During the past week the small university town of Skövde, Sweden, attracted a sizable and international crowd of game developers, scholars and diehard video game enthusiasts to gather at the annual Sweden Game Conference. Those who undertook the pilgrimage to the emerging video game metropole shared three days of passionate exchanges, explorations of tomorrow video game hits, and various enlightening lectures on a wide range of game-related topics. The event was as usual organized by Sweden Game Arena and was this year backed by Epic Games (Unreal Engine) and local success companies like Coffee Stain Studios and Stunlock Studios.
The theme of this year’s conference was “Games & Politics”, which gave the attendants a chance to reflect on video game media’s relationship to the various political forces along which it exists. This encompassed both the matter of how different levels of politics shapes the game industry and its products as well as video game’s potential influence on political perspectives.
It was a delight to see both local and non-local indie’s in the expo at the festival. Among the local ones, there were three games that Indienova had brought to display at China Game Festival in earlier this year: Hyss by Sunscale Studios, Whimsical Witchery by Arcscape Studios and Verlet Swing by Flamebait Games.
Flamebait Games’ Verlet Swing, which has the players spiderman-swing their way through an almost endless number of surrealistic vaporwave environments, was released only a month ago. The conference also coincided with the release of the Switch version of Passpartout - the studio’s previous title. The game, which lets players paint and trade their art pieces with each other, was a worldwide hit when it was first released.
Arcscape studio’s lead designer, William Clifford, who also joined Indienova for the China Game Festival updates me on the current status of their game: “Since the festival back in May, the Whimsical Witchery team have spread their wings and stepped up their game, literally”. William says that the feedback he received from the gamers in China provided them with great means to improve.
An early version of Sunscale’s game Hyss attracted many players in Wuhan back in May. The now finished 3D puzzle platformer will be ready for release within a month.
Next Studio, who had brought their upcoming title Unheard, represented Chinese indie community at the conference. The game is inspired by an experimental play called Sleep No More - a film noir styled version of Shakespeare's Macbeth that let the audience move freely through multiple rooms in which the theatre takes place parallelly. Unheard works in a similar way, by letting the players solve mysteries by moving throughout rooms and listen in on conversations. Gu Junchao, the programmer at the studio, explains the games unique concept:
“Experientially, we wanted it to be closer to reading a book or listening to a podcast. In such media, different people have clearly distinct characters but are never represented visually. Thus, the reader or listener use their imagination to give these people a face. Since our characters have no real visible representation, our game allows for this as well.”
The indie game news website Indie Games Plus also attended the event and used the occasion to reward particularly interesting games in the expo with a “Top 5 Games of Sweden Games Conference 2018”-award. One of these selected games were Idearum - an arty, non-violent, 3D puzzle platformer based on Greek mythology with levels inspired by seven liberal arts. The game lets you play as a fresh new soul emerged from the deserts of Limbo, learning about the world through trials that will prove whether they are worthy of joining the Golden City of Atlantis, where every citizen must embody perfection. It’s a beautiful and relaxing game, developed by Tahutahu studio - an all-female game quintet working remotely from Spain, Czech Republic, and the United States. They meet at workshops, conferences, and expos around the world. Idearum has been exhibited at “Her Environment” in Chicago and was also selected for Stugan accelerator program in 2017.
The conference finished on Friday with a huge party (for the third day in a row). The day after it was time to let the public into the premises of the event as Sweden Game Conference transformed into Sweden Game Festival. The hundreds of eager gamers queued up on Saturday morning to participate in e-sport contests and other game-related activities.
Though Skövde is just a small town in mid-Sweden, it has managed to grow into a sort of hub for the game industry and game studies in this part of the world. It is great to see indies from near and far come together here at least once a year at the Sweden Game Conference to share their interest and passion for video games.