Sacramento Indie Arcade Expo 2015 Reflections

By Marshall Garvey, Jake Rushing and Isaac Smith

 

A week ago, on Saturday, April 11th, some of the most talented local game devs and many gaming enthusiasts met up at the Sacramento Indie Arcade Gaming Expo. Hosted at the Colonial Cafe on Stockton Blvd., it primarily served as a space for devs to share their work-in-progress games, although there were other activities for attendees to indulge in. Eager to partake in a live video game atmosphere, make connections with developers, and represent Last Token Gaming, Marshall, Isaac and Jake joined the action and soaked in everything offered up at the small but lively festivities. (In addition to the half-dozen Dr. Peppers, cheeseburger, and whatever else must still be sifting through Marshall’s system from the food bar.) Here’s their collective recap of a fun time filled with indie games, tournament fails, and even an Atari E.T. sighting!

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Marshall (Re: I suck at Mario Kart 8): This was my first experience at the Sac Indie Expo, or any expo like it really. The first thing I loved about it was the vibe. I was at the event from beginning to end, and all throughout, there was a convivial atmosphere that just made me feel at home. Video games are probably my favorite private experience, but few things make me happy like socializing with other game enthusiasts. There’s something joyous about seeing people congregate and discuss the ins and outs of gaming, their favorite titles and characters, and display their eclectic costumes/shirts. Not to mention, actually play games together in person, rather than yell at each other over Xbox Live.

Indeed, the whole front room (where the cafe’s bar is located) was transformed into a composite of every gamer’s living room of the past three decades. There was a Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Nintendo 64, Playstation 1, and even an Atari set up on tables for anyone to sit down and play. (As Isaac poignantly noted, it was special to see an 11-year-old in this day and age playing an actual, physical Atari.) A speaker near the entrance continually played a soundtrack of 8-bit, rock, and other eclectic arrangements of popular game themes. (I nearly nerdgasmed out loud when I heard none other than a rearrangement of Click Clock Wood from Banjo-Kazooie.) A TV next to the bar played a rotation of movies based on video games, including the infamous 1993 Super Mario Bros flop. Hell, even one of the bartenders was dressed like Ness, for but another fun touch of gaming reverence.

However, there's nothing sweet or innocent about the sight of someone playing "E.T." No at all.

However, there’s nothing sweet or innocent about the sight of someone playing “E.T.” Not at all.

In addition to the free-to-play console games, the front room also hosted a couple of tournaments, including a Mario Kart 8 one that Jake and I entered. While Jake managed to advance a round, I wasn’t so fortunate. Make no mistake: I got off to one hell of a mediocre start, but eventually my luck ran out, and my sorry inability to steer properly with a Wii U controller sealed my fate. My fall from grace took me from 5th all the way to 10th by the end of the race. I expect an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary to be made about it…never.

The face of failure.

The face of failure.

Most important about this expo, however, were of course the local game devs. Located in the back room, a host of talents from Sacramento, Davis and elsewhere had rough versions of their games on display to take for a spin. They were exceedingly friendly, and had some games worth supporting to boot. One that struck a chord with me was Vektor Prix, a Tempest-esque 2D space shooter where, to my history geek delight, I was blowing up enemies named after famous dictators. (Extra points for including Rafael Trujillo, one of my favorites to name-drop from my Friendly Dictators trading card set!) The best game overall IMO was a delightful multiplayer co-op shooter called Monsters and Monocles, developed by fellow UC Davis alumnus Ryan Evans no less.

The best moment playing one of these games, however, was one I sadly didn’t get to witness. While Jake was trying out an Oculus Rift zombie game, it suddenly broke, causing all of the zombies to fly and get stuck in the air. Now there’s something for a Walking Dead spinoff. “Previously, on AMC’s The Flying Dead….”

I did get to try one of these devices, however, and it was indeed a trip.

I did get to try one of these devices, however, and it was indeed a trip.

Altogether, this was a terrific first-time experience for me. It was a privilege to make connections with local game developers, and to cover a live event as LTG’s lead editor. I’ll assuredly be in attendance next year, in addition to other likewise events in the near future!

Jake: The main reason why I ended up at the Sac Indie Expo event is because I came up with a video game club called South Bay Button Mashers. We decided it would be fun to make a road trip from the Silicon Valley all the way to Sacramento for some button mashing fun. I not only had fun with my friends from the South Bay and Last Token Gaming; I was also excited to see what the event had in store. Seeing a fresh batch of games, as well as what else the event had to offer (i.e. the Mario Kart 8 Tournament) and being with friends made this trip worth it! 

I got the chance to play with the only Oculus Rift demo at the event, which was the zombie apocalypse simulator where the developer created motion sensors to be worn on your shoelaces that detects feet movement, along with another sensor that can detect precise hand/finger movements. You can move in the gaming world by marching in place, turn around in the post-apocalyptic world by turning around in real time, and even move your hands as the sensors can detect your hand finger movement. It was a really fun and immersive simulator, despite the fact that you can’t do much else beyond those actions. My favorite magical moment was a point where I broke the game by punching a zombie onto a certain part of his chest, which made him teleport to a spot above my head. I looked above to where the zombie was spinning in place. After that, half of the other zombies were walking in midair. Oops…but that is still in development. For what it is now, it’s really immersive!

San Jose State University’s (SJSU) Game Developer Club made an appearance at the IGDA Sacramento’s event, which I feel takes dedication for them to drive all of the way up. They showcased their series of games, which was displayed in an arcade cabinet. Their games showed a good amount of creativity, which made me love indie games in the first place. One of the games, I love you, but you kiss like a girl, was a hilarious take on french kissing where you have to use your tongue to push the other player out of the “ring.” It’s really inspirational to see this level of creativity on display. Hell, since the school is close to my home, I might have to stop by the club and get some pointers!

I have a small handful of favorites. One of the games that stuck out to me was Vektor Prix. It feels like a 2D top down free form Death Race in Atari Arcade graphics, and the game is such fun grabbing weapons and figuring out ways to blow up your enemies based on what weapons you pick up. I also really enjoyed Monsters and Monocles, a 2D top down multiplayer shooter with a fun Gauntlet feel just feels right with a good amount of pixel art, great music, and non-stop shooting action. Of course, if there are any other games that I might have missed, feel free to mention them in the comments!

Despite the fact that the cafe was packed, I feel it’s refreshing to get some interesting ideas from people who lived closer to my hometown. It was fun checking out old consoles (including Virtual Boy, even though it was a bit nauseating) and seeing what upcoming games have to offer. It was a fun treat seeing the past and the future of gaming for all gamers to enjoy, and whether you aim to look at certain games for review or simply want to enjoy them for nostalgia, the Sacramento Indie Arcade Expo has enough to offer to all gamers with different backgrounds.

Jake playing a real, actual Virtual Boy. Be jealous. Or not.

Jake playing a real, actual Virtual Boy. Be jealous. Or not.

Isaac: I was just starting with Last Token Gaming last year, when I went to the first Indie Game Developer Arcade in Sacramento last year. It was in a small pub, and it was packed to the brim. This year, it was in a slightly larger pub and even more packed! We arrived just as the thing started and had to wait in line like we were getting into a rock concert. When I left several hours later, there were at least as many, but they were pretty much all different people than those who were there at the beginning. I appreciate the wild success of something I’m so passionate about, and the response of NorCal’s gaming community was fantastic.

On to the devs! There were probably about 15 game developers who were presenting products at booths around the hall, including a couple who were at last year’s IGDA. One in particular, a fellow by the name of Jeremiah Ingham, had been developing a game called Labyrinth, which was a 3-D procedurally generated fantasy roguelike in its absolute roughest stages. This year, the game had been renamed Venture Forth (much catchier and unique), and had seen a serious facelift and a great amount of development. Check it out here and sign up for his email list!

This year was the year of the roguelike, as it were! It’s obvious that games like Nuclear Throne, Dungeon of the Endless and Rogue Legacy made their mark on the indie game community, as procedurally generated maps were very chic at the convention. No complaints here, I enjoyed the heck out of all of them. One in particular, Monsters and Monocles, outshone the rest with its bright pixel art, catchy music and fast-paced action. I decided to pursue it a little more closely, and I’m going to be writing a more in-depth review soon! Keep your eyes peeled.

As a final note, the San Jose State University Game Developers Club was also represented at Sac’s IGDA. I think that perfectly sums up my feelings about the convention as a whole: gamers and gamedevs came from far and wide to get together and create a supportive, encouraging, exciting environment that makes Sacramento feel like an up-and-coming city in the world of game development. I’m proud to live here, and I’m proud to be able to give these devs some much-needed publicity. For a substantive, but by no means complete, list of some of the games on display at the expo, click right here!

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