Well PAX Prime 2012 is over and I am finally back home from the Emerald City with tired feet and a sore voice box. I got to see a lot of fantastically cool shit during my trip and it’s only right I describe as much of it as I can in detail. So sit back and get comfy because this (and next two articles coming) will be very long indeed. We’re going to do this day by day and cover everything in the order I saw it, more or less.
Alright so first thing I did was check out Ubisoft’s offerings (actually the first thing I did was find out the release date of Torchlight 2, Sept. 20 if you’re curious) and see exactly what everybody’s favorite Frenchies had cooked up. Starting off with FarCry 3 I got a good 20 minute or so hands on demo in which I got to explore the jungles of Vas’ domain. It’s basically FarCry 2 but they went ahead and fixed everything. The mini-map is thankfully just a piece of UI rather than something you have to bring up, the driving control feels vastly improved and far more fluid than it did before, and wild animals make a point to welcome you to their home and their teeth to your throat. One time in particular, when I was sneaking through a river to ambush a guard outpost, I ended up with a crocodile deciding he wanted to wrestle. The fight was intense and ended with a view of the inside of his mouth though apparently if I had killed it I could have used his entrails for the all new crafting system. Survival is a factor again and this is shaping up to be the game to get from Ubisoft this year.
I also saw their Wii U line-up and got my hands on the device for the first time, I played both Rayman Legends and Zombi U and had very different experiences with each. Rayman I played two player with one of the Ubisoft reps, her on the Wii U gamepad and I on a Wiimote. I was getting to do the actual platforming while she was controlling a little cursor character who helped me along by activating stuff in the environment. The actual platforming was as fun as ever and the art style and music remains beyond stellar but I worry about how it’ll perform in single-player and I’m severely disappointed it’s going to be exclusive to Nintendo’s new platform. Zombi U was a far less positive experience, at its core it’s another zombie shooter but the systems and controls tacked on for the Wii U did nothing but the hamper the game in my opinion. Searching through and controlling your inventory with the touch pad is annoying and having to switch what you’re looking at might seem cool in the marketing blurb but it ends up only leading to frustrating deaths. Scanning using the motion sensor in the Wii U pad is fumbling and odd and only highlights how weird the Wii U controller happens to be. On that note the Wii U certainly controls better than I expected but is still far below what I want out of a console, especially when it comes to the controller. The right stick just felt weird and not even close to sensitive enough and having your hands so far apart is disconcerting. I’m sure you can get over it with time but I’m not looking for a new control scheme right now.
Next I went ahead and spent a bunch of time at Indie Mega Booth, a collection of smaller devs with awesome games that have banded together for the sake of affordability, like some sort of frugal Voltron. I spent a lot of time in this area over the course of PAX but this day in particular I saw a number of especially interesting titles.
For example I got to check out the sequel to Bit.Trip Runner, Bit.Trip Runner 2, which while still being fast manages to have an actual difficulty curve this time instead setting things to 11 and then breaking off the knob. It also features a new art style, going for full-fledged smooth polygonal graphics over sprites and voxels; in the words of the dev “Our art guy was getting sick of drawing squares”.
I also saw Super Time Force from Capybara which is heavily pixellated and ridiculously fast. The premise is that you have to reach the end of the level in a set amount of time but each death is saved and all your runs play at once while you’re going through to give you some back up. Gameplay is reminiscent of stuff like Contra and Metal Slug with bullets everywhere and a lot of swearing at your TV. It has that undeniable Capybara style though, all I should need to say is Tyrannosaurus Rex President and leave it at that.
Continuing on with the crazy train I also saw a game from Dejobaan (the folks behind Drop That Beat Like an Ugly Baby, which they swear is still coming out) called Drunken Robot Pornography. This is a first person shooter in which you use a jetpack, a gun, and insanity to murder 12 robots centerfolds that I’m sure are very attractive by robot standards but I’m not sure I get it. It’s simple arena based boss fights but it’s fun and surreal and honestly that’s enough.
Last thing I saw in the Indie Mega Booth on this particular day was Guacamelee, the latest game from Drinkbox Studios who made the Tales from Space series. It is a mexican day of the dead styled metroidvania game in which you play a luchador and you grapple dudes to death, also instead rolling or sliding to get through tight spaces you just turn into a chicken. It’s zany and weird but also just a good metroidvania with some solid platforming and fun combat that works well with the game optional multiplayer. The game is currently coming for PS3 and PSVITA and will feature cross play (and possibly cross save) functionality between the two as well as cross controller support. If you’re into good indie games you should be watching the VITA because Guacamelee will be choke slamming the system soon.
Y’know what, I actually did see another thing at the Indie Mega Booth, Dragon Fantasy Book II, a classically styled JRPG from the fine folks at Muteki also for Sony’s downloadable platforms. From a distance it looks like another attempt to replicate the SNES era Final Fantasy games but upon closer inspection you’ll find some awesomely written text, some interesting mechanics, and a lot of rock monsters (which are coincidentally Muteki’s mascot). They are of course going to be varying things up more than that (the rock monsters were placeholders for the PAX demo) and it looks like it could be a dark horse favorite of the PSN RPG community when it eventually releases.
After all this indie craziness I got to do something really special and talk about how all this stuff gets made. I had a wonderful interview with one Jesse Schell, founder of Schell games, a Carnegie Mellon game design professor, and author of The Art of Game Design: a Book of Lenses. His new game Puzzle Clubhouse lines up nicely with our conversation as its whole purpose is letting anyone design and everyone decide what actually makes it. The game releases in episodes and in between anyone can submit ideas, artwork, sounds, voice acting, and pretty much anything. From there the community votes on an idea and then starts voting on assets, as what the next episode will be becomes clearer they start asking for specific assets from the community. The whole thing is like a way more amped up and community driven version of WarioWare DIY and the idea that everyone and anyone can and should make games was the underlying current of our interview. I haven’t actually gotten to play the game yet but we will have a video at some point and if the work of his students who were there (they had a cool game called Mental Drift) is any indication than it should be great.
The next big thing I did was check out everything Mickey at the Disney Interactive booth. After getting both a full demo of Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two and Epic Mickey: Castle of Illusion, it’s clear Disney Interactive is bringing it in full force this year. The full on console game is a refined version of what we saw on the Wii with the original Epic Mickey but finally coming to the 360 and PS3 which is something fans had been asking for quite ardently. You have Oswald the Rabbit playable this time (though in more of a girlfriend mode sort of way) and the idea of morality and consequence has been expanded in the way Warren Spector originally raved about with the first game. It’s more of the same but there’s a whole new audience who gets to take part this time and that alone excites me. The 3DS game (Castle of Illusion) is banking heavily on its pedigree both in terms of its creators and its fiction. The game is a sequel to the classic Mickey games on Genesis and plays perfectly to that lineage. The creators, DreamRift, who made Henry Hatsworth and Monster’s Tale on the DS, know how to do sidescrolling and their mastery of the dual screens is as impressive as it was in their prior work. As much as I’m excited for Castle from a nostalgia perspective, that game is going to be fantastic no matter what and will probably be what sells me a 3DS.
Next I saw the hotly anticipated Natural Selection 2, a multiplayer shooter with a hefty PC fanbase chomping at the bit to get at it. The hook is that it is an FPS/RTS hybrid with one player on each side taking the role of the commander who can set structures, assign objectives, and even distribute ammo and health to his team. While we’ve seen this before the depth to which a commander and his team can synchronize seems greater than it ever has. The game also has some evolution elements (hence the title Natural Selection) and there is a large amount of strategy that can come from that. The game is available to pre-order now and will be launching fairly soon with full Steam integration including Workshop support and from what I’ve heard the modding community for the game is already thriving.
Still on the downloadable shooter front, I also saw Primal Carnage from Lukewarm Media. While Dinosaur shooters may seem to be a trend for terrible games of late with stuff like Dino D-day and Orion: Dino Beatdown this seems to be something more. The controls for the dinosaurs are the same across each species and they have the overt size and abilities you’ve been wanting to fool around with. The Carnosaurus charges into battle with vast amounts of health with which to ram, bite, and tail swipe the enemy humans. But with similar controls you can patrol the skies as the Pteranodon and pick up humans to later drop to a crunchy gravity based death. These guys realized dinosaurs should be fun which seems like a lesson that should have been collectively figured out a while ago.
Moving from shooting to fighting I also checked out NetherRealm’s new title, Injustice: Gods Among Us. In this game the heroes of the DCU aren’t as heroic as they should be and all-out slobber-knocker crazy ass fights ensue. I was lucky enough to be showed all the currently announced characters and get an in-depth look at the game’s power system. Each character has a button dedicated to their power set and will do all sorts of stuff to complement their already very different and unique fighting styles. Batman for instance deploys remote batarangs which fits his “at a distance” style whereas Nightwing will change fighting stances and weapons with the button allowing his martial prowess to shine in any situation. There is also the way characters will interact with the environment (through another separate button) and how that will change depending on character. Take for instance a car in the level, where Batman might blow it up with some plastic explosives Superman will opt to pick it up and beat his opponent with it. This all cumulates with their over the top and bombastic super moves which can be deployed once their power bars are full. The Flash for example will run around the world a couple of times to build up momentum for a light speed haymaker whereas Cyborg goes full Capcom with a screen covering blast of blue energy. Mortal Kombat has been the favorite fighter of me and my siblings for a long time now but that may finally be upset by the creators of MK themselves with this awesome love letter to the DCU.
There was also an almost secret section of PAX this year in the form of a small and somewhat tucked away second expo hall up on the sixth floor. Up there I saw three interesting titles of varying quality and quirk. The first was Orcs Attack, a Gauntlet Legends style brawler where you play as Orcs instead of humans. The game is full of farting, burping, and general shitty hygiene. It ain’t Shakespeare but it’s a lot of fun. I also saw Contagion, which is like Left4Dead if it took off the kid gloves. In this six survivors work to evacuate a neighbor while those rascally zambies nip at their heels. The catch, aside from it being really hard, is that once you fall you become a zombie and get to screw with your teammates. It’s a little rough right now but that is a concept I want more of and Contagion looks to deliver. The last thing I saw was a game called Curse of the Nordic Cove, which was an FPS golf game because that totally makes sense. The idea is that a professor accidentally unleashed an ancient viking curse on a golf course and now you must go defeat the wraiths the curse has spawned while playing a relaxing nine holes. The game looks and plays terribly at the moment to be brutally honest, but the concept is incredibly unique and I caught myself enjoying the actual golfing quite a bit. While it won’t take home any GOTY awards it just might become a bit of a cult curiosity for its super cheesy atmosphere and unique ideas.
Finishing off what I actually saw on the show floor was Metal Gear Revengance, the Raiden Slash-fu game made by Platinum. While there has been worries that the game wouldn’t be canon or that without Kojima helming it the game would fail but those fears can be allayed, MGR is fucking awesome. The controls are fast and precise and cutting up fools in slow motion at whatever angles you feel like is incredibly fun. The stand out moment of the demo for me was when the tutorial sicced a Gekko on me and within about 15 seconds it was a pile of cubes and strips of grisly meat behind Raiden’s crackling high-frequency blade. To be fair you could take all the Metal Gear out of this game and it would still be sick as hell but that MGS flavor will end up only helping things.
The last thing I saw was actually off-site in the VIP section of a party held by Bethesda at a classy mansion, turns out being a member of the press has its perks. The party was being held to show off Dishonored and in fact sections of the actual mansion had been done up to replicate scenes in the demo with characters from the game wandering through the party and a general uneasy atmosphere that fit the game like a glove hanging heavy in the air. Also there was an open bar and that was the day I learned that being press at a party like that means sitting in the VIP section and drinking gin until you forget which company is actually paying for that gin. That said between drinks I did manage to actually play a good 45 minutes of Dishonored and that may be just end up being GOTY this year. Beating the demo level took me about ten tries and what’s crazy is the fact that each of those ten times were very different. Whether I was running and gunning or using a mastery of stealth the game reacted accordingly and the bevy of abilities available gave me so much room for experimentation. The goal of the mission was to infiltrate a mansion party, discern which of three identical sisters was your target, kill her, and escape. Now of the multiple ways you could have gone about it, here’s how I eventually managed to succeed; I snuck across the rooftops eventually landing in the guard-house just outside the mansion, waltzed into the party (Corvo’s mask being the perfect disguise), chit-chatted with the guests, possessed a rat which I used to sneak upstairs, snuck around like a super stealthy ninja so I could look in the ladies’ bedrooms for clues, went back downstairs and engaged the correct sister in conversation, seduced her, murdered her in her bedroom, threw her body in the bathtub (I thought it looked dramatic that way), and then nonchalantly walked out the front door. Figuring it all out and executing it made me feel so smart and skilled and all those wonderful things a video game should make you feel. Bethesda, while I thank you for the gin and the beautiful venue Dishonored was the greatest thing you provided that night.
And that’s it for Friday, check back tomorrow or the next day for Saturday’s wrap-up which includes yet more drinking and indie games.