I had the pleasure of attending Playcrafting's Spring Play 2017 Expo on Thursday. Like the many Playcrafting events I had been to before, I saw developers and attendees of all stripes uniting in their love of video and tabletop games. The evening started off beautifully with my arriving on the wrong floor. I had confidently directed a couple of attendees to head in the same direction as me only to find that the entire floor was wholly empty. A helpful Microsoft employee had pointed out to me that it was actually on the floor above and the elevator had deposited me on the wrong floor in error. Off to a fantastic start!
Once I actually got to where all the games and people were, I saw exactly what I had hoped to see—hundreds of attendees and developers packed into various rooms checking out a plethora of entertainment experiences of all stripes. Here's a rundown of some of the more interesting things I encountered.
One of my first stops was the Horizon video game, a digital offering meant as a companion for the young adult book of the same name by Scott Westerfeld. I had played a bit of the game in my browser a week or so before attending the show just to get an idea of what it was like and found it to be a pretty straightforward platforming affair. I learned from the representatives from Scholastic that it's intended to be a companion to the books and had actually launched in advance of the first book's release by several months. Not only will the game be completely free to play, but it will grow and evolve as successive books are released. I have fond memories of reading Scholastic offerings in my youth like Goosebumps and Animorphs, and had games for either of these series existed when I was but a young'un, I would have played them to death. Kids today are very fortunate.
One of my next stops was to see a man I had spoken with on the phone and yet never met in person: Glenn Orzepowski. I interviewed him over a year ago about his upcoming game It Happened In Outer Space, a game made in the style of Flappy Bird that caught my attention solely for its striking visuals. He's a graphic designer by trade, so it stands to reason that he could make something look really good. I took a bit of my time to play it and found it an enjoyable experience, and I was delighted to hear that it's not too far away from being launched. Whether It Happened In Outer Space soars to the stars or burns up on re-entry, Mr. Orzepowski re-affirmed his stance on game development from his original interview; he's in it for the long haul and is currently deciding between two or three different ideas to work on next.
The next thing I saw was a very traditional-looking adventure name by the name of Project Beach House, a game whose title who, if Google searched, will provide an array of articles about perfecting your vacation home but not much about the game itself. The game is from the mind of Glen Hosie, a man who was perhaps one of the youngest developers at the show at 18. (I had learned this fact when I asked him if he would be attending the after party at Iron Bar only to find that he would likely be barred from entry.) Made in Adventure Game Studio, Project Beach House features most of the staples one would expect from the genre, including a classic-style menu with options for player actions. Where it differs is the story and the game; Project Beach House will see players running from a sole antagonist as they would in games such as Outlast or Hektor. Although many adventure games lend themselves to a linear story and maddening puzzles, this game is setting out to do things a little differently and will feature a bit more of an open world. It's currently running a Steam Greenlight campaign, and if that's the kind of thing you would be interested in, you might want to consider giving it a vote.
A bit further down the show floor, I saw a familiar face. A few months ago, I had a conversation with a man named Michael Bartnett about a racing game he was working on. This time around, I got to see it in action. Dirtbags Motor Club is an upcoming racing game in the style of classics such as Micro Machines and (of course) Mario Kart. One of the cooler things about Playcrafting is getting to see games evolve from idea to alpha to finished product over the course of multiple shows, and this was one such result. The game has hundreds of customization options for the racers, a bunch of tracks, and a whole lot of fun packed into a neat package. It's still in development, and I'm looking forward to seeing what the final version will look and play like.
One of the unfortunate things about so many games packed into such a short show is that I often don't have time to get to everyone. One game I regret not getting to was Chef Umami, a cooking game. Although the game's website is light on the details, the playable version I caught glimpses of showed players assembling traditional Asian foods in a kitchen environment.
Another such title I didn't have the time to get to was DIRE, a VR game where players try to survive racing along in a car. One thing I can say for certain is that the game looked really cool; it seemed to me as if Suda 51 took a crack at depicting the Mad Max universe. The game is a product of the NYU Game Center, a font from which many developers in the wider New York City area have sprung forth from.
Although tabletop games are typically a small portion of Playcrafting's events, Spring Play 2017 had some decent titles on display. The first one I got a look at was Snippets, a word game in the vein of Boggle that has some pretty neat mechanics. The entire game fits neatly into a nice little box, and my casual assessment of the title is that it would probably make for a great party game for people who are looking for something a little more highbrow than yet another Cards Against Humanity clone. Although many titles at the expo were in various states of development, Snippets is available for purchase now at the developer's website and at retailers.
As is often the case, I got to catch up with a developer I had talked with previously. Once again, I got to see Abraham Gellis, one of the developers of Awkward Date (and I got to meet the other developer Fernando for the first time as well). Awkward Date is a platformer where players are on a date that's just a wee bit uncomfortable; they have to navigate through platforming levels as a team staying close to one another (but not too close). It makes for a challenging and fun experience as far as platformers go. The game is coming along nicely since the first time I saw it over a year ago.
Backwater: An Interactive Crime Story is exactly what it says on the tin; it's an interactive movie of sorts told through the perspective of three different characters. I'm of the opinion that a piece of entertainment needs a bit more interactivity than this to be called a game, but it nonetheless seemed really well made. The execution of the concept certainly was interesting. You might want to give it a look if that's the kind of thing that floats your boat.
One of the other tabletop offerings that seemed interesting was Deathbot Derby, a game that is the product of a successful Kickstarter. The developer got as far as "a tabletop game like Battlebots" before I expressed my interest in the title. It looked really cool, and the ability for the game's board to be shifted around and the bots to be customized would probably offer a good degree of replayability. It's not yet available in stores, but the developer had boxed copies for sale on hand, so one would hope that it isn't too far off.
I'm a total sucker for zombie survival games, and Don't Bite Me Bro is the kind of jam that I like to see. You can play the game right now completely for free via Itch.Io, and it's making its way to the PlayStation 4 and Steam as we speak. It features four player couch co-op with online multiplayer in the works. It seemed like a really cool game, and this is one of the titles that I wish I had time to play at the show. The developer stated that they are committing to a free-to-play experience with no way to "buy power," much like Unturned.
One of the games I did spend some time playing was AVARIAvs, a modern interpretation of traditional JRPG gameplay. I played one PvP game against someone who had literally never played the genre before, and I'm ashamed to admit that I got completely whipped by my JRPG neophyte opponent. In my defense (and for the sake of my pride), it's quite difficult to focus on a game (even a turn-based one!) and talk with the developer about the game's features. This game had production quality on par with a professional-grade title, and it seemed really mechanically interesting. I didn't have enough time with the game to form a concrete opinion of it, but the little bit of experience I did have was a blast. I will say this: if you even have a passing interest in JRPGS, AVARIAvs is a game that you're going to want to be paying very close attention to.
Finally, among the sea of developers showcasing their games were some titles that I rushed to check out in the closing minutes of the show. Open Sorcery is a cool text-based adventure in a world where magic and computers mix. RPG Arcade fuses RPG and Arcade mechanics into a cutesy game with oddball characters. Secrets of Arcadia is a retro-style dungeon crawler for 1-2 players featuring small characters fighting their way through big dungeons; the game is in the midst of a Steam Greenlight campaign right now. Burgal's Bounty features a little blob of a thief making his way through levels through player-programmed instructions. Strayed is an upcoming game from Adventure Cow, creators of DestinyQuest Infinite. Lastly, Kingdom Bash is a fantasy action game featuring couch co-op for up to four players.
I wish I could say that I managed to cover everything that I wanted to, but alas, there's only so much I can do in a three hour event with so much to see. I'm sure to have forgotten one or two games that I thought looked interesting but didn't get the time to see. One thing I can say for certain, if you ever have the opportunity to attend a Playcrafting event, you should; you're sure to find plenty of new and interesting games that you never knew existed.
Playcrafting's Spring Play 2017 was boatloads of fun as always, but this event was pretty packed. Over 800 attendees showed up to see over 100 developers showcase their wares, and one might think that Playcrafting might be growing a bit too big for its current venue. I had learned at Playcrafting's '16 Bit Awards that their next event was to be located at the USS Intrepid, but Mr. Butchko revealed to me that plans for that had been changed because the venue was too small for their ambitions. Those ambitions were revealed in a Polygon article by Brian Crecente, a longtime games journalist who is teaching a games journalism course at Playcrafting.
Play NYC is to be the next step for Playcrafting, a fully-fledged two day event taking place at Terminal 5 in NYC on August 19 and 20, 2017. 20,000 square feet of floor space is going to be dedicated to developers showcasing their projects ranging from works-in-progress to finished product, and a few bigger companies will be attending this time around. Mr. Butchko hasn't yet stated which games will be making a showing, but based on my experience with Playcrafting events like Spring Play 2017, I'd imagine that there will be a heavy showing of local indies. You can pre-order tickets for the event right now, and if you can make it to Manhattan, I think it's something you won't want to miss.
When I first started writing for TechRaptor, I lamented the fact that New York City had a strange lack of a properly huge game expo. Boston has PAX, LA has E3, but New York didn't have anything comparable. Come this August, that changes, and you can bet your life that I'll be there to check it out come hell or high water.
Disclosure: I was able to attend this event with a press pass courtesy of Playcrafting.
What do you think of the games showcased at Playcrafting's Spring Play 2017 Expo? Have you attended one of their events in the past? Will you be heading to Play NYC in August? Let us know in the comments below!