Friday, July 19, 2024

Billy Addison, right, emcees big-screen play of the game Polterheist on Wednesday at his Central Square Game Lab. (Photo: Emilia Wisniewski)

A cartoonish competition to “possess” items called Polterheist; a swords-and-sorcery medieval survival tale called Premortal VR; a spacey matching puzzle game called Shoop that got tricky fast – all among eight up-and-coming indie video games showcased at the Central Square Game Lab, a free event on Wednesday at Starlight Square.

Arcade Awesome, an event organizer and gaming rental service serving the Boston area, hosted the first Game Lab for more than 200 players.

“I was a little nervous,” Arcade Awesome founder Billy Addison said. “I was afraid that nobody was going to show up – and then boom, it exploded.”

String lights hung above the small square space where the event took place, with tables and computer monitors set up on either side. The event had barely started and dozens of people were already in line to play featured games such as the object-shooting Poroto and frog, flies and lily pads of Spring’s Ballet.

Premortal VR is introduced Wednesday at the Central Square Game Lab. (Photo: Emilia Wisniewski)

In August, Addison said he met Kaamil Lokhandwala – a software engineer and a developer for one of the featured games, Polterheist – who gave Addison the idea to organize an event for local indie game developers.

“A lot of these people don’t have the opportunity [to show their game] or don’t know how to market themselves properly,” Addison said. “This allows them to showcase their games and then have people here play their games so they get that exposure they want.”

Screen time

In the middle of the event area was a giant screen where each game developer had a chance to display their work. The first to be shown was Mythical Freaks, a 2D fighting game similar to Mortal Kombat that lets players battle as their choice of creatures from folklore, including Bigfoot or a chupacabra.

Jake Bayer, the game’s developer and a coding instructor, said he worked on the game mostly by himself, save for some music production and art help from friends.

“The main pro would be I have pretty much creative control of it so I can make my own decisions or I can decide what happens to it,” he said. There are downsides to working solo, though. “I have other duties and other responsibilities, so it’s not something I can work on 24/7 … it’s kind of hard just to balance everything against my own personal projects.”

Jaylus, left, shows off her game Spring’s Ballet on Wednesday. (Photo: Emilia Wisniewski)

As well as getting time on the big screen, the games were play-tested by event attendees. Addison, standing in front of the screen with a microphone in hand, called on audience members willing to play in a live setting. Anthony Fanticola, a 3D artist, was the first to volunteer, play-testing Mythical Freaks.

“I love the event. I think this is really novel and interesting,” Fanticola said. “I just came here alone, and I threw myself into the ring because I like fighting games – and no one was raising their hand.”

Attendee Momoko Hirose is an avid gamer and a regular at PAX East, an annual gaming convention. She said she liked that the event was “free and accessible.”

“​​It can be really difficult to go to the conventions and things like that, and it can feel really overwhelming,” Hirose said.  “I like that they’re using the space for this type of event.”

Virtual reality too

Chris DeLeon competes in his own Mythical Freaks game at the Central Square Game Lab. (Photo: Emilia Wisniewski)

While most games were played with a keyboard or standard controller, two seen Wednesday were developed to be experienced in a virtual reality environment, with the player seeing the action within a set of goggles. Premortal VR falls within a recognized genre in which players build and fight to survive a harsh environment; Rave Gazebo puts the player in an avant-garde environment with an original music soundtrack. With every movement, the music changes in surprising ways.

“I wanted to give the user that experience of controlling the music,” said game developer Gregory Osborne, who has been working on the game for more than four years. “As you start moving around, it starts actually building the music and controlling things … and changing things in the environment in particular, like there’s lightning that shoots from your hands, or lobsters or disco balls.”

For the next Game Lab, Addison said he would like to invite more game developers, since there was plenty of space in Starlight Square to add more tables. He’d like to see Central Square Game Lab become a “definitive event” for indie gaming.

“I’ve always been involved with the indie game scene and, because of the pandemic, there hasn’t been any big events lately,” Addison said. “I’m hoping that this one event here is going to get others to start doing it more often, so we can bring the indie game scene back to Boston.”