Last year was the first time Pixel Pop Network attended the Penny Arcade Exhibition (PAX) in Melbourne. As such, a lot of my time was spent running around the digital half of the Melbourne Exhibition Centre (Jeff’s Shed to the locals). While I knew I’d be very busy this year looking at tabletop content for our sister website Australian Tabletop Gaming Network, my schedule for the digital half of the venue was never-the-less considerable. There was literally so much to see and do I couldn’t get around to it all in the three days available. Hmm. Maybe PAX needs to be a week long event?
Media are allowed a little earlier into the venue than the public which means you’ve got about an hour to check out the stuff you know is going to have really long queues all weekend. For me, one of my first ports of call was the Aurora44 booth to take at their upcoming title Ashen. Aesthetically, the game reminded me an awful lot of Absolver (which was a fantastic looking game) but with more of a traditional western theme. I was able to sit down and get some hands on time with the game; one of the developers took a seat next to me and we got stuck into some co-op action. The game consists of a sandbox world that you can move freely about, however heading off into the dark depths immediately is likely to get you a bad case of the dead. I wandered around a forested area engaging a few enemies before entering into a cave area filled with traps and nasty spider-like creatures. The game is rich in lore and players will have an enjoyable time finding out where they are, why they are here and what the heck happened to the world they find themselves in.
Another game I was keen to catch at PAX was Witch Thief. A bullet-hell style game played from a third person perspective. I caught up with Timothy from Cardboard Keep who is the developer on Witch Thief and had a bit of a chin wag. Timothy is a fan of the bullet-hell style of games that come out of Japan but wanted to put his own spin on it and changed the perspective to make things more interesting and exciting. While I’m not sure I have the reflexes anymore to do a bullet-hell game any justice, Timothy assures me that dying to the first boss the first time you play is par for the course. Thankfully, I’ve received a preview build of the game and I’ll be bringing you more coverage of this title in the near future.
Friday afternoon found me leaving the busy show room floor and heading upstairs to the much quieter media rooms to sit down and have a chat with Vince La Duca from Linksys. We’ll have the video of that interview up soon, but the short version is that Linksys have released a new gaming router, the WRT32X. While many motherboards today have fancy technology on the network ports to prioritise network traffic in favour of gaming, this is only useful if that PC is the only machine on the network. If someone in the lounge were to fire up Netflix the traditional router would consider it just as important as your gaming latency. The WRT32X takes that motherboard technology and brings it into the router itself, meaning that across the entire network gaming packets will take priority (unless you configure it otherwise). This is going to be a huge benefit to gamers on busy networks.
Last year I managed to catch up with Michael from Hyper X to take a look at their range of keyboards, headsets, mouse mats and more. The Hyper X team have been very busy in the last 12 months refining, improving and releasing an amazing array of new products. They’ve completed their accessory suite by introducing the Pulsefire FPS Gaming Mouse and have also created a smaller keyboard designed for those playing FPS titles and/or on the go with tournaments and e-sports. I also managed to get me ears into some of their new Cloud Alpha headsets which were extremely comfortable and possessed excellent audio quality.
Next up on my list was a visit to Savage Yeti Games at the Academy of Interactive Entertainment booth to look at their new title for iOS and Android; PatchWord. Word games are nothing new to portable devices, however finding one that is easy to learn and hard to master is the trick. Something with original and fun mechanics that really makes you think is even better. Thankfully, PatchWord is all of these things and despite having a reasonable vocabulary I found the puzzle aspect of the game really made me think. The premise is easy enough; make words and gain points. Doing so flips the tiles to their alternate side. The object of the game is to have the entire board the same colour. Harder than it sounds, and I often had to flip tiles back to the other colour just so I could flip them all back again with a longer word and catch that last remaining letter.
A hop, skip and a jump then over to Anthony at Screwtape Studios and their game Damsel. This game is due for release in February (hopefully) after three years of development for Steam (Window, Mac & Linux) with Xbox One, Playstation 4 and hopefully Nintendo Switch as well in the months to follow. The game is an arcade platformer with 150+ hand crafted levels that will allow you to either play through the game casually for fun, or really push yourself and chase a whole swag of really difficult achievements. Then brag about on the competitive leader boards. I had some play time with the game and the controls felt very tight and responsive and it wasn’t long before I managed to get into the swing of things. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get some more hands on time with this title before it’s released.
One game that we had a lot of fun with last year was Forts. We played a bunch of the game here in the Pixel Pop Network office and Matthew did a full review of the game back in April. EarthWork Games have been busy updating, refining and balancing the game over the last 12 months. Just recently however, they released a fairly significant update that added a swathe of new weapons (which are really, really cool) and mod support for the game. I have to say that the weapon that got Matthew and I most excited is the new laser that (when fired by your co-op teammate at the right time) will ignite your missiles, rockets and the like causing them to burst into flames and do even more damage. These kind of ‘combo’ weapons and the possibility they present is just way cool. Mod support is no doubt going to be a huge success with the fans, and I look forward to seeing what the community can come up with. Matthew and I are going to make some time over the coming week or so to sit down for some laughs and check out the new content so look forward to more Forts coverage from us soon.
Matthew playing Forts at the PAX AUS 2017 booth.
Another game I was very keen to check out at PAX this year was West of Loathing. Many of you may have already heard of this title as it released August this year on Steam to overwhelmingly positive reviews. So you don’t need me to tell you how good it is (or how funny), however I managed to catch up with the development team for a quick chat and they’ve got plenty more planned for the game. DLC should hopefully be available in the near future adding in new areas and activities for players to explore and plans are already in motion to release the game on consoles, in particular the Nintendo Switch. A lot of our conversation though was reminiscing about old Sierra adventure games and the inspiration they served to the development of West of Loathing. If you haven’t checked the game out yet, do yourself a favour and do so, you won’t be disappointed.
Tis the season for awesome platform games and Aura of Worlds from Cognitive Forge is definitely a healthy dollop of awesome. Initially I thought the game might be a sandbox world-building adventure game, but in fact it’s a rogue-lite platformer that will see you move through increasingly difficult, procedurally generated maps. You’ve only got so many hands, so deciding when to drop a shield for a light source is one of the many important decisions you’ll make as you traverse the dungeons. Thankfully, the game engine is really robust and allows players to approach problems from a number of different angles and come up with their own solutions. Controls were tight and responsive and I had no trouble moving through the environment and interacting with objects. For reference I stuck with the tried and true keyboard and mouse combo. I’m really hoping we get some more hands on time with Aura of Worlds and if it sounds like something you’d be keen on and can’t wait, head over to their itch.io page and you can snap up an early access copy of the game.
Aura of Worlds.
Last but certainly not least, I spent more time than I should have at the New Blood booth playing their upcoming titles Dusk and Amid Evil. If you haven’t heard of either and are in any way a fan of the classic ID or Raven titles such as Quake, Heretic or Hexen then do yourself a favour and click both those links right now. Both games pay homage to an earlier time in gaming but with all the modern improvements we’d expect from games today. Having only recently played through Quake I and Hexen, I was amazed at how spot-on the development teams have managed to get their games in terms of character movement, weapons and the overall feel of the game. While I thoroughly enjoyed my hands-on time with Dusk, I wont lie, as a huge fan boy of the original Heretic and Hexen titles Amid Evil absolutely has my undivided attention and is the game I am probably most excited for post-PAX weekend. I had a fantastic time chatting with the developer, Simon from Indefatigable, about those classic games and the influence they have had on this title. I loved the textures used and the fact that the weapons are all 2D sprites that have had mapping applied so that they reflect in the light. But, I mean… 2D sprites for weapons… SO COOL! Dusk was already on my Steam Wishlist and I popped Amid Evil on there as well as soon as I got back in the office. Fingers crossed we can get our sweaty, apprehensive hands on some preview copies soon so we can share with you just how good these games are.
Of course there was a lot more to be seen at PAX including a LOT of eSports activity, plenty of AAA titles such as Assassins Creed and of course plenty of awesome cosplay. As I mentioned at the start of this piece, I only wish I had more time to get around and see it all.
If you’re a lover of tabletop gaming as well, make sure you catch my tabletop roundup over on our sister website ATGN – here. Otherwise keep it tuned in here to Pixel Pop Network for more PAX Australia 2017 coverage over the coming days.