Gamescom isn't just for the big boys; the massive triple-A titans with their well-oiled hype machine and well-oiled trade show models. It's also a place for university students to showcase their indie wares to both the public and prospective publishers, and as far as I'm concerned, it's the most exciting bit of the expo every single year. Unfettered by shareholders and overheads, the game designers of the future are free to create entirely new, exiting and revolutionary game experiences that put their to shame. They may be small (and many are works in progress), but they're showing an enormous amount of promise.
We've got three universities and loads of great Indie games to cover over the next few days, so to kick things off, we'll start with a college from the host nation. Berlin University Of Applied Sciences is one of the few public academies on the continent to offer Game Design as a BSc, and they brought along a seriously impressive selection of titles to show me.
Spectaculum: A Gipsy Adventure
How many second year students does it take to create a unique and thoroughly charming 3D action game? Seven of them to be exact... and after nine months of gruelling work, their masterpiece is shaping up nicely. Spectaculum casts up to four players as travellers who have to pull their wooden caravan through dangerous, enemy-infested territory. Capable physics makes light work of dealing with the interaction between multiple players, ropes and the heavy mobile home itself, which provides health regeneration and extra buffs to characters within its range.
Naturally it's not as simple as dragging a box around. Enemies, seemingly covetous of your cozy caravan, all possess different resistances and vulnerabilities that need to be exploited using each character's special attacks. Not only that, but abilities can be combined to create powerful elemental effects such as burning knives. All of the cast have their own distinct animations, swagger and personality.
It's an extremely early build, but the visuals are looking crisp, colourful and detailed thanks to competent use of the Unity 3D engine - which is capable of powering anything from student projects to massive Codemasters F1 titles. This flexibility means that the overworked team have the option of releasing on a number of platforms including PC, Mac, Xbox 360 and iOS. We hope that Spectaculum makes it to market, and we'll let you know if and when it does.
MOA: Multiplayer Offroad Action!
Off-roading is awesome. So is capture the flag. The five-strong team behind this promising vehicular combat game has accepted both of these important tenets of game design and decided that it's time for vehicles to be more than just transport or gun turrets.
In MOA, teams of players will rag their vehicles around detailed and nuanced maps in a number of objective gametypes, with a lack of weapons making skilful driving and reckless collisions much more important than just packing the biggest gun. Thankfully the handling is absolutely exceptional thanks to the team slaving over making the experience as authentic as possible without sacrificing the all-important fun. Though the Unity-powered visuals are fairly basic at this stage, it's actually surprisingly attractive to behold - and we hope that the eyecatching wireframe style will make it through to the final build.
PC and Xbox Live are being targeted for release - and we'd be psyched to play it. Fingers crossed.
4 second year students have been working to an intensely ambitious mission statements over the last ten weeks. Starlancer meets starcraft. No pressure.
Upon starting a game, you'll be presented with attractive unity-powered 3D starscape that you can fly around at leisure. An enormous enemy fleet awaits your devastating lasers, complete with nimble fighters, capital ships and unit production structures. The dogfighting is tense and competent, using slick mouse/keyboard controls that allow for fine manipulation in the heat of combat.
But wait, there's more. You probably noticed that I mentioned "unit production structures" in the paragraph above, and a quick button press flips the battlefield into a 2D top-down RTS. You can create units, structures and commands on the fly, seamlessly switching between the two radically different gameplay modes to create a single cohesive game. It's genuinely extremely impressive, and doubly so in multiplayer where identifying and targeting the enemy's commander tends to be incredibly important. Interceptor is shaping up to be an exceptional genre hybrid, and we hope to see it on Digital Distribution outlets or store shelves. Frankly, it deserves to make some money.