Seattle, the town that brought us diverse cultural artifacts ranging from Kurt Cobain to Frasier has another movement to add to its repertoire: independent games development. To celebrate this phenomenon, Jake Kazdal, founder of Haunted Temple Studios (creators of Eurogamer Expo favourite Skulls of the Shogun) invited a bunch of local game developers to strut their stuff in the first Seattle Indies Expo.
The rationale for why Seattle has such a thriving indie scene is disappointingly devoid of mystery. "Seattle's got so many ex-Bungie, ex-Valve, ex-Nintendo, ex-Microsoft, ex-whatever," Kazdal notes. When asked why so many of them leave their cushy jobs to go indie, the answer's just as simple. "A lot of them are getting laid off," Kazdal bluntly replies.
Rather than dwell on this, Kazdal remains optimistic. "There's finally valid distribution for this stuff," he adds. "With iPhone you don't need a publisher. People can just take a chance. Steam has been great for that stuff and that's in Seattle too. With Xbox Live Arcade, Xbox Live Indie Games, and PlayStation Network this is a mainstream thing now. It's not mainstream in the sense that it's going to topple Modern Warfare 3, but its big enough that people can say, 'f*** big games. I want to go do my own thing.'"
Evidently it's not just the coffee that fuels the thriving Northwest indie scene, though a little caffeine doesn't hurt. "I'm literally doing like four jobs," Kazdal explains. "I'm doing all the PR, the business stuff, talking to people online, setting things up, getting interviews, etc... Then, from 7pm to midnight, I'll turn off my phone, drink some beer, and do a whole day's work on the game stuff that's been waiting all day because I couldn't get to it earlier."
"It's exhausting," he admits, looking beat.
His passion clearly outweighs the exhaustion and he's not alone. At the expo was Skulls of the Shogun, Spacechem (which EG awarded a 9 back in February), and the the soon to be released Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (look for a review shortly). All looked fantastic, but hidden amongst these well documented indies were some hidden gems, many of which were shown to the public for the first time. Here's what I discovered.
Developer: Strange Loop Games
Clearly Vessel's protagonist, Arkwright, hasn't seen the Sorcerer's Apprentice. If he did, he might've learned that messing with powers beyond one's control to transform inanimate objects into automatons to do your chores isn't the brightest of ideas.
But alas, Arkwright's hubris gets the best of him when he discovers a way to bring liquids to life for cheap labour. Of course messing with nature backfires when his creations become overly sentient and run amok, leaving him to visit various work sites to clean up his mess in this 2D puzzle/platformer.
Early puzzles teach players how to create fluid drones called "fluros" through marvelous contraptions, but you later gain the ability to plant seeds and bring them to life with various liquids. Creatures can be constructed out of water, lava, glowing green goo, or red and blue gels that explode upon colliding.
Different fluros exhibit certain behaviors like following light sources, chasing you, or being attracted to the same liquid they're comprised of. Puzzles grow in complexity when all these elements are combined. One brain-teaser requires you to create a creature out of lava, then spray it with water at the opportune time to create steam to power a device. Another has players lure fluros around with glowing gel, and in some cases create glowing fluros to bait others into following them.
The possibilities are dizzying and managing your aqueous workforce is incredibly taxing, and overall it's a promising puzzler. Strange Loop is aiming to release Vessel later this year on PC with hopes of a console version to follow.