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.

Cheers!
Rich

Geneviève's Thoughts from E3

In this second part of our blog post about E3, Geneviève talks about the most interesting things she saw, and recaps the highlights from the show. Our first part of this included Rich's thoughts, which you can read about here.

Geneviève E3 Thoughts

PC Gaming Show

The indies really shone during the presentation by PC Gamer, which is always a hopeful thing to witness. Also, I couldn’t help but notice all of the Community Managers representing their game on stage. Maybe one day…

Here are thoughts on some of the games shown:

Satisfactory, which seems to play somewhat like No Man’s Factorio, wins the prize for best game name.

There seems to be a new genre in indies: taxi driver games. Between Neo Cab’s futuristic dystopian Uber vibes, and Night Call’s Noir fiction atmosphere, the future promises opportunities to nosily explore the lives of passengers while trying to solve a greater mystery. The idea of using fleeting social encounters to paint a bigger picture certainly sounds interesting.

Untitled Publisher appeared and introduced three eye-catching games. Bravery Network looks like a Cartoon Network fighter and… smoocher? Morning Star cleverly taps into everyone’s play-farming desires before lifting the curtain and offering something much, much bleaker. Finally, Overwhelm (which is out now!) looks like a stylish and juicy pixel art shooter metroidvania. That string of words is music to my ears.

The game I am by far the most excited for in the PC lineup is Sable, an absolutely breath-taking exploration game with an underused graphic novel art style. Just upload my soul straight into this game, please and thank you.

On the other hand, my favorite segment was when they showed Two Point Hospital. A completely bonkers game and some brilliantly handled technical difficulties came together to create an adorkable presentation. This is exactly why the PC Gaming Show is my favorite every year since its inception: the vibe is gleefully casual and wholesome, in no small part thanks to Sean “day[9]” Plott who is crazily charming as a presenter and totally an inspiration for me as a public figure in games.

Other highlights: Jurassic World Evolution’s trailer was narrated by Jeff Goldblum (yaass); Stormland looks gorgeous but is a VR game (boo); Klei is being delightful as ever with their upcoming expansion Don’t Starve: Hamlet; the ambitious Noita is a procedurally-generated rogue-like where each individual pixel responds to physical events (!); Ooblets looks ever so jolly but gameplay remains a mystery; and finally Maneater had the best trailer and I won’t say more because you should just watch it.

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Others

EA simultaneously announced and released Unravel Two, a magical-looking co-op (or solo) sequel to the game that charmed us with its adorable yarn character on a mission. Their other game that caught my eye was Sea of Solitude, which seems both vibrant and gloomy and has got me under its spell.

Microsoft showed gameplay footage of Ori and the Will of the Wisps, which somehow looks even prettier and more endearing than the first game.

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Sony went all out with the queer in their trailer for The Last of Us Part II, and if you hadn’t heard this already, I’m not sure how you managed that. In any case, it was a beautiful trailer for sure, and the contrast between Ellie’s normal romantic teenage life moment and her fighting in a post-pandemic world was striking to say the least. I wonder how (or if) that will translate in the actual game.

Ubisoft’s trailer for Beyond Good and Evil 2 was also cinematically pretty awesome, with an exciting reveal of Jade’s presence in the game, which fueled both my excitement at the promise of this prequel and my anticipation about whether it’ll feel anything like the original.

Of course we were also treated to more cinematic footage for Kojima’s unquestionably unique brain-child Death Stranding. It’s starting to make more sense, but also, kind of not? The very first shot of the trailer might encapsulate my feelings at this point most aptly. (Look it up, you won't be disappointed.)

One thing I did not see coming was Captain Spirit, a standalone game in the Life is Strange universe about an imaginative young boy, as well as my strong interest for it. I haven’t engaged with the LiS games at all, but there’s something about the magic of childhood imagination that looks so beautifully captured that I want to experience it.

In the midst of their totally unhinged “fake” conference, Devolver Digital announced My Friend Pedro, a tactical shooter platformer where you embody a character who is just as graceful as he is badass. Ballet, gunfights, and skateboards? I’m in.

Finally, Nintendo’s e-presentation showed the same kind of restraint we’ve come to expect from them in terms of announcements about their franchises. In short, the trailer for Mario Party showed some interesting use of the Switch’s touch screen, other party games like the indies Killer Queen Black and Overcooked 2 (which has online multiplayer!) are also coming to the console, and the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate announcement alone took up over 20 minutes of air time, which was interesting but a little weird.

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That's all for our E3 talk, hope you enjoyed, and look forward to another blog post soon!

Rich's Thoughts from E3

Hi friends!

In case you aren’t in the video game world, or if you are in the gaming world but are living under a rock, E3 happened last week! This will be a two-part blog post: first, Rich will kick off with a few of his key highlights and some reflections about them; then Geneviève will give us a more in-depth recap of the most exciting things that she saw from the conference.

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Rich's E3 Thoughts

The first piece of news that stood out to me about E3 this year was Microsoft buying Compulsion Games along with three other studios, and opening a studio of their own called The Initiative. The reason that stands out is because we’re close friends with the folks over at Compulsion, and they helped us get off the ground as a studio and figure out how to exist in the games world from the very start. We’re super happy for them, and super proud of the Montreal community that helped spawn them (or that they helped spawn, really). Beyond our happiness for Compulsion, I think this marks a pretty big shift in focus for Microsoft. The days of larger companies (Microsoft, Sony, Ubisoft) buying small studios was rumored to be over, and I think this proves otherwise. To me, this is just another step Microsoft is taking to show its dedication to the indie or mid-level (some would call it AA or iii games) studios. Either way, check out Compulsion's new trailer for We Happy Few:

Nintendo showed some amazing stuff in their E3 video, as usual. Most notably among them was a long segment about the new new Super Smash Bros game, which includes all characters that have ever been in any Smash game! You can tell by the amount of time and focus they spent on it that they aim for this game to be the next Smash Bros Melee, and aren’t going to be discounting it for future competitive tournament play. They also showed a new Mario Party game, and announced a million things that will be coming to Switch, including Fortnite. I think the inclusion of Fortnite along with these other games will be huge for the continued success of the Switch.

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Also, Overcooked 2 was announced with online multiplayer! If you liked the first one, this one is similar but has more features such as throwing food items, more dynamic levels, and of course online play. This is an interesting move for a couple of reasons; first, the choice to make a sequel instead of provide free updates to the existing game is one that many indie studios are not making. The aversion to sequels has been described by some people in the industry as being very silly, seeing as sequels almost always sell better than their original counterparts if the first game was a success. Why we tend to avoid sequels is a huge question that could probably justify a whole other article, but we’ll leave it at that for now. Second, the addition of online multiplayer to a game that performed well despite having only local play is an important one that emphasizes the idea that a local multiplayer game simply doesn’t have the potential to do well in the current game landscape. Additionally, it might show that it was easier for them to rewrite significant portions of the game and make a new second game rather than make adjustments to their current one, a strategy that many indie studios have avoided (much to the chagrin of some busy programmers).

Apart from those things that were most important to me in terms of announcements, I was excited to see a Cuphead DLC which I will surely buy, and I might be interested in getting back into the Tomb Raider series if I can get over the fact that the games tend to be more like movies than games, and just enjoy the ride.

There were some other huge announcements which I didn't talk too much about because they simply involve games that I can't see myself playing, but in Geneviève's article she'll discuss a lot more of a variety of things. Check back soon for her post!

Lots o love,
Rich from Clever Endeavour Games :)