My Favourite Game At PAX Australia Was Covered In Post-It Notes

"I can't look at them," says Chris. "I haven't looked at them yet. I'd probably start crying or something."

Chris Johnson had a cool idea. At PAX Australia he'd ask everyone who spent time playing his video game to write down, on a post-it note, one single word that defined their experience. One single word to describe the game he's currently working on: Expand.

At PAX Australia people whispered about Expand. At these type of conventions I've gotten into the habit of asking others what to go and see: "what was your favourite thing at PAX?" "What was your favourite game?" People said a lot of things, but almost everyone had one thing in common.

Expand.

"It's really trippy," one person said to me.

"Make sure you put headphones on," said another.

"You have to play Expand," said a stranger, who had just introduced himself to me five seconds previously.

I had to play Expand.

Expand was tucked in the corner of the Australian Indie Showcase which was itself tucked in a corner of PAX. There was a perpetual crowd surrounding it. Soon I would find out why.

Development on Expand started at a Game Jam and, since then, Chris has been working to refine the concept. "I've been working on this game on and off for four years," said Chris.

It shows. Expand is a relatively simple game with a unique high concept. On its website, Expand is described as "a single player video game in which players explore a circular labyrinth constructed in a monochromatic geometric landscape". This is a sentence that sucks the life out of Expand.

Really Expand is a game about exploration. About exploring a space that seemingly shifts, changes and -- yes -- expands as you traverse it. It looks and feels like moving within an enormous, gloriously complicated wind-up watch. The world tick tocks as you find a path through. The world changes and transforms itself as you move through it. Expand is a wonderfully original experience that defies easy definition, but when you play it, you will know. You will know you've played something special.

Expand is a puzzle game and it's frequently puzzling. It's seamlessly designed and brilliantly executed. Even its start menu is part of the 'experience'. It's a world bursting with ideas that evolve and grow like the game itself. It transforms and reinvents itself at every turn. Expand is fluid. It is simple. It also manages to feel complex. It's a video game that somehow manages to feel cohesive, ambitious and adventurous all at the same time. It was, undoubtedly, my favourite game at PAX Australia.

Afterwards I spot Chris Johnson's collection of post-it notes, the post-it notes he can't bring himself to read. They're stuck at the back of Expand's display, next to the game's stark, black and white logo.

"Can I go over and have a look?" I ask.

"Sure, just try and not trip over any of the cables."

I manage to avoid the cables. There are dozens and dozens of post-its plastered all over the wall.

"Therapeutic", "strange", "challenging", "fluid", "refined", "holy shit!" -- that's two words. I start wondering what word I would put up there. It's difficult to say.

It could be any number of words I've already used in this article: puzzling, circular, stark, complicated, unique, labyrinth, cohesive, adventurous, ambitious, perpetual...

Actually I think I like that word best: perpetual. I walked away from the stand not knowing what to write, but if I could go back there today, that is almost certainly the word I'd be writing on a post-it note.

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Comments

    I hope they somehow get the indies more space next year. It was often super packed and at times I didn't get to see anything because of the masses of people.

    Based on your recommendation though I signed up for Expand's mailing list when we got home.

      We still got to see a lot. It's just that we missed even more.

      Next year, I think I'm going to have to put more focus on checking out the indy stuff.

      The Indie booths were my easily my favourite last year, it'd be great to see them taking more of the space. It could sometimes be a little sad seeing when an indie dev was feeling a bit obviously... punished under the weight of scrutiny that the game maybe couldn't bear, for bugs or lack of features, but the ones who were getting rave reviews were so obviously on top of the world you couldn't bring them down with any kind of anchor.

    Between a lack of sleep, way too much walking, being stuck on a seat that seemed to be directly in the path of an icy jet of air conditioning, and listening to that relaxing soundtrack... I was struggling not to fall asleep while playing it >.> Was super paranoid about someone noticing, and/or having it thought that I found it boring or something. Which I totally didn't!

    Also I had a weird perspective shift while playing it where it was no longer a game being played within a circle, but a game that was traversing up and down a tube.

    Last edited 04/11/14 3:20 pm

    I wrote 'brilliant,' Couldn't really think of any other word to describe it at the time. So both years of PAX I've been blown away by Australian indie games that I'd never heard of - Duet last year, Expand this year (among other great games).

    Only dissapointing part was being told they were planning to have it done sometime mid-late next year IIRC, it felt so refined already I want to play more of it :P

    My biggest disappointment at PAX was when I had to stop playing Expand so that Mr Serrels could have a go... Thanks a lot Mark.

    Interesting. I did not get any con-buzz for Expand.

    Dungeon League, on the other hand, was definitely my pick of not just Indie Megabooth, but the stand-out "thing" at PAX2014.

    My sister and I actually got to have a good chat with them. Hell we even got kicked out because PAX had officially ended. :P

    Didn't get a chance to play Expand, but i watched it for a bit and it looked fantastic.
    To be honest, I was blown away by the size and quality of the AUS/NZ Indie booth. So many damn good games being developed locally (or locally enough, yes we're adopting the Kiwi's again because it's convenient).

    Bearzerkers was probably my indie game of choice.

    Metal Dead Encore seemed pretty interesting.

    Primal Carnage would be awesome with 16-24 players on bigger maps once they iron out some collision bugs (it is after all still in development). had so much fun playing as a bad ass T-Rex eating humans, and dinosaur carcass for more health.

    I didn't get to play it - it was so packed. I really hope they offer the indies more space - some had only one unit to play on. My indie game of the show was Hand of Fate.

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