Secrets Of Grindea is a indie classic in the making. As both an homage and parody of classic JRPGs that packs strong mechanics and innovative ideas of its own, not to mention 4-way multiplayer and gorgeous visuals, it's easy to forget that it comes from the humblest of backgrounds. Three Swedish game design students originally designed Secrets Of Grindea as a Gotland University project, which ended up winning big at this year's Swedish Game Awards after a huge amount of hard work and sleepless nights.
Having met Pixel Ferrets at Gotland Game Conference 2012 and previewing the pre-alpha version earlier this year, I was keen to catch up with them to find out how development is progressing.
Jonathan Lester (Dealspwn): First of all, thanks for managing to tear yourself away from development (and Halo 4) long enough to talk to us! Could you please introduce yourselves to our readers and explain your role at Pixel Ferrets?
Pixel Ferrets: We're a very small studio consisting of three Swedish game developers: Teddy the programmer, Vilya the graphics artist and Fred the animator. We met during our three years at Gotland University where we studied Game Design together. At the end of the second year, we were at a crossroads where we could join up and build something together, and since our tastes in games were so compatible we decided to go for it!Click here to read more...
All great games have to start somewhere, and Gotland University gives their students a truly great start. Nestled in a disarmingly picturesque Swedish island, this small yet breathtakingly innovative game design course grounds applicants in the theory, even the ethics, of how to create the next generation of games - but practically applies this knowledge from the get-go. From the very first year, developers (for that is what they are) split into teams and design imaginative, polished games with retail in mind; given free reign to experiment with big ideas and recklessly innovative control schemes, freed from the grasping hands of shareholders and marketing departments. They learn the importance of teamwork and delegation as well as raw coding or design skills... and over the last decade, have produced games that rival even the biggest AAA studios in terms of quality, scope and good old fashioned fun. Indeed, Gotland's output has consistently been a highlight of my Gamescom coverage every single year.
At the end of the academic year, after spending a few stressful and sleepless weeks coding excellent games, students are invited to present their work to a jury of industry veterans, luminaries, developers and us press types - both to gain useful feedback and to participate in an awards ceremony to honour their achievements. Set out like a traditional expo, the Gotland Games Conference merges criticism with informative presentations and a relaxed, candid atmosphere. I was privileged to be invited as part of the jury panel this year thanks to my aggressive focus on indie games criticism (alongside veterans from Ubisoft, Blizzard, DICE, Three Rings, Paradox Interactive and the marketing side of things), and what I saw over the course of three days further convinced me that the sleepy town of Visby is set to become a world-famous indie collective. Just as importantly, their students are destined for great things, and many of the games on show are likely to become household names in the near future.
You heard it here first.
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Back at this year's Gamescom expo, I took the time to shed some light on the Indie legends from Gotland University: the Swedish game design school with big ideas and massive talent. Walkabout was one of the most impressive titles on show, as it's a hauntingly beautiful puzzler with peerless art direction and superb mechanics. We reckoned that it would be a "crime if this stunning masterwork fails to make it to market," and so we're delighted to announce that it's available on the App Store in time for Christmas. Lucid Dreams have created a sensational work of art.
You can buy it here for 69p. Sorry, I mean, you should buy it for 69p.
It's extremely impressive when indie developers create incredible works of art that rival the biggest and best games around in terms of scope, polish and pure imagination. And it's absolutely humbling when they're university students. A team of second year students from the presigious game design course at Gotland University, Sweden, are designing what could quite frankly be the most impressive mobile/tablet game since Angry Birds - and what's more, it's shaping up to be a bona fide work of art.
The project's name is Walkabout, from fledgeling student studio Lucid Dreams. Look upon their works, ye mighty yet artistically bankrupt AAA publishers, and despair! Or better yet: pay attention.
In this imaginative Indie title, players are responsible for a small group of bizarre and trusting characters called Walkabouts. They can't be controlled directly (rather, they'll merrily trundle forward regardless hazards, pits or spikes), but the aim of the game isn't to order them about. Rather, it's to rotate the world around them.
Click here for more details about this remarkable Indie experience...
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.