I wish I wasn’t so predictable. Those with media badges get special early access to the expo floor on the first day of PAX. Wide open and filled with glittering lights, walking onto the floor during that first hour of exclusive access is like a brand new amusement park built just for you and your closest 200 friends. Each game studio reaches out to you, asking you to enjoy their latest projects. It’s humbling, and the possibilities truly seem endless.
My first step of a very busy day was to check out the Oculus-utilizing mystery game P.O.L.L.E.N.. I’m very interested in the story this game, which revolves around exploring an abandoned space station in hopes of discovery why its crew has mysteriously vanished. Our demo was less story based and more around how the Oculus is used in the game, but I’ll admit that everything the game showed off was both a selling point for the game and the Oculus.
It’s been a year since I’ve played anything on an Oculus system and once again, I’m happy to see how far development and the hardware has come. This was the first game I’ve played on the Oculus that had depth-tracking, which meant that it was simple to simply lean forward to investigate and item or read a sign.
P.O.L.L.E.N. is set on a spaceship designed by what the 1970s thought space travel would be like, using things like microfilm instead of touch screens and displaying a color pallet of gaudy oranges and blues mixed in with austere whites. I loved the atmosphere, which was only furthered by occasionally turning a corner to see an abandoned space suit and pair of boots laying forebodingly on the floor. I’m excited to see more of this game’s story, which I think will make it stand out from other games utilizing the Oculus.
P.O.L.L.E.N. was also the only Oculus game I’ve played so far that included the ability to jump, including jumping off a railing and to my doom. I experienced no nausea tackling either the stairs to the second story or the jump itself, but it was an awesome feeling to experiencing falling WHILE STILL SITTING DOWN.
I’m going to keep an eye on P.O.L.L.E.N. because I’m still really looking forward to when VR games are focused not on the novelty of being VR but instead on being good games that utilize the technology.
This might be my favorite game of PAX Prime so far. It’s not a new concept and it’s not a complicated concept but it’s done so well in Just Shapes and Beats that I just utterly fell in love.
In Just Shapes and Beats, you are a shape and the beats are trying to kill you. It’s side-view bullet hell-esque game with patterns and enemies based off of the beats of songs. There’s 4 artists associated with the project so far; all three rounds I played were based off of Danimal Cannon songs – which worked beautifully with the concept.
As a Touhou player I have high expectations from danmaku games and Just Shapes and Beats met that. Big moves such as beams that take up three quarters of the screen are telegraphed VERY shortly before the move is fired, which leads to frantic, fast paced dashing around the screen while occasionally darting over to heal an ally that’s taken too much damage. It’s a great party game – vibrant and frantic. The creator (with Berzerk Studio) told me he finds success depending on the number of WHAT THE HELLs are yelled during a level, which I certainly both heard and yelled a lot when playing.
The other thing that really caught me off guard with Just Shapes and Beats was how the content is not procedurally generated as it is in other rhythm games like Audiosurf and Beat Hazard (which Just Shapes and Beats reminds me of). Each level is hand-crafted and done so beautifully, leading up to a boss fight that was so fun that every bullet hell game should aspire to its heights.
Design an RPG in 3600 Seconds
I try to always hit one tabletop RPG-focused panel a year and this year’s panel was easy to pick. The creators of some of my favorite RPGs – Dungeon World, Lasers and Feelings and Burning Wheel – working with a crowd of roughly 200 people to design a pen and paper RPG in one hour.
From the start we were behind (180 seconds to be precise) but the panel wasn’t really so much about ending up with a game, but instead what the fundamentals of good game design are. The first half of the panel was about boiling down the building blocks of a game:
And discussing what those really mean. The second half was crowdsourcing ideas based on these fundamentals, which was both hilariously fun and incredibly informative of the diverse viewpoints of gamers.
Eventually we wound up with a game about (among many other things) exemplar knights from across the knightly ages brought to a biomechanical space ship to reclaim planets taken by four-armed aliens. There was a surprising amount of nuance to this idea. Also, a few incredibly interesting mechanical pitches such as your HP and your dice are the same, rolling dice means discarding dice to represent the rigors of battle and how these knights-out-of-time are slowly breaking down. I want to see multiple people from the crowd make this game because as Luke Crane said “you’ll all make a completely different game.”
This was just some of my PAX Day 2 – today also included a game that deserves its own feature, We Are Chicago and Megan’s (fantastic) panel. It’s been a great day that once again flew by and I can’t wait for what tomorrow’s PAX Prime Day 3 brings.
I’m not going to waste any time jumping into the rest of my indie game picks from PAX Prime 2015. The more time I spend in this wonderful air conditioned room chilling out without shoes on the less time I have for table top games and alcoholic beverages!
Rain World, Videocult (PC, Consoles)
I was lead to play Rain World by a friend that enjoys two of the same things that I like in games: genuinely pulling off seemingly simple ideas, and misery simulators. Rain World does both!
The concept is so simple: prey and be preyed upon as an adorable cat slug in what is most likely a post apocalyptic Earth. The cat slug’s motions are fluid and limited in a way that feels organic: sliding around is fine, jumping is hard, and climbing is a breeze. The backgrounds and environments are hand crafted and stunningly detailed. While the game will have a large world to explore, the PAX Demo was straight forward: eat 5 bats and get back into shelter before the deadly rain starts falling. I didn’t even get close to succeeding.
The true genius of the game is the flora and fauna of the post apocalyptic world. The world may be hand crafted but the creatures hunting your adorable cat slug are purely procedural. You’ll have to use your wits to use the environment and interactions with other creatures to stay safe while you explore. The curious and harmless swamp worms that watched the cat slug pass were probably my favorite, adding a nonthreatening touch of life to the destroyed husk of a city filled with predators.
Rain World is something that needs to be watched carefully. It’ll prove to be one of the best indie survival games yet if the polish that’s been applied to the behaviors and graphics are applied to the game’s core design.
Necropolis, Harebrained Schemes (PC)
Otherwise known as Zelda: Ocarina of Roguelikes. Necroplis is a stylish third person brawler with a sharp sense of humor and solid fighting mechanics. You will try (and fail) to navigate your hero to the bottom of the terrible Necropolis, and if you die you die
for real permanently. You know this jam already. The game is responsive and functional, and the trailer doesn’t lie: the style and animations work. You’ll be z-targeting enemies and performing sword combos in no time.
After speaking with the executive producer it’s clear that they have a grand scope for this game that they have yet to achieve. They want 40+ different monsters with many pieces of craftable equipment, specifically calling out a Monster Hunter like weapon system where new types of weapons change the style in which you fight. The goal is to create a game that will take hundreds of hours to master, but only a few hours to complete.
Unfortunately, as of PAX, the demo is more of a proof of concept, showing that the team can create a visually distinct action title with a flourish. Even if it’s more style than substance at the moment, this is still definitely one to watch!
Ultimate Chicken Horse, Clever Endeavor Games (PC)
Oh my god. Ultimate Chicken Horse. Seriously.
I’m confident saying that Ultimate Chicken Horse is the best couch multiplayer game at PAX. It’s certainly the number one generator of excited screaming and “OH SHITS” I’ve seen so far. You and your friends are all adorable farm animal characters in a standard empty Mario-style platforming level. The goal is to get to the flag across the screen, but there’s a pit separating you from it. You all, as a team, will have to use bits and pieces of scenery to build a trail there. But some of the pieces of scenery are things like crossbows. Or swinging buzz saws. Or traps. You only get points if you make it to the end of the course, but some of your friends don’t, so make it as deadly as you can without making it impossible.
Actually, just watch the video for the explanation.
It’s instant fun that will have you calling your friends names while you cheer them on. Easily the most fun I’ve had playing a game at PAX this year.
I plan to put together a few deeper pieces on games that I’ve played in the coming days. Stay tuned for more on Darkest Dungeon’s latest content patch The Cove.
You’ve heard from Jon and Charles about their PAX day 1 highlights, now here’s mine, guaranteed to contain 100% more dating pigeons than my next competitor. (Sidenote: I did actually see Hatoful Boyfriend cosplay and the person I was with will attest that I did not take my eyes off that crossdressing pigeon maid until they were out of sight.)
Star Wars: Battlefront
Unusually for story-game-centric-me, there are actually a few FPS games in the near future I am incredibly excited for and I was lucky enough to get my hands on one of them today! Star Wars: Battlefront is at the top of that hype list. I played a 2 player co-op level centered around protecting a central point from waves of enemies. While it reminded me how terrible I am at FPS games on consoles (I played on the PS4), I did really enjoy the experience. As someone who’s far from a hardcore FPS-player, I found it mostly easy to play and overflowing with that Star Wars atmosphere.
I did have a consistent problem finding waypoints on the map – my poor co-op partner had to point me to the location of the pod we were supposed to protect at least three times. A map or better on-screen markers would have been incredibly useful for me.
But man, we go to take down an AT-AT and there’s just something wonderfully special about that.
I’m not the target demographic for this game and I don’t know who is.
I was skeptical about a narrative-driven game based on and in a game like Minecraft – while there are plenty of servers based around roleplay and stories, the game itself has always hinted around story. Minecraft prefers to give you the building blocks (heh) of a quirky world and construct your own ideas.
Story Mode fits into the Telltale Games story-game model squarely (heh heh) – the gameplay is the same, filled with choices to change the narrative and quicktime-esque events through action sequences. There is a screen for building, which is of course obvious for a Minecraft game, but the demo only allowed the construction of one item (a sword) at a workbench, so I’m not sure how in-depth the gameplay in that aspect will be.
Do the young kids who play Minecraft also play story games like this? Will the relatively low level of interaction (dialogue choices, QTEs) appeal to them, especially in a universe that usually allows nearly unrestricted creativity? I’m not sure, to be honest. It was a fun few minutes but I can’t possibly see myself playing through all 5 chapters of this game. But if you’re someone who loved The Lego Movie and enjoys lots of Minecraft jokes and references, this game is probably for you.
I did a lot of walking around and eyeballing games, displays and shops, making notes of things I want to check out over the weekend, so I didn’t spend much more time on Day 1 getting hands-
on time. I did, however, check out a panel hosted by YouTube, which just launched its YouTube Gaming venture.
The panel was hosted by YouTube Gaming’s community moderator OpticJ, and the big draw was the panelists: Arin Hanson (Game Grumps), Jordan Maron (CaptainSparklez), Preston Arsement (PrestonPlayz), and Jonathan Indovino (ShadyPenguinn).
I was expecting for an hour-long panel designed to sell me on YouTube Gaming, which I was certainly willing to sit through so I could see Arin Hanson’s glorious hair in person, but what actually happened was pleasantly surprising. The panel was focused on actual advice, tips and discussion of content creation for YouTube, similarly to YouTube and Google’s Creator Academy.
I didn’t know the Creator Academy even existed, so the panel was a great way to introduce it. The information was actually helpful (which can be rare with con panels) and delivered by people who obviously care. Good on YouTube for putting out a great panel as opposed to just trying to sell us all on a venture that most of us are likely going to check out anyway.
That was my PAX Prime Day 1 – it feels like it passed in a blur! I’ll be demo’ing more games on Day 2 as well as checking out more panels including Megan’s highly anticipated panel Flagged for PvP: Examining Culture, Identity, and Bullying. Keep checking in for more PAX Prime coverage here at Dorkadia!
The fisrt day of PAX Prime 2015 is behind us. It was an exhausting start to the most enjoyable chaos that any fan of playing games is likely to find. For my part, I decided to pace myself this year and spend my first day taking it all in. I walked the expo hall floor, checked out a panel, and played a few of the games on offer.
I’ve come to terms with my taste in video games in the year and a half that’s passed since I’ve last written for Dorkadia. I used to think that one needed to have a universal appreciation for all genres and titles in order to truly “get games”. Screw that. Megan’s recent full embrace of her love of story games made me stand up and declare before my friends and family: I love quirky indie games, I love roguelikes, fuck the rest. Continue reading
Two years ago, I missed what I think was one of the best panels of all time at PAX: the panel in which Keiji Inafune announced Mighty No. 9, his answer to Capcom’s faffing about with Megaman. With Mighty No. 9’s release just around the corner, I didn’t want to leave anything to chance and made sure to hit the Mighty Chat panel this year. Continue reading