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Top 25 Things We Saw at PAX East 2014 (#25-16)

25. Slash: Romance Without Boundaries slash

Cards Against Humanity has really reinvigorated the party game scene in the last few years and Slash: Romance Without Boundaries is an entertaining extension to this trend. Fan fiction is the guilty pleasure of many an internet user and this game plays in that realm; asking players to justify the wild relationship pairings of various fictional characters, celebrities, and historical figures. As in CAH, Slash designates a floating role known as the Matchmaker who acts as an inciting action and a judge. Each round, the Matchmaker places one character from his hand on to the table and chaos ensues as the other players’ choose the perfect match and creatively explain why their choice is the best.

It’s a fun and effortless experience with tons of clever references; I didn’t expect to find Demona from Gargoyles in the stack. Surprisingly, the mental fortitude and imagination it takes to unify these varied universes is quite a challenge and the humor of the game comes from the debates that arise around the table. Pull out Slash at a party and you’re bound to have a good time.

24. Elegy for a Dead World elegy

I didn’t actually have the chance to play Elegy for a Dead World, but it was the real standout at the Dejobaan Games’ booth. The game is gorgeous to look at and the looping trailer really managed to capture my imagination. From what I understand, Elegy takes place in one of three post-apocalyptic worlds influenced by famous Romantic poets like Keats, Byron, and Shelley. The player has been sent to chronicle the demise of these planets and as they explore the shattered ruins of ancient civilizations, they take notes that are shared across cyberspace with other players. This collective note-taking is an experiment in joint storytelling and is the real meat of Elegy’s gameplay. Dejobaan is no stranger to taking mechanical risks in their games and I can’t wait to see how this innovative choice will impact the experience of Elegy for a Dead World.

23. Mew-Genics mewgenics

When Team Meat announces a new game, the world listens. Deep within the PAX show floor, behind the expansive Bethesda booth, was everyone’s favorite two-man development team showing off the playable demo for Mew-Genics. Alas, I didn’t actually get my hands on this one because the lines were too enormous, but I did spend some time watching other players navigate the dangerous world of being a “Cat Lady”. There was unadulterated joy and curiosity on the faces of a number of people; an accurate response to a game that combines the cuteness of kittens with Team Meat’s trademark sick sense of humor.

Essentially, Mew-Genics takes the animal collection mechanic of Pokemon and the simulation elements of The Sims, tosses them in a blender and spits out something distinctive and exhilarating. I’m not even sure that I entirely understood what was going on onscreen, but in Edmund and Tommy we trust. Expect great things from Mew-Genics: it’s charming, ambitious, and exactly what you want to follow-up Super Meat Boy.  

22. These French Fries are Terrible Hotdogs thesefrenchfries

I’ve already mentioned that the tabletop party game is going through an exciting resurgence and the proliferation of light, creative card games was incredibly evident at PAX. One of the most exciting developments was the inclusion of tabletop games at the Indie Megabooth, confirming the connection we’ve often suggested between the indie and board game revolutions. Of the eight titles presented, word-scrambler These French Fries are Terrible Hotdogs was probably the most impactful and entertaining. The game is a bit more structured than Slash, but that structure manages to stretch players’ mental flexibility and provide a few hardy laughs along the way.

At the beginning of a round, the first player places a card on the table face up. It might contain a word like “Hot Dog”. The other players than place their cards face down and have to convince the original card-holder that their words are the same. But the trick is that you can only use phrases that can describe both objects. For example, if my card is “French Fries”, I could say, “This goes very well with ketchup.” If you successfully persuade the original card holder, you win the round. These French Fries are Terrible Hotdogs sounds silly, but it actually forces players to make interesting connections within language. I found this game to be utterly charming and I would not be surprised if it ends up as a huge hit, because it hits the sweet spot between family-friendly and strategic. There was no better new tabletop experience at PAX than These French Fries are Terrible Hotdogs.

21. Chroma Squad Chroma

Children’s television is on the lower end of the film production hierarchy and Power Rangers is probably considered one of the lowest of the low. But small budgets and wonky scripts haven’t kept our favorite multicolored heroes down: they’ve lasted more than twenty years. Chroma Squad is a turn-based roleplaying game with a unique sensibility. The player is actually a producer on a Sentai-style television program tasked with keeping costs low and ratings high. You hire a cast, modify their costumes and weaponry, throw together a duct-taped set, than ‘film’ episodes of martial arts driven hilarity.

I was absolutely shocked by just how deep the customization options for Chroma Squad are. This is where you’ll find a lot of the real fun, expressing yourself in ways you never knew you’d be able to: give the heroes dragon masks, design increasingly bizarre monstrous enemies, and tell the stories that you want to tell with the tools available. The whole affair is schlocky and a bit tacky, but that’s what makes Chroma Squad so damn wonderful.

20. This War of Mine thiswar

There have been hundreds and hundreds of war games over the years, typically pitting heroic soldiers against despotic or tyrannical enemies. But war is far more expansive than the battlefield; it often leaves tragedy in its wake. The lives of civilians are forever altered by the actions of opposing military forces. This War of Mine examines these effects, giving the player control over a group of survivors who must forage through the ruins of their bombed-out city and avoid an occupying enemy.

My interest is always peaked when a game appears to have a political or social message attached. Rarely is gaming used explicitly for this purpose. While This War of Mine does offer a new and significant perspective on violent conflict, it is actually a rather straight-forward survival experience; sharing quite a lot in common with games like Don’t Starve or State of Decay. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it will certainly attract more players, but I was expecting something a bit more bold and opinionated. Still, This War of Mine is riveting due to its fresh viewpoint and brutally detailed environments; but I secretly hope that the game will propose something even more philosophically challenging. Fingers crossed.

19. Always Sometimes Monsters alwayssometimes

Unfortunately, Always Sometimes Monsters was a bit of a disappointment for me, but I can’t really blame the game. The truth is that I was so excited by the premise alone that I was ready to christen it Game of the Show before we even arrived at PAX. Always Sometimes Monsters is a tale of love and loss in which the main protagonist has randomized features including race, gender, and sexuality. Their romantic partner is also a random combination of these elements and as the plot unfolds, players are forced to put themselves in shoes they might not normally fit in. The game is primarily a dialogue driven adventure that revolves around significant choices that can alter the relationship and the plot.

But the convention environment is not terribly suitable to an experience as personal and decision-based as this one. By the time I was finished cycling through most of the expository information, my time with the demo had come to an end. I was never able to make a story-shifting choice or get to know the character that was supposed to be the love of my life. As such, Always Sometimes Monsters initially read as a rather subpar experience. Luckily, the concept is strong enough that I’m definitely willing to give it another shot upon release. I want to take my time with this one and really let it soak in. Don’t be discouraged by my review, I’m still confident that Always Sometimes Monsters will be amazing.

18. Distance distance I’ve always been a secret fan of crazy off-the-rails racing games like Burnout, Diddy Kong Racing, or F-Zero. Distance is a game that wears these influences on its sleeves, combining various mechanics to push the racing genre to its most insane limits. Holographic walls pop out of the ground, cars are cut in a half and brought back together, drivers cling to walls and ceilings or just fly through the air to reach their destinations; Distance is a celebration of what it means to go fast.

We often look for underlying emotional and intellectual context at Jetpack Joust, but to be honest, this one is just a lightning bolt of fun pointed directly at your skull. Distance adds raw adrenaline and excitement to creative tracks and power-ups that could really reinvigorate indie racers. What’s more, players are given real options in terms of the ways that the approach the race and winning can happen through a number of interesting means. This adds a layer of replayability that is quite refreshing. Few games at PAX brought as much sheer joy to my soul as this one did.

17. The Giant Evolve Monster evolve

Erecting a horrifying ten-foot tall monstrosity in the center of the Boston Convention Center makes one hell of a statement; but when you’re the company behind Left 4 Dead and Counterstrike, you can afford a little boldness. But seriously, this danger beast is pretty sweet, right? It’s a hell of a marketing stunt. I’m just glad it didn’t come to life and start rampaging through a sea of nerds with nothing to defend themselves but their skills in Pokemon and Dungeon Mastering. We would’ve had to have turned to the cos-players with their kick ass foam swords to defeat the creature.

But in all seriousness, Evolve looks like it’s going to be the next huge Steam multiplayer experience. A team of four mercenaries is sent to a mysterious planet to hunt a massive super-predator played by a singular opponent. This team has really mastered the dynamic of monsters vs. humans in Left 4 Dead, so I’m excited to see where they take it with Evolve.

16. Mushroom 11 mushroom11

It’s always interesting when a developer takes a tried-and-true genre and adds a unique twist that completely changes the way we perceive gaming. Mushroom 11 is a game that was quickly picked up by the Indie Fundbecause of its innovative approach to the two-dimensional side-scrolling platformer. Set in a post-apocalyptic environment where much of animal life has been decimated, Mushroom 11 is the story of a sentient fungus that can adapt its shape to move through the world. Players’ are the guiding force behind our sponge-y protagonist using a tool that can grow or shrink the plant at will. It’s a deceivingly simple mechanism with endless implementations and the games’ physics-based puzzles become subtly more difficult over time.

But mostly, it’s performing the same kind of tasks that you would as a traditional gaming character – but as an immobile, amorphous blob – that is the seed of Mushroom 11’s greatness. This was by far one of the most unique gameplay experiences at PAX East.

Cory’s Top 5 Games of PAX East 2014

The JPJ team has returned from PAX East 2014 with a ton of great memories and even greater games to discuss! In this informal video, Cory reveals his five favorite games of the show; attempting to highlight some of the lesser seen gems.

(We’d like to apologize for any technical issues. This video was really just a quick attempt to get out some of our feelings about the convention. Cory is out of focus a bunch, but he was also sore, unshaved, and unshowered after an 8 hour drive. In other words, it’s probably best that you can’t see him. Give it a watch anyway, because the games are worth it.)

PAX was better than ever! If you went, what was your favorite moment? Your favorite game? Your favorite panel? Comment below.

If you’re too lazy to watch the video, we’ll be posting the 25 Best Things We Saw at PAX East 2014 later this week!

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Heading Home…

There are few things  in this world that are quite as exhilarating for a gamer as the days leading up to PAX. It’s the festival that celebrates us: the people who play games and the culture that has grown up around interactive experiences. Penny Arcade calls it “home” for a reason. Because despite the crowds and the long lines and the shitty food, PAX is a comfortable place for gamers to simply be themselves and to revel in that feeling with others just like them.

My bags are packed. Billy is busily baking chocolate chip dough for the Cookie Brigade. Matt is simply chomping at the bit to get there and play a fuck ton of board games (it’s his first time). PAX East is what helped build this steadily growing house that we call Jetpack Joust; it solidified our friendships and dreams and deepest ambitions. Suffice it to say, I would not have had these revelations without our three days in Boston last year and I’m hoping that PAX East 2014 will only expand our vision and reach.

As such, we’re going on a bit of a hiatus for the next week-and-a-half. PAX East is a beast we hope to conquer. It’s fun incarnate, but it is also pretty damn time consuming. We plan on meeting indie developers and playing their games, we plan on shooting some exclusive footage for our YouTube channel, possibly even podcasting and we plan on having a great time. There won’t be many updates to the website, but have no fear, we will be flooding you with interesting tidbits from the convention for weeks to come.

We’ll also be tweeting throughout the entire event, so please follow us on Twitter: @JetpackJoust. Feel free to contact us if you’d like to meet up over the course of the weekend to play some games.

And if you too are making the trek to PAX East, we hope you get there safely and have a fantastic few days floating yourself through gamer heaven.  We’ll see you when we all get Home.

JPJ will be back, high on the wondrous sights of new games, we promise. Bill Murray!

—Cory Stine, Editor-in-Chief and Council Spectre

 

 

“Can I Kick It?” Episode 6 – Death in Candlewood, Baffledazzle, The Breakout, Aetherium, and Grave

Check out the brand new episode of “Can I Kick It?”, featuring five amazing crowdfunded games: the first-person survival horror “Death in Candlewood”, the revolutionary puzzles “Baffledazzle”, the point-and-click jailbreak “The Breakout”, the cyberpunk miniatures game “Aetherium”, and the procedurally based scares of “Grave”.

EtherOne

Painted by Memories: Ether One

Ether One is all at once a riddle and a puzzle and a logic problem; each within the other, spiraling together until the mysteries and their answers can’t be separated. It’s not so much a game as it is a deeply emotional experience. All of this language may seem cryptic and unspecific, but that’s because it is truly hard to describe the lasting impact that Ether One has had on me. I’ve had a few days to separate myself from it, but still my mind wanders to the peaceful village of Pinwheel and the journey contained within. It’s an experience that I am still deciphering, but one that I’m sure I enjoyed.

The game begins in the sanitized offices of Ether One, a near-future corporation that has designed experimental technology that can retrieve the important memories of dementia patients. The player is hired as a Restorer, a key participant in the retrieval process who enters the mind of the patient and navigates through a mental construction of their inner life. It’s the job of the Restorer to collect “memory fragments” that when assembled create a “core memory” that can help to illuminate significant events in the life of the user. The player is assigned to an old woman named Jean, whose psychological environment is a recreation of the small town in which she grew up: Pinwheel.

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Once inside the mind, the Restorer can not return to the waking world until all of the core memories have been unlocked. Luckily, Pinwheel is a relatively safe and pleasant place, painted like a luscious impressionistic painting by Jean’s decaying psyche. Still, the empty environment feels haunted and unsettling, as if the entire population had simply disappeared overnight. Toys lay strewn about the floors of children’s rooms, radios play jazz throughout the otherwise silent air, and kitchens are left messy with half-cooked meals. Ether One is not a horror game, but the crawling fear of losing one’s past is conveyed brilliantly by the abandoned streets and passageways. Only the remnants of the people who make up Jean’s memories are left: their letters, their possessions, and occasionally their voices.

Traversing the colorful locales of the village and its surrounding country, the player searches for bright red ribbons on maypoles: the primary indicator of Jean’s fragments. The Restorer’s only companion is the disembodied voice of the doctor who hopes that this experiment will prove the validity of her technology. She is cold and distant at first, frustrated by an endless amount of failures; but as the player’s successes mount, the doctor becomes far more warm and comforting. As more ribbons are uncovered, she reveals the sad story that led to her lofty ambitions building a connection that almost feels like a real friendship, a real bond.

Collecting the fragments is a calming endeavor that asks very little of the player in return. The tragic story of Ether One can weave itself without applying any added stress or complexity. There is no combat and no action. This is a game with a deliberately casual pace that emphasizes exploring every available nook and cranny of the world. It wants to enrapture the player slowly, offering them the chance to play purely for narrative reasons.

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However, there is another, perhaps more satisfying option. If you are up to task, Ether One is filled to the brim with intricate puzzles that require a keen mind and a prolonged memory. Some of the solutions to these tasks unfold over the course of several hours; a key you pick up in the beginning of the game may not be of use until the very end. So much can be garnered if you simply pay attention to some of Ether One’s finer details. The satisfaction of completing such involved riddles resonates in the heart and the mind and helps to tell a richer, more refined story. These puzzles can be frustrating and intimidating at times, but they are well worth the time and effort.

Whichever way you choose to play, Ether One refuses to hold your hand. Both puzzles and plot require a bit of mental detective work on the part of the player. Nothing is ever spelled out, but all of the connections are there to be discovered. It is actually a tremendously intimate and personal tale of love and friendship, told through the guise of a science fiction story. At first, Ether One comes across as another attempt to emulate The Matrix; but it quickly transforms into something else entirely and the technology fades into the background as a purely metaphorical device. All of the tiny details revealed throughout the player’s exploration culminate in a beautiful and harrowing climax that reveals an entirely new layer of meaning. The game is a pressure cooker that builds incredibly slowly, but the explosive conclusion will no doubt lead to debate for years to come. The final moments will stay with you forever as a profound work of art.

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I will, however, admit that Ether One is a bit of an acquired taste. It is unlike anything that I have ever played before and as such it took me some time to warm up to its charms. Even as the game approached its end, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I knew that it expertly evoked a well of emotions within me, but the gameplay felt occasionally erratic, ill-defined and unfocused. It was only with hindsight and analysis that Ether One became an essential part of my gaming history.

That’s because dementia is such a strange topic for a video game to approach; at least at face value. So many of us are touched by this disease, as we watch family members seemingly fade away. They lose their faculties and begin to forget who they are, as if their very identity is changing before our eyes. We can have empathy for their struggles and help them when they need it, but we can’t experience their pain and frustration for ourselves. Ether One translates those feelings directly into its gameplay. The player is never given direct instructions; they have to navigate Jean’s confusing mindscape on their own. The puzzles revolve around recalling details learned earlier in the game and it can be difficult to remember the solutions. The story is told in non-linear bits and pieces that have to be logically assembled. Everything in Ether One is fragmented, not just the memories and attempting to tie up all of the loose ends is like attempting to conquer dementia. It’s an enormous feat, one that feels almost impossible and it perfectly echoes the fragility of the human mind.

This deep and fundamental meaning at the heart of Ether One may make it sound like a daunting trip to Melancholyville, but it’s also life affirming and visually stunning. Pinwheel is a serene port town whose simplicity somehow manages to convey the same wonder and awe as a more fantastical setting. Wandering through this world is like jumping into an impressionist painting and everywhere you look is an image that could hang on your wall. Equally as wonderful is Ether One’s soundtrack, which is one of the best I’ve heard all year. It perfectly evokes the same mood as the images without becoming overbearing. Simple melodies become memorable phrases that are ultimately important to the story at large. The voice acting is also top notch, helping to create further immersion. Ether One is a cohesive package that delivers on every front.

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But all of my praise can barely summarize the powerful experience that is Ether One. You really have to play the game to understand just how effective it is at what it’s trying to accomplish. It isn’t the flashiest or the most action-packed game, but it does provide real emotional and intellectual engagement.

Ether One is unforgettable and will linger in your mind as a reminder of just how important your memory is. Don’t miss it.

Score: 9 Out of 10

Jetpack Joust Plays: Spate!

Cory digs into the psychedelic sidescrolling steampunk universe of “Spate” from Awo Games. Tortured private investigator Bluth is sent to the mysterious chain of islands known as the X Zone to search for a missing businessman; but his addiction to absinthe and the tragic death of his daughter haunt him as he travels this already strange land. “Spate” is a visually wild platformer from a former Jim Henson employee and it is quite a lot of fun – even if absinthe doesn’t really induce hallucinations.

You can find “Spate” at:
http://store.steampowered.com/app/269810/

Episode One:

Episode Two:

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Indie Megabooth Bringing 80+ Games to PAX East 2014

 It’s hard to believe that the Indie Megabooth, an organization that has become synonymous with the PAX experience, is only two years old. What started in 2012 as a collective of sixteen independent developers with the ambition to create the same convention impact as their Triple A competitors has grown exponentially in a rather short period of time. This rapid rate of expansion has transformed the Indie Megabooth into the dominant force on the expo floor. If there was ever any doubt that we are living in the age of the indie, one need only look to the ceiling of the Boston Convention Center to see just how huge an effect these small, personal games have had on the industry.

The wait for PAX is already brutally long and arduous, with information leaking slowly and major announcements coming only weeks before the convention. We had already been sated by the event’s schedule; but when you’re as starved for new indie experiences as we are, you’re most concerned with what developers are going to appear at the Indie Megabooth. Today, we were finally delivered that information.

From a humble sixteen at PAX East 2012 to nearly ninety independent companies this year, the Megabooth is increasingly colossal in both size and importance. It’s also expanding its scope to include board games; an exciting addition that highlights the combined fates of the indie and tabletop revolutions.

The following is a list of every game that will be featured at the Indie Megabooth at PAX East 2014. An asterisk (*) will denote games that are already available to purchase.

 

A Hat in Time.
A Hat in Time.

THE MEGABOOTH:

  • A Hat in Time
  • Aaru’s Awakening
  • *Actual Sunlight
  • Always Sometimes Monsters
  • Appointment with FEAR
  • Astebreed
  • *Awesomenauts
  • Aztez
  • Bean Dreams
  • Bigfoot Hunter
  • Chasm
  • *Codename Cygnus
  • Crypt of the NecroDancer
  • *Curse of the Assassin
  • Darkest Dungeon
  • Deadrock Divide
  • Delver’s Drop
  • Destructamundo
  • Distance
  • *Don’t Starve
  • *Drunken Robot Pornography
  • *Dungeon of Elements
  • *Dungeon of the Endless
  • Dyscourse
  • Elegy for a Dead World
  • Endless Legend
  • Enemy Starfighter
  • Extrasolar
  • FRACT OSC
  • Galak-Z
  • Gates of Osiris
  • GoD Factory: Wingmen
  • Gods Will Be Watching
  • *Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition
  • *Guns of Icarus Online – Co-op
  • Hand of Fate
  • Hotline Miami 2
  • Hyper Light Drifter
  • Interstellar Selfie Station
  • Invisible, Inc.
  • *Jazzpunk
  • Jungle Rumble
  • Kero Blaster
  • La-Mulana 2
  • Let’s Quip
  • *Loadout
  • Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime
  • *Luftrausers
  • Max Gentlemen
  • Miegakure
  • Mushroom 11
  • Nuclear Throne
  • *Octodad: Dadliest Catch
  • *Out There
  • ReignMaker
  • *Robot Roller-Derby Disco Dodgeball
  • Secret Ponchos
  • Source
  • Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon
  • Sportsfriends
  • Stash
  • *Strike Vector
  • Stronghold Crusader 2
  • Swords & Soldiers II
  • *The Forgotten Spell
  • The Phantom PI Mission Apparition
  • There Came an Echo
  • *Tower of Guns
  • Woah Dave!
  • World Zombination
Chroma Squad
Chroma Squad

THE MINIBOOTH (A rotating gallery of games featured during different days of the convention.):

  • Airscape: The Fall of Gravity
  • Bik
  • Bounden
  • *Buddy & Me
  • Burrito Galaxy 64: Mega-Tortilla Scrolls Saga 30X6 – Planetoid SAL-5A XIV Directors Cut: Candy Edition : Push it to the edge PRO
  • Chroma Squad
  • Darknet
  • Dog Sled Saga
  • *Doggins
  • FRAMED
  • Future Unfolding
  • Gorogoa
  • Karmaflow: The Rock Opera Videogame
  • Particle Mace
  • Penguemic – Word Domination
  • Race the Sun
  • Relativity
  • Rex Rocket
  • Rollers of the Realm
  • Sentris
  • SoundSelf
  • Tetrapulse
  • Tetropolis
  • *Therian Saga
  • Treachery In BeatdownCity
  • Tumblestone
  • Vertiginous Golf
  • WE ARE DOOMED
Warlords & Sellswords
Warlords & Sellswords

THE TABLETOP BOOTH:

  • A.E.G.I.S. Combining Robot Strategy Game
  • Alteil Horizons
  • Funemployed!
  • Slap .45
  • These French Fries Are Terrible Hot Dogs
  • Warlords & Sellswords
  • Werewolf
  • Wizard Dodgeball

That’s one hell of a line-up if you ask us!

Hit the Table Ep. 2: A Beginner’s Guide to Roleplaying Games

Roleplaying games can be a bit nebulous and intimidating to the uninitiated, but we break down the basics in an attempt to get you to do some storytelling with your friends! We give you all of the tools to break into the hobby andaAfterwards, we give you four great game systems to get you started: Dungeons & Dragons, Dungeon World, Numenera, and Star Wars: Edge of the Empire.