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The Independent Gamer is a curated roundup of news from indie gaming, landing here every other Friday.
Even though the pandemic is ongoing, plenty of exciting game offerings — that no doubt appeals to indie and mainstream gamers alike — have landed so far in September, allowing for a much-needed escape.
From news of next-gen Xbox and PlayStation consoles at different price levels to a collection of classic Super Mario games set to arrive on Nintendo Switch and a teaser for the much anticipated, action-heavy Breath of the Wild prequel game.
Among new releases that deserve visibility, we have a story-driven puzzle experience from a mixed-reality outfit that declares, “People need more magic in their everyday lives,” alongside a lovable and hilarious co-op game for couples and friends to go head-to-head in quick-fire rounds.
Explore Yourself and Your Surroundings in HoloVista
San Francisco-based mixed-reality storytelling platform Aconite are releasing their debut title HoloVista, a single-player, story-driven puzzle experience, on iOs devices through the App Store on Sept 30.
Players take on the role of Carmen, a young artist who enjoys poetry, interior design and architecture and is tasked with photographing objects inside an opulent, colorful mansion. As the character chooses which photos to post on her social media feed to fit a certain mood or setting — like a job interview — one finds out more about her and what is really at stake.
The game is created by Nadya Lev and Star St. Germain, both of whom have backgrounds in design and art, while sharing an interest in neuroscience. They started working on the game a couple of years ago, during a time in which there was a lot of “chatter in the news about social media,” St. Germain tells The Hollywood Reporter. “The Cambridge Analytica scandal had just come out, and we were interested in exploring the idea of how we could subvert social media as a storytelling device.”
Lev adds that a lot of the social media influencers that people tend to follow are typical archetypes and might as well be characters in a story — “you don’t really get a sense of their real lives. It’s all incredibly curated. There’s a lot of fabricated narratives, to the point where people are having fake weddings.”
She goes on to say that it can definitely be compelling to follow someone’s journey on social media, so the team used that device as the foundation for a gripping, suspenseful and impactful story, where the character — the player — is in the position of someone whose story is unfolding on social media. As that happens in the game, their story “gets stranger and stranger,” Lev teases.
At the beginning of the game, Lev explains, Carmen is unsure of her place in the world. Her sister is and friends are doing well in life, and Carmen is broke and looking for a job. “Carmen is constantly measuring herself against what success looks like,” says Lev, “and I think on some level she even knows that it’s all bullshit, but she still buys into it. I think a lot of us are in that situation.”
Among Lev’s visual inspirations was the artist Blake Kathryn, who actually worked on the game on as the lead environment artist, bringing art-deco elements and more. For St. Germain, her influences were more conceptual; to make the environments as strong as possible, she researched The Memory Palace and the idea of using “the part of your brain that deals with geography to help you navigate your memory.”
From there, St. Germain went to literature and read books such as House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski — who deals with these ideas of geography and memory — and also the composition of comics, whereby you must tell a story in a non-linear way. “You can’t tell control which panel the viewer of a comic is going to read first, necessarily, you can just suggest that their eye go in a particular direction with the environment of the comic panel and the shape of them.” Artist J.H. Williams III was one of St. Germain’s inspirations in the comic world, particularly his work in detective comics.
Moving forward, St. Germain and Lev are continuing to explore mixed reality, an area they define as “anything that can blur the line between reality and the story.” They started Aconite shortly after Pokemon Go was a hit, anticipating that mass audiences would express interest in mixed reality storytelling projects.
“One of the things that makes this particular title so immersive is it really taps into your proprioception sense, which is like your body’s neurological sense of where it is in space,” says Lev. “A lot of people call it the sixth sense. The notion that you’re looking around and you’re using the device as motion, it taps into that sense of yours to make you feel like you’re actually there.”
Preheat the Oven and Sacrifice Dough Creatures in Bake ‘n Switch
From Malaysian-based development studio Streamline Games, self-published couch co-op party game Bake n’ Switch dropped on the Nintendo Switch on Sept. 10.
Players choose from characters including Rosemary, a sweet, grey-haired woman who “moves slow and bakes fast,” and Salt, who is a force in the kitchen, and are tasked with baking the correct dough type amid sandstorms and on tropical islands and under time pressure constraints.
The game isn’t for the faint of heart, though. “Vaporize enemies to crumbs” is one of the instructions. When low scores are reached, some of the characters tap their foot nervously and shake their head.
Bake ‘n Switch has a vague Overcooked vibe, offering a lot of humor and personality into a casual game that you can pick up and play and even relieve some stress.
Don’t forget the Indie Games Showcase hosted by Japanese publisher Playism on Sept. 21.
There will be world premieres and updates to games releasing on next-gen consoles, as well as plenty of surprises. Below is a link to the English feed, hosted by Twitch personality j-mon.
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