Hello everyone! As it happens, every year the vast unknowable demon entities that power the gaming world have aligned and another PAX East has happened without a hitch. I was fortunate enough to once again travel with the MAGFest Jamspace crew to help do some social media coverage and go play some games so I can yell about them on the internet! As with previous editions of the “POST-X X-PACKED X POST” column, this is split up into two sections: #GAMES and #MUSIC – tagged as such so you can jump around with your fancy Find In Page function if you’d prefer to read about one over the other. Also, you should know that much of this article also appears on MAGFest’s fledgling blog, which is where you can find similar content written about MAGFest events and more in the future.
Huntdown – Easy Trigger Games
A cyberpunk objective-based Contra-oid that is coming to all modern gaming platforms? If you’re not already salivating, I’m not sure there’s much left that can be done for you, I’m sorry. With local co-op, multiple win states and a game that isn’t afraid to murder you over and over, this is going to be a game that you and a friend will sit down and grind through and love every minute of it. As to how hard it’s actually going to be? That remains to be seen – the developers had said that they had set the demo to have infinite respawns, but that since that’s definitely not how the game will really be released, they will probably end up rebalancing the number and placement of health pack items. Aside from that, the game is very aesthetically pleasing – with a good synthwave soundtrack, a plot not unlike a game of Shadowrun and art design (like someone decided a mashup of The Fifth Element, Blade Runner and Escape From New York), this game is basically an homage to 80’s cyberpunk dystopias and if that was all this game was they’d still already have my money.
Asura – Ogre Head Studio
I’m just going to come out and say, South Asian mythology is criminally underrepresented in modern gaming. Maybe with the exclusion of the naga making its way into World of Warcraft by way of Dungeons and Dragons, western audiences pretty much don’t get to see anything from their extremely large body of stories. Thankfully a small team in Hyderabad, India also feels the same and so we’re getting Asura, an isometric hack and slash (henceforth referred to in this article as “Diabloid”) roguelike with both randomly generated and procedurally generated elements. Basically, you, a demon, fight your way through five randomly generated levels, getting randomly generated loot and leveling up to gain new perks on your procedurally generated skill tree. There are a couple of really interesting mechanics at play here: 1. since your skill tree is procedurally generated, it means that you won’t just be building one skill tree over a number of plays like your standard Diabloid – it means you’ll have to find a new way to play every time; 2. when you kill an enemy, you have the option of getting SWEET LOOT or TASTY EXPERIENCE POINTS. This means that you’ve got to choose whether you want to forgo items for skills and hope that the random loot chests in the dungeons are enough to gear you, or you play the EXTREMELY WELL GEARED COMMONER route. Honestly, it’s an economy mechanic I don’t see much and I think it’ll be implemented pretty well. There are also persistent unlocks in the form of different starting demons so like…man, if you’re not already finding a way to ship yourself to India to just sit outside the studio’s window and look longingly at the game, there might be something wrong with you.
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Tonight We Riot – New Blood Interactive
Organizing the proletariat to overthrow the corrupt corporate regime has never been so fun. In Tonight We Riot, you take control of a small mob of revolutionaries as you fight your way through a city against SWAT teams, armored cars, tanks, giant transforming building robots and anything else that stands in your way of creating a more perfect government by the people, for the people. Use weapons like molotovs and bricks alongside your FISTS OF JUSTICE to get past obstacles, recruit others to your side to grow your mob and increase your damage potential, and don’t die. While on the one hand a game like this is A Little Too Real, it’s a very charming game that looks and plays quite well. This game was presented with New Blood’s other upcoming games and their already successful shmup (editor’s note: “shmup” i.e. “shoot-em-up” for the unfamiliar), so it’s exciting to see what the rest of the year will look like for these guys.
For The King – IronOak Games
For The King is a Turn Based Fantasy RPG: The Board Game: The Video Game. You build a party of three characters and set out to save the day. What’s a little striking about this is that unlike traditional videogame RPGs, this is meant to be a co-op game, so each character can act individually (even if you’re playing solo). This means you can explore more of the overworld map, but if you split the party too badly the other characters won’t be able to interact in battle or by trading items with each other, which I find to be an interesting design choice that really rewards good teamwork (if playing co-op)/good resource management (if playing solo). I really enjoy that this is a slightly different take on a well-worn genre – while at its heart this game is a retro-styled dungeon crawler with all the trappings you might expect, the fact that it plays more like a tabletop game makes interacting with it a much different experience (which makes sense, given that the prototype of this game was in fact a board game). For example, there are still random encounters but all monster encounters on the map let you choose whether you want to fight, try and sneak around or back up and avoid the fight. Dungeons appear randomly and combined with the fact that the whole world is randomly generated, you won’t burn out on it like you might if you were, say, going back to play Eye of the Beholder for the eight hundredth time.
A.N.N.E – gamesbymo
This is a game I Kickstarted years ago and am happy to see how much progress has been made on it so far. Half shoot-em-up, half platformer, your goal is to save your robot girlfriend from her kidnappers. It’s a straightforward story with mostly straightforward controls – the shmup section has a tractor beam power that lets you grab asteroids and enemy ships which is currently a little weird to get used to, but aside from that, it’s basically everything you could want from a sidescrolling game. The playable demo was fairly short, but with as good as everything looks, it’s clear that Mo is a perfectionist who won’t release his game until it’s everything he thinks it should be – and so we’ll keep cheering him on while he cranks it out! The game looks and sounds beautiful, and as soon as it’s in our grubby little hands I’m sure we won’t want to put it down.
Melee Masters – Two-Piece Games
This game asks two important questions: do you still love Super Smash Bros Melee, and do you wish you could play Super Smash Bros Melee but with completely different and unique characters? If you said yes to both, you’re in the right place. It looks like the group is still getting off the ground, but this is definitely one to keep an eye on – there have been a few Smash Bros-likes that have popped up over the last few years, but this is the first one to my knowledge which actually uses 3D sprites. Also, not to just hold it up as a comparison to the game that obviously inspired it, this game does look like it should be able to stand on its own. Although it still feels rough right now, the combat feels really good, and it’s definitely captivating enough to get people to sit around and clobber each other. I got to play through as their golem-type character and had a lot of fun chucking rocks at people and generally being a stony menace to the people on the field. One of their more interesting characters is a dual character – unlike a team like the Ice Climbers, this character lets you move two characters independently of each other, with the caveat being that one of them is inert while the other is active. It’s a really neat mechanic I haven’t really seen anywhere, and if it’s balanced properly could be what really sets this game on its own.
Arena Gods – Supertype
Arena Gods is basically going to be a must have if you’re someone who regularly has your friends over to play games. It’s a brutal top down spectacle fighter where you might not need to be the quickest gladiator if you’re smart, and you might not need to be the smartest gladiator if you’re quick. Gameplay consists of running around a series of different arenas where various weapons and armor will spawn, and you must stab, bludgeon or ruthlessly pummel your fellow gladiators into submission. Gameplay is, understandably, very quick until you get down to just two players, which can lead to long stalemates if both players are overly cautious. Even during drawn out one-on-one parts, this game continues to be a delight to both watch and play. Instead of playing a board game that wrecks friendships, why not play Arena Gods to get your catharsis on by beating your friend in the head with a gladiator helm and then hugging it out?
Sundered – Thunder Lotus Games
I’m just going to go ahead and say this: Sundered was the most beautiful 2D game I played all weekend. I don’t just mean the art, although the game is beautiful in a purposefully grotesque way – and it’s no surprise, since this is from the people who brought us Jotun which was what I considered to be the most beautiful isometric adventure game in quite some time. No, the beauty of this game extends to exactly how much attention has been paid to the flow of combat and the almost creepy level of forethought paid to how a player might want the combo system to work – I found myself able to play the demo not by button mashing, but by pressing buttons and hoping they did what I wanted them to only to find out that they did, exactly. The beauty is in the level design, which while procedurally generated is still formatted in ways that are at least a little unique (certain kinds of stage hazards seem to be proc gen separately from the actual rooms in a way not necessarily unlike Spelunky, although I don’t really want to compare the two here otherwise). The beauty of this game, really, is that it is new and exciting but very, very familiar. You will want this game. Prepare your wallet.
Complicated Board Game: The Card Game – Offcut Games
Whoa, wait, a card game? In the middle of all these videogames? Can we do that? I’m doing it.
Complicated Board Game: The Card Game (CBGTCG) is a card game built on the bones of games like Fluxx and Uno and a healthy dose of meta humor about tabletop gaming combined with some interesting mechanics to win. The short version of the rules is that while there is a universal win condition, which is to get all of your cards on the play field by matching them with what pairs to them (which you can see demonstrated as the wheel in the promo art), you may draw additional win conditions, such as “if at any point there are eight cards in a row in play, you win” or “if the game ends with multiple players winning the game, you win the game instead.” It’s a game that can be almost impossible to predict how it will turn out due to multiple kinds of board wiping cards changing how cards fit together and a million other rules changes. Despite all this frantic changing, it never feels too random – this madness is not only planned, it’s intended. Due to its fast paced nature and relatively simple design, games can move rather quickly – although again, since this is a game of screwing over the other players, it can be easy to just reset the game back to the beginning and start over. The game is up for preorder right now, and I would definitely recommend snagging a copy.
Tooth And Tail – Pocketwatch Games
Full disclosure: I have been playing this game for a while because my roommate was given an alpha key from the developers by participating in their Discord.
You’re all expecting me to say “This is Redwall: The RTS!,” and I know you are, and I’ve just said it so we can move past that now. This game is an extremely beautiful limited resource RTS game in which you select from a limited number of possible units before each match and then compete in matches up to four players for supremacy over farmland. The sole proper resource in this game is grain, which you must first have a farm in place to grow. You can capture other farms throughout the map – and in fact you’ll have to, because eventually your fields will fall fallow. You win by being the last person standing – either by destroying your opponents’ crops or merely letting them burn themselves out. The meta for this game is constantly changing as each unit is constantly being rebalanced – what may be a valid strategy in one version may be patched out when the game updates again. Regardless, it’s a game that invites all kinds to come take a crack at it. Each unit feels special, and the game really does incentivize you to run more than one unit – while you MIGHT be able to Zerg rush early, the unit respawn mechanics usually end up making this more costly than it’s actually worth. Whether you’re a veteran RTS fanatic or a filthy casual (like myself), there’s a lot to love about this game. Release date is still pending, but definitely keep an eye on it as it develops.
Earth Night – Cleaversoft
EarthNight is another one of those games that has appeared at multiple game shows over the past few years and keeps looking just about done, only to have one of the developers say that a certain critical point needs refinement and it continues on with its polishing. It’s a procedurally generated runner game where you jump out of a space ship, collect stuff (it looks like stuff that has fallen out of your spaceship?) and stomp on monsters, and you wrap up each level by slaughtering a dragon because they’ve taken over the Earth. This game runs into the same problem I’ve always had with things like Sonic – the game is beautiful, and the soundtrack is amazing, but the game is built in such a way that you’re supposed to get through each level as quickly as possible so the amount of time that you actually get to experience these things is very small! Although until you get your reflexes right, you won’t be finishing the game (and yes, there is an end to it, it is not an infinite runner) so you’ll still get a chance to see it all. The game is inching ever nearer to completion and the devs are pretty good about showing up at various trade shows so if you’re still hankering for the game and can’t wait for it to come out, try to find them and play through the demo!
Force of Guardians – ID Fame
Now that the MOBA bubble has burst somewhat and everyone has stopped trying to just be League of Legends clones, it’s exciting to see what pops up in this side of the gaming world. ID Frame Network Technology, a small group from Shanghai made up of former members of Tencent Games’ Aurora Group (which, may I remind you, is literally the biggest gaming company in the world and owns shares in Activision Blizzard, Epic Games and has a majority share ownership of Riot Games) has decided to bring their experience to bear with a new MOBA intended for mobile devices. It’s a beautiful pixel art game and unlike LoL or basically any other MOBA, this one is intended to be played on the go. This may honestly be the first truly portable MOBA, and I think if it does well, could lead to a forging of a new subgenre of games. In addition to innovating on how MOBAs should be consumed, the actual gameplay is fairly engaging – while it has the normal things you might expect like fighting monsters to get them on your side to go punch the enemy’s spawn crystal and multiple lanes of combat, the skill system is also pretty interesting in that you don’t just have the same thing over and over – when you use a skill, it’s replaced with another one from a set of rotating skills, which means while you’ll get that skill back after a bit, it means that you can’t just sit and spam the same move over and over meaning you actually have to think tactically. The game is currently on iOS, but once it comes to Android later this year I know I’ll be getting a copy. And don’t worry, if you’re really deadset on playing MOBAs on your computer only, they do have a PC release in the works.
Mages of Mystralia – Borealys Games
Story written by a man who has literally helped define the modern fantasy genre by his decades of work in Dungeons and Dragons? Check. Sweet customizable spell crafting system where the only real limits are how many runes you can stack and what your mana bar looks like? Double check. Charming single player Diabloid? Check check and check. Mages of Mystralia launched a Kickstarter just after PAX and was immediately funded and (at time of writing) is more than double funded with almost a full month left on the timer and, according to their campaign, the game is already done – additional funding is being requested for additional polish which is honestly the best kind of Kickstarter. Just the spell crafting mechanic is enough to keep me entertained for hours, but between having a soundtrack done by Boston’s Video Game Orchestra and a story by one of the most well known fantasy authors of our time means that there’s going to be a lot of meat for me to sink my teeth into. The gameplay is solid, the game sits on some pretty well established Diabloid conventions but doesn’t really feel recycled, and with the ability to create whatever spell is most useful to the situation, I imagine this will be quite the game for people who like to be able to exploit a game’s mechanics.
TORMENTOR X PUNISHER – Raw Fury
This is a new game from some of the hottest minds in the indie world. It’s brought to you by the same company that brought you GoNNER, the same minds that helped with Nuclear Throne, Hyper Light Drifter, and Broforce, this highly stylized gory twin stick shooter is revels in the blood and profanities it spews. This game can be brutal for those of you who aren’t great at twin stick shooters (read: me), but it’s as gorgeous as it is gross, and rewarding as it is frustrating. There’s no deep story here, no nuance – it’s just blood, guns and brutality right in your face, and it makes no attempt to be anything else. It’s visceral both in a literal and figurative sense, and if you need some cathartic blood spilling I can think of no better game.
Firewatch – Campo Santo
Okay look I know, I’m a little late to the party, but I haven’t played Firewatch. I’ve heard the best things about it, and I finally got a chance to play a bit of the demo and let me tell you: believe the hype. Be prepared to feel feelings. Lots of feelings. The writing is top notch, even down to the incidentals. The artstyle is amazing, although ever so slightly cartoonish – enough to let you know that this is not the real world you’re in, but that it very well could be. The characters feel alive, not just like they’re set pieces. Being set in the forests of Wyoming, it pretty accurately simulates the frustrations of being outside – blocked paths, climbing hazards, getting lost if you’re bad with maps. It’s an immersive experience that should not be missed. There’s nothing I can say here that the game hasn’t already won an award for, but please, do yourself a favor and play this game.
All of our archived Twitch streams can be found here: unfortunately, we haven’t had the time to parse them out into proper videos and upload them up to YouTube (editor’s note: it’s coming! Check the MAGFest YouTube channel here for updates), but if you’d like to get the REAL AUTHENTIC JAMSPACE EXPERIENCE, just start at the beginning of our coverage for the weekend! About half the musicians we had over the weekend were chiptune artists, thanks in no small part to Rob Carballo of geekbeatradio. Rob’s been the go-to man for getting nerd music shows on the road in the American North East for a little while now, so we’re always grateful to work with him. I’ve included a list of the chiptune artists that performed along with their relevant links below – we had people all over the spectrum from Game Boy music to minimalist sequencers, people building their own instruments and anything from full bands to solo acts. Give them all a look! MAGFest will also be uploading our best pictures from the weekend on their main Facebook page, so be sure to check us out there to see things you might have missed! Thanks again to those of you who performed, who watched us live or on the internet, or even just those of you taking the time to read me rant about stuff for a while.