PAX East 2016: Innovation and Indie Developers

While the pre-PAX parties, hangouts and community gatherings take center stage on social media and mainstream gaming press, there is a flourishing group of smaller events during PAX weekends that offer a different look at

I had a chance to check out the Pre-PAX East Made in MA party held by MassDIGI, bringing together a collection of local developers and publishers at Microsoft’s New England Research and Development Center for an evening of fun demos and innovative game experiences. Here’s a selection of what I tried out:

 

Disorganized Sport

As a concept, Calvinball from the beloved Calvin & Hobbies comic strip is a conceptual free for all that incorporates any and all ideas into a frantic mess where everyone is a winner (if you like fun). Disorganized Sport is an intriguing attempt at creating that as a sandbox game with a generic playing field that players can continually add rules to or modify rules with, creating havoc such as new ways to tally points and negative scores that continually changes as each round progresses.

It would help to get more visual indicators of the current rules at any given time, but maybe the point is to play without that visual safety net and just embrace the chaos. With some added graphical flourishes and additional entries in the pool of available rule modifiers, Disorganized Sport could be a sleeper hit when it’s eventually released.

 

Mondrian

This was a gorgeous take on Brickbreaker with a series of rotating or otherwise irregular playing stages that stacked hexagonal bricks in an array of beautiful colours and abstract backgrounds. The demo experience wasn’t quite enough time to figure out the adjustments in bounce angles and contact types to bounce the ball into stray bricks as the level progresses, resulting in some frustrating but engaging challenges in experimental deflections on each stage.

The paddle stood out with its sense of inertia and momentum, requiring the player to adjust the start and duration of each movement to keep the ball from breaking out of the enclosed arena. There’s definitely a few folks who grasped it quickly, going by the informal score sheet for a prize at the end of the night.

 

Bacon Man

I actually couldn’t get my hands on this due to time constraints, but I had to shoulder surf for a few minutes for this cartoon style platform with slapstick attacks and humour. In my head canon (or overactive imagination), I’d like to think he occupies the same universe as Too Much Coffee Man.

 

r.e.B.E.R.t.h.

Last but not least, this side scrolling shooter takes an Amplitude-esque approach to 2D combat by integrating the traditional left to right shooting experience with damage bonuses and weak points that coincide with the game score. It was tough to pick out some of the audio cues in the packed venue, but the moments when a musical cue matched up with a high damage opportunity were very satisfying.

The demo had a mix of lo-fi 80’s level design and bright colour palette that felt like a game displaced from another time, it should be a fun indie release for both console and portable platforms.

 

Events like Made in MA’s gaming party and the magnet events that form around PAX East & Prime are not as widely publicized or designed as draws for a mass audience, but their enthusiasm and willingness to explore the frontiers of interactive entertainment at a generally lower budget scale are definitely worth checking out for PAX attendees.

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