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In an industry often criticized for a lack of innovation, this year’s Experimental Games Workshop showed that the spirit of creativity is alive and well in the medium.

Imran Khan, Featured Contributor

March 28, 2024

7 Min Read
Image via Imran Khan.

Every year at the Game Developers Conference, the convention closes out with a panel that highlights multiple games with new and experimental gameplay design. The idea of the panel is to put a spotlight on games that are doing something interesting and innovative even in a medium of interesting and innovative things.

The showcase was hosted this year by Liz Ryerson, who started things off by standing at the podium and giving a speech excoriating the current state of the industry. Ryerson argued that the layoffs and general lack of job security are contributing to a contraction that is killing creativity. It forces games to be safer and less innovative simply to keep the wheel turning when the medium has always benefited from being more than that.

With that in mind, here are the games that were shown.

Stranger.video, Nolen Royalty

Stranger.video is a browser-based game that uses a player’s webcam to beam a cropped version of their image to another player, holding it until one of them blinks and it vanishes forever. It builds in constraints like there being no communication, you can only see a person’s face, and anything harmful ends the second you close your eyes. The game is, by Royalty’s admission, strangely popular on Japanese Twitter. Part of the reason it works, Royalty argues, is that it’s not explicitly a game—there are no scores, no timers, no wording that suggests a win or lose state. To drive this point home, Royalty even launched a version of the game instance just for the workshop’s attendees, which struggled to work largely due to inconsistent WiFi.

Related:C.H.A.I.N.G.E.D. is a multi-dev project where every in-game decision is a brand new game

goodbye.monster, Beckett Rowan, Matthew Wang

goodbye.monster is an NYU Game Thesis project that is presented as a text-adventure game for web browsers. The team made the presentation in the game engine and essentially raised a Good Monster through the process of explaining the game. They envisioned the title as a website (basically a long-scrolling document) versus a web app (a single-screen interactive interface). They wanted a sense of discovery and exploration in a text-adventure, making a deliberate choice to avoid utilitarian conventions. They also wanted to make sure they had lots of buttons to click to spice up their text and that no bit of text in the game was longer than a classic Tweet.

31 Games in 31 Days, Alexander Martin

Martin appeared via a self-shot video, speaking directly into the camera about the impetus behind a 31 Games in 31 Days project. Martin had tried to make a game in a new genre in ten-day spurts through Variety Megajams before but had never succeeded, and it took a lot of self-convincing to attempt 31. Martin learned a lot of lessons when only given a day per game, like how to stop adding content and just finish the game. He also found that generally the first two hours were spent actually making the game, and the remaining two hours were cleaning up and finishing something that forces you to interact with the systems designed.

Related:Tying music and food aesthetics together for an 'oddly satisfying' experience with Nour: Play With Your Food

The Museum of Philosophy Experience, Jessica Creane

Creane spoke on The Museum of Philosophy Experience, a theater-like open-impact physical event that visitors essentially play through. People walk into a Schroedinger’s Cat experiment and are asked whether or not they want to know if the metaphorical cat thought experiment is alive. Depending on their answer, they are taken to different exhibitions within the museum. One exhibition is a game of banal Truth or Dare, where the Dares ask people to commit banal acts of evil like going into a bathroom, turning the water on, and leaving. According to Creane, most people chose to lie about doing it rather than actually turning the water on.

Mask of the Rose, Emily Short

Narrative designer Emily Short spoke on Mask of the Rose, a visual novel murder mystery. Unlike most games of this type, Mask of the Rose focuses more on interpersonal relationships rather than forensics. Short’s talk was about allowing the player to construct a solution according to individual interpretations and theorizing from any angle they like. This was done through an ever-expanding dialogue system that lets players come up with ideas that may be unrealistic but are individualized and with intention.

Kevin (1997-2077), Kevin

Presenting with a pre-recorded video, the developer of Kevin showed a documentary-style film largely illustrated in ideograms alongside footage of things like meals being cooked or running trains. At the end, the text narration asked if viewers believed the story—which could not be strictly understood—was about love and if that came through the language barrier.

C.H.A.I.N.G.E.D, Colter Wehmeier

The Haunted PS1 is a collective of collaborators who like using the lo-fi PlayStation aesthetic in horror games. The game shown, C.H.A.I.N.G.E.D, starts with a short game about a person at the end of the world whose daughter was kidnapped by the Antichrist, and they are offered a choice to go back in time to Kyoto or Wyoming to undo the Antichrist’s arrival. For each choice, another game developer picks up the story, armed with nothing but knowledge of the previous chapter. This continues on with 40 developers and 20 endings, including a “ghost" branch for a more sensical and canonical path.

Nour: Play with Your Food, Taj Hughes

More of an experimental toy than a strict video game, Nour was presented by developer Taj Hughes through a live demo. Hughes showed how the game worked, using ramen as an example by blowing into the soup with the Dualsense controller, making slurp sounds that had to be identified by machine learning, and making the ramen dance by casting spells to the beat of the music. The game took seven years to develop and make good on its conflict-free premise, with Hughes warning, “Experimental games tend to have to be really careful with their value proposition.”

Drifting, Marceline Leiman

Presenting an NYU Game Center thesis project, Leiman showed a tabletop RPG entitled Drifting. The game involves players without a DM, journaling about their own individual apocalypses separately. Occasionally, the books that guide players through the game encourage them to call each other on the phone and talk through their experiences.

The Museum of Mechanics: Lockpicking, Johnnemann Nordhagen

The Museum of Mechanics: Lockpicking is almost an educational tool as much as it is a video game. Nordhagen had been inspired by a Tweet that suggested a virtual museum of fishing minigames, but he deemed it too difficult due to the different kinds of fishing games and variances between 2D and 3D. Instead, he began collecting lockpicking game mechanics from various titles and collating them, by name, into a single virtual museum. Nordhagen said that he believes this sort of thing should exist in an academic and educational realm and was never really intended as a commercial title, but he wants to see other developers take the idea and run with it for other shared mechanics.

Blabrecs, Max Kreminski

Blabrecs is a word game from self-admitted Scrabble-hater Max Kreminski, who designed an entire English-language base for a title that really had nothing to do with the English language. Instead, Blabrecs focuses on words that sound like real words but are actually fake. This was done by feeding an algorithm enough real words so it could understand what a plausible word would look like and feeding an algorithm absolute nonsense gibberish so the game would understand what is not acceptable. Kreminski noted that this was kind of an experiment on teaching literacy to an AI, but it didn’t really work out that well.

Once Upon a Jester, Mark Lohmann and Kyle Edelenbosch

Lohmann and Edelenbosch are both musicians who decided to make games and incorporate music in a way beyond Simon Says rhythm gameplay. The two showed clips from Once Upon a Jester, exemplifing how the pair would keep line flubs from the voice actors in the game because it made it feel more genuine. Because the game is about improvisation, they wanted it to feel like an improv troupe, saying, “Imperfection is always welcome.”

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About the Author(s)

Imran Khan

Featured Contributor

Imran Khan has been in the games industry in various forms for over two decades. He has been a former senior editor at Game Informer, a professional loudmouth at Kinda Funny, and news director at Fanbyte. He has also been doing PR for Vicarious PR and Head of U.S. PR for Japanese VR studio MyDearest, in addition to Producer work on their latest title Brazen Blaze.

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