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More Wonder? Sense Of Wonder Night 2009 Showcases Indie Game Goodness

Tokyo Game Show saw the second Sense Of Wonder Night, showcasing 10 presentations -- each of 10 minutes -- from creators of interesting, innovative experimental games like Shadow Physics and Transcend, and Gamasutra has a complete write-up.
At a busy event on the Friday night of Tokyo Game Show, CESA presented the second Sense Of Wonder Night, showcasing 10 presentations -- each of 10 minutes -- from creators of interesting, innovative experimental games, including notable titles such as Shadow Physics and Transcend. In the introduction, organizer Kiyoshi Shin of IGDA Japan presented an update on some of the previously showcased titles from 2008's event. He noted that Gomibako launched worldwide as a PlayStation Network title in 2009 (it's called Trash Panic in North America), and that Ian Dallas' Unfinished Swan is now in production as a full game, as Dallas founded a company to make it after leaving university studies. This year saw 65 worldwide submissions from 18 countries and regions, with ten games picked for creating a 'sense of wonder' by a judging committee, pictured below. These included noted 'dojin' shooter creator Kenta Cho, Enterbrain's 'Maker Series' producer Kenji Sugiuchi, Katamari Damacy/Noby Noby Boy creator Keita Takahashi, Vector's Takashi Katayama, and IGDA Japan's Kiyoshi Shin, as well as the writer of this article (IGF Chairman and Gamasutra publisher Simon Carless).
The full set of presentations, which were showcased in front of around 400 noisemaker-toting Japanese and Western audience members (with speeches translated into either English or Japanese from the presenter's native language) were as follows: Ball Carry (Takuya Ono / Japan) - screenshot. First up was Ball Carry, whose creator admitted that he was "a bit tense tonight", and then showcased his title, an experimental title made in a week, where you have to roll a ball towards a goal. He explained that this in itself wasn't new, but you have to press multiple keys on the keyboard to make depressions in the ground. Each key physically corresponds to a location on the playfield you can manipulate. So if you are trying to move it from the left to the right, you'll press the A button, then the S button, then the D button, and so on. The creator noted that the uniqueness is in that the "game reflects directly the layout of the keyboard", and commented: "I don't think this knd of game existed before." He said that people are very good at playing this game might be good at touch typing, but it's not really about typing words, rather being spatially aware, making it different from Typing Of The Dead-style games. In fact, the title was birthed from the fact that he wanted to make an augmented reality game, but it was "very troublesome" to use such complex peripherals. So he figured just using an existing device is a good idea, and noted wryly that "it's not necessary to come up with new devices to create a new experience."
Hazard: The Journey Of Life (Alexander Bruce / Australia) - mod download/trailer Next to the podium was Alex Bruce, an Australian developer, who presented Hazard: The Journey Of Life, an abstract Unreal Tournament 3 mod about "philosophy, player expectations... and learning through experiences". He showed the Portal-style alternative take on a first-person action game, which includes philosophical concepts inlaid into a stark visual style. In the title, the player makes choices, and then they may get some kind of moral or life lesson. For example, the player can try to jump over a pit that is not initially make-able, despite an exhortation to 'jump'. The player must fall down to learn how to get up annd keep playing. There's also an experiment with red and blue paths, which -- if the player believes they have reached their goal -- will get a message saying: "Life isn't about getting to the end. It's about what you experience along the way." The game uses mottos and abstract shooting puzzles (allowing the player to fill in certain blocks to open or block doors, for example) later on in the title to present puzzles and ideas about life, and elicited a positive response from the audience. Shadow Physics (Enemy Airship / United States) - SoWN presentation video Steve Swink and Scott Anderson of Enemy Airship then presented Shadow Physics, a project that was shown -- in an earlier version -- at the Experimental Gameplay Session at GDC. Much upgraded, this stars a character that only exists in a shadow world, and must clamber over shadows of real objects to reach the shadow-only star that leads to level completion. The duo showed that when you push on the shadow of an object, it will actually move that physical object. In addition, as Anderson noted, if you "use shadows for physical objects... when you change the light, you change your entire world." They then showed a level where you move the light to build stairs for a character. It got more interesting and complex from there, since the two creators demonstrated a level which has two lights and two shadow-men in one of the levels. Both of the characters had to be manipulated at the same time to reach the two stars, eliciting much applause from the audience. Finally, the two creators showed a mock-up of the final game look, with much more impressive graphics.
Incompatible Block (Jun Fujiki / Japan) - downloadable game/trailer. Next up was Jun Fujiki, creator of PSP and PS3 downloadable title Echochrome. The designer has produced a number of interesting prototypes using similarly Escher-styled concepts, and showcased one in particular, Incompatible Block. In it, the user can drag blogs around the screen from a certain perpective and stack them. Using some very strange attitudes to perspective, Fujiki showed that you can move around shadows on the placed blocks, and even place multiple shadows to then create multiple blocks in a certain perspective compared to the placement. You can then color the blocks and even draw lines across the blocks which then appear drawn in 3D space on the blocks. He then showed a cute dog made out of blocks, and showed that when you quit, the blocks collapse in a realistic physics style. This title was just one of several experiments that Fujiki has done in recent years, and is much easier to try than explain -- though he did show his parallel projection methodology for getting some of the perspective tricks to work as part of the Q&A. You Only Live Once (Marcus Richert / Sweden) - playable Flash game. Next up, Marcus Richert, a Swedish journalism student showed You Only Live Once, a cheeky conceptual title which is available in 25 languages. It features a single level, certain failure, but a massive amount of game over screens that tell a story of the player after death. As a spoof, it's somewhat better played than described, but it's definitely along the lines of You Have To Burn The Rope, another conceptual title that both amuses and asks a question of the player: what really defines a game and what preconceptions do you have about it? The player's death is just the beginning. One neat thing that Richert revealed - if you try to turn the game back off and on again, even after all of the endings are finished, you will see a grave with your character in it. Also (and this is a spoiler alert) if you restart the game 30 times, then a zombie version of the character pops up. And if you restart one more time after that, you see that the zombie character... is less well. Judge Keita Takahashi said that he liked the "corniness" of the game.
His and Her Disconnected Conversations (Himo / Japan) - trailer/Japanese production blog The Kyoto-based developer behind His and Her Disconnected Conversations, Himo, showed an interesting Japanese-language title in which couples are discussing things with each other in text boxes, and you have one minute to decide which couple matches another by reading what they are saying to each other. If you get it right, the number of couples to be matched increases. There are different themes to the stages in terms of conversation, with around 50 sets of conversations to pick from. The title has sequential stages, including love stages and fight stages, throughout the course of the relationship. The creator said that making the story matching interactive really involved the player in understanding the narrative. He noted: "The player goes through emotional experiences by going through these multiple stories at one time", and you can even set an answer before the time is up if you're impatient. In addition, you can edit the conversations in the game via a webpage to add new discussions -- a unique version of user-generated content. Ecolpit (Misi / Japan) - trailer/info. A Japanese creator, sometimes known as Misi, showed Ecolpit, a topdown 2D title with bug-like characters eating food and fighting with each other. You can either defeat all the other characters besides yourself, or you can outgrow all the other characters to complete each level. His "truly foolish" AI nonetheless has a massive memory, recalling when other bugs shot at them, and retaining that hostility for a long period of time. They will also develop hostility towards characters that attack their friends, and camaraderie is also built up over time by each of these odd-looking bugs. Mishi explained that the bullets are also "a tool for communication among characters" in the game, since they affect relationships. This "communication shooting" genre has characters that are conscious of social norms as they react. So you won't want to shoot or be shot at by another character. But you'll need to shoot the food to split it up, or smash against the food, damaging your body in the process. Swarm Racer 3000 (Joseph White & Lexaloffle Games / Japan) - trailer. Next up, Joseph White of veteran indie outfit Lexaloffle showed Swarm Racer 3000, his alternative topdown racing game. In it, you control an entire swarm of characters, and you can control the size of the swarm while you try to pick up gems. He noted: "The entire game is about learning to control the size and movement of your swarm." He showed a number of demo levels in the retro-looking title, where you need to split or expand your swarm to collect the gems as quickly as possible. There are also additional entities like fairies that can auto-collect gems for you, and you can even manipulate spheres in the level to block off lasers that might otherwise reduce your swarm's size. White noted that the original idea for the title came from a Ludum Dare competition 3 years ago, which had swarming as a theme. So his new version is an update inspired by that 48-hour competition, and the original version of Swarm Racer is available for free online.
Para Rail (Kuniaki Watanabe and Onitama - ZENER WORKS Inc. & Team OniKu / Japan) - trailer. The creators at Zener Works and Team OniKu then presented Para Rail, a vector-style Asteroids-looking spacecraft that is not directly controlled. In fact, all you can do is increase the amount of games being played simultaneously. You can increase the amount of games and see slight variation between each version. So how do you control the game? Well, you need to delete any game that you can see is about to end in Game Over, because any individual game that ends will finish the entire game for you. So you'll want to delete the game instances that look like you're about to die, and increase the instances of the ones that are going well. As the makers explained: "You don't actually manipulate and play the game, yet still get the feeling of enjoyment." The makers ended by suggesting some future applications to this experiment, arguing that parallel universe versions of RPG titles and other games could be an avenue of exploration. They also suggested that multiple players could co-operate across the network to collectively create optimum 'replays'. Transcend (Fishbeat / United States) - screenshots/info Finally, Fishbeat's Zach Aikman showed off Transcend, an evolution of the IGF Student game-winning Synaesthete which is currently in development with Xbox Live Arcade. In the title, you have to avoid enemies and attack them by tapping in time to the beat, creating a music action game. The abstract title included circles of trees attacking you and giant dancing mushroom bosses in a lush visual atmosphere, with bright trance-like electronica soundtracking the upcoming XBLA title. He also showed a new orthographic camera approach that the team is developing to implement into the game. In the Q&A, Aikman noted that the team had simplified some of the mechanics from the original Synaesthete student release, but the resulting title has somewhat of a changed art style and new flavor. It was this and the other nine titles that the judges, when rounding up their comments on the evening, commented were somewhat of a breath of fresh air. In particular, Katamari creator Keita Takahashi said pointedly that the titles on show at the second Sense Of Wonder Night were "games that the people here were not forced to create, but games that they really wanted to create". [Thanks to Jeriaska for many of the pictures used here. More information on SoWN's games is available via this Gigazine article. In addition, full videos of the ten SoWN presentations will be available online in the near future.]

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