This past weekend, the Chicago-based T-shirt design company Threadless hosted an inaugural interactive gaming festival, featuring over 30 games made by local developers. We got a chance to try a huge selection of independent games either still in development or recently released, and all of them were a ton of fun to play.
Many of the games in the main room were couch co-op, bringing back that awesome feeling of sitting down with a few buddies and playing on a single screen. There was Crawl, a recently-released dungeon crawler in which one player plays as the hero and the other players take control of monsters and traps trying to take them down. If you’re lucky enough to be the one to take them down, you become the new hero. We also got to play a ninja-based capture the flag game SlashDash, a tower defense type game Close Castles, and a really goofy melee fighter game Gang Beasts, in which ragdoll-type characters beat the crap out of each other and try to throw them into different types of environmental hazards like trains, fire pits, and ventilation shafts. Gang Beasts seemed to be the clear winner of the day: there was a huge crowd around it all day and people were throwing out louder cheers whenever the deaths were particularly ridiculous.
There were also a number of arcade games. The biggest draw was a 10-player platformer called Killer Queen, a two-team strategy game with two arcade screens and five players on each side. There are multiple ways to win a round, so it was up to the team to strategize together to take down the other players. There was also Samurai Gunn, a very fast 2D brawler where you have to cut down other players with your sword or gun with only three bullets. We even got to play the spam email-inspired Max Gentlemen, a tug-of-war style fencing game Nidhogg, and the roguelike dungeon crawler Crypt of the Necrodancer, where the controller is a DDR gamepad and movement or actions must be timed to the rhythm of a soundtrack (either supplied by the game or using certain songs you already own).
As the night progressed, we had the opportunity to try some games using systems that used less prevalent peripherals. Our very own Cody Shults tried his hand at the Oculus Rift with Dumpy, a game about an escaped carnival elephant on a rampage. As you can see in the above picture, he even got to wear a sweet add-on to make him feel like a real elephant! In addition to the Oculus Rift, there was not-quite-a-game Relax Harder, where two people wore brain scanners with the goal of being the most zen-like as the developers took opportunities to yell at them to break their concentration. Finally, after the sun had set, a ring of people formed outside as some tried their hand at Johann Sebastian Joust, a no-graphics, physically interactive “game” utilizing players holding PlayStation Move motion controllers that are very sensitive to motion and can’t be jostled too much. You can try to hit other player’s controllers, while still trying to maintain the balance of your own controller. It was definitely a lot of fun, sort of like tag for adults. The only problem was you had to stay pretty close to the wireless hub or your controller would lose connection.
The day overall was a blast. There were so many games to play, and a lot of them using common peripherals in new and interesting ways. This was Bit Bash’s first year, and hopefully they raised enough money and awareness to do it again next year. It was really fun not only testing out new games, but also playing them with a huge crowd and getting reactions from different kinds of gamers. Sometimes, gaming can be isolating when we play at home on our nice TVs or computer monitors, and perhaps we even play with a community of people online, but there is something to be said about getting a group of people together, sitting on a couch and gaming side-by-side (or in the case of festivals like Bit Bash, en masse). It’s sort of like going to the theatre to watch a movie: sometimes it’s about the experience. If you’re a local to the Chicago area, definitely keep this festival on your radar. It was free to go to (donations accepted!), and even a local craft brewer Arcade Brewery came out to give out free tastings of their videogame-inspired beers. We also got to see some artwork dedicated to the cultural impact of videogames and listen to some sweet tunes all night. Although it might be impossible to do, hopefully next year they’ll be able to outdo what was achieved this past weekend.
Games that we didn’t get to play but were showcased at Bit Bash:
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, Heavy Bullets, Paranormical, Tough Coded, VIDEOBALL, Rex Rocket, Choosatron, dEXTRIS, Triad, Pivvot, Hypnospace Enforcer, Rockets Rockets Rockets, Expand, Slapfest, Relativity, Dual, Super Hexagon, Even the Ocean, Disunion, Synthesis