It's Sunday, the last day of PAX East 2012. Despite the chaotic view from above on the glass sky bridge, walking about the showroom floor doesn't feel as crowded as it has been over the last two years. It's still a rat maze to navigate, to be sure, but this time around there seems to be a bit more shoulder room for those of us who just want to stare at the flash and dazzle of game demos. I would love to play most of the games on display, but no extra room can mask the long lines at the big publisher's booths. At peak hours there is almost a two hour wait (sometimes more) to play games such as Max Payne 3, Boarderlands 2, or Steel Battalion. For now though, just viewing other people play these games works for me. Besides, there is plenty else to play on the showroom floor. PAX East for me is independent game territory.
Browsing the independent booths is usually how I spend my time between panels and the music being preformed at the Jamspace. While they are not the games with the biggest budgets or the grandest of booths, they have plenty to offer in terms of entertainment. Here are three games of six that avoided the big lines this year.
“This is a game about moving in four dimensions,” the developer tells me.
“Like through time?” I asked as I started a new game.
“No, nothing like that,” he says with a grin.
Miegakure appears to be simple. Navigate a single square 3D stage and reach the gate to move on. You quickly find out there are things wrong within the world. A jump that is too high to make or a gap too wide to cross, for example. There is nowhere else to go and nothing to aid on the map in helping you progress. All there is left to do is move on to the fourth dimension.
With the press of a button, your character moves to another dimensions in order to uncover new paths and find items to help. Forget about thinking of it as moving back and forth through time. Instead, think of it as moving between several different planes of the existing world. Items, such as blocks, can be brought with you when you move between dimensions, so that impossible jump just became and useful platform. It is confusing how to deal with this concept at first, but experimenting is easy and there isn't anything pressuring you to do it quickly.
Controlling and platforming is easy and precise, and, thanks to the simple layout of the stages, the camera is never obtrusive. The graphics are a throwback to the Playstation 1 era, which I openly comment on after a few minutes. The developer watching me play smiles and nods at this comment, adding that it was his goal to make the game standout a bit more from other games taking on an "8-bit" aesthetic. Many of those games surround Miegakure at the independent booths. It is an interesting gamble. One that I think will pay off because this choice certainly makes it stand out from the rest.
I get to one puzzle late in the demo. I just successfully moved the block I needed through dimensions and set it into place. One problem though. There is a helpless man standing in my way. I don't want to crush him, but I need to move onward. Reluctantly, I push the block into place right over the defenseless NPC. Right on cue, a text bubble appears in a giant bold font with the last screams of the bystander. I feel a rather sad and manipulated that I had to make such a choice.
“That's a really cruel thing to do,” I say to the developer.
“Oh don't worry! There's a way to spare him from that,” he says with a smile. Challenge accepted then, Miegakure and game developer Marc ten Bosch! I look forward to trying this again whenever it arrives on PC, Mac, and Linux whenever it is released. I want to see if I can spare that man's fate.
Dust: An Elysian Tail
“You need to go and play Dust,” Derek Lavigne tells me at the Retronauts panel. “If you have time right after this, go down and play it.” I take his words to heart and head back down to the showroom floor figuring where I saw this game in passing the first time. Before I could even look at a map, I see it right near the main stairs alongside several other Xbox 360 games. The line is practically non existent and I am able to jump in after wait only a few minutes.
Dust: An Elysian Tail is a very straight forward 2D melee beat-em up, with a bit of Metroid exploration sprinkled in , but its art style and combat flow are what really sell the game. The use of color and lighting had me starring at the screen in utter amazement. Everything flows naturally and the animation looks so fluid in motion that I had a hard time focusing on cleaving foes with my sword at first. In no time, though, I was juggling enemies into the air and linking together devastating combos with ease.
Considering this game has a very small team behind it (most of the assets made by one guy) the quality of the animation alone and the ease of play have hooked me in. I didn't get much information on what the story in this game is about or who the characters are, and, honestly, I couldn't really care about it while amidst the ruckus of the showroom. If you want something that will look absolutely gorgeous and that is easy to pick up and play, be sure to check it out when it hits XBLA later this year.
Natural Selection II
Now comes along Natural Selection II developed from the ground up by Unknown Worlds Entertainment using a game engine they built from scratch. The game it self is much like the first one, which even after the greater part of a decade is still unique among other FPS games. Weapons and abilities can be upgraded as resources are gathered at each teams base which is managed by the commander in the overhead view. The rest of the players fight the gritty battle on ground level in first person in a tug of war game of domination. Teamwork is essential as the way to win is through coordination in taking out the opponent’s base. A single marine or alien cannot accomplish the task alone. The mechanics are straight forward enough though that once in the groove it's easy to understand what needs to be done without much vocal communication if that isn't your style.
What I remember from the first game were the controls feeling a bit unwieldy and loose. It also had that look of being like every other mod based off of Valve's architecture at the time, despite it being a total conversion from the Half-Life engine. Now, after playing a few rounds, aiming in NS II feels a bit smoother, and attacking that was once a headache as an alien is now actually fun for me. The game is still in closed beta, but preordering it gets you access to that and the full game when it comes out on PC this summer.
There was one thing still lingering on my mind as I watched a few rounds after I had my fill. "Will the dance rooms still be around," I asked one of the developers in attendance.
"Yeah, we are thinking about bringing back the raves," he says with a nod. Instant purchase for me it is then.
Stay tuned to Cerebral Pop for part two later this week!