Welcome to the first of (hopefully) many PAX Aus reports from the Action Points Crew! Head on over to the podcast to hear interviews with all these developers, or read on to cut straight to our impressions of some excellent indie titles. Aaron and Evan were at the helm to make sure Friday didn’t slip by without some Action Points presence… By which I mean heckling developers about why their games aren’t as good as other games. We hit up a couple of panels and met several of our heroes in the flesh – as well as many faces we’d previously only seen over Skype. With an independent spirit, let’s start with some of the Australian Indie Showcase devs. We’ve left out a few because we’ve already covered them in a podcast or article, and many others we just didn’t get to.
ASSAULT ANDROID CACTUS
A riotous combination of bullet hell, twin stick and arena combat, Assault Android Cactus pits an all-female cast of adorably bad-ass androids (Cactus being the lead character) against swarms of robotic monstrosities. From the multi-coloured hair styles, to the bullet-hell-inspired patterns of projectiles, to the triple-barrelled name, AAC wears its Japanese influences on its sleeve. We caught up with Sanatana Mishra from Witch Beam to have a chat about inspirations and influences and how the game evolved to only include female characters as part of its aesthetic. It kind of reminds me of Touhou shooters, but in a way that seems to make marginally more sense. I always did wonder wear those schoolgirls stored their bullets… Here at the Action Points Podcast, we’re always looking for more couch multiplayer games, and AAC is a blast alone or with friends. We had a great time chatting with Sanatana, and we’d love to get him on a future episode for a longer session of comparing beards.
AIRSCAPE: THE FALL OF GRAVITY
Evan was lulled into a false sense of security by the cute graphics and the Cephalopod-(mostly)-out-of-water player character, and found himself dashed against mines, lasers and all sorts of nasties. The main pull (zing!) of Airscape is the way in which the gravity changes with the contours of the land. Developer, Daniel West told us how some of his favourite tough-as-nails platformers inspired this project, while Aaron tried and failed to keep the interview on track, as Evan was drawn to the screens showing a stream of attempts as the poor octopus creature exploded again and again. At the request of Sanatana, we made sure to ask why Daniel had chosen such a silly name for his game as “Airscape“, and why he hadn’t come up with a name half as cool as Assault Android Cactus. It was great to see love between indie developers.
A comment that was brought up frequently around the developer was how aesthetically similar their twitch game was to the wonderful Super Hexagon. The pumping music and high-contrast visuals made this tough-as-nails arcade game seem like a rave gone wrong. It was fun in a gloriously masochistic way, and by the end of the first day the longest anyone had survived was a meagre 29 seconds. The objective of Wave Wave is to navigate an endless supply of geometric patterns with a particle (or is it a wave?) and with one press you shift direction, and by releasing, you turn back. After Aaron and Evan got their head around how the game controlled, Evan reached a respectable time of 7 seconds before crashing into a wall. (Aaron: Hah, sucker, I made it to 11 seconds!)
A mobile puzzle game that is based on spreading light in all the right places. It reminded me of Helsing’s Fire, which had the light mechanic but used it in a monster-killing context, while Light in the Dark is a more relaxed puzzle game and aesthetically cuter. You manipulate cutesy blobs who shed different coloured lights and you try to get the lights to hit matching stars or baby blob things with the help of obstacles and mirrors. The bits that I played were still pretty easy, which is fine for showing off the concept at an expo, but I’m hoping for more challenging stuff later on.
Aaron is not a stealth game guy, so it’s no surprise he failed miserably even on the first level. Black Annex is old-school as your dad’s mouth pipette. Sucked too hard? OH WELL I GUESS YOU DIDN’T NEED LIPS OR A TONGUE ANYWAY. You control a group of enterprising employees engaging in some light espionage and occasional inevitable murder through some corporate facilities. It looks retro and it feels retro, requiring a careful approach to get past the employees without triggering alarms or savage shoot outs. I really like isometric tactical games, and I’d love to spend some more time alone with Black Annex and learning to suck less.
We love our couch multiplayer games here on the Action Points Podcast, and one that we enjoy is SpeedRunners. Prismania reminded me of it in that it was a competitive multiplayer platformer. You jump around a level that’s actually on the side of a cube and you’re trying to get to a key which will open one of the doors that will get you to another side of the cube. On your way there, witless charlatans will be trying to steal the key from you to get to a door first but you’ll just avoid them or steal the key back because they don’t deserve it and you do. YOU’RE WORTH IT, FRANCES. There’s also cool items because items are cool although you shouldn’t let them pressure you into doing things you don’t feel comfortable doing. The wall jumping is “stickier” than I was used to, but once you get a hang of it, it works well and is a lot of fun. It’s a student project and I’m not sure how many levels there are or will be but it’s looking very promising. Also, Emile I’m sorry I think I got your name wrong on the podcast!
Day 2 still managed to be seriously hectic as we attempted to slow our pace after the burnout that was Day 1. We saw fewer panels, but managed to get some interesting interviews with a few developers that had stand-out titles on display. Aaron descended into Hand of Fate fanboyism and we all had a blast avoiding the monstrous pandas in Bearzerkers. Adam felt right at home with some mobile developers and we had a blast meeting up with our “rivals” from the Betacast. Evan’s wife Kat hunted down all the free loot she could score and waited in any line that offered a (Pinny Arcade) pin as a prize.
HAND OF FATE
We spoke to James in the expo hall, but I later had a geek out moment with Morgan Jaffit, the developer and James’ brother, about Dream Quest and really it was more than a moment, maybe 6 minutes and 47 seconds. I swear he saw the crazed look in my eye when I mentioned the similarity of his game to Dream Quest and he must have thought “Alright, better agree with this crazy guy and his rantings about someone else’s game otherwise I might end up breathing through a new orifice”, but he was very nice about it. Look, I really really like Dream Quest and if I’m mentioning a game in the same breath as Dream Quest, that means it’s a good game, okay? Hand of Fate is a roguelike-like with deckbuilding elements. Kinda like Dream Quest. Sorry. Last time I’ll mention that game (in this paragraph). The dungeon tiles you navigate are made up of cards, and you can customize the cards that make up the dungeon deck as well as the item deck which is essentially the loot table. It’s very cool to be able to customize your experience but there’s still an element of uncertainty which prevents it from getting stale. It also looks really great. Combat actually takes place as a 3rd person action style affair, which looks good, but the things I really enjoy are all the little touches. Things like the cards dropping down and materializing into your equipment, the animations for the dealer setting up and dealing the cards, and representing your health and food as cards in the main UI. They all remind you that this is a game with heavy tabletop roots, but also capitalizes on its digital presentation to create a very cool hybrid.
TRAIN CONDUCTOR 3
Train Conductor 3 is the latest in its series by local (well, if you live in Melbourne) developer The Voxel Agents, which I have to admit I’d never played before PAX. Trains enter the screen on various tracks, often on collision courses with other trains, and you have to draw new sections of track with your finger to guide them safely to their designated exits – think Flight Control with a different topology and you’re somewhere close. I find it gets considerably more stressful, in that good kind of way that you strangely look for from this kind of game, especially on the circular tracks that are the new addition from this third title. Directing trains around the Arc de Triomphe is just unhinged enough to appeal to me, but unfortunately we won’t be able to buy Train Conductor 3 until its release in 2015. In the meantime, if you’re a fan of settling for second-best, you can play Train Conductor 2.
Bearzerkers made Adam’s girlfriend sad. She loves pandas, and in Bearzerkers, they’ve been turned into bloodthirsty monsters that’ll eat you and your armadillo pals. With a variety of arenas, it’s a case of not needing to be faster than the panda, but merely faster than the rest of your armadillo friends. With power-ups of ice and fire, along with the ability to trap your friends (but not the pandas) with a trail of nettles, Bearzerkers makes for a gory day at the zoo. And why do they keep airlifting in MORE PANDAS?! We need FEWER pandas of death, not more! After a successful Kickstarter, we can’t wait to get the crew around the TV to watch our friends get eaten.
NINJA PIZZA GIRL
We’ve had them on the podcast before, and their story is a great one – the family dev team that are creating an action-platformer around their daughter’s experiences of bullying and pizza delivery. Nicole and Jason Stark – along with their daughter, Raven, an artist on the game – completed a successful Kickstarter campaign and the product as it stands is a blast. It’s fast-paced, funny, and just feels great to play. The heroine bounces around the bleak, futuristic cityscape to score victory for the little guy against the BIG PIZZA BARRON, and faces ridicule from competing delivery folks as well as inappropriately-dressed customers. As the player character’s self-esteem takes a hit, so does her speed. Their family studio is called Disparity Games, and their first major project, Ninja Pizza Girl, is set to be something special.
Day 3 offered some respite in the form of… MORE INDIE GAMES! Who knew? Adam and Evan capped off their PAX experience by learning how to play the My Little Pony Collectible Card Game, but not before checking in with some developers.
Swordy took us to a place of analogue input and weighty momentum. Contrasted with the low-detail, high-res game assets, Swordy made for a wonderful throw-back to the future. It’s way too much fun. From the blocks of pixelated blood, to the heft of swinging the various weapons, to the joyous game of cat and mouse, Swordy made for a pretty version of a gladiatorial fight to the death. Evan couldn’t stop staring at those sheets of rain, as the colourful field of death flickered in and out of focus. Silly, spinning death makes for great multiplayer gaming. Thank you, Frogshark. (Aaron: Also, shield bash is OP. SHIELD BASH 4 PRESIDENT)
BOY GOES TO SPACE
More like an interactive childhood memory than a complete game, Boy Goes to Space is definitely worth your time to play, not least because that time will only be about 3 minutes. Played on a vertical screen, your attention is constantly being drawn up as you soar skywards into space, and back down again. The art style is minimalistic and slightly different to your usual 80’s-era pixel art in its slightly noisy edges. Go play it.
TASTY FISH/BREAKOUT BLURG
Tasty Fish has been out for a couple of years on mobile platforms, but developers Dime Studios put together a Kinect version for PAX, and it was splendid. You control a school of fish with your hand, guiding them around the screen and trying to dodge the sharks, crabs and fishing nets while collecting bubbles and new fish, but I found my hand naturally made a kind of flat “fish” shape, and I waved it around like I was playing a game with a 5-year-old. For some reason I connected more with the fish when I was controlling them with more of my body than when I was just lazily swiping around with my finger. You probably won’t be able to play it in this format, but the mobile game is fun too.
Breakout Blurg was Dime Studio’s latest release; think Jetpack Joyride with an adorable alien escaping from area 51. You play with a binary touch control, pulling your flying alien towards the ground by pressing and letting it rise when you let go. I always like to see how much gameplay designers are able to pull out of the lightest control scheme, so check it out and give those nasty humans what for.
We hope you enjoyed our indie games roundup for PAX! Check out our other PAX coverage to hear interviews with all these developers, and stay tuned for discussions on the panels and board games at PAX Aus 2014!