The world of indie game development is fairly focused on the concept phase, on brainstorming and putting together your first prototype. There are hundreds of GameJams to attest to this, but there's something to be said about what happens next. Naturally, engine developers like Unity, GameMaker, and Epic (Unreal) do their part to support the work that follows, but Stugan is something else, an "indie accelerator" where a number of solo developers or small teams are invited to develop their games alongside each other in the forests of Sweden's Dalarna region during two months. Named after what's referred to as the first Swedish video game Stugan (the cabin), it offers a "cabin experience" for developers from around the world. This year 14 teams made it to Stugan and we paid a visit to the finale held in central Stockholm to see what sort of games would be coming out of the accelerator this time around. It's the fourth year the accelerator has taken place and last year saw the likes of Dandara and Semblance as part of the line-up, two titles you can pick up and play on PC and consoles today.
The first game that caught our eye was Crescent Loom, a game where you create underwater beings as you take the role of evolution choosing parts and features to make your creature capable of fulfilling certain objectives. A bit like Spore then, but more focused and on a 2D plane. The developer Wick Perry focused his efforts during Stugan on a tutorial, and the game is already purchasable on Itch.io, but there's still some time to go in development. Down the line Perry aims to create online challenges where the idea is for players to try and create the perfect creature for certain objective and compete with each other in the leaderboards.
Next we sat down to play a game for a few minutes that someone in the crowd had talked up: Christopher Smith's Year in the Trees. A pixel-survival game that had the sort of immediate appeal you'd expect from a pixel-based title, the game has a solid system for crafting as you take on the survival aspects. While our time with Year in the Trees was brief, there's definitely potential here.
What drew us to the next game was purely its surreal visuals. Tom Mead and Dominic Clarke's Silt is an underwater exploration adventure that offers some light puzzles, but most of all an interesting world explore and sights to take in. It truly offers the sense of a drawing coming to life in front of your eyes.
The event which was hosted in the building where Resolution Games resides (founded by Stugan co-founder Tommy Palm), saw a crowd consisting of plenty of industry folks from the many studios around the Stockholm area as well as some of the mentors and sponsors who helped the teams during their time at Stugan, including Villa Gorilla's Jens Andersson and Vlambeer's Rami Ismail. It's not without cost, flying in 20 indie developers and accommodating them for two months, after all.
The lone Swedish developer to take part in Stugan this year was Sara Lempiäinen and her game Trollskogen (The Troll Forest). Steeped Nordic mythology the game offers a calm exploration adventure where you encounter various being from tales and folklore.
We've encountered games that have used words and word puzzles as game mechanics before, but Letters, developed by Aleksandra Iakusheva, Selina Capol, and Martina Hotz from Switzerland, offers this concept in a new an unique way. This puzzle-platformer offers a look at a woman's life from a young girl to adulthood through letters, and later online chat logs with a friend. While reading the narrative you need to reshape and use words to progress in the terms of the platforming, and sometimes there will be multiple uses offering a branching narrative as you progress. While we only saw some of the early sections with quite sweet and carefree writing, there's potential for deeper narrative threads here, something the developers seemed to hint at.
One game that turned a lot of heads and proved popular at the finale was Unpacking. If you've ever felt that you've been handed a bit of real-life Tetris when you're faced with organising drawers and cupboards, this game turns those mechanics back to a video game. Developed by Wren Brier and Tim Dawson, the game will send the player on a journey from unpacking items in your very first home and onwards as you move into new dwellings and add more stuff along the way (losing some stuff as well). An example given is that you may place a toy you used to have in your room growing up in your kid's room later on. So in a way there's a meaningful narrative here, while you're performing what could be labeled as a menial task.
As always it's difficult to make time to see all the games at an event like this, particularly as you tend to be diverted by conversations with other folks in attendance, but we wouldn't be surprised if there's a couple of these games that will make a name for themselves.
For more on Stugan, we suggest you head over to their website to learn more about this non-profit initiative.