One of my favourite parts of PAX Australia over the years has become the NEXT Exhibit. As a huge fan of the Australian indie game scene, it’s always a treat getting to discover new titles from more underrepresented creators and show our support.
The theme of the exhibit this year was “Made By Hand” which did a wonderful job of showcasing the human stories behind each of the game presented. Developer Q+A’s were even held at NEXT throughout the weekend, allowing attendees to get an insight into the development process and hear what inspired each of them to make their games.
On top of the conversations with developers, NEXT also ran a presentation held by Claire Hosking of Game Workers Unite Australia, which I was fortunate enough to attend! GWU is a union that does some really amazing work in the gaming industry, including fighting for fairer wages and workers rights. If you’d like to hear more about them, I wrote an article a while back which delved into their 2018 survey results about the Australian gaming industry, which is linked here.
NEXT has always been an advocate for inclusivity and diversity in games and this years lineup really helped drive that message home. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for next year!
I’m probably not in the minority when I say this, but Unpacking was my favourite game that I got to demo over the weekend. Considering it has such a simple premise, I was honestly surprised at how receptive and genuinely excited attendees were to play this game. Once I saw it presented in more detail at the Indie Showcase however, I instantly became one of those raving fans.
Developed by partners Wren Brier and Tim Dawson as well as Jeff Van Dyck, Unpacking takes you through different rooms throughout each stage of the main characters life, starting in their childhood bedroom. Your objective is simply to unpack boxes and organise the items you take out in whichever way you please. Throughout each room and year that passes, you’ll start to notice that some objects such as toys and diaries are no longer with you and have been replaced with other more age appropriate things, just like they would be in real life.
The narrative elements of the game are subtle and unspoken and I think it’s a great way for players to connect with what’s happening onscreen even though they’re carrying out a simple task. There’s also something so relaxing about organising a virtual room that can only be experienced when playing a game like this. It gives you a sense of achievement as well as giving you a mindful activity.
The act of unpacking in the game is so similar to real life too. Items will be scattered throughout different boxes and you may end up finding them in a room that is unrelated to the object. Things feel real, so the player automatically gets attached to them.
Unpacking will be available hopefully some time next year as there is no solid release date and will be playable on PC. You can add the game to your Steam Wishlist for more updates.
Dollhouse was an interesting one. I’d compare it to the interactive moments in Animal Crossing such as turning your TV on and off, letting an instrument play your town tune or flicking a switch, only made into a whole game!
The art style of the game is adorable. The colour palette consists of soft and pastel pinks and make each room come to life a little more. The design really makes you feel like this was a space you could of created in your childhood with your own dollhouse. You’re even accompanied by a little pink toy that hovers near you as you explore each area.
There is no real objective to Dollhouse other than simply enjoying the visuals and interacting with the objects in each room of the house while bouncy music plays in the background. It’s quite a nice, short piece of gameplay to take a break to in contrast to other fast paced games. It should definitely be added to your list of mindful games to pick up when you’re in need of a rest.
Dollhouse is developed by Olivia Haines and is available to download in exchange for a donation of your choosing.
Best Friend Forever
The game takes place in Rainbow Bay, where you’ll embark on a journey to find true love and create an everlasting bond with your new four legged friend. The town is filled with characters that range in personality types so there’s a little something for everyone.
Before you start, you’ll need to take a short quiz to find out who you’re most likely to be compatible with in the city and the questions have definitely been written with the internet in mind. There are some great jokes spread throughout the game too, such as listening to radio hosts “Shocky” and “Jocky”, and I appreciated the nod to our Australian colloquialisms.
One thing I mentioned after my demo was how much I loved the diversity in character design. I spoke with Brianna Fromont, the art designer on Best Friend Forever who mentioned that it was a big thing that they all wanted to include in the game and put a lot of consideration into. The dogs are also adorable too, they even co ordinate well with their owners.
Best Friend Forever will be appropriately released on Valentines Day 2020 for PC, Mac and Nintendo Switch.
Continental Drift, developed by Cecile Richard was the shortest entry in the showcase next to Dollhouse, but was impactful nonetheless. The game touches on themes of loneliness and belonging and is told through a series of text.
The game has an 8-bit art style and only has the player use the arrow keys to move to each checkpoint. As the story goes on, there are lines that can hit quite close to home as they are feelings a lot of people can relate to. It’s a beautiful addition to the exhibit
I noticed there was such a prevalent theme of mindfulness at the showcase this year. There’s a sense that a lot of developers really wanted to explore the idea that things in the game can move on despite what the player does. I liked how the themes faced in each game touched on feelings that are universal and that everyone can relate to.
Both Dollhouse and Continental Drift weren’t traditionally “playable” games, so I found it interesting that they were included in the exhibit this year. That’s why I love conventions like PAX so much, it forces me to broaden my scope of the games I play and I end up finding something I really enjoy.
Continental Drift is available to play on Haraiva’s website through this link.
I loved how much of a focus there was on mindfulness with the games presented this year. It helped reinforce the message that gaming doesn’t have to be a stressful activity and you’re free to go at your own speed.
Although PAX has come to a close for another year, I’m always left with the lingering feeling of pride in knowing that there are so many talented and driven people in this industry. Well done on another successful NEXT Exhibit!