Presenting at PAX East
For the past few months I've been workin on a procedurally-generated top-down twinstick shooter game for the web, as I've written about previously. Although I've just been developing it when my friends in our spare time, WPI selected it to be shown off at their booth at PAX East. The WPI booth showcases student-made games as a way of promoting the school's Interactive Media and Game Design (IMGD) program. What this means is that I got to go to PAX East for free to show off my game.
Feedback on Afterlight Caves
Although Afterlight Caves was only really there to promote WPI to prospective students, it was also a perfect opportunity to get valuable playtesting feedback from random strangers.
One of the biggest issues we discovered was that players had trouble navigating the world. They were getting confused because the walls and floor were both black, so you had to remember which side of the colored wall border was navigable ground and which wasn't.
To try to make the design clearer, I added a slight hue to the interior of walls, which matches the randomly generated wall outline color.
A lot of players also didn't realize that the light-gray blocks are breakable, or that they should be collecting power ups. We decided to add some hints at the start of the game, like a sign pointing to a gray block that says "Break this!"
Other than those issues, people seemed to like our game a lot. Many tried hard to get a daily high score, and a few players wrote down the URL to play later.
Trying new games
Getting feedback on Afterlight Caves was good, but the main thing I was excited for was trying out all the new games that companies and indie developers would be showcasing.
I got a chance to play Devolver Digital's new game, Carrion, at their booth on Friday. It's a sort of "reverse horror" game, where you play as the unspeakable tentacle monstrosity hunting down scared scientists in a metroidvania/action/platformer type thing.
The sprites and pixel art are great, and the way the monster slithers over the ground and reaches out with slimy tendrils is really satisfying to watch. Carrion's gameplay is also slick and fun, as you bash turrets with grabbed metal crates and consume security guards to grow in size.
Another really cool game I got to play was Overpass, an indie rhythm game that puts a new twist on the genre.
The controls are super simple: for each beat you just move into the left, middle, or right lane and click the button. The difficulty comes from the perspective. Notes are placed on bridges, trees, and hover cars that pass over you as you gaze out the top of a fast-moving car. You have to both look ahead at what notes are visible and pay attention to the perspective to see which ones will pass through your cursor first.
In lieu of the standard multiple difficulties per song, Overpass's 30 tracks each have dozens of optional lamps that you can ignore to make them easier, or try to grab for an extra challenge.
It was cool to get to talk to Michael Molinari, the developer, while trying out the game at PAX. I was instantly hooked by the unique gameplay and ended up buying the game that night.
The other game I ended up buying after trying it at PAX was AVICII Invector. This is a more traditional rhythm game with five button inputs and three lanes, but its slick presentation and stylish visuals made it one of my new favorites.
I almost missed this game entirely though, because all of the branding is based around the music artist, Avicii, rather than the game itself. The poster is just a picture of the guy's face, with no indication that it's a rhythm game at all.
It seems strange, because the gameplay is fun enough to sell the game on its own. The game has only 20 tracks and no level editor, so limiting it to using only music by one artist feels like a strange move on the part of the developers.
Still, the music is all quite good, and the tracks are well designed. AVICII Invector is a fun and polished experience that will satisfy any rhythm game fan. The split-screen local multiplayer is a nice addition too.
I played plenty of other fun games at PAX too. Phogs is a wacky and colorful co-op puzzls game where two people play as the separate ends of a two-headed dog thing. Magic: Legends is an upcoming free-to-play Magic: the Gathering-themed Diablo-like online action RPG that was actually pretty fun to play. I even got to play a few minutes of Doom Eternal, which was super fun.
Overall, PAX was a fun—albeit exhausting—experience. Being able to talk to actual indie game developers and try out new and upcoming games was great, and I was able to get some valuable feedback on the game I'm developing.