The PAX East 2017 Roundup

Since its first year in 2010, PAX East has become one of Boston’s fastest growing events. With more than 70,000 attendees each year, PAX East is the second largest gaming convention in the country–second only to PAX Prime in Washington. This year, we at The Lifecast traversed the enormous show floor, long lines, and overpriced food to share with you some of our best (and worst) finds in upcoming games. I, in particular, played 18 of the countless games to be found at PAX East. Allow me to share with you on the titles I played, with hopes that you’ll find something interesting if the this week’s episode of the podcast didn’t satiate your appetite for PAX feedback.

 

StarCrossed

via contigo-games.itch.io

The first game I played at PAX East, Contigo Games’s StarCrossed is a cute, co-op shoot-em-up. You and a partner play as your choice from a set of (very well drawn) magical girls in space, and you bounce a star between yourselves to eliminate enemies. It’s a pretty simple game meant for casual fun. It’s pong in space, but with magical girls.

 

The American Dream

Samurai Punk’s The American Dream is everything I’ve ever wanted in a satirical, Australian-made game about America. Nay, The American Dream is everything I’ve ever wanted in a shooter game in general. It’s a VR shooter that takes you on a 1950’s-style educational amusement park ride that’s all about the American lifestyle–meaning it’s all about guns. Everything from baby’s first shots, working in a bagel factory, etc.

The demo begins with you as a baby, learning how to use guns, and being asked questions by your mom and (of course) shooting the right answers. You’re then forwarded to adult life, where you work in a bagel factory. As you’d expect, you shoot the holes in the bagels (and sometimes, shooting rats off of the conveyor belt). The demo ends shortly after that.

The visuals, responsiveness, and general 1950’s aesthetic were all fine in this game, but what stood out to me the most about this was its incredible sense of humor that’s even visible in the promotional image for this game that you can see above in the thumbnail for the trailer. It’s a game that knows its own brand of humor better than most, and can therefore use it better than most (and, needless to say, it does exactly that). Taking the humor from this game, you’re left with a pretty standard VR shooter without any special qualities–therefore, if you’re looking for a thrilling VR shooter then this definitely isn’t what you’re looking for. Additionally, although certainly not the only thing that makes this game funny but a part of it, is that Second Amendment rights are quite a hot topic in America lately–therefore, I don’t see this game aging very well. But for now, if you’re in the mood for some delicious satire to be found in a game, then this is absolutely perfect.

 

Final Fantatsy XV Episode Gladiolus

I’d like to preface this by saying that I have a lot of mixed feelings about Final Fantasy XV, but this article isn’t meant to be a review on it, but the demo for Episode Gladiolus–a DLC campaign where you play as Gladiolus, finding out what his “important business” was in Ch. 7 of the main game. The controls are essentially the same from the main game, but there are some slight changes since we are playing as a different character with a different fighting style from Noctis. I’m not a fan of the gameplay in the main game, and Episode Gladiolus is no different in this respect, if not a bit slower, but if you don’t mind the main game’s gameplay then you won’t mind it in Episode Gladiolus either. That can be said about most of the demo, to be perfectly honest–if you don’t like the way X was done in the main game, you won’t like it in Episode Gladiolus either. It’s meant to be an extra chapter to expand on the game, and as such, is meant to fit in with the main game–which it does. Above all, what this short demo did was get me excited about when the Prompto episode will come out, as it felt too short and overall lacking. Although not awful, it didn’t get me excited or interested in playing the full episode once it’s out.

 

Victor Vran

I’m not normally a fan of top-down action games–Victor Vran is no exception. Normally I wouldn’t have even given this game a second thought, but they were promoting their Motorhead-themed DLC, and being a big fan of Motorhead, I thought I’d give it a shot.

The Motorhead-themes were definitely present–you could use a guitar as a weapon, attacks and yells were referencing Motorhead songs, but that’s the limitation of where my interest was. Gameplay felt uninspired and plain. The map felt cluttered and disorganized. And, as I mentioned before, I’m just not a fan of top-down action games like this. Had I not seen the Motorhead logo on their booth, I wouldn’tve tried this game at all. And, sure to my pattern of not liking games like this, I didn’t care for the very forgettable Victor Vran.

 

We Know the Devil

A visual novel by Date Nighto, We Know the Devil is the story of a group of kids at a Christian summer camp and what they find there. Although the best of the 3 visual novels I played at PAX, this game did seem decent, but not remarkable. The demo did little to set up the story and failed to provide any kind of narrative hook for the player to latch onto in its short 10 minutes. Which is a shame, because listening to the developer talk about it, the concept did seem pretty interesting to me. The best feedback I could give would be to choose a better section of the game to make the demo–tease the plot more, the environment and circumstances less. The audience can be told those things when playing the demo–but they shouldn’t have to be told why they should be interested in this game, as anybody who played it at PAX was.

 

West of Loathing

One of my favorite online games in my early years of high school was a free-to-play game called Kingdom of Loathing. I stopped playing it (not because it was a bad game, but just because I had found other games to play and I just started playing it less and less) around my Junior year or so, and ever since it’s just fallen off of my radar–so you can imagine my pleasant surprise seeing that its developers, Asymmetric Publications, were making another Loathing game! Moreover, that it’s being made in the same vain of the original–with simple, black and white stick figure graphics, RPG parody, and delicious sarcasm.

West of Loathing is another RPG parody game, except this time you’re in the Wild West. If you’ve played Kingdom of Loathing, I can satiate your curiosity about this game now by saying that it’s basically Kingdom of Loathing, except with animated graphics and in the Wild West. If you haven’t played Kingdom of Loathing, by the end of this review on West of Loathing you’ll probably have a pretty solid understanding of what Kingdom of Loathing is, as well, as they are very similar to each other.

You choose from 3 “typical” RPG classes: Cow puncher, beanslinger, or snake oiler. From there, you leave your home farm and set off on your adventure, which (as far as the demo presented) consists mostly of doing quests for townspeople and turn based combat, all of which is laced with a consistent sense of dry, sarcastic humor which is present in every part of the game–including the aforementioned stick figure graphics, which are the centerpiece in this gem of a humor game.

It’s very hard for a game to instill a sense of humor into every facet of itself without feeling overwhelming, but West of Loathing manages to do exactly that. From its visuals, to its lore, to its gameplay, West of Loathing is everything a parody game should be: Funny, but not trite. If you’re in the mood for a good parody game, West of Loathing is sure to satisfy.

 

Hello Neighbor

I suspect that Tiny Build’s newest upcoming release, Hello Neighbor, will be one of the year’s biggest indie releases. Hello Neighbor is a game where you’re trying to break into your neighbor’s basement, as you suspect that something bad is going on next door. Your neighbor will, of course, try to stop you from breaking into his home, so you need to find some creative ways of going about your work. Where the real interest of this game lies, however, is the fact that the neighbor has an AI that is supposed to learn your patterns after a while, and adapt.

Although fun, I wouldn’t have guessed how advanced the AI is unless I had been told about it in advance (which I had been). Perhaps it was because the demo was meant to be easier, or perhaps it’s because this game is only in alpha, but regardless of the reason, I didn’t notice its presence. I’d often try to sneak into the house through the front door, and very rarely was the neighbor there to greet me. I’d also hide in the kitchen a lot, and lo and behold, the neighbor rarely took notice. That, alongside many visual bugs (both I and the neighbor clipped and panned into several things I’m sure we weren’t meant to) leave me a tad worried about this game, but not necessarily with a negative outlook on it. The game itself was still challenging enough–I just wish that this allegedly advanced AI were more present. Besides, as I mentioned earlier, the game is only in alpha and has plenty of time to get fixed before its release. In any case, it did leave me wanting to play a more tightened version of it. Despite its bugginess, it was still fun. Just not as fun as I’d hoped it would be.

 

Perception

I’ve spoken at length many times about this game and why I’m so excited for it. In summary, it’s an incredibly immersive cat and mouse game made by former Dead Space and Bioshock devs. You play as a blind girl, Cassie, navigating a haunted house while there’s something–a presence–haunting you. Using echolocation to navigate the house, you unfold its narrative whist hiding yourself from the presence.

Above all, Perception is a well-made game. An incredibly creative concept, a well-told narrative, beautiful graphics, some of the best sound design I’ve ever experienced, and unique gameplay all combined into one wonderfully well crafted game. The demo alone is one of the most immersive experiences I’ve ever had in a game, leaving me starving for the full game which I’m counting down the seconds for (or at least, I would if it had a specific release date).

 

 

YIIK

I’ve already spoken at length about this game a few times before, as I played it at PAX last year and in fact called it my favorite demo that I played there. Although tied with Perception, it still retains its position with a new demo featuring the first few minutes of the actual game.

What this new demo showed off the most was the story and set-up of the game: The year is 1999 and our protagonist, Alex, has just returned home after college. Following a cat to a mysterious forest, he finds a girl named Sammy Pak who is abducted by mysterious beings–perhaps aliens–before his very eyes. As the game’s site reveals, the footage is uploaded online and so begins Alex’s hunt for her.

YIIK is an Earthbound-inspired turn-based RPG. Like Earthbound, it also utilizes everyday objects as weapons that you can get more damage out of with timed button presses that reminds me of another turn-based JRPG called Shadow Hearts. When you’re not fighting enemies, you’re exploring areas, doing quests, and looking for answers.

This game, as you would expect, has a prominent sense of humor present throughout all the available demos–and therefore, also likely the entire game–thanks to our lovely, sarcastic protagonist, Alex and his quirky group of friends. Perhaps the only thing more prominent are the stylish, colorful graphics that dive you right back into the 90’s.

If I had to use a single word to describe YIIK, it’s “personality.” From its graphics to its story, characters, music, gameplay, and even its concept, everything about YIIK felt very fresh and very its own. If the full game lives up to the incredible uniqueness of the 3 demos I’ve played now, then this could easily be one of the best games to come out in 2017.

 

Splatoon 2

As someone who didn’t have many opportunities to play the first Splatoon game as much as I had wanted to (I’m not a Wii U owner, so I’ve played less than 5 hours of it, I’m sure) the differences between Splatoon 2 and Splatoon weren’t immediately obvious to me. The base gameplay is the same, the graphics (without a side-by-side comparison) looked the same, music and sound effects were the same, the map I played was in the first Splatoon, and the only differences I could notice were the dodge roll–a very helpful addition–and new pieces of wardrobe.

That said, being similar to the first Splatoon isn’t necessarily a bad thing–Splatoon 2, like the original Splatoon, is packed with colorful, inky fun for everyone. What puzzles me is why Nintendo has chosen to make this a sequel game–which it certainly doesn’t feel like right now, as there’s not enough setting it apart from the original Splatoon–as opposed to simply adding a Switch port much like they are for Mario Kart 8 and just patching in the dodge roll and new wardrobe. Especially in light of the fact that Splatoon has been around for nearly 2 years as opposed to Mario Kart 8’s 3 and the fact that Mario Kart is a regularly-releasing franchise makes it especially confusing why Nintendo has chosen to do this. Questionable decisions aside, the demo of Splatoon 2 paints the game as an only slightly upgraded version of Splatoon: Still very fun, but not enough differences from the original Splatoon to make it feel like a new or different game in any way. In its current state, it feels more like a slight patch to the original Splatoon.

 

Arms

Nintendo’s latest way of blatantly ignoring the Punch Out series, while fun, still feels like it has ways to go from a technical standpoint. It’s hard to say much about ARMS as I wasn’t given much time with it (a brief tutorial and 3 rounds–each lasted hardly longer than a minute) but what I can say with confidence is this: The game looks fantastic. The visuals are all incredibly animated, stylish, and fit the personality of the game very well. What worries me is its responsiveness.

Motion controls almost never seem to work to 100% efficacy, and ARMS is no different in this regard. Dodging and punching rely on moving the controller–rather than a button push–and those are without a doubt the most important mechanics of the game, seeing as how it’s a boxing game. (Read: Should’ve been a Punch Out game.) As one would expect, especially in a demo, dodges and punches didn’t go through 100% on the time–dodging in particular only seemed to work about half of the time. I had few problems with punching and no problems with button reliant mechanics. In addition to that, there were issues syncing the joy-cons to the game despite them being less than 2 feet away from the console. If Nintendo makes a way for one to play ARMS without motion controls, I could see this being a really fun game. When it works, it’s a very fun, very whimsical take on a boxing game that I could have a lot of fun with provided the motion controls weren’t involved.

 

Snipperclips

Snipperclips, to me, is the embodiment of the importance of allowing your player to be physically comfortable while they play your game. I played this cute, co-op puzzle game with Dan. We thought the idea of this game was clever enough, and we’d heard nothing but positive feedback on it. Unfortunately, we left with a very different outlook on it.

Snipperclips, as I mentioned earlier, is a co-op puzzle game. You and your partner play as 2 shapes who can cut each other up into other shapes and reform, and you’re given a goal to complete together. Unfortunately, these goals are very vague, and rarely pointed out to you. Sometimes the goal is something like, “Form this shape together” and other times–2 of the 3 puzzles in the demo, no less–don’t tell you what the goal is. They give you some tools and the game seems to assume you know what to do. For instance, one of them gave you 3 balloons. We thought we were supposed to corral them together, but as a Nintendo employee had to tell us after several frustrating minutes of nothing happening is that we were supposed to pop them. The other, you’re given a basketball and a hoop. Whereas the goal was pretty obvious, the means by which you are supposed to achieve it are, of course, vague. We made one of the characters a cup to hold the ball and had them jump in the hoop, but unfortunately, even though we achieved the goal, that’s not good enough for Snipperclips. As another Nintendo employee had to tell us, you can’t have a character jump in with the ball. Although more forgivable than the lack of direction on the balloon challenge, it still left us with a sour taste in our mouths for this game.

After a few minutes with the balloon challenge, our frustration with this game was becoming pretty evident. Here’s where the importance of physical comfort comes in: Nintendo had you standing for all of their demos–after standing in their absurdly long line. That day, me and Dan were surprisingly close to the front of the line to get into the showfloor and we made a bee line for Nintendo. Even then, we were still in line for close to an hour and a half. Nintendo wouldn’t allow people to sit in the line because it took up more space. Needless to say, or legs and feet were starting to hurt by the time we got to play the games. We noticed all the more how sore we were getting after standing angrily around playing what should’ve been a fun, relaxing game. This, of course, made the already frustrating game less fun for us, as we became increasingly aware of how sore we were getting. Although we still would’ve been frustrated at the game regardless, we would’ve been much less so if Nintendo simply let you sit down and relax to play their games (except for ARMS, of course, which should be played standing up because it’s a motion control game, but that’s aside from the point).

A frustrated player who’s sore is much more frustrated than a frustrated player who’s seated and comfortable. From their line to their demos, Nintendo didn’t seem to understand that this year–a real shame since there were people waiting in their line for upwards of 4 hours. And this brought down my already frustrating experience with Snipperclips. In the right environment and with the right partner I’m sure this game could be fun–after all, it has a very creative premise and when it’s not being vague, it’s quite fun–but the fact of the matter is, it’s still vague. All the players need to be told of is the goal and whether or not there’s any rules for obtaining the goal, and that’s it. Although there is some fun to be found in Snipperclips, it still has plenty of room for improvement.

 

What Remains of Edith Finch

What a mixed bag Giant Sparrow’s newest playable narrative game What Remains of Edith Finch was. This is a game that tells you the story of the Finch family by telling you about all of the family members in different ways: Therefore, there were 2 versions of the demo: One about Calvin Finch, one about Molly Finch. They chose an interesting 2 to demo here at PAX, seeing as how they left me with 2 wildly different impressions.

The first one I played was the longer of the 2, the one about Molly Finch. Immediately what stands out in this game is its jaw-droppingly gorgeous graphics, which were probably the only consistency between the 2 versions of the demo. This demo felt more representative of what I’m assuming the game will be like. By that I mean, you start out playing as Edith Finch (our protagonist, who lived in a now-abandoned mansion until she was 11. Now she’s returning to find out more about her family) who gives us some exposition on her situation. From there, you go to the mansion, and you’re more or less led into Molly’s room after some time spent in exploration. After learning some more about her, you start playing as her in a kind of dream sequence where you become various animals. After getting over the initial awkwardness of the situation, it does reveal a lot about Molly and right as I was getting interested in her story, the demo crashed on me completely. To the point where one of the devs had to tell me what happened in the rest of the demo, and let me skip the line to play the Calvin one.

For every bit the Molly narrative was interesting, the Calvin one was not. Although not necessarily bad, it left much to be desired compared to its interesting counterpart. The Calvin story was short, plain, uninteresting, and didn’t provide any of the narrative hooks that the Molly one had to get me more interested or involved in the story. But at least it didn’t crash on me or have any other technical issues.

The polarizing feelings I had about the 2 demos left me unsure how to feel about this game overall. If nothing else, it at least got me curious about it. Assuming the technical problems are fixed, if the Molly narrative is more representative of what the full game will be like (which I’m thinking is the more probable case because it was longer and provided more context to the situation Edith was in) then this game will be wonderful. If the Calvin story, on the other hand, is more representative of what it’ll be like, then it won’t be anything particularly memorable. At the very least, though, I can compliment this game on some of the best graphics I saw at PAX East this year. Although What Remains of Edith Finch has certainly got my attention, whether or not that’s for the better is yet to be clear.

 

Pyre

I played the 2-player version of Pyre with The Lifecast’s own Dan, who also played the single player version afterward. I’ve been told by him that the single player version of Pyre is substantially better than the 2-player, but alas, all I played was the 2-player version and will be talking exclusively about that version of it for this review.

Super Giant’s latest strategy game, Pyre, was a fun game plagued by an interminable demo. Without taking much time to explain the gameplay (but in its defense, there wasn’t much to explain anyways, so this was actually a good decision) or the context of the game whatsoever, the demo throws you into a match with your opponent in which you use 3 units–a small, medium, and a large–to essentially play football, but with fire and magic. Using your units, you throw a ball of energy into the enemy’s goal mark while they try to do the same for you. You use your units to go on either an offensive or defensive, catching or passing the ball, and so on. What made this demo so tiresome, however, was that it didn’t end until one side earned a certain number of points. Especially with players who are only just learning how to play the game, this can go on for far too long. Had the demo only required scoring less points–perhaps half, considering that the game wanted you to score about 100 points if I’m not mistaken, with each goal only getting you about 10–it wouldn’t have felt so long and sluggish. Although not bad, the gameplay wasn’t enticing enough to hold me or Dan’s attention for more than a few minutes. It got to the point where he let me score on purpose so we could be done sooner.

Make no mistake, the gameplay was tight, the graphics were gorgeous, and there was a good degree of fun to be had. But considering we were just learning the game and how no context for why we were doing this (and based on the visuals, the game does appear to have some kind of story) the demo felt much longer than it needed to be–to the point where we started feeling exhausted from it because we had to play it for so long, by no choice of our own. The demo should’ve been half its length. I don’t normally complain about the length of a demo, but for a game meant for casual fun–much like the multi-player demo for Pyre–you have to realize that your game is exactly that: Casual fun. Usually not meant for extensive periods of gameplay, much like this demo was. If I’m not mistaken, we were there for nearly half an hour by the time we decided to leave–far too long for a demo like this.

 

Date or Die

via dateordiegame.com

Despite being a visual novel touting an all-queer cast, that’s all that can be said about the uniqueness to be found in the Date or Die demo. Date or Die reminds me of a quirky, edgy 14-year-old’s attempt at making a dating sim. When making a dating sim, writing interesting characters is absolutely paramount. After all, since you’re relying on the story of your game–rather than gameplay (seeing as how there essentially isn’t any)–you need your characters to help hook the player in. The idea of a dating sim is to get to know the characters better–therefore, if the player isn’t interested in the characters, they have no incentive to want to get to know them better. At least as far as the glimpse into this game that the demo provided, Date or Die fails on this front.

Admittedly, it is hard to make a player fall in love with a given character within 10 minutes. So I’m more or less forgiving Date or Die on that front, as that may have just been due to its constrains of time. No, what really turned me away from wanting to learn more about this game was its premise and how it’s treated: You’re on a reality TV show where if you don’t date one of the contestants, you die–the host is, like the rest of the game, straight from a quirky 14-year-old’s tumblr blog. Your standard “XDDDD so quirky and mysterious BUT WITH A SMILE lolol” kind of anime character, usually found in series meant for pre-teen girls (see similar: Xerxes from Pandora Hearts, Grell and Undertaker from Kuroshitsuji, Dazai from Bungo Stray Dogs, etc). Between the obnoxiousness of using such an overdone trope, the premise which feels entirely too goofy for the rest of this visual novel (after all, the first few moments of the demo, our protagonist is locked in a cell–if you’re going to make your visual novel this goofy, go all in and leave no traces of seriousness behind), and the uninteresting cast, this game left me not yearning for more. If this demo is at all representative of what the full game will be like, then although it might appeal to a younger crowd (younger than 16) with little to no experience in dating sims, to someone older and more aware of (and sick of) cliches in dating sims, this game doesn’t look like anything new or special.

 

Spirit Parade

If ever there were a single most generic game at PAX this year, it’s Spirit Parade. An otome visual novel, Spirit Parade–at least as far as one could see in the demo–has no originality, and feels as much like a token Alice in Wonderland-themed dating sim as can be. It’s very hard to bring originality into the heavily over-saturated realm of Alice in Wonderland themed visual novels (and media in general–especially anime inspired, as Spirit Parade quite obviously is) and Spirit Parade is no exception. The only factors that even somewhat set it apart are its lovely art (which is, without a doubt, the best and only redeeming quality it has) and Eastern attire–which isn’t enough to warrant calling it “unique” in any facet.

The demo introduces us to our main cast: The Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat, Queen of Hearts, Alice, etc. All of them act how you’d expect them to–Alice is the naive Mary Sue, Queen of Hearts is the regal (and best designed of the group) leader, and the Hatter and Cheshire Cat act like a 14-year-old on tumblr’s quirky OC. And of course, being an otome, they’re all men except for yourself (Alice) and the Queen of Hearts.

As far as the demo could present, Spirit Parade is another of the dozens of hundreds of Alice in Wonderland themed stories. As is typical for these kinds of stories, it presents no unique qualities, and its lovely art is its only redeeming quality. Spirit Parade, alongside Victor Vran (which I at least give the crutch of myself not liking top-down action games) and Date or Die, is without a doubt the worst and most generic game I played at PAX.

Some of you may be reading this part and thinking that between my feedback for Spirit Parade, We Know the Devil, and Date or Die it’s likely that I just don’t enjoy visual novels or dating sims and are therefore being unfair toward them, but that’s simply not the case. I very much enjoy visual novels–in fact, they’re my go-to genre for a relaxing game. Many visual novels are dating sims, so that subgenre is no different for me. I quite enjoy them both. It’s just unfortunate coincidence that the only visual novels to be found at PAX this year were so lacking.

 

Blasters of the Universe

Blasters of the Universe is a pretty standard-feeling VR bullet hell. Hearing it being called a “VR bullet hell” got me immediately interested in the game when I first heard of it, but playing it felt very underwhelming. Perhaps it was just the level that they used for the demo, but it felt too easy. There weren’t that many bullets to dodge, and even then, they were very easily dodged. It felt less like a bullet hell as it did a shoot em up, seeing as how most of the bullets that could be seen were my own–which shouldn’t be a surprise since there were a lot of enemies on screen (many of whom don’t shoot, at least not for a while) which again, made it feel less like a bullet hell and more of a shoot em up.

Blasters of the Universe feels like something you’d find in an arcade with VR setups–casual fun for a little while, but you’re likely not going to leave with a big impression of it. Other than its concept, it doesn’t have any remarkable qualities. Even then, it’s only the concept of it that sounds interesting–at least in the demo, the concept was hard to see at work seeing as how it hardly felt like a bullet hell at all. Although not necessarily a bad game, I wouldn’t call it good either. It was just really underwhelming.

 

I Expect You to Die

I have a lot of mixed feelings toward Schell Games’s I Expect You to Die. It’s a VR escape the room puzzle game where you play as a spy going on secret missions. I waited for about an hour in the demo line, only to play about 5 minutes of the game, so I don’t know if I’m exactly qualified to have a substantial opinion on it. Once you finish the tutorial, it sends you into a car that you’re supposed to escape with–it’s the enemy’s car, and one of the first things that happens is a retinal scan. Once it sees that you’re not the owner of the car, it fires a laser that you’re supposed to dodge–I dodged to my left, and died. I asked one of the devs what happened, and they said that you’re supposed to dodge to your right–despite nothing indicating that you’re supposed to do that. Needless to say, I left with a sour taste in my mouth that vaguely reminded me of a similar thing Compulsion Games did last year with We Happy Few.

That said, I do question the responsiveness of the game if dodging in a certain direction despite there being no indication that it’s a bad idea ends up killing you. If nothing else, I think this game should be better about indicating details like that so players won’t get as frustrated, as I was after leaving. The only other noteworthy detail I noticed was the visuals–which are, especially in the opening credits, incredibly stylish.

All in all, I don’t know how to feel about this game since I played it for less than 5 minutes. I think it’s stylish, has a very clever concept, and lots of potential but I heavily question its responsiveness and communication. It seems like a game that if the aforementioned issues were fixed could be excellent–especially as a VR game–but as of right now, it’s hard to say whether or not I think it will be good simply because I didn’t get enough time with it.

 

Kismet

An astoundingly visual fortune telling VR game by Psyop, Kismet flexes all the aesthetic muscles of VR. The game itself is simple: It’s a fortune telling game where a character–Kismet–will read your fortune either by a tarot card reading or a star reading. There’s also a “game of wit” option, but that wasn’t available in the demo. There’s not much one can say about this game because of it’s incredibly short length, but as a gimmick–a small thing to add to your PSVR library–I think this could work incredibly well, especially if you’re into the occult or fortune telling, or perhaps just need something to pass the time during small parties or social gatherings.

What made this game memorable to me was its visuals and environments. Each of the 3 parts of this game has its own unique environment, each befitting of what it is. The cards set you in what appears to be a kind of gypsy caravan, the stars in a boundless planetarium-esque looking “room”, and the game of wit in the middle of an Egyptian desert–all of them look incredibly picturesque. What Kismet lacks in substance, it makes up for in its astounding visuals and environments. If you like fortune telling, are looking for a visual experience, or something that’s more of a gimmick than a game, Kismet is right up your alley.

 

Battlesloths 2025: The Great Pizza Wars

Roosterteeth’s latest work, a fast-paced multi-player twin stick shooter about one of my personal favorite kinds of animals, was perhaps the best “casual fun” game I played at PAX. Playing as multi-colored sloths with varying silly hats, you’re given a prompt for a game with 3 others players (or computers) usually involving pizza. The default game–the one that I played–involved you simply getting enough slices to fill up an entire pizza. Slices would randomly drop, and using various weapons that are also dropped, you fight your fellow players over the pizza. Basically, a king of the hill game but with sloths and pizza.

The demo felt very done when I had played it–tight gameplay, lots of variety, good graphics, no overt issues to be seen–to the point where I had assumed the game was already out, which is more or less true. It has been available on the Humble Monthly Bundle, but is not available on Steam yet. Its vague release details aside (though its site and social media says “Early 2017”), my only regret about this game is that it’s local multi-player only and there doesn’t seem to be any indication that it’ll have online multi-player as well. That aside, Battlesloths is the most fun I’ve ever had being a dragon-headed, laser-wielding sloth looking for pizza.

 

 

Best Indie Game: Perception, YIIK

via indiemegabooth.com

Even though it wasn’t my first time seeing either of them, Perception and YIIK have yet again impressed me much more than anything else I saw at PAX. Perception has brilliant design, an incredibly immersive environment, and engrossing narrative that I can’t wait to sink my teeth into. YIIK is an incredibly stylish, personality-filled turn-based RPG that one will immediately fall in love with. Both games have me absolutely enamored and I’m counting down the seconds until the full games are out.

 

 

 

 

 

Best VR Game: The American Dream

via samuraipunk.com

The hilarious, Australian-made vision of America is a (literal) ride from start to finish. With its incredible sense of humor, solid (but not remarkable) gameplay, well developed 1950’s aesthetic, and relevance coming out during a tumultuous time for Second Amendment rights in America, The American Dream demo at PAX was an absolute delight. If it’s at all indicative of what the full game will be like, then we’re all in for a lead-flavored treat.

 

 

 

Best Triple-A Game: Splatoon 2

via nintendo-europe.com

You’re a kid now, you’re a squid now, there are dodge rolls now.

Why Mother 4’s Rebranding is a Great Decision

As some of you may have heard, the highly anticipated fan game Mother 4 has just announced that they’ve decided to rebrand the game. This was done mostly due to the controversial take downs of AM2R and Pokemon Uranium by Nintendo last year. As a fellow Nintendo fan game, Mother 4 had plenty of reason to believe that it not only could, but likely would also be taken down by Nintendo.

via http://am2r-another-metroid-2-remake.en.uptodown.com

“But it’s a free game! They’re not making any profit! So it should be fine, right?” Some of you may be thinking. As others may recall though, so were both AM2R and Pokemon Uranium. A common misconception about copyright and IP law is that to take legal action, the infringer (in this case, the fan games) has to be making a profit before the IP holder can take legal action–that’s not true at all. In what Josh Walters (attorney, law professor, advisor and chief of DeviantArt) calls “The Law of the Playground” in a panel he hosted on copyright laws in fandom at San Diego Comic Con 2012, there’s a slight difference in actual law and what’s written on paper. To paraphrase what he says, written law dictates that an IP holder can sue for anything as minor as fan art, regardless of its quality or whether or not it made profit, if they want to. However, the “law of the playground” dictates that, essentially, (and again: I’m paraphrasing so as to not quote an hour long lecture) if you do that then you’re going look like a petty jerk and likely suffer a barrage of bad press. Therefore, in cases like fan art, most IP holders go beyond not caring (from a legal standpoint) about whether or not you do it, but some even encourage it (after all, why wouldn’t they? Free advertising).

There is only, however, a certain degree to which the general public and companies tend to consider these minor infringements “acceptable.” Fan art? Acceptable–nay, often encouraged. Ripping movies from online and selling them for cheap? Not acceptable–might even get you in some degree of legal trouble depending on the extent to which you did it. Generally, the perception seems to be based on how much effort in the infringement that the infringer placed. Ripping a DVD or Blu-Ray? No effort or artistic value whatsoever. Making a fan game? Years worth of effort and lots of artistic value. I can’t confirm this, but I’d place a large bet that the the amount of income (if any) the infringement makes would also tip the scale in how acceptable it would generally be considered as well.

So how does this all tie into Mother 4? Because Nintendo is well-known to fiercely protect their IPs. And why wouldn’t they? They run a much higher risk than any other major game company for becoming a generic trademark. A generic trademark is when your brand name becomes so synonymous with the product that the name of the brand is usually used in place of the name of the product–for example, saying Q-tip for cotton swab, Aspirin for pain reliever, Yo-Yo for spinning toy, and even App Store for mobile gaming market. When your brand becomes a generic trademark, it essentially enters the public domain–therefore making it exceedingly difficult to take legal action if someone uses your brand name in a way you don’t want them to.

via imagenspng.com

Being the owner of some of gaming’s largest and most recognizable IPs, it should be no wonder why Nintendo might be scared of becoming a generic IP. They had a particularly bad scare in the 90’s, when they almost did become a generic trademark synonymous for video game console. They’ve become noticeably more fierce about defending their IPs since then–from taking down fan games (which, as I already explained, are considered copyright infringement in a court of law) to suing Pokemon themed parties. They have to be fierce about it–otherwise, as the most recognizable brand in video gaming, they and some of their IPs might come close to being generic IPs again. In return for their fierce defending of their IPs, they’ve had a lot of bad press about it, and certainly lost the faith and respect of several of their fans–especially those who loved some of their games so much that they wanted to express that love in the medium of another game, who will likely never think of Nintendo in the same way the once did again.

Some of you may be wondering if Mother 4 would still be affected by this because it does, after all, still have an original setting, original characters, etc. Point blank, yes, it is. They’re still using the Mother IP in the title, they revealed that they were putting Mr. Saturn in the game, and likely many more such concepts original to Mother. An IP doesn’t necessarily have to be the brand itself–it can also be identifiable hallmarks of the brand that make it itself. This can be anything from an aesthetic, concepts/characters/places existing in works of fiction, or even materials used in production. For example, Tiffany Blue. Yes, the color. It’s arguably the biggest hallmark of the Tiffany brand, and therefore, even using that blue is considered copyright infringement if you’re using it in a way when it can be confused with their brand. In other words, if you want to paint your house Tiffany Blue, that’s fine. If you want to sell your product in a Tiffany Blue box, then there might be a problem. If your product is jewelry, then you have a lawsuit on your hands if Tiffany Co. ever finds out. In this scenario, Nintendo is Tiffany Co. and Mother 4 is the artist packaging their jewelry in a Tiffany Blue box.

Luckily, judging by the trailers and the information we’ve been given about the game up until now, this won’t have an astronomical affect on the game. To quote the OP of the AMA, “This is still the story of Travis and his friends fighting the mysterious Modern Men. Leo still lights his smokes with paranormal fire.” In other words, although there will certainly be noticeable changes, the game is still itself. It will have a different name, but it’s still the same story. Whether or not this will affect gameplay is yet to be said, as far as I can see.

If they were to say that this game was inspired by Mother and drop some subtle references here and there, then legally speaking, that’s fine. Case in point: Undertale, which does this many times. Therefore, if Mother 4 took this approach by removing all the explicit uses of Mother/Earthbound IPs, they’d be in the clear, and unable to be touched by Nintendo. On the other hand, by keeping its name and the Mr. Saturns (among other characters/concepts original to Mother) they would put themselves at a likely risk of being taken down by Nintendo. As not only a huge fan of the Mother series, but a big fan of the work that the Mother 4 team has been showing in their game, I’d really hate to see this happen. Therefore, their protecting themselves from copyright infringement by rebranding and joining the ranks of games like Undertale and LISA as Mother-inspired games, they’re making a good decision not only for themselves, but for their fans who will want to play the game and see to it that it’s preserved. Nobody, least of all them, wants to see years worth of effort go to waste. That’s why rebranding is the best thing Mother 4 could’ve done for themselves and their fans right now. I, for one, am no less excited for this game than before.

via hardcoregamer.com

The 5th Boston Festival of Indie Games

This weekend we here at The Lifecast went to the 5th Boston Festival of Indie Games–or FIG for short. Not only was this my first FIG, but it was my first event as a member of the media/press, making this event all the more memorable for me. Not that I needed that for this event to be memorable by any means, because there were a myriad of amazing indie games–both tabletop and video–to play. The event was hosted by the MIT Johnson Athletic Center in Cambridge (which neighbors Boston) and hosted thousands of indie game developer teams and players who came to find out about all the new and upcoming indie games: Here are the titles I had the opportunity to play.

 

Cheer Up

cheerup

Upon entering the venue, we were greeted by Cheer Up–a simple but hilarious tabletop game. One person draws a question card–alongside the question, it’ll say what kind of cards the players need to use to answer it. A detail (D card), thing (T card), or action (A card) and in what order they need to go. The player draw 2-3 of the cards they need and use the cards to answer the question. The person who drew the question then draws a rule card to mix things up a bit–things like swapping cards, maybe you have to do something while you answer your question, etc. Hilarity ensues, and it absolutely did when we played a few quick rounds. Although a black and white printable version not featuring the cute face of the dev’s dog Niko is available for download on their site for free, the full, color version that we played isn’t available yet. We talked a bit with the dev who said he’s hoping to put it on Kickstarter soon–hopefully early October if everything goes well–and we definitely had a fun time with it, so we’ll definitely be on the lookout for it. I also need to thank the dev who was giving out free coasters just as I was thinking I needed some in my new apartment just the day before–so I think that was one of the funniest moments of the whole festival for me.

 

Now Everyone Get the F%$# Out!

fuckout

Developed by Star Cap Games, I’m actually no stranger to Now Everyone Get the F%$# Out! (henceforth FOUT.) There’s a monthly gaming event here in Boston called Game Over. It’s mostly a few fighting game tournaments, but there have been set ups for Rockband, Magic: The Gathering,  and other tabletop games in the past as well–including FOUT. Although I haven’t been to every Game Over since they started the event, I do go to as many as I can and I’ve made it a point to always look for where this game is set up. I always have so much fun playing it. Inspired by a wild house party thrown by the dev during her sophomore year of college when her roommate was desperately trying to study for a final she had the next day, FOUT is a game where you and your fellow players are trying to get people out of your dorm party so you can study. Everyone has a number of people in their room, and you’re given cards with party items (EX: bouncy house, pet rock, pizza, etc.) and each of those items has a fun rating. The higher the overall fun rating of your room, the more people there are. The person with the highest fun rating is the party animal, who gains people in their room at the end of each turn. The person with the least is the nerd, and they lose a person at the end of each turn. Of course there are items and event cards that can mix things up, as well. The aim of the game is to get everyone the f%$# out of your room so you can study. According to their facebook page, all the copies available of FOUT were sold at Boston FIG, but there are plans for making more.

 

Fall of the Last City

fallofthelastcity

Marred by a very lengthy explanation of the game that ultimately didn’t do us much good, this was definitely one of the more fun tabletop games we played at FIG. Set in a post-apocalyptic world and developed by Christopher A. Barney, Fall of the Last City was surprisingly the most competitive game I think we played at FIG. Using paths, bases, and soldiers, the aim of the game is for the last city to be taken over. You and your fellow players will try to create paths to get to the city, and take its resources and citizens to join you and help you get soldiers. Where this game shines, however, is in its alliance system. In a way that reminds me very much of the Nonary Game in Virtue’s Last Reward, when you cross path with another player, you have the option to challenge them. When in a challenge, you can ally or fight. If both players ally, then you exchange alliance tokens and you can freely use each others paths, and you both get resources from the city. If one person chooses to fight and one to ally, then the player who chooses to ally will lose a base and a number of soldiers. If both players fight, then the one with the fewest soldiers on hand loses those soldiers as well as a base. Having alliance tokens helps you win at the end of the game, so you’d think that everyone would just want to ally all the time, right? Wrong. Reducing the number of soldiers your enemies have–not to mention taking one of their bases–is a very alluring idea, so it made for lots of strategic and competitive fun during the game. This game has a lot of complex rules that take a bit to get used to, but once we got the hang of it, it was a very enjoyable game.

This game was originally intended to be an Ingres-esque board game on Google Glass, the dev explained to us, but as Google Glass became increasingly less popular, the idea of making it a tabletop game appealed more and more. Wanting it to be something Mad Max-esque and something more physical–something that wouldn’t require a large team of artists, but rather, something the dev could make with his hands–the idea eventually evolved into what it is now. Fall of the Last City isn’t available for purchase currently, but the dev explained to us that he hopes to have it on Kickstarter by the end of the year if everything goes well.

 

Kung Fu Shadow Fist

kung-fu

The first Vive game that any of us had played, Kung Fu Shadow Fist is a VR game being developed by Digital Precept. It’s a simple game where you use the Vive to fight off dozens of training dummies–a VR version of an arcade brawler. There’s no complex gameplay, the devs explained to us, and it’s a game focused on the speed of your hits. You don’t need to be a martial artist to play this, either, because you can slow down the speed of the game if you want. The game is meant to feel like an 80’s action movie where you’re fighting off a lot of bad guys, and rather than fighting one guy with 100 HP, the game wants you fighting 100 guys with 1 HP, they added.

Sure enough, it was exactly that. A really fun VR arcade brawler. My only complaint was that the shadow step mechanic, which is used to rapidly move you from one spot to another, still felt really unfinished since I never felt sure about where it would land me and at what speed. You can play this game without that mechanic however, and aside from that, was really fun. It’s currently in its early alpha stage and on Steam Greenlight.

 

Perception

perception

This was the game I had by far been looking the most forward to. I’ve made it no secret that Bioshock 1 and Infinite are my favorite games of all time, and this game is being produced by a team led by the lead level designer of Bioshock 1 and design director of Bioshock Infinite, Bill Gardner, and his new team, Deep End Games. Set in Gloucester, MA, Perception is a first-person horror game in which you play as a blind woman, Cassie, as she tries to find her way through a haunted house using nothing but her limited sight and echoes. While she’s there, however, she starts hearing things, and it quickly becomes clear to her that she’s not alone. Lots of research was put into the idea of using echoes to find your way through the area, Gardner explained to me, because it’s an idea he had been considering for years but wanted to confirm it was a real thing that people can and have done–and it is. Gardner explained to me how he even met up with a teacher from World Access for the Blind who explained it in full detail to him so he could fully capture it in Perception.

Just as the Bioshock games have a focus in their beautiful, detailed narratives, so does Perception. It’s very clear that (for obvious reasons) this game takes narrative inspiration from the Bioshock games, as there are tapes–audio diaries–you can find and listen to throughout the house and listen to that helps tell the player about the previous owners of the house and piece together what happened. Gardner explained to me that he wants to make sure that the narrative is clear in Perception, as there seemed to be a bit of confusion regarding the ending of Bioshock Infinite–therefore, he’s trying to step up from Infinite and make this narrative as wonderful as he can. Also similar to Bioshock, this game has a very rich, detailed area that it takes place in that’s practically a character itself since you find yourself so invested and interested in this house and what possibly could’ve happened to it.

This game is much like a game of cat and mouse, he explained to me. As mentioned before, Cassie isn’t alone in the home. There’s something else with her–a Presence. And when the Presence appears, you have to hide. As mentioned before, Cassie is blind and finds her way around by echoes. When you tap something–when you make an echo–an otherwise dark room will be clear to you for a few seconds Or, if there’s something in the room that makes sound (EX: a ticking clock) you can see things using that echo. It’s about your relationship with the space, and you’ll familiarize yourself with it, Gardner said. If you make too much noise, the Presence could come out, so there’s a level of risk involved with using the echos which only adds to the constant suspense looming in this game. I can’t wait to play this game once it’s complete, because there aren’t many games–let alone demos–that got me feeling the same sense of dread and nervousness that you feel in Perception. As a horror game, Perception has already very much succeeded.

This game was Kickstarted in May 2015 and is currently available for pre-order on Steam. Gardner indicated that he was hopeful about an early 2017 release date, and hopefully, an eventual physical release date. There was a lot of time and love put into this game that you can see (or hear, rather) in every inch of this game. This was, by a large margin, the finest game I played at Boston FIG this year.

 

Tailwind: Prologue

tailwind

Tailwind: Prologue immediately stands out with its creative concept: It’s a shoot-em-up game being developed by Cipher Prime. Rather than being a typical shoot-em-up that relies on finding a sweet spot to shoot from and moving forward, Tailwind throws it all on its head by reversing everything: It’s a shoot-em-up about a falling ship that focuses on movement and melee attacks. The dev called it “An aerial ballet.” Gameplay was very tight and from the few minutes of this game I played, I could already tell it’s a very unique experience. Visuals were gorgeous, colorful, and minimalistic. As the dev explained, they took aesthetic inspiration from games like No Man’s Sky and Fire Watch. This game was originally a Humble Original exclusive during April. Unless you were lucky enough to get it then, there’s currently no other way to get it currently, however, the dev explained that they’re currently looking into ways to add a multiplayer option and campaign mode.

 

Inariinari

One of the most visual games I played, Inari is an upcoming mobile title devloped by Spectrum Studios about a fox god whose shrine is destroyed. When the shrine is destroyed, so is the light shard–which you must now find pieces of throughout the game. A very solid 2D platformer, the devs explained to me that they wanted to make a mobile game that was aesthetically appealing, had solid gameplay, and a good soundscape. There’s a particular focus on the beautiful soundtrack which was developed by Zhao Shen, who helped make this game all the more immersive. There aren’t that many immersive mobile games out there, the devs explained to me, so they wanted to make a mobile game that had that sense of freedom-as though you’re soaring–and immersion. When I tried the demo, sure enough, it was a very gorgeous game with a wonderful soundtrack, and although the gameplay was very basic, it was also very tight and very solidified. This game shows a lot of potential–especially now that mobile games are starting to become a much bigger market.  The game is currently in a private beta that’s still taking sign-ups, but if everything goes well, should be out in early 2017 or Spring.

 

Maze Racers

mazeracers

This was a pretty interesting game–it felt really finished, and honestly like a game that you’d find on the shelf of the board game section of a major retailer. Developed by FoxMind Games, Maze Racers is a simple game: Using pieces of foam and your board, create a maze for a ball to get from point A to point B that your opponent has to figure out. The board is magnetic and there are magnetic strips at the bottom of the foam pieces, so everything fits really well–additionally, you’re given a little cylinder the same width as the ball so you can make sure it fits. Once one person’s maze is done, your opponent has a minute to finish theirs before you switch. The first person who can solve their opponent’s maze by getting the ball from start to finish and back again is the winner. It was simple, creative, and like I said, already seemed very finished. The game is currently available for purchase on Amazon.

 

Dragoon

dragoon-game

I didn’t get to play a full round of this game because the festival was beginning to close down, but I played it long enough to know that I enjoyed it very much. I’m clearly not the only one who enjoyed it, because it’s won awards at FIG in the past–which immediately got my interest. Developed by Lay Waste Games, Dragoon is a 2-4 player game in which you play as a dragon trying to hoard treasure and take over villages and towns. A simple, but charming concept. Each round of turns has 3 phases: Populate, Action, and Tribute. During populate, new villages and towns up for the taking appear. During action, each player takes their turn–they can move, play cards to cause events, take gold, towns, and villages, etc. And during tribute, you and your fellow players collect the gold from your villages and towns. The first player to 50 gold wins.

There’s currently a special edition of the game up for pre-order now on the site that ships in October–it’s the version I played at FIG, and I’ll vouch: It’s a very well put together game. It seems like a game that would work very well if it were also mass produced and sold at major retailers since it’s very easy to jump into and have a lot of fun with.

 

My Verdict: The Best Games I Played

city

Although some games were better than others, I didn’t play any bad games at Boston FIG. Every game brought me some kind of enjoyment, and I left the festival very thankful for that. I had a great deal of fun at Boston FIG, and I’ll certainly try to come back to it next year as well. There were a great deal of game devs already at the festival, but I’d love to see this event become even bigger–perhaps getting so many devs that it becomes a 3-day event that requires a convention center–very akin to PAX East. I think it would work especially well that way because PAX focuses on triple A titles, and though there are plenty of indie games, yes, wouldn’t it be amazing to see an entire convention center of nothing but indie games? The festival seemed all too short, so if nothing else, I wish it had gone later into the evening than it did.

 

Favorite Video Game: Perception

The most realized, professional game I played at FIG, Perception seems like it will be a fantastic game once it’s complete. It’s creative, clever, suspenseful, and gives the player such an unparalleled sense of fear I haven’t felt from a game in quite a while. If you haven’t already been keeping an eye on it, you should be now.

 

Favorite Tabletop Game: Dragoon

Although I didn’t get to play it for long, it became immediately clear why this game is so beloved. It’s a very creative concept with solid rules and it’s really easy to have fun with. My only nitpick with it is that I wish it could host more than 4 players.