While some indie developers are fortunate enough to be able to travel the world and attend events, others have to rely on more local feedback as they develop their games, and this is where the Stockholm Indie Game Dungeon has a role to play. Developers present their games, have them available for hands-on testing by their peers (often with beers in-hand), in a fairly relaxed atmosphere.
We were tipped off about the event held in a cellar of an Old Town pub by Villa Gorilla's Jens Andersson while in Cologne for Gamescom. Villa Gorilla's Yoku's Island Express could be said to represent a high bar in terms of level of polish this evening, as the participating games ranged from concepts thought up at a game jam just over a week ago to the open world pinball adventure that the former Starbreeze duo of Jens Andersson and Mattias Snygg started experimenting with four years ago.
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Apart from numerous technical issues from missing HDMI signals to struggling laptop batteries, one theme that carried across multiple games was local multiplayer. The first game we saw was called Moving Out, a cooperative game where your objective is to load items onto a van and subsequently deliver them and off-load them. Apparently, the game was also there for the previous dungeon meeting, and some of the attendants seemed delighted that it was back and were eager to play. The concept is reminiscent of Overcooked, but without the same structure and as you'd expect it tends to descend into chaos as you try and move big objects through doors as four players pull and tug in every which direction. There's a great concept there for sure, but ultimately creating variation and getting the presentation and execution just right is what will either make or break this title. It's a solo project by veteran developer Jan Rigerl and it's one to keep an eye on.
Originally, the plan was to show Yoku's Island Express off on the Nintendo Switch, as Villa Gorilla did at Gamescom, but due to some unforeseen issues with the TV we would end up getting a look at the PC version. Apart from the early section of the game when Yoku arrives on the island and is faced with the adventure of finding his post office (after all, he's the new post man), we also got to see a later section, somewhere towards the middle of the game where Yoku finds himself towards the top part of the map and in snowy conditions. The gameplay itself is a bit more complex at this stage, and apart from precision pinball skills you also need a bit of tactical thinking as there are more puzzle elements.
If Yoku's Island Express was the most mature project in terms of how long it's been in development, then Super Skelly Belly was the most freshly baked game found in the dungeon. A platformer set inside of a puzzle game is perhaps the best way to describe a project that was born at a game jam just ten days prior to the event. The developers were looking for feedback mainly, and they want to flesh it out (pun intended) some, to make it more tactical with power-ups and things of that nature. You can check it out over on Itch.io if you've got a hunger for a meaty and dynamic platformer.
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Landfall Games, makers of Clustertruck, actually showed off two games - the first a brief side project by Wilhelm Nylund called Stickfight: The Game, and then their bigger project TABS (Totally Accurate Battle Simulator). Stickfight: The Game uses the same physics model as TABS, and it's a four-player Smash-like where players throw their bodies around, make use of ridiculous weaponry (blink dagger!), try and avoid snakes and other hazards found in the level. Matches were quick affairs, and it wasn't unusual that a player who decided to stay away from the chaos and just hang back would emerge victorious.
Their other, bigger game, TABS, is already a bit of a hit with streamers and YouTubers in alpha. The basic premise is to scale away the "boring parts" of a strategy game and just pit various formations and troops against each other and enjoy the outcome unfolding. It offers units from the Stone Age up until modern times, but suffice to say it's not strictly historically accurate as we saw both mammoths and bone magic wielding shamans. There was also a "wheelbarrow tank" that was strangely effective. But perhaps the most entertaining part of the presentation wasn't either game, but Wilhelm Nylund physically acting out how he had designed the physics seen in the games.
Physics and multiplayer was also on display in Cosmic Picnic's Adios Amigos, a continuation of Adios (Amazing Discoveries in Outer Space) released on PS4 in February of 2016. The new game is coming to Xbox One, and it expands the amount of content and variation while also adding cooperative play for up to four players in split-screen. We sat down and played for a bit and it really transformed what is otherwise something of a slow puzzle platform experience into a much more dynamic and chaotic experience where you'll often need to save a friend who's drifting in the dark expanse of space. If you work well together you can progress much more quickly through the game, collecting resources to fuel your journey back home, but the potential for trouble is always around the corner.
We might have missed one or two games shown on laptops in the dark, warm, Old Town cellar that housed the event, but overall we were impressed by the quality and imagination on display. There's more indie greatness to come from Sweden over the next years, and maybe, just maybe, one of these games will be the next big breakout indie hit.
Here are some trailers featuring games showcased during Stockholm Indie Game Dungeon #12: