Shindig Student Playtest

The pile of cola and sweets in one corner of this busy room at Sheffield Hallam Uni's campus are not needed… 
Sheffield Indie Dev co-op Shindig’s Student Play Test at Hallam University was full of fizz and buzz as students on the uni’s Games Sofware Development and Game Design degree courses played games that saw them leaping across towering cliffs of imaginary landscapes and running and gunning their way across runaway locomotives.
Designed to provide the city’s independent game developers with an opportunity to get feedback on their current projects, first up was Alex Johansson’s aforementioned precipice leaper, Narcissus…

A little bit like a simultaneous two-player Cannabalt, but with a unique atmosphere and some really lovely pixel art, Narcissus was a great intro to the inclusive 'pick up and play' focus of much of the city’s indie output. And there's a very Steel City story behind the game's inception. “You know the River Don?" Asks Alex. "I was out with my little brother and he was running along the opposite side of the river. It was a really sunny day and you could see his reflection in the water. So I just thought – what if you made a game with two players running along this picturesque scenery?”

Narcissus is currently available to play online. Alex is also looking at a possible iPad version. You can find out more about Narcissus on Alex’s blog and listen to Narcissus’s soundtrack designer Luke Smith’s work here.

Snakes on a Plane-punning run-and-gunner, Game on a Train is particularly notable for its lovely animation – including the cutest skulls-with-flesh-hanging-off-them since we were locked in the Editor’s cellar.
Lee Hickey from developers Games Faction cites Metal Slug as an inspiration, and talks proudly about 'Train's gib system, which is an evolution of their previous Santa-based game for iPhone, Trigger Happy Christmas. Ho ho ho, indeed.  Particularly cute is Game on a Train’s Ghosts ’n’ Goblins style life system. “There’s no health – you just lose clothes,” Lee explains. “But you can buy more in the shop, pick up a mankini and so on!”
Currently on final tweaks and optimisation, it might have had a name change by the time you read this so the best place to find out more about Game on a Train is via the Game Faction website.


Many of the games at the Play Test were still in development, but the awesomely-named Dashy! Crashy!! was notable for being one of those games that straight away shouts “Play meeeee!” at you. It’s a gorgeous, twitch-gameplay racer with a really neat ‘swipe to accelerate’ mechanic that reminded us of the slice of arcade awesome that was APB. Have a look at our teeny (but dashy) video…

Being smarty-pants gamers who know our history we straightaway latched onto the distinctive, cartoon-like design and blue skies as you race your runaway wheels in and out of traffic. Sure enough, designer Tom Seddon turned out to be an ex-Sumo dev gone indie and there was a strong Sega feel to the game. I loved the way vehicles do their best to get out the way of your speeding car – and even occasionally succeed! It’s a neat example of giving what would otherwise be drone-like objects proper character. “The AI of the other cars involves them keeping an eye out for all the stuff what’s going on on the road and generally trying to avoid it,” Explains Tom. “But they don’t try too hard and they’re a bit careless!”
Fave bit at the moment is that swipe to accelerate mechanic though. It gets you that vital speed but there’s a neat risk-reward to it with the accompanying change of screen view. Very cool indeed.
We didn’t get a chance to see what Tom had in the way of missions and with a game like this it’s all about providing variety and depth to get the most out the mechanics, but we loved Dashy! Crashy!! There's no tears or explosions – everything bounces. "But that doesn't take away from the carnage," As Tom points out. 


There’s just time for a final go on Narcissus and a chat with Senior Lecturer Jacob Habgood. Everyone seems to be enjoying it and getting into the swing of things, as evidenced by one student asking me what game I’m developing when I happen to go on my phone to check the time. So what’s next for the Playtest? “Well this year’s showcase was quite spontaneous and informal, but we’ve had really good feedback from both the Indies and students involved, so I certainly think there’s scope for a more regular event, as well as a possible Game Jam event next year.” And when can we play the games? “You should be able to try them for yourself at Games Britannia Replayed at Magna on the 7th and 8th July…”
Visit the Shindig website here. Find out more about Sheffield Hallam University's Games Software Development BSc here and their Game Design BA (hons) here. Thanks to Alex, Lee and Tom. Push 1p.

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