This year marks the fifth year that Melbourne has hosted PAX (Penny Arcade Expo) Australia: a three day gaming and pop culture convention that boasts a range of exhibitors, talks and a number of industry guests.
Born from the extremely popular web comic Penny Arcade, PAX first landed in Australia in 2013 and was an instant, if slightly shambolic, success. My own personal warm memories of the first PAX Australia are coupled with those of being crammed into small rooms to hear my heroes talk or, even worse, queueing for over an hour in the rain (this is Melbourne after all) only to be turned away due to lack of space. No one seemed to fully understand that we had been waiting for this day for years and were eager to get involved, share our mutual passion and meet like-minded people.
Five years on PAX is as popular as ever, and attending can be an assault on the senses. Filling the entirety of the Melbourne Convention Centre, it is a testament to the amazing diversity of pop culture; there is gaming, tournaments, tabletop games, cosplay, board games, comics, miniatures, streamers and more. The community too has only grown bigger and more diverse, with visitors both interstate and international travelling to be a part of the event. The sign above the door to the exhibition reads ‘Welcome Home’ and to many, that’s exactly what PAX feels like.
If PAX is a community, then PAX Rising, an entire area dedicated to indie developers and their games, could be called the heart. PAX Rising represents a community that supports innovation, originality, and imagination.
With that in mind, we have collected a list of our top five picks among PAX Rising. These are the games that appealed to us because they did something new or built on what came before, made us think or offered us a view different to our own.
Orwell: Ignorance is Strength
You play as a government official of a top secret Government organisation. With the world falling into political crisis, your job is to monitor targets and their internet footprint to determine their involvement in what are considered radical movements. It’s heavy stuff, and Orwell isn't particularly subtle when it comes to its intention. To begin with, the very name of the game invokes comparison with Big Brother, and the issue of information versus safety. The player is constantly put in a position where they must draw a moral line between the truth, and the needs of the nation or greater good.
Actual gameplay involves a lot of data mining of various sources but is done in such a way where this doesn’t feel boring or repetitive. Plus, the stakes are high.
It's a new stunner from Surprise Attack which left me feeling unsettled, in a good way.
As gamers we often fall into the trap of asking, “What is the objective?”. We’re always looking for that next quest, life threatening battle or level up. Paperbark is here to remind us that that isn’t always necessary for enjoyment and you can simply enjoy an experience.
In Paperbark you play as a wombat and your ‘objective’ is to simply explore the beautifully illustrated world.
The use of sound in particular is exceptional, and for Australians manages to invoke images of the bush and local fauna to arresting effect.
Developed by Melbourne based team, Paperbark was a welcome relief from the hustle of PAX and left me both incredibly relaxed and strangely nostalgic.
Developed by Sydney studio Shadowplay Studios, Projection is a platformer that uses the manipulation of light and shadow to guide players through a world made entirely from shadow puppetry.
Players must move a light source in order to change the landscape of play and overcome obstacles. While there have been similar games before, the way in which Projection approaches puzzle mechanics manages to be inventive, challenging and original all within a beautiful package.
The Eyes of Ara
A good quality puzzle game is always hard to resist, and one that looks as stunning as The Eyes of Ara is doubly so. Recent years have brought a reemergence of Myst style games as players come to crave less handholding from the games they play and instead look to games to challenge them in new ways.
The Eyes of Ara tells the narrative of an abandoned castle that is riddled with passageways, vaults, locked doors and strange floating machines. Players are encouraged to be observant and investigative of their surroundings in order to unlock the secrets of the building.
Developed by yet another Australian studio, 100 Stones Interactive, think of The Eyes of Ara as the video game version of an escape room but without the added layer of having to argue with your friends about the best way to get out.
Hand of Fate 2
Hand of Fate and its subsequent release, Hand of Fate 2, both do a stellar job of combining the very best elements of traditional card games with those of an action RPG. It’s hard to go wrong on a game where equal emphasis is placed on the quality of the deck building and combat system, and then combined with a unique art style and Dungeons & Dragons type narrative.
Based out of Brisbane, Defiant are leading the way in merging gamers' love for board games with that of the screen.
The Adventure Pals
The Adventure Pals is an addition to this list because it is honestly one of the most ridiculous, imaginative and fun games we have experienced.
You play as a small boy who is gifted with a giraffe for his birthday; however festivities are cut short when an evil madman with a moustache kidnaps your loveable Grandfather with the mastermind plan of turning him (and all of the local elderly) into a hotdog. Yes, you read that right. The Adventure Pals is one of those games that showcases the ability of a video game to delight and fascinate. It has a quirky sense of humour that had me giggling and wanting to play more.