SAN FRANCISCO — Not every video game creator was musing about how to sell more hardware or craft more realistic virtual weaponry at the this week's Game Developers Conference, the annual convention of game designers, programmers and executives. Several impresarios were more interested in pushing the limits of the interactive medium with their ideas.
The industry's most innovative creations were showcased Thursday at the eighth annual Experimental Gameplay Sessions. Developers demonstrated several prototypes, such as Ian Dallas' "The Unfinished Swan." In the black-and-white game, players track down a swan within a blank white environment by splattering black paint to reveal pathways, walls, lakes and more.
"This is, I think, the most consistent collection of designs that are doing what I describe as pushing the boundaries of game design in the most interesting and consistently thoughtful ways," said Jonathan Blow, the panel's organizer and the independent designer behind the time-bending puzzle platformer "Braid" (which is available for Xbox Live Arcade and PC).
Several of the featured games dabbled with dimension. Flashbang Studios' puzzler "Shadow Physics" casts players as a shadow who can interact with 3-D objects in different rooms. Bernhard Schulenburg's eccentric 2-D side scroller "Where's My Heart?" is composed of overlapping boxes reminiscent of comic book panels. Marc ten Bosch's "Miegakure" takes place in 4-D.
Hazardous Software unveiled "Achron," a strategy game 10 years in the making that has a time-travel twist. "Achron" allows players to build up their own armies then flip-flop around the timeline, as well as send their troops back to the future to prevent their enemies from further progressing.
"The gameplay tends to be a race to the past," said developer Christopher Hazard.
Other games on display included Derek Yu's "Spelunky," a side scroller inspired by the 1980 game "Rouge" where the levels are randomly generated each time the game is played, and Daniel Benmergui's "Today I Die," a melodic game in which players swap words in a poem — "Today I die" to "Today I shine," for example — to transform the graphics on screen.
"By changing the poem, you change the world," said Benmergui.
Experimental Gameplay Sessions organizer Blow noted that such quirky, minimalist endeavors have dramatically increased in popularity over the past few years because of the proliferation of downloadable platforms. Experimental games now regularly appear both online and on the gaming console services Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and Wii Shop Channel.
The expansion of digital delivery was the buzz of this year's conference. OnLive and Zeebo, new technologies that rely on digital delivery, were announced at the convention, and Nintendo President Satoru Iwata spent much of his keynote speech Wednesday discussing the online capabilities of the popular Wii gaming console and the upcoming DSi handheld system.
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