A man wearing a blue shirt and box over his head wandered the floor at Kyoto’s Miyako Messe exhibition hall. As passersby stopped to look, he handed them empty lotion pump bottles and invited them to try squirting them.
It was a quirky moment, and just the tip of the iceberg at last weekend’s BitSummit, one of the biggest independent-games events in Japan.
The bottles turned out to be controllers for “ShCoCoooCoCo” by Flash Games Japan, which was running on a screen embedded in the man’s head box and showed players to be flying bottles of lotion, squirting at enemies.
From the absurd to the innovative and just plain cool, there was something for everyone at “A 5th of BitSummit,” the event’s fifth edition. Indie creators have more freedom over their projects than they would under big publishers, and that creativity was on full display.
“I think it’s due to the popularity of the show,” said John Davis, who has helped organize all five BitSummits and especially noted the growing number of Japanese developers trying out new things. “They’re more willing to try different things, try different types of control schemes. I think it shows the growth of the show and the growth of indies as a whole.”
Another game by Flash Games Japan — “Dice River” — used oversized dice as controllers for the Beatmania-esque rhythm title, while the dungeons in Robin Baumgarten’s “Line Wobbler” were traversed using a controller made from a “door-stopper spring and a 5-meter long ultrabright LED strip display.”
Studio 1-10drive showed “God Breath You,” a five-player endeavor, where one player wears a VR headset while four others squeeze air out of figures shaped like Greek gods. The player in the headset experiences floating down a virtual river on a raft and gives directions to the others, who squeeze out their “god’s breath” to blow the raft away from danger.
“BitSummit is an indie event, so it’s open to strange ideas and games that might be a little bit out there,” said Yukio Futatsugi, the acclaimed creator of the “Panzer Dragoon” series who is now with Grounding Inc.
Futatsugi was displaying his quirky, genre-mixing iOS title “Beat Legion,” which is part card game and part rhythm game.
One of the most popular titles at the show was coconoe inc.’s “PeoplePanic!,” in which players held UFOs attached to poles over an interactive screen on the floor and abducted citizens from a city.
“Essentially, it’s almost like a fishing game as far the controls go,” Davis said.
There were also a multitude of games played in a more traditional way. Among these were PLAYISM’s “Hyper Light Drifter,” a 2-D action RPG throwback to some of the best of the 16-bit era. The haunting soundtrack matches the dystopian landscapes and the game also spices things up with a co-op mode.
Also present was “Iconoclasts” — developer Joakim Sandberg’s seven-year labor of love — a polished, engaging adventure game with plenty of action, puzzles and an interesting story to boot. Other impressive titles included “Earth Atlantis,” a side-scrolling shooter made by Pixel Perfex that has solid game play and stood out in part because of its “old sketching” art style. Then there was “Asura,” a hack-and-slash set against the backdrop of Indian mythology, created by the two-man team at Ogre Head Studio. Toylogic’s “Happy Wars” was another strong title featured, with a cutesy art style that belies the chaos that unfolds in its large-scale multiplayer battles.
These were only a fraction of the titles displayed. There was also a large presence from heavyweights Sony and Nintendo, who displayed indie games designed for their PlayStation 4 and Switch consoles.
This year’s BitSummit also featured music, developer “talk shows” and a video game tournament, and was well attended with crowds in the thousands over its two-day run.