The best things we saw at this year's Day of the Devs

Double Fine's annual public showcase again brought us indie delights of every size, shape, and color.

“I feel like we mostly wanted to have a party,” says Greg Rice, vice president of business for Double Fine Productions, when asked about the initial pitch for the studio’s yearly Day of the Devs fan gathering. While the event’s 2012 debut was mostly a means to show off the team’s famously Kickstarter-backed Broken Age, games like Super Time Force, Transistor, Hyper Light Drifter and Harmonix’s Fantasia have since graced the free show’s ever-growing lineup, turning it into an important indie showcase.

This year, on the event’s fifth anniversary, “party” is certainly the way to describe what packed the halls of The Midway, a San Francisco event space barely over two miles from the Double Fine main office. Hordes of happy fans crowded around screens, sipped sloshing drinks, and passed around controllers as they took turns sampling a highly curated (yet still wide) swath of the newest, best indie games Double Fine could find. They showed off 70 titles, to be exact.

With such a cornucopia of digital goodness and so many eager hands waiting for their turn to play, it’s never really possible to sample everything at Day of the Devs. But we sure tried. Here are five of the many standout titles from this year’s SF-based indie showcase.

Untitled Goose Game

You’ve probably seen the gifs. Yes, House House’s 2018-targeting Untitled Goose Game does star an awful goose set on terrorizing an innocent groundskeeper, but any description that leaves out mention of said goose’s tactical prowess would be an incomplete one. Tasked with tormenting their unsuspecting human target in specific ways, the player will need perfect timing and steady fingers if they want to steal their opponent’s hat or soak him with the sprinklers. A savvy waterbird might drop a stolen carrot as a decoy before sneaking off with the rake, but don’t be too obvious; the groundskeeper is vigilant, and he is faster than you. Objectives vary in difficulty, but more than a few will require you to develop skillful strategies if you want to succeed in this surprisingly thrilling, albeit low-stakes game. You’re playing as a bird trying to outfox a human after all, so, you’d better be one smart goose.

Keyboard Sports

Keyboard Sports will test how well you know your keyboard, but it’s nothing like Mavis Beacon. Set over an outline of your entire keyboard, this game stars an adorable little avatar that moves toward whichever of the many keys is pressed. Developer Triband’s game isn’t necessarily “hard;” its design is simple. But it’s difficult to deny the challenge of a game with such an unusual control scheme. You’ve probably never played anything like it before, and that makes for quite the learning curve. Playing as the apprentice to Master QWERTY, you’ll dodge traffic, skydive around obstacles, and drink plenty of mind-expanding “T” (you’ll never guess which key you use to do so). The precision required of the player increases dramatically by the end of the demo, so it’s hard to pin down exactly how challenging the final product will be, but one thing is for sure: this is one charming, unconventional adventure that’ll be worth checking out upon its early 2018 release.

Crossing Souls

Of all the games at Day of the Devs 2017, Spanish dev Fourattic’s Crossing Souls did the best job of communicating a specific time and place. A painstakingly detailed, pixelated action-adventure title set in 1986 California, this game stars five young, swappable characters in possession of a magical stone that lets them travel between two dimensions. Paired with each playable character’s unique puzzle-solving and combat abilities are distinct and likable personalities. Every environment and NPC drips with character, and in-depth, written bios add even more color to the coastal town’s already (both literally and figuratively) well-drawn cast. In a media landscape already largely driven by nostalgia, Crossing Souls promises to take you back to the ‘80s in a refreshingly new and pleasant way. Keep an eye out for this game as its early 2018 release window fast approaches.

EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OK

There was nothing else quite like EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OK at Day of the Devs, because there’s little like it, period. This “interactive zine” is set within a surreal, Windows-like fake operating system, where the player can open a multitude of minimized pages that are windows into dark, crudely cute, and often pretty bloody places. All of these adorable and horrifying visions are tightly tied together by themes of social anxiety, living through trauma, and death… though you’d be right to judge by the title that EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OK ultimately puts a positive spin these experiences. At one point, after one of many interactions with a series of melting, semi-nonsense-speaking creatures, my character assured me that simply making it through the day was a victory in itself, and that should be celebrated. Despite not being completely sure what I had just experienced, I felt more at ease than I had when I started the game, and something tells me that was the point. Unlike most games at Double Fine’s yearly event… you can play EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OK right now! If you’re interested, you can check out developer Nathalie Lawhead (aka alienmelon)’s itch.io page here.

Into the Breach

Come for the kaiju-fighting mechs, stay for the procedural generation-friendly time-travel narrative. From the devs behind FTL: Faster Than Light, Into the Breach is a wonderfully minimalist strategy game concerned more with mitigating collateral damage and learning from one’s mistakes than flashy, Pacific Rim-style showdowns. Players control giant robots and the host of humans that pilot them in a war against giant bugs that breed beneath a post-apocalyptic Earth. Iterating on FTL’s rogue-like tendencies, characters that die will stay dead, and wholly defeated players can send help back in time to preserve the future of a different, also randomly-generated timeline. With writing and world-building help from the prolific Chris Avellone (Fallout: New Vegas, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II), Into the Breach looks to be a worthy successor to the well-received FTL, with similarly deep systems and an extra helping of raised stakes. With no announced release date, expect the team at Subset Games to take their time in polishing this time-bending, giant bug-squashing experience.

Disclosure: EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OK was an award winner at this year's IndieCade festival, for which ZAM News Editor Kris Ligman served as a juror and creative producer. Kris had no input in EIGTBO's inclusion in this list.