Coming hopefully in August next year is Objects in Space, a space trading simulator from Flat Earth Games, which you might remember from TownCraft and Metrocide. Objects in Space, inspired by Firefly, is a true passion project for brothers Rohan and Leigh Harris. The idea is that you're the captain of a real clunker of a spaceship. You and interact with other spaceships and scavenge what you can, trying to stay ahead of pirates and other enemies, and keep your ship flying with the few resources you can get your hands on. The screen is your command console, rather charmingly executed in 16 bit graphics.
What we loved about it, though, is that it's Arduino compatible, which means you can build your own custom hardware. The Harris brothers had a control and display array they had built, including very tactile buttons and switches, and a missile button under a safety catch that was extraordinarily satisfying.
Early Worm Games
Skedaddle, from a team of students at the Academy of Interactive Entertainment, was both polished and utterly adorable. It's a side-scrolling platform adventure about animals escaping from a horrible circus. You start off playing a slow loris and your first mission is to rescue another animal, a pink poodle. Each animal you unlock adds more abilities, so that you can solve increasingly complex level puzzles as the game progresses. It's not the most original idea, but the novelty of the setting and the cuteness of the animals made it very hard to put down.
A release date is yet to be confirmed.
Real-time strategy game Element from New Zealand-based developer Flightless has a minimalist low-poly design that reminded me of rymdkapsel.
You need to set up mining facilities on tiny planetoids to gather specific elements. However, you're also under attack, and need to decide how to allocate your resources between mining facilities and three types of weapon facilities: air-based offensive, or ground- and water-based defensive. Like rymdkapsel, it also seeks to provide a deep, RTS experience in a more bite-sized format for those who simply don't have the time to invest in more intensive games.
Klang is from solo Norwegian developer Tom Ivar-Arntzen with music by blind, and it offers a rhythm game with a twist, adding side-scrolling platforming into the mix.
Pressing buttons in rhythm with attacks from enemies allows you to deflect those attacks back at those enemies to defeat them. It's a really fun way to mix up both platformer combat and rhythm-based gameplay. And, based on the demo, it doesn't take long to get really challenging.
Hollow Knight, Kickstarter funded and due out later this year from three-person South Australian developer Team Cherry, is another side-scrolling platform adventure.
In the underground insect realm of Hallownest, something has gone awry. You play the eponymous Hollow Knight, exploring the depths, collecting treasure, helping the inhabitants and dying (a lot. Even your own ghost can kill you). It's more cute and charming than a difficult game about a spooky insect kingdom has any right to be.
Hacknet is not just a rabbit hole, it's a real rabbit warren of an experience. It puts you right in the hacker's seat, following mysterious instructions emailed to you from an unknown deceased hacker to learn how to hack into other terminals to retrieve files, software and other information.
The hacker's death may not have been an accident, and only you have the means to uncover the mystery of his death and keep his software from falling into the wrong hands. The game sees you using typed commands to enter other computers, but it looks more intimidating than it is, and treats new players gently as it guides you through the game. It then proceeds to suck you deep into its story and gameplay.
Hacknet is out now, available for PC via Humble and Steam.
Sydney-based SMG Studio is making its first foray into console gaming with Death Squared, a diabolical cooperative game for one, two or four players. The aim is to get the coloured robot on to the circle of the same colour to complete the level, but there's a catch (of course there's a catch). Every time one box moves, it can have an effect on the board. Spikes might emerge, lasers might fire, a phantom block might push your friend over the edge of the board. The aim is to figure out the patterns of these events, then communicate with each other to solve the problem. The level must be solved in cooperation using conversation, and if you get competitive, you will fail. Like all SMG's games to date, it's a brilliantly balanced, fiendishly difficult bit of tremendous fun.
Death Squared is due out some time next year for consoles and PC.
Everyone has at least heard of, if not played, the board game Cluedo. Because it changed every time, the outcome (murderer, murder weapon, location) was unpredictable. Mystery has taken on this concept and run with it, turning it into a procedurally generated whodunnit mystery set in a posh mansion.
The game changes with each play. The layout of the house, the list of suspects, the victim, the clues, the murder weapon and the location of the murder are all generated anew for each game, meaning you get a different game each time. You'll also have to battle enemies, which isn't quite like Clue, but it does allow you to get coins for nifty weapon and outfit upgrades.
Because if you're going to play "king of the hill," why not mountain goats? GoatPunks is a madcap party game for up to four players, racing to the top of the mountain to rain fire and bombs on their foes and claim the title of mountainiest goat (probably).
You have to dash up the mountain, or scaffold, or volcano, reach the top, and stay there for 30 seconds without being knocked off. You can use weapons, but climbing goats have the ability to shield so maintaining top position isn't as easy as it sounds.
It looked superb, and the controls were really slick. Climbing the mountain felt really satisfying (which was great, because you do a lot of it, obviously). And, as you can probably guess, I'm a sucker for a cute character. The goats are really cute.
Getting attention for an "empathy game" on the hectic PAX showfloor isn't easy, but I'm glad I stopped by Andrew Brophy's booth for a round of Knuckle Sandwich.
Apparently the rest of the game is quite different, but for the demo, I was put in the role of a young man put in the soul-destroying experience of a job centre, based on solo developer Andrew Brophy's personal experiences with Australian government welfare agency Centrelink. I quite liked the game's cheeky sense of humour, such as using a game show wheel to select jobs (which, as anyone who has ever used a job centre knows, is about as personalised as what happens in the real world).
Apparently the game takes a different direction after the protagonist manages to land a job. According to the website, it turns into a surreal mystery romp with a wacky cult and missing townsfolk, not to mention a shady boss in a run-down diner. It sounds magnificent.
Whale Hammer Games
Tahira, by a three-person team from Canberra, Australia, has been collecting a few comparisons to The Banner Saga, both for its cartoon art style and turn-based tactical gameplay, but it's a gorgeous game in its own right. One of the first things you'll notice is the beautifully fluid animation of your units, reminiscent of the work of Don Bluth and Disney. This is because every character animation was created with an animation technique called rotoscoping (check out a video of Disney behind the scenes here).
The game takes place in a desert kingdom following the collapse of a space-faring civilisation. Princess Tahira is attempting to reclaim her kingdom, but she only has a small band of loyal fighters. The aim is to employ guerilla tactics to take down the larger invading forces, making the most of the small resources at your disposal. There's still a few features the developers would like to implement, but it's scheduled for PC, Mac and Linux release in early 2016.
Heist, developed by a Melbourne, Australia-based team, is pure stealth with a noir aesthetic. As you can see from the screenshot, it will see you, a cunning cat burglar, sneaking around poorly lit buildings to claim loot from under the noses of unsuspecting guards. Or suspecting, depending on your style of gameplay. You can sneak around, sticking to the shadows, using non-lethal flashbangs and cherry bombs as diversions, or you can cause glorious mayhem, all set to a jazz soundtrack.
Action-adventure Warden: Melody of the Undergrowth from a team based in Canberra, Australia, was also at PAX last year. This year, it's undergone quite a bit of polishing and is almost ready for its release on PC, Mac, Linux and consoles in 2016. You take the role of the Warden Spirit, who uses children called Wardens as avatars to restore the disrupted balance of nature.
The game has added two more playable characters with different abilities, and takes place over a variety of environments with puzzles to solve and foes to kill. It looks like a pretty respectable Zelda-like, and I'm really looking forward to playing the full game.
Green Stripe Snake
I had a lot of fun with adorable Aussie-made puzzler Mallow Drops. It's inspired both by traffic block puzzles and sliding ice puzzles, and got its start in life as an entry in the Ludum Dare game development event. You play it by turning the screen. This causes blocks to move, allowing you to access different parts of the level to collect all the eggs to activate the level's exit. This can be quite challenging on its own, but there are also enemies that pop out at various points, and the only means you have to circumvent them is the turning mechanism.
Mallow Drops is coming early next year to PC, Mac and Linux via Steam and Humble.