By Jeffrey Mizrahi
For me, PAX East 2017 was a perfect reminder. It spoke to why I really love being around this industry. Spending three days surrounded by games, developers and fans may sound exhausting. But each second wandering and roaming the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center felt magical. I don’t often get to interact face-to-face with gamers outside of a few friends at home and during New York Videogame Critics Circle meetings. So this annual gathering of tens of thousands of like-minded individuals evokes something special in me that can’t be understated. With all that said, let’s get into the meat and potatoes of the weekend and let me tell you what games were cuts above.
Ape Out by Gabe Cuzzillo is being published by Devolver Digital. (Gabe is also my friend’s professor for an “Intro to Game Development” class at New York University. However, that had no impact on my perception of the game.) The game shares the same top down, segmented room structure of games like Hotline Miami. Instead of using an arsenal of weapons looted from dead bodies, you use your ape fists to grab and smash your enemies.
The seemingly simple control scheme of right trigger to punch and left trigger to grab actually allows for a lot of variety when dealing with enemies. For instance, punching causes the enemy to fly back and be stunned, but can also instantly kill them if there is a wall behind them. With grabbing, you can turn enemies into a human shield in order to get closer to other baddies and do the same with them. There is a lot of trial and error with clearing Ape Out’s enemies and beating the levels. But I think the gameplay hook is fun enough to support a complete game. Ape Out is coming this summer to Steam.
Emily is Away Too by Kyle Seeley is narrative-driven, nostalgia-inducing, indie gem. As a big fan of the first game, I was ecstatic to hear that this new installment would be playable on the show floor. So I searched up and down the Indie Megabooth looking for its location. I arrived at a desk filled with early 2000’s accoutrements, such as an iPod Nano, a flip cell phone, and some old AOL trial CD’s. These small marketing gimmicks perfectly complemented the game’s aesthetic.
Emily Is Away Too is less of a traditional “game” and more of “high school boy/girl on AOL Instant Messenger simulator.” The game has you sign onto a fairly accurate re-creation of AIM, typing in your own name and username. For your customized profile, you then get to choose from a selection of buddy icons ranging from Taking Back Sunday album art to the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Logo (all pixelated in a way to avoid copyright infringement).
Once logged on, you begin talking to two girls, Evelyn and Emily. The first chapter takes place a little bit before the summer going into senior year, so the conversations revolve around topics such as plans for the weekend, thoughts on whether relationships will remain over the summer, and of course, new music. The way you interact with these girls is a lot like Telltale’s games where you have three options of things to choose from, and the girls will respond accordingly. The sentence “Emily will remember that” pops up on the bottom of the window depending on what you choose to say – or not say.
The game’s narrative choices resonate so well with an average millennial like myself due to the realism. Small things evoke past emotions. You’re never presented these grand moral dilemmas that you would see in The Walking Dead. Instead you are dealt this inner conflict. Should I lie to Emily and tell her I’m into Sigur Ros, hoping she would like me more because they’re her favorite band? Or should I tell her I’m more into Senses Fail and hope she appreciates my honesty. There were times where I was truly torn between sending one response over another because I was unsure of how the tone would come across and how Emily or Evelyn would respond. These are all actual situations people like me could have been through. To play a game that recreates all these emotions is truly wonderful.
While the original lasted a little over an hour, Kyle told me this game should be around triple the length and does not require the player to have played the first game. It’s planned for release this May.
Later that evening, I visited the Kinda Funny panel. I was a little upset by Colin Moriarty’s last minute cancellation of his trip to PAX East. This absence was due to an intense backlash Colin, and by association Kinda Funny, received earlier that week after he tweeted what many in the community viewed as an insensitive, offensive joke about women on International Women’s Day. As a member of the Kinda Funny community, I witnessed first hand the fighting and name-calling among people who I considered friends, so it was important to hear Greg Miller open the panel by acknowledging the elephant in the room. “We need to be better to each other,” he said. (He also said this previously on Twitter.)
Miller explained to fans that “This is not who we are.” His remarks garnered a generally positive response from the fans, both at the panel in person and on the online communities watching on Twitch. After the opening statement about Colin, the gang went on to their usual humorous nonsense, which made for a truly memorable night. (On the Monday after Pax East ended, Colin Moriarty resigned from his position at Kinda Funny.)
Other games that were important to me are right here below.
Snake Pass by Sumo Digital was made by some of the team members behind Little Big Planet 3. You control a snake and have to collect gems in a each level. It seems very late 90’s 3D platformer-inspired. My one issue with the game is no matter how fast you are slithering your snake left and right, the game just felt on the slow side to me.
Donut County is an offering by Ben Esposito, a former member of Giant Sparrow (The Unfinished Swan and What Remains of Edith Finch). You control a sinkhole in middle America. Starting off small, you suck down objects to get bigger. It’s very Katamari inspired with a fun story that has the town’s residents, sinkhole-ized, trying to explain to each other the cause of the massive hole and exactly where they first saw it. That conversation acts as the opening to each level.
Kingsway, developed by Andrew Morrish and published by Adult Swim games, is an RPG for OS in which the game’s layout is a Windows 98-inspired desktop. Your inventory and quests are all in folders on the desktop. The combat and story presentation is like the original Dragon Quest mixed with text-based adventure elements. When you defeat your enemies you have to click and drag loot from dead bodies into folders, which I found very neat.
Strafe is another Devolver Digital game developed by Pixel Titans. It’s a first person shooter that borrows its aesthetic from late 90’s shooters such as Doom and Wolfenstein. The gameplay is really tight and fast, which I felt complemented its graphics, which in the 90s were made so you could speed along easily – damn the processor speed. While so many games are trying to replicate that 8 bit and 16 bit art style, I think it’s cool to see a game trying to replicate this semi-forgotten period of arguably uglier games.
And that’s that way it was at PAX East 2017! The place was way crowded and had way too expensive convention food. But at the end of the day, if you consider yourself a gamer of any nature, console, PC, tabletop or cards, PAX East is always a convention you don’t want to miss!
Jeffrey Mizrahi is an intern for the New York Videogame Critics Circle. Follow him at @MrBrawl96.