You see all sorts of games at PAX Australia, but even then the most interesting parts of an indie game can stay completely hidden.
The most interesting story I came across on the indie floor this year was from a tiny Zero Escape or Danganronpa-inspired game called Quantum Suicide. Made by a Gold Coast student who's living in Japan on a scholarship with the tiniest of stipends, the game sees a group of survivors stuck on a spaceship with a rogue AI. In classic Zero Escape fashion, the AI figures that the humans are just too much of a threat, and so every week one survivor is killed through a series of mini-games.
The mini-game I saw on the show was sort of a card matching game where ten survivors had to combine their cards to make 10. Players could combine their cards, trade their cards, or give their cards to another survivor. Whoever had the smallest remaining card left was eliminated, unless someone was left with no cards in which case they were killed instead. Once partners combined, they were stuck for life, so they had to make all future transactions as a bloc.
It reminded me of the Liar Game manga, where the games presented seem deviously simple (although Liar Game's cat-and-mouse antics were more intricate than what Quantum Suicide is going for). And, naturally, whoever does did ends up doing so in a particularly gruesome and brutal fashion, whatever amuses the AI the most.
Quantum Suicide ran the Kickstarter gauntlet back in 2016, and when it launches it'll do so fully voiced in English and Japanese. It's been a long journey for the game, one that will finally come to an end in December when the game goes live on Steam.
It's the first game from Tina Richards, and what was demoed on the show floor was actually running in Python. But as Richards explained to me in a quick chat, the game is being built for Unity.
Thing is, Richards hasn't fully got to grips with Unity — and the game was originally being built in the Ren'Py engine for visual novels. So after checking with another programmer, they wrote all of the game's scenes ... into a Google Docs sheet. All of the branching dialogue and possible permutations are worked out in the same form you might do an ordinary group spreadsheet for work.
All that data was then exported into a CSV file, and then imported and recompiled in Unity. It's not the first time devs have used CSV files to import data into Unity before, but it's certainly not something most people think of when they look at games on the show floor.
Generally, gamers don't care about how the sausage is made as long as it tastes good in the end. And while Quantum Suicide probably won't convert people who have an apathy for the visual novel format, it's a solid looking VN. The mini-games looked fun and engaging, the visual presentation was sharp and the character art solid. There's over 30 endings and, importantly for fans of the genre, many romance options. Bang anyone you want, basically, although just be aware you'll probably have to push them out the airlock at some point.
But it's also a reminder of just how far games have come and how far down the barriers to game development have come. People can make crazy, amazing ideas and you can cobble together something that'll play from start to finish even if you have bugger all knowledge starting out. It might not be the most optimised game in the world, but what's most important is that creative vision.
"Someone asked me if it was a slice of life game ... more like slice of death," Richards said to me at the booth.
The game is coming out for PC, Mac and Linux, and the original campaign had plans to launch the game on PS Vita. She added that some PAX attendees had also asked her about a Switch version, which makes total sense given the platform. Small problem there though: Richards is currently living on a stipend of about $1000 a month, and the cost of a Switch devkit would basically be an entire month's wages. A Switch port isn't off the table entirely, but Quantum Suicide needs to get over the line first. You can check it out on Steam here.
The author's accommodation throughout Melbourne International Games Week and PAX Australia was provided courtesy of Airbnb for Work.