At a dimly lit Wolfman theater on the initial day of PAX Prime 2013, five prominent independent developers gathered to shine some light on subjects eager fans and others were looking to learn about. Located on the second floor of the Sheraton, adjacent to the overflowing show floor that is PAX, Wolfman theater offered a brief moment of solace from the constant visual and aural stimulation.
Erik Johnson, Business Director at Arcen Games and panel moderator, opened the discussion by posing the question “What has allowed indies to thrive in the last five years?” Brian Provinciano, Founder of Vblank Games and responsible for the multiplatform hit Retro City Rampage, stated that “Margins are high, there is no need to print copies to be sold, and there is tons of press to allow for extensive coverage.” Johnson agreed, citing community involvement between developers and fans as a key element. Matt Gilgenbach, Founder of Infinitap Games, attributed it to “rising budgets in AAA development. Indie developers re taking risks, not AAA,” which is a trend we’ve seen as of late, and especially holds true with the upcoming console releases. Read more
17-BIT, the small team behind the recent XBLA, Steam, and Windows 8 turn based strategy game Skulls of the Shogun was present at the Indie Megabooth, but not with their undead general in tow. Instead, they had something completely new to show PAX-goers. Their latest body of work, Galak-Z, uniquely merges Eastern and Western development styles and aesthetics, in addition to tugging on the strings of nostalgia.
The game opens with the screen simulating a bootloader doing a ROM check, as though it were an arcade machine from the early 90s. This is illustrated through a black background with green text, which reads “ROM Check OK”, in addition to the warped 4:3 screen we were so familiar with at time, in addition to not-so-subtle scan lines. The screen which follows, a the Mega Man X style start screen, which has a ship aligned to the left of the text, and it then blasts across the text when the user makes a selection pulled that string as well. Read more
Mercenary Kings is essentially 4-player Metal Slug with customizable weapons.
It’s rarely appropriate to boil a game down to such a simple statement, but it’s safe to say that if you’re sitting here thinking “4-player Metal Slug with weapon crafting! Fuck yes!”, then you’re going to gobble this game up like Gobstoppers (which actually aren’t very gobble-able). If that idea makes you yawn, then just move along.
Mercenary Kings is being developed by Tribute Games, the team responsible for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Wizorb, so they definitely have the chops to pull off such a project. Read more
“We’re trying to scare the shit out of players,” Philippe Morin boldly proclaimed when I asked him about Red Barrels Games’ upcoming release, Outlast.
Judging from the occasional shriek that emitted from the isolated, darkened booths that they used to demo the game at PAX East, it’s clear that they’re off to the a good start.
Outlast is a first-person horror game where you play as Miles Upshur, a journalist who is investigating a long-abandoned mental asylum that has recently been reopened. Miles has received a tip that things aren’t quite Kosher at the hospital, so he’s unwisely taken it upon himself to delve into the issue. The demo began as I climbed up scaffolding to sneak into the asylum, a decision I immediately regretted once I saw the ransacked-state of the place.
We all expect games to look fantastic these days, but Outlast does an uncanny job of actually making you feel like you are Miles. You see your feet when you look down at the floor and he reaches out his hand to open doors. You can hear him grunting and see his arms grabbing ledges to pull himself up. He’ll even automatically turn sideways and shimmy through obstructed corridors. All of these little touches combine to really immerse you in the world of Miles. Read more
Nestled right in the heart of the Indie Megabooth on the PAX East show floor was The Swapper, a game that easily takes the crown for the PAX game most likely to make you feel like you’re trapped in a 70s sci-fi movie where everything is going to shit. In other words, it was marvelous.
The game is the product Facepalm Games, a two-man team based in Finland along with a few freelancers, including a script by Tom Jubert, who worked on Penumbra and FTL. I chatted with Creative Director Olli Harjola before sitting down to play, and he told me he was aiming to create a different type of experience. The project began with the idea of a brain in glass jar that could control other people and transfer its mind into other bodies. The more he played with it, the more serious the concept became. “I want to explore the theme of ‘What is mind?’”
Eventually the game evolved into The Swapper, a 2D puzzle platformer set in an abandoned laboratory where the protagonist wields the eponymously-named device that “creates clones and allows you to transfer your mind into the clones,” as Harjola puts it. Read more
In today’s gaming landscape, larger development teams are often focused on tacking on a multiplayer component for the sake of adding another bullet point to the back of the display box. Compulsion Games felt it was necessary to take the opposite approach and focus strictly on a solid single player experience.
Studio head Guillaume Provost was originally a rendering programmer at Arkane Studios, and sparked the novel idea for the team’s’ initial offering while sitting in a café, warm beverage in hand. A blend of puzzle/platformer genres, Contrast offers a unique experience in which players can maneuver within the shadow-stricken art-deco 3D world, and when the lighting allows for it, instantly snap into a flat 2D world where the protagonist takes ethereal shape with only a single button press.
There were enough indie games on the PAX East show floor to fuel the next dozen pay-what-you-want bundles. Tucked away on the outskirts of the floor was the adorable A.N.N.E., a 16-bit style game developed by the one-man team Gamesbymo.
A.N.N.E. puts you in the role of Goomi, a blue, rectangular-headed robot whose girlfriend A.N.N.E. has been infected with a love virus that shattered her into 110 pieces. Now you must track down the pieces to reassemble her and get your robo groove on. Lead Designer Moise Breton was mum on details about who created the virus or if there was a true antagonist, but implied those details would be revealed throughout the final game.
Breton is basically attempting to take everything that you know and love about classic games and cram it into one game. Start with a Metroidvania adventure, add a splash of RPG elements and a dash of shmup action and you wind up with A.N.N.E. “There’s not as much time to play (games) as when I was a kid. I wish I could mash them all up in one and play them at once,” explained Breton. Regardless of whether or not you share that sentiment, there was definitely something special about his ambitious project that feels as if it could turn into something remarkable if he’s able to assemble all the pieces. Read more
It may be the visuals that initially grab your attention on the sprawling show floor of PAX, but it’s going to take a lot more than that to keep a your attention among the influx of sensory overload, with screens flashing, sounds booming and bumping of shoulders.
Lords of New York is one game that managed to grab my attention and keep a firm grasp on it. The lush, hand-drawn visuals are reminiscent of a AAA standard, although the work was handled by the small indie team Lunchtime Studios out of PAX East’s hometown of Boston, MA. It’s easy to understand why the team’s goal is to achieve such quality; many of the members have worked on large title in the past, including Empire Earth, the Sim City series, and Dungeons & Dragons Online.
In Lords of New York you’ll take your choice of three characters in the heart of Prohibition-era New York City with the goal to become one of the city’s elite denizens. The adventure game roots are obvious from the get-go and voiced-over dialogue and text-heavy interactions are commonplace. While I didn’t have the opportunity to play any of the point-and-click scenarios during my visit at PAX, I was able to try my luck at one of the game’s other large features; poker. Read more