The student developers of today will eventually become the legendary designers of tomorrow, and nowhere is this cliched statement more true than at Gotland University. This small Swedish outfit boasts alumni credited in games from Blizzard, Lionhead, Ubisoft, DICE, Starbreeze, Avalanche, Grin and many other studios... and are taught ethics and human rights issues as well as cutting edge game development. Each year, they bring their finest projects to GDC and Gamescom to be shown off to the world and brought to the attention of potential publishers.
We've already published previews of the outstanding mobile masterpiece Walkabout and the revolutionary RTS Victorious Skies, but it's time to take a look at two more student projects that are shaping up nicely.
Most students - and I speak from experience here - don't accomplish much of note in their first year. It's generally a time for kicking back, coasting and engaging in all manner of shenanigans... but Gotland's game design crew are thrown into the deep end, split into teams and tasked with creating videogames to be scrutinised by their peers. VeloCity is one of these first year projects, and it's incredibly fun to play despite being eight short weeks into development.
VeloCity is a fast-paced multiplayer brawler that vaguely resembles a cross between Super Smash Bros and Super Monkey Ball. Players are encased in an impenetrable sphere, loosed onto detailed levels strewn with pitfalls and tasked with ramming their opponents out of the stage. To do so, they'll need to harness the power of inertia, acceleration, friction and speed - since a sharp and endearing presentation masks a incredibly capable physics model. The five-strong team have slaved over creating the powerful physics engine from scratch, using the basic XNA toolkit to devastating effect. Building up speed and increasing your density with powerups is key to winning each match, which relies on players smashing into each other after gaining enough speed.
As mentioned, the levels are incredibly detailed even though it's an extremely early build. Obstacles, ramps and interactive elements such as fans and speed boosts all add unique and exciting challenges to the experience, and the team plans to add many more powerups and design elements as the pre-alpha code continues to take shape. Despite originally being designed as a cabinet arcade game equipped with trackball peripherals, VeloCity could well end up finding its way to the PC, Xbox 360 Indie marketplace and tablets/smartphones (using the gyroscope for acceleration). It's early days, but after several raucous minutes of play, I'm convinced that there'll be room for this unassuming work in progress in everyone's gaming collection.
Carnage: The Board Game
The board game?
Yes, you read that correctly. Gotland Students are encouraged to explore all aspects of game mechanics, and a small team has created a surprisingly immersive experience using little more than a board, some cards and a level of graphic design that rivals the most respected studios in terms of imagination and competency.
Carnage is a tile-based boardgame that revolves around vehicular combat in a Mad Max-esque universe. After creating a track out of a selection of tiles, players use a deck of accelerate, break and item cards to dictate their velocity and race towards the finish line. Corners can be drifted around, item crates can be obtained and speed-reducing damage can be meted out with merry abandon thanks to an enormous selection of imaginative weapons. Rather than being a stereotypical board game that relies upon dice and random chance, the use of these cards adds serious tactical depth and injects the experience with an genuine sense of urgency. Carnage feels like a breakneck death race straight out of RAGE, not a sedate distraction.
The weapon cards deserve a special mention, as they showcase some seriously impressive art direction along with some seriously dangerous imagination. Just look at them (pictured above). Considering that Carnage has only been in development for eight scant weeks including printing, its professionalism and polish is nothing short of staggering.
Board games, like local multiplayer-centric titles, invoke a sense of real friendship and camaraderie that's difficult to attain in an age where playing online tends to be the default option. I enjoyed a good half hour of light-hearted banter and reminiscing about student life while ragging my plastic car around the cardboard track... and if it proves successful, who knows? There could well be a lucrative potential franchise in the offing.