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The Best of PAX East – Day 2

From horror based racing games to balance based rogue-likes, Day 2 of PAX East brought more games that are doing lots of interesting things. As always, these are some of the best. Many of these games are already out so check them out if you can, and be sure to catch up on Day 1 of our PAX East coverage!

The Gardens Between (The Voxel Agents)

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The Gardens Between is a surreal puzzle game in which two friends wander through gardens made out of their own memories. The vistas feel like something out of a Haruki Murakami novel (in other words, magical realism is in). You circle each garden while amazing images are shown to you, and the look of the game is jaw dropping in a way that makes me wish I could have bought art prints of the levels at PAX East.

“Each garden is forged from a memory between [main characters Arina and Frendt],” said Brooke Maggs, the Writer and Narrative Designer of The Gardens Between. “These beautiful garden environments have seemingly grown around modern objects in the ground. We wanted those modern objects to be quintessential childhood objects.”

As the player, you control the progression of time, using your knowledge of the future to make changes before that future happens. The story is told through the environment, as the objects you find explain what is happening in the more mundane outside world. It’s a meditative experience told without any text, instead allowing the player to piece together the story from the visuals. The Australian developers trust their players, and don’t mind if audiences come up with their own meanings.

“I love it – I really do – when people guess what’s going on. That’s a great thing. People can read whatever they like. People will tell me what her character is and I love it,” said Maggs.

The Gardens Between is set for release in late 2017, though you can add it to your Steam wish list now.

Bleed 2 (Bootdisk Revolution)

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Bootdisk Revolution returns with the side-scrolling, bullet hell action game Bleed 2, and the Toronto developer has delivered a bigger game with the sequel. Bleed 2 has roughly 30 bosses, as well as multiplayer and a combat system that gives the players the ability to reflect enemy attacks.

Bleed 2 has bullet reflect, which is its core mechanic,” said Ian Campbell, the sole member of Bootdisk Revolution. “Now all the bullets and physical attacks are coded yellow or purple. You can reflect anything purple and the second player can reflect anything orange.”

Once an attack is reflected it can no longer hurt the players but it can hurt enemies. There is also an unlockable character from another Canadian game. The star of Spooky Squid’s They Bleed Pixels comes to Bleed 2 with her own uniquely vicious skill set (see our Day 1 roundup for more about Spooky Squid’s upcoming Russian Subway Dogs).

Though Bleed 2 is best played co-op, the game does allow for single player action. The game is already out on Steam for $11.

Semispheres (Vivid Helix)

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Semispheres is a neat puzzle game in which each thumbstick controls a sphere in a different parallel dimension. You need to coordinate their movements to get them to the end point of the level. Canadian developer Vivid Helix was trying to invoke the feelings that players got from Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, in which each brother was similarly controlled with a different thumbstick.

“There is a scene in the game where you are trying to get away from something. When they switch sides it gets really confusing, so I figured I would fix that problem by constraining my characters to separate worlds. I’m bringing back that confusion in smaller doses later on,” said Radu Muresan, the Lead Developer at Vivid Helix.

Muresan added that the blue and yellow colour scheme was chosen to make Semispheres more accessible for colourblind players. The game is available on Steam for $11.

Northgard (Shiro Games)

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Northgard is a departure for Shiro games, a studio best known for the quirky Evoland and Evoland 2. Northgard is a Norse-inspired RTS that has the outline of a Civilization game. You control one of four clans, each with its own unique attributes, and you need to colonize new areas with workers in order to get more workers. You also need to remove any enemies or aggressive units before absorbing a new area, which meant that I needed to kill a pack of wolves before I could get those sweet resources.

A scout unit is able to travel far away from your main base and meet other tribes. From there, you can treat them with hostility or open up trade in hopes of surviving the harsh winter. When winter hits, it drastically reduces how much food you can produce and begins to deplete the food you have in storage. When you are running low, you’re able to change higher class tradespeople back into workers, which means that they’ll require less food. It’s a smart bit of class commentary made by the developer, since of course skilled tradespeople think they deserve more than common workers.

Northgard has some eye-catching visuals, though the scenery did make me wonder why there was a village-sized sword sticking out of the ground. Northgard is in early access on Steam for $22.

Hacktag (Piece of Cake Studios)

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“Do you want to be Tom Cruise or Simon Pegg from a Mission Impossible movie?” – Bérenger Dupré, Co-Founder and CMO of Piece of Cake Studios.

Hacktag combines the police state from République with the isometric perspectives of Invisible Inc. to create a 2-player game with asynchronous gameplay. You play as the hacker (Pegg) or the agent (Cruise) to break into facilities in a anthropomorphic cat-person world. You have to work together as most challenges require one player to hack while the other stays out of sight, and both players are very squishy. There is no direct combat. Instead, you have items that give you a chance to hide, like smoke bombs and EMPs. There are also flesh and blood guards and anti-virus software patrolling the area. If one player gets caught, the other must unlock them before a timer runs down.

The isometric view allows you to get a good look at what is coming and your partner can always scout ahead to give you helpful intel. The game is all in realtime so you always have to be ready to move, hack, or assist your partner. After spending 10 years working on bigger games (Alone in the Dark and Test Drive) at other studios, Piece of Cake co-founders Marine Freland and Xavier Lemaitre launched the studio because they wanted to play more co-op games together.

“My associate and her husband were looking for a game to play together so they played Portal 2. They couldn’t find any new game in co-op so they decided to make this one,” said Dupré.

Hacktag is set to release for PC and consoles in late 2017.

Tumbleseed (aeiowu – Publisher)

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Tumbleseed is a rolly roguelike in which you control a seed by guiding a horizontal bar up the screen while avoiding holes and planting seeds in soil. It’s a unique concept that apparently dates back to the 80s.

“The main inspiration is this old mechanical arcade cabinet called Ice Cold Beer from 1983,” said Ben Fritz, one of the developers of Tumbleseed. “[It’s] a telescoping metal bar with a marble on top. You are pushing up this board, moving a marble up a wall that has holes in it.”

Tumbleseed hints at a broader story as you leave your village to fight the big bad in a tutorial level. You collect different types of seeds for different situations, including one that places checkpoints or another that covers your seed in thorns. It’s a bright and colourful game that will have you trying to be as precise as possible. The game came from the Cards Against Humanity game incubation program, a community of indie video and board game developers at the Cards Against Humanity office. It’s a spacious co-working space for friends of the CAH community.

The game is set to release for PC, Mac, PS4, and Nintendo Switch in 2017.

Strikers Edge (Fun Punch Games)

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“It’s medieval dodge is what it is,” said Fun Punch Producer Ricardo Flores

A new local multiplayer game enters the arena. Strikers Edge is an indie game in the vein of Towerfall and Windjammers. The game has you playing as one of 8 different historical combatants – such as archers, knights, and vikings – and throwing weapons  at one another across a field.

There is a stylish slow down when a missile gets near your character, giving you that last second you need to avoid it. Aside from the enemies across the line, the stage is an obstacle in its own right, sometimes putting up barriers and at other times raining down stalactites.

“The stage is like the players. Every stage is different and every stage has its own hazards,” said Flores.

Strikers Edge is set to be released May 2017 for PS4 and PC.

sU and the Quest for Meaning (Guillaume Bouckaert)

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“Its an endless platformer where the score is a puzzle,” said Lead Developer Guillaume Bouckaert.

sU and the Quest for Meaning is a deceptive game that looks like a simple one-screen platformer. The catch is that the game doesn’t tell you how to clear each level. You play as a figure with a long scarf jumping on mountains. As you land on them, they begin to sink into the ground. Once you jump off, they fall fast and a new structure appears. You have a liberal double jump to plan out your path as you direct yourself towards objectives.

“(sU) is based on a strange language and if you understand and decipher it, you can solve the puzzle,” said Bouckaert.

According to Bouckaert,  you could play the game for over 24 hours without completing a puzzle. sU is expected to be released in late 2017.

She Remembered Caterpillars (Jumpsuit Entertainment)

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“[She Remembered Caterpillars] is a puzzle game based on colour theory,” said David Priemer, a Game Designer at Jumpsuit Entertainment. It is about navigating the characters to exit points. There are obstacles in your way blocking characters based on your colour.”

She Remembered Caterpillars is a very cute looking game with some really gross sound effects. The simple puzzles have you using reds, blues, and purples to bypass ‘caterpillar bridges’ and ‘noodle gates,’ both of which are flesh-based and make the most disturbing noises. If you try crossing a bridge as the wrong colour, the caterpillar snaps in half and won’t reform until you leave.

There is also a narrative that addresses the relationship between a parent and child. She Remembered Caterpillars is already on Steam for $13.

Pathologic (Ice-Pick Lodge)

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When I walk past this booth, the name sounded familiar. I later confirmed that these guys developed Cargo: The Quest for Gravity, a truly insane but amazing game that I recommend to anyone who loves surreal work.

“I am so happy to hear something nice about Cargo. Most people didn’t get it,” said Nikolay Dybowski, the CEO of Ice-Pick Lodge.

Pathologic is the game Ice-Pick was showing off at PAX East. It’s a first person game in which you are in a Twin Peaks-esque town in the middle of nowhere trying to unravel mysteries while also trying to figure out why a plague is ravaging the population. You have to maintain your health while trying to save the residents. Unfortunately, you’re an outsider and people will treat you as such. It’s a strange game that mixes small town life with impossible structures and disturbing creatures that no one seems upset about.

“Locals tell you nothing because you are an outsider,” said Dybowski. “A plague breaks out and the town is under quarantine for 12 days. You have to survive and solve the mystery in that time period. You know Majora’s Mask? These 12 days is 20 hrs of real time.”

Pathologic is actually remake of an Ice-Pick game of the same name that came out over 10 years ago. It never enjoyed widespread success, but had a dedicated following of players who loved the immersive story. There was an HD version released in 2015, but the developers want a full remake telling the same story from a different perspective.

“Same characters, but quite different behaviour. Same story, but quite different details,” said Dybowski.

The gameplay has an Eastern European feel, while the world is both mundane and crazy. The Russian developers also wanted to pare down the amount of text in the original game, which even they admit was novel length. The demo at PAX East is called Marble and will be released to the public in a couple weeks. It is not part of the primary game and instead deals with another character’s perspective, almost serving as a prologue to the story.

Distance (Refract Studios)

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Distance is a survival racing game set in a dystopian cyberpunk future. Your car handles like butter as you pull off insane stunts within the first five minutes. The car can jump, get indefinite speed boosts, and even sprout wings if you play right. It quickly becomes obvious that the course is the enemy, since the track will change to try to trip you up.

“All the tracks are point A to B. It is not about racing on a loop,” said Refract Founder Jordan Hemenway. “It’s more about you surviving to the end of the track. The track is trying to kill you along the way.”

In conjunction with the nerve-racking music, Distance left me shaken up in good way. It was a lot of intense fun that I haven’t found anywhere else. Racing horror of this ilk might only exist in a much newer game like Thumper.

“We wanted to do a lot of environmental storytelling and make the world wrap around you and make it feel like you are really involved,” said Hemenway.

There are tons of extra modes beyond the story, including multiplayer, random track generation, stunt challenges, and a level editor. The Steam workshop already has over 2000 fan-made courses, which is impressive for a game that is only in early access on Steam for $20.

“We just added ghost replay to watch people’s runs. The top ten runs basically shoot hard to the right and go through the abyss to find their own path,” said Hemenway

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Be sure to stay tuned for Day 3 of our PAX East coverage!

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