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PAX Aus Highlights: The Great, The Gorgeous, and The Groovy (Part 2)

PAXAus2014

The innovation, creativity and passion that went into the indie games on display at PAX Aus 2014 was truly remarkable, and a strong indicator that the face of the independent games industry is wonderfully diverse. Below is a selection of such games, which are sometimes poignant, sometimes psychedelic, and sometimes terrifying, but always a force to be reckoned with. IGM proudly presents: PAX Aus Highlights Part 2.

Expand

expandOriginally beginning its journey as a prototype at a Game Jam, Expand eventually evolved into the minimalist labyrinth style adventure game we see today. With no spoon-feeding, and a piano/synthesizer powered soundtrack inspired by gameplay, Expand asks the player to get from point A to point B without getting squashed in the process. The protagonist of choice is a small pink square that zips around a fragmented, undulating black and white puzzle-sphere, and as composer Chris Larkin revealed, the vague portrayal of the game narrative was a deliberate choice to give players freedom in how they interpret the game’s meaning. One view suggests the game depicts the relationship between a mother and her child, while another proposes that it is a story of life after high school. All mysteries will be unveiled in 2015 when Expand is planned for release on Windows, Mac and Linux. Follow Chris Johnson and Chris Larkin on Twitter, and visit the Facebook page and development blog for more exciting details prior to its unveiling.

Black Annex

Black Annex is a strategy game that is very serious about two things-the business of corporate espionage, and sabotage. Players take charge of secret agents equipped with two basic classes of weapons: Non-combat (distractions) and combat weapons, and must infiltrate their way through action packed levels featuring retro inspired isometric graphics.

black annex

The Black Annex development team

A tutorial will walk players through the elementary gameplay concepts, and allow the player to familiarize themselves with the mission-based structure of the game. Steal, destroy, kidnap and kill-or-be-killed, and along the way, invest in agent skills while managing the cost of deploying agents already out in the field. We can expect the game to launch on Windows, Mac, and Linux. No release date has been set for Black Annex as of yet, but for those keen on following the game’s progress, sneak over to developer Man Fight Dragon’s Twitter and the official development blog.

Keebles

The physics-based vehicle builder that first graced IGM back in September demonstrated just how dangerously fun and hilarious it could be at this year’s PAX. Keebles first delivers players with a basic tutorial, and then encourages them to design their own vehicle before testing out their creation in each level. There is no one correct method or way to be successful in Keebles; the emphasis is on the design process itself, which features lots of variables such as stability, power, and speed. Depending on player preference, stability can be sacrificed for power, or power for speed-the possibilities are as wonderful as they are endless.

keebles gameplay

In each level, players are faced with the dual challenge of constructing a vehicle that runs smoothly, as well as saving all three ‘keebles’-cute little critters often stuck in death-defying locations. Burnt Fuse developer Felix Thiang explains that the many features available in game, such as balloons, parachutes, rockets, fire power, and different types of wheels, lend themselves to the highly varied gameplay, and suggests that Keebles is very much a game of trial and error. Even failure results in hilarious smash sequences that act more as a gentle reminder on how to improve one’s approach during the next run. The game also challenges players from a speedrunning angle, which adds another dimension to gameplay that means discovery of new routes and new vehicle designs. Keebles, which has recently been picked up by a publisher, is expected for release in 2015 for PC, Mac, Android, iOS and Windows Phone Devices. To keep up to speed with the game’s progress, make sure to stop by the Burnt Fuse Facebook page.

Phantasmal

When Eyemobi developer Joe Chang set out to make Phantasmal, he wanted to create something that didn’t use ‘jump scares’, but instead chose a more subtle, gradual approach that makes the player really question the protagonist’s sanity. Originally conceived as “House of the Shunned”, Phantasmal is a procedurally generated, first person survival horror game with a dark narrative and stealth elements to boot. The story follows the life of John, a Vietnam war veteran with post traumatic stress disorder who works as a janitor. One fateful night at work, a howling storm disturbs the electrical supplies and all hell breaks loose.

phantasmal

Phantasmal developers Joe Chang and Jeff Chilberto

The industrial punk sound design aims to enhance the gaming experience by making it more immersive, and as Chang explains, the stealth elements are designed to maker players use the environment to take out enemies as opposed to direct combat. A special meter will be present in the game that functions as a measure of sanity-a feature which was inspired by the likes of Amnesia, and will affect your visual field by blurring it if you stare at certain creatures for too long. Three basic weapons will be available at your disposal: A broom, which is weak but useful for damaging things like spiders, a gun, which is dependent on ammo, and a plank board, which eventually snaps after so many uses, meaning players will have to use it wisely. Chang reports that the most enjoyable aspect of working on Phantasmal was the synthesis of everything, and watching environments figuratively come to life. His advice to those interested in making their own horror game one day is to study the masters of horror, such as Thomas Grip (Amnesia), and the Penumbra series. According to Chang, horror is “about the things you can’t see”, and it is the human imagination that is the most powerful tool for creating the best kinds of horror titles. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, an end of year PC release is planned for Phantasmal. For the latest developments on the game, be sure to follow Eyemobi on Twitter.



A keen retrogamer who grew up playing classics like Prince of Persia, Aladdin, and Diddy Kong Racing, Katrina believes that digital games are not just fun, but a great way to learn. These days she enjoys studying Japanese language acquisition, and designing her own games.


  • Kevin Fishburne

    Excellent article, thanks.