A Seattle-based podcast about games, comics, superheroes, zombies, robots, wizards, dinosaurs, and other things relevant to your interests. We're SJW FTW, and we’ve been nerding out about nerd stuff since way before everybody was a nerd.
We got another chance to interview Friend of the Hole and rockstar game designer Jonathan Tweet, whose magnificent book Grandmother Fish comes out today in his new deal with Macmillan. We’re going to the launch party at Ada’s Technical Books in Seattle on Saturday 9/10 from 10am-2pm, and you should too.
In the interview, we also got to talk a bit about Clades, a game Tweet is designing to teach evolution to kids and their adult companions. We played a bit of his early design and had a great time. We’ll let you know when he fires up that Kickstarter next month.
And so we say goodbye to another PAX. We can’t wait to see how much more VR will be at the next one, and how that will drive non-VR content. For now, we’re going to rest our strained muscles and settle into waiting for all the fun stuff to come out IRL. Here’s what we saw today:
We wanted to like Don’t Starve more than we actually did, but Klei’s new game looks like it’ll keep us happy. It’s called Oxygen Not Included, and it’s a space colony sim that feels like Fallout Shelter with legs. There’s a lot more to do, the art looks just as sweet as Don’t Starve, and the interface seems to have learned a lot from other sims.
We liked watching Objects in Space, a “modempunk” stealth space trading game, but were too intimidated to give it a shot ourselves. It’s built by an Australian brother and sister team (he designs, she codes), and it came to PAX with an insane Arduino controller set that looked delightfully scrungy. The garage/DIY aesthetic is lovely,and the gameplay revolves around stealth combat avoidance, with occasional battles using remote sensors. Madness, but seemingly good madness.
OMG YOU GUYS. [Mary here.] OMG FALLOUT VR. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever played a demo that I loved as much as this. Paul and I waited two hours in line for an eight minute demo and it was worth EVERY SECOND. We’re easy marks since we’re such huge Fallout fans, but I’ll be as objective as I can be. At E3, Bethesda announced that Fallout 4 will be available in 2017 on the HTC Vive, which is the device we used. The demo takes place at the Red Rocket truck stop. When you phase in, your good buddy Dogmeat is there and I can’t tell you how great it was to see him there. You have a Pip-Boy on your left wrist and a pistol in your right hand. You are able to cycle through the Pip-Boy modes with the Vive controller. It’s relatively intuitive, and I imagine with more time it becomes second-nature. You can then pick up a laser rifle, a shotgun, and a Fat Man from a table and cycle through them with your right controller. That’s when the action begins. The first wave is a few raiders, pretty easy to take down. Sadly they shot the Fat Man off the table before I had a chance to grab it (I might have been distracted by the fact I was IN the Commonwealth) and it glitched and disappeared so I stuck with my pistol and shotgun. (Paul used the Fat Man on everything and made short work of it all.) The next wave is feral ghouls… I screamed SO LOUD. It’s one thing when they’re hurling themselves toward you in 2D, but in a virtual environment it’s absolutely frightening. I got a little disoriented making sure I’d taken them all down and the next thing I knew, a Deathclaw had come up behind me… If the feral ghouls were frightening, the Deathclaw was pants-shittingly terrifying. I finally killed him and spent a few minutes exploring, which was just wonderful… Being fully transported into a world I love so much was entirely satisfying. Pretty much anything you can interact with in the game is also available to interact with in the VR version, including the crafting table, though the demo didn’t have crafting as an option. VATS wasn’t available in the demo either, but presumably it will be in a full version of the game. The only downside for me was not enough time to learn the interface, a problem that will certainly be solved with time on my side. Others have noted that this is more a proof-of-concept tech demo than a game, but if you’re familiar with Fallout it’s impossible not to see the potential. Also, you guys, feral ghouls and Deathclaws in your face! [/Mary]
The extremely charming roguelike Rogue Wizards drew us in with its vivid graphics and fun interface, but we swooned when we read this on their site: “A narrative with a core message of gender and class equality.” Awwwww! It’s out shortly on Steam.
If you, like us, missed out on the PAX screening of the live-action Lookouts short film due to the injustice of our universe’s temporal laws, you’ll be glad to find out you can watch it online. Please, though, try to watch in on a big screen if at all possible. (Speaking of the Lookouts, read about Thornwatch in Saturday’s post and get in on the Thornwatch Kickstarter while the getting is good. It has now tripled its goal, if you’re keeping track!)
Let Them Come is a soon-to-be-out mobile and PC game that essentially lets you relive the sentry gun scene from Aliens—but with you on the trigger, prosecuting an endless stream of alien extermination in the strobing light and staccato sound of your trusty mounted space gun. This was one of those games that sucked us in at first with a fun idea and art, and then we were kind of surprised (given the game’s limited scope) to still be playing it 20 minutes later. That addictiveness bodes well for mobile! You fight enemies in waves, with new and more tactically interesting aliens (and bosses) getting thrown into the mix.When you inevitably succumb to the onslaught and get overrun, you get a chance to buy active and passive upgrades to improve your odds next time around. A fun touch: you get to the upgrade screen by clicking on your “BoomBox,” which is sitting behind you blasting out tunes appropriate to the task at hand. You also collect “mixtapes” and choose your soundtrack. Fun! A bonus: Let Them Come is published by Versus Evil, which also publishes two other games we love, Guild of Dungeoneering and Banner Saga 2.
Elder Scrolls: Legends entered beta at the beginning of August and there was a pretty huge booth dedicated to it at PAX. Joining the ranks of Hearthstone and Magic Duels, Legends is an online deck-building game featuring familiar characters from the Elder Scrolls universe. [Editor’s note: Yeah that’s great… Did I mention how awesome Fallout VR is?! I mean, I love Elder Scrolls, but can I fight an enormous virtual dragon?! You guys. Seriously. Fallout VR.] When Legends launches, it will be available on iOS and Windows.
How can there still be undiscovered arcade ideas that are this elegant and fun? Inversus is in this year’s PAX 10 and it’s like frantic high-speed murder Othello. The trailer below can modem a description of it into your brain faster than we can describe it:
We can’t wait to explore Moon Hunters more. We first saw this helping judge the PAX 10 and it accomplished the unlikely feat of mixing a meditative mood involving world-building with sprinting Robotron-style arcade combat. Read some of the impassioned reviews on Steam if you need convincing, it’s designed for 1–2 hour playthroughs with 1–4 players coop, where you relive the same fateful few days building your individual reputation and legacy. (How can you not love this from the developers: “Moon Hunters could be described as a mythology generator.”)
Age is a terrible drug, children. Rob woke up this morning creaking and cranking with pain all over his body, just from being alive at PAX for two days in a row. He’s been overseeing Nerdhole operations from our Capitol Hill HQ while Paul and Mary have been exploiting their youthful vigor and taking in the sights and sounds of Day Three.
Karma was the trippiest thing we’ve seen so far, and it’s sure to give a few of you some hearts and grins just to look at for a while. It’s a point-and-click game, generally not our favorite, but its gentle non-verbal directions and lack of time pressure make it a lovely, low-key experience. It’s won many nods for its art, style, and design and it’s launching this month on Steam. Check out the demo if you like what you see.
You can demo 2K’s Carnival Games VR in the atrium near the PAX swag booth. Available 10/28 for PlayStation VR and HTC Vive and eventually for the Oculus, the game itself is pretty straightforward–it’s exactly what it sounds like–but what’s more remarkable is just how pervasive and common VR is now. Last year PAX had a few VR games but this year a good percentage of the Indie Megabooth, as well as many of the AAA booths, were dedicated to VR games. We live in exciting times.
At the Indie Megabooth, Mary tried out the charming and extremely pretty Luna. A VR game for the Oculus Rift, Luna is serene, like trimming a bonsai. The textures have a vaguely mid-century feel and a bystander compared the artwork to the illustrations in Dixit. The demo starts with the player connecting stars into constellations which creates various natural items that become usable assets in the next phase. Once the player completes all the constellations, they are presented with a little terrarium-like landscape which they can populate with the items they created. (Check out our Instagram video below for a taste.) You can read more about the full game and story on their website. The game is expected to ship early next year.
Mark Taylor was an IT consultant stuck on a long flight playing a game that we love, rymdkapsel, when he thought, “What if somebody made this for VR? … and then made it an RTS? … and for multiplayer?” The result is the Tron-vibey goodness of Korix, one of our favorite games from this year’s Indie Megabooth:The RTS aspect feels like a nice blend of old-school Starcraft and tower defense: you’ve got a home base, and you spawn hordes of little rymdkapsel-esque “workers” who travel back and forth collecting resources from a limited number of pools on each level. You then spend those resources to buy defenses (walls, lasers, artillery, and the like, all of which can be repaired and upgraded) and offensive troops (tanks, aircraft, etc., on up to nukes) to take the fight to the relentless stream of enemy creeps.The VR was surprisingly satisfying for this kind of tower-defense tinkering: you’re like a disembodied god floating over the battlefield, using a “gun”/laser pointer to place and modify your defenses across a large grid. The mix of defense types and the large battlefield let you experiment with all sorts of strategies (do you build a maze or a castle? do you fortify a central area or sprawl out across the battlefield?), and that will surely be especially rich in multiplayer, which can be competitive or cooperative.Korix is also a great indie Cinderella story: Mark was working full time in IT and teaching himself Unity on the side. Sony called him up, interested in what he was doing, so he went to the London office and pretty soon they were discussing what he needed to make it happen for PS VR. As Mark says, “Four months ago I was booting server farms, and now I’m at PAX!” Korix arrives on PS4 later this year, and on PC for Vive and Oculus in late 2017. The floor demo is about 10 minutes, enough to play a full two-player coop battle against the AI, and well worth your time if you’re an RTS or TD fan.
Virtual desktops strike us as VR frippery, but the glee of one of our nine-year-old henchmen has made us take pause. He was using a Vive to search for Ssundee videos on YouTube (and to dismiss a banner ad for getting a flu shot), which seems like kicking sand in the faces of HTC developers—but wow, did he have fun. You can also modify your virtual “office” extensively, and the developers have plans for encouraging user-generated content, which has the potential for much fun weirdness. If you’re in the VR Village in the Westin, look for these guys behind the giant World War Toons encampment. They’re in town from Palo Alto and super nice and knowledgable, and it’s a great way to get some Vive time without lengthy lines and appointments. (We’re also going to watch for a fun-sounding party game they recommended, Sweet Escape VR.)
Speaking of World War Toons, that is definitely one of the essential visuals of this year’s PAX if you haven’t seen it already:
We’re wisely pacing ourselves this year and focusing on a few things instead of trying to do ALL THE THINGS. We hope to continue this trend through the evening and be in good shape again tomorrow (#HangoversofPAXPast.) At any rate here’s what caught our attention today.
We sat in on an Acquisitions Incorporated Intern Program orientation session, and were mighty impressed with the efficiency and deadly humor on display. Two AcqInc Career Counselors laid down the law, instructing new D&D players on the basics of gameplay with delightful snark and an amazing video straight from the Ninth Circle of Human Resources. With slogans like “Do Don’t Die” and “Sometimes teamwork means not being on the same team” (that last one ad-libbed by a deft Career Counselor), the interns were well prepped to head out and collect treasure.
Mary attended the World of Warcraft: Legion panel, which she’ll write about at greater length later. The mood was jovial, and both the fans and devs had a great time discussing the new content. The biggest news was the announcement of the Legion Companion App, available for iOS and Android. Launching this coming Tuesday, September 6, the app will allow players to complete certain tasks and quests from their phone when they can’t be in Azeroth. This has been a much-requested feature and the room erupted in whoops and applause followed by a lone shout of “THANK YOU!!!!” Check out the trailer below:
We passed a group of women in costume, each one a mash-up of a Playboy bunny and a superhero. Mary had some complicated feelings about the costumes: “I had heard that’s a thing and thought it couldn’t possibly be a thing. It’s not that I’m against sexy cosplay at all (my love of nerd burlesque is well-documented) and I absolutely believe everyone should wear whatever makes them happy. But I find it problematic to use such a blatant symbol of the male gaze since it seems to play right into the idea that girls aren’t fans, they’re just dressing up for male attention. It would be great if they were commenting on that terrible trope, but that didn’t seem to be the case.” Feel free to mansplain to Mary in the comments why she’s wrong. (Rob and Paul are pretty sure she’s right.)
We demoed a prototype of the Penny Arcade–Lone Shark Games collaboration Thornwatch today—with Paul running the demo!—and had a great time. The last time that we playtested this game was literally in a garage three years ago, and while it was already fun then, it’s really matured into a solid little gem. It’s part board game, part card game, part graphic novel. Play is quick and the learning curve is gentle as you master the deck of one of five members of the Thornwatch, but even crunchier gamers will appreciate the elegant ideas in play here—especially a “momentum” system that melds damage and initiative into a satisfying and constantly shifting back-and-forth. (Fellow fans of PA will of course swoon over the source material.) We exhort you to try the game either at Lone Shark’s sixth-floor booth or (even better) in the Thornwatch freeplay area on the third floor of Olive 8. The Kickstarter has already more than doubled its goal.
We made some Xbox One custom controllers the hard way back in the day with non-OEM parts, YouTube videos, and some sharp little arcane plastic tools. This is oh so much cooler. And yee, look at the Swatch one! Plus, with your gamertag. So ordering.
Indie games can take a long and winding road to release, and it’s heartening to see Night in the Woods so close to coming out (“this fall!”) on the PS4 (and PC/Mac/Linux) after its successful Kickstarter way back in 2013. Described at one point as “like Gone Home, in third-person, with talking animals,”Night in the Woods has a kids-book style but with a smart, intricate melancholy to it. You play as a wayward college dropout Mae (yes, a cat), back in her hometown and slowly discovering that something weird is up. Most of the exploration comes through dialogue, and the town is full of well-realized characters (apparently over 60 of them), and your choices affect the path that you take through an 8 to 10 hour story. What a nice weird break amidst the giant Sony presence.
We took a look at a few of the PAX 10, and were as impressed as usual. Blockships was a sweet little shmup that is strongly reminiscent of Galaxy Trucker. You start as the core of a starship and then race to collect new components to add to your ship while other folks are doing the same and trying to kill you. They keep it simple with just gun, engine, and power components, but there’s an interesting richness to it because each hit knocks off components that anyone can grab. It’s 10% off on Steam now through 9/9.
Splitter Critters, also in the PAX 10, looked a little intimidating until we learned that we were watching a very advanced level. It’s a lovely puzzle game with a unique mechanic—players swipe to split the level and then can shift the pieces to create new configurations. It’s easier to show than describe, so check out the trailer below. We’re psyched that this has been Greenlit on Steam.
We’re back at PAX, which has finally succumbed to the reality of large, successful organizations and renamed itself “PAX West.” We’re super-psyched for the success of our favorite nerd show, but it was nice to experience Northwest privilege while it lasted. PAX Prime is dead, long live PAX West!
Other than that, the vibe and essence of the con haven’t changed, as far as we can tell. Everyone is still super-friendly, the scene feels super-inclusive, and the focus on fans and players is clear as day. They’ve put together something special for sure, and we’re grateful for all they do.
We swept through the Indie Megabooth, scouting it out for more focused time during the rest of the show. One very noticeable difference was the massive number of VR games available. This was also true of the main show floor, but it was fascinating to see that tech get adopted so quickly by small, scrappy devs. Rob tends to experience IRL nausea when he’s set up with VR, but Paul and Mary welcome the new hotness.
We may have more to say about this later, but we wanted to give a quick shout out to Open Sorcery, which is on display at the Indie Megabooth. It’s a text adventure that incorporates modern elements to damp down frustration (it’s based on Twine, which is a big help) (can we just take a moment to reflect on how great Twine is? Like really?). You are a magical being that is also a firewall protecting community sites from intrusion, which should send some of you straight into the Smile Zone. Maybe its premise is a little hard to explain, but it’s well worth a look—check it out free online. It’s also on iOS and Android if that works better for you.
Mary wandered into the Bethesda booth and was immediately mesmerized by the trailers, standing open-mouthed and staring for a very long time. You won’t be surprised to hear that we’re all really looking forward to the latest Fallout 4 DLC, Nuka World. We saw both the adorable animated trailer and the gameplay trailer, the highlight of the latter being feral ghouls getting run over with a roller coaster. We really want to do that.
When we walked up to Republic of Gamers’ booth and there were only three or four people waiting to play Minecraft on the Oculus, we were like, “Did this come out last year?” But no! It was just the magic of Friday. (And perhaps the distraction of the ridiculously huge ARK T-Rex across the way.) Minecraft VR is pretty much brand new—less so for Gear VR—and it is hell of fun. Our nine-year-old nerdling henchmen very excitedly said, one to the other, exactly what you might expect: “It’s like you’re in Minecraft, dude!” We talked to the nice RoG guy about the future of more and more games being VR ready, and the coding hurdles required in basically creating simultaneous tandem left-eye and right-eye renderings. He was partial to playing Project CARS on Oculus (games where your avatar is stationary, e.g. in a driver’s seat, are of course ideal for VR), and he said that Project CARS 2 will likely be built even more for that experience.
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We have little experience with Dishonored, but the trailer for the sequel looks fantastic. In a very general way you could say that it’s steampunk-meets-Assassin’s Creed, but that’s not really doing it justice. Both the cinematic and the gameplay trailers show a neat mechanic that involves the player character turning into a smoky, ethereal form to sneak up on enemies and squeeze through tight spots. There’s architecture that literally folds up and transforms as you pass through it and an eerie conspiracy driving the plot. We’ll post more if we’re able to try out the demo.
Rob was intrigued and a little nostalgic about the trailer for the rebooted Prey, coming next year from Bethesda. It’s one of the first games he picked up for his Xbox 360, and it had some fascinating physical mechanics—like portals, a year before Valve’s Portal made us fall in love with magical door-like contraptions. It also gave a taste of social justice issues, as it starred Native American characters and used some kind of problematic Native American spirituality in what was basically a bug hunt. It turns out that the developers did a fairly decent job of reaching out to Native communities, and the protagonist is nothing like any stereotype we’ve ever seen. The new game is a “reimagining,” which could mean practically anything, but Rob will keep his eyes on it.
We were surprised to see that Blizzard had an entire booth dedicated to their brand-new World of Warcraft expansion, Legion. Blizzard makes relatively few appearances at PAX West, and generally it’s been well before an expansion drops. On the other hand, they’ve been working hard to make WoW even more accessible to new and returning players, and this is most likely part of that push. Mary will certainly have an entire post dedicated to Legion at some point since there’s plenty to say about it, but here’s the tl;dr: it has launched much more smoothly and with more fanfare than the last few expansions, so if you’re thinking about trying the WoW, now is a good time to do it.
We took a quick look at Yukon Salon, which was being touted in the board game zone by our podcast pal Andrew of A Podcast For All Intents and Purposes. It’s a fun-looking card game that involves (among other things) giving afros to miners and bears. More like BEARSTYLES, right? Anyway, there’ll be a Kickstarter coming your way in the very near future, and we’ll let you know when that goes live.
Our nine-year-old nerdling henchmen took us on a tour of Kaladesh, i.e., into the depths of a completely Magic’kd-up Paramount Theater to celebrate the debut of the new expansion. These were the highlights: For Seattle gamers who have probably seen everything from the Pixies to Soundgarden to Yo Gabba Gabba Live! here (we’re not judging), it’s exciting to see the Paramount all dolled up for one of our favorite games.
These guys were playing in the “Inventors’ League,” a free casual competition in which you grab a small deck (you pick your favorite color, plus a random one), put on a lanyard to identify your inventiveness to other Inventors, and then play five matches for a $2 discount on tourney play. There are many OP events (including 2HG, Mini-Master, and Deck-builder’s Toolkit Challenge) all weekend.
Or you can simply bask in the Magic World Championship happening on center stage, with the top 24 players in the world playing quietly in the background and duking it out for $70K. The stage is also home to many great Magic panels and an M:tG improv show on Saturday night that we kind of can’t not go to. (Is “Yes, and…” an instant? I need the name of a planeswalker and an enchantment! We’re here all weekend, folks.)
You can also just stand in the lobby and fog up the glass looking at REAL LIVE KALADESH BOOSTERS!
Last but not least, follow Magic on Twitter to learn about how they’re giving away these over-sized cards from the new set several times a day. This one went to the first person to bring a “vehicle” (in this case, a Magic Carpet card) to the corner of 9th and Pine at the appointed time. BTW, even if you don’t have a PAX pass, the whole alley beside the Paramount will be bustling with Kaladesh madness that you can partake in starting at 10am every morning, including Kaladesh cosplayers, glass-blowing, and a build-your-own-ornithopter(!) area.
Check out previous years’ PAX coverage at the Stranger right here. We’re also posting tons of stuff on Instagram!