There used to be a kind of video game that invited (mostly innocent) trash talk, victorious fist pumps and very loud involuntary noises (grunts, yelps, the occasional guttural scream) from its players.
They were played on shag-carpeted living-room floors on ancient game consoles attached to tube televisions, or if you were lucky, in a dimly lit, token-sucking arcade, the palace of the competitive gamer.
The games had titles like, “Combat” if you’re Atari-generation and “Battle Arena: Toshinden” if you grew up on an original PlayStation. These were designed to make friends into temporary enemies, to get competitive juices flowing in pixel-heavy electronic battlegrounds. A last-second KO or lucky missile shot meant the difference between victory and humiliation. Oh, were they fun.
These games never really went away; modern-day arcades still have a place for fighting games such as the “Street Fighter” series and modern shooters such as “Overwatch” still give crowds a thrill at live tournaments or individually when played online.
But two recently released games made in Austin have managed to capture the magic of those long-ago competitive games, and to do it in a style that would look familiar to players of those earlier eras. “Astro Duel Deluxe,” which hit the Nintendo Switch console on May 30, and “Battlesloths 2025: The Great Pizza Wars,” released June 6 for Windows PCs, Mac and Linux, have both been making the rounds at game expos and meetups, such as South by Southwest Gaming, PAX South and RTX Expo.
At a North Austin Game Night at Abel’s North this week, players got to see these and a few other indie game titles in action; game controller buttons were mashed, competitive spirits were raised.
On paper, the games couldn’t be simpler: “Astro Duel Deluxe” is like the old-school classic “Asteroids” if there were multiple ships on the screen trying to blast each other out of existence, tiny ejected pilots included.
Check out a photo gallery from North Austin Game Night
“Battlesloths” is exactly what it sounds like: a war for pizza slices fought with four pixel-art sloths at a time. It features many weapons, more than 1,000 hats, and as with “Astro Duel Deluxe,” a pulse-raising emphasis on late reversals and last-second triumphs.
Adam Creighton, the studio general manager and director of development at Panic Button, LLC, said that “Astro Duel Deluxe” was the result of wanting to do a game for the Nintendo Switch, which came out in early March. It’s an adaptation of an existing game for iOS and computers, but the idea was to amp it up with some of the features unique to the Switch.
“We’ve got a long history with Nintendo,” said Creighton, whose studio is working on bringing the popular “Rocket League” to the Switch. “(‘Astro Duel’) makes a lot of sense for the platform. We put in a party mode that’s a combination of controller and touch. As a gamer and developer, I’m pretty impressed with the Switch.”
Panic Button worked with the originator of “Astro Duel,” Rusty Moyher, at Wild Rooster. The game has new control schemes for the Switch, new stereo music, and is available in 11 languages and 37 countries. Getting the game out early to be one of the few dozen titles in the fledgling Switch eStore was a huge motivator: from start to finish, the game took only three months to port over.
The game doesn’t have an online mode; Creighton says it’s built for people to play together in person. “We were looking at our gaming roots, games like ‘Bomberman’ and ‘NBA Jam,’ and trying to capture those great feelings,” he said.
With “Battlesloths 2025,” Phillip Johnson, creative director of Invisible Collective has found his calling card in the Austin indie gaming scene.
Johnson began working on an earlier version of the game as part of a four-person Game Jam team two years ago. It was a frenetic but simple game with three levels and a dozen weapons. Johnson moved to Austin last year from North Carolina, where the original team was living, and kept the game alive, showing it off at the gaming meetup Juegos Rancheros.
“No one really knew who we were or who I was. I hauled out my personal computer and just set it up,” Johnson said. “We immediately got an excited response from local indie developers. ‘Who are you, what is this game, where did you come from?’ ”
“Battlesloths” got a boost earlier this year when it was included with other titles as part of a March Humble Bundle. Money from that allowed Johnson to work on a sequel (“The Great Pizza Wars”) with more weapons, an online mode, new art and those 1,000+ hats (yes, the sloths wear hats; some of them are animated). It also led to a publishing deal with Rooster Teeth Games.
“It’s been a lot of work. We knew right away it would be a fun game,” Johnson said.
Johnson moved to Austin for a day job, but has found himself supported by an indie game scene where it’s not unusual for 100 or more to come out on a weeknight to try out demos of new titles.
“I didn't really see it coming,” he said. “I didn’t come here to make it. I found a job, and was unaware of how vibrant the indie game scene here is and how supportive the creative community in Austin can be. It’s easily my favorite city in the world as a result.”