One of the awesome things about indie gaming expos is the ability to interact directly with the developers. When most games are previewed at events, you'll be walked through a carefully selected segment of game that showcases a few key setpieces by a trained PR expert, then - if you're lucky - you'll get to ask one of the developers 10 minutes of carefully worded questions that they may or may not be able to actually answer.
When it's indie stuff, however, things are very different. The person walking you through the demo and introducing all of the game's concepts to you will, more likely than not, be one of the people most directly involved in the game's creation. Every one of these demo sessions, along with seeing your reactions and hearing your feedback, means something to them personally. My time meeting with the team at Pixelscopic and playing a very early prototype of its first fully indepedent game, Delver's Drop, was a reminder of just how refreshing interactions with indie game developers can feel.
The game immediately caught my eye as I wandered the PAX Prime indie megabooth. A traditionally styled, top-down action RPG was fairly unusual given the more esoteric and experimental subject matter most indie titles tend to embrace. It was obvious that the game was still very early, but already I could see the spark of something potentially awesome to be.
Picking up the controller, I was greeted by Ankur Sharma, part of the Pixelscopic team. As I grew used to the controls of Delver's Drop, he gave me a brief rundown of the game so far. Pixelscopic, based in Missouri, aren't newcomers to development at all. Recently, they've made two Moshi Monsters licensed games for DS and 3DS - and it's their contract work that affords them the resources to make more personal games like this.
I played through a few rooms as he spoke, taking my ambiguously gendered hooded warrior through a few more rooms, smacking at the slimes that flocked to attack me. The HD art and visuals were looking fantastic, with the dungeon's unique and atmospheric lighting design really clicking with me. I asked about the way the game rendered its scrolling in the wider rooms of the dungeon, which looked different than any other game I had ever seen. You can see it in the above video: the tops of the walls scroll differently from the floor, making the room appear to have depth. Instead of creating the room geometry out of 3D polygons, the "3D" room effects were rendered through clever use of 2D parallax.
I found this hard to believe. As early as the game I was currently playing seemed (and it was obviously very early; the dungeon didn't seem to have a real ending and dying simply caused you to restart), it didn't seem like something that could have been thrown together in such a short amount of time with a small team. The team had crunched until the wee hours of the morning before PAX opened just to have this build ready to go – a true indication of the talent and dedication that's going into Delver's Drop.
I expressed my amazement to Sharma as I swatted at a few erratically moving bats and shifted around some bits of the room to try and open an exit I hadn't yet explored. I was sure this wasn't the first (or last) statement of disbelief he'd heard at the show, but I knew that every single time someone mentioned how impressed they were, it resonated with the team.
Meanwhile, I found myself struggling a bit with the controls, which had a bit of a "slippery" feel to them, like my character was constantly on ice. I expressed my concern about this, and Sharma explained that it was something they were working on adjusting. They wanted a more substantial physics engine, he elaborated, for things like recoil from damage. The standard character I had now was likely to have its controls adjusted, but other planned character types, like a powerful magician, might retain these sort of loose movement controls to compensate for their wider range and variety of attacks.
I played for another ten minutes or so, conversing with Sharma and others on the Pixelscopic team all the while. Delver's Drop is being prepped for release on iOS, Android, PC, and Mac sometime next year, and phenomenal progress can already be seen toward creating a roguelike/classic action-RPG fusion with a distinct and memorable visual style.
[Image: Ecco Dark Sea]
Heidi Kemps is an intrepid freelancer living in the lap of luxury in Daly City. Her work has been seen on G4, GamesRadar, GamePro, @Gamer, GameSpot, and a wealth of international publications, some of which do not start with the letter G. You can follow her ongoing freelance adventures at @zerochan.