My Top 10 Indie Games at PAX Prime 2015, Part II

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Welcome to part II of my Pax Prime Indie roundup. The indie scene at PAX was vibrant, with fun and innovation on display at every turn. While these games are in no particular order (other than Battle Chef Brigade at #1), if you missed part I of this article you should check out what other awesome games caught my eye. With that said, on with the list!

6) Fate Tectonics
I passed by a booth and heard a voice ask me if I wanted to try a tile-matching puzzle game. Of course I did! Fate Tectonics is a game where you build a world by laying and connecting tiles. Tiles can have multiple types of land on their edges, so you may have to connect two sides to water, another to grassland, and the fourth to forest. The experience feels like working on a magical puzzle and is very zen-like; you can easily enter a relaxed state as you build your world up from nothing while enjoying the pleasingly appropriate soundtrack. However, you create both at the behest of, and in defiance of, the Fates. They flitter about your world, sometimes approving of your choices, occasionally assisting, or, more frequently, causing havoc. The more you add to your landscape the harder it becomes to maintain it while pleasing the Fates, with tiles on the edges being torn asunder and falling into the abyss. You are able to place elements of civilization, settlements and fleets, to stabilize the tiles, with the end result being that you are able to lay more tiles and attain new achievements. Achievements are essential as they add to the time you have before DOOM arrives. When your time is up, you stop building and are given the tools to destroy your world, a process both dismaying and highly enjoyable as you rain disasters upon your creation. Achievement time bonuses are cumulative, meaning that you have more time available to you on your next attempt. Fate Tectonics is out for PC and Mac on Steam September 9th, and you can see a highly enjoyable “let’s play” of the alpha from over a year ago here.

A shot from the game Fate Tectonics, showing a constructued world with grassland, trees, water, and razed forests.
Water falls delightfully off the edge of the world. The graphics make for a real treat as you build your creation ever larger.

7) Runbow
I got a chance to try Runbow in the Nintendo indie room. A platformer action party game for the Wii U, it features a unique mechanic with its play on color: the background is continually changing, sweeping in a new colors. Structural items of the level are generally fixed in color, meaning that they either become visible when the background changes, or instantly blend in so that you can’t see them. Items that blend in to the background have no substance. The upshot is that a surface you’re standing on might suddenly disappear as it matches the new background color, letting you fall through, or a wall might appear in front of you, blocking your progress. The mode that was on display was a local nine-player multiplayer race (yes, nine local simultaneously), and the action was frenzied as we leaped across the level, yelling out cheers and curses as level elements helped us out or got in our way. Activated powers you hit during the run only add to the frenzied action. There were huge smiles in the group; this was one of the few games for which I lined up a second time! Runbow sports six modes in total and online play as well, so check out the trailer and then head to the Wii U shop to pick up this gem.

Stylized figures run across a multi-colored bridge while lava plumes shoot up from below.
I wanted to use the pun, “Let’s get ready to Runbow!”, but they already took it. Dang!

8) Adventures of Pip
Never did I think a lowly pixel could be so enticing. Adventures of Pip is a beautiful platformer featuring Pip, a single pixel trying to save the kingdom after the evil Queen DeRezzia steals all the pixels, downgrading citizens from 32-bits to low resolution. The mechanic here is that you can defeat certain foes to gain new pixels, transforming into higher-res forms. Each of your evolutions have different powers, and you can willingly choose to devolve to an earlier form to destroy parts of the environment that are blocking your progress. When I had to stop for a break, both of my kids took the game for a spin and had a blast playing on Steam with an XBox controller. With crisp controls, interesting puzzles, and RPG elements, this is a fun game that is already released and you can buy right now through Steam for PC or Mac, on the Wii U, or PS4. Check out more screenshots and the trailer on the Steam page.

A screen shot from Adventures of Pip where a small boy is jumping onto a platform, with a subterranean level also visible.
In this form, Pip can punch, hang on to walls, and wall jump.

9) Stonehearth
Yes, the game has a name that is vaguely familiar. Based on my time at their booth, the developers have heard it before, but they’ve got something here that’s so cool that you may just forget all about that “other” game. Stonehearth was drawing sufficient interest that I couldn’t get any time to sit down and try it out; I just stared longingly while others got to play. Reminiscent to me of Majesty, you are responsible for running a community: exploring, planning structures, training, and defending against threats. As the player, you aren’t able to directly control your settlers. Instead, you’ll design buildings and assign tasks, which the AI carries out based on its own rules and priorities. I am a huge fan of this kind of game, where you set the stage and see what the actors do. I’ve since had some hands-on time with Stonehearth and am very excited about it, even in it’s alpha state. Assigning jobs to your settlers and watching them perform their duties and level up is very satisfying. The art perfectly fits the game’s theme and tone, and the interface for creating new buildings is easy to understand. An incredibly cool part of the game is that the team is streaming their development on Twitch three times a week, and seeing them work on pathfinding, designing their models, or any other of the many tasks involved with making a game is an opportunity you don’t see often; you can even ask questions that they’ll answer during the stream! Stonehearth is on Steam Early Access, so head over there to check out screenshots and, if you like what you see, give the alpha a shot.

A group of stylized humans sit around a campfire while another with a sword patrols in the distance.
A quiet moment of reflection and rest after a day of mining, building, and farming. I want to tell you more about my experience, but that will get in my way of playing Stonehearth!

10) That Dragon, Cancer
An accidental discovery for me as I explored the Indie Megabooth, That Dragon, Cancer is not so much a game as the sharing of the story of Joel, who was given a terminal diagnosis for brain cancer at age two. His father, Ryan Green, is driving the creation of this experience as a way of memorializing his son while working through the complex memories and emotions that came with their journey through the disease. The demo had me in tears and responding in a way that I’ve never before experienced in front of a computer. There is so much going on with this story that I couldn’t put it all here; my full coverage of That Dragon, Cancer is in a separate article. You can also check out their Kickstarter for historical info, or go to their website for some imagery from the game.

A sylized baby rides a spring-bound horsey in a park while his father looks on from the distance at a picnic table.
Watching Joel experience life was joyful and sad at the same time and I struggled as I went back and forth between the emotions.

There were many more indie games to PAX Prime, and I wish I had seen them all, but the group I chose here is a great representation of what is making the indie scene so exciting. As a final note, when researching Fate Tectonics I learned that its developer, Golden Gear Games, works in the co-working game incubation space, Bento Miso, in Toronto. Another notable game coming our of Miso is Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, from asteroid base, which was one of Will James’ top picks from PAX and covered in his wrap-up. Both are releasing their games on September 9th, so if you’re already at work… aren’t you feeling just a little bit sick and maybe you should go home for the rest of the day?

Disclosure: GeekDad was provided with copies of StonehearthFate Tectonics and Adventures of Pip to aid in the review post-PAX Prime.

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