Fans of crime stories that blur the line between fiction and reality rejoice! Sam Barlow’s Her Story is now being supported by the Indie Fund. A game about reopening a cold case set within a lovingly-crafted period interface, no other game has focused so unforgivingly on the words of a single “NPC.” It’s a game that rewards a certain kind of detective work on the part of the player, the type of work that we don’t often see on the screens of popular drama. Through careful listening, cross-reference, and archiving, you’ll begin to forge a version of the truth that others have failed to see.
It’s a bit like watching a TV show where the scenes are connected by your own ingenuity and logic rather than the dramatic missteps of others. Yet Her Story also forces the player to question their excitement for the cold dissection of an alien subjectivity—here played with nuanced desperation by Barlow’s friend and collaborator Viva Seifert.
Indie Fund partner Ron Carmel describes his experience: “Her Story came across like a nostalgic toy to me, at first. I remember that CRT glare and those ASCII UIs that tried to look like Windows 3.0. But as I watched more videos, I was drawn in not only by wanting to understand the unfolding story, but by the detail and craftsmanship of the game. The acting is convincing and reinforces the constructed reality, and with costume changes and time codes in the videos there were multiple layers to pay attention to in guiding my investigation. Before I knew it I had an actual pen in my hand and was taking notes on the back of an envelope that was laying around on my desk.”
Barlow is best known for his role as the lead designer and writer of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, a complete reimagining of the series that stands as one of the great Wii games. Prior to his time in AAA development, Sam invented a unique subgenre of interactive fiction with 1999’s Aisle; it’s a game that only lets you make one move—think of it as The Garden of Forking Paths for grocery shopping. His passion for exploring the many possibilities of nonlinear storytelling has paid off, and in March Her Story was honored as one of the Leftfield Collection at EGX Rezzed.
So congratulate Sam on entering the home stretch in his development process! Her Story is launching simultaneously for iOS and PC/Mac in June of this year. If you’d like to read Sam’s thoughts on interactivity and narrative, check out his articles on the Her Story blog (the piece about FMV games and the crucial domesticity of early video is especially good). Otherwise, follow him on Twitter for news and musings on the project.
Summer is almost here, along with the good news that the Indie Fund is now backing Mahdi Bahrami’s Engare. Part puzzle game, part drawing tool, Engare is a all about your geometric imagination (tellingly, it means “unfinished pattern” in Farsi). By selecting a point on a moving object, players trace delicate shapes in the air (and hopefully match the target glyph for that level). It’s a meditation on the dynamics of simple machines and the beauty buried deep within repeating motion.
Bahrami’s audio and visual styling is unique even among other indies, drawing direct inspiration from the Islamic art and architecture of his hometown. The mosques of Isfahan, where Mahdi grew up, are decorated with abstract mathematical shapes and patterns, many of which you will encounter in Engare. Aaron Isaksen, an Indie Fund partner, says “I have always been fascinated by the beautiful and intricate art developed by Islamic artists, and Engare celebrates the pure beauty of this art form, combining interesting puzzles that mesh perfectly with the geometric style. I’m very happy we are funding a game that focuses on an important part of Islamic culture that we don’t appreciate enough.”
At this point, Mahdi may well be the most lauded university-aged game developer in the world: Both Farsh (an earlier puzzle game, which is about tactical carpeting rolling, of course) and Engare have been honored by the Student IGF. An early prototype of Engare was selected for 2010’s Sense of Wonder Night in Tokyo, while its latest public demo awed GDC-goers at the 2014 Experimental Gameplay Workshop. Engare’s evocative soundtrack is being composed by Moslem Rasouli, whose long-term collaboration with Bahrami has helped them grow together as artists.
Please join us in welcoming Mahdi to the Indie Fund family! We look forward to playing the finished game in winter 2015, when Engare launches for PC and Mac. Until then, you should follow Mahdi on Twitter. If you’re interested in checking out his other work, many of his games are available for free on his blog.
We are ecstatic about kicking off a month of announcements with the news that the Indie Fund is now backing Willy Chyr’s Relativity. Relativity is a first-person puzzle game set in a world of impossible architecture, where space wraps around itself as the player manipulates gravity in order to progress. Many have described the game as “Escher-esque” on account of its clean visual design and curious exploration style, which involves shifting your plane of reference to see every room in a new light—and, of course, there do seem to be a lot of staircases.
A visual artist by trade, the Chicago-based Chyr is the sole designer of Relativity. His experience in installation art gives Willy a unique sense of level design, and using a game engine allows him to mold not just structures, but the very fabric of his own reality. Indie Fund co-president Aaron Isaksen recalls the first time he demoed the game: “Afterward, I wandered around the conference hall thinking about which pillars I’d be able to walk across if gravity were to change—it took a surprisingly long time for the effect to wear off. This is a beautiful game that really stuck with me, every detail tuned and adjusted until it’s just right.”
Relativity is Chyr’s first full-length videogame project. Following a six-month residency to work on the game in Shanghai’s Swatch Art Peace Hotel, Willy returned to the U.S. and began showing his progress to others. The game has already been honored as an official selection at Gamercamp, Bit Bash Festival, and the Media Indie Exchange at SIGGRAPH in 2014. Willy is generous with his advice for other fledgling game developers, and his ongoing devlog for Relativity contains a treasure trove of insights into concepting and polishing 3D games with Unity.
Please join us in congratulating Willy on his work so far. We are really excited to support him as he moves into the next phase of development and brings fellow-Chicagoan David Laskey on to help with the project. The game should be finished by the spring of 2016, with releases planned for the PS4, PC, Mac, and Linux. Until then, follow Willy on Twitter and visit the Relativitywebsite for updates and even more ridiculously beautiful screenshots.
This year’s Gamercamp is close on the horizon, with a huge selection of games making their Canadian premiere. We are proud to announce that one of its official selections, Zeke Virant’s Soft Body, is now being supported by Indie Fund. Soft Body is a twin-stick shooter that asks players to split their brains and thumbs, navigating two unique “bodies” through a beautiful, minimalist shoot-em-up space at the same time. Zeke calls it a “bullet heaven,” because the emphasis isn’t on memorizing bullet patterns so much as reacting to them creatively as the arena shifts and changes.
A long-time musician, Virant wanted to create a game analogy for singing and playing an instrument at the same time. Indie Fund partner Ron Carmel explains how this feels to the player: “Human consciousness has, for obvious reasons, evolved around the idea of being in one place and experiencing the world as a single entity. Putting some time into Soft Body led me to feeling more and more like I could split my consciousness for brief periods of time. The minute-to-minute experience was definitely about clearing the levels, but the second-to-second experience for me was all about maintaining a sense of split consciousness for as long as I could.”
Soft Body will be Zeke’s first major release, but it has already garnered praise for its evolving bullet patterns, the dynamic soundtrack, and its unique way of dividing your input while focusing your attention on a singular task. In his earliest prototypes, Zeke drilled deep on one aspect of his design that he could polish from the start: the game’s feel, how the twin bodies move through virtual space and respond to the player’s control. This attention to detail has paid off, and recently Soft Body took home an award at the Zurich Games Festival.
We want to congratulate Zeke as he enters the world of full-time indie development with Soft Body. The game will be available in the summer of 2015 for the PS4 and Vita, with a PC release following soon after. If you’re in Toronto, you should definitely make the trip out to play Soft Body at Gamercamp. Otherwise, be sure to follow Zeke on Twitter and check out the Soft Body website for ongoing updates on the project.