Every fall in Washington state, hobby designers, garage developers, and eccentric tinkerers get together to show off their independently-produced video games at a two-part event, the Seattle Indies Expo.
The online version of SIX will air via Twitch and YouTube Saturday Oct. 28, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT. The physical show, once again, was held at the Motif Hotel in downtown Seattle during the Penny Arcade Expo on Labor Day weekend.
Every year, SIX seems to end up with a sort of unofficial theme. Last year, it was COVID lockdown projects, where many exhibitors at the show were first-time developers who’d gotten into game design during the pandemic shutdown in 2020.
This year’s theme is passion projects. Many of SIX’s exhibitors in 2023 are full-time software engineers or game developers showing up to debut or hype their side project. In my experience, that scenario usually means you’re about to see something interestingly weird.
The best example thereof might be Rocococo Audiogame Fantastique, by Seattle-based sound designer Kasson Crooker, which has no visual elements whatsoever. The screen is completely black while you play — explained as it being a dark, rainy night during a total lunar eclipse — so you have to rely entirely on audio cues.
Your goal is to find all the pieces of music that have been scattered throughout a country estate, while dodging the hostile Queen of Candied Apples and her retinue of Harm-Bots. You’re encouraged to play with headphones, so you can tell where sounds are coming from around you, while you explore this dark, musical maze.
Crooker was previously a project director at the Boston-based studio Harmonix, where he led development on music-based games like Rock Band 2 and Dance Central. Musically, he makes music solo as Symbion Project and is one-third of the synthpop band Freezepop.
From one strange perspective to another: Desktop Explorer is an adventure game set entirely in an old PC OS. It’s the ‘90s and you’ve inherited a computer from your late uncle, who got it second-hand. Its hard drive is full of password locks and corrupted files, and the only clues you can find are inside an old-fashioned text adventure game.
To get through DE’s puzzles, you’ll often be asked to think outside the box by using the features of the off-brand OS installed on the computer. You’ll need to view source code, turn on the text editor’s word wrap, look to see if there are any hidden files in your current folder, and deal with a desktop assistant named Pizarro who knows more than he’s letting on.
Desktop Explorer is the product of Crocodile Company, a four-person team of Mexican developers who are split between Seattle and Tijuana. One of its programmers, Jesus Rodolfo Hernandez, described DE to me as a passion project for the team, citing games like Emily Was Away and Her Story as influences.
And other strangeness
Rocococo and Desktop Explorer were just two of 20 locally-made games that I saw at the physical version of SIX this year, most of which will be on exhibit for SIX Online on Oct. 28. This year’s lineup included a Hawaiian cooking simulator; cheating your way through Hell’s favorite game show; an extremely accessible take on mobile word games; a largely non-violent fantasy adventure; and a game where you play as a real jerk of a bird.
There were a few games at SIX that I wasn’t able to play, either at PAX or since then, such as bordenary’s cyberpunk platformer Towerbolt and JofiSoft’s interactive fiction VideoHole: Episode II. Windmill Slam’s auto-battler Throne of Bone was also at SIX for a second year in a row, heading up to its release next year.
Incidentally, SIX and other indie expos like it are a useful way to highlight the impacts of the recent Unity controversy. Roughly half of this year’s SIX games were made with Unity, including both Rocococo and Desktop Explorer. Unity’s been a godsend for smaller developers and hobbyists, but it’s likely that by next year’s SIX, we’ll be looking at a different landscape.
Abbot’s Gambol – Joshua Rosen, Seattle
Now available for free on itch.io, Abbot’s Gambol is a simple card game for 1 or 2 players, with a green/white pixel aesthetic that recalls the screen on Nintendo’s original Game Boy. To win, get all 5 cards on your side of the board in numerical order, but each card has an additional effect that can help you, hinder your opponent, or both at once. Rosen, its sole designer, is a Seattle-based software engineer, and Abbot’s Gambol is his first project.
Draco and the Seven Sea Scales – Ice Goat Games, Seattle
Like Abbot’s Gambol, Draco is a deliberate nod to the Game Boy, particularly top-down dungeon crawlers like the original Link’s Awakening. As the Captain, a pirate who’s made a bargain with a monster in order to save his family, you’ll explore intricate mazes on foot and sail through dangerous waters aboard your ship. Sam Lane, a Seattle-based software engineer and one of 3 developers on Draco, has been working on it for the last 2 years, and told me that they’re aiming for release late next year.
Fall for You! – ShazySoft, Washington state
Solo developer Brooklyn Schwandt calls Fall for You! (alternatively, Fall 4 You) a story about “dying, going to hell for a stupid reason, then making friends with the demons there.” It’s a colorful, cheerful rhythm-based action game where you can’t attack unless you’re on the beat, as a recently-deceased first responder who’s been forced to compete on “the Underworld’s favorite game show.” Fall for You is Schwandt’s first completed game, and is now available on Steam and Itch.io.
Favor: Gods of Oethera – Lichenwood Games LLC, Seattle
The in-person SIX show was effectively a victory lap for the two developers on Favor, which hit its overall Kickstarter goal right beforehand. Peter Norton and ‘Leigh Jones met for the first time when they won an award together at the 2020 Global Game Jam, and have been working on Favor ever since.
It’s a fantasy board game for 2-6 players that draws inspiration from Betrayal at the House on the Hill, where players have multiple paths to victory as they work against one another to earn the favor of the gods.
Just Crow Things – Unbound Creations, Seattle
Unbound Creations (Headliner, Rain On Your Parade) had a big year at PAX. Its yardwork simulator Leaf Blower Man was selected for the PAX Rising showcase on the expo hall floor, and at SIX, Unbound exhibited Just Crow Things.
Furthering Unbound’s current arc where it makes games about “adorable jerks,” JCT is an E-rated game, planned for release next year. You, as a fat crow in a hat, get to cause problems for people in order to steal their shiny things and earn favor with the cool crow clique.
Kitchen Sync: Aloha! – Lemonpepper Games, Redmond, Wash.
What if there was a version of Overcooked that didn’t destroy all your human relationships? Kitchen Sync is a cooperative business simulator/strategy game about manning the counters at a new Hawaiian restaurant. You have to move fast to cook up plates of spam musubi and saimin for your customers, while juggling ingredients and kitchen staff. Kitchen Sync was developed by ex-Pokemon GO lead Matt Slemon, who left Niantic to go indie in 2022. According to Slemon, he based the game on his attempts to learn how to cook during the 2020 COVID lockdown.
Life After Magic – Chirashi Games, Seattle
You play as Akiko, who spent her teenage years saving the world, as the leader of a team of Sailor Moon-style superheroes. Now Akiko’s in her 20s, she’s lost touch with all her friends, and because you can’t put “retired superhero” on your resume, she’s stuck in a dead-end retail job. Your choices determine how Akiko’s story plays out from here, such as better job opportunities, catching up with her old squad, and finding her a girlfriend.
Potions: A Curious Tale – Stumbling Cat, Seattle
Potions is an adventure/puzzle game about Luna, a young girl who comes to a new town to learn the craft of alchemy from her grandmother. You’ll gather ingredients, make friends with villagers, solve ancient riddles, and only very occasionally blow up monsters with volatile potions. It’s a cozy sort of farming game, but with a deliberately low amount of fantasy violence.
Renee Gittins first started work on Potions over 9 years ago. Between then and now, she served as the executive director of the International Game Developers Association for 2 and a half years, where she currently sits as an alumni board chair, and worked for just under a year at Phoenix Labs in Vancouver on projects like Fae Farm. Potions will arrive on Steam in 2024.
Pro Philosopher 2: Governments & Grievances – Intelligible Games, Seattle
If you know your video games, I can explain Pro Philosopher 2 by saying “It’s a Phoenix Wright homage, but with moral theory instead of law.” If you don’t, it’s a harder sell.
As a student who’s forced to debate some of history’s great thinkers, you must pay attention to their statements, find the weaknesses in their position, and defeat them by citing the flaws in their perspective. With PP2, the series shifts its focus from moral to political philosophy, where you’ll pick brain fights with historical figures like Machiavelli and Kant. It’s all firmly tongue-in-cheek, with a bunch of in-jokes if you, like me, studied this stuff in college.
Prospector – Loonworks Games, Kirkland, Wash.
Visit distant worlds, exploit their mineral resources, and probably run out of air. In Prospector, a pixel-art sandbox survival game, you’ll build an outpost on an unexplored alien planet. From there, do whatever you want to do: start a garden, pick fights with wildlife, mine rocks for minerals, and sell your harvest to offworld concerns. Prospector is a solo project by former app developer Jacob Ferny, who quit his last job in 2020 to make games full-time.
Rogue Labyrinth – Tea Witch Studios, Seattle
A five-person project led by veteran developers, Rogue Labyrinth is equal parts action-adventure and high fantasy reality show. Iris’ country has been invaded by a colonizing force, led by a guy in a suspiciously familiar black turtleneck. Now Iris has to compete in the same guy’s coliseum bloodsport in order to win her country back.
As the name suggests, Rogue Labyrinth is a “roguelite.” You start from near zero every time you enter the Labyrinth, and have to earn bonuses and cash by defeating monsters and appealing to the audience. You can use Iris’ branch bat to pummel enemies, reflect projectiles, or weaponize her environment.
TD Royale – Sun Lion Games, Seattle
The “TD” in the PVP-focused TD Royale stands for “tower defense,” a particular sort of strategy game that traditionally features few if any offensive options. Instead, you build structures to whittle down, bottleneck, and destroy waves of enemy forces as they invade your territory.
Solo developer Daniel Chipman, a former employee at Amazon Games Studio, told me at SIX that he’s been working on TD Royale for the last 18 months. It’s inspired by his childhood hobby of making custom maps for StarCraft and Warcraft III, and is due out on Steam in 2024.
The BridgeMaster – Crimson Stone Games/Crossroads Studio, Seattle
I first saw the “wholesome puzzle adventure” The BridgeMaster at the Pacific Science Center in early 2020, a hundred years ago. It’s advanced significantly since then, with a demo now available on Steam. You play as a wizard who discovers his neighboring village has actually collapsed, leaving its inhabitants stranded on floating islands in space. Your job is to build them an escape route out of whatever you can.
The BridgeMaster was made as a passion project by a 4-person team from Seattle, which includes Galvanic Games’ Rob Ackley; Andrew Hermus from Giant Enemy Crab; composer Steven J. Garcia; and local artist Soreiany Khong.
Wordvoyance – Themis Games, Spokane, Wash.
Currently available on iOS, Android, the Amazon app store, and web browser, Wordvoyance is a word puzzle game that can be played against humans or an AI opponent. It’ll be easy to figure out if you’re at all familiar with Scrabble, as the designers note themselves, but the big draw for Wordvoyance is its accessibility options. Themis Games has made a point of making Wordvoyance compatible with as many devices as possible, such as adaptive controllers, screen readers, and keyboards, in order to make a word game that sighted people could play with blind friends and relatives.
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