Early this year, I made my fifth PAX pilgrimage, this time to PAX East 2012. Even though we only attended two days (because of Easter Sunday and impending travel), we managed to fit in a mix of activities, including the keynote from Jordan Mechner, the Saturday night concert featuring JoCo, a few panels, and some good tabletop gaming. I also spent a fair bit of time on the expo hall floor. An interesting twist this year was the creation of The Indie Megabooth, for which a bunch of small independent developers pooled their resources to secure one large booth.
This is where I ended up spending most of my time, because to me, this is where the gameplay innovation is happening. Also unlike AAA games, many of these games were going to be available much sooner, are generally more affordable, and are more likely to be available on my platforms of choice (Mac and iOS). Another bonus was that the lines were short, so you could get a demo of many of these games without having to wait a couple of hours in line for a preview video (which in my mind is a total waste of your PAX ticket).
They also did something fun: they created a little achievement card, called the Indie Mega Passport, with silly activities or game actions that you had to complete at each booth. Pictures of my completed passport, plus a review of the games I was able to play, are below the cut.
Here is my (rather dog-eared) Indie Mega Passport, which I completed Saturday afternoon. You can see the wide variety of silly stickers, stamps, and doodles that were used to note completion, as well as the wide variety of challenges I had to complete to earn my fabulous… button. Here’s a clearer empty version of the passport.
One thing that surprised me was that I had actually heard of several of these games before seeing the demo; I guess I’m tied into enough online video game communities.
I’m going to note a quick comment on each game, and where possible provide a link. Unfortunately I don’t remember what all of the mystery challenges were – usually they were some in-game task in whatever demo they had set up. A few of these required multiple visits, either because no one was manning the booth, or there was a big line, or someone with a press badge was monopolizing the developers’ time.
Here they are, briefly, in the order on the card:
- Charlie Murder – Ska Studios – Reminded me of the old X-Men arcade game. Four players, lots of pickups, lots of zombie-smashing.
- AirMech – Carbon Games – I picked this up for Google Chrome (it’s F2P). Pretty crazy that you can have a 3-D RTS in your browser. Fun, but I’m not very good.
- Miegakure – Marc ten Bosch – Mindbending. I definitely want to try this dimension-swapping platformer when it comes out.
- Antichamber – Alexander Bruce – I didn’t get a chance to try this one, their booth was on the corner and often busy.
- Kairo – Locked Door Puzzle – Very interesting, meditative gameplay – definitely in the vibe of Myst, but even more zen. The simple geometric graphics actually help the abstract puzzle feel.
- Monaco – Pocketwatch Games – This class-based top-down heist game looks like a lot of fun. The way the map is revealed reminded me of the maps our robots at Swat would build; the developer said they were inspired by Nethack.
- Go Home Dinosaurs – Fire Hose Games – Another tower defense game. I played the demo; it’s what you would expect.
- Sword & Sworcery – Capybara Games – I had read about this game extensively in Atomix’s second issue, and I’m excited about it. I got a copy as part of Humble Indie Bundle V, but I haven’t played it yet. They also had a demo of Super Time Force, which was delightfully retro but very difficult. The mechanic was somewhat of a cross between Super Meat Boy’s level end (past runs get combined) and Braid’s rewinding.
- Retro/Grade – 24 Caret Games – It’s too bad this one is a PS3 exclusive. The backwards rhythm gameplay was fun, but generally requires already owning a guitar controller. Their booth guy was not impressed that I tried the challenge backwards phonetically, I think they just wanted the word order reversed.
- Jack Lumber – Owlchemy Labs – Reminiscent of Fruit Ninja, I will grab it for iOS. This was one of the few booths that had a booth babe (or in this case, “Jill” in a sexy lumberjack outfit). The game’s humor looks a little ribald. There was an amusing moment when said booth babe covered my Little Brother’s ears (he’s 14) because someone nearby was swearing.
- Drunken Robot Pornography – Dejobaan Games – This was a weird jetpack-powered first-person platformer. If you’ve read any Extra Punctuation, you’ll understand the problem with that gameplay-wise. The visual style of each arena reminded me of the old battle levels of MarioKart 64. These are the same guys who did the various aaaaaAAAAaaaa (or however you spell it) games.
- Snapshot – Retro Affect – This looked like a very nifty puzzle game. I think I had heard about this one before, but not sure where. I like games where you control the world as much or more than you control the character.
On to the second page’s worth of 12 games!
- bit.trip Runner 2 – Gaijin Games – I think I have the first game from an old Steam pack, but I’ve never played. A kinda rhythmic side-scrolling platformer.
- VESSEL – Strange Loop Games – This was my favorite of the puzzlers. They let you play through an entire intro level as you learn to use the tools. I had the advantage of watching someone else struggle on it. I forget what I said I’d do with a Fluro – it was something creative enough that the dev said he hadn’t heard it before. We had an interesting side discussion on how they did their fluid modeling. I bought this one on Steam.
- Skulls of the Shogun – Haunted Temple Studios – I’ve never been one for tactics games, and this XBLA one had an interface that confused me. I kept panning the view when I meant to move, and moving when I meant to pan. I think it would be better with a mouse.
- Guacamelee! – DrinkBox Studios – I think this game has a cool dimension mechanic, but because you have to coordinate with the other player to time jumps and shifts, it becomes very difficult and frustrating. Their challenge involved playing the first level of Super Mario Brothers on a glitching NES, where the platforms were not where they appeared to be (I don’t think that’s what they intended, but it was definitely broken).
- Lawnmower Challenge – Lunar Enigma – This looks like a fun puzzler relying on path planning and spatial skills. I will probably pick it up for iOS.
- Not Without You – Bad Pilcrow – This is a nice simple Sokoban variant where you’re basically moving all of the crates at once, requiring careful wall usage. I don’t know if it’s still coming out, given that their indiegogo didn’t finish.
- Super Crate Box – Vlambeer – Reminded me a lot of Super Meat Boy in style, but with mechanics more like the POW battle mode from Super Mario Brothers.
- Girls Like Robots – Popcannibal – A nice contemplative puzzler. Apparently there was some controversy where people who hadn’t actually talked to the devs or played the game accused them of sexism on the name alone.
- Bean’s Quest – Kumobius – I found the bouncing mechanic of this platformer very difficult. I think the sombrero probably makes it a little bit offensive, to boot.
- SpellTower – Zach Gage – The epitome of indie, Zach is one guy, demoing the game himself on some iPads. I bought the game for iOS as soon as I had a working internet connection, because I can’t say no to this combination of Tetris and Boggle.
- Joe Danger – Hello Games – Their booth was on the other side of the expo hall, and their game seemed a bit larger scale. I think it would be a fun action game, but I don’t have an Xbox.
- Tap City 2 – The Tap Lab – Social location-based game that I have no interest in. I did get a headshot on their penguin, though. This was the last booth I found (it was a bit to one side).
I think SpellTower wins on simplicity and replayability, plus I just love word games. For puzzle platformers, I think VESSEL is the best of these. Of the action games, I’m most looking forward to Monaco. Overall though, almost all of these are good or even great. The ones that I considered the weakest had mechanics problems that could be fixed before the final release, or just wouldn’t bother you.
In terms of bang for your buck, you could pick up several of these games for the same price as one of the huge AAA releases whose booths had large lines, and get a lot more fun out of them than that one game. Plus, you’re supporting small developers, which is cool.