Arisia Gaming Expo Adds to Richness of Boston Indie Gaming Scene

There’s an annual convention in the Boston area every year called Arisia and it covers just about anything fannish you care to mention.  Lots of cosplay with an impressive masquerade show, science fiction, fantasy, anime, gaming and just about anything else one can justify.  I learned how to make chaimail during one workshop and this year took a soldering class.  Basically, if you can make a case for geeky interest, it’s probably in here somewhere.  The gaming aspect has traditionally been LARP, pen & paper RPG and board games, but video gaming has been more and more prominent in recent years and this year Arisia hosted a single-day indie games expo.  The expo was evenly divided between board, card and video games, and a complete list (minus a few last-minute dropouts) can be found here.  For a more in-depth look at the video gaming, though, keep reading —

Stardrift Nomads–  Spaceship defense game, which is kind of like a tower defense game except you’re flying around shooting down incoming enemies, twin-stick-style, while defending a central base.  On the one hand it’s best to take the fight to the enemy as their red radar blips appear at the edge of the mini-map before they get near the base, but the gold they drop can only be spent back at home and, after a few levels, enemies begin appearing from all map edges at once.  It isn’t all that pricey to upgrade the ship’s abilities, buy automated turret defenses, or repair ship, home base, and the turrets, but trying to keep on top of everything all at once makes for a quick resource drain.

I had a good time flying around, blasting enemies large and small, and trying not to get distracted by the indestructible gold-filled asteroid floating around just a little too far away from where I should have been protecting, but did feel that enemy firepower moves too quickly to dodge.  This might have had something to do with the recommended newbie ship being a close-range brawler with a strong but short mining laser, so I’m hoping to see quicker, more nimble ships be able to dance out of harm’s way rather than be bullet sponges.  Stardrift Nomads also supports up to eight players at once, but I only got to play single-player so didn’t get a crack at seeing the strategies as players cooperate to defend home base and compete for resources.

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Breakers Yard
–  A rogue-like twin-stick shooter about blasting robots in a post-apocalyptic wasteland/junkyard.  While Breaker’s Yard doesn’t have the prettiest pixel-art, the gameplay itself was a lot of fun, with guns that stack and combine in various ways.  Each gun combines with all the others, so you can have a triple-shot drill that travels in a wave pattern if you can find the upgrades.  Basic firepower is unlimited but the powerups only last for a set time, so it doesn’t pay to get to attached to a particular combination.

One of the more entertaining aspects of the environment is that almost everything is destructible, but the amount of firepower you waste trying to carve a path through may not be worth it.  Catch on fire, though, and you earn an period of destructive invulnerability at the expense of health, letting you run through anything be it robot enemy or breakable terrain with ease.  The goal of each level is to find a rope for a catapult, and bringing the one to the other flings you to the next area to do it all over again, but bigger and meaner this time.  While it’s easy to see Breakers Yard isn’t the most complicated or in-depth shooter around, it covers the basics in a very satisfying way and is great fun to blast through either alone or with a friend.  If that sounds interesting it’s in open beta over at the developer’s web site.

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Descendants: Voidborne
–  An interstellar 4X turn-based strategy game designed to have its play-sessions last about an hour, because being able to sit and game for massive butt-numbing multi-hour sessions just isn’t possible on a frequent basis for much of anyone.  The name of the game refers to the way effects of one game become the history and relics of the next, with each game being a new era chronicling the spread of different civilizations throughout the universe.  Each turn is designed so that there are a set number of actions available, rather than having one turn where you might wait for resources and another where, once you’ve got them, has far too many options to deal with.  The action unfolds across a fully 3D game map which you can rotate and zoom in on to your heart’s content, which is good because even at its current stage of development Descendants: Voidborne is looking very pretty.

Each planet has missions available, and how you contact the planet influences the options.  Enslaving the natives might let you become their gods, while peaceful contact can lead to a different set of quests and rewards.  The options are listed above the planet with the possible outcomes showing, and it was kind of entertaining to see which icons were done and which still need art.  The game is still in alpha, after all, with a Kickstarter planned for March, and the campaign would have happened sooner if the developer hadn’t wanted to make sure a good demo is available at the start.  As impressive as what’s completed so far looks it’s still very early, and in fact was actually being tweaked when I showed up at the booth.  After a little editing a fresh build was ready to runs, and while I didn’t get the details on what was tweaked it was fun seeing the game get adjusted on the fly.

Xantara–  This is actually a web comic that, every now and then, breaks out into a video game.  Certain stories lend themselves to moments of action that work nicely as Flash gaming, and while these don’t tend to be particularly deep they’ve gotten more intricate as the story progresses.  The first one is a very simple and easy run up a straight line to the end of a temple, shining your flashlight to chase away the encroaching shadow-creatures, while the most recent is a much harder shooter where you need to defend your companion from evil fish-critters crawling from the pool.  While none of the games are going to be raking in the indie gaming awards, it’s a really clever way to break up the comic and give the reader a different take on the action scenes.

Obey–  This one actually needs more attention than a brief (or even large) overview can give, but the short version is that it’s an asymmetrical mulitplayer game where one player controls a giant stationary robot with guns and rockets and the other players are highly vulnerable bunnies both serving and betraying their robot master.  The object is to be the first to $10,000, but the player in the robot earns money far more quickly than the peon bunnies.  The door to the robot is open for anyone to use, and the bunny that takes advantage of this without being noticed on the long and exposed walk there can take over just by hopping through, relegating the former master back to peon status again.

The master robot commands the bunnies to drop off supplies at a waypoint, and each bunny can carry up to three items at once.  It’s in the master’s best interest to make sure one of those items is a slave collar, because while bunnies can sneak around the collar has a tracker that pops up on the HUD.  The other items, though, need to be purchased, which draws from  the master’s cash supply, but a steady stream of supplies means a nice chunk of change for both master and peon.  It’s painful to spend a couple thousand on new items for the next supply ship to drop off in the landing zone, but it will also be highly profitable.  Maybe not for you, if you get ousted due to a moment of carelessness, but profitable for somebody.  There’s a lot of great social gaming in Obey, and sitting with a group in local multiplayer as people proclaim loyalty and then knife each other in their robot back made for an amazingly fun bout of gaming.  It’s on Early Access right now, and somehow hasn’t burned the service out with deviousness and treachery yet.

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And that was the first year of Arisia’s Indie Games Expo, not quite filling up a third of the ballroom in the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel, but still an overall success.  There was a steady stream of attendees checking out everything on display, video gaming and otherwise, and that means the expo has the potential to grow in coming years as it settles and evolves.  The Boston area has a huge talent-pool to draw from, as evidenced by PAX East, Boston FIG and the other meetups and gatherings that happen on a regular basis, and having a new place to show off local and semi-local talent will only add to the richness of the scene.