Putting your best foot forward isn’t a literal expression. Very rarely do people want to confirm which of your feet isn’t gangrenous, partially because they’re more interested in what games you’re working on right now. No more apparent is this lax regard for podiatric health present than Perth Games Festival, an annual event showcasing the best our more or less fully-toed city has to offer. This year’s PGF was far from perfect, though, with organisational issues detracting from an otherwise solid show. The event was still good, I guess, but it also felt like two steps forward and a foot fell off.
On the upside, there were some damn good games on show. The usual repeat highlights, like Banishment and Collateral Damage, were still lingering around the venue, but there were plenty of other great showings too. The Dark Room was killing all those who dared challenge the mighty digital John Robertson, and the Cylon onslaught of Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock was showcased on the main stage. Project Wingman was back again, this time with more planes and levels to feel even more like Tom Cruise in a pair of dangerously sandy jeans. Teleblast took me by surprise, offering up a tight, well-executed game about exploding and teleporting, and I’d dare call it my game of the show. Simply put, there were some tasty games to eat up, but you’d have a hard time getting to them.
The layout of the main expo hall was markedly different from last year, and it didn’t always work. Rather than the stalls being pushed up against the outside walls and a single partition in the middle, the games were crammed into three lines in the centre of the room. The revised layout meant you could jump to the outside walls to move quickly, but getting stuck in-between games was a real issue. There wasn’t enough room for people to move freely in-between the stalls, and it was a nightmare if you wanted to hang around and talk to a dev. Weirdly, downstairs felt almost barren in comparison, only showcasing SAE projects and a couple of tabletop games. Everything just felt more cramped than last year despite the drop in numbers, even though there was an alarming lack of panels.
In previous years, PGF has run panels from people in the local industry. They may have been about how they got into making games or how Perth fits into the larger global picture, but not this year. Without panels taking up the room next door, more games occupied space in the venue, and I’m indifferent to losing these panels in the first place anyway. These talks have never organically fit within the framework of PGF itself, usually being sequestered in another building or drowned out by the noise of the main hall. While some talks have been informative, others have just felt pointless, so it feels like a logical choice to cut them out. Their absence wasn’t really that missed, though it is something that I noticed, unlike a few other things that could have been better indicated.
Controversial opinion: Playtesting has no place at an expo. If your event has the balls to include games for playtesting, I’m going to want a bit of signage to know what games are and are not far from completion. Even though you could grab a map from the info desk, there was no indication that the playtest area was a playtest area. I almost got into a legit fight with a pair of devs because I didn’t realise what area I was in, and then felt super angry, embarrassed and confused. Why are there broken messes on display right next to polished games like Bramblelash and Starlost?! Tell the devs to prepare a demo build that’s up to scratch, and don’t use “playtesting” as an excuse to fall back on for inadequate curation. Though, the quality of games varied wildly depending on where you were standing, and not always in a bad way.
One of the great things about PGF is that you get to see game development from all kinds of sources. You’ll see the likes of Blocky Roll, a puzzle game made by veteran developers with years of experience, right next to Coder Dojo, an educational game-making initiative for young kids. You’ll see ECU and Murdoch students just opposite independent game makers, and you can appreciate how hard it is to make a decent game at both levels. You’ll also encounter near-irredeemably bad games, and I’m not going to say what they were (I’m only a douchebag IRL) but they don’t instil confidence in me about the local industry. Most of the time, though, the games are pretty okay if somewhat inconsistent in quality, but it’s not always games on show.
Another great thing about PGF is that you get to see the offshoots of gaming. You’ll get to play plenty of games as you’d expect, but you’ll also run into custom-made arcade machines running Tetris. One of the cooler things I saw was a nifty tech demo utilising a Leap Motion sensor and a holographic display of a dog with a beach ball you could play fetch with. It wasn’t a game per se, but it was using gaming technology, like Unity and a Kinect. It’s that kind of openness to what can be shown that showcases what our local devs are capable of, and the show was better for including it.
Overall, PGF delivered a solid outing of games and local creativity. It wasn’t the best-organised event, especially when it came to layout and signage, but it wasn’t a disaster zone either. Whether you wanted to try out some board games or see what students were up to, PGF catered to all tastes and ages. I think it’s safe to say that for such a small community, we can pull out some pretty impressive stuff, and this event was no different. Mind you; the organisers might want to reattach a couple of feet before running the event next year. Oh yeah. Totally worth the puns.