If there was ever any doubt (and really, there wasn't) then Seattle Indie Expo has settled the matter for good—the Pacific Northwest has got a serious surplus of top-notch development talent.
Taking place in an easily-missed, nondescript warehouse on the south side of Seattle's downtown, the event was hosted by Haunted Temple Studios (Skulls of the Shogun) and provided an up-close, intimate venue for gamers, journalists and developers to mingle without any of the usual middlemen to satisfy or hoops to jump through.
The turnout was strong, the mood was good, and the games were outstanding.
Here's a quick look at what I saw…
Containment (Working Title), Bootsnake Games (iOS, PC)
A highly non-traditional puzzler that captured my attention immediately, Containment does away with colored gems or oddly-shaped blocks and replaces them with differently-colored types of citizens: orange vigilantes, blue police officers, green soldiers, and so on. The point of play is to isolate and surround zombies with a ring of humans all the same color. Once "contained”, the humans dispatch the undead with extreme prejudice.
There's a lot more to the title than a simple formula of substitution, though. For example, certain humans give certain bonus items when used to contain. When soldiers see action, they award grenades to be used to clear the field, nurses give a life item of some sort, and so on.
Other places Containment shows freshness are the setting and story. By combining interactive urban backgrounds and brief snatches of text as the player changes boards, the game provides a much richer, more holistic feeling overall. Throw in some boss battles and a few other features as well, and it's definitely one of the most interesting puzzle games I've seen in quite some time.
Vessel, Strange Loop Games (TBD)
Despite the event taking place in such a small space, I nearly walked out without some hands-on time with Vessel, and that would have been a big mistake.
A 2D physics-based puzzle/platformer, Vessel sports warm, appealing Steampunk aesthetics and displays an impressive array of ways to use the fluid that is at the heart of the story.
The game is currently at a very early state, but it was already looking like a knockout to me. You heard about it here first!
Rook (Working Title), Carbon Games, (TBD)
Most easily described as a beautifully updated version of the cult classic Herzog Zwei, this real-time strategy game featuring transforming robots and unit deployment was already looking stunning—and according to the developers, it's only been worked on for a month or two!
Featuring a strong multiplayer focus (up to 4 simultaneously) the game seemed to strike a good balance between strategy and action—the player is definitely asked to do more than sit back and amass units at home base. In addition, Rook features a streamlined resource scheme and a variety of characters similar to the Commanders in Advance Wars, each with their own abilities and special powers.
If the game looks as good as it does after just a couple of months, it's going be mind-blowing by the time it's finished. Unfortunately, because it was so early in development, no screenshots were available. More to come on this one soon, though.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, Fuelcell Games, (Xbox 360)
There's been a lot of early buzz for this title, and after having played through the demo, I can say that it's certainly warranted.
Launching soon as part of Microsoft's summer Xbox Live Arcade promotion, Shadow Planet has the player piloting a nimble UFO through a series of diverse levels. It's a bit like a vehicle-oriented Metroidvania, only with slightly different sensibilities and an absolutely fantastic art style.
One thing that hasn't really been discussed with regard to this title has been the multiplayer aspect, which was on display at SIX for the first time, anywhere. While I'm not generally a multi-sort of guy, the modes available are quite intriguing and lend themselves well to team play. This one's got instant-classic written all over it.
Skulls of the Shogun, Haunted Temple Studios, (Xbox 360, PC, iOS)
The final game on my list, Skulls of the Shogun is a turn-based strategy game that draws much inspiration from both Japanese iconography and classic strategy role-playing games like Sega's seminal Shining Force series.
Taking advantage of a void where simpler, more approachable strategy games should live, Skulls seeks to capitalize on the middle ground that's been largely unpopulated in recent years. Featuring both a single player campaign and multiplayer options, players of either flavor should find something to chew on here. It's also been recently picked up for publish by Microsoft, so 360 players will have it to look forward to soon.
Although I usually try to keep a level head and avoid hyperbole wherever possible, I've got to admit that the quality of games on display at the Seattle Indie Expo was through the roof. Every single one I looked at was great, and it was doubly impressive that so much quality software was generated by people right here in my own backyard.
I'm not much of a sports fan so I can't say that I've ever spent a lot of time "rooting for the home team", but that's definitely going to change… with so many great developers like these (and many others) in and around Seattle, I've gotta get some jerseys made.
Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.
Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway