Rich's Thoughts from PAX East 2019

This blog post was written by Rich, the only member of Clever Endeavour who was at PAX East. The opinions in the post don’t reflect the opinions of the entire team, only of him!

Hi there!

Last week, I went to the massive game Expo PAX East, in Boston. I went partially to see what’s going on in the industry, see what trends I could find, and keep up contact with some developers our team knows. It was nice to see the progress that some games have made since last year, and see some new creative ideas spawning from both experienced and new developers. I’ll talk about some things I noticed, then a few games that I’d like to highlight. There were around 40 games that I had already seen, so even though they may be great I’m not going to mention them here!

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Overall I did see some trends, both positive and negative, that I’d like to discuss here. First, the positive.

I found the quality of games and the polish level to be much higher than it was last year at PAX East. A lot of games had impressive looking art that was either really well executed or really creative as far as art direction goes. Lastly, there were some more party-style games that I would put in the same realm as Ultimate Chicken Horse, which I think could do well. It was surprising to me that in the last year or two, there haven’t been many stand-out party games that performed as well as games like Move or Die, Duck Game, StickFight, and Ultimate Chicken Horse. I think that trend has changed, and two of the games I’ll highlight are proof of that.

I had some criticism of what I saw to share as well. Most importantly, I found that a lot of games could have used more critical analysis early on. The execution might be there, but there’s nothing about the game that shows me that it should ever have been made in the first place. What makes it interesting or different? Why would I want to play it at all? In my opinion, some of these games should have been killed early on in their development, and yet will go on to spend 2 years of development money and inevitably flop from a financial perspective, despite being good games. The trick then is finding the great idea and executing well, and it’s a very hard thing to do (and I’m not saying our studio necessarily knows how to do this reliably). The execution without the creativity can sometimes lead to games that perform decently, but won’t truly excel unless the execution makes the game the best in its genre in the last few years. The creativity without the execution won’t work either, as the game will fail if the feel isn’t there.

I also noticed that a ton of games use pixel art, and while in some cases that’s clearly the best choice for the aesthetic, it seems like in other cases it was simply “the thing to do for an indie game”. As someone who loves pixel art graphics (Dead Cells ftw) I still found that a lot of games blended into each other in my mind because of their use of this style.

Okay, on to a few exciting things I saw!

Fling to the Finish - SplitSide Games

This co-op racing game has two players sharing a controller, and each controlling one round character attached by a string to their partner. The players can fling themselves and control their movement, but they pull the other along with them, so it takes serious teamwork. I see a lot of potential for this game if the online play becomes tight and if the game is interesting online while playing solo vs friends, for YouTuber purposes.

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One Step From Eden - Thomas Moon Kang

This game calls itself “a deckbuilding roguelike with relentless real-time grid combat”. I didn’t get a chance to play but I watched a bunch and was really interested in it. I didn’t catch the “roguelike” part of it, but I understood that you move your character on a grid to fight using abilities that you draw from a deck. I really liked the look and the gameplay seemed tight and deep, despite the fact that it was a bit hard to understand when looking at it quickly from afar.

Killer Queen Black - LiquitBit

This competitive team-based game is about defeating the other by one of three methods: kill their queen, gather berries, or ride a snail to your finishing flag. It made me think a bit of Awesomenauts in how a team needs to participate and contribute in different ways to their team’s goal, but it had a shorter play time and I felt it was easier to understand. I could really see this working if the balance is right, as it offers and almost MOBA experience in a small, presentable package (disclaimer: I don’t play MOBAs so I’m not sure how accurate that is).

Sayonara Wild Hearts - Simogo

This self-proclaimed pop album video game is a blaze of colours and movement, with a flow unlike any game I’ve seen in a while. I actually found their reveal trailer to not be very representative of the game, though I understand they were trying to showcase the artists who make the music for the game (I think). The game takes you through a series of somewhat easy movement challenges and quick-time events, as you basically play your way through a neon music video, and it feels great.

That’s all for my thoughts about PAX, hope you enjoyed it if you were there, and I’m excited for you to play some of the great things that I saw if you couldn’t make it.