Dare to be Digital 2008

So, after ten weeks of sweat, blood and toil for 17 talented development teams, the awards were announced for this year’s Dare to be Digital competition.

If you don’t know, Dare is a collaboration between Channel 4 and the University of Abertay. It is a competition that brings the best young games developers together and gives them the resources and ten weeks to bring their concepts to life. The top three games win nominations for the One to Watch award at the videogame BAFTAs next March.

In the end, this year’s winners were Dundee’s own Blue Skies with their extremely charming platformer Origamee. The runners-up were Beijing’s CTRL D with their game Vegeme and Wolverhampton’s Dark Matter Designs with Boro-Toro.

Although these were the games chosen by the judges the standards of all the entries were highly professional and the competition was very tight indeed.

These were the winners but for me there were a couple of titles that really stood out from the rest by offering something different from what’s available in the mainstream.

I feel a bit smug because my top pick was Origamee, the well-deserved winner on the competition. This is a superb little platform game that draws some of its visual inspiration from Viewtiful Joe. The game has a very cute, colourful, manga style that fits in very well with the gameplay.

This is where the similarity ends though. You play as a boy who has to escape from a paper universe by folding himself into various shapes to navigate the various levels. You can fold yourself into a rhino to attack enemies and know over walls, a frog to jump up to seemingly unreachable platforms and a plane to glide over long gaps.

The game’s chief innovation is its very unique control system. Designed for Wiimote, you move your character by holding the trigger of the controller and dragging him in the direction you want him to go. Faster movements like attacking and jumping can be achieved by holding the trigger again and slashing the controller in the desired direction. In addition to this you can change shape by pressing the d-pad at any time with each shape being mapped to a different directional key. By holding down the trigger for longer periods of time the higher you can jump.

The real fun comes when you start using all this together. You can change shape at any time so you can use the frog shape to jump high and then change into the plane at the top of the jump to glide over a long gap. At first the control system seems a bit odd but it actually turns out to be surprisingly intuitive. Blue Skies have take a lot of time to consider just how to map the controls properly and it has paid off in dividends. The resulting blend of visual style and intuitive controls creates a very playable game that has heaps of potential.

Next time I will highlight the two titles that, despite not winning, deserve an honourable mention.

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