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The Independent Gamer is a curated roundup of news from indie gaming, landing here every other Friday.
It might seem difficult to top the month of August, which had the Game Developer’s Conference, Playcrafting’s Play NYC event and Gamescom in addition to the Indie World showcase and a slew of indie releases. But September welcomes PAX Online (the digital iteration of annual video game conference PAX West), which runs from Sept. 12-20 and includes the Indie Showcase.
From developers around the world, 20 games (of 350 titles perused on Steam) will be highlighted in genres including metroidvania, dating sim, action-adventure, horror, RPG, sports brawler, beat-’em-up, dungeon crawler, puzzle and more.
Until then, let’s get into some games that can be experienced now.
Build a Magnificent Ship and Care for Your Friends in Spiritfarer
As briefly noted in the last Indie Gamer column (when it appeared at Indie World), Spiritfarer is described by its Canadian developer, Thunder Lotus Games, as “a cozy management game about dying.” Creative director Nicolas Guérin is here to explain how that heavy and heady description came to be paired with a relaxing and aesthetically pleasing video game about a ferrymaster who builds a seafaring ship and becomes a guardian-type figure for a group of spirits.
Guérin joined Thunder Lotus in 2017 after working at Ubisoft on the Assassin’s Creed franchise for many years. Initially, Guérin says, the pitch for Spiritfarer related to Charon, the ferryman of the dead in Greek mythology, and Studio Ghibli’s 1988 animated fantasy film My Neighbor Totoro. As the story took shape, it became about a character having to find a group of spirits to nurture. “Care was a central theme pretty soon in the game,” Guérin tells The Hollywood Reporter.
“We wanted to talk about a difficult subject matter in a much more comforting way,” he adds, explaining that death is so common, yet so naturally considered in many games that include more jarring representations of one’s life ending, such as a man being stabbed, even though he has a family or is guarding something that other characters want.
At the beginning of the project, Guérin spent time in end-of-life care facilities — his brother in France is head of a geriatric ward in a hospital — for research, while tapping into the emotions felt after his own grandmother passed away in 2018 at age 97. “All these things converged for me to create that database of stories and feelings,” says Guérin, who thought about how people consider their own demise or how they react to the passing of others.
While the characters were narrative archetypes at first, they morphed into being real people with real anecdotes as the development progressed. “We wanted to put a bit of ourselves in the game, and many of the characters are inspired by team members relatives who passed away, or friends,” continues Guérin. He goes on to say that there is a lot of humor and fun to be had. “The game is actually sad only in very specific moments where we have to let someone go.”
As far as Guérin’s own game tastes, he easily moves between praising Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto as a title that has a point, that says something and makes a statement as a parody of Western civilization, to the first game from Thunder Lotus, Jotun, a 2D hand-drawn game told in Old Norse.
“To me, I always felt that games had to strive to do something different and to mean something, and to matter.”
Spiritfarer is available on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Steam and PS4.
Metroidvania Platformer Sheepo Lands on Steam
Sheepo developer Kyle Thompson explains to THR that the idea for his game, an exploratory, shape-shifting platformer billed as a “pacifist metroidvania,” came about after he watched The Thing. “It’s obviously a very different form of shape-shifting, it’s a lot less wholesome, but I was trying to think of a way to incorporate it,” says the developer, who began creating games during childhood.
He adds that he decided upon a strange planet, where creatures would be found and transformed. The game is non-linear, with the basic idea being to find the boss characters — the king or queen of the species — and then grab their egg to begin a process of shape-shifting, meeting unusual characters along the way.
To create the game, Thompson did all the programming, art and design, while his brother Eric Thompson composed the music. Among the inspirations, Thompson drew upon the fluid movement of 2013’s Rayman Legends, also calling upon Ori and the Blind Forest and Axiom Verge.
Sheepo is currently available on Steam for PC and takes about four hours to complete the main story.
Among other releases …
Australian developer 5 Lives Studios and German-Austrian publisher Deep Silver released survival adventure Windbound, a game that shipwrecks players on an uncharted island and tasks them with adapting to the land in order to stay alive.
Toronto-based studio Reptoid Games (known for Fossil Hunters) unveiled the narrative puzzle game Fire Tonight, which is set in 1990 and follows a couple who set out to locate each other in a burning city. The game, which will be playable as part of PAX Online 2020 and Tokyo Game Show 2020, releases on Nintendo Switch and Steam in the first quarter of 2021.
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