Virtual reality can widen the accessibility of gaming up to a whole new audience, and Aussie developer Stirfire Studios is leading the way with Symphony of the Machine.
Hailing from Perth in Western Australia, Stirfire Studios (of Freedom Fall fame) made some waves at PAX AUS in 2016 with its game Symphony of the Machine. A puzzle game that tasks users with returning a barren landscape to thriving life by manipulating the weather, it's zen gaming at its best. (You can read our hands-on.) After playing the game, I got chatting to managing director Vee Pendergrast, and the topic soon turned to her passion for accessibility in gaming. She sees VR as a big opportunity to expand what is possible, so I took the chance to interview her for further insight into the future she sees for the hardware.
It might not be what you think of when you're looking to try out VR, but Siegecraft Commander is proof strategy games just might be one of the coolest virtual solutions yet.
Virtual Reality feels right at home in first-person games, where you can walk and interact with hands that are carefully simulating your own movements. At least that's what I thought before I played Siegecraft Commander. I should start by mentioning that I love strategy games - the likes of Warcraft, Starcraft and Total War were staples of my gaming collection growing up. Couple that with city-builders and you've got a pretty great gaming afternoon.
Despite, this, strategy in virtual reality just hadn't occurred to me. Enter Australian developer Blowfish Studios.
Goblins of Elderstone is a charming, exciting stab at a classic city-building formula. Keep an eye on this one, it could be worth more than its weight in dwarven gold.
Strategy games are notoriously hard to show off at conventions like PAX. The event is loud and crowded, and for strategy games you often need time and concentration to really become invested in the experience. It's a problem that very few developers have been able to overcome. But for that reason, I'm glad that I was able to play Goblins of Elderstone, because the experience has stuck with me. I am really looking forward to seeing more out of this charming little city-builder.
Goblins of Elderstone is one of the more charming city-builders I've played in recent memory. It pairs a low-poly art style with vibrant colours and really cutesie character models to create something that is both adorable and a little unsettling.
Four goats climb, one goat succeeds. In this multiplayer king-of-the-hill battleground, only the fleetest of foot can become the true mountain-goat king.
Goat Punks has to be one of the strangest party games I've played in recent memory. It's like competitive Donkey Kong, but with goats. I know that's an odd image, but stick with me, it'll all make sense.
Goat Punks is a splitscreen, competitive party game for four players. It has one simple goal: climb to the top of the mountain and stay there. It's the logical extreme of a "king-of-the-hill" game mode, boiled down to the bare essentials. And it works very well.
This multiplayer robot-brawler is dripping with style and potential. It's also chock-full of explosive fists, grappling hooks and delicious destruction physics.
Dismantle: Construct Carnage is a top-down multiplayer brawler where robot gladiators beat at each other with medieval weapons, it's a simple premise, but with some pretty great twists. Foremost, while you may start with axes and hammers, as the battle wages on you'll find your own weapons, from pieces of the map, to pieces of your opponents.
Don't let the words "regular" and "human" fool you. This 5v5 game about monstrous robots lining up to shoot hoops is one of the more exciting and outlandish games I've played.
PAX is a hub of new ideas, new games and big tech innovations. But sometimes, PAX is also a perfect testing bed for outlandish prototypes. This is just where Regular Human Basketball enters the arena (woo, sports puns!). This is an experimental Game Jam concept from Powerhoof, the Melbourne-based developers of Crawl, which we highlighted as one of our top Steam Early Access titles.
What may not surprise you now that you've seen the image above, is that these really aren't ordinary humans, and what you're playing is only a strange facsimile of the game we call basketball. Really it's a competitive slugfest between two unwieldy titanic machines that want nothing more than to shoot hoops and crush humans.
The game is played with anywhere from two to ten players, and the demo I played was using eight classic SNES controllers. Each team has one giant robot and a hoop to shoot at, and there's an oversized basketball between them. The trouble is, moving the robot is as easy as spinning plates. Just like Overcooked or Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime, there are always more jobs to do than there are squishy humans to do them.
Each player controls one such rotund little homosapien, and once you jump inside your giant mech (without getting crushed by its legs, arms, wheels, body or the ball) you need to control the robot cooperatively. This means running from compartment to compartment around the creature and pressing buttons. These could tell it to move forward or backward, or control the limbs, fire the rockets or raise the body. They all have simple on/off states, so you can push forward and leave the robot to do its thing while you go raise the legs or fire the rockets.
It's strange how having that many things to do and working together to man a lumbering machine can force people to play as a team. You might spend more time rambling incoherently than actually communicating or making clutch plays, but through a sheer force of wills, both robots did actually play basketball, and both robots did score points.
It's a strange, over-the-top, bizarre little game that makes me want to get ten friends together and shoot some mechanical hoops. And yes, you can jump into the opposing team's robot for a little impromptu sabotage.
Regular Human Basketball is publicly available for download here, and the developers are thinking of expanding it and releasing a full version if the community is interested.
Imagine slinking through the shadows, katana in hand and sneakily assassinating other players without ever being seen. That’s pretty much what Kieru pushes you to do, hunt down your enemies without being seen before disappearing again. Only, it's multiplayer.
Kieru is a first-person ninja combat game that pits you against an opposing team of ninjas. It's fast and hectic, but the true style comes from the aesthetic. Imagine a modern Japanese garden, starkly coloured in black and white like a scene from Sin City.
This feeds back into the gameplay because each team of ninjas is invisible on their own colour. So black ninjas disappear completely into the shadows, while white ninjas fade into the light. It makes for a tense back and forth where you feel safe in your own area, but know you need to cross into enemy territory to make a kill.
Oh, and every successful strike leaves a red slash, and kill and explosion of bright red across the otherwise colourless world. It means kills are spectacular, and being wounded (quite literally) paints a target on your back.
The mode I played was a traditional team deathmatch scenario with two white ninjas and two black ninjas battling over a Japanese train station. You have your trusty katana, which can dole out quick slashes or a charged dash attack that becomes a special attack if you nail the timing. You also have a handy teleport ability that is great for offense and defense, as well as the ability to hurl a shuriken from range to damage distant foes.
It was stealthy, tense and at times terrifying to be hunting an invisible foe who was also hunting me. It made for brilliant moments like watching a team mate lose a quick duel only to notice the enemy was still dripping bright red blood all over the map, I followed him to a quiet place for an easy kill right near the end of the match. These fights are stunningly quick and usually over in an instant, before you need to reassess, hide and start the hunt again.
And the level design is wonderfully twisted, offering verticality and small spaces of safety in its black and white patterns. However, the environment shapes are all made of jaggered edges that cut into each other, meaning you can't go any great distance without exposing yourself to enemies. The idea of laying a human trap and baiting a foe out of cover certainly crossed my mind.
VR was huge at this year's PAX AUS, but the biggest players weren’t the AAA developers. Indie developers were all across the show floor showing off a tonne of innovative experiences, from strategy games to VR boxing. Of all the games I tried, A Township Tale was by far the most exciting, and the demo shown was just a proof of concept.
The pitch for A Township Tale goes something like this: imagine a VR world where multiple players work together to run a medieval village. So different players acting as miners, blacksmiths, builders, hunters and more combine their skills together. You'll work together to manage the town and support each others' goals, or mess with other players as you see fit.
Unlike its inspiration, Minecraft, A Township Tale's aesthetic is cartoony and lush. Everything feels slightly larger than it needs to be, but in going with this stylistic choice, Australian developer Alta ensures the world feels very clear and crisp on a VR headset.
A Township Tale is made by Sydney-based team for the HTC Vive, making full use of the headset, motion controls, headphones and a microphone to talk. When I first put on the headset I found myself standing on a small road with a sign pointing towards “the mines” or the “old castl.e” I pointed my gloved and cartoony hand towards the old castle and teleported down in a few short hops. The dilapidated structure was mostly crumbled stone walls around a grassy clearing.
I immediately spied a treasure chest and sauntered over to it.
It’s strange how doing something in VR can make it immediately feel exciting and new again. I opened the chest and with my right hand, saw it was full of coins and started to pull them out one by one with my left hand, throwing them into a nearby bucket.
I did that for almost all of my five-minute demo, it was utterly engrossing.
That is, before the multiplayer element kicked in an I heard someone behind me say, “what’s in the chest?” I turned around quickly and saw another player peering over my shoulder. “Nothing, it’s empty,” I replied, trying not to look at the bucket full of coins. He spotted them anyway and picked up a couple of the coins and started to juggle with them. I quickly joined in and before long we were throwing coins at each other and playing frisby with a nearby shield.
It’s these little interactions that make me think the future of VR isn’t as insular as we've been lead to believe. The potential for engaging, evolving stories built out of real human interactions is simply amazing.
When I came back in the afternoon for a second shot at A Township Tale, I found something completely different to fill my time with. This time I found a bow and quiver of arrows.
I quickly realised that I could strap the quiver to my belt and the bow across my back before setting off in search of targets. All I found was another player, and after exchanging a few words we set about making an impromptu game of dodge-arrow. We firied from behind rocks until one of us eventually got hit or we ran out of arrows.
What I didn’t realise until I got out of the game was that the other guy I was firing arrows at was actually set up across the other side of the convention centre at a completely different VR booth. It was a stunning moment of realisation.
To find out more about A Township Tale, head over to their website here.
If you are wondering who we are, we're primarily a digital magazine for the iPad focused on the coverage of indie video games. Run by the former editor of Game Informer, you'll find worldwide exclusives, but also an interactive media experience unlike any you have seen before. If you have an iPad, you should check out the free sample issue at the very least, or enjoy one of our other episodes as listed below.
The PAX Rising Indie section of PAX Aus 2016 was chock-full of awesome innovations, new stories and some returning favourites. Here's a quick look at Lost Castle, a Chinese-developed side-scrolling hack 'n' slash just making its way to Australia.
Everyone remembers 2012’s Castle Crashers, a great little side-scrolling beat ’em’ up with a cool fantasy aesthetic. Well here is Castle Crashers' sadistic cousin.
Lost Castle was was described to me as Castle Crashers meets Dark Souls and Streets of Rage. I feel like that’s a pretty great comparison.
Indie developer Codex Worlds has revealed that its upcoming tactical space action game Infinium Strike will be coming to Xbox One in Q2 2016.
Previously announced for PC, and even enjoying an open beta late last year, Infinium Strike was announced today to also be coming to the Xbox One. Developer Codex Worlds, founded by ex-Ubisoft employees, expects the game to hit the console in Q2 2016. It’s a positive boost for the console’s indie scene, which is struggling to match the number of indies appearing exclusively on the PS4
Infinium War is set in the far distant future: an intergalactic war with the Wrog – a race of sentient alien ships – is threatening to bring about human extinction. After decades of futile resistance, a last minute saviour appears in the form of a powerful resource called Infinium, which is best described as a living metal. The humans use this Infinium to create a battlecarrier called the Freedom Strike, which looks to be humanity’s last hope.
Players control the chief weapons officer of this ship, and will mastermind not just the weapon systems, but a whole fleet of ships and all the cutting edge technology available in the fight back against the Wrog. Described as a mix of action and strategy, it's a twist on tower defence whereby you need to out think the enemy by upgrading and placing weapons on your ship to deal with incoming alien threats as the emerge. You need to manage many sectors at once and not all of them you can see at the same time, leaving blind spots requiring a constant juggling act or management and scouting for trouble. Infinium Strike was funded on Kickstarter and has been in development for three years. It will feature two main modes; a Campaign that allows you to rise through the ranks from private to admiral, and Deep Space, a galactic-sized Horde mode.
Space is definitely the hot setting for 2016, with a host of big name video games on the horizon looking to change the way we view gameplay in the stars – think Star Citizen, No Man’s Sky and Eve: Valkyrie VR. Where will Infinium Strike sit when it’s all said and done?
If you’re looking for more great underground indies for the Xbox One and own an iPad, be sure to check out Episode 8 of award-winning digital magazine Grab It.