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The surreal, inspiring and beautiful games of GDC's experimental panel

Chris Plante co-founded Polygon in 2012 as editor-at-large and is now editor-in-chief. He also created and occasionally teaches NYU’s Introduction to Games Journalism course.

Wrapping up the 2013 Game Developers Conference, the Experimental Game Design panel showcased over a dozen unusual, exciting, wacky, funny, scary, sad, ugly and sometimes profound video games.

The Castle Doctrine

The panel began with the latest game from Jason Rohrer, who won the Game Design Challenge at GDC for a game that isn't intended to be played for 2,000 years. Today, he talked about The Castle Doctrine, a "massive-multiplayer" game set in the suburbs of 1991. As the dad of an "iconic" family, you alternate between building a security system in your home and robbing the vaults of other players' homes.

The game features permadeath, the loss of family members and a suicide button. It's morbidly funny.

"I had two aesthetic goals," says Rohrer, sporting that wide grin that never seem to leave his face. "One was violation."

Mushroom 11

In Mushroom 11, the player deletes cells so that they can rebuild themselves. The destruction of cells causes movement and is ultimately used to solve environmental puzzles. The demonstration below is a slightly older version of the game.

6180 the Moon

6180 the Moon is a platformer in which the top of the screen is the bottom of the screen and the bottoms of platforms are just as important as the tops.


Perspective is a 2D platformer/puzzler hybrid that requires the manipulation of perspective by adjusting the game's 3D camera. Here, watch this.


Marc Ten Bosch actually showed a demonstration of the game a few years ago, but it's been improved upon since then. Like Perspective, Miegakure plays with our perspective of dimensions, but instead of 2D to 3D puzzles, Miegakure switches between 3D and 4D. Yes, 4D.

Starseed Pilgrim

Starseed Pilgrim is a game of secrets, and its creators were careful to spoil none of them.


We actually had a chance to see Kachina a few months ago. Inspired by a jokey @PeterMoleydeux tweet, the game pits the player as a hole in the ground. The hole has the ability to suck up objects and also spit them out. "It's a game about surprises," said designer Ben Esposito. In one stage, he used the hole to suck up a carrot and so he could entice two bunnies out of separate caves. He sucked the bunnies into the hole together, and when he spit them out, they produced tons of baby bunnies.

Esposito hinted at a second half turn, in which the player would see where the hole leads to, and what cities and histories it consumed in the past.

Exuberant Struggle, Glitch Tank, Multicolor, Alien Oympic, Kompendium, O

Michael Brough is one of the most prolific indie game designers today. Rather than explain the many bizarre games, you should give his games a try. Many can be downloaded on his website. For iOS owners, we recommend Glitch Tank on iPad, a single-screen two-player tank battle game.


Richard Evans and Emily Short demonstrated a storytelling simulator platform called Versu that looked quite simple at first, but became more extraordinary by the moment. Like a choose-your-own adventure, the player selects different line, contributing to conversations with NPCs. Unlike choose-your-own adventures, though, the reactions aren't static. The many NPCs react differently each time based on their desires and beliefs.

It's a conversation simulator, so you can actually play as the different characters, too.


In SpaceTeam, up to four players on four iPhones scream at each other to prevent a spaceship from being engulfed by the sun. It's like a cross between Star Trek and Bop It.

Sound Dodger

It's all in the title: you dodge sound. As a do, you dodge triangle-shaped bullets that are produced by circular "notes" that explode to the music. In Air's "Alone in Kyoto," the bullet patterns bloom, slowly filling the screen. In a dubstep song, the bullets slow down, speed up, freeze and shake.

When the beat dropped during the demo, the audience cheered. Dubstep: not just for AAA shooter trailers.

Memory of a Broken Dimension

Due to some technical issues, it was difficult for the developer to show the game, but here's footage from last year's Sense of Wonder Night at Tokyo Game Show.

Large scale physical games

Eric Zimmerman, a professor at the NYU Game Center, has been collaborating with architect Nathalie Pozzi to build installation games. They range from a bribery strategy game to a tag-like tactical game to a board game about using board games to beat board games. Starry Heavens uses large steel plates to build a life-sized game board.

Mexican Kitchen Workers

Brenda Romero presented a card game that explored the United States' reliance on illegal labor. The original version was incredibly mathematical and put one of its first players to sleep. She said the soul was broken, and to learn more about the heart of the game she learned how to cook her husband's grandmother's recipes. The culture of real Mexican restaurants is the culture she realized she wanted to express.

"I'm making some of the worst Mexican food in the world right now, but I'm making it to better understand the culture of my game," she said.

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