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The Best of PAX East 2017 – Day 1

PAX East 2017 is in the books. We made the trek to Boston for the annual convention, and though we played far too many games to sum up everything, we did have plenty of favourites. These are some of the best games we played on Day One of PAX East. Be sure to stay tuned for our recaps of Day Two and Day Three later in the week!

Floor Kids (Hololabs)

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Floor Kids is a breakdancing rhythm game for iOS and Android. You tap directions and draw your finger across the surface of your device as the sweet tunes of Kid Koala play in your ear. It doesn’t suffer from the problems of other rhythm games that focus too much on following the beat and not enough on the simple joy of nodding along to a catchy tune. It really felt like my fingers were dancing across the screen, albeit it a slightly clumsy way (though that last part is probably my fault)

The art looks like it came out of a sketchbook.  The simple body shapes (the kind you see in art class) make the bodies look like jelly as they wriggle and roll. The animation is done by Jonathan Ng, who has previously worked on films like The Mummy 3, The Little Prince, The Spiderwick Chronicles, and Requiem for Romance. Though Holoabs is based in Victoria, BC, Ng (aka JonJon) is involved with the bboy community in Montreal and that style is reflected in the game. Floor Kids doesn’t have a release date, but Hololabs hopes to launch before the end of 2017.

Correction: This section originally stated that Holoabs has ties to the bboy community in Victoria, BC. We regret the error.

Russian Subway Dogs (Spooky Squid) 

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Russian Subway Dogs is the best game I played on a single screen at PAX East. Developed by Toronto’s own Spooky Squid (They Bleed Pixels, Night of the Cephalopods), you play as a dog on dog-ized Russian subways, sneaking up behind people and barking at them to steal food to keep your stamina bar full. You get bonuses for catching food in mid air, and the game gets deeper as you deal with snow, other dogs, exploding vodka, and bears that serve as an alternative source of food. It’s a simple game that belongs to the era of coin-op arcade games, but the depth of the mechanics feels much more modern. The world itself has rules that everyone must follow. Those rules can lead to some bizarre situations.

“Any animal that is not a dog you can cook and eat using vodka explosions,” said Miguel Sternberg, one half of Spooky Squid. “If any of those animals eat chocolate, they will then produce poison meat. If they eat poison meat, that will chain through 3 different animals to be poisoned meat.”

“I think we might be the only single screen arcade game with bioaccumulation of toxins simulated.”

In other words, it turns out that chocolate is as bad for bears as it is for dogs, and no amount of vodka explosions will turn a chocolate bear into an edible bear. It’s one of the many features that Spooky Squid has been able to add to the game thanks to OMDC funding and some tax credits that allowed them to continue development after a failed Kickstarter.

“I still have a job, I still have a company, and we are still making this game,” said Sternberg.

Russian Subway Dogs is set to release on PC and Mac for later in 2017.

Where Shadows Slumber (Game Revenant)

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Where Shadows Slumber is a cool looking isometric puzzle game that will remind people of 2014’s Monument Valley. Your character looks a bit like a priest (he reminds me of Sean Connery in The Name of the Rose for some reason), and your torch leads the way as you walk. The shadows that appear change the world as they roll over the environment, offering solutions that were not originally there.

Game Revenant’s Frank DiCola (artist/founder) and Jack Kelly (coder) also maintain an informative blog that is just as exciting as their game. They talk about the hurdles they face, how the mechanics work, and even their design ethos. It’s a treat to follow such a open design process, and it’s fascinating to learn that Monument Valley inspired far more than the aesthetic.

“[Monument Valley developer Ustwo] published all their numbers, how’d they do with sales and downloads and everything. I found it super honest so one of our goals is to do the same thing. I think that helps people put it into perspective,” said DiCola.

Where Shadows Slumber is set to release for Android and IOS for later in 2017.

Hob (Runic Games)

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Runic Games is best known for procedurally generated dungeon crawlers (Torchlight 1 and 2), but the studio is going out of its way to show its range with Hob, which has something more akin to the hand-crafted Shadow of the Colossus. In Hob, you control a robed figure that lives in a strange world with lush greenery on the surface and robotic clockwork underground.

“It’s an open world adventure and a lot of questing. There are creatures that can kill you but some might ignore you,” said Wonder Russell, Minister of Culture at Runic games and Demo-er of Hob for game journalists.

There are platforming sections and puzzles scattered throughout the underworld, where you find the dungeons of the Zelda-like game. I started out in a later part in the game where my hooded character already had a couple of key items, including a gigantic robot armour that allowed for more direct combat. It’s telling that your character is not ready for combat at the start, and instead needs a button prompt to pull its sword or hold up it’s one metal arm.

Hob is also a world where not every enemy need be fought. There are monsters that behave more like animals, and many are uninterested unless provoked. Even the large mechanical threats only seem to be only doing their job to keep the world above running. As I solved puzzles and completed objectives, the underworld became the over world, adding to a vista that begged to be explored.

“We realized we like hand crafting these environments to make the best possible experience it can be at that moment. You can’t really do that with a procedurally generated game,” said Allan Fong, the COO of Runic games.

Human Fall Flat (Tomas Sakalauskas)

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Human Fall Flat is a world simulator in which you have to get Bob from point A to point B, and while the goal is direct, how you get there is anything but. You can push, pull, climb, jump, swing, and throw towards the objective. In a gaming landscape that often has one verb, Human Fall Flat allows for something a little different. The settings you traverse are something out of a dream. As you finish one room, you simply fall from one floating level into the next one. There’s no fall damage for the portly fellow. In fact, he seemed kind of indestructible when I made a mistake and he fell back down a wall he had been climbing.

“It’s focused heavily on physics. They are fixed levels but multiple routes,” said Curve Digital’s Johnny Merritt. Curve Digital is the publisher of Human Fall Flat. The game is developed by Tomas Sakalauskas and is already available on Steam.

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