Threadless HQ, where the first Bit Bash will be held Saturday.

Threadless HQ, where the first Bit Bash will be held Saturday. (September 3, 2014)

The recent barcade boom proves there’s a large appetite for vintage video games in Chicago. But will beer-sipping locals step away from “Donkey Kong” long enough to try their hand at new types of interactive entertainment?

That’s the hope behind an alternative video game festival called Bit Bash, debuting Saturday at Threadless HQ.

“We want to expand people’s horizons and show that there’s a deeper range of games out there than ‘Call of Duty,’ ” said Ryan Wiemeyer, one of the festival’s organizers.

Indeed, the experimental titles chosen for Bit Bash—30 locally- and internationally-made games—feel more like lo-fi art-house fare than big budget spectacles most associate with modern gaming. That includes Wiemeyer’s new game “Max Gentlemen,” described as an “extreme manners simulator about stacking hats, inspired by a spam email for male enhancement.” Fantasy-inspired dungeon crawler meets “Dance Dance Revolution”-style dance pad controls in the unorthodox “Crypt of the Necrodancer.” 

Some of Bit Bash’s games do away with display monitors altogether. The decidedly analog “Choosatron” plays like a classic Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book that spits each bit of new fiction out of a receipt printer. “Slapfest,” a custom-built wooden box decked out with buttons and LED lights, has more in common with the ’70s electronic game “Simon” than Xbox.

Bit Bash is the brainchild of the Indie City Collective, a nonprofit formed four years ago to support local game developers. It’s made up of gamemakers like Wiemeyer, who scored a big hit with zombie-apocalypse-themed mashup “Organ Trail,” and Young Horses, a group of DePaul grads behind the cartoonish PC puzzler “Octodad.” Chicago has emerged as one of the hottest spots in the nation for small indie game development, yet the general public remains mostly unaware of the scene, Wiemeyer said.

The idea for an indie games conference in Chicago came in March during a developers’ conference in San Francisco for an event called Wild Rumpus that Wiemeyer described as “more like a dance club with a bunch of games.”

“We want to capture that vibe, but make it more open to the general public,” he said.

That means that the afternoon portion of Bit Bash will work more like an art gallery, with different stations set up around the Threadless show floor and volunteers on hand to help the public navigate the controls and rules of each game. In the evening it will take on a more party-like atmosphere, with live music and beer courtesy of new gaming-themed craft beermeisters Arcade Brewery.

“We want to educate people about our games and just throw a cool party,” Wiemeyer said. “We want to mingle more with musicians and artists and get cool, creative people together. The more we can connect, the better.”

Bit Bash

WHERE: Threadless HQ (1260 W. Madison St. 773-878-3557)

WHEN: 2 p.m. to midnight Saturday; new games, live music and beer from Arcade Brewery arrive at 7.

HOW MUCH: Free (A $10 donation supports the charity Chicago Loot Drop). Preregister at bitbashchicago.com.

Ryan Smith is a RedEye special contributor.


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