This past weekend I attended PAX South in San Antonio Texas. It was the first time I’ve been to a gaming-related expo, and I was a bit blown away. My primary goal in going was to scope things out in preparation for exhibiting Kilstow. I saw a lot of great booths, and a lot of great games, and I’d like to talk about some of the better ones and the things I observed about the games and the booth setups. I took a bunch of pictures, but as they were with my cell phone they didn’t exactly come out great. Instead I’m going to use some of the promo imagery for these games.
The Adventures of Pip
The Adventures of Pip is a puzzle platformer by Tic Toc Games. The core mechanic revolves around transferring the character between different eras of video game graphics. In each different form, the character has a unique set of abilities that have to be used to solve various puzzles. You can move back a step in the evolution at any time, but to move forward you have to kill a glowing enemy, which led to some interesting puzzles in the demo they had available. While it’s a not exactly the most innovative game out there, the graphics-switching mechanic was well thought out the whole thing was very highly polished.
The booth setup left a bit to be desired. There were two stations to play at, but the monitors were just on the table which made it hard to see if there were more than a couple of people there. A raised TV stand would have been a great way to let people passing by see what the game was all about. It also helps make the wait time a bit more bearable for those in line to try it out. Other than that it was a better setup than most I saw at the show, and with their location right behind the indie showcase it had a crowd every time I walked by.
Light Fall is a puzzle platformer by Bishop Games. The defining feature of this one was a cube that you could summon out of thin air to help you get around. It worked as a non-standard multi-jump, in that pressing the jump button would summon the cube and snap it to right below you up to four times in a row. You could also summon the cube and move it around to scout out the map, block hazards, and set up an extra jump for precise navigation or extra range. My favorite part was manipulating the fact that the cube spawned away from you and snapped to your position when you used it in the air, as it would allow for fancy wall jumping or allow you to gain incredible momentum, though that last part may have been bug based on my conversation with the developer.
These guys had pretty close to the perfect booth setup. Both play stations had raised monitors on stands, and the table in the back of the booth was free for conducting business or laying out business cards and other informational material. The only downside was the fact that since the table was in the back, you had to walk between the crowded stands to get to the business cards, but since they ran out on the morning of the second day it was less of an issue. Since they were on a corner booth they had a bit more space to work with, but the idea of the setup was sound and could be adapted to a middle booth. They also didn’t have their company name and logo displayed prominently (it was at the bottom of their standing posters), but since it was on their shirts it wasn’t a huge problem.
Hive Jump is an action shmup with roguelike elements by Graphite Lab. This one I had actually played before when I backed them on Kickstarter, but they put on a great show over the whole weekend. You explore a procedurally generated alien hive with a group of four jumpers trying to get a special backpack to the bottom. When a player dies, they respawn at the backpack as long as it’s safe. If the player carrying it dies or drops it, then the aliens can destroy it and the respawns stop.
The game is amazing, and it’s perfect for the kind of atmosphere you find at shows like this. Four player co-op meant one huge TV could serve both the players and a crowd of fans watching. Fast-action shooting with high stakes and quick upsets meant the crowd could really get into the game just watching. They had four small padded cubes in front of their massive TV, and the whole thing was just set up perfectly. While I don’t really have the same type of game and thus can’t really do the same thing, it wasn’t particularly helpful, but it was striking how well they set things up.
There were more, but those were the most popular with the best booth setups. Since this PAX was focused on tabletop games, there were a ton of great booths for board games and card games that were simultaneously awesome and completely unhelpful. I only saw one other horror game there, and it was so early that it didn’t really have anything to show and you could tell from a distance. The guys were really passionate about the game, and it sounds like it will be awesome in a year, but it’s hard to glean any useful tips on how to show an atmospheric horror game at a trade show from something so early in development.
All told it was a fantastic trip. I ran into Jerry Holkins on the floor just walking around and chatted with him for a few minutes about running a booth at a show and a little bit about food in Texas. I also got to talk to a lot of developers that I had seen floating around twitter and reddit during the show, and it was nice to be able to put names to faces. Hopefully I can get my stuff together and join their ranks soon, because seeing all of those people and all of the amazing work they’ve done was incredibly inspirational. Now that I’m back home, my schedule has normalized, and I’ve finished the last of the engine modifications to make Unity let me do what I want, it’s time to start the fun work of actually making this game.