A Quick Look at the BitSummit 2014

Today I went to the last public day of BitSummit, an exhibition in Kyoto which started last year and whose goal is to attract and showcase the works of indie game devs. Last year’s venue was very small, but this time they managed to get a lot more space, which means more titles on display and more visitors as well.

The venue was very close to the Heian Jingu, one the most famous temples in Kyoto, so you could get to walk through some of the older quarters of the city, if you did not mind walking a bit instead of taking the subway. The walk was worth it.

Kyoto has this unique atmosphere you rarely find in other Japanese cities. The sense of space created by these streets is incredibly relaxing.

The entry was just 500 yen (less than 5 dollars), very cheap – I’m glad they did not overprice the entry like so many events in Japan actually do. And it was definitely worth it. There were lots of developers, and a healthy mix of Japanese and Foreign ones at that. Many games were shown and people could play them directly and there was almost no queue at all. It was nothing like the TGS though, don’t expect huge stands with dozens of almost naked booth babes. No, it was all about the games, and the booths were simply a bunch of tables grouped together to create a space to put the video games hardware on. And that’s it. Very casual and carefree.

There were actually something like 3-4 games using the Occulus Rift and that was way more than I expected. One of them, Modern Zombie Taxi Driver from Vitei was pretty good, using the concept of Crazy Taxi with cartoonesque graphics and zombies to pick up to bring to the pub, and attracted quite a few people. By the way the game was made by Chris and our dear Traylorpark from the Pandora Boards!

I guess the Rift really has a lot of fans out there. If you have never tried the Occulus it’s hard to describe, but it really gives additional depth to the game since you can turn around and view your surroundings in a very smooth way. I can’t wait to see big AAA driving car simulators making use of this – high quality graphics plus an immersive vision system like the Occulus (when the consumer version actually comes out, in 2014 or 2015) is going to make a big difference on how we play such games.

Another game using the Occulus Rift and… your fingers to shoot asteroids in space.
The only drawback of the Rift: you’ll look stupid playing it. You know what? Fuck friends. Don’t invite them over.

I have been chatting with a few developers and many of them are actually using Unity to create their games. It seems that it’s really a no brainer nowadays, and Unity makes it possible to port binaries to a number of platforms (including mobile ones and tablets) which makes things easier for everyone when it comes to deploying your software to the world.

Apparently Lucas Pope, creator of Papers, Please, was at the show yesterday but I could not see him today. Darn. Nevertheless I could meet the developers of n+ (from Canada) and they were showcasing n++, their new game in the series. You don’t know n+ ? It was a game from a couple of years back in which you play a ninja who can jump and climb on walls (all in polygons). You need to get from A to B in each level and the further you go, the harder the challenge gets. It was on Xbox360 and later on Nintendo DS. If you know Super Meat Boy, well it’s close enough.

The friendly creators of n++.

It’s still as good (and tough) as ever, and both of them were really nice and friendly! This proximity with the game devs is what I really like about this event vs the more industrial events like the TGS where you only meet PR or Marketing folks unless you have private appointments with devs.

One of the new levels of n++. It gets tough pretty quickly.

They plan to release n++ on the PS4 at first but they may release it later on Steam, too. Who knows. I asked about Linux and if they support Steam they would probably do a Mac and Linux version as well, apparently. Sounded good.

There was also Pavilion, this puzzle game made by two Swedes, Henrik and Rickard, which looked really gorgeous. It was already shown last year at BitSummit but is now in a more more complete form. It’s supposed to be released in this summer, for Playstation 4 as well. There was someone already playing so I could not try the game by myself so don’t expect any kind of review here…

The recently disclosed new game from Kenji Inafune (creator of Rockman / Megaman) on 3DS could also be played. It looked OK, and since I did not try it either I could only watch other people playing it. Expect a solid platformer/shooter mix here again, while I was not fond of the look of the characters.

Even though Kenji Eno, the famous creator of D, passed away suddenly last year, his presence could still be felt on the floor as his last, unfinished project is now moving to a Kickstarter campaign on the 20th of March. The project is called KakeXun. I don’t know much about it, though.

Kenji Eno’s final project: KakeXun.

One booth showed off a remake or a new game based on the old Genesis/Megadrive game Leynos (I forgot the actual name overseas) this time on Playstation 4. It looked very decent visually speaking.

Lots of crazy hacky stuff all around. Such as a japanese guy who made a game for the MSX standard, another one who made a Famicom game (NES) with lots of parallax scrolling and pretty high resolution. Another one had made a quiz machine using Lego motors and articulated arms to punish you when you pick the wrong answer. Fun stuff.

This is the NES game I’m talking about. Runs on the actual hardware…
And it’s fairly impressive at that. Looks better than most of the original NES games.

This game’s controller is a soap dispenser. Haha, it was great.
This little thing was a quiz machine. Asking questions (in Japanese), and punishing you for the wrong answers with its robotic arms 🙂

There was even a whole shooter made using only a LED display!

I was a little surprised to see that many developers were targeting Playstation 4 as a launch format. And not just Japanese developers. I guess it makes sense seeing that the PS4’s installed base is now reaching several millions, and I have heard that Sony was actually helping indie devs to promote their games. This is probably why, but I would think that Steam would be a very attractive platform nowadays to launch a game, with 60+ millions of users… but I’m probably missing something. By the way, there were no indie games made for the Xbox One as far as I could see (but I probably missed a few anyway), which was disappointing for Microsoft since they actually had a sponsor booth there. Sony was there too, and Unity and Unreal Engine had their own booths as well.

Sony was showing Octodad, among other games running on PS4.

No Steam, however. A bit sad, really, since there is so much they could do to make Steam more popular in Japan, but they don’t seem to care about taping in that market.

I could not stay very long so there’s no way my report is going to be complete, but you can check some pics of the event below along with some comments. They had events in the evenings as well, and I have heard that the woman who did the music for Super Hexagon (the game from Terry Cavanagh) was doing a live concert during the event. Too bad I missed that!

Daikon game (Radish). Kind of similar to Plants vs Zombies.
A Japanese clone of A-train (well the game mechanics could be different, but it was similar enough).
Where you walk is where some people sleep. Mind your step.
Drool, a pretty cool rythm game with neat graphics and very cool sound effects. Planned for PC, I guess. One of the creators lives in Korea, but he’s American.
The Desolate, a action/adventure game that somehow reminds me of Flashback a little, but it plays differently.
You can’t seriously expect a game event in Japan without bullet hell shooters!
I did not try this game, but as far as I know, it was an adventure game to make you learn English while playing.
A Mario shaped boss in another shooter seen on the floor. Weird.

In the end there were awards (I had already left), and lo and behold, our friend Traylorpark and his colleague Chris won the 1st prize of the Grand Jury for their modern Taxi Zombie Driver!

Here’s a pic from Famitsu. Chris on the left and Traylorpark on the right! Well done guys!

On my way back there was a different kind of hacker on the streets. This guy was apparently using a custom made instrument to play his music. Quite nice and I can’t remember seeing anything like that.

Coming back from Kyoto to Osaka, I was confronted with the remains of a large fire that occurred in the busy quarter of Juso in Osaka. I saw the news yesterday but I did not expect it was SO CLOSE to the train station.

Nearly a whole street burnt down before they could stop the fire 2 days ago. Small, narrow streets and shops touching each other are a good recipe for these kinds of disasters, even in a country as modern as Japan. It makes me wonder how they will rebuild the street. Maybe it’s just like game industry in Japan, burned out, and now aiming to come back from its ashes, with events like BitSummit. I can’t say if that will be enough to make the industry go back to where it used to be, but I had a very good time. I couldn’t say the same thing of any recent TGS I attended. So It’s a good sign.

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Daniel Marder

Thanks for posting this. Don’t know much about Pandora but I played lots of the old games. It’s great to be able to read your posts from tokyohakerspace in English as I am an expat from the US and may never figure out how to read japenese well enough to get this kind of information. Thanks again