As if South by Southwest wasn’t overwhelming enough, Thursday saw the beginning of the Gaming Expo, taking over Exhibit Halls 1 and 2 in the process. The expo floor will be open from noon to 8 p.m. through Saturday, giving badge-holders from all three tracks and anyone with a Gaming Expo wristband the chance to experience the best gaming in Austin.
With so much to see, do, and play you’d be forgiven for not catching all the cool things showcased for attendees. You’re in luck: We’ve scoured the convention floor and stood in lines that go as far as the eye can see, all in the name of finding the latest and greatest that SXSW Gaming has to offer.
Here’s the top five things to check out at SXSW Gaming Expo 2017:
“Asura” from Ogre Head Studio
Game studios from India are few and far between, as are portrayals of Indian mythology in mainstream gaming. The Secunderabad, India-based Ogre Head Studio is looking to change preconceptions about their native land with Asura, a rogue-like brawler inspired by “The Legend of Zelda,” “Diablo” and “The Binding of Isaac.”
Studio founder Zainuddin Fahad wants to give players a game with a story and experience based on Hindu stories. The game follows a fallen war deity who, in Hindu myth, is led by the gods Varuna and Vritra.
Fahad knows that portrayals of Hinduism in gaming are difficult and misconceived. “The topic is sensitive in India as well, but that’s because creators attempt to translate and adapt stories the wrong way,” he said at SXSW Gaming. The game includes clever nods to mythology in the form of gameplay elements, such as the Shastras. Known as rules and books of specialized technical knowledge in Hinduism, they’re the name for randomly generated skill trees in Asura.
“Asura” is scheduled for an April, 2017 release on Steam, for PC, Mac and Linux.
“The Metronomicon” from Puuba Inc.
As it turns out, combining the music and rhythm genre with turn-based RPGs is a recipe for success. The “Metronomicon” is Puuba Inc.’s attempt to blend the two, bringing awesome spells and sick beats along for the ride. Studio lead Danny Garfield says the combination is a natural fit, especially when two players are at the helm.
Featuring a diverse soundtrack of catchy beats from artists such as Shiny Toy Guns and Mindless Self Indulgence, the goal is to hit notes to the beat while switching between tracks, akin to the Harmonix PlayStation 2 classic “Amplitude.”
The vibrant art design and subtle catchiness of the music are the cherry on top of a cake made with crisp and fun gameplay. Much like its inspirations Guitar Hero and Rock Band, time passes by faster while The “Metronomicon” has you in its clutches.
“The Metronomicon” is out now on Steam and this summer on consoles, with a free DLC update releasing in spring.
“Soundself”: The meditative VR experience
I wasn’t sure what to expect upon lying down on a beanbag chair and sliding down the virtual reality headset for “Soundself.” The experience is described as a collision of meditation, technology and virtual immersion, but developer Robin Arnott considers it closer to psychedelia.
“For me, game design is a really incredible craft for warping and altering a person's consciousness,” said Arnott. “These two things came together elegantly, because I don't know a more entrancing or altering medium in the world, besides maybe music.”
My experience in “Soundself” was somewhere between a relaxing moment of calm and a series of bizarre, yet compelling sensations. Afterwards, I had a sense of calm, along with the feeling of my head spinning like a carousel.
Robin says his hope is for people to experience these meditative moments and use them to confront their inner fears and feelings, especially when juxtaposed against the backdrop of mainstream gaming.
“The discipline of game design developed through the power fantasies of modern games. It's interesting to me that this medium that evolved to satisfy our cravings for power can be used just as much to satisfy our hunger to know ourselves intimately.”
More information is available at http://soundselfgame.com.
Devolver: The Austin-based indie king
Founded in 2009, Devolver Digital is now a modern gaming mainstay with local roots. The company started in Austin and has since published some of the best indie games of the past ten years, including “Hotline Miami,” “Enter The Gungeon” and “Broforce.”
Devolver has once again brought unique games to the SXSW table, including the frantic “Ape Out,” a game combining gorillas and free-form jazz.
Jarde Stults with Devolver Digital says the company is continually surprised by the reception their games get from consumers, and jokes that “we’re all just waiting for the sky to come crashing down at any moment.”
Devolver’s showcase for this year’s expo also includes the sci-fi shooter “Ruiner” and the alternate reality mystery “Crossing Souls.”
“Beasts of Balance” from Sensible Object
You know an exhibit has to be good if it's surrounded by people all day, and the board game and technology meld of “Beasts of Balance” is no different. UK-based developer Sensible Object has combined elements of Jenga with darling animal figures and a slick tablet element to create a tabletop experience that stands out.
The game base plugs into a phone or tablet, with the screen narrating the points-driven gameplay. As players scan the game’s animal figures by touching them to the base, the creature pops to life on the screen.
Players then start stacking more animals and cross-breeding planks in order to create new, hybrid creatures and saving the old, rapidly endangered beasts in the process. If the tower falls over, a volcano pops up on the screen to warn of impending doom, lest the tower isn’t rebuilt.
Did I mention the adorable figures? Their design is excuse enough to warrant purchase. As it so happens, there’s also a simple and engaging game that comes along for the ride. For pricing and information, visit http://www.beastsofbalance.com.
For further information on SXSW Gaming Expo: https://www.sxsw.com/exhibitions/gaming-expo/.
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