Game-wise, we've made different decisions about what to work on in the run up to PAX. The games are at different stages of development, so we're emphasizing different aspects of them. We both consider ourselves very lucky that we have games that are fun for people to play so early in development, so we can sit people down and not babysit them and they'll still have a great time. We're pretty sure PAX would not be worth it for an indie with a game that wasn't ready for gamers to playtest on the show floor and come away with a good impression without hand-holding.
Monaco. Andy's focus for Monaco has been taking it from the 15 week prototype that won the IGF, to a real production quality game. The engine is totally rebuilt, and it's got a mix of the abstract roguelike tile-based aesthetic updated with a more modern vector look. He's got the core game loops figured out and playtested, so it's all about polish and making the game richer for players.
He's got eight playable characters now, which is double the number at GDC, and each has different skills. There are more ways of navigating the levels, including air ducts, and even blowing up walls. There are more baddies, including dogs that catch your scent, and tracking lasers. It's basically a game in full production mode now.
SpyParty. Chris is still exploring the SpyParty gameplay, so his efforts have all been towards making the game a deeper player skill experience.
He's following the Blizzard Depth-first, Accessibilty-later development philosophy, and so while SpyParty is highly player-skill oriented already, it is also basically impossible to play without someone explaining the game.
Chris is going to print up and photocopy a one-sheet with directions on how to play, and hope that people read it so he doesn't lose his voice in the first hour of the first day.
He's still exploring the possibility space of the spy's missions, and adding new missions to that end. However, he's finding it hard to analytically break things down effectively to methodically explore the design space since there are so many variables in play (for example, the Bug Ambassador mission is tied to a known character, has a visible animation tell, has no way for the sniper to know it's completed -- which of these is most important?), so he's trying a mix of analysis- and intuition-based design.
We have a variety of goals for PAX. Of course we'd like as many gamers as possible to play our games and (hopefully) love them, and then tell all their friends. It would be awesome to get some great press out of the experience as well. We're also really looking forward to the playtest aspect of the show. Chris added a simple form of journaling to SpyParty, so the game will save all of the playthroughs at PAX, and he's hoping to mine that data for interesting stuff.
We've debated the most effective ways to keep new fans we make updated on the games. The Dejobaan Games guys used fan club signups at PAX East and said it was effective, gaining over a thousand fans. Facebook is becoming a very effective way of communicating with fans, and both Monaco and SpyParty have Facebook fan pages. It would be great if there was some way to allow people to become Facebook fans at the booth, but we definitely won't have that working this year.
Chris has been emphasizing the SpyParty blog, but Andy has switched his emphasis to Facebook, after having run a blog for five years. Andy says Facebook makes it much easier for him to keep players involved, since his posts automatically appear in their newsfeeds, and way more people are on Facebook than use RSS readers. Miegakure, Marc ten Bosch's indie four-dimensional platform game, gained thousands of Facebook followers after Randall Munroe played the game at PAX East and did an xkcd comic about it.
We'll leave you with a few quotes from a few other indie game developers who are either new to PAX, or returning, and if you're going to the show yourself, stop by booth #3004 and see how it all turns out!
Matt Gilgenbach from 24 Caret Games - "We thought it would be a great opportunity to give many gamers and press the chance to play Retro/Grade. However, it has been far more work than I anticipated in terms of planning."
Eitan Glinert from Fire Hose Games - "I really hope it winds up being worthwhile. I suspect it will; PAX East was HUGE for us and I'm guessing that even the little bit of exposure we'll get from this will be worthwhile."
James Silva from Ska Studios - "This will be our second PAX. All in all it was a blast, and as far as I can tell, totally worth it for the exposure we got. It's all about that gamer love!" and also, "It was also extremely physically exhausting! I had zero voice left at the end of every day."