PAX is at heart a gaming convention, so we had to devote at least a little time to seeing what's out there for PC gamers looking for the next big-ticket release or indie fan favorite. We spent a few hours at PAX West 2017 chatting with game developers and publishers, and came away with some interesting insights into how games are made today.
Project CARS 2 by Slightly Mad Studios/Bandai Namco
We start with what's perhaps the most hotly-anticipated racing game of the year, Project CARS 2. We spoke with a representative of Bandai Namco, the game publisher, about the pending September 22 worldwide release of the game. What's so interesting about this game is that it's in fact named after the method by which it was developed: CARS stands for "Community Assisted Racing Simulator." While the first Project CARS, released in 2015, relied heavily on fans and the racing community, Project CARS 2 was crafted with even more input by real race car drivers. The original was developed without a traditional publisher for just $5 million; Project CARS 2 likely faces much greater expectations among fans, and even loftier goals for its success. Below you can see a quick video we shot of the game in action at PAX West 2017.
With Bandai Namco fully onboard, this isn't exactly an indie release, but it still has the feel of a game that is very much a response to what gamers want: a racing simulator that anyone can pick up and enjoy casually or seriously, with true racing physics, unmatched visuals, and lots of ways to enjoy the sport (and art) of racing!
ARK: Survival Evolved by Studio Wildcard
Next up, we sat down to interview Navin Supphapholsiri, Senior Producer at Studio Wildcard, the folks behind the the indie mega-hit ARK: Survival Evolved, which was just released last week at retail after two years as an "Early Access" game. Early Access is a program offered by the Steam distribution platform that offers games that are in a "beta" stage at a discount to users, allowing players to enjoy the game, provide feedback, and then get the full game when it's ready.
How big is this game? Check out the launch trailer here!
As Navin explained to us, Seattle-based Studio Wildcard started out as a few guys working out of a living room in early 2015, and the August 2017 launch of ARK: Survival Evolved was the culmination of a long journey. The game has gone from 25 dinos and one map to 100 dinos, four maps, and 500 craft items. And throughout this process, gamers have been able to enjoy the game, which allowed Studio Wildcard to finance further expansion of the game, and of course afford to build a giant rideable dinosaur, which made ARK one of the biggest draws at PAX the past two years!
But seriously, Studio Wildcard has been incredibly successful, and this has been a win-win for it and for gamers. Navin told us that when Studio Wildcard first released ARK: Survival Evolved through Steam's Early Access program, they had already delivered 80% of what they believed to be the final product. This is what made it successful. You can't hit Early Access with a game that no one can get into. And it worked out - the game sold 9 million copies before even being "officially" released, and made back the original monetary investment in just one month. It's now a multi-million dollar title, with 70 employees backing up the IP, and Studio Wildcard will continue to provide new content for the foreseeable future. They've just released a second expansion and a third expansion is on the way. By going through Early Access, gamers could get to know the new game for just $20, provide feedback to Studio Wildcard, and participate in making the game an even better product. All 9 million Early Access purchasers just got upgraded to the full $60 retail release for free, and will continue to get all patches going forward. This is the true indie spirit! Note that Navin told us that at this point, Studio Wildcard is following a "hybrid" distribution model, as it does actually have a development partner, Egypt-based Instinct Games.
Trailmakers by Flashbulb Games
Finally, we come to a true indie game, which was featured in the "Indie Megabooth" at PAX West 2017: Trailmakers, from developer Flashbulb Games, based in Denmark. Trailmakers was shown in alpha-stage form, but after playing it for about 20 minutes, it was clear to us that there's a lot of potential for this game to win the hearts and minds of gamers. Check out the trailer here to see what the game is all about.
Trailmakers is a physics-based vehicle construction simulation game, and as Mikkel Thorsted, the Creative Director at Flashbulb, explained, this game is basically taking the concept of building vehicles out of Lego Blocks and then driving them in a virtual world. What kid (or kid-at-heart) hasn't wanted to do that?!? Based on our time with the game, we think Flashbulb Games has hit upon the essence of why we have video games in the first place: to experience something that would otherwise only exist in our dreams! You can see our full interview with Mikkel right here.
It's fantastic to see new ways that game developers can get content out to gamers, and it seems that community involvement, and in particular Steam's Early Access program, has truly opened new doors, allowing games like those profiled above to be rolled out over time with the support (both financial and otherwise) from fans.