Haven Editorial: Utah Games Guild Shines at Salt Lake Gaming Con

SLGCUGGThe Utah Games Guild (UGG) was the largest gaming presence at this year’s Salt Lake Gaming Con. Although Microsoft and Sony were both there, they had nothing new or interesting to show. The group that really shined in terms of fun, innovative games was the UGG. I spoke with co-founder Lyle Cox about the Guild that he and a few others have painstakingly put together. Last May, Lyle Cox, Josh Sutphin, and Tim Rowberry wanted to create an organization that brought Utah independent developers together. They noticed that Utah had many devs all working in isolation, not knowing about one another. Their goal was to change this; creating a database of games and devs working in Utah. So far, this has become something much larger than any of them could have expected.

Currently, the UGG has between 15 and 20 games that are ready to be shown and play-tested, with more titles on the way. Once a month, the Guild holds a live demo event. They invite the public and other devs to come out and test these games in progress. I was able to speak with a handful of these devs and try out their games.

crashnautsI met with the guys at Fueled by Rockets about their newest title: Crashnauts. This game looks incredibly fun, and from what I played, it was. It’s a 2-D multiplayer arena shooter, similar to Towerfall, or the more recent Duck Game. You choose your character from one of 4 or 5 alien races, including my personal favorite…the crab people! The game includes enough customization to keep your characters different and interesting. The controls are solid, and game play is competent.

You find guns around the arena and use them to kill your opponents. The thing that really shines about this game though, is the art design. I love games that know how to perfectly intertwine game design with art direction. I feel this game does it wonderfully.crashnauts2aCrashnaut‘s appearance is something of a mixture of Behemoth‘s and Vlambeer‘s art. It’s fun and cartoony, with big headed character models. At the same time, there’s something slightly horrifying about them. They all look very alien, which I feel is a perfect style for the “party arena shooter” genre…I’m really looking forward to this game. Fueled by Rocket‘s Kickstarter project for Crashnauts is coming very soon. Please head over to crashnauts.com to sign up for the announcement and learn more about this awesome title.

The next booth was run by developer Kickbomb, who was demonstrating Legacy of the Elder Star. This game is a 2-D side scrolling shoot ’em up. The controls are all based around the mouse, resulting in a very fluid response. Moving the character around the screen feels comfortable and incredibly intuitive.
LotESIn addition to the standard shooting and a few super attacks, there is a cool slashing feature where you hold down a button and drag your character through enemies to destroy them. I never blamed the controls for my failures; everything was on me. Unlike other “shmups”, the game has a great difficulty curve. It’s never easy, but it does a good job of giving you enough room to learn and get used to its style. Elder Star is very fair. If you pay attention and follow the patterns you’ll do alright. The hand-painted graphics fill this game with so much color…it’s an absolute joy to look at, as well as play. For more information, please visit elderstargame.com and kickbomb.us.

Next is Can’t Turn Back, by Poor Shelter. It’s an interesting little puzzle game, played on a map similar to a Pac-Man board. The rule is that you can only move forward, and if you touch another player they die. If you both touch, you both die. While this seems pretty simple, the execution is a lot of fun.
CTBIt’s a great puzzler that you can play with your friends or with the AI. It’s really easy to pick up, but the strategy takes time to master. There’s a variety of maps and enough required thinking to keep this game fresh. You can visit poorshelter.com to pre-purchase the game right now.

Another puzzler presented was Ominoes, by JDHgroup. This was the only mobile game shown by the UGG. The game play is similar to Tetris, where you manipulate various-shaped blocks. Unlike Tetris however, you can place these blocks anywhere on the board, and in any direction you like. There are also obstructions that must either be cleared from the board, or simply worked around. It’s like build your own Tetris, I suppose.
Ominoes1I enjoyed my time with Ominoes, and feel that it’s more enjoyable and contains a little more strategy and variety than other titles in it’s class. I’d definitely consider it as a new “bus stop” game. If you’re curious to know more about it, or are interested in puzzle games at all, check out ominoes.com for a free early access version coming soon.

I next came to the booth of Rampant Games. Their newest offering is Frayed Knights 2: The Khan of Wrath, sequel to Frayed Knights: The Skull of Smakh-Daon, which is available on Steam. It’s an old-school dungeon crawler in the vein of Legends of Grimrock. Unlike Grimrock though, this game is lighthearted, with a big focus on humor. The developers explained that the dialogue between characters is along the same lines as sit-coms such as Seinfeld.
FK2aWhile I didn’t get too much of this from the demo, the dialogue I did hear was enjoyable enough. The game play is solid and there are many character abilities. A main mechanic is that the longer you wait for a character to take their turn, the stronger their skills become. The demo didn’t have a huge variety of equipment, but I was assured that there will be more at release. This is an interesting game that seems competent without being overly complex. You can check out rampantgames.com for more information. A Steam Greenlight page is expected for Frayed Knights 2 in about a month.

The last game from the UGG I’d like to talk about is Together: Amna & Saif. This is one of Lyle Cox’s personal projects, which he’s working on with writer Ahmed Saladin. The game is a cooperative interpersonal experience, centered around two Middle Eastern kids. I sadly wasn’t able to play, as it requires two people. However, we did discuss the game. I really like seeing titles that use elements outside the game itself, and a big component here is that you need to communicate with your partner to accomplish tasks and solve puzzles.
together2aThe first thing that caught my eye was the representation. Lyle told me that much research has been conducted, and it’s found that Middle Easterners are the most underrepresented in video games; other than as human targets. Lyle and Ahmed wanted to create a product that brought Middle Eastern people and culture up to a higher place in the industry. He went on to say that many fans have been contacting him, thanking him and Ahmed for creating a game in which they can see themselves. Representation in this field is very important to me, and it’s amazing to find out that it’s also important to these developers.

Of course, there were more games being shown at Salt Lake Gaming Con under the Utah Games Guild banner. Please don’t take the selections in this review as being best in show, or otherwise hand-picked. It was completely random. I highly encourage everyone to visit the UGG site and check out everything they have to offer. The site is utahgamesguild.com and again, I would like to personally thank Lyle Cox for being so informative and putting up with my relentless questions. I’ll be excited to attend more events in the future, and to further report on the activities of the Utah Games Guild.

-Jordan Kamm-