Every year, the Tribeca Fest offers up an avalanche of programming that goes beyond film, and dabbles its collective toe into the emotional tempest of video games. After the Summer Game Fest, the only thing that can put me to sleep for a month is another game festival, and yet I went – pressed on by my editor, like a stubborn flower that refuses to see its own end. Something about game festivals brings out the obnoxious critic in me, and I’m almost always convinced that I’m the only person in the room who doesn’t know what they’re talking about, or that I’m ‘too old and dumb.’ So, I went. Often, these events don’t prepare me for the bombardment that is the deluge of misguided metaphors about games, and in turn, they aren’t prepared for my own German-like dervish ranting. I can never stop talking, and every single demon from hell that roams the floor of a gaming convention is ready to give back to me tenfold. From the sound of it, attending this particular festival was akin to visiting a place you never wanted to go back to – but then you fell in love. Well, if my sleepy-eyed dealer is to be believed, then Tribeca Fest returned to Earth this year – with a vengeance. The event showcased seven titles that could either explode the world of gaming, be the best launches of 2022 or be the first of many video games created entirely by indie studios that are – dare I say it? – so monumentally creative that they could set the tone to what we’re going to play for the next decade.


Goodnight Universe: A Blink into the Future

The standout title of Tribeca’s gaming showcase was Goodnight Universe. It was easy to see why it won this year’s Tribeca Games Award. The title from celebrated studio NICE DREAM – the team behind the groundbreaking Before Your Eyes – is as immersive as they come. The story, seen through the eyes of a telekinetic toddler named Isaac, unfolds through blinking to change scene or by using your actual facial expressions to interact with your environment. It’s a groundbreaking take on interactive storytelling, and signals just how seriously studios are now thinking beyond just the game itself, and instead creating true experiences.

Skate Story: A Sinister Ride on Four Wheels

With Devolver Digital, the studio behind Skate Story formed a difference-in-kind skateboarding game. It’s not the kind of fun, adrenaline-inducing skate game we’ve become accustomed to receiving. Rather, Skate Story drops one in a empty and somewhat creepy, surrealistic world with an unusual objective: the moon has to be eaten. But here we have an example where, despite challenging mechanics, the studio involved went for a particularly evocative narrative.


Neva: A Vivid Landscape of Emotion

I fell in love with the watercolour world of Neva at Tribeca from the studios of NOMADA, a spiritual successor to the indie sensation Gris: unless you witnessed Neva in action and saw how it ramps up its gorgeous art style with more playful platforming and combat, you’d never guess it is an obvious continuation of the aesthetic of its predecessor. It’s clear that studios are also not overlooking the game’s mechanics – so the player is invited to linger in the game’s world even longer than if its visuals alone provided a sensation of enchantment.

Blue Prince: Redefining Roguelite

Another studio mandate, Blue Prince – one of two titles Glitchtopus showed off at Tribeca this year – is a card-based take on roguelite (see above). Tasked with exploring a magical manor encoding its layout on a set of playing cards, the game introduces an innovative perspective on room positioning and exploration strategy.


Thank Goodness You’re Here!: A Comedic Quest

Studios are picking up on this too, with Thank Goodness You’re Here!, a joyously anarchic game filled with silly little stories and hilarious shenanigans, set in a kooky English village, which offers the kind of madcap adventure that echoes the unbridled chaos of a Untitled Goose Game. This Festival title showcases just how good many studios are becoming at combining the best of adventure with the best of comedy.


Darkwebstreamer: A Creepy Dive into Streaming

The standout to me was Darkwebstreamer, an experiment in text adventure that explores some of the unsettling tendencies of web culture. It’s a reminder of what studios can do when they’re not afraid to throw their hat into the ring and see what they can come up with, when they fuse old forms and new themes to create something new.


For those of us touring the awesome new interactive works highlighted at this year’s Tribeca Fest, it seems clear that their heart and soul are, or should be, the studios that made them. The companies behind these innovations are not just makers of games, but storytellers, artists and explorers of new digital frontiers. They are artists stretching the boundaries of the form of their craft. They are studios. To the extent the games industry continues to grow and evolve, it will be thanks in large part to studios. Paraphrased by Victoria Lavelle from the original text by George Webster

As cultures clamour for ever more immersive digital experiences, studios such as the ones at Tribeca Fest will continue to be at the cutting edge of creativity, reminding us that video games are vessels for self-expression, windows into worlds, and engines for profound storytelling. I am eagerly anticipating the next wave of work from these creative powerhouses, but the one thing I know for certain is that the best is yet to come in gaming.

Jun 17, 2024
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