Indie video game developers on display at PAX East

This article was originally printed in The Oakland Press.


Guacamelee is on on many indie game on display at PAX East this year.

While there will always be a place in the video game market for bombastic AAA franchises, recently indie developers have been gaining credibility even among mainstream gamers, with titles like Minecraft selling more than 10 million worldwide.

It’s no wonder that the indie market also has some of the most interesting ideas.

The indie megabooth at this year’s PAX East, a gaming expo in Boston, is definitely evidence that indie developers are on the rise. Some upcoming games showcased at the megabooth stood out in particular. Here are some ones to watch:

Octodad: Dadliest Catch is a truly unusual title from developer Young Horses, a sequel to a student project from DePaul University in Chicago. Players control an octopus, which also happens to be a father and husband, as they try to go about seemingly mundane tasks. But making an invertebrate behave like a human is about as difficult, and hilarious, as you might expect. The purposely awkward controls make simple tasks, like picking up a banana, into a struggle that knocks over half the furniture in the room. The challenge comes from trying not to arouse suspicions in Octodad’s family that their patiarch is actually a mollusk. The game is planned for a PC launch later this year on Steam.

Guacamelee, from developer Drinkbox Studios, takes the familiar formula of platforming and exploration used most notably in games such as Metroid and Castlevania, and infuses it with Mexican culture. Players take control of Juan Aguacate, a luchadore who must save “El Presidente’s Daughter,” when she’s kidnapped by an “Evil Charo Skeleton.” An interesting, angular art style makes this one stand out, as does the option to let players instantaneously switch between “The World of the Living” and the “The World of the Dead” with a button press, changing the world around them in the process. Including the option of two-player co-operative play, and this one should give you and a buddy plenty of chance to help each other out — or just mess with them. Guacamelee is available as a downloadable title for PS3 and the PS Vita.

Departing altogether from conventional gameplay is the understated Journal, from developer Locked Door Puzzle. Journal follows a young girl as she tries to recover the missing pages from her Journal, recalling events from her childhood along the way. Less a game and more an interactive narrative, players are able to decide how to remember certain events, changing their conversations with supporting characters. The unique story explores themes of the reliability of memory and responsibility, and will definitely be one to watch for those looking for a deeper experience when it comes out later this year.

Developer One True Game initially set out to create a parody of fighting games and the culture that surrounds them when it created Divekick, a brawler with only two buttons, “dive” and “kick.” But it’s more than a simple joke, and the deceptively deep gameplay led OTG to begin making a more complete package, with far more than the original two characters — also named “Dive” and “Kick.” The show floor game had specially made two-button controllers, but will work with other controllers when it launches on PS3, PS Vita, and PC later this year.

Quadrilateral Cowboy is a first-person hacking game, in which players use a computer within a computer. The main character is a hacker engaging in espionage in the ’80s, armed only with a “top-of-the-line hacking deck” with “a 56.6k modem and a staggering 256k RAM.” Players deploy the laptop to deactivate security cameras, turn off alarms and open doors to get into a building, complete their objective, and get out while leaving no trace that they were there. A simple DOS-like command prompt is used to enter commands. While learning antiquated computer commands to execute a stealth mission might turn some players away, the coding seems simple enough to pick up in a short amount of time.

The Swapper, by Facepalm Games, takes an interesting conceit for a 2D platformer and wraps it in a layer of loneliness and mystery. Players explore a derelict spaceship with the use of the eponymous Swapper, a device that creates clones of the player and then lets you “jump” your consciousness from one to another. So a gap that would be jumped over in other games can be traversed by making a clone on the opposite side. The game uses an interesting claymation style for its graphics. Though there are no monsters, the atmosphere evokes the feeling of the original “Alien” movie with a story told through found-audio logs. The Swapper should provide a haunting experience this spring on PC.

The name Drunken Robot Pornography belies the interesting nature of this game from developer Dejobaan. The developer known for its quirky base-jumping games with bizarre titles such as AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! for the Awesome, this time makes a first-person shooter with jetpacks and shooting robots. The name alone garners enough interest to take a look, but the fully customizable enemy robots and worlds are what’s going to give this one some longevity.

Survival games are infused with new energy by Don’t Starve, a Klei Entertainment game whose title also describes its primary goal. Don’t Starve takes the aesthetic of a monochromatic, animated Tim Burton movie and applies it to a wilderness survival game. Players control “Wilson, a gentleman scientist” who gathers resources and fights off wild animals as he tries to find his way out of the darkness. Don’t Starve is in an open-beta, but launches officially later this month on PC.

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