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While Western indie devs get fancy functions like GDC, IGF and Gamescom to show off their wares (and crowd-funded movies telling the story of their struggles), the indie scene in Japan is scattered at best. It's not that there aren't any small studios or one-man teams making exciting games - there are loads, as fans of La-Mulana, Cave Story or Tokyo Jungle will attest. But unified and strong the scene is not.

That's starting to change. BitSummit, an event held earlier this month in Kyoto and organised by James "Milky" Mielke of PixelJunk studio Q-Games, was the first of its kind, a forum for like-minded bedroom developers to meet each other and swap battle stories, show their games to the Western media and take in presentations from the likes of Valve, Epic Games and Unity.

"I don't think we have something you can call a 'scene' as such. I feel like everyone is fighting alone," explained Yohei Kataoka of Crispy's, the creative mind behind 2012's battiest PlayStation game, animal survival brawler Tokyo Jungle. Published by Sony for PS3, his game was released in Japan on disc and went straight to No.1, riding on the back of a clever series of YouTube videos featuring playthroughs by famous game developers.

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Something is happening. I’ve noticed it, you may have noticed it, and it’s probably no surprise to anyone who’s ever bought an “indie” record. The corporations with a finger in this delicious pie we call the games industry have been watching what’s happened, too. They’ve been watching the achievements of the likes of Jonathan Blow, 2Dboy, Notch/Mojang and other countless successful indie developers. Now, they’re changing the way the operate. And that is in turn changing how indies operate. Indie gaming will never be the same again. Is this a bad thing?

We talked to Double Fine, Positech, Klei and others to find out. (more…)

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Described as a 'single player, three-act sequence in a poetic game environment', Leaving is apparently intended to explore the concept of 'digital theatre' and will have you play as Willem, a young man who has to say good-bye to his loved ones at the airport. Heavily inspired by the works of Antonio Machada, Leaving is scheduled for eventual arrival on the iPad.

Official website here.

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indiecadesmall.jpgThe schedule handed out at the beginning of Indiecade was wrong. You had to go to the registration booth and look at a sign any time you wanted to know what talk was going on or when and where a special event was starting.

The main conference talks were often more of a conversational nature than an instructive one, and were scattered across three buildings and tents in three square blocks of downtown Culver City, with games shown in a fourth.

Ultimately the event wound up not being about the conference -- but everything surrounding the show was an affirmation of why indies do what they do, and why they continue to thrive.

The games showcased were great (by and large), and the show drew interest across a range of people -- from indies that were just starting out, to industry powerhouses like John Romero, Brenda Brathwaite, Richard Lemarchand, Jenova Chen, and Spacewar! creator Steve Russell.

But that's to be expected at a conference like this. What was really impressive was the diversity.

Walking around the show, playing the games, and networking with peers, it was striking how many people there were who didn't look just like me. There was a noticeably greater female presence than at many game shows, both as general attendees and on the game making side.

I watched a girl who "doesn't play games" dominate Super Space __ for 30 minutes, saying "it's not as intimidating as I thought!" I overheard indie dev Anna Anthropy say that never had she felt so safe around game fans. I saw my friend Erin Reynolds display her game Nevermind while her husband acted as booth babe. I saw people from all sorts of backgrounds playing and demonstrating games.

I don't think the traditional industry purposefully avoids diversity, but it doesn't especially encourage it either. It's difficult to do within a large organization, and you certainly can't hire people just because of how they look or what their background is.

Indie games by their very nature represent varied perspectives and viewpoints, and pride themselves by being different from the mainstream. The faces I saw at Indiecade showed me what those varied perspectives look like, and there was a real positive vibe to each interaction.

Cardboard kings and queens

A peripheral event also stuck out - the Imagine Foundation's global day of play, which coincided with the Saturday of Indiecade. The idea is based on Caine's Arcade, which is worth checking out if you haven't already. In short, it's the physical cardboard arcade creation of 9-year-old Caine Monroy, which became popular through a viral video.

Monroy embodies the spirit of play and creation, and at Indiecade this was shared with any kid who wandered by. The huge playspace began with some of Caine's arcade pieces, which kids could play to win tokens. These tokens were traded in to "buy" materials to make their own games out of cardboard, tape, PVC pipe, cups, whatever was around. Kids were making games, playing games, and feeling empowered, in an incredibly positive way. Seeing the joy on a 4-year-old boy's face when I successfully completed his ball maze game was kind of a revelation. Nearly everyone likes to create, if given the chance, and nearly everyone likes playing games.

At the cardboard arcade, a 9-year-old girl hustled Brenda Brathwaite and John Romero into playing her whack-a-mole variant. Brathwaite asked if the girl played video games. "Of course!" she said. "I play shooters.

"Oh, my husband John pretty much invented shooters," said Brathwaite. "Hmm," said the little girl. "But did he make Halo?" The more things change, the more they stay the same. But she was great at promoting herself, and her game - she believed in it, and she wanted anyone she could find to play the thing.

Across the event, the takeaway was the same. Anyone can make games, if given half the chance, and try to make their mark on the world. This is why we're seeing so many odd and interesting indie games, as tools like Unity and GameMaker lower the bar for entry to digital game creation. As social games and the triple-A studios cast around for direction, indies choose all directions, at the same time. I, personally, am all for it.

[Brandon Sheffield wrote this article, which originally appeared on Gamasutra.]

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Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios president (and indie game champion for Sony) Shuhei Yoshida, Giant Sparrow creative director Ian Dallas (The Unfinished Swan), thatgamecompany co-founder Kellee Santiago (Journey), and Adam Volker from small start-up Moonbot Studios (Diggs: Nightcrawler for Wonderbook) discussed the role of art in games at Gamescom 2012 last week.

Oh, there were some bigger devs there, too. However, anyone who's seen Tearaway should give a pass to Media Molecule co-founder Alex Evans (LittleBigPlanet). Same goes for Gavin Moore from Sony Japan Studio (Puppeteer), who actually argues games aren't "art" but a "craft."

[via Giant Sparrow]

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[Guest reviewer Colin Brown profiles each game in the Gone Fishin' Bundle, now available at IndieGames' co-created site: Indie Royale.]

The next game in our whirlwind tour of the latest Indie Royale is 3Sprockets' Cubemen. At first glance this probably looks like some kind of tower defence, and, well, that's exactly what it is. But like any good indie game, it tweaks the established genre just enough to present a unique experience with just a handful of alterations to the formula.

Firstly, and most obviously, your towers are actually little cubemen, ready to come to your defence. The game offers up a handful of different classes armed with pistols, flamethrowers, rocket launchers and the like, which can be ordered to station any valid spot on the board. Of course, your orders for each cubeman can be easily changed on the fly, so you can swap out weak cubemen for heavier artillery, order the lot of them to charge a particularly well fortified vantage point or just to strafe alongside a particularly powerful enemy. The net effect is that the game feels like a grid based RTS, which is a neat way of going back to the roots of tower defence games in a new way.

Flaunting your defence minded tactics will serve you well in the traditional tower defence battles that make up Defence mode, but there are a couple other interesting modes to play. Skirmish is essentially a two player tower defence with some striking DOTA similarities. In this mode, you each must guard your own exits while providing support for the creeps that spawn in every wave. It's an inventive way to make a two player competitive mode, and supports both AI and online human opponents. The other mode is Mayhem, which throws six cube armies onto the field with your choice of a partners match or a free for all battle royale. This mode is online only, though AI will fill any empty spots. It's definitely the highlight for me, thanks to the chaotic strategy and ruthless fights for territory.

The one issue that cropped up from time to time is some poor AI problems, particularly the way that cubemen often stand and take hits from an enemy they could easily counter, but refuse to jump into action unless you manually target for them. This isn't a game breaker, but expect to deal with more micromanagement than the average tower defence.

Also included in this Indie Royale is the PC debut of another 3Sprockets title. This one is an iOS title called VectorGeddon, and is essentially a variant on Missile Command with rather fetching graphics and a few modern tweaks. In VectorGeddon, you must click on asteroids to fire seeking missiles and keep Earth safe and well populated. Blowing up asteroids earns resources, which can be used to buy additional missile launchers and various upgrades. Like the original, letting an asteroid hit your bases will render them unusable, so efficient missile use is key to keep the planet safe. It's not very difficult, especially with some later overpowered upgrades, but it is a good looking and fun way to spend an hour or so.

[ Cubemen, VectorGeddon, All Zombies Must Die!, SOL: Exodus, and three other games are available in the Gone Fishin' Bundle at IndieGames' co-created site: Indie Royale.]

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Divekick

EVO is an event usually associated with world-class tournaments for games like Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom. But this year some prominent head-to-head indie games are joining the fight as well. Leading the charge will be Mark Essen's famously addictive low-res fencing game, Nidhogg, and Noah Sasso's BaraBariBall, a fast-paced multiplayer e-sport, both of which made their debut at NYU's No Quarter exhibition.

There's also Chris Hecker's Spy Party, a competitive reverse-Turing test where keen observation and subtle movements win the day; Aztez, a turn-based strategy game; and Super Time Force, a time-warping run-and-gun from Sword & Sworcery developer Capy Games. And if nothing else, fighting fans would be remiss not to check out D...

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