princess and a queen. I particularly loved the “Moon Events” which are random events that force the sisters to negotiate or work together for a shared goal.
Captain Forever Remix
Created by Pixelsaurus Games & Future Crayon Captain Forever Remix is a 2D action roguelike game where the goal is to create spaceships and to blast apart randomly-generated enemies for spare parts.
Drawing on the nostalgia of being young and using your imagination, players control Natalie Norberry, aka Captain Forever, as she plays make-believe with her brother Kevin, aka King Kevin the all-powerful bubblegum mutant.
Captain Forever Remix is based on the game Captain Forever, created by Jarred “Farbs” Woods in 2009. Pixelsaurus Games and Future Crayon, aka Dean Tate and Brian Chan, approached Farbs with their idea for an updated version of Captain Forever, but Farbs encouraged the two developers to bring their own style to the game. Tate and Chan also decided to buck the sci-fi status quo by focusing on a female protagonist.
Developed by Finji, a game studio made up of Adam and Bekah Saltsman, Heather Penn, Jocelyn Reyes and Shay Pierce, Overland is a 3D survival tactics game set in the remains of North America after a cataclysmic event.
Players scavenger for weapons, gas, and supplies to keep moving and to protect themselves from creatures that appear from the ground in reaction to loud noises. The game is randomly generated and forces players to choose what to prioritize.
Overland is very accessible, even for beginner gamers, as the controls are very simple, and the game teaches you strategy via punishments and rewards. What is most interesting about the game, however, is the concept that no one is a superhero or more gifted than anyone else: each character is just a normal person, trying to cope and survive as best they can in a horrible situation.
Created by Night School Studio, Oxenfree is a single player adventure that blends a coming-of-age tale with a supernatural thriller.
Players control Alex, a rebellious teen who brings her new step-brother Jonas with her to an overnight party on a decommissioned military island. Oxenfree has an interesting conversation system, wherein players can choose how to respond to Alex’s friends and frenemies without pausing or hindering the flow of the game.
Oxenfree feels modern and relatable, yet also puzzling and scary. Kind of like growing up.
Those were five games that really stood out to me, but there were so many more that deserve an honorable mention of sorts, including Moon Hunters, Skytorn, Darknet and Red and Pleasant Land.