Whipping Gamers Into a Frenzy
A Taste of the Fantastic Arcade
The Juegos Rancheros indie game meetup at the HighBall was more crowded than usual this past weekend. There was no special guest, just three of the more than 20 games announced for the Fantastic Arcade showcased and ready to play. The turnout resonated as a bellwether for a successful festival that is building on the momentum from its first two years and expanding into something even more impressive.
Certainly one of the biggest titles announced for the Arcade is the unreleased but already controversial Hotline Miami. It's a Day-Glo Legend of Zelda where Link is an amoral killer in a surreal Eighties nightmare. More simply, it's like playing the movie Drive. Even though the violence is pixilated, you might want to keep the kids away from this one.
Capybara Games, who worked on indie sensation Sword & Sworcery, brings the considerably more amped Super Time Force. The recipe for this one starts with Nintendo-era-classic, Contra. Keep the nostalgia, add a dash of humor and innovation, and you're pretty close. A gun-strapped velociraptor not cool enough for you? How about seeking revenge on the Jurassic fiend that killed you by traveling back in time to join yourself (who will make all the same moves from your previous turn) in the hopes that your two selves will be more successful than one? Sound complicated? Nah. Complicated is when you rack up a few deaths and there are five or more previous yous attempting to disable a T-Rex's head-mounted flamethrower.
Taking a more minimalist approach is Superhexagon from indie superstar Terry Cavanagh, creator of the equally addictive but less abstract VVVVVV. Players control an arrow that moves around a shape's circumference, avoiding walls closing in at all times. The game should be ready for purchase for your iPhone by Sept. 6 if you want to practice and impress the crowds at the Arcade. McPixel's slapstick, nut-kicking take on MacGyver, meanwhile, is already available for download. Political rabble-rousers Molleindustria return to Austin with Unmanned, about a day in the life of a drone pilot. The company previously made a splash with their smartphone game, Phone Story, about the working conditions of people making iPhones. (Yeah, it got banned from the iTunes App Store.)
Previous years' Fantastic Arcade panels have been largely interesting and insightful, though the shared space at the HighBall can be problematic. (Speakers have to compete with noisy games and bar chatter.) Co-curator Wiley Wiggins said via email that in addition to the developer talks, "There is a high probability of a free-for-all Nacho Vigalondo/Phil Fish panel(!!)." The exclamation points are his, but it's hard not to concur with Wiggins' punctuation choice in describing the mismatched pair. Vigalondo is a lively regular at Fantastic Fest (he won the New Wave Award for his debut feature Timecrimes). He also happens to know a lot about video games – he stole the show in his panel at the first Fantastic Arcade. And Fish has a knack for speaking his mind very freely at conferences, which has made him a divisive character in the indie gaming world even if praise for his long-developed game, Fez, is nearly unanimous.
The big addition to this year's Arcade is something Fantastic organizers are calling the Gamemaking Frenzy. Similar to a game jam, developers are given a theme and 48 hours to create a fully functioning game to unleash upon the world. Scheduled to dominate the weekend before the festival, the Frenzy will be open to both locals and gamemakers around the world. There will be a local headquarters for fevered coding sessions with confirmed participants including many of the visiting developers. The finished products will be posted online for all to play. And, really, what better way to get psyched for the festival?
The Fantastic Arcade will fill the HighBall Sept. 20-23.