Your Laced With Wax correspondent roamed EGX Rezzed at the Tobacco Dock in London to see which new games stood out from the crowd.
By Thomas Quillfeldt
EGX Rezzed — the London, UK-based video game exhibition and smaller sibling of EGX — came and went over the weekend.
Walking around the show reminded me of how vibrantly colourful and joyous video games can be; paradoxically daft and self-serious. There’s an air of silliness: here’s a group of people getting together to repeatedly, collectively suspend their disbelief and briefly explore all sorts of differently bizarre worlds.
I was also reminded that many games across various genres are reliant on some well-worn tropes (spaceships, orcs, shooting stuff) and a shared language of gaming (e.g. press X to jump). Those ideas and pre-existing rules inform our current collective understanding of what constitutes a ‘video game’ in 2018; but as a ‘hardcore gamer’, an insider, I looked at row after row of not massively differentiated titles and felt like they keep things somewhat exclusionary. Very few of the games on show would make any gameplay sense to my Mum.
That’s not really a fair point: Rezzed is an ‘insider’ show and I only properly investigated a tiny fraction of games; also, many titles were made by small, young and/or debut teams. It was just a shame to walk away not having had my cup of inspiration filled to the brim by the sheer breadth of experiences on offer — my own fault, probably.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t some gems dotted about. The artistic talent on display is undeniably incredible; beautiful and unique art and graphics are often all you have to go on in terms of deciding what to investigate more closely amidst such an exhibition. And, to state the obvious, some games demo better than others — depth is difficult to show off compared to surface pizzazz. Four-player local co-op shenanigans inevitably draw a crowd, whilst slower-paced, systems-driven games that aren’t exactly lookers only seem to attract a certain type of gamer passing by.
Show me a drop-dead gorgeous art style though, and I’m yours. At shows like this, I also veer towards weird, conceptual stuff — experimental prototypes or bold artistic choices. Extra points if there’s a stressed-looking but passionate developer on hand to explain their deeply odd creation in as succinct way as possible. That cannot be an easy task to perform for three days straight.
Below are a handful of the games that I wanted to shout-out for being particularly zany and/or eye-catching.
Be a bug
The most fun I had playing a game at Rezzed was Metamorphosis by Ovid Works. It’s the sort of thing likely to appeal at shows like this because the concept and mechanics are immediately graspable: be an insect, crawl (in first-person perspective) around a multi-tiered level and avoid the gaze of the giant humans in the room with you. Set in the 1920’s in Prague and based on stories by Franz Kafka, you play as a spider-thing that’s actually a bloke who has been mysteriously transformed; the other people in the room enact a story scene, oblivious to your scuttling about.
The game seems to be a way off being finished and the acting and script were a bit stilted, but traversing the world was loads of fun (despite the usual first-person platformer issues) and the level design was intuitive and architecturally interesting. The art style and wonderful sense of scale reminded me of the ‘90s The Borrowers TV show and the more recent Studio Ghibli film Arrietty.
Be a fox (or a wolf)
A recurring theme at the show was playing as a furry, four-legged mammal…
The significantly further along (and bigger budget) Lost Ember is a gorgeous animal exploration game, where you can, among other things, run around as a wolf. The game is due this Autumn/Fall on PC, PS4 and XO.
Also fox-focused, Bushy Tail, by Polish studio Fuero Games, is still in development and is a bit reminiscent of Okami in terms of its painterly style. It’s also taking an oral storytelling/fairytale approach:
Every so often, one sees a game concept that strongly captures the imagination. Take The Stanley Parable, which started out life as a 2011 Half-Life 2 mod — when I played the full-length game, I felt a lot of admiration and sympathy for the developers regarding how challenging it must have been to flesh out the initial idea.
Umwelt by Cupboard Games (Tw: @CupboardGames) is somewhat of a proof-of-concept and, like The Stanley Parable, is currently shaping up to be a story-driven puzzle game that changes physical spaces to complicate progression (it also gave off The Witness vibes). What drew me in was the squishy, shiny brain in the middle of the screen. The player can plug different modules into different sides of the brain to manipulate the imagined space on the screen (a hotel suite in my playthrough); you can then warp into that space to solve puzzles.
The developer at the stand told me that the story, setting and aesthetic (1960s/70s interiors from what I saw) will draw upon things like secret CIA psychological experiments. Apparently the team shares quite a dry sense of humour, which will hopefully make it into the game.
State of the ARTE
A couple of games being developed by an arm of public Franco-German TV network ARTE made a great first impression thanks to their… art.
‘Sneak and paint’ puzzle game Vandals by Cosmografik (which previously made Type:Rider) is clearly styled after the Square Enix Montreal ‘Go’ games (e.g. Hitman Go and Lara Croft Go), albeit more vibrantly coloured.
The hook, as the press materials describe it, is that “aspiring artists can discover the work of 40 real-life, iconic street artists, and learn how they have influenced urban culture in the some of the most street art-rich cities in the world, including Paris, New York, Berlin, Tokyo and Sao Paulo. Using Vandals’ painting tool, players also get to create and share their own masterpieces on social networks."
Immediately next door was Homo Machina, developed by Darjeeling. This was a point-and-click puzzler heavily inspired by the work of Fritz Kahn (1888-1968), an “ingenious Jack-of-all trades, doctor and educator who strived to make science accessible to all” — perhaps better known as the pioneer of the infographic. From what I played, there were tiny people working in different parts of a body-turned-industrial machine to collectively achieve the goal of their human (e.g. wake up and get ready for your date tonight). It was quirky, colourful and educational.
Homo Machina is being released sometime this Spring.
Here’s looking at you
A few titles’ art style really set them apart.
Underwater adventure Harold Halibut looks visually incredible — a ‘handmade’, stop-motion PC point-and-click game that seems to have survived its failed Kickstarter:
Another PC point-and-click game Tala and the Flower Seed (and another failed Kickstarter 🙁) stood out for its hand-drawn art overlaid onto real-world nature photography:
A “seamless cinematic adventure game with light puzzle platforming elements”, Forgotten Anne (out May 15th on consoles and Steam) looks just like a studio Ghibli film. From what the developer was able to impart in a snatched 30-second conversation, the title enjoys some deep fantasy lore.
Smoke and Sacrifice made my jaw drop, not because of its art (which is gorgeous and remarkable), but because of a very early story beat in the demo (spoiled in the trailer below). The ‘survival RPG’ will launch this year on PC, Switch, PS4 and XO:
Haiku Adventure by Small Island Games looked gorgeous, just like a series of moving ukiyo-e Japanese paintings: