BitSummit 2018 and Prospective Linux Games

Like every time at this season, I travel to Kyoto to visit the BitSummit – this year was the 6th edition. This is mainly a game conference for indie-games, and it’s often a good venue to get to see upcoming games that may hit Linux sometimes soon. Devs usually attend the event by themselves too so it’s great to chat directly with them at the same time as you try things out. This year was no exception, and overall there was a healthy dose of good titles to keep an eye on. Maybe more than on previous years. After a few hours in the show, it seems to me that the overall quality of the games selected is on the rise. Of course, there are still some games that look and feel almost too crappy to be even released as is, but on average most games looked decent, even if quite a few lacked originality.

The event seems to be growing, too. Not just in the number of titles presented, but sponsorship is on the rise. Playstation and Nintendo had two big booths where they displayed indie games already available or coming to their platforms. And on about every booth you could spot a paper-cube advertising the Switch, to display devs’ support for that platform.

I must admit I feel a bit uncomfortable by this trend: this makes it less of a pure indie event, and such companies tend to favor lock-in strategies to prevent titles from being released on other platforms, which is a net negative for gamers who want to play on what they like.

Now let’s talk a little more about the games shall we? I’m not going to write only about games coming for Linux, since it’s very rare to get a firm commitment from any developer or company regarding upcoming Linux support. Take this article as a way to build your awareness of what’s out there, and if you think that, as a Linux gamer, there is a game you want to see, please make your voice heard towards developers. Sometimes just asking for it is enough to make them consider a port.

So let’s start with the darling of the show. Chuchel is already out for Windows and Mac – it’s from the same guys who brought you Machinarium. It looks very, very nice and completely crazy. Just looking at it makes for an enjoyable experience.

However, it’s not coming to Linux because it’s made with Adobe Air, and Air is not supported on Linux anymore… the good news is that their future games will be made with Unity so hopefully we can expect some kind of Linux support for future titles.

Away, Journey to the Unexpected, is a French game made in collaboration with some Japanese sound artists. I met with the main developer directly on the booth. It takes a first person view to tell the story of a child who is on a quest to find out… what his parents really do as a job! It’s a light-hearted story and setting, yet visually very well made.

I asked about a Linux version and at first the developer was not interested in it. His previous game had both a Mac and Linux client but very few sales for such platforms (literally 5!) and he got fed up with the numerous requests for technical support coming from Linux users (on multiple distributions), which left him with a sour taste. I told him that he does not have to support all distributions, and he could choose instead to support SteamOS only and call it a day and that would be fine and acceptable. After our conversation it looks like he felt that it might be a good idea to do that moving on. So, who knows, Away may come to Linux after all (It’s a Unity game).

Persephone was also worth a look: the same team behind the “Spirits” prototype comes back with a puzzle game where one of the key gameplay elements is to kill your character. Long story short, you can use (for example, walk over) your previous’ character’s corpse to progress in the same level to reach places otherwise unreachable.

There’s a lot more to it as you progress into later levels, as the game integrates more and more ways to use your dead bodies across the game plane. It is planned first for Android/iOS in this year, and probably next year on Steam for other platforms. No word about Linux but it did not look like it would be a problem for them to create a Linux build when I asked about it. We will see!

Blade Strangers is not even planned for PC, it is actually a PS4/Switch game but this was so well made that it’s worth mentioning. It’s another 2D 1-on-1 fighter, featuring a bunch of unique characters, like this girl on the back of a giant cat. The 2d animation was impressive and certainly outstanding for an indie game.

Turning back to more traditional productions, there was a bunch of “pixel-art games” (understand: absolutely generic visually) but I did find Rising Hell from Toge Software to shine a little more than the rest. It’s gory, bloody, and fast-paced and it looks very playable.

Dark Souls’ popularity can be counted by the number of titles that try to copy it. Sinner is one of them, and it’s stated to be released on PC and Switch. It uses Unreal Engine 4 so a port to Linux should not be impossible, but there’s only a small (japanese) team behind the game and we should not have high expectations it actually works in our favor.

Sometimes I see games that I had never seen before, and I did not even know they were released. Fugl is one of those. It’s supposedly a relaxation/meditation game where you fly a bird through Voxel-generated landscapes. It looks super smooth, and really captures well the feeling of flying at fast speed. It’s already available in Early Access on Linux too, and it’s a shame it’s not getting more press since it could have broader appeal.

Phogs is a strange title on multiple grounds: you control a snake-like creature with 2 dog heads, one on each end, and each analog pad on your control lets you move each end independently. You need to use such properties to solve puzzles and progress thru levels.

Hard to say what to expect beyond such basic remarks, but it was unusual enough to be noticeable.

Here comes something more substantial, with Forgotton Anne from northern Europe, a 2D adventure featuring very nice hand-drawn animation. And not just that, the overall art looks beautiful and well crafted. It’s releasing very soon, and while they do not support Linux at launch, there were some positive signs about future support.

Answering to my request, one of the developers said:
“We won’t be supporting Linux and Mac on release day on Steam, (due to our size and resources as an independent developer) but will definitely be looking into adding those later on. 🙂 Please consider supporting us if you own any of the release platforms as we’ll be more quickly able to add additional platforms and languages if the game performs well sales-wise.

Another title caught my eye: Vane. It had looks reminiscent of Another World, and Ico. You lead a child who can change himself into a bird at will to explore its surroundings. The team is focusing on making you explore the world to understand what’s happening and why it is the way it is, without cinematics or hand-holding. It’s due to release in 2019, and apparently the devs are not against Mac/Linux support while they don’t know if it will be right at launch or not.

If you like FPS, Gunhead may be for you. I can’t say I spent a lot of time on this one, but I liked the looks of it – it reminded me a little bit of Timesplitters with its cool shading effect to make 3D more anime-like. It’s made with Unity and developers are apparently planning to support Linux.

Last year there were a lot of VR games on the show floor, and it may well have been a bubble since there were not as many this year. Maybe the concept is dying down a little since gamers don’t seem to be rushing to grab the latest headsets as initially expected.

I can’t say I blame them, when I see games that make you literally do what your character is doing on screen, making you look like a total idiot to people around you. Yeah, swimming in VR is another one of such silly ideas.

Beyond traditional games, the Bitsummit is always a good place to find something really unusual. There are always some japanese folks who like experimenting with hardware-software projects, such as this physical cube-based rhythm game where you have to hit buttons all around the cube as the music goes. If you were bored with ultra-hard 2D versions of rhythm games, here’s a new challenge for you. Definitely not for me, but I can appreciate the effort that went into making this happen.

In the series of “crazy ideas that can only come from Japan” UkiyoWave is a good representative: you are in control of a sumo on a surf board, surfing on waves drawn in the typical ukiyo style. This is a mobile game, so I don’t expect anything deep beyond the initial surprise, but visually it was very well done.

Walking around BitSummit you always end up encountering the one or two guys who still make modern games for the NES by knowing how to exploit the hardware like no one else. Somehow it’s a shame that such folks are not invited to sit directly on the Nintendo booth: sure, their game is not for any recent Nintendo hardware, yet they could deserve a place of honor for their faithful support of classic hardware.

There’s a lot more going on at the BitSummit and while I did not have much time to spend on the following these 2 games looked decent, production-wise.

Apart from looking and trying out new games, sometimes you can just relax and check out the event stage where you can spot local celebrities, like this one time when Igarashi (ex-Konami and one of the lead programmer and designers on Castlevania, Symphony of the Night, now working on Bloodstained) and Suda51 (Grasshopper Interactive, well known for Killer 7, No More Heroes, and more…) played together on a small indie multiplayer game.

Just an hour later, the guys from Platinum Games, Inaba and Kamiya, were answering to (dumb) interview questions about their games. They are behind games like Bayonetta, Viewtiful Joe, Okami, Vanquish, Metal Gear Rising and the Wonderful 101. About the Wonderful 101, they were joking about how they only sold 13 units of it (it was only released on the WiiU… another reason to hate vendor lock-in). They were asking the crowd if folks would be interested in a Switch version… everyone raised their hands up.

Just before leaving I spotted a small booth from a Japanese distributor, advertising the upcoming availability of the GPD Win 2. This was the first time I could check it out hands on, and it is indeed a well build machine. The screen is quite decent and the front controls work well, while the same cannot be said of the back shoulder buttons. It’s pretty pricey though, announced at more than 700 USD in Japan. Ouch.

Overall, this year’s edition was pretty good. Less stupid VR games, higher standards for the more traditional games genres, and quite a few developers who were either planning or at least open to the idea of releasing their games for Linux as well. And let’s not forget to mention the ton of visitors who came despite today’s heavy rain. Yes, Bitsummit is alive and well. They should seriously think about improving the stage events though, it’s nice to see famous folks and all but it’s sad to see them wasting their time doing stupid things when I’d rather hear them talking about actual game development – but the show floor is way too noisy for that. A change of venue might be welcome.

Note: All pictures in the article are Copyright, as well as the videos coming from the BoilingSteam Youtube channel.

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