Xaimi's Nerdy Blurbs: SAAM ARCADE 2017

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

SAAM ARCADE 2017

SAAM ARCADE 2017
Third time’s the charm


Oh folks, you did not think I would miss this year’s Indie Arcade did you?  


Washington D.C.’s beloved annual event changed its name, but the newly dubbed SAAM Arcade has lost none of its splendor, variety, or friendly environment. Its namesake gives thanks to its host: the Smithsonian American Art Museum. This year’s delights included three floors of hands-on entertainment including: workshops, musical performances, live eSports events, Pinball tournaments, classic arcade cabinets, and of course, independent (indie) games from professional and student developers. I would argue that this was the most ambitious year yet for the sponsors and coordinators.


For those not in the know, the SAAM Arcade originally launched in 2014 as Indie Arcade: Indies from the Middle.. It provided a platform for professional indie and student developers to showcase their projects for exposure to a wide audience. The event expanded from humble beginnings to full fanfare with over 11,700 attendees (1) during 2016. This year’s local sponsors are: the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM), American University’s Game Lab, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), MAGfest, Art Lab +, and the Washington D.C. Chapter of the International Game Developer’s Association.

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Three floors of pure bliss

Main Floor, Main Course: the Indies


Amidst the plethora of indie games, I had the opportunity to get my hands on two special titles: Mystic Melee and Burly Men at Sea. Both games display how diverse gameplay has become in the independent scene.


Serenity Forge and Mystic Melee
Thursday afternoon last week, I pinned a Twitter post letting developers know I would attend SAAM Arcade and would love to talk with them. Imagine my appreciative honor to hear from Zhenghua Yang (Z) (@ZhenghuaYang), founder and CEO of developer Serenity Forge! Serenity Forge is the company behind the King’s Bird-- which you may remember from Indie Megabooth next door to E3 this year-- Yang is an IGDA Colorado Chapter member and said he would love to discuss their latest IP, Mystic Melee. For those of you that missed it at EVO 2017 (2), SAAM Arcade was a chance to check it out before the official release.




At first glance, Mystic already had my heart with its vibrant pixel art and crisp platforming execution. The trailer displays a side-scrolling adventure style with skills relating to your wizard of choice. I wanted to know: a) How did I miss this gem? B) Does it feel as good as it looks? I still cannot answer A, but B is a resounding “YES!”


The game mode on display was a deathmatch melee combat akin to entries in the Super Smash Bros. series, but with better character control and platforming ability. At the character select screen, players have an opportunity to test their character’s move inputs while waiting for other opponents to submit their final selections.
Each character can utilize a basic attack, spells, and single jumps with the option to double jump. I did discover a technique similar to the Smash Bros. “wave dash” via a shoulder button/trigger during my matches. Yours truly jumped into a match as Amaya,, or Team 2, in the screenshot above.


Everyone starts with 100% health that enemy attacks or environmental mishaps can whittle away to zero. Environmental hazards vary depending on the stage. Are there two giant turning platforms in the center of the stage? Land between those and you suffer a flattened instant death. Stroll on spinning saw blades one time too many if you are looking for an early defeat. Some stages offer, what appear to be environmental pickups that can be used as weapons once a character acquires them.  


See that little gap of doom? Some of us are about to discover what happens when you explore that…


Now, I am sure that some of you are still sore about my preference of Mystic over Smash, but what if I told you that you can wall jump to escape a potential fall death? Suddenly, an “Up B” pales in comparison. Winning a deathmatch in Mystic Melee requires more than luck and a strong hit; players must be aware of their surroundings at all times while understanding how to pull true potential from their platforming skills.


Outside of an Arena Mode, Yang points out that Mystic Melee has a dedicated Single Player campaign mode with 50 levels to explore and a plethora of magic spells to master in addition to another multiplayer mode that actually requires co-op in order to achieve certain goals. With shimmering polish, tight controls, and a developer that wants “...to work with a community of players to get feedback...and add requested content...” (3) players worldwide have plenty to look forward to on August 22, 2017 when it releases on Steam.


Burly Men at Sea and the Geeky Gamer Girl

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I was pretty much on cloud nine after my Serenity Forge experience, but behold! Yang’s table neighbor was the “Geeky Gamer Girl” Mattie Diem. Diem (@CatPewPew) is a Colorado-based journalist and a wealth of knowledge if you are looking to get your feet wet in the gaming department of journalism.


She explained that she decided to write reviews covering indie games because these nuggets of blood, sweat, and tears deserve more exposure and recognition than they tend to receive. I absolutely agree! Triple A developers and publishers have the currency to promote their projects heavy, but most indie developers have to put the majority of their funds into the project development itself and network with fellow indies (see: Devolver Digital & Indie Megabooth).


Diem and I discussed Wordpress versus Blogger, SEO woes, and the struggle to monetize our life passion. As I sat there attempting to soak up wisdom like the driest sponge, SAAM Arcade attendees stopped at the table, intrigued by the propped up iPad with headphones attached. I had been so engulfed in our conversation that I almost overlooked the pastel and earth-colored delight lighting up the tablet’s display.


“This is something I would play mostly at home,” I heard one gentleman say. For some reason, his statement, though tactful, rubbed me the wrong way. It made me think of the old stance many gamers had ten to fifteen years ago. You know which one I am talking about:


Mobile games are not serious game experiences.


Yes, I know he did not say that, but the shadows of that dark era lingered in his tone. I knew I had to play Burly Men at Sea.


David and Brooke Condolora, founders of developer Brain & Brain, describes Burly Men at Sea as “a folktale adventure.” Players embark on a journey with three fishermen that stumble across a mysterious item. The controls are simple: tap the screen to interact with objects and people. Slide your finger along the screen to explore your surroundings. The entirety of your setting is not immediately clear-- like observing a locale through frost-edged binoculars-- and what you see is limited only by your scope of exploration. A tranquil instrumental track reverberates through the headphones and despite thousands of attendees swarming the museum, I felt absorbed into the game. Who are these fishermen? What is the mysterious item? Is the clank of the Blacksmith’s hammer a voiced over sound effect (oh my, it is!) ? I guided my three seamen (get your laugh out and keep reading damn it) from house to house in nonchalant fashion, playing with fire and picking the townsfolk’s brains as to what we have found.


I wanted to explore the world of Burly Men at Sea for a few moments more, but SAAM Arcade had more ground that needed covering and who am I to deny its charm? Brain & Brain’s enchanting tale is available now on PC/Mac, App Store, Google Play, Humble Store, and Itch.io and I cannot wait to reunite with the fishermen again. Thank you Mattie for looking after Burly. it was an absolute pleasure to chat with you.


3rd Floor: Past, Present, and Future
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SAAM managed to cram nostalgia, current games, and the future of eSports into one monstrous floor. As with any mmorpg, your adventure depended on the path chosen. The ascending F Street stairwell led to three flat screens displaying a live stream NBA battle between players with live commentary. Or, you could take your chances via the G Street stairwell and waltz into the enthralling pulse of Dance Dance Revolution: Extreme. Whatever, your fancy, there was a cabinet for every taste.


The Cabinets


The fighting game community was especially well represented here. Arcade on Tour brought their home arcade setups-- complete with fight sticks-- powering current gen titles such as Injustice 2, Street Fighter V, and Tekken 7. Stock fighter cabinets were nestled in various corners of the level like shining ores; Looking for the classics? Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike and its predecessor Street Fighter II Turbo: Championship Edition stayed occupied as players relived their childhood or introduced it to newcomers. The latter title is a personal favorite and I relished the speedy fights and intense battles. A Tekken 5 (not Dark Resurrection) cabinet neighbored an original Virtua Fighter right around the corner from the Pinball hall of glory. Attendees could even duke it out on an official WWF Royale Rumble arcade! It was succulent pandemonium for the FGC.


Fighting games not your schtick? DDR: Extreme and Guitar Hero were available to groove along. The arcade edition of Bust a Move (Bubble Bobble JP) and table top Pac-Man fulfilled puzzle urges. Sports fans were not left behind with Windjammers, NFL Blitz,, and Big Buck Hunter. SAAM Arcade truly had something for everyone.


Art & Diversity


Indie Arcade is more than a free game event. It is a family-friendly showcase of art. If you are reading this, then pray-tell you understand the weight of that previous statement. Twenty years ago, the video game industry-- Stateside-- contended with the constant stigma that the medium we enjoy freely today, was nothing more than a violent influence on children and a waste of time. The industry fought for the acknowledgement that it is a form of art with plenty to offer the world if we are willing to open our eyes and share it. I grew up playing games with family members, but I know that gaming did not gain kind favor until recent years. Now, games can encourage us to pedal faster on indoor upright bikes! That is what makes SAAM Arcade so special; giving up and coming developers a stage to meld art worlds and share them with all ages.


Seriously, where the hell else are you going to see this:
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...busts and statuettes sharing the same space as NFL Blitz?


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...two youths discovering the original DDR:Extreme for the first time?


Before I departed the museum, a friend eve mentioned that there was a game on the main floor whose purpose it to help children learn how to use prosthetic limbs!


Day 1 of SAAM Arcade left me excited and ever-hopeful for the future of video game development, design, and audience. Thank you to the developers, sponsors, SAAM staff, and attendees for reflecting my love for this industry.


Until Later Guys,


Xaimi (^_^)


If you are looking for picture galleries and video, check back for updates!


Useful Sites and Contacts:


Previous Indie Arcade Coverage:


(1) http://www.lgrace.com/IndieArcade/
(2) https://twitter.com/benhhopkins/status/885964989940596736

(3) http://store.steampowered.com/app/454770/Mystic_Melee/