NYC-based gaming convention Play NYC has wrapped its virtual event. The Play NYC 2020 Graffiti Games highlight five black developers and their unique creations for the event, and I set out to explore what they were all about.
Play NYC is a gaming convention created and run by Playcrafting, an education and networking organization that organizes events for game developers to show off their stuff. While it often features big-name players like Avalanche Studios and the Unreal Engine, some of its best and most intriguing offerings are in its indie games.
A big part of Play NYC is its "Graffiti Games." These games are purpose-built for the show, typically centered around a particular theme. This year's batch of games was sponsored by Grand Theft Auto developer Rockstar Games and centers on black game developers.
This year's show was a virtual event (which naturally precluded any interesting physical exhibits from being created). On the upside, each and every one of these games are available for you to download and play right now! Let's dive in and check out the Play NYC 2020 Graffiti Games!
Play NYC 2020 Graffiti Games — Hello Lantern
by Ricardo Lee
Hello Lantern is an interactive storybook that explores what it is like to lose something or someone you love. Does love ever die or is it reborn as something new?
Hello Lantern was the first of the Play NYC 2020 Graffiti Games that I tackled. This delightful game merged a heartwarming story with a colorful aesthetic and simple, relaxing gameplay.
An adorable little girl stands by the seaside with her father and brother, clutching onto a sky lantern that she lovingly crafted herself. She's reluctant to let it go, but her father convinces her to let it float away into the night sky.
This simple, charming story had three core mini-games: counting the stars in the sky, flying the lantern past obstacles, and spotting the lantern with a telescope in under a minute.
I rather enjoyed the emotional impact of what was ultimately a very short game. It had a wonderful blending of narrative and simple gameplay, and I would love to see it expanded to tell more of the story and add more variety to the mini-games on offer.
Play NYC 2020 Graffiti Games — Self Love / Love Self
Love Self is FPS style vision, where your heart is the weapon you use to make some friends and spread love across the neighborhood.
The next game I tackled was Love Self (also titled Self Love) by a developer known only as Missy. This one was a bit of a wild ride, though not for the reasons I might have expected.
The first thing Love Self does is ask if you're a capitalist. I sensed something was up, so I told a tiny white lie and selected "No" for my first run through the game with the intent to revisit the question later.
Following this question and a title screen, we see a young black woman scrolling through social media on her phone. She is suddenly visited by the goddess Iset—better known as Isis, the Egyptian goddess of love, fertility, wisdom, and a few other things (since ancient gods were busy beavers). Iset has a short conversation with our heroine, espousing feminist philosophy and talking about the powers of love and imagination.
Much like real life, I soon found myself in a cartoonish world filled with dozens of angry people. This "first-person lover" had me firing off a heart to make sad people happier. Unfortunately, it didn't appear designed for a dual-monitor setup, and I found myself with an inability to turn left, lest I click outside of the game and cause it to minimize.
Using nothing but right turns, I managed to give everyone some love and complete the game. I then went back and selected "yes" when asked if I were a capitalist. Aside from adding a six-minute timer, getting love out to the cartoony people seemed like a greater challenge. I had failed on my first attempt on the capitalist run, causing the game to pop up the following message:
YOU NEED R&R
Love knows no time, capitalist!
What I didn't realize is that the capitalist run also slightly changed the gameplay—I now had to hold down the "love" button to transform the sad people. Undeterred, I managed to successfully complete the capitalist run on my second try.
Self Love / Love Self made for an interesting take on the first-person shooter genre by having me do something entirely opposite to what one would normally do in FPS games. I enjoyed the execution of the concept despite the technical troubles and the somewhat strange political messages mixed in.
Play NYC 2020 Graffiti Games — Oni Fighter Yasuke
by Derrick Fields
Oni Fighter Yasuke is a close-grips 2D action role-playing game styled as a black and white anime. Taken from a page in history, lead as the legendary African samurai and face against the oni warlord Shuten Dōji and their army of yokai.
I'm a grade-A Japanophile, and Oni Fighter Yasuke had immediate appeal for me. This was a straightforward side-scrolling action game with a wonderful black-and-white aesthetic.
Oni Fighter Yasuke had more than a few problems in technical terms. It's marked as version 0.0.3 and is called a prototype build, and boy does it show. I was equipped with four abilities: guard, low attack, mid attack, and high attack.
I had to fight through a couple of rooms of samey samurai soldiers. I couldn't quite grasp when to use which attack—it all seemed entirely random to me. I managed to use what skills I had to dip in and out, striking with an attack and hoping it lands. Guarding took a while to deploy, and I only successfully managed to use it a few times.
At the end, I encountered a shadow version of my character who took many more hits than the enemies I had faced thus far. I was completely unable to overcome him and gave up after the 20th attempt or so.
Oni Fighter Yasuke was quite rough, but it has a promising start. This is a game that I hope the developer will continue to flesh out—I had a fair amount of fun despite the problems.
Play NYC 2020 Graffiti Games — Sheep Herder Nay
by Andrew Augustin
Sheep Herder Nay is a cute and simple-yet-challenging puzzle game where you are trying to help Namora get all of her sheep across roads and lead them to paradise before the big bad wolf comes! Play through 10 fun levels and see if you have what it takes to herd these adorable sheep!
Sheep Herder Nay is exactly what it says on the tin: You're a sheepherder named Nay. You need to herd sheep. I like the simplicity.
A level starts off with sheep divided up on either side of a road. Moving one sheep will also move all adjacent sheep, so this is a puzzle game that's all about trading places. You are crossing a road, however, so you have to be careful to avoid any oncoming traffic unless you'd like to have lamb chops for dinner tonight.
I have to admit, I am truly awful at these kinds of puzzle games. I struggled a fair bit and wracked my brain trying to figure out how to get through to the end, but I just couldn't manage it.
My time with Sheep Herder Nay was short, but I found it to be a charming puzzle game. I'd love to see this fleshed out with more levels... and perhaps a hint button for people like me who are awful at these kinds of puzzles.
Play NYC 2020 Graffiti Games — To Be With You
by Cara Hillstock
After finally moving in with her childhood friend and long-distance boyfriend James, Alsie finds herself struggling to keep their relationship together. Can you help her save this relationship from ruin? To Be With You is a semi-autobiographical interactive visual novel exploring one woman's journey through a relationship that seems to be falling apart. Over the course of her time with James, Alsie must come to grips with her past and present if she wants to create a better future. The game has multiple endings and is roughly an hour long (variable according to reading speed).
The final entry of this year's Graffiti Games is To Be With You, a visual novel that tells the tale of two lovers who have just moved in together during a particularly stressful time in their lives.
To Be With You is on the shorter side of visual novels, but it nonetheless had a compelling story. You take on the role of a woman in her final year of college. Her boyfriend James has moved to this town in order to be with her and support her through his work.
I found this story tremendously unsettling—it deals with deep emotional trauma, and both people have a bucketful of issues. That said, I found it to be written well, full of intriguing (and often heart-wrenching) dialogue.
I don't want to discuss the narrative too much—I had a more interesting experience by going in completely blind. If you enjoy spending an hour or so working your way through a good story with challenging decisions, you should check out To Be With You.
The Play NYC 2020 Graffiti Games certainly managed to keep up the convention's tradition of delivering bespoke experiences highlighting a particular group of game developers. Although we missed out on the chance to experience in-person exhibits, the fully digital nature of this year's show means that these Graffiti Games are available for everyone to play.
Each and everyone of these games shows some kind of promise. Not all of them were to my taste, but it'd be well worth your time to check out these unique digital experiences.