One of the highlights of PAX Australia is, and always will be, the indies. There's plenty of games to play, from methodical singleplayer titles to frantic co-op couch shooters. I played a bunch over the course of the three day convention, and here's what I'll be keeping an eye on.
Return of the Obra Dinn
If you wanted to hide a game at PAX Australia while still exhibiting on the show floor, Lucas Pope did the best he could. Most people didn't know Return of the Obra Dinn would be showing until they walked past it on the show floor, and even then you had to search for it a little. Pope was exhibiting across from Vlambeer (Nuclear Throne), which wasn't located in the PAX Rising showcase.
On top of that, Obra Dinn's graphical style and the fact that the TV was deliberately facing towards the booth rather than the crowd meant it was incredibly easy to miss the game entirely. I walked past it four or five times before I finally spotted it, and I wasn't the only one.
That's a shame. For a lot of gamers, anything made by the maker of Papers, Please is immediately cause for attention. The fact that it looks like a game from the Apple II, and it's an adventure that deliberately doesn't hold your hand, means I'll be keeping my eye on it.
Orwell isn't an Australian indie: it's made by Osmotic Studios, which is based out of Hamburg, Germany. And the game isn't that new either, with the fourth episode only launching last week.
But damn is it cool. Our commercial editor Tegan sat down with it, and bought it after 15 minutes. "It doesn’t take you long to become emotionally invested in the people you’re investigating. If you’re a fan of puzzles and sleuthing, you’ll dig it," she replied when I asked her for the elevator pitch.
A mate of mine ended up buying it after even less time, since he didn't want to spoil any of the story at all. I'll probably do the same thing around Christmas: it seems like the perfect game to kill some time with over the holidays.
The Artful Escape of Francis Vendetti
By far and away the most visually striking game in the PAX Rising area, The Artful Escape of Francis Vendetti seems like the kind of game that will be a shoo-in for the Indie Showcase next year. "You are a young musician and you’re on your way to you first gig. But you need to go on a multi-dimensional spirit quest to find your stage persona first," Tegan said, who also described it as "the single most beautiful indie demo I have seen at [PAX Australia]".
And she's not the only one. The other developers I spoke to on the show floor were pretty blown away with how polished The Artful Escape was. I wouldn't be surprised if a publisher snaps it up within the next few months.
"Considering that the universe has chosen to reclaim some of our greatest musical Gods this year, this is the game we both want and need. I for one will heed the call of its interactive siren song," Tegan added.
I cannot get enough of Hyper Jam. Then again, that shouldn't be a surprise given that Duck Game was far and away one of my favourites last year.
Imagine a game with the same premise and speed as Duck Game. Then give everyone giant sledgehammers. Style the whole level like Hotline Miami, but with a modern look instead of the pixel art. And then add perks for players in between rounds to change up the gameplay a little.
Is it any wonder I'm pretty excited for the game?
The American Dream
The American Dream: that is, a world where you have guns for hands. Yes, this is a VR game with Something To Say. Although the demo was largely restricted to the tutorial for now, where you get accustomed to the (very nice) Oculus Touch controllers and the premise of being a baby that can shoot holes in bagels.
As Tegan put it: how else is mummy supposed to know you're hungry unless you fire a warning shot? It'll be interesting to see what Samurai Punk, who also made the multiplayer shooter Screencheat, does with the world they've created. At the moment it just looks like a cheeky piss take on the romanticism of guns, although we'll know closer to release just how dark The American Dream becomes.
Objects In Space
I'm not going to argue against anything that channels the spirit of Silent Hunter. Part of that spirit was captured by the Objects in Space demo that Campbell played at PAX this year, and having the gargantuan cockpit in front of you helps build that illusion.
"It's an open-world, exploration-based title like Star Citizen promises to be, with your destiny entirely up to your own piloting skills and luck and, potentially, even the quality of the controller you build," Cam wrote.
Objects in Space is quite a way from being finished, and it'll be fascinating to see all of the systems come together once that happens. It's shaping up to be a substantially more ambitious and grander than many Australian indies can often allow themselves to be.
Goblins of Elderstone
New Zealand had a surprisingly strong showing this year, perhaps their best at PAX Australia to date. And one of the games to cross the Tasman was Goblins of Elderstone, a Kickstarter game about managing your own goblin tribe.
It's not a game that, to put it frankly, demos well at PAX. Gameplay is slow. It's methodical. There are a lot of elements and systems to wrap your head around before you can start "playing", certainly more than what you would normally encounter on a convention show floor.
Given that Goblins only successfully reached its crowdfunding goal over the weekend, we won't see a full release of the game until late next year, if not 2018, at the earliest. Those who backed high enough tiers to get an alpha version of the game can expect to see something by January, though, with a beta due later on in 2017.
Something else that caught my eye was Element - another little star from New Zealand.
The elevator pitch is that Element is an RTS for people who don't have the time to play RTS. But rather than simplifying it into a MOBA or removing mechanics to make an action-RTS, ala Dawn of War 2, Element takes a different route. You still have your base management. You still have resource management. But games don't take half an hour to complete; levels don't require your undivided attention for the same amount of time as a TV episode.
I've felt that the RTS genre has needed a change for a while. There's room for RTS that isn't just MOBA, but nobody has quite hit on what the next way forward is. So anything that mixes up the formula a little is worthy of attention - and the fact that Element's art style and UI are gorgeous helps too.
Like Nidhogg? Like Bushido Blade? Like Towerfall? Then meet Arena Gods.
Out of all of the local co-op games, Hyper Jam is probably the one at the top of my list. But Arena Gods is a close second, largely thanks to the hilarious shenanigans that can occur with swords and spears flying across the screen.
It was the most popular of the games in its small section (which was with League of Geeks and Powerhoof). I'd like to see a few tweaks before release - it wasn't obvious on the show floor how you could actually execute an opponent, and having four players all fight over the one weapon at the start seemed very cluttered - but the game is oozing an immense amount of style.
The IndieDB page says the game is due out this year, although I wouldn't be surprised if that ended up being an Early Access release or pushed back a little. Either way, it's a lot of fun and as soon as it's out I'll be adding it into my rotation for game nights.
Those are the indie games that captured my attention on the PAX show floor. What indies will you be keeping an eye on over the next year or so?