Recently a bunch of game developers holidayed by the seaside of Brighton, under the pretense of attending industry conference Develop. It was certainly lovely weather for it and, as well as talks from the likes of Shuhei Yoshida and Jade Raymond, there were a tonne of games on a show floor away from the main conference. Conference partner PlayStation had a fancy booth to demo slick PSVR spy-slash-gangster blockbuster Blood & Truth but, sandwiched between E3 and Gamescom, Develop’s Expo was otherwise more about seeing what indies are up to, from university graduate projects to just downright funny games.
I've picked out the most unusual examples, the games that struck me as doing something off the beaten track. With one exception, these games are also all from UK developers.
Football Nation VR 2018
From Manchester's finest at Cherry Pop Games, Football Nation VR puts you on the pitch surrounded by the stadium crowd and sets you up to play some real football... erm, with your hands. Yep, while holding Move controllers you're using your hands to control your virtual feet, trying to execute the usual running, tackles and shots for goal.
It’s a bizarre set-up, unfortunately a little hampered in my demo by the room’s lighting interfering with the Move controller sensors. Yet once you dispel the notion of playing football competently, it has real charm online — when you get to watch everyone else haphazardly figuring out how to walk or strafe, and very occasionally giving the ball a kick.
This came out in June on PSVR, and is currently half-price at £4.99 on the Playstation Store. At the time of writing a VR World Cup is underway, with the Virtual England still in the running. Guess there’s still one way for football to come home.
A real game releasing for the Mega Drive in 2018? I saw the actual cartridge in an actual Mega Drive with my own eyes. Or you can see yourself on the game’s twitter account:
We were busy this week at @developconf showing off the game, networking, and talking to some industry pros about release plans. The game was a hit and we're ever more excited for release! pic.twitter.com/RB3KlfVYFC
— TANGLEWOOD (@tanglewoodgame) July 15, 2018
Tanglewood is a 2D platformer adventure inspired by the golden age of 16-bit mascot platformers, paying homage to SEGA’s blue hedgehog and Disney games all at the same time, while also incorporating the punishing instadeaths familiar from the era.
A labour of love from Sheffield-based developer Matt Phillips, making this for original Mega Drive hardware meant programming in raw assembly language on original SEGA development hardware, while the cartridge moulds were manufactured by a factory in China. Props for effort!
Of course, for those who don’t still have the 30-year old console hooked up to a CRT TV, it’s also going to be made available on Steam after the cartridge version ships in July or August. I’m told there’s also plans to release a version for the Dreamcast, which has always been a popular platform for homebrew developers.
Rhythm of the Gods
Develop’s also a great place for the next generation of devs to get their foot in the door, whether that’s finding out about recruitment opportunities from the likes of Bossa and Team 17, or showcasing your talents, as these graduates from Norwich University of the Arts did with an intriguing rhythm action auto-runner.
Although made on Android, the game demoed on a neat arcade cabinet for the showfloor. With a techno-Greek aesthetic, you’re a warrior tasked with pleasing the rhythm gods as you jump, slide, block and slash your way to a high score.
Rhythm action fans will be familiar with the set-up as each button corresponds to a prompt on screen that you have to match in time. Fortunately, each distinct action means it’s just as intuitive to follow what you see on-screen visually, a great help given the lack of headphones and a busy showfloor. I still messed up badly attempting to play the endless mode, though I’ll put that down to my own frailties.
It’s a quirky and impressive game, built over three months as a final year university project. Look out for a release on Android devices, and possibly other platforms.
Give it up for Belfast's Billy Goat Entertainment, which has a pretty magnificent-looking goat logo. But it's even more committed to goats than that!
Supermarket Shriek is a supermarket trolley racer controlled by the screams of its two passengers: a man and a goat. I don’t think we need think too deeply about the hows and whys, but basically using either trigger of the controller will cause them to scream, and these soundwaves operate on your trolley a little like sonic propellers. Use to steer left or right, or get both to scream to move forward, as you navigate a series of obstacle courses set in different supermarkets around town.
There are also options for co-op, where players can control man or goat individually but perhaps the most enticing gameplay option is allowing players to use microphones to control the trolley with their own screams!
Dead Man’s Phone
Catching my eye on the last day of the conference, the London-based Electric Noir Studios pitched a murder mystery — the stuff of bestselling books, hugely popular TV shows and successful podcasts — but all contained on your phone, and using the phone's form as part of the game.
Unfortunately the devs wouldn't give us any images, but the demo I played casts you as a New Scotland Yard detective tasked with investigating the murder of a teenage boy from Peckham. Using a new app, the police transfer all the contents of the victim’s phone to your phone, allowing you to piece together the events leading up to his death.
For this build, I was only able to trawl through messages in the private chat between his mates and another with his mother, where certain underlined passages will be added as clues. The plan for the full game is to incorporate photo, video, other 'apps' and augmented reality crime scenes.
It all sounds rather ambitious, and is still early in development. Even in this rudimentary stage, however, you can sense the potential of this idea.
What The Golf?
But never mind the UK, the real standout game at Develop, as well as the Indie Showcase winner, came from Copenhagen-based Triband, also known for the hilarious and inventive Keyboard Sports.
Styling itself as a golf game for people who don’t like golf, it’s best to describe What The Golf’s levels as a series of quickfire comedy sketches, which get more and more absurd by the second even if they're all basically about aiming and powering a golf shot.
Levels can change from 3D perspective to the 2D trajectory style of Desert Golfing or have you use the club mechanics to move the club itself, or a ragdoll, or a car, or a house — because why not — or re-imagine other ball games like bowling or football with golf mechanics. What the Golf? cares not for your rules. This is gaming at its purest and silliest.