This year was my first ever visit to PAX, a road trip down to Melbourne with some mates. I went to the Saturday session. A pretty amazing time. The people, my goodness the people. The organisers sure know how to pack them in.
The line up was enough of a spectacle in itself: a huge crowd formed in a separate hall, complete with preview trailers, fireworks and loud music. But once in the main hall there were the usual exhibition suspects: booths from the big players all showing off the latest and greatest in game and gear releases. I also enjoyed the Classic Gaming in the second expo hall.
But for me, it was all about the PAX Rising area right at the start of the whole show.
77 booths were on the floor, run by Indie Developer teams and individuals showing off both completed games and productions still in progress.
I had a great time talking to the developers and artists at many of the stands. I was interested in the development framework chosen, the approaches to art style, the inspiration behind the themes, many having fairly surprising stories.
I am going to highlight my personal favourites, and the teams I found very inspiring.
Firstly a note on the frameworks... it was pretty much a Unity love-in. There's not a lot of variety on the choices here by teams. I did find one or two on the Unreal Engine, but it's pretty much commercial engines all round - no open source to be seen (as far as I found).
I can understand the rationale after chats with the various developers. Unity is quick to get up and going. And even with the commercial payback to Unity, if you don't make the sales, you pay nothing to the overlord masters. But if you do, it's good for both parties.
The other interesting side was that despite the fast start-up time you get from Unity, developers still spend multiple years in development and refinement stages, just like our lot in the open source world. Which suggests to me that the development velocity does average out in the end no matter what framework you choose.
Enough of the engines... onto the games. Some teams I met had some great stories. Here were my favourites in no particular order:
This is a turn based action game based in an Australian outback setting. If you think of Final Fantasy turn based gameplay in a Mad Max world, that goes some way to describing it. The idea is to get from a remote outback town to the top of Queensland, where the promised land awaits.
There is a lot of class to the artwork. Several members are involved with creating the various art backgrounds and assets. I was taken with the hand drawn style of the game.
I like a good point and click adventure. Really pleased to see this genre making such a comeback. But what interested me the most when talking to the team members was the time and effort that went into the background research for the theme and setting.
The adventure is set during the late 1970s, which is pretty much the era I grew up in. In order to solidify the authenticity of the setting, the developers spent time discussing the era and influences with their parents. Also, the team used magazine resources from the 70s to get a sense of the fashion, interests and events of that decade. Really impressive to see the effort that went into capturing that feel, by developers not directly connected to the 1970s.
Exo One was quite the attention grabber. Take an orb, give it the ability to traverse the planet at neck-breaking speed, let it flatten out in order to soar. You need to reach a sort of transporter beam to send it upwards and onwards to the next planet. In the greater scheme of things, that's all there is to it.
The game's genre is listed as: "Adventure", but in my opinion this is not overly accurate. Personally, I consider this more of a relaxation game: a very high-speed, gritty relaxation game. I don't think there is such a genre that will fit it.
The way the orb speeds across the landscape and can soar great distances (if you time the jump at the top of the sand hills and mountains just right). It has a very satisfying sensation going at top speed and flying over hills, soaring for miles. There are no enemies. There is nothing to oppose you. You are nothing more than a lonely entity, left to your own devices, traveling in your own way. Eventually you can make it to the teleporter. Or not.
This one has been three years in refinement. Really nice developer too. Hope this game does well.
This game is fluid and beautiful. Nice bunch of people working on it too. The first thing that struck me was the art style. When talking to the developers, I pointed out a similar look to Delphine Software's "Another World" and to a lessor extent: Flashback. While not a direct attempt to re-create that style, quoting the developers: "We're from that era". So, the influence is definitely there, and it's done exceptionally well.
This was the only non-Unity game I managed to find in my time floating around PAX Rising. This game has a nice feel to it, flying along on my hover blades and jumping the gaps in style. Spent a bit of time chatting to the developers on how it came about and how it was made. This one originated from a short hackathon. Seemed to have legs on it, and so the team decided to take it further and flesh it into something more complete. And a good job too.
The development was done in the Unreal Engine, but using logical blocks rather than the usual C++ code or scripting. I know nothing of Unreal, so I am probably hashing the description of it. Anyway...
Check this one out. Easy to control and get into. Very playable.
A blocky point and click adventure with a ridiculously long game title, silly characters and themes. Oh was that a complaint? Certainly not. When walking past Irreverent Pixel Feats's stand I was instantly drawn in. Hey, is that Beyond a Steel Sky? Lure of the Tempress? No? Dang it looks similar, right down to the exaggerated mouth movements when the characters talk.
I love those two forementioned games and if anyone is going to create something with a similar 90's look and feel, then I'm in (sensing my bias yet?).
The developer was a top guy, spent the time explaining how he went about creating The Vigilante Proclivities of the Longspur. Many months were spent learning the craft of creating graphics and animation to replicate 90s adventures, starting slowly at first and chipping away until becoming reasonably proficient at the process.
And he's done an excellent job of it.
There are some minor differences between this and old 90s point and clicks: the scrolling scenes are very smooth. That's a welcome change actually.
Can't wait to see where this goes, and with some top class voice characterisation, this will be a must have.
Great team, nice product. On the surface, this seems like a collection of simple party games, and in some ways they are, but that's exactly what the team seem to be shooting for. These are family games. They work for all ages, and while it's tricky at first to control your Cat or Monkey in order to do your thing, it doesn't take long to pretty much get it under control. And that's the fun bit. You're working together to free the trapped characters in the blocks (at least the level I played was like that).
What I like is how the team are going for something that's a bit left behind these days: healthy family themes and fun, and working together. Nothing dark or sinister required.
And that's it. PAX was a lot of fun. Might go next year, I'll have to wait and see. In the meantime, all the PAX Rising games on exhibition can be found here: https://aus.paxsite.com/rising