PAX East 2012

As the composer for A Valley Without Wind, Pablo Vega has his work cut out for him. Not only is he responsible for the sound design, but Arcen Games hopes to regularly add to the game with free DLC and paid expansion packs that include new tracks. The first volume of the soundtrack for the yet-to-be released open-world RPG/platformer has 17 tracks. Vega hopes to do more than 100 tracks total in the coming years, and he started this project 14 months ago.

At PAX East, Vega talked about the unique sound he developed for A Valley Without Wind, seeing the randomly-generated world grow in size and how he finds inspiration. More details about the game can be found in this interview with Arcen Games founder Chris Park.

I love the soundtrack but I struggle to describe it. How would you describe the music in your own words?

Pablo Vega: The best way to describe it as trying to give a shout out to the old school 8-bit sound but sort of making it our own in the sense that we’re doing a fashion with more modern instrumentation and style.

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Nestled in PAX East’s Indie Megabooth was Snapshot, a puzzle-platformer with a unique mechanic of snapping photos to solve puzzles. According to the team at Retro Affect, the idea came from a nightmare of one of the staffers. In that dream, the person was being chased by a monster. The monster disappeared when a photo of it was taken. That concept soon developed into a game.

The camera in Snapshot, which handles deftly with the right analog stick, stores creatures and objects by taking a photo of the target. One of the early puzzles involved taking a photo of a box and placing it on a pit of spikes. Pic, the robot/camera protagonist, then crosses safely. He snaps a photo of the box again to save for later if another obstacle comes up.

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Being an indie developer typically means working from home. Ichiro Lambe (Dejobaan Games), James Silva (Ska Studios) and Erik Johnson (Arcen Games) tell a panel audience at PAX East 2012 about where they make their games.

After months of community-based beta testing, A Valley Without Wind is coming out at the end of the month. The 2D platformer blends an enormous randomly-generated world with an ambitious amount of RPG elements. At PAX East, Arcen Games founder Chris Park talks about the value of letting customers test the beta, his hope to never make a sequel and how the much-maligned Zelda II: The Adventure of Link partly served as inspiration.

How helpful has this beta process been?

Chris Park: I cannot express how helpful it as been. You know difference from the start [of the beta release] until now. There has been somewhere between…1,000 and 1,5000 individual accepted submissions from players. We have somewhere in the vicinity of 120 players who are thanked in the credits because they’ve made that many material contributions.

We took a week off from actually doing work on the game to just brainstorm. We did all this brainstorming in the forums for the players. We talked with players. [The other developers and I] would be on the phone for 3 hours a day to talk about our ideas and the players’ ideas.

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The trajectory of Zeboyd Games’ indie RPGs has followed the beginnings of the genre. Their first game, Breath of Death VII, had the charming looks of an enhanced 8-bit game. Followup Cthulhu Saves the World moved things to the early 16-bit days with detailed artwork and some nice backdrops. Their latest game, Penny Arcade’s On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 looks like it belongs among better looking SNES games. All it needs is some Mode 7 graphics to totally nail the look.

The game stars the characters from the Penny Arcade comics, and while I’m a somewhat unfamiliar observer of the source material, the trademark humor of Zeboyd Games was evident in the 30-minute (perhaps less?) demo I played at PAX East. The duo are Victorian-era detectives who stumble upon some seaside murders involving mimes. Enemies are appropriately ridiculous, such as Optimus Mime and the boss Crabomancer.  It’s the humor and writing that made the previous RPGs so memorable, and it looks like that trend will continue.

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Greed, gluttony, wrath and the other sins are all represented in the four-player cooperative “Party of Sin.” Crankshaft Games had their project playable at PAX East and I had the chance to control lust, sloth, pride and greed through puzzles, platforms and enemies. In the end I wanted to play more.

The multiplayer dynamic – and the unsavory nature of the characters – stands out. They each have unique abilities that have to be used to advance, such as sloth slowing down a fast-moving platform and gluttony eating a fellow player and spitting them up to new heights. Everyone has to work together to advance, and the characters can be switched in and out on the fly when a new situation arises.

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A year ago, Arcen games decided to release screenshots of their upcoming A Valley Without Wind just three weeks into development. Some online commenters eviscerated the game, but Erik Johnson, who does marketing and development for the company, said that reaction has changed as the games nears its release later this month. The video was shot at a PAX East panel on Saturday.