November 02, 2015

PAX Australia - The Force Of The Independent Developer Is Strong

PAX Australia is a show that does its very best to provide all who attend something to see, whether it is large grand games like Fallout 4, Star Wars Battlefront or Tom Clancy’s The Division, board games, card games and table top games, heck even the panels are the draw for some people. But then there is a small group of people that come to PAX events around the world to show off their own work, their passion projects and they are the indies.

An indie can be a one person working a few hours each night after their day job, or a group of friends who work tirelessly to bring their visions to life. Sometimes the game can be simple, others can rival some big publisher games, but there is one thing they all have and that is heart. Each developer I spoke to at PAX Australia all had so much love for the work they were showcasing, some developers came from parts of Melbourne, others from around Australia and New Zealand and then there were those that came from places like Indonesia, China and Canada, with the singular goal to gain some notice for what they were working on. While I have covered some games in details, there were more games that I either did not have a lot of time to play, or just spoke with the makers, they left an impression on me.

First up is Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire, a turn based role playing game that takes place on large isometric grids, where players can play out many different combat scenarios. You play as Tahira, the last princess of a small kingdom called Avestan, who takes it upon herself with leading the remaining citizens of her kingdom in search of a new home, all the while being chased down by those who destroyed her kingdom. The game will strongly rely on players using a range of guerilla style tactics, not gorilla, in case you were confused, so setting ambushes and doing what you can to get supplies.

There is also a social aspect to the game, as you will need to forge relationships with various people from merchants and a mercenary. As you play through the story, battles will change depending on how you have placed your units, which in turn impact future battles. But perhaps the most interesting thing about the game is its visual art style, it was created using Rotoscoping, which if you look it up, has been in movies from the most recent release all the way back to Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in 1937, while it is a super complicated process, there is no denying the results here, which is a visually striking style that is hard to ignore. While I myself don’t play turn based strategy games, mostly due to the part where I suck at them, this is one game I can see gaining a following and why not it is impressive.

Next up is a Canadian based team called Vagabond Dog, if that name sounds familiar that is because last year they released the much beloved Always Sometimes Monsters and now they are back and they brought the sequel Sometimes Always Monsters. The game starts out with you attending a convention for writers and while people are thrilled with your book, mostly, some people don’t think it was yours to begin with and while things are not great for you, your newly married spouse is also suffering issues at work and might lose their job. Life seems to get in the way at every turn, but things might be turning the corner as a country wide road trip is planned for a series of writers to help bolster their careers.

The game follows the same basic formula as the first game, where players need to explore and talk to people to learn what is happen, my time with the game proved that the team are building something fun, the relationships you build will define the story you experience and impact the game itself, so players will need to be sure of their choices as they are made. The game is keeping the same retro look, which suits well for the story and gameplay, nothing all that special is needed and the minimalistic approach works for the game. The game is set to release on PC in 2016 and while that is the only platform confirmed yet, the first game did come to Mac and Linux as well as mobile, so it might end up there as well.

The final game that really grabbed my attention at the show was a game that is already out on PC, but the team are now bringing it to PlayStation 4 and had it playable on the show floor, Depth. In Depth, you play on two teams, one contains 4 human divers and the other 2 sharks, with a simple concept of the divers exploring the depths for a variety of treasure and the sharks to eat them. For the sharks it is all about lying in wait and making the most of your predatory nature to strike when the time is right. Divers can of course fight back, so sharks are best to avoid the divers if they are together and if a diver does wander off on their own, well they are ripe for attacking.

Using the PlayStation 4 controller was really easy, the game offered up two different speeds for the shark to swim at and with R2 a lunge maneuver was perfect for closing the gap on an unsuspecting diver, but the fun part was that in order to inflict damage faster, you needed to thrash the right stick back and forth, which had the shark doing the same. The map that I played on a large amount of dark spaces closer to the ground, as light does not filter down so well, which was great for lying in wait, of course I was not invincible and did succumb to the pressure of multiple divers, which ended my time with the game. While the game itself is not new, it did start out as a mod for Unreal Tournament 3 many years ago, seeing it on the PS4 and seeing it run so very smoothly was nice, while there was no release date given at the time, 2016 looks to be the year of the shark.

There were other games that caught my attention, Infectonator Survivors is a procedurally generated zombie survivalist game, Kingdom Revenge is a mobile game that pits players it real time strategy battles set around 210 AD and Western Press, a game that takes quick time events and makes a full game out of it. Truth be told, there were a lot of indies there and while I tried to visit them all equally, there was just not enough time for me to do that, but I know one thing, with what I did see or play, the indies are really stepping up their games, making things that people will really want to play.

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