The Stacks – Boston Stacks Up at the 2017 FIG

Games and Demos Made Right in the Stack’s Back Yard

This past weekend, Stack-Up attended one of New England’s largest conventions for game developers outside of PAX East. The Boston Festival of Indie Games (Boston FIG) has been celebrating the creativity and ingenuity of independent game designers for almost a decade. This year featured almost a hundred upcoming and recently released games, almost all of them created by New Englanders! At MIT’s Johnson Athletic Center, the Boston Stack got a closer look at some of these amazing samples of local game design.

The Boston FIG prides itself in being a place for new game designers to make their first debuts. Many of these fledgling games follow the tried and tested styles of sci-fi platformers, fantasy RPGs, and 2D multiplayer free-for-alls. For instance, Wildermyth from Worldwalker Games follows the tradition of bringing a D&D campaign experience to your computer. As an up-and-coming hero, you must journey through the Yondering Lands with a growing band of companions to rid the land of evil The demo’s gameplay had a strong look and feel of Dragon Age: Origins, with the added benefits of the player’s COM companions being able to develop bonds and relationships with each other, not just the player. Wildermyth’s procedurally-generated maps and characters also promise to make every playthrough a unique experience.

Following the same Fantasy RPG genre, Project Y Games’ first title Quest Quest gives the player an open-ended adventure with the old school styling of the early Final Fantasy games. The self-aware and meme-tastic humor makes it hard to play this game with a straight face. Although the game is still in the early stages of development, Stack-Up looks forward to covering Quest Quest in the near future.

While many first-time designers try to reflect the games they grew up playing, some choose to shoot far into left field and build something just plain strange. Max Clark’s Flock of Dogs featured a demo that Stack-Up played back at PAX East, and after revisiting it this past weekend the game is more bizarre than ever. As a co-op shooter for up to eight players, you must mount a flying greyhound and escort your mothership (an orca seeking the fabled Whaleland) through a maze filled with monsters and sentient objects determined to destroy you. Don’t question it, just grab some coins and keep shooting!

The Boston Stack’s friends at Worthing and Moncrieff came to Boston FIG to show off their second title: the satirical strategy game Austen Translation. Based upon the format of celebrated Jane Austen novels, the player must tackle on one of the most challenging and strenuous tasks imaginable: finding a good man to marry! As a young (yet aging!) bachelorette, the player must seduce a potential suitor into marriage while sabotaging the other young ladies who stand as competition. The tongue in cheek dialogue and minimalist artistic style calls back to W&M’s first title A Matter of Murder, which Stack-Up reviewed last year. While Austen Translation has yet to feature any zombies, aliens, or sea monsters, there’s always hope for an expansion!

Some of the most interesting games at each Boston FIG don’t actually come from independent studios; they come from schools. This year, UMass Boston’s team n3game displayed an entertaining (if a little dizzying) game called Iventure. In this remarkably polished scroller, the player must jump from one floating rock down to the next without hitting traps or skipping more than four levels. Here’s the catch: Inventure is a VR game on the HTC Vive, so in order to descend the endless pit of platforms, the player needs to physically look down and walk around! Needless to say, people with vertigo should stay far away from this game. For the rest of us, it’s a fun and innovative experience using some of the newest design techniques today.

While most gamers won’t find its content riveting, Pollywog Pond by Whooplah stands as a great example of how video games can contribute to early education. The Boston Stack noticed Pollywog Pond last year, and since then Whooplah has uploaded its games online and is officially in business. No doubt parents will appreciate a video game teaching their preschoolers spelling and arithmetic, and the kids really seem to like the game too; after making a full round through the convention, we dropped by Whooplah’s booth and saw the same little boy playing the demo an hour later.

High on the list of local highlights is The Deep End Game’s first game: Perception. Created by some of the same developers as the Bioshock series, Perception follows the designers’ forte as an exciting horror game woven together with a fantastic plot and even more fantastic characters. Stack-Up featured this unique take on horror back in our 2017 PAX East coverage, and since then the game has been released on Steam, PS4, and Xbox One (a Nintendo Switch version will be released later this year). However, an upcoming patch will feature several new modes of gameplay! Stack-Up is determined to cover this game when the patch is released, so keep an eye out for a new review on Perception!

The Boston FIG had dozens of fantastic games and demos that deserve mentioning, including almost fifty tabletop games in an entirely different gymnasium! Quidditch matches were held by the Rockwell Cages, and LARP Boffer Combat was available out on the Kresage Lawn. The festival also included booths for local artists, and even gaming nonprofits such as Extra Life. Unfortunately, due to time constraints on the Boston Stack (and word count constraints in this article), we cannot include everything. What this event shows is how many innovative and creative developers live in the Greater Boston area and beyond. With a little bit of luck and a lot of hard, 2018’s Boston FIG will be even better!