Shaun’s PAX AUS 2022 Indie Picks​

Shaun's PAX AUS 2022 Indie Picks

PAX 2022 has come and gone and while Shaun usually spends his PAX weekend roaming the indie section and checking out the games, this year everyone else was doing the same thing. Despite this, Shaun has found four promising games that he thinks you should keep an eye out for.

Spies and Soldiers is a game that has had a long gestation period. A ten-year journey that initially started as a bit of fun during a weekend for brothers Jim and Ben Batt has now come to fruition in this fantasy strategy game. The gameplay is very simple, eschewing the complexity of similar games within the genre to offer something easy to get into and yet has the depth to keep strategy enthusiasts engaged.

Sitting down to have a go I was not sure what to expect. While the map looked simple I was sure there was going to be a huge amount of information that I needed to absorb to play effectively. After a short run-through of what I needed to know I was ready to take on my A.I. opponent and attempt to lay waste to his army and emerge victorious. 

There are only two units you can make use of, and if you guess that it’s soldiers and spies then grab yourself a cookie because you are correct. You use your military might to conquer the five castles scattered around the procedurally generated map but the real key to success comes from your use of spies. Whether it is a spy or an army, any movement or action costs you action points. As with most games, you have a limited amount of points with which to make your moves, but you can earn yourself more action points by taking control of the small cities with your spies.

The spy game is completely separate from the military side of things. Spies cannot storm castles or take on soldiers. The best they can do is to help give a military force a small bonus that can break a stalemate in battle. However, spies do what spies do, which means you can assassinate enemy spies that you discover in the same city, or use your spies to open castle gates to make capturing a castle easier for your forces. By far the biggest bonus of using spies comes from the increase in action points for capturing small cities. Not only that, but if you capture a city from your opponent, their action points shrink while yours grows. 

It means the player has to find the right balance between their forces and what they do with them. Do you move your spy to another city for the increase in action points? Or do you have them train so that they will be able to better detect and dispatch enemy spies? 

I had a lot of fun playing. Maddy, one of the team members of Ghostbat Games at PAX told me the A.I. difficulty had been a bit up and down on the day, and for me, it was being a bit of a dick. My game went longer than most people’s had, and while I was feeling a bit guilty about this, I wanted to taste victory. And victory was mine.

Spies and Soldiers are currently planning to release into early access sometime in the first six months of next year. The team wants the game to have a strong single-player core as well as a strong multiplayer component as well.

Currently, the Spies and Soldiers demo is available on steam.

2. Zarktor's Realm - Zarktor Studios

So a lot is going on in this game that bills itself as a mash-up of Fallout 3 and Skyrim, with doses of Monty Python and some heavy metal to go with it. Speaking to Martin, it is clear that he has very big aspirations for his open-world adventure set in medieval England, referencing Dante’s Inferno, the seven deadly sins, demons, King Arthur, and volcanic eruptions.

Zarktor’s Realm will have your hero fighting not only in the real world but making your way through the seven circles of Hell until you enter the titular realm and its namesake. Along the way, you will encounter events based on real life, such as the darkening of the sky due to a volcanic eruption in 536 A.D., the Plague of Justinian in the 540s A.D. and the legends of King Arthur. In-game, these events will cause overwhelming death and famine to the NPC population if the player chooses not to remedy the situation. Your actions or lack thereof will determine what happens to the world around you in what seems to be big ways, but your choices will also impact your character personally.

If you choose to accept payment for quests you will find yourself being offered mercenary quest work, leading to an encounter with the Thieves Guild. If you decide to be the heroic type and refuse payment, you will gain renown as a hero and will receive quests based on that. These are the two specifics Martin mentioned when we talked but there is likely to be more as there will be multiple character classes that each have their own story arcs and abilities.

The plans for Zarktor’s Realm are definitely big and bold and includes being fully voice-acted as well. Currently, an open beta is planned to take place from December this year and run for a full year in the lead-up to the full launch in December 2023. While the game did look a bit rough in the demo on display at PAX, a lot can change in twelve months, and it is I game I will be keeping an eye on.

You can see the current trailer and screenshots on Steam.

I had not heard of Dredge before PAX, but I found myself standing in front of the booth watching the trailer and finding myself intrigued. Now that is normally enough to get me interested in a game at PAX, but the fact that I was lucky enough to arrive when there was a free terminal to play the demo made it seem like fate. 

For those who have not heard of Dredge, it is a Lovecraftian fishing adventure with a Tetris-style inventory system, with a juxtaposition between a pleasant daytime fishing experience and nighttime punctuated by thick fog and creatures emerging from it and the sea, each one hoping to drag your fishing trawler to a deep watery grave. While the game features a heavy narrative element, nothing is forcing you to follow it. If you want to just spend time fishing and upgrading your boat then you are free to do that as well.

The team at Black Salt Games are aware that not everyone is into the spooky side of things. People use games to relax and if you are not the sort of person that enjoys spooky/horror games then why would you play them? The simple answer is you don’t have to engage with those elements of the game at all, and indeed you can complete the entire storyline without having to venture onto the open seas at night (so I have been told). Of course, if you are the sort of person who has to complete every quest and catches every fish then you will need to set sail into the darkness, but both methods are perfectly valid ways to play the game.

For those who want to experience the spooky side, as you sail through the night your panic level will start to increase. As the panic heightens things will start to happen. Rocks will be jutting out of the water where there was none in the daylight and underwater creatures will attack your boat. You can outfit your boat with lights that help to stave off the darkness and other upgrades, but those come at the cost of inventory space, forcing you to make difficult choices. Should you encounter one of these underwater beasts and your boat takes damage you can lose items off your boat, including quest items and people.

Planned for release sometime in 2023 on all platforms, a demo that takes in Chapter One is currently available to play on Steam. I have already downloaded and played through it since my return from PAX and can’t wait to play the full release.

The colourful art poster caught my eye easily as I made my way through the rows of indy games upon my arrival at PAX, and I was not the only one. Schrodinger’s Cat Burglar was one of the booths that was so popular that I was forced to circle back multiple times before I was able to have a proper chat with Martin, the lead developer on this cute quantum physics-infused puzzle game.

You take control of Mittens, a literal cat burglar who breaks into a facility to investigate evil stuff. After stealing data and trying to escape, Mittens gets caught in a machine and is blasted with a bunch of quantum energy. This energy changes mittens and allows her to be in two places at once, all based on the uncertainty principle of the Schrodinger’s Cat Thought Experiment. So when no one is observing her she can exist in two different locations, but if one version of Mittens is spotted by a security camera then it becomes the real cat. The other cat, being theoretical, cannot be stopped by a locked door because that door could also theoretically be open.

If you are confused by the above then we are in the same boat, but what it all adds up to is a puzzle game where you will utilise both cats to overcome obstacles and make your way out of the building. Each new level will add a different power/ability into the mix and it will be up to you to get Mittens out of the facility and back to her Hedgehog tech support/comms backup.

What impressed me most about this was the look of the game. There has been a lot of effort put into not only building the world but the animation and expression of Mittens really impressed me considering the game has been developed by one person until very recently. Now that Abandoned Sheep have received funding they will be scaling up production and moving full steam ahead.

As of right now, there is no release date planned or news of what platforms it is coming to but this is a game that I think will do good things in the future.

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