Another PAX Prime has come and gone. I waited a few days to put together a post because I wanted to take the time to really delve into some of the games I discovered in 3 days of the glorious, overwhelming expo of all things gaming.
While it was great to see the new Halo 4, Dead Island’s sequel, the newest Assassin’s Creed and all the other big gaming companies, this year belonged to the Indies. (And really you can read reviews and dissection on the big name games anywhere!)
One trend that was noticeable throughout PAX was a retro feel to new indie games. Arguably the resurgence of “old school” graphics was started by the indie juggernaut MineCraft, which has 40,298,047 registered users as of this post. There was an entire area at PAX dedicated to the game, including a Creeper sculpture that showed what one of the creatures would look like on the inside. A major presence in the games market, Minecraft has made it clear that you do not have to have photo realistic graphics to have an audience or to be marketable.
Of course PopCap Games also attended, a company best known for games like Bejeweled and Plants vs Zombies. The three guys who started PopCap in 2000 wanted to make simple Java games that were free for everyone to play. With over 400 employees today, they are a great example of a successful indie start into a successful company. They showed that you can build a successful gaming company by focusing on simple game play that is easily enjoyable by a broad range of audiences over a broad range of platforms.
Every year, 50 industry experts get together to pick the ten best new indie games, called the PAX10. Looking at more than just the design they examine new games on the overall game play and fun factor. The games that win the competition get a special area on the main floor of the expo to set up demonstrations of their games.
The PAX10 this year were:
- Canon Brawl
- Catch 22
- Containment: The Zombie Puzzler
- Johann Sebastian Joust
- Offspring Fling
- The Bridge
- The Swapper
While it’s have to pick a top game, which would largely depend on the type of gaming you’re into, I would say my two stand-out favorites were Containment the Zombie Puzzler and PuzzleJuice. Puzzlejuice is like Tetris, meets Boggle, meets Bejeweled, on steroids thrown in a blender, then spiced with awesome sauce. Okay, I might have spent a lot of time on that game.
There is also a very good chance the next time I get together with my friends we will be playing Johann Sebastian Joust, which left us all laughing so hard that our sides hurt. Using the Playstation Move, it is a no graphics game that is set to music. The controllers are sensitive to movement and the goal is to never go over the threshold of that sensitivity…and to make sure the others in the game do go over that threshold.
Honestly I could say great things about all of the PAX10. The Swapper’s graphics were really unique and mesmerizing. Offspring Fling had a fun feel with a twist. Catch22 was really hypnotic.
Of course they were not the only indie games there, there were new games for smart phones, tablets, and PCs, ranging from new zombie games, to hex based strategy games, card games, action and more. Probably what was most impressive from the technological aspect of the games were how many of them crossed multiple platforms – iOS, Android, Windows, you name it. The freedom with which the indie developers make their games available on new devices is just awesome.
Veering sharply from the high tech, super realistic graphics that can be found with the larger named games at PAX coming from Bioware, Microsoft, and others, the indie games show a return to bright colors, sharp lines, and very straight forward game play. This is not to say easy or boring, but at the core the indie games are inventive, cooperative, and had a certain delight in simply the concept of fun play. Even with the retro graphics it did not feel like game play was moving backwards; the games had a lot of intelligent play, good storylines and great interaction with other players.
While it was great to see the new games coming out from the big companies, for me this PAX was really about falling in love with indie games.