We had a sneaking suspicion that the Bit Bash party we weren’t supposed to tell you about was going to be a good one, and we were right. This clandestine meeting of the Order of the Bit at 1st Ward at the Chop Shop was everything we hoped for–tons of indie game goodness, great food and cocktails, and lots of interesting people to talk to, compete and team up with. We chatted up developers, and met up with lots of the people that make Chicago’s indie game scene fantastic, from the VGA Gallery folks to I Play Games ‘s Kevin Fair, developer Ian Beckman of Big Sir Games (whose game Cosmo’s Quickstop recently won a spot at C2E2), and Level Ex, a Chicago based developer using creating virtual reality and mobile games that help medical professionals practice difficult medical procedures.
We had a bit of a bad first impression as there was some initial entryway confusion and frustration, but that was all forgotten once we squeezed past the bar and into the play space. Immediately, we could tell Initiation had a different vibe than other Bit Bash efforts. Their summer Bit Bash marquee events feel like chill house parties, Initiation, on the other hand, felt closer to… a night club? We’ll just go with lively secret gathering. It was packed with people, and had a good energy. As we maneuvered our way through the packed room, we constantly overheard smart, enthusiastic conversations about video games, and knew this was exactly our crowd.
And, wow! What a set up! Giant screens hung from the ceilings with gameplay being projected onto them. When you played a game like The Moon Fields projected across the play space, it felt like you were a pro playing for a stadium full of people. But it gave you enough anonymity to not feel like you’re in the spotlight, as there were so many games going on our efforts felt like they blended into the ambience.
Each game seemed to fit one of two themes: those having to do with the clandestine, and those that are great arcade-like multiplayer games. The multiplayer fighting games Starwhal and The Moon Fields were quite popular, being fast arcade experiences with player vs. player action. Starwhal is a game that sees up to four players duking it out in a sort of space narwhal fighting game. Moon Fields pits up to four players against each other in pixel art, fast-paced gladiatorial combat.
Games like Frog Fractions, Please Don’t Touch Anything, TouchTone, and Orwell: Ignorance is Strength however, aren’t really party games. They’re more of a slow burn, but all either deal with the clandestine, or have secrets hidden under their surface. While thematically accurate, we thought they might be a little slow and cerebral for a party environment, but Initiation attendees seemed to crowd around them anyways.
Surreal Strawberry Cubes seemed to confuse the crowd more than entertain with its non-traditional approach to gameplay. Though Strawberry Cubes is not really meant to traditionally entertain with its brilliantly horrific visuals and confounding gameplay, it is great that it was seen by a wider audience.
Another non-traditional game, and perhaps “the dance floor” of the night was a game called the Edgar Rice Soiree. It’s like Twister… sort of. The goal is to be always holding two of your colored PS Move controllers from a bunch of them hanging from the ceiling. If you’re only holding one, you’ll have a limited amount of time to grab another before you’re out. To accomplish this you have to ”’Tarzan’ around the space” (as the creators describe it) by grabbing one controller while “swinging” to the other. Body-contact (gentle shoves, awkward brushes) is encouraged, and mostly unavoidable as strings get increasingly tangled and colors change more rapidly.
Other events for the evening featured drop in barroom rounds of local developer Jackbox Games’ ridiculously popular party series, Jackbox Party Pack, and even a Moon Fields tournament. This mostly informal affair saw eight attendees walk away with Amazon Fire HD tablets.
Overall, Bit Bash’s Initiation was one of the best Bit Bash experiences we’ve ever had. With plenty of space and great food and cocktails, as well as plenty of interesting co-op titles and a nightclub vibe, you’d have to try pretty hard not to have a good time. It’s a great sign of things to come and another reason we’re looking forward to more Bit Bash bashes.
Contributing author Marielle Shaw