Fantastic Arcade Day 2
More lessons I learned from a bunch of indie devs in a dark theatre
By James Renovitch, 10:30AM, Sat. Sep. 21
Things got a little sexy, a tad embarrassing, and extremely floppy yesterday at the Fantastic Arcade. I'm tempted to leave it at that, but here are a few more details.
Lesson 1: Narwhals can be sexy, but not too sexy (see above)
One of the Arcade’s surprise hits is a multiplayer fighting game starring narwhals. Breakfall, the Canadian duo behind the game, gave the ocean-dwellers a neon makeover and put them in space where they have only their horns to protect themselves in a survival match against their own kind. The simple control scheme consists of only two options: fly forward and flop. Throw in an early 90s color palette and aesthetic and you have Starwhal: Just the Tip. It might just be the subtitle that gives the game its strangely erotic edge, or it could be the incessant bucking and erotic acrobatics that one doesn’t expect from intergalactic sea creatures. It was enough to make Arcade host Wiley Wiggins exclaim, “If Jacques Cousteau were here, he’d shit all over the floor.”
Lesson 2: What looks like a novelty project could be a whole new genre.
Speaking of flopping in vaguely sexual ways, Q.E.D. is a game about break dancing sausages. Much like Starwhal the player has limited control options. In this case the control stick produces a kind of body roll and there are two buttons that make your hands grab whatever it’s touching. Upon taking control of one of the sausage-people it’s easy to quickly assume you’re doing something wrong, but after a minute or two it’s clear you’re doing something very right. (See the short video below for proof.) Every gyration is its own break dancing innovation. The game’s creator, Stephen Ascher, talked about his inspiration consisting of 80s cult flick Breakin’ and the notoriously glitchy skateboarding game Skate 3. Ascher called his game a procedural comedy and it may be the first of its kind. Instead of scripting jokes or funny interactions into the game, Ascher designed the game to encourage players to discover and invent ridiculous situations for themselves. A sausage in a hat isn't funny itself, but when you manage to guide that brat to grab a dog and do a handplant into a headspin, it's hard not to feel like a comedic genius.
Lesson 3: Don’t agree to demo a dancing game in front of an audience
Learned that one the hard way playing Necrodancer only minutes after arriving at the Arcade. It’s part dungeon crawler and part Dance Dance Revolution. Defeat creatures of the underworld by controlling your movements and attacks with a dance pad, all without losing the beat. I could not, in fact, dance like no one was watching, because there was literally a theatre's worth of people watching. Video proof below.
Lesson 4: Saam Pahlavan’s reign continues
None of the players in the second round of the Spelunky tournament could even come close to the inspired play of the local. Read my report from day 1 of the fest for more on his near legendary performance.
You only have two more days to check out the Fantastic Arcade, so peruse the schedule. It's at the Alamo Lakeline and it's free and open to the public. Just walk right by all the people with badges. You don't need a badge where you're going.