Development, IRL

Now Play This: The Weird & the Wonderful at London Games Festival

Now Play This

[Editor’s NoteBritish spellings have been preserved upon request.]

Did you know it was London Games Festival last week? It was! If you strained your eyes across the pond, or over the Alps, or, in my case, “three hours south on the train,” you would have seen London alive with that very best of things: gaming.

London Games Festival is a 10-day event (I think that must be some kind of experimental new metric week) that is the result of a partnership between Film London; Ukie, the national trade association for games; and the Mayor of London’s London Enterprise Panel. Did I mention it was in London? In case you didn’t get that yet, you can check out its website, which is at the extremely strange URL: games.london.

The festival is a nice idea and comes alongside investments in the UK games industry, which has currently suffered some losses with the closure of Lionhead (and possibly others) by Microsoft, as well as Evolution Studios by Sony. The festival included many summits, including ones on virtual reality, audio, finance, and eSports, and some games showcases, including Now Play This. Oh, and Mario, the Musical, of course.

Sadly, I was not able to attend Mario, the Musical, but I was able to attend Now Play This, which was a delightful three-day exploration of “the wider possibilities of games.” This meant that I got to try out many weird and wonderful games, as well as sit in on interviews and other talks. Here are some of the highlights.

Action Painting Pro
Action Painting Pro

One of the earliest games that I played—and an enduring favourite—was Action Painting Pro. Available on Itch.io for pay what you want, this is a simple but tricky platformer, and playing it creates a painting in the background that you can see properly when you lose the game. It’s a great way of making a loss actually feel like a win, and I really enjoyed being able to see the results of each of my jumps splashed out in bright colours. At the event, it was played on a specially built controller that looked like an artist’s palette, which was a lovely touch.

Inks
Inks

In the same room as this (aptly named the Colour Room) was Inks, a version of pinball with some paintball thrown in for good measure. Send your ball careering across the board, and it’ll break open blocks of colour that will create a bright display. Their website does not currently have the information, but I believe it should be released for the tablet in the future. At Now Play This, it had been adapted for an actual digital pinball machine.

As someone obsessed with maps, I was enamoured by The World is Flat by Aubrey Hesselgren, designed to teach geography by having the player find countries and capital cities on a warped map that zooms in on whatever country is selected, sending it bulging out from the globe. It should be released this summer, which I am very excited about because the controller used at Now Play This—a large weighted yoga ball—was as difficult for me to use as it was fascinating.

Image courtesy of Jay
Image courtesy of Jay

It wasn’t just digital games showcased at the event. This two-player hopscotch (pictured left) was wonderful, and I just love the idea of spray painting something so joyous on the grand river terrace that is described as one of the “most exclusive spaces” in the 16th century venue of Somerset House.

Also, this adorable toy called Octemo by Sandika Dhawan (pictured below) helps autistic children to understand their emotions and better put them into words. It makes particular use of a fully customisable aesthetic and tactile fabrics so that each Octemo is personal to the child.

And, of course, there was the board game showcase and the library, filled with both physical books and Twine games. I spent a lot of time playing A Kiss by Dan Waber, which you can play for free here, and I would recommend extremely highly. There are 1,001 passages of text, each describing a tiny section of the life of an ordinary couple in wonderful detail. (Not to mention that the Twine map is beautiful in and of itself.)

Octemo
Octemo

To wrap up, let’s talk talks. Every day there were interviews by The Guardian writers Jordan Erica Webber and Keith Stuart. Several people were interviewed each day, and it was lovely to hear them discussing their games and how they made them. In Sunday’s interviews, there was a lovely moment in which Jordan Webber called attention to the fact that her interviewees, Veve Jaffa of Night of the Hunter the Game and Maf’j Alvarez of Rootbeans, were both bucking the trend by appealing to women; the former stars a saintly matriarch and the latter uses beans that can be decorated using nail polish, something that young girls are more likely to own than young boys.

Finally, Friday afternoon held the highlight of the event for me: the microtalks. These were introduced as coming from “the idea that there are lots of ideas” and that was certainly true! Anyone was able to speak for five minutes on any topic, and since this ran for three hours (with breaks) there was a lot to take in. It was so interesting to be able to gain a quick insight into the work and thoughts of so many people. I heard about everything from a game of sunflower theft, to the catharsis that comes from playing an evil character, to the poetry of level design, to a ridiculously catchy song on the Fourier transform, and many more.

These were my highlights from Now Play This, but there was no way I could cover everything that I saw. Information about every game featured can be found at the event’s website, and you can see some more detailed information on some of the games here. Or if you have any particular questions, you can ask in the comments below or find me on Twitter @jayplaysthings!

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