The second day of GDC was filled with the main exhibit hall, as well as a return to GDC Play. While I wandered the main hall filled with castle-sized booths and lines of people waiting to don VR goggles, I have to admit I was drawn to the smaller companies to find offerings that were less flashy, but far more fun and engaging.

Curious Media was a great discovery. They do work for clients such as Disney, Warner Brothers, and PBS, but with their new offshoot, Curious Labs, they’re also doing their own inhouse projects.

001The story behind Jubitron the Girl Robot is awesome. A certain dad wanted to write a children’s book for his daughter. But book publishing was an unrewarding process of submission and rejection. So, since dad kind of ran his own creative agency, he just turned the story into an interactive app! Now everyone young and old can enjoy the Lovely Little Picnic, and even have it read aloud to them. Epic dadness!

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Creative Labs have a series of other great and hilarious titles, from Doofus Drop (below) to Phil the Pill (pictured above). This Idaho-based design shop also served as the show’s epicenter for a cluster of friends and related companies. These are guys to watch for in coming years.

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Do you like RTS games like Starcraft, but also love cute? Then you should check out Mushroom Wars 2. The original Mushroom Wars was released in 2009. Zillion Whales decided to rework the game with more lush graphics and gameplay. 20160317_120250Originally scheduled for end of 2014, the release was pushed back to do it up right. Mushroom Wars 2 is now going to go big on multiple platforms: PC/Mac/Steam, Xbox and PS4. You can play solo against computer AIs, or go head-to-head with multiple human opponents.20160317_120341

Revisiting the Norwegian contingent, ravn studio showed me Captain Sabertooth and the Treasure of Lama Rama, based on the long-running Norwegian children series Kaptein Sabeltann. It combines exploration/adventure treasure-hunting RPG with open-seas ship battles. Looks great on iOS tablets. 20160317_120943Note to self: Do not try to single-handedly sink a flotilla.20160317_121051

New York City-based Simple Machine Games focuses on abstract and puzzle games. Their designs feature elegant, clean, crisp visuals. Of course, being New Yorkers, they have attitude. This is what you get when you point a camera and say “Smile!”

20160317_121451Do you have Smove moves? Or got skills to Pop the Lock?20160317_121501 For fans of RPG games like Com2UsZenonia or Chronicles of Inotia series, you might want to check out Heroes of Skyrealm by Xiamen, China-based Mechanist Games. Designed in Unity 3D, it has similarly simple gameplay, but looks entirely sumptuous as you explore the world, with natural movement, detailed environments and plenty of combat effects.20160317_132708Just tap on the character in your party you want to control in the upper left-hand corner, and choose your special attacks or defenses from the lower right. Other party members will take autonomous AI action while you focus on controlling the party leader. Who wants a lightning bolt? Blammo!

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Who has played traditional fantasy-based miniatures games? Any Warhammer fans out there? What if you could recreate the feel of a miniatures game without having to turn your basement into a battlefield, and your garage into a miniatures paintshop? If you’ve been yearning for that kind of play, then Warpforged’s Realms of Conquest is for you. Still under development, the early sneak peek at GDC was solid. Design your point-based army with leaders and troop units: mixes of infantry, cavalry and artillery, then send them into battle.

1a4e5025-8de1-4ba0-97ca-1e46dcd7535aMovement is turn-based, with a timer mechanism (like a chess clock) for multiplayer. A nice innovation is the ability to “push” units — attempting more hazardous action that might exhaust them, or, for instance, overloading your cannons to cause more damage, which is a tactic that might literally blow up in your face! You can thus either play conservatively or go all-out, allowing true tactical decision-making that makes a difference.

20160317_134535As I said yesterday, in a way GDC can be a pilgrimage for many attendees. Myself, I had to drop by the Kongregate booth just to shake hands and thank them for many years of fun play online. I cannot tell you how many hours I plowed into 2007’s Caravaneer back in the day. But the world has moved on from Flash games, and it is great to see Kongregate stay on the leading edge, with new titles such as Adventure Capitalist and Battlehand.

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As a last shout-out, I wanted to recognize the people who are keeping online game and social communities safe and friendly places to stay and play. London-based Crisp Thinking specializes in community monitoring, moderation and management. Want to make a kid-friendly game channel or forum? Want to keep the trolls from driving away your other fans? Want to prevent cyberbullying, harassment, porn and other behavior beyond the bounds of your terms of service? Then you should check out Crisp Thinking.20160317_153551While many people would not consider translation or localization necessarily related to such activities, I noted the term “radicalization” on their display, and indeed, this is a genuine industry concern. Many governments and even corporate organizations are developing Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programs to work effectively with law enforcement, ensuring their online communities are not used as breeding grounds for radical extremists. Which makes multilingual conversation monitoring and messaging a critical component in your social community management. How do you know whether this is good, clean, healthy fun if you can’t even read it? So, yes, linguists and linguistic tools and services have a major part to play.

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