And by DADIU I mean the Danish Academy of Digital Interactive Entertainment, a video game higher education institution which approaches its students’ graduation games a little differently from other courses the world over. Rather than demanding small handfuls of students complete a game over a semester, DADIU exists to assemble crack teams of twelve to fifteen students where everyone fills a highly specialised role, but a game must be conceived and completed in five weeks.
The results speak for themselves. This year’s contestants include historic dinosaur terror, a Portal-style puzzler, a strategy game with a truly brilliant concept and more besides. Better still, they’re all built using Unity and available to play online.
The game you see above is 1916: Der unbekannte Krieg (or “The War You Never Knew”), and I can only commend it for being the most horrible construct I’ve played in months. It casts you as a German soldier in World War 1 trying to escape the trenches because, for reasons unknown, they’ve become infested with velociraptors. All your friends are dead, and the situation’s so dire that climbing out into No Man’s Land is considered your only hope. Here’s the trailer.
And you know what? It works. Like everything else I’m writing about here, it plays like it was created in five weeks, but the art style and tone of the game is as dark and slick as an oil spill and the game’s full of powerful moments. Distracting dinosaurs with feet pulled off of corpses, crapping yourself as a shell goes off nearby, finally finding a rifle, rounding a corner and coming face to face with a dinosaur and turning and running, running, running, until finally the creature catches up. Searching everywhere the ladder that’ll carry you out of this nightmare.
Did I mention that at certain points the trenches will become flooded with mustard gas, meaning some of the game is played through a gas mask? Powerful, terrible stuff. Go play!
My other favourite of the graduation games, Branch, couldn’t be more different. It’s a real-time hex-based strategy game where you play some kind of intergalactic tree fighting off robots, or something.
The important part is that the game is entirely centred around the flow of pollen from each of your stalks down to the next. Pollen powers up plants, letting them fight and take over neighbouring hexes. Through simply raising and lowering hexes under your control, you have to create a cascade of pollen down to your front line, being very careful to drop the hexes of any wounded stalks so that the pollen pools in there, healing them.
You can also drop damaging tornadoes, which are powered up by giving pollen to stalks who have nowhere else to put it, and so simply shoot it into the air. Since tornadoes are the key to winning any fight, you’re forced to divert just enough resources away from battles so you can still just hold your ground, but will also be able to take more of it in the long term. The end result is as engaging as anything I’ve ever played, with each match feeling organic and tense in equal measure. I would pay £15 for a fleshed-out version of this, with asymmetric sides and lots of different units, in a heartbeat. Go play!
Then there’s Broken Dimensions, which tells the touching story of a boy who goes Trick-or-Treating and ends up trying to escape an otherworldy and very pointy Mayan temple. We’ve all been there.
In the words of one of the developers, Broken Dimensions is “blatently Portal-inspired”, which is no bad thing. As in an unfashionably large number of indie games these days, a narrator (in this case, a ghost) taunts and coos at you as you progress, lending colour to the experience, and puzzles are suitably mind-bending. Broken Dimensions’ idea is that of being able to control gravity. With a tap of the right mouse button you can rotate the world around you, and with the left mouse button you can freeze objects in place.
Pleasingly, the game takes a lot less time to get really screwed up than Portal did, and there are some nice puzzles in there, too. There are also some annoyances to do with the world or its physics not quite operating how you expect – I came up with one inventive solution for a problem, only to slide off a perfectly stable surface to get skewered on some spikes – but as free games go, it’s a winner. Go play!
And if you’re not sated by three awesome games that are worth a look, here’s three more.
- Else: Defender of the Earth! An edutainment game which teaches geography by letting you take control of a 100-mile high granny who runs around the globe protecting cities from aliens. No, really.
- Blendimals! A puzzle game where the solution involves blending animals. Like, in a blender.
- Raasool! This one’s a dreamy point’n’click game, I think. Or maybe an adventure game. Where’s John Walker when you need him?
Altogether, that’s a hell of a crop, and I think it’d be great if other universities started sitting up and taking notice. Any course structuring that produces games this impressive has got to be the way forward. Roll on next year, I say.