Karlshamn isn't an obvious destination for international tourists. But here we are, at Creative Coast, finding digital life amid its dead eateries and still streets.
You have probably never been to Karlshamn.
To get there from London, you have to take a flight to Copenhagen and then board a two-and-a-half-hour train. Because of the migrant crisis, Denmark and Sweden no longer operate an open border, so, for the first couple of stops, you have to wait for ten minutes at a time while sinister officials sweep the carriages. When the train gets moving again, you're treated to nearly three hours of gorgeous Scandinavian countryside, passing through rain-swept villages and massive fields, before coming to a halt at a tiny little town perched on the southern Swedish coastline, acutely aware of your distance from civilisation.
If it's your first time here, you'll probably find the eerie quiet a little disconcerting. It's a summer town. Packed with tourists and day-trippers from June onwards, out of season it's a strange and spiritual sight to behold. Dead restaurants with rows and rows of empty chairs outside. The cobbled, deserted streets lined with cheery bunting. Hotel lobbies in which you could hear a pin drop. The ominous power station on the pier. Nobody around to admire the incredible views or perfectly still, crystalline rivers. Ghosts of the summer whispering on every corner.
I was a long way from Old Street, let's put it that way.
Yes it takes a fucking lifetime to get there. Yes it's deathly quiet. But the absolutely beautiful town of Karlshamn also plays host to Creative Coast, a two-day festival of exhibitions, talks, booze, workshops and music, attended by a mix of eclectic and incredibly friendly people. May 2016's event was the second annual outing for the festival, and brought together a colourful bunch of designers, developers, coders, streamers, artists, and one lanky, monosyllabic, long-haired, insufferably miserable freelancer from VICE.
Meeting blazer-wearing black metal fanatic and Creative Coast founder Johan Toresson for the first time, I ask him what the event is all about, and what the fuck I'm doing here. "I want the festival to enable psychosis simulators, bio hacking and subversive marketing techniques to intertwine with the possibility to educate yourself in whatever digital creative disciplines you're interested in. Preferably with Fucking Werewolf Asso as the soundtrack."
This was going to be interesting.
As it turns out, the two days I spent at Creative Coast were more than just interesting. I was about to be terrified, nearly pass out from laughing, be very drunk, play some wonderful new video games, meet the developers behind one of my games of the year so far, and find out what a duck's cock looks like. Here's everything I learned at the two-day festival.
THERE'S A SCANDINAVIAN DODGEBALL GAME OUT, AND IT'S BRILLIANT
I spent a lot of time playing the hilarious Stikbold! during my time at Creative Coast. Basically, it's dodgeball with Minecraft-esque avatars, power ups, environmental hazards, and it's a shit ton of good, old-fashioned couch co-op fun. The title is based on a Scandinavian playground game, and it's oozing with charm, humour and energy.
My new Swedish friends took the liberty of spanking me on it pretty much relentlessly, and it gave me some uncomfortable P.E. flashbacks as a result, but you should pick it up if you're looking for some same-screen multiplayer. The kind that'll have you pissing yourself laughing one minute, and giving someone a furiously salty dead leg the next.
SCIENTIFIC BIOLOGISTS ARE LOOKING FOWARD TO NO MAN'S SKY
One of the most interesting conferences at Creative Coast was delivered by science journo and biology expert Torill Kornfeldt. Her presentation comprised of a series of bizarre, mind-controlling, gender-swapping, cannibalistic wonders from the world of nature – naked mole-rats, spiders, parasites – for the purpose of creatively inspiring the audience of devs and designers.
Her most anticipated game of the year? No Man's Sky. "From what I've played of most video games, biology is normally in the background and tends to be pretty one-dimensional. But from what I've seen this game, it seems to be including some pretty interesting ecology."
Oh yeah, she also showed a GIF of some duck dicks going into tubes. Ducks have very weird penises. Look it up. They're like corkscrews.
AER IS A WIND WAKER/ICO FAN'S WET DREAM
Imagine Ico went on a date with the flying sections from Skyward Sword, but without the annoying waggle, and the atmosphere and ethereal exploration from The Witness turned up to play gooseberry, and you're pretty much imagining Swedish indie dev Forgotten Key's beautiful new adventure AER.
Flying from island to island, soaring through the clouds, an achingly beautiful and lilting banjo soundtrack whispering through the air, I could have sat and played it for hours. Keep your eyes peeled for the game's autumn 2016 release.
THE FOLLOW UP TO ACTION HENK WILL BE JUST AS FUN
Action Henk, for those not in the know, is a 2D/3D racing slash platformer slash score attack game. Imagine Trials HD crossed with Sonic the Hedgehog and you're getting close. The colourful visuals, superb soundtrack, charming sense of humour and hardcore-as-you-like gameplay make Henk as addictive as chocolate fingers.
I grabbed Roel for a quick chat, and asked him what's next for RageSquid.
"We've been thinking for a good year about what to do next. We're not really sure exactly how it's gonna end up at this stage, so I can't say too much, but we'll spend the next few months playing around with prototypes and see what happens. Maybe we'll see if we can create an online multiplayer game, but we'll definitely be looking to differentiate ourselves from the millions of other developers doing the same thing. It'll have to be really fun, and look happy and colourful."
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THE HARROWING EFFECTS OF PSYCHOSIS ARE BEING SIMULATED THROUGH VR
A few years back, Jennifer Kanary's sister-in-law committed suicide following a psychotic episode. As a result of the tragedy, she created Labyrinth Psychotica – a portable VR unit designed to replicate the effects of psychosis on users, giving them a profound and unforgettable insight into what it's like to suffer from the condition. Based on a combination of anecdotal and scientific research, the program is one of the most accurate representations of mental illness on the planet.
As it turns out, she was at Creative Coast demoing the unit, and taking a riveted audience through the creative process behind the experience. Watching a volunteer stagger their way through 15 minutes of simulated psychosis in front of a live audience was one of the most disquieting things I've seen in years. It's been known to bring grown men to tears. I knew it had to be done.
After an evening of pestering at the bar, Jennifer agreed to charge the unit overnight and let me have a go. Essentially, the experience blends your vision of the real world with a series of increasingly powerful and surreal illusions. In the headphones, voices speak to you, accuse you, misdirect you. You're trying to listen to Jennifer's instructions and questions, but you can't concentrate on anything. As a result, the words that tumble out of your mouth are garbled and nonsensical. On top of that, your physical body is stumbling around all over the place, as you try to follow about a hundred different instructions at once.
It was one of the most disorientating VR experiences I've ever come into contact with. Labyrinth Psychotica is important and profound, and proves that with the right amount of insight and research, the technology can truly take us places we've never wanted to go, and make us more empathetic and understanding in the face of unimaginable affliction.
THE PEOPLE ARE THE FRIENDLIEST YOU'LL EVER MEET
I can't stress this enough. Everyone there was so great. And I hate most people.
Creative Coast is a bubbling pot of down-to-earth, diverse, talented, passionate people, among them some of the most genuine and inspiring guys and girls I've ever spent time with.
When the afternoon light faded and the evening descended on Karlshamn, everyone gathered at an adjacent bar for a night of beers, chiptune and tobacco, swapping cards and phone numbers, and generally talking good-natured bollocks into the early hours, before getting on the train and heading to the Nordic Game Conference in the morning.
Creative Coast is not the biggest games festival in the world. It's not the most glamorous. It is however, the most intimate, the most promising, and the most charming. Next year, you should probably go to Karlshamn.
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