I suppose that I should begin with a bit of a small disclosure. I am both a video game site owner / writer for the site and an aspiring independent game developer, which puts me in a strange position in the midst of all of the recent talk about journalistic integrity and where the lines should be drawn. Some people want a distinct line between both sides that cannot be crossed, but what happens when you are a part of both sides? I won't get deep into all of that here, but I feel it necessary to point out that, throughout the course of various indie game developer gatherings in Chicago since I started getting into the scene about two years ago, I have met and become friends and acquaintances with many of Chicago's indie game developers, including the organizers of Bit Bash, and I was a volunteer at Bit Bash as well. And now I'm writing about Bit Bash. Journalistic integrity = wrecked.
For that matter, I live in and love Chicago, so I'm probably a bit biased towards anything Chicago too. But that's not why I think our pizza is the best. That's just a fact.
Look, now that was a pizza. I’m sure you’ve had... one. But I get them all the time.
Anyway, Bit Bash is, in the words of the organizers, "Chicago’s first interactive arts festival showcasing an international collection of lesser-known but undeniably culturally significant video games." Basically, it was a free (donation suggested) event that took place at Threadless HQ on Saturday, September 6th, 2014 (yesterday) from 2 PM to midnight, where people could come and hang out and play a variety of indie games and (after 7 PM) drink free beer and listen to live musicians / DJs.
The indie game development scene in Chicago has been steadily growing over time, and exposure has increased as well, in no small part due to the recent breakout of games such as Octodad, Kentucky Route Zero and Divekick. Whether Chicago stands out uniquely as an up-and-coming city for indie developers, or this is simply just a result of the indie boom in general that is taking place across the globe, I am in no position to speak on. Kotaku, at least, seems to suggest that Chicago could be the next big city in indie gaming. We'll see.
Getting ready for the storm.
Regardless, I honestly had little idea what to expect coming into Bit Bash. This was an event with unprecedented scope in the Chicago indie game development scene, and there were a million things that could have gone horribly wrong. Luckily, none of those seem to have occurred. Instead, it was super awesome.
Any doubts that I had about the event pulling in a crowd were instantly dashed when people started lining up over an hour early just to get in (unfortunately I don't have any pictures of the morning line.) Right from the start it was packed, and this held true for most of the day. I'll have to ask about the official numbers, but I know that the event had somewhere around 1,200 pre-orders, and working at the gate for a bit leads me to believe that the number of walk-ins was deep into the hundreds. One of the things that surprised me a bit was the diversity of the crowd. Although it did skew towards the young adult population (i.e. the ones that you would expect to see at an indie game event), there were a fair amount of families with younger children there as well. I'm not sure how and where exactly this event was advertised, but I suppose the concept of "come play video games for free" can work even if you don't have big names like Mario Kart or Call of Duty to sell people on it.
Lots and lots of people playing lots and lots of video games.
The main draw was, of course, the playable indie games. The selections were focused (wisely, in my opinion) primarily on games that had either a strong local multiplayer component or some strange twist that made them uniquely stand out (in some cases, both.) Some games were final versions, while others were still in development, which gave us an early hands-on. Unfortunately I was working for much of the day (volunteer, remember?) so I didn't get a chance to try out everything, but I'll talk about a few of the games that I did play, as well as some key games that I didn't get around to.
Gang Beasts- I actually didn't get to try this game out because the line for it was pretty much always packed, but it would be remiss of me not to mention it. How do I explain Gang Beasts? It's kind of vaguely like if Smash Bros. was a 3D game for up to eight players at once with weird physics and some wrestling elements? Sort of? Basically it is a multiplayer brawler where your goal is to knock / throw the other players off of well... whatever you happen to be fighting on. With a variety of stages (including a big Ferris wheel, moving trucks, etc.) and environmental hazards and such, it looked pretty amazing. I will have to check it out eventually.
Crawl- I got to put some decent time into this game, which is a multiplayer game for up to four players where one person is the hero and the others have to try to kill them (whether through spawning a monster they can control or possessing a variety of traps.) If you manage to get that kill, you become the new hero and take over where the last one left off. Whoever can manage to level up high enough to take on the dungeon boss first has a shot at escaping alive. With a variety of upgrades for both the hero and monsters, a pretty awesome visual / audio presentation, and all around solid gameplay, I was impressed. There was only one dungeon in the demo, but I imagine there will be others in the final version?
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime- This was a pretty interesting game where one or two players control a circular spaceship and have to navigate an area, set shields, fight off enemies, and rescue um... bunnies for some reason? by using the various stations inside of the ship. It required a heck of a lot of coordination and teamwork, and when executed well was a pretty rewarding experience. My only real issue with this game is that the two player limit seemed semi-arbitrary, it feels like it could have been reworked to support up to four players. Ah well. I could definitely see Shirley and I checking this one out together.
Killer Queen- Killer Queen is a five against five (two opposing arcade cabinets) player game where each team has one super powerful queen bee and four less powerful bears and are fighting to keep each other from gathering... honey? Or something? I wish I could speak more on it because it looked great and seemed super popular, but again, I didn't get a chance to try this one out.
That game that I just now mentioned. With people playing it. Always.
Johann Sebastian Joust- I didn't play this yesterday, but I have played it in the past. It is a unique Playstation Move title which does not use a screen. You just gather people up into a circle and give everyone a controller. When the music plays slowly, even the slightest shake of the controller will set it off, eliminating that person from play. When the music speeds up, however, players have a bit more freedom of movement, and this is when they can try to attack other players to set off their controllers. There was pretty much always a big crowd around this game yesterday.
Samurai Gunn- This is not the first time that I've played Samurai Gunn, but it is always a great experience. It might seem like just another game in the Smash Bros. inspired four player brawler category, but it is has a pretty cool mechanic where each player, in addition to sword attacks, gets a total of three and only three gunshots they can use during each life, which leads to some serious strategizing to maximize their effectiveness. Combine that with a variety of unique stages that contain moving platforms and various environmental hazards, and you have a pretty awesome party game.
Crypt of the Necrodancer- Basically, a dungeon crawler that is also a rhythm game, played with a DDR dance pad. Whether this would appeal to you or not depends on whether that sounds awesome or not.
Relax Harder- Two people get hooked up to these funky head controllers that detect brainwaves, and whoever can relax the um... hardest? wins. So it's sort of like that one WarioWare mini-game where you are supposed to do nothing, except for your brain not your body. I'm not 100% sure how accurate this game measures relaxation, but it seemed neat.
Choosatron- A choose your own adventure text game that, instead of a screen, uses a mini-printer to present the dialog and choices. A pretty cool idea, although if it ever caught on it would probably kill a lot of trees.
My grocery receipts are never this fun!
Nidhogg- Wacky two player sword-fighting / platforming / etc. that gives you a fair amount of control over your sword. It's just a ton of fun.
Super Hexagon- Oh come on, you don't need me to tell you what this is. Fine. You're a small triangle that has to dodge incoming pieces of hexagons in various stages that range from hard to hardestestest. It's insane and everyone should have played it by now.
At 7 PM the night party began, and the free beer and live musicians / DJs appeared. As a musician I tend to be more interested in the musical choices at these type of events than a lot of people are, and I was pretty satisfied. I've seen Saskrotch perform live before, and his blend of chiptune and glitch is pretty awesome, and my good friend 7rus7me has been bringing the noise in Chicago for many years now. (You can check out the full list of musicians here.)
Video games and live music, much like pizza and a deep dish, are a perfect combination.
Everyone kept telling me that the free beer provided by Arcade Brewery was great (I'm not much on beer), but it did, however, run out somewhere around 9 PM, which I'm sure set back some people's night a bit. On the other hand, can you really complain about free beer running out?
There were also a variety of video game related prints on sale, many from local artists, starting at $20 each. I have no idea if they are still on sale, although I suppose I could look into that if anyone is interested.
So yeah, all in all I really enjoyed my time at Bit Bash, despite the fact that most of it was spent willingly partaking in various volunteer duties. It seems to me to be pretty much exactly what the Chicago indie game development scene needs; something that can help bring indie games to the masses, while showcasing a handful of Chicago developers in the process. Bit Bash also appears to have been a success, and a lot of people seem to have enjoyed it. If you missed out, I imagine that it will most likely take place again next year, so maybe I will see you there?
We also played Brainball in Montreal, but I think it was based on raw brain activity.
Anyway, sounds like it was pretty fun. Before checking out the web page, I assumed that it would be an 'games-in-development' thing, but it seems that there were a lot of 'indie greatest hits' on display. Man, arcades really need to come back. Local multiplayer is so fun.
As much as I love Nintendo and think they are still king of local multi (once heard someone say Samurai Gunn was better then Smash, I was like well, hold up a second here...) I do think that there is a bit of a local multi revival coming from indie developers (including our own Dapper Dave) and the majority of these games are sticking to PC. I feel like, outside of the big Nintendo franchises, PC is the place to be for local multi now.
You guys should've jumped on the Xbox train like me! All aboard!
(Caution: Track Under Construction)
I guess I have no valid reason for not having/playing these games. I suppose I could just hook my molten laptop up to the TV and use the Wireless 360 controller adapter. It just seems like such a pain in the ass. Every single time I open Steam, I have to update it. Then again, almost every time I play a PS3 game, a lengthy update is required.