What’s better than a week to celebrate gaming in Australia? Meeting with a plethora of incredibly talented developers who work tirelessly to show a game they’ve poured sweat, blood and tears into. I didn’t just sit around and interview hardware companies like Alienware and Newegg during the Melbourne International Games Week, I got to pick at the brains of various independent developers from around Australia and even from across the ocean! Here’s some highlights and impressions I had of some of the many wonderful games and developers at the press event before PAX as well as during PAX:
Wander – The Music Room
One of the first things I wanted to check out was the Wander team’s next project ‘The Music Room’. The first thing I can say straight away is that they know how to create their worlds. The Music Room is a HTC Vive experience that utilizes both the head gear and hand controller to place you in a strange small world with strings and buttons to touch. When you reach out and touch the strings you produce a musical note. Looking around in the 360 degree environment, you’ll see a set of different strings for a different instrument and buttons to play a bassline. In terms of the surrounding, you are placed in the center of a great stone arch. When you looked around, there was a great deal of depth with the sample demo location (an image of the arch is below).
When I took off the headset, I had to readjust myself. It seems cliche, but being in that virtual world was oddly real. To come back to an office building with somewhat dimmer lights was a bit of a mental shock if anything. I had asked the team what their plans were for future features, and they had expressed interest in expanding the project a bit more to include more than the piano, harp and the basic drum demo beats. Eventually they want to give the players the ability to save preset beats, change and swap instruments and much more in order to have an incredible music making experience at the tip of their fingers.
Bandit-1 – Western Press
Remember that one Kirby Super Saga mini game, Samurai Kirby? The one where you hit the button faster than your opponent? Yeah, take that and extrapolate that 100 fold. Western Press is a pure reaction and agility test that pits players against one another. In a best of 3 match, players must input command prompts from top to bottom when the round begins. The fastest player draws out their weapon first and takes out the opponent. The developers had informed me that while there are 16 initial characters upon the games release, but the game will also have customizable character creation. It is currently local versus only until a later time as the online component still needs tinkering. However, the plans for online will include character specific customizable dialogue and more. A small touch in competitive games that I thoroughly enjoy between two rival characters.
Tin Man Games – Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain
Debuting their Kickstarter during PAX, the team over at Tin Man Games showed off a short demo of their latest entry into the virtual Fighting Fantasy adventure book series. Having an absolutely astonishing amount of digital adventure books under their wing, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain seeks to change the formula by creating a brand new ‘tabletop’ engine where the models are redesigned as miniature figures within the game’s environment as opposed to the original ‘game book’ engine. Such a change obviously required a lot more assets which means money. It’s for this reason they’ve turned to Kickstarter. The people love it and their Kickstarter has gone well above their $15,000 AUD goal! They are currently working towards their next stretch goal which will allow the team to bring back Warlock of Firetop Mountain onto the original engine for fans who liked the ‘game book’ style from their previous games. The team plans to have more characters that will have different interactions with the story including Zagor the Orc Warlock of Firetop Mountain! Clinton, one of the devs helping reassured me that unlike the original book, there will be less unfair ‘instant death’ scenarios and will situations that lead to these unfortunate circumstances will be telegraphed a lot more obviously.
An honorable mention goes to their latest game book adventure with the Warhammer series: Legacy of Dorn: Herald of Oblivion which was an astounding experience. It’s out on iOS now if you wanted to see how truly capable the team over at Tin Man Games are.
Dime Studios – Blockpocalypse
Takes a bit to say, but it’s pretty much as the name suggests: There’s an apocalypse and there are blocks. Use those blocks to escape aforementioned apocalyptic event. Don’t worry, it’s not exactly a morose or terrifying game. The most frightening thing is finally learning that the friends who you placed your trust in are actually genocidal maniacs that will throw you into hell’s mouth to survive. This local 4 player party game has various different modes. During the demo event with the development team Dime Studios, I played the survival, basketball and a deathmatch modes. In survival, you and up to four others have to platform your way out of a rising tide of lava, working together to place blocks down in a stairway to get up to a helicopter. The basketball mode is a chaotic two on two battle to shoot a ball into the opposing team’s hoop. The kicker is, there’s lava everywhere and plenty of TNT to knock people out. Finally, the deathmatch mode is self-explanatory, you score points by knocking your opponents out with TNT or rockets.
The team had informed me that there will be a lot more chaotic ‘apocalyptic events’ including natural disasters and zombie hordes. There will be plenty of game modes in the works as well! The team is currently shooting to get this game on Greenlight, so if you enjoy the silly antics of the game, give it a like on Steam Greenlight.
Cybernate – Super Mutant Alien Assault
Taking the Super Crate Box formula and extrapolating it to the nth degree, this title was originally a flash title over at miniclips called Mutant Alien Assault. Chris Suffern, the sole developer of the game, delved head first into independent development with Super Mutant Alien Assault, a sequel to the game that completely ramps up the graphics exponentially and boy does it look amazing. There is a lot more enemies, weapons and levels compared to the original.
This title was released back in August and has been hitting positive reviews on Steam since! The controls felt way tighter than the flash predecessor and the the game was an absolute blast to play, both alone and with a friend. It is currently out in Early Access for hopefully another 3 months where it will have used all the feedback it has been receiving by the player base and be released as a fully fleshed out product.
Witch Beam – Assault Android Cactus
A world of adorable girls with some serious firepower, you’d be excused if it didn’t already win your heart. If you watched the video above, you’d notice they already have some glowing accolades and reviews. Well, it’s very much deserved. Assault Android Cactus is pure blissful fun that knows it. You’ll control one of 9 android girls who all have unique abilities that change up the flow of battle. The gameplay is almost bullet hell-esque and so, there is always a way out. The emphasis here is to recreate the joy of local co-op and the fun of twin stick shooters that existed back in the good ol’ days.
The game is already out on Steam and is slated for a PlayStation 4 and Vita early next year with built in gimmicky fun Dualshock 4 colored light bars to represent one of the 9 android characters. A definite must-have title for the PlayStation 4 when it’s out! Just hands off my main ‘droid Holly.
Giant Margarita – Party Golf
What a strange game with an amazing company name. Before PAX, I was emailed about the game and gave the demo a go. At first the first few levels seemed like a standard ‘hit colored ball into hole’ game of golf. It didn’t hit me until I started progressing and unlocked the various custom game modifiers, that this was where the true golden nugget of the game was. There is an absolutely astounding amount of customization within this game that effects every single faucet of it. The ball, the type of level generation, the material of the floor, the weather and so much more. This was another interesting and enjoyable game with friends. Before you ask, like most games with a focused local multiplayer, this game does indeed have bots. Formidable cretins mind you.
Party Golf is currently running a Kickstarter to bring the game to consoles and are halfway there. If you can’t help kick in and want to give them support, send some love through to their Steam Greenlight and show them love for their PC version which is hoped to be released mid 2016.
Andrew Brophy – Knuckle Sandwich
Undertale and now this. Definitely drawing on Earthbound for inspiration, this JRPG is about a young man who undergoes a series of unfortunate events as he tries to find a simple job. It’s a game that’s filled to the brim with little bits of attention to detail. Whether they’re there for consistency or pure blissful humor, it all adds to the overall purpose of this game. To have a fun time in doing the ‘mundane’ act of living.
Andrew Brophy, the sole developer confessed that while it was both a blessing slightly daunting to be compared to the widely successful Undertale which cuts from the same cloth, he’s excited to see interest and a revival for games from this same cloth. As a fan of Earthbound and recently Undertale, I can say one thing: Knuckle Sandwich is a different game from Undertale. As mentioned, the draw for Knuckle Sandwich is the insane little details that add to the overall experience. Things as simple as the extremely fluid animations to the beautifully composed retro tracks and the colorful world. I’m absolutely pumped to see this game in it’s complete form!
Yak & Co – Agent A: A puzzle in disguise
The first on my list that was a part of the PAX Indie Showcase which was a selected bunch of Indie games that were highlighted and selected by a committee for showing great promise. Agent A is a point-and-click puzzle game where your job is to catch Ruby La Rouge, an infamous enemy spy. You end up at her lair where there’s an assortment of detailed and tricky puzzles to solve. The various puzzles range from finding keys, utilizing different items to work around traps or even open up hidden passageways.
The artstyle of the game is also incredibly detailed with noticeable shadows moving as you zoom in and out to look at puzzles. An extremely dynamic world that just adds to the polish of this game. Mark White the art director at Yak & Co told me despite the love for point-and-click puzzles, he wants to make sure puzzles weren’t LucasArts levels of obscurity (rubber chicken pulley anyone?). As of now, Agent A: A puzzle in disguise is the first ‘episode’ of the game and is out now on iOS. The team is now working on the second part to this tango between spies. There’s also hopes that Agent A makes its way to android, Mac OS and Steam later down the line. Oh and if you were at their booth, you would receive a neat little ‘envelope’ that would lead to a small HTML ARG game that would lead you to a competition for a code for the game if you could solve it. Happy solving!
Team Cherry – Hollow Knight
What an endearingly morbid yet beautiful game that happens to be on the PAX Indie Showcase. Inspired from the likes of Metroid, Mega Man and Legend of Zelda 2, this game embraces the 2D action platformer genre in a beautifully macabre way. Burton-esque if you must. You’ll have to traverse a great underground realm as a small bug-like creature and take down extreme challenges as you encounter them. I can’t stop mentioning how astoundingly beautiful the hand-drawn art style is. The trailer above doesn’t do it enough justice as the true beauty of the game can only be experienced when you try out the game for yourself.
Now, to quickly distance myself from the art style, I want to mention that the platforming and attack animations are very fluid. It’s fantastic that a game like this has cardinal direction-mapped attacks. Due to that, attacking enemies from all sorts of angles is possible which helps to create some truly unique monsters with various levels of difficulties. Oh yes, the game will not be a walk in the park. Hollow Knight is an incredibly challenging yet rewarding experience and I can not wait for its eventual release at the end of 2015. Also super glad to meet another map-lover! I can’t wait for the physical copy of the world map William!
Sun Studios – Armed with Wings: Rearmed
Yet another highlighted game in the PAX Indie Showcase, it’s like the selection committee knew their stuff! Armed with Wings started off as an Armorgames project that spanned three games full of action platforming and puzzle solving. Since December 2014, Armed with Wings: Rearmed was successfully Greenlit on Steam as a graphical and gameplay revamp of the first game in the trilogy. It has since been in Early Access in which you can try right here. The revamp is clearly a vast improvement over the original. The animation is a lot more fluid and the beautiful white and black aesthetic looks incredible. Daniel Sun, the developer of the series mentioned that the black and white aesthetic has been something he had loved to work with from the very beginning and even has significance with the story: the dark world represents the afterlife and the light world represents the mortal realm.
The game’s major focus is on the many weapons and abilities you unlock as you progress through the game. The variety gives this game a lot of replayability. Gearing up towards its official release, Daniel promised that there would be more playable characters, weapons and unlocks. There is hope for the rest of the trilogy to be ‘rearmed’ one day, but as soon as this game is out, he mentioned he would like to start on a new project that’s far different from Armed with Wings.
Team Fractal Alligator – Hacknet
Okay final highlight from the PAX Indie Showcase I promise. This one was an incredibly strange yet interesting game. Hacknet’s premise is simple, hack and get to the bottom of this mysterious person who has called upon you for help. When I first saw this game, I was met with a pretty intimidating game that teaches you how to ‘hack’. I’m quite illiterate in the world of programming let alone hacking. Yet, this game does an incredible job of getting you into how to play and how to approach the game. Pretty soon, it became such a thrill to jump into a system and hack into their files. Hacknet has such a strong following already, having grossed over $650,000 AUD and was a recipient of the SIMTecT Australia ‘Serious Games Indie’ award for it’s outstanding simulation and education. The one thing I could appreciate the absolute most with this title was the amount of lore built into the world that Matt Trobbiani, the game’s creator, weaved into this fictional world. Within system files you could access text files that had so much flavor text that you can’t help but want to keep digging around and reading.
When asked about the future of Hacknet, Matt told me while it’s pretty far off, he hopes to add some form of multiplayer component to the game. Whether it is a competitive ‘hide-and-seek’ where you find your opponent within the web of systems or you do a co-op where one has to achieve objectives while their partner cleans up after them. It’s such an interesting direction for the game and despite it’s niche, I couldn’t help but really look forward to playing the game when I got home from PAX.
Three Phase Interactive – Defect
Back in July, Defect had successfully pulled through and got their game crowd funded through Kickstarter. What was initially a ship builder game, quickly evolved into a fleshed out campaign with the premise: Your ship will be taken over by your mutiny-savvy crew and you will end up fighting them one day. With such a frightening premise, the game encourages you to think about how exactly you should make your ship. It almost makes sense why the Death Star had that convenient thermal exhaust port.
The game allows you to build different tiers of ships, from small fighters, to larger space stations. Speaking to Drew, the graphic designer on Three Phase Interactive, he mentioned that at some ‘choke points’ there will be a great deal of really great ship parts for a cheap price. Of course, this is a trap but if you can plan ahead, there’s no reason to not capitalize and create some amazing ships! Furthermore, it’s not a simple ship builder, it also has a more complex sub-system that brings control over the ship to a new level. To me, this is where the fun kicks in, being able to place power strictly into engines to get to places faster or into weapons in order to have a more controlled way of fighting. An incredibly interesting title that’s coming out to PC as well as iOS with cross-platform saves.
Fluffy Kitten Studios – Ascent: The Space Game
You’ve got your No Man Skies, your Star Citizens and your Elite Dangerous’. Then you have the formidable Ascent: The Space Game. Ascent is an MMO space exploration game that is very much focused on PvE rather than the usual dog-fighting goals. You can then imagine that Ascent has more focus on other aspects of space travelling games such as trading, colonizing, farming, ship building and a whole lot more. Currently, the game is generating over 270,000,000,000 star systems which will give its player base tonnes of planets and systems to set up shop and get busy creating resources to make more money. On giving it a go, one of the neatest features within this game has been it’s exceptional transition when a ship enters a planet’s atmosphere. Usually, that’s been a difficult thing to achieve without the use of loading screens and has been the ‘dream’ for a lot of these space exploration-type games.
In terms of future content, James Hicks, the CEO of Fluffy Kitten Studios mentioned that he hopes to put in PvP combat, a crime and punishment system and fully engaging NPC that can help not only in farms but piloting ships and such. As of now, James wants the game to retain a good balance between combat and non-combat situations. As an extension, he’s allowed players to opt into combat, particularly for those who just want to become an extraordinary merchant and trader and don’t want to have to deal with the excessive amounts of interruptions. Ascent has so much going for it despite the arguably smaller development costs compared to say Star Citizen. That doesn’t exclude it from being an excellent game that stands up for its own against other games of its caliber. Especially with the amount of content on offer for Ascent right now and planned down the line.
Tinimations – Klang
The final, but by no means least of my highlights of the Melbourne International Games Week emphasizes the ‘international’ part. Klang is made by Tom-Ivar Arntzen who heralds from Norway and is part of the international section of the PAX Rising area of PAX Australia. The inception of this game was based upon two loves, rhythm games and platformers. Arntzen mentioned that while he loved playing rhythm games, he found that aside from hitting buttons, there wasn’t enough draw for him. It’s for that reason Klang became the game it did. People have responded well to the project and it was Greenlit at the beginning of this year. The game’s aesthetics are very slick with the animations being incredibly smooth from the attack animations to the platforming. It helps that these sequences are also played to the beat, making each action that much more satisfying.
There’s a lot of inspiration from Greek mythos and technological aesthetics as the first boss is shown as a fairly ‘Zeus-like’ character. A fascinating combination that makes the games seem that much more interesting. Plus I can’t get enough of the Tron-like aesthetics and the crazy love for rhythmic games. The game will be showing its face to Steam’s store around the first quarter of 2016.
So there you have it. Fifteen of the many games that were on offer like a platter during the Melbourne International Games Week. It was an incredible week that allowed me to meet some of most down-to-earth and humble independent developers I had the great fortune to talk to. The experience of trying their game and talking to them left me with a huge amount of appreciation for all faucets of game development. These fifteen were only some of the great games shown during the event. I have to give huge recommendations to these games as well: Crawl, Swordy, Armello, Dungeon League and Skedaddle. It has been inspiring to see so many young men and women taking to the world’s stage and contributing to one of the best past times ever: Video Gaming.