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The Best of Pax East – Day 3

We’re back with the final instalment of our PAX East roundup! These are the best games we saw on the third day of the Boston convention. Be sure to check out our recaps of Day 1 and Day 2 to see more of the great indie games that are coming out in 2017!

A Cat’s Manor (Happiest Dark Corner)

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A Cat’s Manor is one of the most polished indie games I saw at PAX East. It’s a simple side-scrolling puzzle platformer with great voice acting, an excellent musical score, and slick animations.

Tariq Mukhtar is the lone developer of the game, which also features voice work by Kai Kennedy and Mary Elizabeth Kennedy and a soundtrack from Wlad Marhulets. In it, you control an amnesiac cat living in a house with a family of eccentric murderers. As the cat, you need to solve puzzles in order to get out while being careful not to get on the family’s bad side or you’ll end up dead. Every time you die, you wake up in the trash bin and the game picks up from where you left off, so you won’t have to repeat completed tasks. However, you will be greeted with a cat skull as a reminder from your past indiscretions.

“At one time in my life I used to life with 24 cats. They ate more than the whole family. The cat was an obvious choice,” said Mukhtar of the decision to make a cat the protagonist. A Cat’s Manor is Mukhtar’s first game, which makes the whole thing even more impressive.

“This is my learning project,” said Mukhtar. “Learning programming, learning game development – it’s my third year of development. On and off for three years.”

A Cat’s Manor nevertheless has the feel of something that would come from a larger ten-person studio, and I cannot overstate how good the visuals look. It’s a minimalist game that uses shadows to hide details and pairs it with exquisite facial animations for the human characters. That goes hand in hand with the top tier voice acting, giving A Cat’s Manor a wonderful and creepy atmosphere.

The game is set to debut in 2017 on Steam and will later be released for the PS4, XboxOne, smart phones, and maybe even the Switch.

Open Sorcery (Abigail Corfman)

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“You play an elemental firewall, a magical creature of pure fire turned to C++ code,” said Abigail Corfman, discussing the concept for her game.

Open Sorcery (OS) is a text based game in which you can develop consciousness to grow beyond your programming or burn everything with with your eternal flame. The game is developed by Abigail Corfman, the creator of 16 Ways to Kill a Vampire in McDonalds, a free game in which you are vampire hunter on your night off that has a run in with a vampire at McDonald’s. The idea of playing as a utility, especially one that is necessary but often overlooked, is a novel idea that makes you wonder why you can’t play as an elemental firewall in more video games.

When asked why she chose to make such a game, Corfman explained that she is a programmer in her day to day life, working primarily in C Sharp. She also loves magic, and has been reading fantasy novels since she was a child. To her, it seemed obvious to combine the two passions and give them a twist.

“You can text a network of people and places who have technical and magical threats. You’ll deal with everything from viruses to poltergeists,” said Corfman.

In a lot of stories, magic and technology are at odds with one another, but Open Sorcery sees them as interchangeable. The game intro says as much, suggesting that magic is technology and technology is magic.

“You can develop relationships. You can gain sapience (Wisdom) or you can burn everything with fire, it’s completely up to you,” said Corfman.

OS is already out for Steam, Android and IOS.

Away: Journey to the Unexpected (Aurélien Regard and Jim Gennisson)

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Away: Journey to the Unexpected caught my attention immediately. With a bright and jovial look that recalls the original Dragon Ball anime, Away is a “feel good first person shooter” in which you recruit others to your cause. Aurélien Regard (Creator of The Next Penelope) and Jim Gennisson (level designer for the Rayman franchise) are making Away as a departure from other shooters and have instead chosen to make a silly game in which your main weapon is a stick.

“You are playing as this little kid and this kid is very useless. But he is good at one thing. He is good at making friends,” said Regard, talking about the game’s protagonist.

The story revolves around a boy in search of his parents who befriends people to join his party, and it’s even more anime than it sounds. The friends that join you have different controls and the world looks different through their eyes. A drunken tree man views the world as brown shades of sepia tone, while an old man’s vision is disjointed because of his cracked glasses.

“The game has rogue-like elements in it. Each time you die you will gain experience points for skills and a new path,” said Regard.

In addition to those rogue-like elements, Away has a lot of dialogue that can change how events play out, though the game doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. Away has a real carefree cartoon atmosphere.

“I am a huge fan of the classic Dragon Ball not Z and Ranma also,” said Regard, discussing his inspirations.

Away is being published by Playdius, a new indie publisher based in Europe. It will be out for Steam, the Nintendo Switch, the PS4, and Xbox One in 2017.

Symmetry (Sleepless Clinic)

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In Symmetry, you control a crew of scientists that crash landed on a desolate alien planet with some of the harshest survival elements you’ll ever see in a game. Upon entry, the ship is separated into sections, leaving you with only a small part of the crew, though more members will join you as time progresses. You survive by mining resources like electrical waste (to keep the lights on), cutting wood (to stay warm), and processing food (stave off hunger). You also have to keep your crew healthy and upgrade your shelter.

“When your scientists are at a low level (physically or mentally), this symmetrical world’s strange power checks them. It is more dangerous for them. They can even kill each other,” said Dariusz Łęczycki, the CEO of Sleepless Clinic, explaining that the world will amplify the hardships you face and cause mental breaks in the characters.

That’s why it’s important to allow your crew to rest and heal from injuries, as I found out during the demo when a crew member named Jacob kept cutting lumber well into the night and died of hunger/exposure. Fortunately, Symmetry is the kind of dystopia that lets you turn tragedy into fuel. We were able to take Jacob and put him in the food processor to feed the remaining crew.

Thats right. Symmetry allows cannibalism as a game mechanic, though you’ll want to use it only as a last resort because it gets much harder to survive with one less crew member on the planet. There are no creatures aside from your crew, though there is a force that tracks events on the planet. It takes about 4-5 hours to play through Symmetry, but there is a bit of procedural generation so it may take you a few tries before you’re able to complete it, especially if your crew doesn’t have the skills it needs. Either way, it sounds like you can always find new ways to die.

“Every day is harder,” said Łęczycki.

The game is set to release for PC and consoles later in 2017.

Seven: The Days Long Gone (Fool’s Theory)

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Seven: The Days Long Gone was the most ambitious game I tried at PAX East. It’s a system-driven isometric RPG that drops you into an open world and gives you free reign to deal with it however you want.

Thankfully, the developers at Fool’s Theory have an excellent pedigree. Members of the team worked on the last two Witcher games, so an expansive world full of interesting narrative and combat encounters seems right up their alley. You play as a master thief on an island penal colony who teams up with demon. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the game is a blend of the dark ages and science fiction, while the actual gameplay is opened ended. You need to explore vertically as much as horizontally, and you can approach missions whichever way you chose. The game feels like it borrows a lot from the open level design  of a game like Deus Ex, but it mixes it with the feel of Baldur’s Gate and the free roaming movement of Assassin’s Creed.

Depending on your preferences,  you can go in loud or stealth your way through missions, and the world changes based on your decisions. As we played through the demo, we found a zeppelin that someone had taken down earlier. That allowed us to loot it, but it also changed the game world. Since the zeppelin crashed, prices for items would be higher in local shops.

“It affects the economy of the game. Because the zeppelin did not reach the Vetrall empire, the prices went up because the money was lost,” said Maka Krzysztog, the Art Director on Seven.

Seven is filled with that kind of cause and effect, making for a very intricate game world that feels truly alive. The game is set to release later in 2017 for the PC.

The Shrouded Isle (Published by Kitfox Games)

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It’s not the end of the world, but you can see it from here.  The Shrouded Isle allows you to play as a high priest for a cult at the end of the world. Your job is to keep everything on track for five years in what can best be described as an un-Civilization game.

“If you have scholars running around, they might overthrow your whole belief system. You have to promote things we usually associate with negative qualities,” said Tanya X Short, Designer at KitFox Games.

There are different families that you can put in charge of tasks like promoting ignorance or stifling curiosity. You want to find people who good at the job, but not so good that they show real talent or intelligence, because then they’ll see past your cultish facade. You need to keep the system working, but you can’t have people question it or it will all fall apart.

Once a season, you also have to murder a member of one of the families as a sacrifice to your dark god.

“We are very interested in King of Dragons Pass and that rulership Tinder game Reigns. It’s a similar balancing act [to The Shrouded Isle],” said Short.

The Shrouded Isle is about finding that balance. You must keep the families in line lest they grow tired of you and offer you as a sacrifice. The goal is to keep the status quo and not improve much of anything, making the game an exercise in the evils of middle management.

The game is set for release in Summer 2017 for the PC.

Inner Chains (Telepath’s Tree)

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Inner Chains is one of the most disturbing games I tried at PAX East. Everything in its decaying future has a gross, disgusting utility. According to the developers, even the friendliest thing in Inner Chains should be repulsive and unsettling, and it’s certainly accomplishing that goal.

The game is a tactical horror FPS in which ammo comes at premium. The fact that the gun drains your life when your ammo is depleted only makes things more complicated. You play as a zombified human with everything grafted onto you, so your weapons are living technology that is part of you while healing and reloading items attach themselves as fleshy nodules. The world is as dangerous as it is unsightly, and because ammo is so precious you’ll have to use obstacles in the world to defeat many enemies. for instance, you can pull enemies into aggressive plants that will strike and kill, though you’ll have to keep eye contact to prevent them from attacking you. Inner Chains forces you to pay attention to the details because running in guns blazing will get you killed.

Lead Developer Tomasz Strzalkowski was inspired by H.R. Giger and a Polish painter of nightmare images named Zdzisław Beksiński. Inner Chains looks like a AAA game, and you can see the living nightmares that Telepath’s Tree is trying to evoke .

Inner Chains is set to release later in 2017 for the PC.

The American Dream ( Samurai Punk)

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If someone made a video game based on that one joke from The Simpsons about Homer using a gun as an everyday tool, the result would look a lot like Samurai Punk’s The American Dream.

In The American Dream, you wander through a 1950s world that is trying to teach you the virtues of guns. The VR demo had me shooting a gun at a door so my mom could bring me food, and later shooting bagels to give them their signature holes. As the game moves through locations, you are in a roller coaster chair that doubles as your ammo supply. Tapping a button slows down time and lets you reload your clip in mid air like someone in a John Woo movie.

“We made a game about the guy from Call of Duty, where his only method of interaction is a gun. [It’s] a game of their regular life,” said Winston Tang, Founder and Programmer at Samurai Punk.

The American Dream uses the best parts of VR and pairs it with a very funny concept. It allows the player to mess around in a world without necessarily having to complete objectives as in most other games, and that room simulator approach seems well suited to Virtual Reality.

The American Dream is set to release in 2017 for Vive, PS VR, and the Oculus Rift.

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After another incredible PAX East, I am excited for all of the amazing games that are slated to come out in 2017. Most of the games I saw explored new boundaries or changed tiresome formulas, and a process that is pushing the medium to a wider and more diverse audience. I can’t wait to see these games outside of the show floor.

I only hope that we can get a PAX convention in  Canada sometime soon, perhaps even somewhere away from Toronto in the Prairie provinces or the Maritimes, just to show that game development can happen anywhere. PAX East featured developers and publishers from Eastern Europe, South Asia, the Middle East and beyond, reminding guests that games are better when more people are making them.

 

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