PAX Aus 2023: The Indie Revolution! 5 Games That Stole the Show

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Rohan Elliott
| November 9, 2023
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Indie game development is where we get to see some of the craziest and out-there game concepts of the entire industry, and PAX Aus 2023 has been no exception. These games aren’t just tucked away in some dingy corner of the convention centre, oh no! No more shall indie developers be forced to eat water and bread while triple-A developers feast on the public’s attention. No, it’s feasts for everyone, with indie developers getting equal billing to the likes of Nintendo and Sega.

After three days full of talking with indie developers and playing a whole bunch of games, here are some that you would be wise to keep an eye out for in the future, especially if you’re interested in the Australian indie gaming scene.

The Games

Broken Roads – Drop Bear Bytes

Some of the stunning images you will see while exploring the West Australian Outback.

Broken Roads was one of the games I was most looking forward to seeing during PAX as I’d been following the game since 2019. I’d already played their Steam demo prior to attending PAX and was keen to give another of the origin stories a go. Having another go around gave me time to appreciate all the little details – the music, the little scuffs and bruises the world is full of, and the underlying mystery of what happened to the world as any good post-apocalyptic game should.

Craig Ritchie, game director for Broken Roads, had this to say about his game:

Broken Roads is our version of the traditional isometric RPGs of old, inspired by the likes of classic Fallout, Planescape Torment, Baldur’s Gate and more recently Pillars of Eternity or Disco Elysium. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic future about 150 years from now, with a story playing out in the Wheatbelt area of Western Australia. The team have put a lot of effort into making an authentic, dense and fun world to explore. And coupled with our unique morality system, the Moral Compass, we expect not only very deep initial playthroughs but tons of replayability as well. We’ve been at it for almost five years and are super excited to get it into player’s hands on November 14th.”

I, for one, am more than excited to get my hands on the full game and play around with the unique moral compass developed for this game that foregoes the binary black-and-white morality in favour of a more intricate scale of morality, ensuring every player can have their own unique experience solely based on their actions.

Bears in Space – Broad Side Games

BEARS. IN. SPAAACE.

From my most anticipated game to the most surprising of PAX for me. I had passed this game a couple of times on the show floor before catching the Back Pocket panel on Saturday. After hearing about it from Backpocket’s Peter Burns, I decided to give it a go on Sunday and whoo boy, am I glad I did.

The first thing that drew me in on closer inspection was the cover art adorning the booth. It’s a gorgeous love letter to 60s sci-fi that stirred something deep inside me, and I felt like I needed to play the game. Jumping into the game itself, it’s an incredible mashup of Serious Sam and Ratchet & Clank to create a fast and fun FPS shooter brimming with passion and love for the genre that I really enjoyed.

I reached out to the developers twice to try and get a developer quote for this article, but they weren’t able to get back to me in time… likely polishing the game and putting in more easter eggs. Only time will tell.

Dolven – Covyne Entertainment

An archer, mage, and thief walk into a dungeon.

Pitched as an RPG turn-based card deck builder strategy game by the developers, Dolven was the one game on this list I struggled to see the appeal of initially. When I was chatting with Andrew from Covyne Entertainment and listening to him explain how the gameplay works, I was skeptical about how the combination of turn-based strategy and card battler would work when put into practice.

However, once I got hands-on time with the game, it all started to make sense. Don’t get me wrong; I got my ass handed to me for the first five minutes while I took in all the different status effects and ability cards spread out in front of me. After that, my brain switched gears, and I started thinking more like a tactician than a writer/accountant. Unfortunately, my demo was just that one battle and I didn’t get to experience any of the other elements, but even so, I found it to be engaging and gave me that just one more go feeling that I get from playing XCOM

Developer Andrew Naish had this to say about the inspiration behind Dolven:

“I’m a huge fan of games such as Divinity: Original Sin, Baldur’s Gate, and even classic titles like the Ultima series and Temple of Elemental Evil. Also, since childhood, I’ve immensely enjoyed countless hours of playing card games like Uno, Gin Rummy, and Poker with my friends and family. Dolven is the fusion of these two lifelong passions”.

Having played Dolven, I can see glimpses of these influences just in the short playtime I had. It’s not going to be for everyone, and it might take longer than you think for the gameplay to click, but I’d recommend giving it a go when the game releases. 

The Drifter – Powerhoof

He’s a man with no name…

Now, stop me if you’ve ever been in this situation before. The situation, you see, is that you’re a homeless drifter (hence “The Drifter” part of the title) returning home for a significant life event, only for your arrival to be heralded by a good old-fashion murder. I mean, yeah it’s not as good as balloons and a hug from your mum, but at least you’ve got an interesting conversation starter. The animation, writing, and coding are handled by two guys, Dave Lloyd and Barry Cumming. Dave had this to say about the game:

“The Drifter is our fast-paced take on a point-and-click adventure. It’s inspired by the trashy thriller novels and old horror flicks that I love, stuff like Michael Crichton, John Carpenter and Stephen King, and a lot of 70s Ozploitation movies too. We’re trying to take a traditionally slower-paced genre and make it into a roller-coaster thrill-ride about a drifter trying to solve their own murder.”

Personally, playing the game, I loved the animation so much. It was stylish and fluid, and there were a bunch of small details that helped craft the story and just added that tasty little crumb that kept me engaged throughout the demo. I can’t wait to get my hands on the full game and solve the mystery of the time-travelling hobo.

Conscript – Catchweight Studio

Nothing like a merry stroll in the trenches to cheer you up.

Speaking of murder, we’ve got a gruesome World War I survival horror game from solo developer Catchweight Studio. It was pitched to me at PAX by the composer of the game, who summed it up quite nicely. Essentially, the game is an excerpt of the experience of a typical soldier set during the gruesome time period that is trench warfare circa 1915, hence the title Conscript. There are no supernatural elements because, frankly, WW1 was horrific enough without introducing any creepy ghouls or goblins. Jordan Mochi took some time to describe his game:

“CONSCRIPT is a retro pixel survival horror game set in WW1 during the brutal battle of Verdun. A lone French soldier, compelled to find his missing brother in action, must navigate his way through the harsh reality of war. Journey through the horrors of trench warfare with limited resources and navigate intricate routes and puzzles to survive.

CONSCRIPT is a solo-developed game, and I started developing the game in 2017 with no prior game dev experience. Having a degree in history, I’ve always been fascinated with WW1 – and so I thought, given how horrific the conditions of the trenches were, it’d make a great fit for a survival horror game. 

The game takes inspiration from many classics of the genre, such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill, but with a historical and grounded setting. 

Game will be released in 2024, no quarter set just yet.” 

The games mentioned by Jordan above come through clearly in the game play, specifically the atmosphere and movement of your character. Definitely one to keep your eye on, especially if you’re a fan of survival horror games.

Skate Bums – Lucky Last Studio

The most 90s group of characters assembled at once.

Now, to finish this article off with a nice sweet chaser to the haggis and blood that were the previous two entries – tone-wise. Skate Bums was the game I found most gripping throughout the entirety of PAX. It’s a mix of Tony Hawk Pro Skater and the Game Boy game Skate or Die: Bad ‘N Rad (that one is a deep cut for all the Game Boy OG’s out there). It’s got a sick 2D art style and simple pick-up and-play controls yet with a layer of depth that preyed on my rampant perfectionism.

Mark White from Lucky Last Studio pitches the game as follows:

“Skate Bums is an action-packed skateboarding platformer featuring a storyline and boss battles. Drawing inspiration from 90’s skate culture, Saturday morning cartoons, and classic video arcades, it’s bursting with old-school flavour. If you enjoy stringing together combos, chasing legendary scores, and battling epic bosses, then check out Skate Bums, coming to Nintendo Switch early 2024.”

I ended up playing this game on the Saturday right after the Back Pocket panel, and it’s fair to say I caught the bug from it. After a couple of levels, I could feel the itch to perfectly grind every rail building up inside of me. I spent a good half hour playing before realising I needed to stop unless I wanted to spend that evening crushing bricks to get rid of the excess adrenaline coursing through my body.  

Honourable Mentions

The games below are ones I may have played and not fully engaged with or just didn’t get a chance to play during all the chaos. Regardless, I think they’re still worth you guys at least checking them out if you’re itching for some new games to play.

Overall, this PAX has some exceptional indie games that have enough depth and variety that there is undoubtedly something for everyone. I’m looking forward to seeing these games in full when they are released. Keep it locked to Couch Soup for more game previews from PAX Aus 2023.

Do any indie games from PAX Aus 2023 catch your eye? What games did I miss? Let us know in the comments below where we can talk all things PAX!

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