Getting Rezzed: Indie Gaming Rises Up In Brighton

By Matt Bailey

The weather in Brighton a couple of weeks ago was as miserable as it's been for most of what we call summer, but while the sun may not have been shining, PC and Indie games certainly were, thanks to the new show from Eurogamer.net and Rock, Paper, Shotgun; Rezzed. Taking place in The Brighton Centre on England's south coast, the event was more subdued than Eurogamer's own expanding expo, with a very friendly vibe and a great chance for smaller developers to get their much-deserved time in the spotlight.

Not that there weren't big games at Rezzed. Titles such as FarCry 3, Borderlands 2 and Aliens: Colonial Marines were in attendance, and while they might also be getting console releases, they are games likely to have a sizeable PC audience. Upcoming PC-exclusives XCOM: Enemy Unknown, End of Nations, and ShootMania: Storm were also present, and all of these - bar XCOM - were playable on the show floor for the first time to the general public. The real stars, though, were the indie games.

Rezzed took place in a rather sunny Brighton...

Rezzed took place in a rather sunny Brighton...

We were immediately drawn to Gunpoint, a 2D side-scrolling action-stealth game which is primarily being developed by PC Gamer's Tom Francis. Richard Pilot - who joined me at the event - didn't realise it would be at the show, so when I confirmed its presence on our journey down to Brighton, it became the thing we rushed to as we got through the doors. And we were not disappointed. The game is simply a pleasure to play, with surprisingly easy controls and a fantastic low-fi art style. It's a side-scrolling mouse-driven action-stealth game, but that's just labels; it's really a game about breaking into a building, completing a task and making your way back out again without being shot by the guards. You don't shoot anyone, instead relying on your skills in sneaking and your ability to rewire the building. The latter allows you to hook up switches that can only be triggered by guards to doors you need opened; by encouraging them to hit those switches - say by turning off the lights from the other end of the room - you can make your way in. A good selection of levels were available on the show floor and it had us hooked immediately. We very much look forward to seeing more of Gunpoint when it comes out (hopefully) later this year.

Another game that immediately had us hooked was Prison Architect from Introversion Software, creators of Uplink, Darwinia and most recently, Multiwinia. We've been waiting for their next PC game for some time, and for quite a while that was Subversion, but as developer Chris Delay explained in his insightful talk at Rezzed, they just couldn't make it fun. Chris demoed Subversion on stage, and indeed the game has a fantastic engine with lots of intricate systems; the objective is to complete missions such as jewel heists with a squad of people where you set up elaborate plans, such as cutting wires, sneaking past guards, and using mirrors on lasers. However, with so much freedom it can be too easy to circumvent the system, and it was difficult to make the game enjoyable. There was, however, a prison break level which eventually became Prison Architect, the game that Introversion were showing off in the session and on the show floor. It has the feel of a classic Bullfrog-style management game - think Theme Hospital but in a prison - and the story level that was playable showed off many of the game's features, including those intricate systems that Chris loves so much. We'll have a full preview of the game on the site soon.

FarCry 3 was one of the big names present alongside the indies

FarCry 3 was one of the big names present alongside the indies

Smash hit ArmA II mod DayZ was also on display with some expensive head tracking hardware (TrackIR), allowing those who hadn't discovered the realism-based zombie survival game to get some hands-on time with what everyone's been talking about lately, and those who were familiar to play around with the technology.

We also got to see what had happened to a couple of indie games which we'd seen at last year's Gamescom, but which still haven't been released. Skulls of the Shogun is a light-hearted turn-based strategy game that which not only looks impressive, but seems to be almost complete. However, as the game has gone from launching on just the Xbox Live Arcade to having a simultaneous launch on Windows 8 desktops and tablets, as well as Windows Phone 7 devices, it is waiting for the arrival of Microsoft's new OS. Thankfully we now know that's going to be October 26th, so expect to see the game shortly after that. Our own Andrew Rouse got a look at Strike Suit Zero in Cologne last year, and since then the developers have broken off from Doublesix to form Born Ready, and the game itself has come along well. A section of the space combat was playable on the show floor running on PCs with joysticks, which should have pleased the attendees who probably long for more games like this as much as we do. Visually it looks great too, showing how much can be achieved even with a more modest budget. We'll be having another look at the game at this year's Gamescom.

This area was full of hidden gems

This area was full of hidden gems

The centre of the show - quite literally - was The Leftfield Collection. In addition to the big budget games, and the relatively high profile indie titles were games often made by just one or two people. Games whose titles were just written on a board with a marker pen, but whose efforts demonstrated what makes the current indie gaming scene so great; this was a place full of original ideas and curious art styles. It included the aforementioned Gunpoint as well as Gateways, from The Adventures of Shuggy creators Smudged Cat Games, which we'll be reviewing soon. Other highlights included Danny Wallace-narrated platformer Thomas Was Alone, 3D Snake and maze game qrth-phyl, and mind-bending first-person exploration game Antichamber. McPixel was a game that drew in the crowds with its WarioWare-like gameplay and crazy sense of humour.

There were also a wide range of other developer sessions going on across the show's two days, including a very popular Day Z Q&A, and it was these that really allowed the show to stand out from the corporate overload of E3 and Gamescom. Combine these with a fantastic selection of PC and indie games on the show floor and it adds up to a great show with a wonderful atmosphere, and one we look forward to returning to next year (it's already confirmed to be happening again). Generally the show floor wasn't too busy either and you didn't have to wait too long to play anything, though it should be said that we didn't manage to get hands-on time with top-down action game Hotline Miami that seems to have won rather a lot of plaudits from the show because it was simply too popular. We'll be sure to talk about the game more on the site in the future.

The boards were used by devs to show controls and by players to provide feedback

The boards were used by devs to show controls and by players to provide feedback

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