The show floor at a video game convention is full of big loud booths, boisterous crowds, and nonstop flashing and booming from game demos. This year's Penny Arcade Expo East, which was held in Boston this weekend, was no exception. However, tucked away in the corners of the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center were several quiet, unassuming rooms and kiosks that most attendees could walk right by without noticing. These little caves of wonders held the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to play obscure cult games, as well as the chance to get away from the explosions. Here are a few of the most interesting things that probably went unnoticed by most attendees.
Ladykiller in a Bind
The Indie Mega Booth held dozens of small tables crammed into a section of floor space that could barely hold a single AAA game. Within that dense labyrinth, most games were struggling to be seen, but one developer was being deliberately coy about their product: Ladykiller in a Bind.
The designer, Christine Love, calls the game an “erotic visual novel about social manipulation, crossdressing, and girls tying up other girls.” It's about a young woman who disguises herself as her twin brother, and is coached in the art of crossdressing by a stern, demanding dominatrix. The booth was sealed with a velvet rope, and the demo was sequestered behind a screen.
Ladykiller in a Bind will arrive later this year, and is developed by the same designer who made the visual novels like Analogue: A Hate Story and Hate Plus.
Mental Health Services
Upstairs, away from the show floor entirely, was the AFK Room by Take This. It was a room where nothing happened, offering a quite place for attendees to get away from the sensory overload of the con. The AFK Room was created by game industry personnel to help address mental health issues among gamers, and even had mental health clinicians available to people visiting the room.
Russ Pitts, the Executive Director and President of Take This said, “It's part of our mission to bridge the gap between the video game community...and the Mental Health Care community, which is there to help but doesn't have a lot of familiarity with the video game community."
In the lobby of the Convention Center was a small table for the Geek and Gamer Counseling Alliance. This was an entirely separate organization from Take This, independently pursuing similar goals. The two groups will be coordinating efforts in the future.
The Steel Battalion Room
For those who don't mind sensory overload, and even seek out the earth-shaking sounds of a giant robot battles, there was the Steel Battalion room. Steel Battalion was an Original Xbox game that came with a massive controller that simulated the cockpit of a giant robot mech. The game and controller cost more than an Xbox itself, so very few people ever had the opportunity to try it. Online servers were shut down years ago, so the only way to experience the multiplayer now is to get several copies of the game and its controllers into one room for a LAN party, with a separate Xbox for each player.
PAX East had a room set up with 10 fully-functional Steel Battalion controllers and networked Xboxes. The staff member in charge of the room described the reaction that people have when they discover it: “It's this legend, it's like Loch Ness. People have heard of it, and they come in here and they can see ten networked Steel Battalion units, and they can murder each other and blow up mechs, and it's just a heck of an experience.”
The controllers have over 40 buttons to simulate what it might be like to pilot an actual giant robot. Some of these buttons are for moving and attacking, but others are there to add immersion and flavor to the experience. According to Doombah,“There are fire extinguisher buttons. If you fall over, you have to wash your windshield. If you don't eject in time [with a dedicated Eject button], the game permanently deletes your profile.”
League Of Legends "Cospitality" Lounge
League Of Legends has a hardcore following of cosplayers who ran amok throughout the convention center in head-to-toe armored suits, carrying giant toy weapons. But what's a cosplayer to do when they rip a seam, smudge their make-up, or break the handle off their BF Sword? In the bowels of the convention center was a room just for cosplayers, called the Cospitality Lounge.
Although it was sponsored by the creators of League Of Legends, it was open to all of the cosplayers that attended PAX East. This was the answer to those cosplay emergencies that required a stockpile of crafting supplies, or just some help from an expert. The room provided paint, glue guns, make-up, and hair styling products.
When playing a top-down shooter game, no one ever seems to ask: Why is the Player viewing these events from high above? Noct actually has an in-game explanation for the bird's eye view; the Player is watching the action from a satellite. Everything in the game is presented in a grainy black and white, as though seen through an infrared or night vision camera orbiting high above.
At a glance, Noct just looks like some white dots moving around on a black screen, but those little dots actually represent survivors in an apocalyptic world where monsters have destroyed civilization. Players roam the world trying to scavenge supplies and hide from enemies, but it is inevitable that some creepy beast will come crawling out of the darkness, and the players will have to fire what little ammunition they have, hoping that it's enough.
Rather than allowing players to control unstoppable killing machines like in most other games in this genre, Noct plays more like Day Z, a hardcore survival game. Here ammo needs to be conserved, and enemies should be avoided if possible. Set to release in 2015, this is an indie game to watch in the months ahead.