Disclosure: Accommodations in Busan were paid for by the BIC Fest organizers.
Sunday was the third and final day of the Busan Indie Connect Festival and it was a rather lazy one at that. Perhaps the exhibitors spent one too many hours on the beach the night before, but it felt like no one was even setting up until it was almost noon. On the flip side, this being the last day meant that many developers from foreign countries opted to pack up and leave early in order to be home by Monday morning. With a late start and early departures this day felt much quieter than the first two.
Did I say quieter? Scratch that, because once again the main stage was abuzz with visiting YouTubers and their adoring fans. The big difference was that Saturday's crowd waiting by the stage was nearly all men and boys. Sunday's hosts were two young women and their fans were young girls who squealed with delight at the chance to see them in person.
There were two games selected to appear on the main stage on Sunday. One was Sacred Stones, a boss-rush made entirely by one teenage boy (I mentioned it as one to watch for in my Day 1 report). The other was Enter the Gungeon, the co-op roguelike packed with guns that launched this spring. While the former is a single-player game, Enter The Gungeon is for two players which the hosts and the crowd ate up, laughing and shrieking at every opportunity.
"It helps when your enemies are cute," said Dave Crooks of his game's broad appeal. "Everyone is playing it. Moms, kids, everyone comes up and tries it. It's awesome." When Enter The Gungeon launched in April it included Korean language support, although Dave Crooks found out the hard way that localization has its own perils. "As soon as the show opened a Korean guy came over and said 'You have a bug in the Korean version of the game, it only happens when you put it in Korean.' and he showed me and it's so bad! He's totally right!"
<3 to the Korean girl who gave me this then ran away pic.twitter.com/LxNn2QXQil— Dave Crooks (@dave_crooks) September 10, 2016
Face-to-face bug reports aside, Crooks said the feedback from Korean fans has been very positive, and in one case it was extremely personal. "A girl came up to me with a bunch of Gungeon merchandise," he said, "and asked me to sign it, and I did, and she handed me a cake. And she had drawn 'To the best game creator' and she drew a little bullet on there."
With two days under my belt I didn't expect to stumble onto anything new on the third day of BICFest but one game that I had eyed many times before was The Counter of Death. The booth was decorated to look like a temple and the game itself has a lot of flashy animation, although it helps that the characters don't take up much real estate on the screen.
The Counter of Death, released this summer as a free-to-play game for mobile devices, stars an obvious Bruce Lee homage with a story (and title) reminiscent of his final film, The Game of Death. And since Kung Fu Master and countless other video games have already borrowed that story as well (five floored pagoda contains five martial arts masters) there's very little that's original here, least of all the main character.
"Bruce Lee Enterprises doesn't like it," artist/composer Sun-Yoep Choi said, laughing.
What makes The Counter of Death eye-catching and fun is the presentation. The narrow window of action on-screen is well animated, and the sounds of punching and grunting make for great feedback. Gameplay is extremely basic: tap up or down to block attacks and then Legally Distinct From Bruce Lee will automatically counter-attack. During boss fights, if you block enough attacks, you have an opportunity to input a series of commands as directed on screen. Get it right, and the hero will execute a combo that knocks the opponent out. If you ever get knocked out, it's game over.
Peel away the "parody" paint job and The Counter of Death is a rhythm game at its heart. Players are just tapping up and down to a beat only instead of musical cues it's visual. I'm terrible at rhythm games and I never beat Kung Fu Master either, so I couldn't get past the second floor but I see the appeal.
As everyone began to pack up their booths I spoke to a local indie developer named Somi who I met last year at the very first BIC Fest. He brought a new game to this year's show, Replica, a game where the player must investigate a locked smartphone to learn about its owner. Replica launched in July, but Somi said it has already outsold his previous game in just two months.
"It is famous in Korea, China, Turkey, and Poland," Somi said, describing Replica's reputation. "Ironically, most of the negative reviews are, I think, from Koreans. I think it is because of their conservative viewpoint." While set in the US, Replica was created specifically to protest overreaching security legislation in Korea that bothered Somi. He initially released it without Korean language support because he was worried about censorship from a government-run ratings board which all Korean games must face, but he has since added his native language.
The final day of BIC Fest ended with an award show to celebrate the best games on the show floor. Enter The Gungeon received the Grand Prix award in addition to one for Excellence in Multiplayer. Replica won for Excellence in Narrative, which Somi accepted wearing sunglasses to conceal his identity ("Somi" is a pseudonym). The Counter of Death won two awards: Best Booth and Excellence in Casual Gaming. Other winners include Earth Atlantis (Art) Sentris (Audio) A Tiny Escape (Experimental) and Black The Fall (Game Design).
With the awards ceremony and the entire festival wrapped up, all the exhibitors and staff posed together for a massive memorial photo that my phone camera couldn't possibly do justice. However, in that moment before everyone broke apart to go drinking or pack their bags or just go home, I could see what makes BICFest stand apart from other shows in my mind: this is a group effort and it feels like it. There's a camaraderie here between all the participants that you don't see elsewhere.
In 2015 BICFest was brand new, so it didn't have an identity outside of "new kid on the block." As the show grows and more people become aware of the work Korean developers are doing, perhaps it will lose its identity and Busan Indie Connect will become just another stop for indie devs looking for a place to meet new players. But for now, in its second year, BICFest has developed a charm and friendliness that was palpable to me as a visitor, and I hope it lasts.