Vancouver video games drive, dive, and battle

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      In the past year (September 2014 to August 2015), the Vancouver video-game industry has seemed a bit sleepy. There just weren’t as many locally developed games released as there were in previous years. But keep in mind that games take time to create. Hellbent Games is working on something called Tides, United Front Games has Triad Wars in beta release, and we expect there are interesting things going on at Capcom Vancouver and Next Level Games. We know there is something brewing at Relic Entertainment. But they aren’t talking. Yet.

      Best remake

      When Rod Fergusson came to Vancouver to head up the studio now known as The Coalition, he knew fans were hungry for a new Gears of War game. But Fergusson also knew it would be some time before a new game would be ready. So he used the deconstruction and remaking of the first 2006 game as a way to educate the developers in how to make Gears of War. So Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is not simply a remaster but a remake. It polishes what was already an excellent game and gets it onto the Xbox One, hopefully keeping fans happy until Gears of War 4 arrives.

      Best fundraising effort by a game studio

      Relic Entertainment used a Humble Bundle campaign—which allows customers to set their own price and assign some of the money to charity—to raise funds for Vancouver’s Arts Umbrella. The studio, founded in 1997, packaged up some of its award-winning games for the promotion, including Company of Heroes 2, Dawn of War II, and Space Marine. The US$70,000 raised will fund media-arts programming at the nonprofit arts education centre (which just wrapped its first-ever summer program in game development) for more than a year.

      Busiest indie studio

      Since last fall, Frosty Pop Corps has developed and released seven iOS games. In chronological order of release: Frosty Beer, Frosty Pop, Fishes and Barrels, Ten Large, High Dive, Dribble Madness, and Time After Time. The titles are all free to play (you can pay $0.99 to remove ads) and with fairly simple mechanics (in High Dive, you just try to keep your diver going as long as possible), but each game looks distinct. Learning that Frosty Pop Corps is pretty much two guys—Faisal Sethi and Krys Wallbank—we realized they deserved, if nothing else, a slow clap.

      Best game made by one person

      The driving game Absolute Drift was made by Dune Casu and playing it is like painting: you see it all from above, the top-down perspective giving you an artist’s view of the environment. The spartan surface on which you drift is off-white, your tires leave black streaks as you slide around, and the occasional red objects that you crash through splinter into splashes of pixel block colour.

      Best arcade game

      It’s never been so much fun to pilot a rocket ship as it is in Rocketsrocketsrockets, from Radial Games. Playing this shooter, in which the rockets dance and swoop like frolicking swallows, is like creating your own fireworks.

      Best sim game

      Clockwork Empires from Gaslamp Games is a delightful mashup of city builder and eldritch mythology, in which fish people attack colonists trying to eke out a living in the wilderness and siphon sufficient resources to satisfy the Empire. That’s not all that happens in the game, of course. There’s drinking and cults and maybe cannibalism. But it’s all in good fun.

      Best role-playing game

      With a distinct art style and layer upon layer of game mechanics, Darkest Dungeon, from Red Hook Games, is a complex and scintillating test of strategy in which the death of characters is permanent. On top of all that is the notion that your heroes, facing death and horror at all times, are slowly going insane. There is no other side scroller like it.

      Best bedroom game

      Open War League, from Magnetic North Games, was not only developed by the studio’s three founders (with each working out of spare bedrooms in their respective homes), but the open-world strategy game was also designed specifically for the iPad, which means that players can build their nations and attack each other from the comfort of their bed, if they want to.

      Best new title for a video game

      Hardware: Shipbreakers was a space strategy game in development at Vancouver’s Blackbird Interactive. It was strikingly similar to the Homeworld space strategy games, and for good reason. Rob Cunningham, who founded Blackbird, and several of the people who helped him set up Hardware, came from Relic Entertainment, where they had a hand in developing Homeworld and Homeworld 2. Gearbox Software purchased the rights to Homeworld in May 2013 after Relic parent company THQ went bankrupt. On September 1, Gearbox signed a deal with Blackbird to turn Hardware: Shipbreakers into Homeworld: Shipbreakers.