And now for something completely different. Regular followers of my weekly XBLIG roundups will be aware that I'm a militant promoter of Indie Games, and this hasn't changed just because I happen to be surrounded with flashy booths and titanic publishers here at Gamescom. The Indie scene is one of the last true bastions of creativity left in the gaming industry after years of reprocessed sequels- and it doesn't get any more independent than Gotland University. It's a Swedish game design school that holds an annual student competition, and as such, they're free to explore new concepts and art styles without constraints from publishers and the sequel culture. The competition winners have the opportunity to show off their wares at Gamescom as well as various cash prizes... and frankly, they've crafted some immensely promising experiences. Pay close attention, because these three unsung games are quite unlike anything else you'll see in the show.
Developer: Northern Gate
The Indie scene isn't short of a few hand drawn sidescrollers, but Pawns is a thing of genuine beauty. The art style and meticulously crafted graphics are both colourful and incredibly detailed- and I'm not exaggerating when I say that it gives Braid a run for it's money. A huge amount of blood, sweat and tears has clearly gone into Pawns' presentation... and every drop of it is clearly visible.
Gameplay-wise, you control one of two champions sent out by mother nature to punish mankind for their destruction of the planet. Each of the characters can draw on two of the four seasons; with the Stone guardian capable of summoning wintery blasts and life-restoring trees whilst his companion wields raging sunbeams and autumn wind. The brawling action is fast and furious, requiring fast fingers and two-player cooperation to succeed.
Pawns was running on an Xbox 360, but project lead Ruben Johansson informed us that it's not likely to reach the Indie Marketplace. I ardently hope that this won't be the case and that you all will get the chance to play the finished article- simply because it's one of the freshest and most interesting new experiences on the Gamescom floor. One to watch.
Developer: Zamarkand Interactive
Forget the world, there's simply not enough love in videogames these days. Colourless presents a cooperative romance story featuring two lovers that have to work closely to circumvent obstacles and bring colour back to their monochrome home. The couple operates as a team, with the manly Santiago able to leap over extremely tall objects whilst Maria slides through otherwise inaccessible areas. Both characters have different attacks and need to stay close together in order to operate effectively. Puzzles can be circumvented with close teamwork and timing- and in a pinch, both characters can hug to regain some much-needed energy. Aww.
Artistically, Colourless is inspired by French graphic novels from the 1930s. It's a bold, stylish look that mixes black & white backgrounds with rich, vibrant characters- and genuinely stands out amongst the ravaged battlefields of the expo hall.
Colourless is currently up and running on PCs and is apparently headed to Xbox Live Indie Games. We truly hope that it makes it there- and that you'll be able to get your hands on this truly charming little title.
Developer: Square Eyed Vision
Abzolium is an isometric 4-player deathmatch tournament with a few masterful twists on the familiar formula. Each steampunk arena constantly evolves and adapts around the combatants, creating different floor plans, traps and opportunities for tactical play. Persistent points rewarded for kills and victories can be used to upgrade character skills between bouts; providing a massively addictive perks system that elevates it above most other twinstick shooters.
The music sounds scripted, but I was assured that an algorithm randomly composes it on the fly out of several different samples. It's impressively dynamic and sets out to provde a new game each and every round.
Abzolium was developed using XNA and is slated for an Xbox Live Indie or Arcade release along with local and Xbox Live multiplayer. We'll be following this one closely and will be sure to feature it in an Xbox Live Indie Game of the Week roundup if it makes the grade! From what we've seen, it probably will.