Tag Archives: indie games

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PAX West 2019: Imagine All the People

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First of all, Rob’s not here. Let’s just be clear. If you came here for Rob, he’s… fallen. But hopefully among us soon again. In spite of that, we’ll try to capture what Rob might have felt.

Rob (but actually Mary, but Rob agreed with her) always said that PAX is like summer camp: you hang out with folks you only see once a year, you party hard and bond intensely, and at the end you go back to your life a little sad that the rest of the world doesn’t share that same community feeling. This year that special PAX-y vibe was the topic of multiple conversations we had with longtime fellow campers: PAX veterans are less enthusiastic about 4-hour lines to try big name games they’ve already pre-ordered and much more interested in sharing quality time with friends trying a new board game or cruising the Indie Megabooth. PAX gives us all an excellent excuse to hang out. Don’t get us wrong: the triple-A booths maintain a baseline level of ambient impressiveness–the current winner is probably the frost dragon lording over the Monster Hunter booth–but it’s the friendship that’s magic.*

Rob would have noticed that tabletop is alive and well and swarming in a new hive called the Regency, kitty corner to Olive 8. Floor after floor and room after adjacent room of games hums away—Scythe, Pantone: The Game, Welcome To, Thornwatch, Weave, Wingspan, Terraforming Mars, Azul, Battlestar Galactica, et al. This is, like, the easiest place you’ll ever find to hop in on a fun game, likely with super helpful Canadians. (Although, you know, avoid tables where you hear someone saying something like, “You focused, you moved, you evaded. What don’t you understand?”)

Had Rob been here he would have agreed with Mary that many of these games had truly inventive and remarkable artwork. (Mary was particularly enchanted by the mid-century modern aesthetic of Welcome To.)

Special mention goes to two especially popular games: 1) We’re Doomed, which (based on a hand-wavey description) involves various governments attempting a zero-sum negotiation amongst themselves to escape a dying earth, involving a 15-minute hourglass timer for the entire game (GENIUS) and such feats as making up national anthems and hopefully rousing political speeches on the spot (we are so getting this) and 2) the excellently illustrated Root, a game that everyone was playing but no one seemed to wholeheartedly love, because it took so long to figure out every different character and how to play optimally given the mix of other characters (perhaps a classic Cosmic Encounter misstep?). One Root gamer attributed the popularity to a big board game talk earlier at PAX that tried to avoid mentioning any trending boardgames, but accidentally mentioned Root.

Of course, some games you can only experience at a place like PAX, like a 60-odd person game of Two Rooms and a Boom. It’s loosely freeform like Mafia or Werewolf, but there’s a President, a Bomber, and a Red Team (President killers) and Blue Team (President savers). Every several minutes everyone votes on who should switch rooms, until eventually we find out if the President and Bomber end up in the same room.

As we’ve alluded to, triple A is no longer even worth kicking for its noninventiveness and lack of timeliness (we all get the economics), but even more than ever the only slivers of fun are in the indies.

Some of our favorites:

Final Assault, a PAX 10 winner that captures the fun of “army men” with an immersive VR tower-defense/MOBA style WWII battle, where you’re plopping down tanks to rumble into battle and hearing Nazi fighter planes buzzing in your ear like gnats. The game gives you such a good visceral feel for the battlefield (with a map that you lift and shift like a skirt), that it begs the obvious question for a sequel: What if instead of an avatar silently navigating and influencing the battlefield you could be a big ol’ Field Marshall kaiju kicking Nazis around your own damn self?

TinkerTurf (also in the Regence) makes all-pro minis terrain surprisingly affordable. This is cool skirmish gaming terrain (currently SF, but they’re working on more genres) but printed flat for you to assemble and (if you want) customize. Minis gaming is so f-ing expensive, how is this not a breakthrough product?

Plunge (another PAX 10 winner) is such a joyful little arcade puzzler. It’s a feel-good PAX story too, with a dev (moonlighting from Nike IT) who tested the game out wandering the crowd with a screen on his back through a couple of PAXes. With the idea validated, the trio of creators forged ahead to make this crunchily cute game, in which you navigate through fast paced (but turn based) dungeons with simple up-down-left-right controls, plus some neat RPG-style leveling along the way. Brilliant winning illustration/aesthetic vibe, solid nugget of gameplay. Sold.

We’re barely here (mourning over Rob, obviously), but we’ll try to keep making the most of this PAX.

*But also we’re liars because we spent a fair amount of time reminiscing about Bethesda booths of PAX past, and we missed their presence. Last year’s Bethesda Game Days at the Hard Rock were also a delight. And there’s ways they could’ve shown up in a lo-fi way… Borderlands went all in on cosplay this year and Bethesda could have drummed up some good will towards Fallout 76 with some of the same. (Rob would certainly have gotten his photo taken with a cosplayer in full Brotherhood power armor. Or at least we assume.) We also mourned the lack of a full Magic: The Gathering extravaganza… remember the Eldrazi sculpture, the giant Beholder, and the Kaladesh bazaar?! We hope there’s more of that soon! And also more Rob!

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PAX Prime 2015, Day Three

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We’ve made it through Day 3! Here’s some of what caught our eyes today:

  • Lego Dimensions
    The LEGO Toypad, left, and the lengthy list of Doctors, right.
    The LEGO Toypad, left, and the lengthy list of Doctors, right.

    We got to spend some quality time with SkyLEGOs LEGO Infinity LEGO’s entry into the buy-a-bunch-of-things-to-put-on-a-thing console genre. The gameplay should be instantly recognizable to any LEGO console fan, and the execution is world-class. E.g., if you’re playing as the Doctor, you can pick literally any Doctor (see above) and any Tardis–and the First Doctor’s Tardis is even in black and white. Smart, like much LEGO console humor. But all that’s beside the point: If you’re a fan of LEGO’s console games and one or more of the IPs involved, it’s going to be impossible to resist the mashups made possible by Lego Dimensions–like who wouldn’t want to watch Batman save Gandalf from falling at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm so that they can go fight Daleks together? And that’s without even getting into Portal, The Simpsons, Jurassic World, et al. This game genre seemingly can’t last forever, but it will for at least one more title.

  • Minecraft: Story Mode

    We were lucky enough to get in quickly on the Minecraft: Story Mode demo this morning, which has turned out to be the longest line at PAX,with a 2+ hour wait–and that’s if you’re lucky enough to catch the line at all when it isn’t capped! You’ll have to measure your own personal Minecraft mania to judge whether it’s worth it (we had a couple of kids with us, so our visit was mandatory), but the demo is pretty great, and definitely as polished as Telltale’s previous PAX outings with The Wolf Among Us and Tales from the Borderlands.
    The demo stitches together a couple scenes from the final game, involving finding a pig named Reuben and navigating a crisis at “Endercon,” and the gameplay is a nice mix of classic Telltale dialog choices (what kind of person are you? where are your loyalties?) and some light action and circumscribed exploration in a convincingly Minecraft environment. (And, but of course, there’s even some crafting.) As a bonus, if you played the demo as a male character and were like, “Hey, am I Patton Oswalt?” you were right!
  • Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime

    This peppy little indie game made the PAX 10 two years ago (and it’s the second beneficiary of The Behemoth’s Gold Egg Project), but somehow it’s escaped us every year. This PAX, we finally logged some time piloting our lovers (two little space bunnies, in this case) and wow, is it fun. A two-person couch co-op game at heart (although you can play solo with an AI), Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime has you and a pal sharing the controls of a slowly floating spacecraft bristling with weapons and gadgetry. You’re being attacked from all sides as you navigate large, obstacle-strewn levels, but the trick is that your bunnies are running around your small craft between all the individual control panels. So, for example, one player might be steering the ship while the other is firing one of the turrets, and you have to constantly swap around as the threats outside keep changing. The game also keeps switching things up, with six ship layouts and four campaigns–each with four randomly generated levels and a boss battle. The best news of all: it is a glorious spacetime for Xbox One owners, with the game arriving there (and on Steam, for Mac and PC) on September 9.
  • Mushroom 11

    Trying to describe the gameplay of Mushroom 11 is difficult: you’re pushing a mass of self-replicating slime through a maze of different obstacles by erasing carefully selected parts of it to force further replication… you can see why this might be hard. But the conceit is so novel and the play is so uncannily satisfying that it’s a game like no other–definitely a must-play if you’re touring the Indie Megabooth. The original concept came from a wife-and-husband team (Julia Keren-Detar and Itay Keren) at Global Game Jam 2012, and this was their take on the jam’s Ouroboros theme. The initial idea came quickly (coded in just 10 hours), but the pair teamed up with another couple (artist Simon Kono and producer Kara Kono) and spent a year and half getting the feel, physics, and camera angle just right. The effort shows. Get it on Steam now, or watch for it next year on iOS and Android when everyone will be talking about it. It’s going to be an amazing fit for touch controls.
  • enfu
    Detail from the cover of enfu's book, Cute Grit.
    Detail from the cover of enfu’s book, Cute Grit.

    We’re always stoked to see Seattle artist enfu at events, and this year he’s signing copies of his book, Cute Grit, and other swag at the Penny Arcade merch booth. He’ll be back again tomorrow, Monday, from noon–2 pm. Ask him about his new pin project!