5 things we learned at hóPLAY 2014

Bilbao, ho!

5 things we learned at hóPLAY 2014

I'm slap-bang in the centre of Bilbao, in the Basque region of Spain. It's the end of November, but the sun is still shining away as if no-one told it we're in winter.

Here, AlhóndigaBilbao hosts hóPLAY 2014, the fifth edition of the show, and a celebration of indie ideas and innovation in the world of gaming.

When I arrived in Bilbao, my eyes were immediately drawn to the Guggenheim Museum, an absolute pinnacle of design. Bilbao is a city of art as much as it is culture and food, and it's effortless to find yourself joyfully lost in all three.

Over my two days in the city, I listened to and met up with a heady mix of up-and-coming small studio developers and students of game design. Each one was brimming with enthusiasm, reinvigorating my hope for the future of the games industry.

Without further ado, here are the five most important things we learned at hóPLAY 2014.

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  • 1 Celebrate your gaming culture

    Cabinets housing Basque games from the past 30 years adorned AlhóndigaBilbao's hóPLAY hall.

    Local, national, and international game magazines were displayed alongside each, making for a fascinating history lesson of the region's games, from Mega Drive to MSX.

    Right by the retro celebration lay a feast of contemporary smartphone, PC, and console games from the Basque Country, showing the scene is stronger than ever.

    This is something I'd like to see more of when visiting shows around the world: a sense of where the development community from each country or region has come from, amidst a glance of where it's going.

  • 2 C++ is still about, but Unity remains king

    Two teams of ten students from the DigiPen Institute of Technology were among the finalists for the hóPLAY 2014 International Independent Video Game Contest.

    Both Inaris: The Could Temple and Iona: Coded Will were forged in clean but complex C++, as per DigiPen's ruleset, rather than more modern and intuitive options like Unity.

    Interestingly, the proof-of-concept for each game was still based in Unity, and both developers stated they would return to it when developing their next projects.

  • 3 Apple trumps Jesus

    Developers Mutant Games turned up to take a swing at hóPLAY's Big Indie Pitch in full cosplay with the free-to-play iOS version of Fist of Jesus: The Bloody Gospel of Judas.

    The game proved particularly popular on Steam thanks to its tongue-in-cheek humour, endearingly 'Engrish' translation, and brawler gameplay - even the likes of YouTube celebrity PewDiePie has been playing it on his channel.

    After a slightly sticky zombie handshake, I was surprised to discover the developers put Judas in the limelight for the iOS version. This was for fear that using Jesus as the main playable character could offend some players and, more importantly, Apple.

    Consider this: in Fist of Jesus, one of the gameplay elements is throwing fish at exploding lepers yet Mutant Games is more concerned about offending Apple.

    Perhaps Apple is right to protect consumers from games that could be perceived as potentially offensive. But should developers have to consider cutting or replacing content to satisfy Apple's censors when all's well on other platforms?

  • 4 Is HTML5 the future?

    Amidst presentations of hóPLAY 2014's Official Selection finalists, Raúl Otaolea (CEO of HTML5 gaming platform WiMi5) took to the stage to discuss "the next 4 billion players."

    By this, Otaolea meant the untapped markets of Africa, Central Asia, South Asia, and South America. In particular, he said countries like India, China, Ethiopia, and Brazil are prime to become huge markets in the coming years.

    Otaolea discussed the web as a software platform that can open up new market opportunities around the world, on all manner of platforms.

    Any Android developer already knows the issues that come with optimising the same game for countless devices - HTML5 could be the magic bullet for reaching the widest audience possible.

  • 5 Embrace what you know

    Fronton is a sports game based on pelota, a handball game popular in the Basque region.

    It's rather unlikely that you're familiar with Basque pelota, but I can say that Pulsar Concept's smartphone-envisioning of the sport was a fantastic way to learn about it.

After spending years in Japan collecting game developers' business cards, Danny has returned to the UK to breed Pokemon. He spends his time championing elusive region-exclusive games while shaking his fist at the whole region-locking thing.