This past weekend saw the annual A MAZE festival take place down in the awesome Tshimologong Precinct in the middle of Jozi. It brought together a lot of local game development talent as well as some students from the Game Design Programme at Wits for a huge three-day-long exhibition of their talents and works in progress.

The event included game demos, workshops, talks by games industry people and a chance for the public to discover the joys of PS3 Move jousting. And dancing. Lots of dancing. (And a particularly spectacular five minute presentation by the dashing and intelligent editor of a certain website which shall, for the purposes of modesty, remain unmentioned – Ed).

Among the games on show were these five that left an impression on me for one reason or another. None of them are finished, and are in fact works in progress by both students and commercial game developers, but they provide an inkling of what’s happening locally. All of the games on show were spectacular, and we’ll be following up with others (like RetroFuture’s zx-HyperBlast) at a later date.

Parallax

Flux

By Tiane Erwee

This simple game by second year WITS Game Design student Tiane Erwee is all about the design, not the graphics, and boy does she nail it. Flux is a puzzle game that uses very basic visual elements that disguise a very tricky puzzle game, where players have to navigate a visual maze to collect orbs by moving, jumping, changing orientation and switching gravity. It requires a quick mind and fast reflexes, as any mis-step resets the whole thing. There are definitely very good things in this young designer’s future.

Cadence

Cadence

By Peter Cardwell-Gardner and Rodain Joubert

I was amazed by this very clever musical puzzle game that required players to connect up various nodes, each with their own function, in such a way that a looping tune is completed. It increased in complexity the more I played, until eventually I was faced with a mind-boggling array of options and multiple paths to solution. I was even more surprised when the developers, who are making the game for commercial release, told me that there is even a visual composer element to the game that lets people write their own music. So clever.

Flux

Parallax

By Liam Brookshank

Another student game, Parallax features a tiny block that must navigate levels by pulling off some pretty complicated moves using surprisingly simple, yet hard to master, controls. The challenge is steep, requiring players to stick to walls while simultaneously jumping and shooting to create momentum, and success is a massive juggling act in terms of brain power, manual dexterity and, sometimes, blind luck. Think “as hard as Dark Souls” but with incredibly minimalistic graphics.

Metamorforest

Metamorforest

By Benjamin Crooks

Metamorforest is a rather abstract trudging-through-the-woods simulator that doesn’t give you a lot to do but walk and survive. If you’re lucky, you’ll come across a piece of wood to burn once the sun goes down to keep the noisy animals/creatures that snuffle around in the background at bay, so you can survive to walk another day. If you’re not… well… you’re but a smear on the landscape in the morning. You can also hunt the occasional animal for food and even meet other lost souls who you can decide to team up with… or not. Teaming up worked out for me as my companion was eaten instead of me on my one night without a fire. I died the next night, of course, for a grand total of 3 days survived. Go me!

Tom Sparks and the Quakes of Ruin

By Tasty Poison Games

I was a little disappointed to find that the action role-playing game Tom Sparks and the Quakes of Ruin had attempted a Kickstarter campaign and failed. It was on show at A MAZE, and it looked really decent with its cute graphics, jump pads and wide range of weapons with which to break stuff. Sure, it looks a bit like Torchlight, but it’s very clearly NOT Torchlight as well, which makes its Kickstarter failure all the more of a pity. If you’d like to try it out for yourself, you can grab the alpha here.

Deon got his first taste of PC gaming at the tender age of 11 when his father bought an 8088 XT, ostensibly to "help him with his homework". Instead, it introduced him to Leisure Suit Larry, King Graham, Sonny Bonds and many more, and Deon has been a PC gamer and hardware enthusiast ever since. He landed his first professional writing gig in 2006 at a prestigious local PC magazine, a very happy happenstance as he got to write for a living about things he loves - tech, PCs, gaming, and everything in between. He's been writing about it all ever since, and loves every minute of it.