Since PAX East took place in my backyard (Boston) I took Friday off of work to check out the maddness. It was definitely worth it! The panels I attended were certianly interesting, but by far the best part was checking out some upcoming Indie Games on the showroom floor. I had plenty of opportunities to chat up the game devlopers themselves, and get my hands on a few great upcoming titles.
Here's my experience...
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[Developer Chris Hecker is in red on the right, intently taking notes]
Upon descending to the floor and taking in the craziness that is PAX East, I immediately made a B-Line over to Chris Hecker's SPY PARTY. The devs behind SLAM BOLT SCRAPPERS had been kind enough to lend him a portion of their space, and surprisinly there wasn't a huge line. So I read up on the minutia of the game. After a few minutes, I said my hello to Chris and jumped into a seat to play once as a spy and once as a sniper.
It's two-player: one person plays the spy, who has various tasks like planting a bug on an official, switching microfilm in and out of books, etc, while the other person has a sniper gun. While the visuals look a little "placeholder", the gameplay looked to be quite challenging. The spy needs to blend in and accomplish all these tasks while the sniper needs to dissect a lot of information quickly. The timer runs down from around 3 minutes, so it's rather intense (though you can add time by daring to look at your watch!).
I must say, SPY PARTY didn't disappoint. It's surprisingly intense, really. Looking at the screen shots doesn't give the sense of urgency you feel when you're playing. The competitive nature of the game, along with the winding countdown, really gives it a sense of purpose.
After playing, I spoke to Chris Hecker a bit, asking what the release timeline looks like. Well, we're going to have to wait a while. A few years at least I expect before we see it released, as Chris specifically said he wanted everything to be perfect before release. So keep this one in your back pocket!
[Developer Phil Fish, in the red on the left, is clearly a passionate, thoughtful, indie dev. Great guy!]
I was rather shocked to see FEZ here at PAX East. I'd been hearing about it for qutie a while, but apparently the dev Phil Fish (who I had a chance to speak with for a while, from Montreal) from Polytron said they decided last minute to come and show off the game. And I'm glad he did!! FEZ is definitely at the top of my list for the near future. The gameplay involves a sort of puzzle-platforming, and it presents what Josh called "updated retro", which is a sort of contemporary-minded pixelated aesthetic. The key gameplay innovation here, however, is that any 2D screen can be "rotated" to see the other 2D views. On any given 2D screen, then, you can platform, discover new views of objects, etc. It's hard to describe or understand with just screen shots, but in realtime it looks stunning.
Phil described it as a sort of cross between Zelda and Knyt (as in, the Indie clas*sic Knyt Stories). He emphasized the "experience of play" as much more about discovery than anything else. From the gameplay I saw (and played), that's an apt description. Looks like the release will be to XBLA sometime 2011 (hopefully this summer!!).
[Now I just need a nice TV like this to go with my blue compadres.]
Gamespot had highlighted SWARM recently, so I recognized the play as soon as I saw it. Luckily enough, there was no line, so I jumped right in and got down to moving my swarm across the level.
It turns out that SWARM is much more challenging in play than it seems in theory. The idea is that you have a group (or swarm) of little blue minions who you're trying to get across a dangerous, hazard-laden level. You can expand and contract the group (much like in the XBIG indie game Shoot 1UP) with the L and R Triggers, and jump the group as well. As the platform's borders allowed swarm members to drop off, and harzards were everywhere, it turns out that at times just getting a few blue bodies across is a big accomplishment. The gameplay was overall frenetic, and the game felt much better in play than it sounded in preview. Think of moving a glob of water down a trecherous moving path: that's pretty much the gameplay. While this wasn't near the top of my list previously, after playing for about 5-10 minutes, I can say that I'd definitely consider a purchase here. I believe the release date is coming up real soon.
[Gamespot friend, Greg Kasvin and Supergiant have gone indie. Good for them!]
While the line was longer at BASTION, so I didn't get a chance to play the game, I did chat with Gamespot's old friend Greg Kasavin, the dev behind BASTION, to congratulate him on his IGF nomination (for Visual Art and Audio). Not surprisingly, the game looks (and presumably sounds, players all had headphones) fantastic. Most folks probably know that BASTION is headed for XBLA's Summer Arcade lineup. Given what I saw of the game, it actually reminded me a lot of DEATHSPANK, though I imagine the humor (to the extent that it's funny) is rather different. But it does looks like a great excuse to explore a wonderfully hand-crafted painted world. I'm definitely picking this one up later this year
[Great multiplayer could make this game the Castle Crashers of 2011]
FANCY PANTS ADVENTURE
Players might be familiar with the free version of this game, but a full version is nearing release. I had a chance to talk to one of the devs, Tim, extensively about the game as I grabbed a controller and rolicked for a while in this multiplayer romp. There's a versus mode, in which each player competes to grab the most "squiggles", but most of the time I played the co-op mode.
The basic idea of the game is that you platform around (with up to 3 others) and grab "squiggles" which are the equivilent of Mario's coins. While the team plays together on these maps, you're still trying to get more squiggles than the next player. Based on your successes you can then outfit your stickman avatar with some groovey apparrel.
This was my first time playing the game and I found it to be surprisingly clever. Learning the physics of jumping (your arc, etc) and the weight of the game took a little practice, but with some repetition I was able to start flying around levels, jumping on other avatars to launch into the blue, and generally grab a bunch of squiggles. Tim said that the game is set to be released this Spring on XBLA Arcade, and I think if you're looking for a great multiplayer game, suitable for a group of friends, this has the potential to be CASTLE CRASHERS for this year. We'll see!
[I don't know kid, I'm technically in a hospital bed, probably in a coma!!]
MIT-Gambit labs has released a slew of indie games to date (including one of my favorites, XBIG's circus ragdoll game, CarneyVale: Showtime). So I settled into a rather interesting point-and-click game called SYMON. Most games of this kind are pure puzzlers, but SYMON had a degree of melancholy to it. You begin at the bedside of your own character (which reminded me of that ever so excellent game, CLOSURE at Kongregate, another IGF finalist) and then explore outwards into the world, solving little puzzles, and delving deeper into the past and psychology of the protagonist. I played through the first stage before moving on, but definitely worth checking out.
[Montreal came to represent! Polytron and seen here, Trapdoor came down from the North]
Near the FEZ set-up, Trapdoor set up their shop to display for the first time ever their game WARP. While watching the game, I had a chance to chat up Julia, one of the devs from the great city of Montreal. It seems EA has recently come on board to publish the game, though there is no release date as of yet.
In WARP, you play a glowing yellow alien trying to escape from a scientific labratory. The view was top-down, which allowed you to see the action as you warp between walls, enter enemies' bodies and explode them, and generally cause mayhem. From the sounds of it, there still spending a lot of time gameplay testing to get it all to feel right, but the game looks pretty decent at the moment. It's great to see the indie dev scene coming around in Canada, and I'll be sure to keep my eye out for more of WARP and anything else from Trapdoor studios.
[I came away from this booth with a lot of shwag, so if anyone needs a bookmark...]
Like D&D? Like Choose Your Own Adventure books? Yes and Yes! Turns out, Tin Man has developed a series of games for mobile devices which read like fantasy adventures, but include D&D elements like rolling character creation, and using character sheets to determine combat and scenario results. I'd never heard of it before but as I enjoy reading and do enjoy D&D, this seems like a perfect marriage.
The dev I talked to was adamant that the price of each game ($4.99 US) be the same across all platforms. Often publishers jack up the prices for IPads, for instance, but they're apparently all about parity. As you play, you'll also earn bookmarks which funciton as saves, so if you're quest line ends up badly, you can restart and check out your other options. As for me, I've downloaded Book 1 already
[Yes, that's a screen on the castle walls. No, my iphone can't quite catch up]
Almost accidentally I stumbled upon Torn Banner Studios' MEDIEVAL and was quite surprised and pleased that I did. It turns out they're working on a sort of First Person Medieval Combat game (think Oblivion minus the RPG) which takes place in multiplayer. For instance, joined to a party, you can either try defending a castle or try overrunning it. Combat works not simply by button mashing, but gives control of swing arcs to the player too. I didn't see a lot of this game, but it looks promising. Release looks to be PC initially, with others to follow depending on the usual factors.
[Firehouse studios have fancy hats]
SLAM BOLT SCRAPPERS
Though I spent most of my time here at SPY PARTY, I did spend a decent amount of time watching the numerous players line up for the rambunctious game SLAM BOLT SCRAPPERS, and had one of the devs explain to me some of the finer details. First of all, it's another multiplayer game that feels very much like MARIO PARTY. Two teams compete on the same screen to complete blocks from puzzle pieces (sort of like CHIME) to add them to their towers for greater defenses and attack (I think). A timer also runs down which switches a power boost back and forth. From the look of it, it's a frenetic party game that looks to be rather exciting. Worth checking out for sure.
[43 Lightyears is a long long ways away. Thankfully they're developing the game on Earth]
I also had a chance to briefly check out FALLEN FRONTIER, which looks to be a sort of 2 person platformer/shooter. It had a very nice sci-fi aesthetic going on, though I didn't get a chance to see any gameplay really. If it sounds interesting, check it out.
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That's about it for Indie Games. I also took some pics of some of the AAA games set-ups, which I'll post here below. If you're in Boston next year, definitely check PAX East out. I'm glad I did!
If you want more Indie Game content, check out Gamespot's only Indie Game union, The Autonomous Regime.