PAX South 2016: The Experience and the Games
PAX South 2016 had fewer exhibitors than I’ve seen at other PAX conventions. Having fewer games to check out gave me time to explore the ones that really interested me without feeling pressure to fit everything in. There weren’t a ton of humongous booths with obnoxious sound and screen systems competing to be heard across the entire expo floor, booths weren’t packing people in like sardines, and there was enough space to allow traffic to flow freely. It was still busy, full of people, and sometimes chaotic, but I really enjoyed the more relaxed atmosphere.
The first game I played was “Epistory” by Fishing Cactus. “Epistory” is an adventure game that reminded me of “Bastion,” but with a major focus on typing skills. The aesthetics of the world are inspired by origami; as the player travels the environment reacts much like a pop-up book, and every action, from battling enemies to clearing pathways, is done by typing. More challenging mechanics are implemented as the player progresses through the game, such as entering multiple words in a specific order, or at a certain speed.
“Epistory’s” tale was narrated in text within the environment in the build I played, but I was told that voiceover narration will be added at a later date.
“Epistory” is being developed for Windows, Mac, and Linux. The first half of the game is currently available in early access on Steam for $12.99 USD; the second half will be released when the game launches on March 30.
“Overland” by Finji was a game that I wanted to spend a lot of time with. Sadly, there was only one station available for players, so after a good 20-30 minutes of hogging it I had to resign myself to letting other people play. “Overland” is a 3D survival tactics game; it feels a little bit like a mix of “X-COM” and “Oregon Trail.” In “Overland,” the player recruits a team of survivors (or not) for a road trip through a ruined continent. Players must scavenge for fuel, weapons, medical kits and other supplies to continue traveling while protecting the survivors from violent creatures roaming the remains of North America.
Gameplay is divided into encounters and interludes. Encounters, which are randomly generated, take place on a tactical grid where players can do things like moving, attacking, and picking up objects. Interludes are rest areas where players make strategic decisions on a map, such as attempting to help another survivor or going to a high-risk area to collect fuel.
“Overland” will come out on PC and Mac sometime in 2016.
In the depths of the lower level of the convention center I found “Livelock,” a cooperative top-down twin-stick shooter. It’s being developed by Tuque Games and published in partnership with Perfect World Entertainment; it’s also worth noting that “Livelock” is being co-created with the author of “Robopocalypse,” Daniel H. Wilson.
“Livelock” is set in a chaotic post-human world where machine faces machine in an infinite war. Up to three players take on the roles of “The Few” via online or local multiplayer. There will be three characters to choose from, each with their own personality and abilities. Hex, the only character available during the demo, reminded me a little bit of Garrus from “Mass Effect.”
“Livelock” will be released on PS4, Xbox One, and PC in 2016.
“Knee Deep” by Prologue Games caught my eye from afar when I saw that it had dialogue choices. Described as “a swamp noir adventure in three acts,” this episodic game, which is set in Cypress Knee, Florida, features three different characters investigating the death of an actor who appears to have hanged himself on set. The characters move across scenes much like a real stage production while the player takes control during conversations, making critical choices that steer the story. During the demo I got to play as a blogger, Romana Teague, while she produced articles for her employer. As the player, I was able to decide which information to release in the news; I also chose the tone in which it was written. Later, other characters reactions to Romana were based on the choices I had made. Sometimes my decisions helped, but other times they hindered my progress.
Knee Deep is definitely a game to check out if you’re a fan of episodic or story-driven games. Two of the three acts are currently available on Steam, with the last act releasing in March 2016.
A major highlight of my PAX South was not a video game, but a board game my friend and I discovered in the table-top section, called “Billionaire Banshee”. (Naturally, I peer-pressured my friend into buying it.) The concept is simple; a player draws a quirk card and a perk card that describe a potential lover, then reads them to the other players. Everyone else selects either a “Date” or “Deny” voting card, then takes a turn revealing their voting card and explaining why they think their friend would, or wouldn’t, date the candidate. The round ends when the player who drew the perks and quirks shows how they voted and explains why, and everyone who guessed correctly gains a point. The game is easy to customize, so rather than keep track of points we simply made the losing players drink. Obviously.
“Billionaire Banshee” made for one of the most hilarious and fun nights I’ve ever had at a PAX. Really. I laugh-cried all my makeup off at the pub. The game is available now, and you need it in your life.
Will I be attending another PAX South in the future? Hell yeah. It was a lot of fun, with ample time to experience quality games that suited my tastes.