At this year's PAX East gaming convention in Boston, indie developers and the games they made were the biggest element at the show. Among the common themes of escapism, exploration and adventure were a number of games that seemed … well, boring at first blush.
One of the surprising hits was "Home Improvisation," a game that players kept calling an Ikea furniture simulator and developer Josh Faubel made sure to tell them had nothing to do with the Ikea trademark.
"It was inspired by Ikea," he said. "But they haven't acknowledged it yet, so it's unofficial."
Players are tasked with putting together the pieces from a flat-pack box to create the furniture shown on the front of the box. The twist is you don't have any instructions and once you open the box, you don't have the image to look at anymore, either.
Working from memory, players have to pick up the pieces, rotate them into the right positions and snap them together. The game will let you assemble the pieces however you want. You finish the level by using every piece out of the box.
The game, developed by three grad students from Georgia Tech and one from the Savannah College of Art and Design under the studio name of the Stork Burnt Down, was created at this year's Global Game Jam. The jam is an annual event that asks game makers to create a game in one week.
The team hopes to add more furniture packs, more rooms to build in and even online multiplayer and joints. There's a free demo of the game, which is expected to go on sale for $10 in May, on Steam.
Another surprising hit at the show was "Mini Metro," a computer and tablet game that has players designing a subway system around the increasing demands of its customers. Gamers have to connect the stops with lines, ensuring that customers aren't left standing around too long.
As the game progresses, the complexity of your subway increases, as do the demands of your riders. Eventually, they get so fed up that you lose.
Robert Curry, who created the game with his brother Peter, said it was inspired by how much time he spent while working in London, trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B on the tube.
The game, which was created for the 2013 Ludum Dare game jam, is available as a work in progress on Steam for $6.99 and should hit Android and iOS devices in July. Once complete, the game will sell for $9.99 and include 10 maps, each set in an iconic city, such as London, Paris and New York.
Then there are the jerk cats.
"Catlateral Damage" bills itself as the "premier first-person destructive cat simulator," a game that has players becoming a cooped-up house cat that likes to knock things onto the floor.
Viewing the world of chunky, colorful graphics from a cat's perspective, players use the keyboard to move around and the left mouse button to swat with the left paw and right to swat with the right paw. Pressing the middle mouse button swats straight ahead. There's also a button for meowing, which doubles as a way to pick objects up with the cat's mouth.
The goal is to roam the room or rooms of a level and try to knock everything to the floor before time runs out. There's no way to die or even lose, although levels will have goals, such as getting a certain score or knocking a set number of items to the ground within the time limit.
Developer Chris Chung said the game also throws in random events, such as removing gravity for 30 seconds or having a mouse pop up in the mix. And there's a distracting laser pointer.
The game was created in 2013 at a game jam dedicated to making first-person games. Already 2,000 people have added the game, which will sell for about $10, to their Steam wish list, Chung said.