Australian Indie Games Market and PAX

PAX Australia’s Indie Showcase shows that Australia has a thriving indie games industry, despite having no large studios. While indie games have typically struggled at conventions, not being able to afford the floorspace of AAA studios, PAX had a section of the floor set up for indie companies to showcase their games. And it was hugely successful. I was at all three days of 2014 PAX, and I hardly got a look at the indie games there. Not through choice, but through the fact that it was so damn busy in there I couldn’t get in there to have a look.

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This is the map of the showroom floor at PAX 2014. That orangey/red bit in the bottom right is the Australian indie games. Just beating out Xbox and League of Legends, it had the biggest floorspace in the hall. Although Xbox had the advantage of not showcasing 50 or so games in a similar sized lot, the ANZ Indie Pavilion was a huge success. Even outside of the indie pavilion, littered around the floor you can see smaller Australian based gaming companies. With this in mind, here are a few games that I saw over my three days at PAX that really stuck out in my head.

Airscape: The Fall of Gravity: This is a game by a Wollongong local, who (at the time of PAX) was just finishing high school. This was one of the games I spent the longest playing, and I was absolutely mesmerised by it. The soundtrack is calming, the character is adorable, the gravity is unexplainable (just watch the trailer) and the gameplay is simple, but engaging.

Montas: Montas is one that I did not actually get to play myself (note the above where I said I couldn’t get in), but I did watch others playing it. It is a survival horror game that offers very little information, apart from this creepy sentence –The player is the audience, Montas is the play, and you are invited up on stage.” Montas was being showcased on the Oculus Rift (another reason it was so hard to get to). Below is a photo I took of an accurately dressed cosplayer playing Montas.

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Metal Dead: Of course I was going to waltz over to a booth that had METAL DEAD written in huge, blood dripping letters. Speaking to the developers, we traded favourite bands, and I was told that they created this point and click zombie adventure game due to a love of metal and a love of zombies. Seems logical. I wrote a preview for the upcoming sequel here.

Nippy Cats: “The goal is simple – just keep the catnip away from a horde of ravenous cats as long as you can. It is a noble mission… a proud one. You will fail. Kitty always wins.” The first sentence on the website just about sums it up. This is a frustratingly difficult game (one best played on an iPad rather than a phone), where you drag your finger around the screen to try and keep the cats from getting the catnip.

Wave Wave: This. Game. Was. Impossible. Impossible. Impossible. It sounds easy. Hold your finger on the screen to keep your line going straight. Lift it up to turn at a 90* angle and keep going straight. Continue like that. Except do it at a ridiculously fast pace, with a rotating screen and seizure inducing colours. Wave Wave would not be out of place at a chemically enhanced rave. Just watch this trailer. My record for this game? 4 seconds.

Cloud Popper: A nice, relaxing change of pace from Wave Wave. 60 seconds, pop the clouds, don’t pop the bombs. Nice. Lovely. Fun. Relaxing. A chat with the developer revealed that while creating educational childrens apps, he learned that with both adults and children alike, their favourite part was popping clouds.

Screencheat: Again, another I did not get to play, but watched other people play, and it seemed to be a whole lot of fun. Essentially, it is a first person shooter for between 2-8 players, but with a twist. All the characters are invisible, and you need to screencheat in order to find out where your opponents are.

Particulars: A particle physics based game, Particulars had a very morose and introspective feel. It is a puzzle game woven through the life stories and memories of a struggling physicist called Alison. Based in Sydney and being sponsered by ScreenNSW (which is interesting considering that McCrea’s article specifically states that Film Victoria is one of the only companies showing a culutral interest in video games). The playthrough available was short and only the first few levels, but it was a relaxing, moody sort of puzzler, without the general stress and fast pace of other puzzle games.

As I have said in previous posts, I am very much a console gamer, and I have been criticised in the past for sticking mainly within my comfort zone and playing AAA games. PAX changed this for me, and I hope that it will continue to do this. While writing this, I actually bought one of the games that I wrote about (note: It was Particulars). The countdown is on for PAX 2015, and I am excited to see what games I come out of it with.

Technobabylon

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Sometimes, a rare gem of a game comes along that just defies true explanation. On paper, Technobabylon is a cyperpunk noir mishmash that seems to take inspiration from Blade Runner, Ready Player One and point-and-click adventures of old, but in reality it’s so much more than that. Not that the combination of those things isn’t awesome already, of course, but Technobabylon’s strengths push it far beyond awesome and into very important and progressive territory.

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Heroes of Might and Magic III: HD Edition

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Let me preface this review with a disclaimer: Heroes of Might and Magic III (The Restoration of Erathia, to true fans) is one of my favourite video games of all time. My love for it is up there with Majora’s Mask and the Civilization franchise. Heroes III took up hundreds upon hundreds of hours of my childhood; between the single player campaign, the random scenario generator, LAN matches with my father and brother, and Hot-Seat matches with my cousins, I don’t even want to know how many hours of outdoors time I sacrificed as a child to play Heroes III. Tower was always my faction of choice and Astral was my man–nothing could stand in the way of huge stacks of Master Gremlins. I would, without hesitation, call Heroes III one of the greatest strategy games of all time. I do appreciate its shortfalls: it’s very simplistic, almost garishly in its colour palette, and incredibly cluttered. That said, It’s the absolute peak of the Heroes franchise–not only does it contain the highest number of factions, but it’s a truly triumphant blend of turn-based strategy, battlefield tactics, and fantasy role-playing. And the music, oh man the music is so beautiful.

That said, this review is of the remastered “HD Edition”, not the legendary original game. I unashamedly let out a fanboy squeal when I first received an email from Ubisoft announcing the existence of the remaster. I should have known… I should have known that there was only the bitter taste of disappointment in store. No, it’s not “bad”, just disappointing.

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Blackguards 2

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Daedalic Entertainment are known for their ability to provide gamers with interesting and immersive worlds, eccentric characters and lovingly crafted stories that whisk you away and force you to buy into their special brand of whimsy. These are all elements that make for an excellent adventure game, in which a good story can make an otherwise unremarkable game worth playing through to the end. However, when attempting a turn-based strategy game like the studio’s newest offering Blackguards 2 it’s a little harder for the story to act as a crutch, even when the game takes place inside the vast and already-established universe of ‘The Dark Eye’. So does Blackguards 2 prove that the developers can stray from what they’re best at?

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The Escapists

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If there’s one genre that really embraces the true potential of video games, it’s simulation. With simulation games, one can fulfil every dream they’ve ever had, from the more modest professions like long haul train driving, to the somewhat more unrealistic manager of a football club–even the downright impossible, such as an intergalactic trader in a futuristic universe, is made possible in a video game. Yet, despite their broad range of subjects, one thread tying most simulation games together is that their topics are usually things that people would love to do in real life. That isn’t the case for The Escapists, a simulation game that asks the player to plan and execute escape from gaol.

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Nick’s Game of the Year 2014

2014 has been a hard year to conjure Game of the Year nominations for, but not due to an overwhelming number of options, a problem I wouldn’t mind having right now. The year had some interesting releases sprinkled throughout, yet the dread of all the disappointments brought (shockingly) by the major developers has left me preferring not to look back on the year that regrettably was, but here are some highlights.

Battleblock Theater was re-issued for PC, and Abe’s Oddyssey returned as Oddworld: New N Tasty for PS4. Octodad: The Dadliest Catch and The Swapper proved several barrels-worth of enjoyment for too few hours, while Ubisoft’s South Park: The Stick of Truth and Valiant Hearts both managed to exceed my high expectations. It doesn’t seem so bad when I describe it that way, so I guess I’d better stop there.

My vote for GotY goes to a game that offered some strain of innovation without forcing me to consider reading the returns policy, a sad rarity for 2014.

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Dragon Age: Inquisition

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After what seems like an age (I’m hilarious) of being glued to the PS4, I think I’m finally ready to talk about Dragon Age: Inquisition, the biggest game and first ever RPG to be made using the Frostbite engine. By claiming a powerful narrative, complex characters and an introductory area said to be bigger than the lands of the first two Dragon Age games combined, BioWare have set high standards for the game and it has been surrounded by a level of hype that can often be dangerous. We’ve already seen some AAA titles fall flat this year, so how does Dragon Age fare?

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