PAX South 2016 and the rise of the indie game


It’s the second year of PAX South, the San Antonio offshoot of the original Penny Arcade gaming convention PAX Prime. Prime’s inaugural meet was held in Seattle, Washington in 2004 and attracted quite an audience for being the baby of the convention circuit. Since then, PAX has expanded to Boston, Australia and now San Antonio. The Seattle and Boston shows are now regarded as two of the most popular and influential gaming conventions in the world.

Last year, PAX South boasted over 120 different exhibitors. This year’s stats haven’t been released yet, but veterans of the convention were happily surprised to see that it has grown exponentially since then. Not only was the expo hall significantly larger, but the addition of more panels, booths and gaming options brought in a bigger and more diverse crowd than last year.

Walking through the expo hall’s entrance, I was a little overwhelmed. On my left, a sea of tournament players battled it out on old school Nintendo 64s. To my right, a live Twitch show was streaming to thousands of viewers across the world. There were gamers of all types as far as the eye could see. Some were crouched over their tabletop games and some toggled the joysticks of vintage Capcom arcade machines. Despite the bevy of remastered throwback games, the big stars of the weekend were the indie developers.

Since South is the smallest of the four PAX cons, it tends to attract the smaller, less popular games on the market. As someone who typically leans towards blockbuster games in the industry, I didn’t expect to be blown away or anything of the sort. Wrong. With every visit to a new indie game booth, I became more aware of the influence these smaller games have on the industry. Sure, the budgets are smaller and development is typically less smooth, but these passion projects are so charming, inventive and beautifully designed that you nearly forget you’re playing something built by two game devs who most likely run on solely Mountain Dew.

One of the standouts this year is a small, Kickstarter-backed indie game named “Light Fall.” It’s a side-scrolling platformer with an atmospheric 2D art style that seems to be taking over the industry these days. Simple, story-driven, and beautifully designed, Light Fall is one of many indie games this year that is sure to see success.

Also on the indie gaming front was Marble Mountain, a virtual reality game reminiscent of the classic arcade game where players must traverse a 3D landscape with their marble and do whatever they can to keep it on its path. “Marble Mountain,” developed by the Australian team Lightning Rock, puts a cinematic spin on the arcade classic. As you travel through various terrains (I played in a stunning, green grassland), you encounter some of the most creative obstacles I’ve seen in a platformer. There are avalanches, lava flows, explosions, and more. “Marble Mountain’s” booth was present at last year’s South as well, but if production continues as planned, it will be released on Steam this month. You can play the app version for iOS and Android now.

Finally, there was Song of the Deep, which isn’t technically an indie game, but it sure had the heart of one. With a sweet story of a young girl searching for her missing father, Deep is the underwater adventure game I’ve been waiting for. Part of its booth included a giant mural where an artist was recreating the game’s submerged world on a much larger scale. Such an intense focus on art design was absolutely a recurring theme in the games I was able to demo.

These are just three of the seemingly endless amount of small-scale games showcased at PAX South 2016. It’s refreshing to see that you don’t need a multi-million dollar budget and a team of over a 100 people to make mesmerizing, impressive games. I’m excited to see what the rest of this year holds for the gaming industry.