PAX East 2014 Overview

PAX East 2014 is over and I’m beat. The four days of adrenaline kept me going without much food or sleep but now it’s time to recuperate. While I sniffle and hack away at my desk, recovering from PAX Plague, here are some previews and first impressions to a handful of the indie games that were there. I wish I could do a “Best of PAX” but there is no way that I was able to play everything that was shown. Maybe this time I’ll give out the, “Indie Gamer Chick: Not a Bad Build Out of the Relatively Few Games I Was Able to Play Because There Are So Many Here” Award.

Note, the following are not all-encompassing previews. They are synopses based on a very short amount of time with the games and there may be inaccuracies based on where the presenters decided to start the game or how much background to give me. (Case in point below, Flem would have appeared far different if I hadn’t asked for more info.)

Always Sometimes Monsters (by Vagabond Dog)

The feels, this game gave them to me. Here the player is asked to witness the results of their choices in life. In the demo I played, I played a man whose roommate wanted me to scope out his crush and see if there was any chance the guy he liked, liked him back. I don’t want to spoil what happens but what you decide to do once you do it changes how the game continues.

One of the more mentally deep games I played, this one promises to make you think.

Assault Android Cactus (by Witch Beam)

A dual-stick shooter that’s influenced by bullet hell games. In this 1-4 player game, you’re killing seemingly endless waves of monsters as you make your way through the end. You get to play as a number of cute androids, blasting the ever-living hell out of everything, trying to rack up combos and get the best grade you can. It’s fun and if you can get a few friends locally to play with you, it’s even more of a blast.

The three folks that I played this with kicked the crap out of it, allegedly the first folks of the con to beat the boss at the end.

Bik (by Zotnip Games)

A point-and-click adventure where you play a young boy who was abducted by aliens. Teaming up with some fellow mercenaries and other aliens met along the way, you go through a number of adventures before returning home. Inspired by the point-and-clicks of yore, their focus wasn’t on trying to make you wonder about all the ways you can’t Get Ye Flask and let you have fun experimenting different things. The game even auto-saves for you so you don’t have to worry about being unable to undo the horrible things you’ve accidentally done.

The demo had me set up in a spaceship as one of the aliens. There was a fire in the engine room and I had to save a crewman and stop the fire. It took me a few tries to complete the section for apparently turning off the air supply and killing us was not the immediate solution (I PUT THE FIRE OUT THOUGH!) and sticking a mop into the fire (don’t ask) didn’t do a thing.

Bounden (by Game Oven Studios)

While playing another game in the Indie Mini Booth, out of the corner of my eye I caught some folks making some strange motions while holding a phone between them. Intrigued, I dropped the controller and shoved everyone in my path out of my way.

This mobile game makes heavy use of the gyrometers within the phone to have you “dance” with a partner as you both hold onto the screen as you move together to move objects on the screen. It had us rocking the phone back and forth and even at one point, holding it overhead and twist in a ballet-like maneuver. It had me intrigued as a little party thing to share a fun experience with your friends.

Buddy and Me (by Sunbreak Games)

Adorable. You play a child who is racing through a dream world with his Never Ending Story-like pal named Buddy. It’s meant to be a non-stressful version of an endless runner where you can still “lose” easily but the pace isn’t too fast and you have the cutest imaginary friend to travel with you and help you out over some obstacles. I was able to play a preview of the new female character, which the dev says will be available soon to players in an upcoming update.

The dev tells me that the level generator determines your skill level as you play and makes things more or less difficult for you as you go (but still providing a challenge).

Darknet (by E McNeill)

I talked about this game a little in my “Oculus Rift: Second Impressions” article posted from the show floor (https://plus.google.com/115383603237792435980/posts/JttdvUQb8Pp).

This is a strategy/puzzler that makes use of the Oculus Rift to give you a virtual reality version of cyberspace akin to those of the 90s hacker movies. The goal is to hack into servers, break the security, and retrieve the data you’re after. Once you retrieve that data, your reward is money to buy various hacks (power-ups) to help you break into other systems.

It was one of two experiences I had with the Rift over the weekend and stood out as a one of the better examples of what it can do.

Delver’s Drop (by Pixelscopic)

This is a dungeon crawler which had its camera angle inspired by The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. This build was a bit early and it was missing many of the game assets and enemies, leaving things a tad barren. The dev had to point me in the right direction a few times because I’m an explorer.

It has a number different characters, all which move and attack differently. I admit, in the short time I was able to devote to it, the “fluid” control and momentum felt clunky but it was by design as each character you can select plays with slight differences. I suspect that after a bit more time, the player gets used to it and it’s a non-issue.

Distance (by Refract Studios)

The only game on my list here that I didn’t get to play up front but I did get to chat with the dev at length while watching a few folks play. This is a survival racer heavily inspired by the racers of the late 90s (Rush, Extreme-G) where you speed through a high-tech city, avoiding obstacles on the track that trashes your car. The game is gorgeous and flashy and hits all the right buttons for this TRON-lover.

Interesting note, this game is based on another game of theirs they worked on while attending Digipen. Since it was a Digipen project, the school owns the game so they wanted to do with again under their own names.

Flem (by Henchman & Goon)

Walking by this display and seeing some folks play, my mind immediately went, “Super Meat Boy” clone and I almost kept walking. The crowd around the screen left and I was the only one there which inclined the presenters to ask if I wanted to play. I said sure and thought there may be there’s something here.

It started off just as I suspected. Difficult levels that try to kill you and you restart immediately to keep you going. The presenters (these gentlemen did not work on the game but were marketing students) were telling me about the game and it felt like they were describing Super Meat Boy. I don’t know if they hadn’t played it or not but I had the sense they didn’t know the comparison at all. It wasn’t until I had the chance to ask, “What makes this game differ from it? What makes it stand out?” That’s when I got it out of them.

A few stages in, you gain special powers that allow you such moves as to hover temporarily among a few other things. It requires a different kind of precision to finish a level than jumping, jumping, and more jumping. I asked if I could test out those special powers and they seemed surprised as if no one else had brought it up before me. They were right for at that point, the game changed and was much more fun.

I have a feeling that folks may pass this one up prematurely because of the initial few levels. Stick with it!

Future Unfolding (by Spaces of Play)

In a randomly created, gorgeously styled world, you are one person trying to find your way out of a forest. There are no weapons, no health bars, and no mana – you are one person who uses clues in the environment to find which way you need to go next. “Using” a pair of stones in the ground that don’t quite fit may open up a path in the forest. Connecting some unusual trees together may make bad creatures appear which give chase. You don’t know what’s going to happen until you experiment.

If you are one who loves exploration, keep your eye on this one.

Hand of Fate (by Defiant Dev)

This game weaves a tale like no other that I’ve seen before it. Using tarot cards, the story is told with randomized encounters and events based on your draw. Once a combat card is shown, your character slips into a battlefield in which you fight using a combat system that’s simple but fun as you get to not only punch and smash your way through enemies, but dodge their blows as well.

Over time and as you complete aspects of the game, you’re granted more cards that are shuffled into your deck. It all makes for a fun and random game each time you play.

This one is a bit on the expensive side for an indie game but it may very well be worth it once it’s released for PC and PS4.

High Strangeness (by Barnyard Intelligence Games)

Readers may soon be cluing in on a a weakness of mine. If your game reminds me of A Link to the Past, there’s a good chance I’m going to like the game. Harking back to the late 80s and early 90s, this game mixes up 8-bit and 16-bit, creating what they call a 12-bit experience. This adventure has players bouncing between the classic era and … slightly less classic era to solve puzzles and kill monsters. When you’re in the 8-bit world, enemies may not have complex attack patterns, but they hit harder. In the 16-bit world, game assets are more detailed so you can see where you need to place a certain object.

The Phantom P.I.: Mission Apparition (by Rocket5 Games)

Another game in the adorable category, you’re playing a ghost buster of sorts in a puzzle/adventure game which places you in a spooky, maze-like mansion to put an end to the chaos caused by the thief ghost, Baublebelly.

Along the way, you encounter traps and puzzles which you need to solve by collecting objects and using them at the right moment. You may need a fuse to activate a switch, or bucket of water to put out a fire.

All in all, it’s a cute little package that works well on a touch screen.

Revolution 60 (by Giant Spacekat)

Set in the future, our hero is tasked with trying to find out why a weapons platform has gone offline which sets you on a course of killing baddies and robots and all sorts of futuristic things. Combat is a mixture of quick-time events and tactics strategy and the narrative combines a choice system that determines the reactions your character has to certain situations. Our hero is this badass woman who stays calm under pressure and looks good doing it. Basically, it’s like playing a blonde version of me. Har. Har.

Normally, I hate quick-time events (QTE). I don’t find it enjoyable in the least when a game is prompting me to smash the hell out of X at just the right moment or move the joystick in just manner so sitting down to play Revolution 60, I was rather skeptical about what I was going to experience. It turns out that I now have an addendum to my hatred of QTE and that is, on touchscreen devices they make much more sense. Why is that? One thing I hate even more than QTE is trying to use controller-like controls on a touch screen and I’m so glad they didn’t do them here. QTEs fit well as they don’t require intense button smashing and still allowed me to enjoy the story.

I introduced myself at the Revolution 60 booth as Bri and the woman who I talked with made a comment about how great that was since their head was also named Bri (Brianna). Interesting fact, the team is entirely (or nearly so) women and I had the opportunity to see Brianna at a panel the shortly before playing the game (that’s me in the pink dress up front in a picture she took: https://twitter.com/Spacekatgal/status/455690195468554241/photo/1).

Rollers of the Realm (by Phantom Compass)

Obviously, these folks have some sort of randomizer for the folks behind Rollers of the Realm somehow got the combination of pinball and RPG. You know what? It’s fun! Set in a medieval world, the main character is a thief girl who is trying to make it on her own with her pet dog. The two, and lots of people you meet along the way, are represented in-game as pinballs, each with their own physics. The playfield is based on the location the storyline is in such as a village with people standing around, boxes to destroy, and more.

Sentris (by Timbre Interactive)

I suck at music. I have no rhythm and typically I couldn’t tell you who sings what. For example, if you know it, it took 20 years for me to be able to pass the Yoshi Island on Mario RPG before I finally “got” it. Always up for a challenge though, I walked up the Sentris booth and said, “Girl, I’m going to try your game. I’m going to suck and you’re going to pretend I’m doing well to help my ego.” (This conversation may have only taken place in my head.)

The playfield is sort of like an LP that spins constantly, playing a background song that you can affect by inserting colorful segments of different sizes into the playfield. Different beats and… other music words… (sorry, I told you I’m inept) begin with each additional segment, leaving you with a unique song that’s truly your own with each play.

Completing certain color matches, you “beat” each stage. That is a bit of a misnomer for you don’t actually beat anything, only move yourself to the next stage to create another musical wonder.

Vertiginous Golf (by Surprise Attack Games)

Long gone are the crazy golf games we used to have; Wicked 18, Kirby’s Dream Course, and so on. When I saw this steampunk-themed, mini golf game, I had to try it out. Given a steampunk controller to control the action, I was given a large number of obstacles to use and bounce off of and hazards to avoid in reaching the pin of each stage. The stages are large and have plenty of going on with plenty of ways to try to reach the end.

There was an Oculus Rift version of this game but it was not demo-ing when I had the opportunity to play.

We Are Doomed (by Caffeine Monster Software)

Another dual-stick shooter to add to the large volume of this type of game, but this one is really, really pretty with bright, vibrant colors that almost has a papercraft-type feel to it. It doesn’t add anything new to the genre but it is fun and doesn’t break the budget. Something about this title kept me interested longer than a lot of dual-stick shooters do.

Woah Dave! (by Gaijin Games)

I broke this game when I played it. Sorry Dant.

Unashamed to admit that it is heavily influenced by the classic Mario Bros. game and Joust, Woah Dave is a mash-up of the two where you are trying to destroy bat-like monsters that get really angry and when they touch the lava on the bottom of the screen. When they hit it, they jump back up to the top of the level, hoping to reach the lava so they can get more pissed. …or something. In any case, it’s fun. It doesn’t try to be anything more than a simple game that is enjoyable and it succeeds.

If you want to know any more about the above games, check out their pages in the associated links. PAX East was an amazing experience for me and if you haven’t been there before, I highly suggest going if you can. Thank you to everyone I got to talk with and meet. Our time was short but it was a blast.

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One Response to PAX East 2014 Overview

  1. Pingback: Our PAX East 2014 Wrap-up | Rocket 5 Studios

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