7 Lessons From a Japanese Indie Game Festival

A weekend in Kyoto taught me a lot about living, a little 'bout love, and the following things about video games:

AAA Studios Have the Biggest Budgets, But Not Necessarily the Biggest Ideas

Between Tokyo Dark's spin on point-and-click adventures, the new yet pleasantly familiar feelings of playing excellent VR games, Ace of Seafood making an air combat game with fish, Replica giving Papers Please a modern-themed cousin, and plenty of others, it became apparent that having a corporate pocketbook doesn't necessarily mean a given studio can be the only people in town capable of making a fantastic video game.

VR Deserves a Try, Even if It's Given You a Headache Before

I get instant headaches from a Nintendo 3DS, and I've seen my share of headaches from other 3D entertainment, including VR games. At BitSummit, however, VR games earn a perfect 100% from me. Not a single one gave me any problems whatsoever. After my horrible experience with Final Fantasy XIV in VR, I was worried when I realized I would have to play a bunch more VR stuff at BitSummit, but everything turned out fine. 

Related: I Played These Excellent VR Games at BitSummit

Even if you've had issues with VR in the past, you might consider giving it another shot.

VR Has Obstacles Preventing it From Quickly Tapping the Mass Market

Here is where I plug another article I wrote. If you don't want to read my in-depth analysis (by which I mean "I type the things in my head while unable to sleep on a bus"), then you can skip clicking that link and just scroll on down. VR is great but will take a while to catch fire, is my point.

Game Development is Hard 

Turns out, making a video game is fucking hard. Rumor has it that at their core, they're a bunch of lines of digits written with computers or some shit? That's what people tell me, but I thought that an artist painted stuff, a writer made up a story, and then all-encompassing game dev came in with a magic tool kit and did the rest. Not the case. I know, right?

Most games at BitSummit were by small teams with small budgets, so it's understandable that they can't dedicate quite so many resources to their show floor demos as a AAA studio. I ran into all kinds of bugs and game freezes, but I can't begrudge the makers. 

When Square Enix, Bamco, or Capcom make a demo for something like TGS, they assign people specifically to that task, and allocate budget to making sure every single player gets the exact same, fine-tuned experience. Not possible with a smaller development team. Without the huge bank of cash to make that happen, you get some more bugs than you normally would in a demo. Game development is hard. 

 A Game Doesn't Have to Be Complex to Be Fun and Entertaining

In several trips around major game show demo floors, I've found it rare to hear crowds cheer for any game as loudly as they were cheering for Just Shapes & Beats at BitSummit. To clarify, I don't mean enthusiast press peeing their pants and screaming about Shenmue III and Final Fantasy VII Remake, I mean cheers for an actual game that was being played before their eyes. 

A game doesn't have to push tech boundaries or appear on Game of the Year lists in order to deliver pure, accessible group fun. 

As well, I was delighted to see how many games included some good old fashioned same-system co-op. Online modes are wonderful and have added great things to gaming, but it's felt like offline multiplayer modes have been left behind in recent years. BitSummit showed off quality multiplayer games that are soon to be released, or possibly already out. Moon Hunters, Lost Castle, Enter the Gungeon, Dangerous Men, and Wild Guns come to mind.

There Are More Good Games Out There Than Anyone Has Time to Play

Goodness gracious mozzarella meat balls, there are way too many good games out there, in the best way possible. I played dozens of games at this show, and I'd say about half of them could be under consideration for winning my consumer cash. (Key words: "could" and "consideration." I'm not a money printer over here.) That might not sound like a lot, but consider that I'm just like every other gamer in that I still have other games on my "Upcoming Games to Play" list and a huge backlog. These BitSummit games are being added to that. 

Moreover, these games spanned every current system (and even a game made on a floppy disc because what). Whether you want your games on a computer, a phone, a console, or a tablet; whether you want a traditional screen and controller or a virtual reality headset; whether you want an RPG, an adventure, a racer, or something else entirely, new and intriguing games are coming out in higher numbers than ever.

Let it never be said that there aren't any quality games to play. If I hear you say that, I will reach out from the Internet and cut you with a rusty hook because that is simply untrue.

The Super Nintendo Is Still the King

I distinctly recall playing three games with Super Nintendo controllers plugged into computers… and one just straight up, on an actual SNES. All this technology is wonderful, but sometimes, it doesn't hurt to take a look back at simpler times. I'm old.