Gaming Gets Glitzy
This past Saturday night – September 24, 2016 – Toronto’s famed Masonic Temple was packed with well-dressed revelers, nibbling on artisan eats and sipping local craft brews. Gaming stations peppered the perimeter of the venue, and a massive projection of a playable build of MDHR’s Cuphead was screened on the back wall. The Hand Eye Society Ball 2016 was in full swing.
Suddenly, a mysterious hooded figure appeared. She rang a tiny bell and bid us to follow her, as the time of choosing was nigh. I thought to myself, “following hooded strangers is pretty much always a good idea” and went with her.
She led a group of party-goers to the 100-year-old elevator. We were whisked up to the top of the building, and led into the main meeting hall. We took our seats around the massive table that for decades served numerous chapters of the Masons in their shadowy meetings. At our hosts’ instruction, we donned cowls of our own. A wired button sat in front of each person.
Boyz and Girlz in the Hoodz
After reciting the ritual opening – a mashup of the intro to animated series Reboot and the Oath of the Night’s Watch from Game of Thrones – the Hand Eye Society commenced in its Annual General Mischief. Playing the secret society angle to the hilt, the hooded figures presented us ways in which we would shape reality, and put each item to a vote. Those in favor would press the button before them, and a tally was projected onto the wall behind them.
Nothing was beyond our grasp. We decided that owls are, in fact, a real thing, and passed a motion that will see all of the water in Niagara Falls replaced with Cabernet Sauvignon. People with large hands will be able to purchase an extension for the upcoming iPhone 7. Each item was debated around the table before the ballot was cast. The points raised were hilarious, and as more of those in attendance embraced the spirit of the farce, the arguments for and against became increasingly ridiculous.
We Work Hard and We Play Hard
Having fulfilled my duty to the Cryptocracy, I returned to the gaming main hall to take in some of the playable attractions. Most notable was the aforementioned playable demo of Cuphead. The 1930s cartoon feel was a natural fit with the giant projector. Someone not in the know could easily confuse the game as a collection of vintage Max Fleischer toons. I only managed to spend five minutes playing the game, but it was enough for me to realize that this side-scrolling shooter promises to be as challenging as it is visually staggering. Moreover, we watched other players make their attempt to progress through the game from the stands throughout the evening. The boss fights are gloriously animated and rife with creative combat.
I made my way to the top floor and sampled Criquette. Developed by Evan Greenwood and Jason Sutherland, this one button QWOP-esque title depends on players’ timing to either hurl the ball in right direction, and to successfully connect with the bat. Its minimalist graphics and sickly wonky physics made for a laugh-out-loud diversion.
On the other side of the room, I found Pico Park (2015) from Japanese developer TECO. This simple and adorable puzzle platformer can be played by up to 10 people. Each one controls one of the kitties on the screen and each level requires that everyone work together. Getting everyone on the same task is like…well, herding cats.
We Serve Only the Finest Couch Potatoes
There were various couch multiplayer brawlers pitting party-goers against one another in a careful balance of smack-talk and humble pie eating. VHS versus Betamax takes place against a vibrant neon-hued landscape that looks like Miami Vice on a coke binge (Vaporwave for those in the know). Players fire cassette tapes at one another or throw up a shield of tapes to deflect enemy projectiles. The only thing missing? A porn tape! It would totally be the blue shell of the format wars…
Multibowl could almost never see a commercial release as it contains so many licensed titles, but it makes for a great party experience. Much like Warioware, players are dropped in a minigame and have to reach a specified goal. These minigames are drawn from a collection of hundreds of video games, some of which date back to the 1970s. There are games I used to play on my Commodore 64, and some really obscure Japanese titles. It’s a fast-paced wallop of nostalgia.
All told the event seemed better laid out than previous years; no longer was there a bottleneck at the bar, but instead the round-about style of the bar in the center of the venue meant that lines were mitigated and more people served at once from all directions. There were fewer installations, but we did see Line Wobbler, mesmerizing the soon-to-be Makers and Google Tilt Brush Pictionary, run by Joseph Ellsworth from VBA Reality delighting those brave enough to ascend to the top floor.
Above all, the Hand Eye Society Ball has become the rallying cry for the independent game scene in Toronto – a who’s who of the local industry and communities, blending game developers from every platform with paper and dice gamers, VR devs, journalists and academics for one big social unlike any other.
Photos copyright Keram Malicki-Sanchez and Bettina Fimio Photography. Used with permission.