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‘Wattam’ at PAX South 2018: Making Friends with Friends

My experience playing the Wattam demo at PAX South 2018



My experience playing the Wattam demo at PAX South 2018 was multi-layered, in that the kind of game developer Funomena’s Wattam is was telling of the kind of reactions I saw from those playing the game, as well as the reactions of those passing by, or waiting in line, transfixed with just what was happening on the display screens.

While most demos at conventions are more or less built to have a player step in and take a quick overview of the game’s setup, mechanics, and general taste of things to expect, Wattam didn’t try to meet those kinds of expectations.

The demo went against the smallest of norms even within the microcosm of a gaming convention. With a much longer wait line at publisher Annapurna’s booth than one might expect, (people bailing on the line or even frequently bailing before completing the demo). the issue with Wattam, in this setting, perhaps becomes that it’s simply too unconventional of a game for the modern gaming audience at large to be able to provide a typical “sample” run.

“Wattam” banner at PAX South, doodled on by Keita Takahashi.

Since the game requires you to chill out, relax and just have a good ol’ fun time with a friend, the demo fully reflected that. None of this is all that “out there” in terms of concept, but it’s enough to disrupt the typical idea of games as rapid-fire consumable products

The two-player demo was a general introduction to the kind of adventure game Wattam is, immediately throwing you headfirst into the kind of silly, childish, eccentric worlds we’ve come to expect from Katamari and Noby Noby Boy creator, Keita Takahashi.

Introducing only the idea of basic controls and how to switch between characters, the demo leaves you to figure the rest out. That isn’t to say that the demo was devoid of any kind of hints, or aimless: in fact, the whole point of the demo seems to have been to familiarize players with the kind of “language” the game utilizes to convey general goals.

Characters handled as satisfyingly wobbly and weight-y as you’d expect a game from the creator of Noby Noby Boy (alright, the main theme is stuck in my head again), a game which Wattam shares a lot of its DNA with.

However, while Noby Noby Boy was more of a conceptual experimentation in, well, many things, ranging from the very concept of what constitutes as a game and the idea of making your own fun in a controlled sandbox-esque environment, playing Wattam felt a lot more grounded. Lessons learned from Noby Noby Boy have been applied in a way that finds a see-sawing balance between being a messy create-your-own-fun run-about and a more traditional objective-based game, with actual measurable progress.

Wattam doesn’t seem like the kind of experience that would be enjoyed all that well as a single-player game; it seems like the game is meant primarily as a local co-op affair. I played the demo with my wife, and our familiarity in communication seemed to have helped us enjoy the demo a lot more than if either of us played in a vacuum or with another randomly-assigned single player. In a perfect scenario, it might also be the best way to make a friend, while playing a game about making friends (and exploding said friends).

I can see this game being especially awesome for younger players like siblings or children. In fact, I would consider the combination of parent/adult and child to be the most optimal in this game i.e. the intended core audience for such a game. Of course, it works just as well for those who are able to let go of pseudo-adult trappings and simply enjoy a silly good time.

Wattam is currently slated for a 2018 release for PlayStation 4 and PC.

Immensely fascinated by the arts and interactive media, Maxwell N's views and opinions are backed by a vast knowledge of and passion for film, music, literature and video game history. His other endeavors and hobbies include fiction writing, creating experimental soundscapes, and photography. A Los Angeles, CA local, he currently lives with his wife and two pet potatoes/parrots in Austin, TX. He can mostly be found hanging around Twitter as @maxn_