You totally should have been there.
PAX was an amazing experience that I whole heartedly endorse to those who can make it. I saw tons of amazing games, so here are the ones I enjoyed the most:
Nova 111 – Tucked away in the Indie Megabooth was Funkatronic Labs’ Nova 111. This colorful dungeon crawler received a PAX Prime official selection and it’s easy to see why. Nova 111 has the interesting conceit of combining realtime and turn based movement which opens up interesting possibilities in gameplay. For example, an enemy fires a shot in real time. By memorizing another enemy’s movement, the player can maneuver that enemy into the path of the shot. Funkatronic Labs encourages this kind of gameplay by awarding upgrade points for inventive kills. Sadly, the upgrades weren’t playable and so it’s hard to say what form they’ll take. The turn based/real time combination, plus a suite of interesting abilities make this game one to watch.
Check it out: http://nova111.com/
Lead to Fire – From the creators of Monaco, Lead to Fire seeks to simplify real time strategy games down to a few buttons. The player starts with a commander. The commander can move across the map and build food producing farms or unit generating buildings. Food is the currency of the realm. Once the buildings generate enough units, the player can call all his units to him and attack the enemy. While the basic gameplay is simplistic, the real depth comes from balancing economic and military goals as well as an interesting new addition: decks. Players create decks of cards which determine the available buildings allowing for interesting strategies and unit interactions. My brief time showed that Lead to Fire was also easy to pick up and play. The real challenge will be in maintaining that accessibility while adding strategic depth.
Check it out: http://www.pocketwatchgames.com/games.html#ltf
Darkest Dungeon – I’ll admit, I was skeptical when this game hit Kickstarter. Yet another grim game about dark times doesn’t really interest me. Fortunately, I checked out the booth and discovered a delightful surprise. Underneath all that doom and gloom is a complex and thematic game. Battles are turn based affairs relying on unit initiative to determine who goes first and what strategy is most effective. Character positioning, and the attacks that alter it, play a key role in determining the flow of battle. Even more interesting is the flaws each character possesses. When characters max out their stress meter, they act out problematic traits such as “masochist” where the character will run to the front. This adds an extra layer of depth to selecting party members. Knowing how to manage each character’s flaws is the key to getting them all out alive. This could also backfire. Very few situations are more frustrating in a video game than when the computer takes control of your character. Developer Red Hook Studios will need to strike a balance between the tension of characters fallen to madness and the aggravation of trying to shepherd suicidal, dungeon delvers.
Check it out: http://www.darkestdungeon.com/buy/
Planetary Annihilation – I didn’t get a chance to play this one, but that’s almost beside the point. I’ve played Total Annihilation and its spiritual successor, Supreme Commander, and Planetary Annihilation doesn’t look different enough to merit my time. What I can say is that PA is damn fun to watch. The booth had two teams of three fighting over multiple planets in a bid for supremacy. Players shared resources and units with their team, but each controled a special commander unit that can build and attack. What makes this so fun to watch is the sheer size of the battlefield. With fights occurring across multiple planets, a quality fight is practically guaranteed to happen at any given time somewhere. Listening to the commentary, there were few breaks in between the constant bouts. I’m also looking forward to when devoted gamers get more time with the broader strategy. Team coordination is crucial to success and it’s easy to see how interesting the massive engagements and plans could get once players start to explore the possibilities.
Check it out: http://www.uberent.com/pa/