I've been at PAX Australia for a few hours now, and at least two of them have been spent at the PAX Rising indie game area. There are a bunch of amazing VR experiences for anyone who doesn't want to line up for hours for the AAA VR games. There's a handful of single player adventure games, platformers and strategy games — but one of the best things about the indie area is the huge range of multiplayer options.
One hour in, after playing a couple of games, I've already made some new friends. One, I beat to death with an inflatable tube man. Another worked with me valiantly — but ultimately in vain — to try and outwit a rival gang of ninjas. All of the games I played ultimately had me laughing along with the total stranger who was playing beside me. While AAA games seem to be moving further and further away from split-screen or offline multiplayer modes, the indies are determinedly keeping it going.
Melbourne studio Samurai Punk's game Screencheat sets the bar for innovation in multiplayer games. The game released around this time last year but they're back at PAX again this weekend, showing off some new levels and continuing to build intense rivalries between friends. Screencheat is an entirely different take on split-screen multiplayer. The name comes from a well-known practice that you probably have gotten angry at someone for doing sometime in your gaming life, whereby a player will look at another player's screen to get an unfair advantage. In this game, however, all your enemies are completely invisible — so you have to screencheat to win. It's not the only game at PAX that's taking a new spin on multiplayer gaming, however.
Kieru, from Canberra based developer Pine Fire Studios, is one of my personal favourites of PAX so far — as well as being a game that I've been keeping an eye on for a few months now — and it seems to have taken a leaf out of Screencheat's book. It's a competitive multiplayer game, whereby two teams of ninjas try and kill each other to score points. On paper, it doesn't sound too different — at least until you see some gameplay. The game is entirely black and white, no shades of grey involved, and your player ninja will be either solid black or solid white. If you're a black ninja you become completely invisible in the shadows, while a white ninja can hide in the light. The only other colour in the game is red — which comes spurting out of you in an unfortunate way if you're injured, allowing your enemies to easily track you down.
The gameplay is simple, but rewarding. Effectively tracking down a camouflaged ninja from a slight flash of colour or simply anticipating an enemy's movement makes you feel like a real ninja, and the monochrome environment is surprisingly easy to navigate. Your ninja has two attacks: a regular slash with the sword that will make your enemy bleed and allow you to track them, or a charged attack that constitutes a one hit kill — although the act of charging it makes your sword become the opposite colour, meaning you'll be visible no matter what colour you're standing in. It's a game that requires some thought and strategy that, admittedly, I wasn't very good at, but even in its pre-alpha state it was great fun to play.
One of the more popular games in the PAX Rising pavilion was Inflatality — a game about those flailing inflatable tube people. It's QWOP meets Street Fighter, with a control scheme that leaves you feeling out of control in the best possible way. "Flailing!" the game congratulates you proudly upon getting a high combo — in this game, it's the best possible thing you could be doing. Like many of the other games mentioned, the control scheme is purposefully simple. Move, swing arm, change arms, block.
Occasionally you'll even get a power-up to turn one of your arms into a giant inflatable hammer for extra damage. If you win, the opposing inflatable tube man will detach from its base and go zipping off into the background, like an improperly tied balloon. Often the two fighters will look like they're embracing more than attacking each other, but this goofiness is a big part of Inflatality's charm. While they unfortunately don't have an actual inflatable waver beside their PAX booth, they do have an inflatable waver cosplayer — which is potentially even better.
If you're at PAX, you should definitely go down and check a few of these yourself — and bring a friend for bonus gloating rights when you win. Have you played any other great indie multiplayers? Let us know in the comments!