The Indie MEGABOOTH seems to get bigger and bigger every year at PAX East. This year the Indie Mini Booth alone had almost 30 games. I spent most of my floor time there since the lines aren’t as insane as for the AAA studios and you can actually get your hands on some games.
I also tend to like indies a lot more since they’re still making point and click adventures or experimenting with other cool story driven games. I started out my early access press hour there and was able to get some hands on quiet time with several games.
Fire Hose Games
My first stop was Boston based Fire Hose Games who were showing off their in-beta Facebook game, Let’s Quip, as well as the first indie game from their accelerator program Catlateral Damage. I’m already in the beta for Let’s Quip. It's the first Facebook game I’ve played more than once. There’s a press quote for their launch! The game pits you against friends or random players in word battles where you have to explain why your word is better than your opponent’s. Friends and other players then vote on which answer they like the best and if you win your match you get coins and bragging rights. You can sign up for the beta here.
Catlateral Damage is a “First Person Cat Simulator” with the goal of knocking as many of your owner’s possessions around as possible. Sounds pretty realistic to me!
Surprise Attack Games
Vertiginous Golf, developed by Surprise Attack Games, was inside the Indie MEGABOOTH at the Indie Mini Booth. Aptly titled this was definitely a vertigo inducing golf experience, especially with Oculus Rift support. The booth was staffed by developers in steampunk garb and kilts (the male version of booth babes?) and they also had some nice steam-punked out Xbox controllers for hands on play.
I tried with both the traditional Xbox controlled version and again with the Oculus Rift head set. Oculus literally added another dimension to the game play and made it a whole lot more interesting. I have been somewhat anti 3D gaming but I have to admit it was fun. I was terrible at the game but it was still awesome to wander around the environment and watch your shots in an immersive 3D experience.
Rocket 5 Studios
The husband and wife team at Rocket Five had my personal game of show with The Phantom PI Mission Apparition demoing in their booth. Its a puzzle adventure game where you play as a private investigator wandering through a haunted mansion. The way the levels were set up reminded me a bit of Double Fine’s The Cave as far as perspective and having to double back once you found objects.
The art was great and while there was no actual dialog there were notes and goal cards you come across as you play. I actually picked up a really neat pack of physical versions of the collectible cards with clever info and awesome art from “Rocket 5’s artists friends from across North America.” Can’t wait to get my hands on the game!
I didn’t actually see Vlambeer on the floor but I attended a panel their Chief Executive of Business and Development Rami Ismail was part of and he was a freakin’ riot so I checked them out when I made it home. Their most popular title to date Ridiculus Fishing gained extra attention when it was cloned before they could port it for iOS. They seem to create lots of addicting old skool games and they’ve done in a title in the Serious Sam franchise.
Dejobaan was at PAX showing off their released titles as well as an intriguing upcoming one Elegy for a Dead World. Being a sucker for story-based games, I am super psyched for this one. The twist here is instead of playing a story, you are actually writing one. You explore dead planets and write to keep them alive. From the game’s site:
They sent a poet.
The scientists, historians, and statesmen never arrived.
Three worlds, each home to a long-dead civilization.
You must be the speaker for these ancient peoples.
Write whatever you are moved to by their landscapes.
Write to share the joys and sorrows buried in their rubble.
Write what you can imagine of their origins, existence, and fates.
Your word is all that keeps these worlds from being forgotten.
Combining my love of video games, dystopian literature, and writing its like they stole this from my brain! I’m not sure if this is a shut up and take my money moment or if I should ask them for royalties...
Another Massachusetts studio, Proletariat Games may finally make this the year I throw some mobile gaming into the mix. Their first title World Zombination is due out for iOS, Android, Mac and PC in 2014. They had a playable build that looked pretty good when I got to check them out on the floor. In this free to play game you have the choice of choosing your faction and fighting with the humans or zombies.
There’s a world map where you can chose cities to fight your battles in tower defense (or destruction) style game play. The map uses real time data from other players also in the game to determine which faction has control of a particular city. I chose to play for the zombies and ended up in a city attacking to take control of hospitals from the humans. You can unlock cards to add different character abilities to your zombie or human hordes.
One of my favorite PAX moments this year was seeing a cosplayer dressed as Michonne from The Walking Dead playing the game. I hope she got one of the zombie selfies they were creating for people who used #WZSelfie on twitter during PAX.
Brace Yourself Games
I feel like if you weren’t from Boston in the Mega Booth this year you were probably from Canada eh. America’s hat seems to have both east and west coast indie presences. Vancouver based Brace Yourself Games was showing off Crypt of the Necrodancer. This is a “hard core dugeon crawling (roguelike) rhythm game.” Had I not seen it hands on my first reaction that would have been wait what?! It looks pretty cool and bonus points for getting to dust off your old DDR pad! The game will even let you add your own MP3s while playing. Its due out on Steam in 2014.
-- Erin "ErinAS" Seiden
Pinball had a surprisingly large presence in at the Penny Arcade East Expo this year both in pure and video game forms. Here’s a quick flip through what was on the floor.
The Pinball Arcade
New to PAX East (or perhaps I somehow missed them in previous years) was The Pinball Arcade, showing off some of their virtual tables for their PC, console, and mobile OSes. They had actual the actual physical tables for Ripley’s Believe it or Not and Harley Davidson available for players to get some hands on silver ball time before checking out their virtual cousins. A bunch of playable virtual tables were running on Xbox and Android in their booth.
I checked out Attack from Mars on Xbox and was impressed with the graphics and speed. I also really liked the aspect ratio which is always tough to get right in a pinball simulation. Not sure if it helped that I was standing up playing instead of sitting on my couch. Luckily I will get to find out for sure soon as they were offered codes to anyone that signed up at PAX for four tables on the OS of their choice. I am looking forward to checking out Tales of the Arabian Knights, Theater of Magic, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, and Black Hole on Steam on my new Windows 8 tablet. They have a bunch of other table packs available for purchase the I’m looking forward to checking out.
ACAM Classic Arcade Room
The American Classic Arcade was back with an old skool arcade setup on level 1 of of the Expo hall. A bunch of classic arcade machines take the short trip down from their museum home in New Hampshire (hosted at Fun Spot) for PAX East each year. Maybe one day the infamous Donkey Kong cabinet where Steve Wiebe “defeated” absent Billy Mitchell in the documentary King of Kong: A Fist Full of Quarters will make the trip! They had all sorts of classic arcade titles as well as 3 electro mechanical pins all available on free play. The pins available were a 1979 Gottlieb Solar Ride, 1979 Williams Flash, and a 1973 Williams Fun Fest. Take a look at everything ACAM brought to 2013 PAX East in the video below.
Playin’ Pinball with Lord Karnage Panel
There was even a whole panel devoted to pinball on Sunday morning titled Playin’ Pinball with Lord Karnage. I didn’t actually make it to this one as it was the same time as another panel I was covering but being on top of the New England pinball leagues I'm familiar with World Pinball Champion Bowen Kerins and PAPA TV ( the pinball industry’s destination for competitive pinball coverage, expo seminars, product reviews & more) so I’m sure it was an interesting one. Hopefully it was popular and I can make it next year! Here’s the overview from the PAX Guide.
Playing pinball is more than flipping, flailing, and watching the ball go down the middle. Reigning world champion Bowen Kerins will help you play better. Joining him are the two Marks: Mark Steinman, “King of Pinball”, creator of PAPA TV, and Mark Bussler, “Lord Karnage”, creator of Classic Game Room. We’ll play the games and give out prizes while talking about CGR’s series of gaming videos and PAPA TV’s live broadcasting of pinball tournaments.
Bowen Kerins [World Champion, Professional & Amateur Pinball Association], Mark Steinman [Director, Professional & Amateur Pinball Association], Mark Bussler [Intergalactic Space Arcade Manager, Classic Game Room]
Rollers of the Realm
An awesome title in the Indie Mini Booth was Rollers of the Realm. Phantom Compass is an indie game studio that’s worked on titles for other companies in the past. Their first endeavor into making their own games has already won a bunch of awards from at shows ranging from GDC to SXSW. The gameplay combines pinball and RPG mechanics which sounds strange but worked well and was a lot of fun. Tables are laid out in sections like levels you have defeat. A story complete with cut scenes unfolds as you progress through levels. Different classes of characters are available to choose which will affect ball mechanics giving them unique sizes and weights. I’m looking forward to playing when its available later this year. The title has already been greenlit on Steam.
-- Erin "ErinAS" Seiden
I attended PAX East for 2old2play last weekend. And while I work on writing up some of the great stuff I saw, take a quick look at what the Penny Arcade Expo had to offer. This is about the one time of year I still use an actual camera!
Sneaking down the back way to the Expo Floor.
Only at PAX can you literally check your head!
Apparently the head chef at the Westin studied up on gamer grub.
In case you were having March Madness bracket withdrawl, the Omegathon has you covered.
Keep your eye out for Bonus Sodas coming to Xbox One soon!
The Monster was a lot less scary than the 3+ hour lines to actually see any of the stuff in their booth…
A shark, a monkey, and whatever that pink thing is walk into a bar...
Sit here and try our game while you admit you bring your touch device in the can to thousands
of people walking by on the expo floor!
Extreme Gaming Oatmeal was a popular swag bag item. Mmm oatmeal and 27 new cards for Cards Against Humanity.
PAX also features live music. Friday night’s headliner Anamanaguchi.
Its not PAX without panels. This shot is from Wordscapin’-How the Hell Do You Balance a Word Game?
And of course there’s a balloon version of the umm well we’ll call him a robot juicer for those
of you not familiar with Penny Arcade.
-- Erin "ErinAS" Seiden
At PAX East last weekend, I had a chance to check out the latest in the Orcs Must Die! series, Orcs Must Die! Unchained, from our friends over at Robot Entertainment. While the first OMD was single-player only (and on both PC & XBLA), and the second introduced co-op play (PC only), Unchained takes a leap into the competitive PC free-to-play multiplayer space with 5v5 gameplay.
About the Game
Despite my initial attempt to make comparisons to popular MOBA’s, Robot Entertainment’s Ian Fischer, Design Director on Orcs Must Die! Unchained, told me that while those comparisons are valid, their aim is more of a Team Fortress 2 meets card customization game. The traditional OMD! feel of tower defense is there, but with two teams battling it out, it is both a fortress defense and a fortress siege game.
The two factions in the game are the Order (humans) and the Unchained (orcs and potentially other monsters). Between the two, Fischer told me there will be dozens of champions to choose from by the time the game launches. In addition to the champion, at the start of the game, players have a chance to lay out their card deck to determine what types of minions and equipment they’ll have access to during the match. The minions follow the traditional Orcs Must Die! mentality - get to the other side and don’t avoid enemy traps (take it like a man).
Hands on Impressions
During my hands on time with the game, I played as one of the offensive melee champions, Bloodspike. In addition to being able to hack and slash my way through the enemy minions, I also had the ability to buff any friendly minions near me (my own, or my teammates) with a speed boost that lets us traverse more quickly. The gameplay was fast, fun and frenetic. As in the other Orcs Must Die! games, as I was pushing forward toward the enemy fortress and killing minions and champions, I was earning money to then spend on traps and upgrades on the cards I chose at the beginning of the game. The exciting part is that there isn’t a “wave break”, so you are doing all of the trap placement, card upgrades and minion summoning in real-time as the enemy champions are bearing down on you. I can’t properly put into words how fun the gameplay was, and it didn’t show the repetitiveness of traditional MOBA’s.
As to the technicals of the game, it’s been in development for the past year, and was built from the ground up with the Unreal engine. Despite the look and familiar textures in the game, as a whole it’s beautiful, and aesthetically pleasing. The game is in the technical alpha phase, and if you buy into the Founder’s Program you can get your hands on the alpha right away. Fischer expects them to hit a closed beta milestone in the summer and a release in the fall. Knowing the past issues Robot Entertainment has had with consoles, I asked him if they had plans to release on any other platforms besides the PC. His response was ambiguous, but akin to saying “We have nothing to say officially, but it would be close-minded to think that, in the long run, this would still be a PC-only game.” (paraphrased)
The Robot Entertainment booth was large this year, and had full lines the entire weekend. Before heading off I watched the previous group of players surrounding Robot Entertainment’s Community Manager, Justin Korthof. The excitement showed by the group was borderline-giddy. As he seemed unfazed, I asked Justin if that had been the typical reaction amongst the show attendees after playing, and his answer was a definitive yes. Korthof also expressed his own excitement over all of the remaining champions that weren’t shown off at PAX East, and how he couldn’t wait for players to get their hands on them.
I couldn’t be happier with my time with Orcs Must Die! Unchained. Bested only by Evolve, it was one of my top two games I saw at PAX East. Needless to say, I can’t wait to pick this up. If you want to hear more of my opinions on the game, I discussed it in detail on both episodes 32 (Podcasting Evolved) and 32.5 (PAX East Recap) of our vid/podcast Still Got Game.
-- Derek "DSmooth" Nolan
With 2K Games all but absent from last year’s PAX East, they came out swinging this year by showing off two of their upcoming titles, EVOLVE and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. Like many other publishers, they are stuck in between supporting last-gen and new systems. I hope to see more of a move away from last-gen from them over the coming months as I feel like they have a lot to bring to the now-gen gaming world.
Release date: TBD (sometime between July and September 2014)
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
About the Game
Evolve is an asymmetrical, first-person shooter with 4 human characters, collectively referred to as the hunters, battling one monster with all five of them being controlled by the players.
In the ongoing 4v1 battles, the basic premise of the game is to survive. That’s it. No scoring of any kind. You either live and win or you lose and die. During the video presentation at PAX East, we were introduced to the 4 types of characters as well as to their first announced, monster-type, the “Goliath”.
Each hunter class has their own set of abilities, weapons and roles in taking down the monster before he evolves to his third stage. You can play as Support, Trapper, Medic or Assault and I bet you can pretty easily guess what role each one has.
This is a very cooperative focused game when playing as the hunters and it reminded me a bit of Team Fortress in that essence. They are planning to have multiple maps and monster characters at the time of release and I would also expect to see some ongoing DLC coming from them in the months after.
Hands on Impressions
THIS GAME ROCKS! I played as the Trapper in an epic 4v1 battle where we quickly lost to a massive monster. As a newly formed team of people that didn’t know each other, we were quickly demolished by the Goliath as we scrambled around like ants running away from his fire and rock throwing abilities. My heart was racing the entire time as the gameplay is truly epic, scary and fun at the same time.
I had some initial issues with the controls and trying to use the traps that I had at my disposal but I expect that this would come along with practice. Like Left 4 Dead, this is a game where you have to work together to survive. The controls and movements were very smooth and graphically the game looks awesome, as you would expect from the now-gen systems. I am very excited about this game and will definitely be buying it day one.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel
Release date: TBD (sometime late 2014)
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
About the Game
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a direct prequel to Borderlands 2 that has you exploring the surface of a moon as you work for Handsome Jack. It is being worked on jointly by 2K Australia and Gearbox.
You have the option to select from four familiar and previously NPCs in the Borderlands games, including the much anticipated option to be able to play as Claptrap. The other characters you can select from are Athena, Misha and Wilhelm (before he is all robotic).
The characters all have their own skill trees just like prior games. They mostly showed off Athena and demonstrated a cool skill that has you flinging off a shield like a boomerang that can hit multiple targets once upgraded, ala Captain America style.
They showed off some gameplay using new weapon types such as a cryogenic one that can freeze and shatter your enemies and a new laser type weapon. Also new to the game is an Oz kit that will replace relics. The Oz kit is what helps you breathe on the moon and it has a running O2 meter that shows you how much time you have before it runs out. There are multiple ways to refill this kit, including fill stations and you can also turn on oxygen bubbles over large areas.
With the low gravity, you can jump higher and longer as well as send your enemies spinning off into space. The loot also flies out of containers which can add an extra level of difficulty in grabbing things. It looked pretty funny to see all sorts of items just flying out of containers in all directions.
With only a video presentation to go by, I really love what they are doing with this game and you could tell that the developers had fun working on it. The low-gravity and oxygen aspects of the game add an interesting new twist to a well-loved franchise and I expect that this will do well for anyone still holding on to the last-gen consoles. If you’re already rocking the now-gen consoles, I don’t recommend spending much time following the news for this one. Hang tight, because I do believe that we will see a Borderlands 3 announcement on or before E3 this year.
-- Tiffany "ElektraFi" Nolan
One of the more interesting Xbox One exclusives, Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, received the Wild West treatment in its latest DLC pack: Zomboss Down which released earlier this week. The plants have shot a blimp full of zombies out of the sky, and the surviving undead (see what I did there?) are headed for the desert’s golf course.
EA and Popcap raised the level cap from 20 to 30, adding eight new playable characters, a brand new map, and some accessories to personalize your plant and add zazz to your zombie. The new map is called Cactus Canyon, and is set on the desert golf course and features a secret Cactus Army facility. Four new plant types guard this golfing oasis: Sun Pharaoh, Law Pea, Bandit Cactus, and Armor Chomper. The new Zombie types are Skytrooper, Landscaper, Archaeologist, and Wrestler.
This free DLC, and I mean free as in will not cost you a single gold coin, also includes some nifty weapon upgrades and new skins. The pack also includes some customization upgrades like facial hair and tattoos. PvZ: Garden Warfare provides an interesting take on the 3D shooter, and Zomboss Down only deepens the value of this Xbox One original. Now go kill something green, amigo.
Welcome to this week’s new release tease. This is a good week for RPG gamers, puzzle solvers, and sports fans with a healthy choice of games from all of these different genres. Sadly, there aren’t any major triple A title releases but it’s still a pretty good week to be a gamer.
Backgammon Blitz (PS Vita, PS3, PS4)
Uh…Play Backgammon on your Sony consoles. ‘Nuff said. What? Were you expecting Backgammon Team Deathmatch? Were you expecting to be able to call in a 30-foot walking tank after two minutes of play? It’s Backgammon. On your console. Back. Gammon. It’s about as exciting as the thought of getting a rectal exam. Backgammon Blitz drops on April 15th.
Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars (3DS, PS Vita)
This game allows you to go from conception to childbirth where you play as a child of the Seven Stars… oh wait, that’s taking the title too literal. The game takes place on a world called Aterra where a, no, THE Star God is worshipped. Monsters are beginning to spawn from nowhere! To help fight them, the Star God has given certain young adults, or Disciples, various powers to create Star Children that aid in the battle. Your ultimate goal is to bond with the seven other Disciples in some mysterious orgy on your handheld 3DS or Vita to survive. Who comes up with this? Jane Jensen? Play Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars beginning on April 15th.
Final Fantasy XIV Online: A Realm Reborn (PS4)
This not-so-new MMO invites you to explore Eorzea while doing all kinds of fantastic feats in the Final Fantasy universe. Mount a chocobo, fly in an airship, go on epic quests and take on random encounters with Final Fantasy enemies new and old while you level up your abilities. If you picked this game up when it first came out, you can pick it up again as this version was rebuilt from the ground up. Oh and it’s now online! Final Fantasy XIV Online: A Realm Reborn hits store shelves on April 14th.
Moebius: Empire Rising (PC, Mac)
This contemporary adventure on your Mac or PC merges classic point-and-click puzzle-solving with supposedly sophisticated storytelling. Travel the world to analyze suspects, make historical connections, and uncover the truth behind a theory of space and time that the government will defend at any cost. Also, it’s by Jane Jensen. I guess that means something if you know who Jane Jensen actually is. It’s even more exciting than playing Backgammon on your console. Moebius: Empire Rising hits PC and Mac on April 15th.
Trials Fusion (Xbox 360, PS4, Xbox One, PC)
Anyone who has ever played Trials HD or Trials Evolution knows that these games are synonymous with the words FRUSTRATION and RAGE QUIT. Anyone who has ever played this game also knows the pain when you see your friends’ leaderboard scores and they are seconds, if not minutes, ahead of yours. Experience Trials in higher frustra, err, definition as Redlynx launches Trials Fusion on the 360, PS4, PC, and Xbox One. Please note that Redlynx, Ubisoft, or anyone for that matter, are not responsible for controllers flung at TV’s during this game. Get your rage quit on beginning April 16th.
2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil (PS3, Xbox 360)
Experience all the fun and drama of futbol’s greatest event right before it happens in real life! Multiple improvements and innovations to the award-winning gameplay of FIFA 14 and an additional 100 new animations make this EA Sports FIFA title on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 one of the most exciting titles on these platforms. See if you can predict who will win the World Cup or set up your own fantasy league matches between your favorite and least favorite clubs! You don’t have to go to Brazil to experience all the beautiful people, see all the sights and be at their soccer stadium to see THE World Cup because you’ll be at home playing this game… with a cup of your own. A cup of coffee. Or beer. Or soda. Or water…because you didn’t go to Brazil! Hopefully future FIFA DLC brings you the ability to play online games as a Vuvuzela. 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil hits store shelves April 15th.
For each Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) someone influential in games is chosen to give the keynote usually dubbed as Storytime with [insert gaming nerd here]. The inaugural PAX prime in Seattle was Storytime with Alex St. John. The first PAX East in 2010 was kicked off by Wil Wheaton and in the years to follow Boston was hosted by Jane McGonigal, Jordan Mechner, and Cliff Bleszinski.
Storytime with Alex Rigopulos
The 2014 PAX East keynote was: Storytime with Alex Rigopulos (CEO and co-founder of Harmonix Music Systems, creators of Rock Band and Dance Central). In his address, gamers were given a peek into past, present, and future of the Cambridge Massachusetts based studio. He also offered up some general advice on the games industry and running a company with a creative focus. In keeping with the music roots of the studio, they had a live band playing as everyone streamed into the auditorium. The band was made up of studio employees playing original music also written by folks at the Harmonix.
Pre-PAX, Harmonix’s community team hinted that there would be a game announcement during the speech but Rigopulos started right off with addressing that the studio would not be announcing a Rock Band or Dance Central title today or anytime soon. Although then he also said they “have grand plans to bring them back at some point in the current console cycle.” So that set the twitterverse a buzz that they were working on Rock Band and Dance Central titles for Xbox One and PS4!
Storytime started with some early photos of Rigopulos and co-founder Eran Egozy at MIT together. Majoring in music at MIT is generally a path less taken but it sure worked out well for fans of music and rhythm games all these years later.
In the Beginning…
Harmonix was founded in 1995 with a mission to enable more people to experience the joy of creating music without the learning curve of an instrument being so difficult. Despite both founders having backgrounds with games and computers the company did not actually start with a specific video game focus; those just ended up being the projects that were most successful. Rigopulos walked the PAX East audience through the company history with a handy chart plotting time versus “How Much the World Seemed to Give a Shit about What We Were Up to.”
He started off talking about their first title The Axe which was more of a musical tool than game. Harmonix community team member Aaron Trites described it on a later PAX panel as a “stupid garbage machine.” The title was for PC and allowed players to manipulate instruments using a joystick. It play tested well with an initial cool factor but players seemed to grown bored and/or frustrated after about 15 minutes. Harmonix tried all sorts of creative ways to pitch it to people (like in karaoke bars and theme parks) but ultimately it never really found much of an audience.
Sony gave Harmonix a lot of help getting started when they were the only publisher to take on their first game title in 2001 with Frequency and later its sequel Amplitude. Amplitude actually had the opposite problem of The Axe in playtesting, as before playing no one understood what the game was and had no interest in it. But after some hands on action they wanted more. Unfortunately this was before the internet boom and free downloadable trials so it didn’t reach many players. The analogous infographic on the chart of how much the world cared about Harmonix showed an actual photo of mouse nuts.
Even though the games hadn’t sold well Sony seemed to have a soft spot for HMX and offered to let them develop a game for the PS2 long forgotten camera peripheral the EyeToy. The EyeToy: Antigrav project was a tough decision for the company since it didn’t really fit into their overarching music vision but they decided to take it on anyway. They then had mixed emotions when it ended up being by far their best selling title to date. Looking back now it seems like great early practice for their future with Dance Central and Kinect.
Thankfully Harmonix was able to get back to their music roots in the early 2000s when RedOctane approached them to bring Guitar Hero into living rooms. Guitar Hero sales ramped up slowly and then took off exponentially around the time of the sequel. Activision purchased RedOctane and Viacom purchased Harmonix under their MTV Games division. The chart about how much of a shit people gave went from mouse to Godzilla nuts!
Coolest Job in the World
I’m always a sucker for seeing people I admire nerd out about meeting their heroes or career wow moments and Alex shared a few of those. One was seeing just how popular Guitar Hero and Rock Band had become when South Park devoted an entire episode to making fun of the game. Another was getting to work with members and collaborators of the Fab Four on the The Beatles Rock Band title. Rigopulos shared a story of when he was visibly nervous giving a demo to Paul McCartney. Post demo, Sir Paul apparently reached into his bag and offered up some fresh cut lavender sprigs from his garden and to inhale to help relax.
Present to Future
Harmonix has also had some tough times, especially when the plastic instrument game market seemed to vanish almost as quickly as it had risen up. Rigopulos talked about the difficulty of the studio getting so big with the boom and then having to do layoffs as the market dried up. In a brighter look to the future, he spoke about the company’s present and future strategy.
While Harmonix will still be working on big AAA console games like their current in development Kinect game Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved, they are also looking to branch out into smaller projects and titles on mobile, PC, and who knows what other platforms. With these titles so far they are sticking with their core vision of making the barrier of entry to being able to enjoy creating music more accessible. Alex gets an A+ in alliteration for describing it as: “Music and magic in motion.”
What to Expect from Harmonix in 2014
In addition to Fantasia which will allow players to use manipulators to create live performances and remixes of tracks in the game, Rigopulos showed quick clips of a whole bunch of other prototypes that may or may not see the light of day. He showed all 10+ at once so it was hard to process what was going on in any one, but there was one that involved a monkey and another with dancing bacon so sign me up for those!
Chroma is a recently announced title for the studio currently now in closed Alpha on PC. Its the first time the company has released a title as an Alpha. Rigopulos explained that they are trying to work in a more collaborative model with players, allowing them to be contributors and collaborators in early development. Chroma is a “Music Shooter” and integrates a traditional FPS with a musical environment. The current incantation of the game has mechanics like some weapons only shooting on downbeats or teams working together as bands and needing different instrument weapons in their arsenal. This game is going to be Free to Play so that is another diversification and learning area for the studio.
Another diversification strategy is mobile games. In the keynote Harmonix announced their first mobile game title coming to iOS soon. Its called Record Run and is a musical take on the popular runner genre. It will contain a few licensed songs as well as some from Harmonix bands (which I really missed getting on disc in RB3!). You will also be able to import your own songs to play along to. I saw a demo of the game at another HMX PAX panel and it looks like fun. The art style fits nicely between Rock Band and Dance Central and as always in Harmonix games the characters seem to have lots of personality and really cool outfits.
Deep Thoughts with Jack Handy, er I mean Alex Rigopulos
Closing out the keynote Rigopulos did some general philosophizing about the games industry and running a company. Some highlights of the tips and quotes he coined or shared:
Another really interesting one he shared from the “weeping philosopher” Heraclitus
seems to be part of the core of how he runs the company: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for its not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
This informs how both the market place and everyone at the company is constantly evolving and past success and decisions will not always give similar resutls in the future. He also used one somewhat unfortunate euphemism when talking about how sometimes projects and prototypes don’t work out and you need to be willing to “Kill the baby in the crib” which got an audible gasp from the crowd.
The speech closed with a heartfelt thanks to gamers for marking Harmonix’s labor of love possible through the “incredible power music has over human hearts, souls and imaginations.” Then the band came back and played us all out of the theater.
-- Erin "ErinAS" Seiden
Announced at PAX East today, the Penny Arcade, in cooperation with ReedPOP, is set to add a new stop on their world domination tour. PAX South will debut this January in San Antonio, Texas. With 2 shows already in the US and the more recent addition of the Australia venue, this will be the fourth PAX show on the yearly conference schedule.
According to the press release,
The new show will build on the foundation of the PAX format giving fans a healthy mix of the latest and greatest in video games, tabletop games, game inspired music, competitive gameplay, and insight from leaders in the world of gaming. The annual events give gamers a PAX show for every season throughout the year.
Personally, I have mixed feelings about the addition of this new event. I think it's great that they are expanding into another area of the country and I hear that San Antonio is a great place to visit, but this could really put a strain on already maxed out conference schedules for many devs and gaming companies. January seems to be a slow time of year for gaming news so maybe this will help spice things up.
PAX South will take place in San Antonio, Texas, January 23-25, 2015. The venue will be announced at a later date.
-- Tiffany "ElektraFi" Nolan
So new release Tuesday happens to fall on April Fools Day this year and there are several games releasing. I am going to try and hit the ones I think are the most noteworthy so I apologize if I leave one of your favorites off. I was also trying to rack my brain for some kind of April Fools joke but honestly I can’t top the release of Goat Simulator. I can just imagine a bunch of disgruntled game programmers getting drunk and throwing stupid ideas out at each other and...yeah...Goat Simulator. As I write this, it is also Opening Day of the MLB so what better way to celebrate then to overuse baseball analogies! It’s the top of the third inning and the “PC Master Race” have hit a grand slam while the "MS Fanboys" are in the dugout with nothing to show but a walk to first. In other news, both the Playstation and Nintendo teams are on top but it’s actually their farm teams this week that are really starting to shine!
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate Deluxe (PC, PS3, Xbox 360, WiiU)
So if you are a fan of the recent slate of Batman games and you were jealous that your Vita and 3DS buddies got to play a 2.5D offshoot of Batman: Arkham Origins and you didn’t, well come April 1st you get your chance! As a $20 download only title for PC and Consoles, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate Deluxe comes complete with upgraded HD graphics and sound! Woohoo??? Is an updated handheld game worth your $20? I guess that depends on how many bats you need in your life. Maybe the trailer below can help guide your decision.
Goat Simulator (PC)
So watch the Dead Island-esque trailer below and ask yourself this question: Does the world really need Goat Simulator? I guess your answer depends solely on how twisted your sense of humor is along with your tolerance for plain and nonsensical idiotic fun! I don’t think there is a lot of “game” here but I could probably waste a couple of hours dragging dudes onto a treadmill and shooting them out a window or taking them for rides on a goat endowed with a jet pack. Goat Simulator chews its way onto your hard drives on April 1st.
Halo: Spartan Assault (PC)
So if you are reading this and scratching your head wondering why Halo: Spartan Assault is on this list, please know that I did the very same thing. I own this game on my Windows phone, my Win8 rig and my Xbox One. Why is this showing up as releasing for PC...again? Well, it turns out that Halo: Spartan Assault is launching April 4th via Steam for all Windows machines for those who weren't brave enough to jump into the Win8 pool. This is a decent game and if you have a 360 controller on your rig it’s even better.
Mercenary Kings (PS4)
So being bi-console-curious I tend to play around with the Playstation 4 kiosk whenever I can. I still have ongoing issues with the controller but I have to admit that the system looks good and the kiosk games look great. That being said, I don’t really know where Mercenary Kings fits in on the PS4 platform. I don’t want to knock Mercenary Kings as I know what it’s going for here but it definitely is not pushing the boundaries of the PS4’s capabilities. Hell, I have piMame running on an overclocked Raspberry Pi that seems like it could run this. Yeah, I know graphics aren’t everything but sometimes they help. That being said, Mercenary Kings is free to PlayStation Plus members on April 1st so if you are a member you should check it out. The rest of you have to pony up $20 or go find a rom of Contra to fill that gap.
MLB 14: The Show (PS3, Vita)
Given the complete lack of baseball games on any other system, MLB 14: The Show for the Playstation 3 is, by default, the definitive Major League Baseball experience. I am not trying to be facetious here as, unlike other sports games without competition, the MLB series consistently puts out great products year after year. You loyal PS3 and/or Vita owners can get your mitt on MLB 14:The Show on April 1st while those waiting for it to release on the PS4 must wait until May 6th.
The Elder Scrolls Online (PC, Mac, PS4, Xbox One)
I would assume at this point in time nearly every Elder Scrolls fan said their goodbyes to family and friends and retreated to their basement lair. They fired up their water cooled SLI-ed geForce Titan rig with triple 27” monitors, stocked the beer fridge with Mountain Dew, cleaned out the neighborhood 7-11 of Doritos and arranged for pizza to be delivered every 24 hours. Early access to The Elder Scrolls Online already began and the rest of the world will join in on April 4th. The question is this: Can The Elder Scrolls Online come anywhere near the success of World of Warcraft? I know the trailer below is not indicative of actual in game footage but if the gameplay and story can elicit the emotion and brutal combat shown then I believe it has a chance.