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Sense of Wonder Night: Innovative Games at TGS

By Janelle | September 30, 2014 at 10:05 am

Sense of Wonder Night is an annual part of the Tokyo Game Show that celebrates innovation in gaming. The event is usually held right after TGS’s second day, but this year it was held during the precious hours that the show floor was open. Therefore, I don’t expect it to get much press attention, but as a fan of the gaming medium, I’ll do my part to report on these innovative games.

Speedrunners
First up, developer Casper van Est took to the stage to talk about multiplayer experiences with Halo: Combat Evolved and Mashed: Fully Evolved in his youth, and how those games influenced the design choices of SpeedRunners, his multiplayer parcour-ish racing game. In SpeedRunners, players play superheroes racing around a circular track, trying not to cross a finish line but rather to maintain a lead long enough to knock others off the screen. Players can jump, slide, walljump and use grappling hooks to traverse the terrain, and can pick up items and boosts to gain an advantage.

The camera follows the player in the lead, and players who fall off the screen are eliminated. The player in the lead slowly becomes disadvantaged, though, because the greater your lead, the less of the track you can see coming. To keep downtime for eliminated players to a minimum, van Est made the decision to have the screen size begin to shrink after the first elimination, quickly bringing the competition to a feverish pitch as it becomes easier for one single slip to end the race.

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Heath and played this on the show floor and it was fantastic. New players came in from the wandering TGS crowd and joined us, got the hang of it, and were instantly competitive. It’s one of those games that takes a minute to learn, but by no means does it ever get easy because you’re constantly against other people.

Push Me Pull You
Described as “like trying to wrestle with your small intestines,” Push Me Pull You is a game that engenders both fierce competition and cooperation between players. One or two players may take control of a snake-like character with a human head and torso at each end, and compete with another character to wrestle a ball onto their side to score points. Developer House House (not a typo) mentioned wanting to create something that reached the feverish competitive pitch of two-on-two sports like soccer.

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In order to move the ball around, players push it and each other with their heads, and can also press trigger buttons on the controller to lengthen or shrink their body. A longer body can cover more ground but has less pushing power, and a shorter body can exert a greater amount of force. House House said it was fun to identify the types of strategies that began to emerge when players tried this new kind of sport: players would do things like curl up around the ball protectively (“The Snail”), or would wedge themselves into the folds of their opponent’s body (“The Cinnamon Roll”).

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One of the judges remarked that characters could choose to play as older men and women, and a bald man kept showing up in the videos. One of the House House guys replies, “Yes, he’s our favourite!” and went on to explain that he thought it would be a positive thing to imagine that all types of people played this sport, not just young and very fit characters, but older ones too.

Push Me Pull You ultimately won over both the judges and the audience, winning Best Game Design Award and taking the Audience Award as well.

Picolecitta
Picolecitta took the award for Best Presentation, and was in the final running for the Audience Award, and it wasn’t hard to see why.  The presenter from Teco had an energetic stage presence, and his affable way of describing his dreams of the future of coop games won the audience over instantly. When he was young, he explained, he had loved playing coop games with a friend, and he envisioned that in the future, he would be able to play with even MORE people! But instead, people play together over the internet, far away from each other. So he developed Picolecitta, a 10-player coop game. At this point, he began unspooling ten USB Famicom and Super Famicom controllers from under the podium, connected to a massive USB hub. Everyone was enchanted.

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While we never got to see ten people play the game simultaneously, Teco demonstrated how each character moved with a different controller. Picolecitta is impossible to win without cooperation. Even if players can get the key and unlock the level’s exit, if even one player fails to reach the exit, the level can’t be cleared. In a video, he showed that after cooperating to push heavy blocks and forming a human staircase to allow one player to reach the key, nine players were able to exit, leaving one player stranded behind a block and unable to progress.

In order to finish, players actually came back through the level exit to help their teammate reach the goal. In another video, there was only one character onscreen, but it turned out that he moved according to a majority “vote” polled from the input of all the controllers: if five or more players pressed the jump button at the same time, for example, the character would jump. Anything less than friendly cooperation would get players nowhere.

8bitMMO
Robby Zinchaktook to the stage next to talk about his 13-year-long quest to develop an MMO. In his youth, he had spent a lot of time playing Ultima Online, and decided he would set out to make one of his own, not realizing the usual size of MMO development teams. After some perseverance, as a highschool student, he had finally created a working prototype: as the screenshots of his prototype showed, there was only one character (a dog), only one item (a party hat), and if more than three players logged on simultaneously, it would crash.

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Nevertheless,  Zinchak and Archive Entertainment kept persisting, and eventually created something much more fun and stable: a sandbox construction online game called 8bitMMO. Despite its humble beginnings and one-man dev team, 8bitMMO, now has tens of thousands of users, and supposedly the land mass of player-created towns, dungeons, PvP arenas, houses and museums exceeds the total land mass of the United Kingdom. It is live, still in continued development, and can be played at 8BitMMO.net.

Fill
Fill is a touchscreen game taking simplicity to an extreme degree. It has no text, no sound, only two colors, and is comprised only of geometric shapes and solid lines. But this ruthless culling of extraneous material and distractions lets the real meat of the game shine through: the quest to discover how to play.

The screen is filled with black and white shapes, and by messing around with touching, tapping and swiping, the player can discover that the goal is to fill the screen with white. Sometimes this involves tapping white spaces until they grow to fill the black spaces; other times the white shapes must be slid into place, or rotated. Once the player understands the premise, each level becomes a new adventure in exploration: how is this supposed to be solved?

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DeveloperYO1 KOMORI posited that since the game contains no text instructions, no colors and requires no sound, it could be played by not just human beings from any culture, but also animals, and possibly space aliens as well.

Lurking
Developed by “DigiPen Team: Those Guys,” Lurking is a first-person, sound-based survival horror game. In it, the player is trapped in a darkened laboratory, and can only see through the sounds that they produce. Footsteps, heavy breathing, kicked or thrown objects, and open doors all emit sound waves that bounce around and illuminate edges in the darkness. The player even may wear a headset and make noises through the microphone as well. But lurking in the lab are monsters that can also hear the player’s sounds, so the game becomes a difficult balancing act: do you stay silent, and fumble in the darkness, or do you risk making noise to find your way? The player has no way of defending themselves against the monsters, so outsmarting or outrunning them are your only options.

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Scattered throughout the laboratory are audio records, like the recordings found in Bioshock, which offer some exposition, but can double as “sound lamps,” emitting sound at a fixed rate to light the way. The team demonstrated that these could even be used to distract enemies, and threw one near a monster to demonstrate. The monster made a beeline straight for the source of the noise, letting the player slip by undetected.

The team mentioned that they are working on an improved “spiritual successor” for the game.

Chained
Winner of the Best Art Award, Chained is a game with narrative heavily woven into the mechanics, developed by a 12-person team of Digipen students over an 8-month period. The main character is weighed down by a heavy ball and chain, and must escape a crumbling world with, and often despite, it. The team reps stated that they wanted to tell a story about negative dependency through the game: the ball and chain is clearly a negative force in the character’s life, but it can still be useful in solving some problems, as the character and player adapt to carrying it around. The ball could be used to smash obstacles, and could be thrown as an anchor and the chain used as a ladder to reach high places.

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But later in the game, there is a moment where the chain is severed, and the ball vanishes for a time. The team explained that they saw a very interesting reaction from players, who seemed upset and panicked when the ball was removed. When the ball rolls back into view, no longer attached to the chain, they found that many players quickly rushed to pick it up, even though it has no use, drags the player down, and he is free to continue without it! Given this reaction, they felt that they were successful in depicting, even emulating, a negative dependency through Chained‘s mechanics.

Expand
In Expand, players control a small pink square navigating through a black and white labyrinth. Rather than have the player move between rooms, instead the circular labyrinth shifts, reforms and twists around the player. The developer and composer aimed to connect with players emotionally by using meditative piano music timed to the actions of the player, abstract shapes and a minimalist palette, and ambiguous poetic phrases that appeared during play.

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Though it’s difficult to tell exactly where one “level” ends and another begins, the level design in Expand is varied and beautiful. The player must be careful not to get trapped between moving walls or not to touch red hazard shapes, but if they do, the whole labyrinth turns as the player is returned to the last checkpoint.

Miegakure
Miegakure is a puzzle game that aims to explore the 4th dimension. In Miegakure, players explore the world and solve puzzles by using the 4th dimension to navigate between several 3D planes. Many people have trouble wrapping their heads around the idea of the 4th dimension, so in the presentation, developer Marc ten Bosch set out to explain it in a way people can understand. The explanation given at SOWN was almost identical to this video produced by the developer, so rather than try to explain it, I’m going to recommend you watch this:

Regardless of whether the judges completely understood the explanation, they seemed to appreciate the ambition, and awarded Miegakure the Best Experimental Game Award.

Dub Wars
Born out of a desire to make a game out of dubstep music, Dub Wars is an unusual reversal on the game development process. As one judge noted, the usual process when making a game is to put the music later in development, as kind of a side bit of polish, rather than integrating it into the project’s core from the beginning. In Dub Wars, the player controls a ship in a top-down shooter, and every level is built around a dubstep song, not the other way around. The catch is that the player’s weapons only fire to the beats of the music.

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MURA Interactive’s representatives said that they worked very hard to make sure that the levels were tailored to the songs and artists they wanted to feature, and even went so far as to put Easter eggs connected to the artists in levels.

Dub Wars was an Ouya game that is now on Steam Early Access for an oddly high price of $20. Seems a bit steep for an Android game, but if people want it, there’s that.

Topics: News, Sense of Wonder Night, Tokyo Game Show, Tokyo Game Show 2014