This past weekend I had an opportunity to go to PAX East for the second time with my girlfriend and we had an amazing experience as was expected. I wanted to talk a little bit about what I did and saw at the event as well as what was available there for the event goers.
PAX is a Mecca for gamers of all types. You can be a hardcore console or PC gamer, board gamer, or table top role player and have enough content available over the course of three days to keep you completely sated (and really busy). There are obvious downsides such as lots of people if you feel anxiety in large crowds, long lines to wait in for panels and games, and (sadly) a decent amount of body odor. While that may sound extremely unpleasant I assure you the pros outweigh the cons. Here’s what was available at PAX East this year (not necessarily a complete list):
–Live Podcasts – for those that are avid listeners of podcasts such as Retronauts, Giant Bomcast, Joystiq, Raid Warning, General Nelson etc. they often do live performances at PAX and PAX Prime
–Game Demos – both indie and triple A titles alike showcase their games at PAX. You need to scour the floor to find the hidden gems or wait in line an hour to see the blockbusters but overall it is worth it
–Meet Gaming Celebrities – some people “geek out” pretty heavily over game writers on their favorite podcasts, famous game creators, or perhaps their favorite geeky musicians. Getting to meet them can be a very nice experience
–Console Freeplay – If you want to just get together and play any game currently available on a system you can
–Classic Freeplay – generally they have a room full of NES, Atari, Dreamcast, SNES, Genesis etc. systems set up and you can grab most any game from the libraries and play them for a while. This room is often open late
–Classic Arcade – From Dragon’s Lair to Pinball a host of the most popular arcade cabinets from back in the day are at your disposal and free to play
–Tournaments – there are quite a few tournaments being run for various games both new and old that you can get into. There are also a bunch of Magic and WoW card game tournaments being held over the course of the three days
–Board Games/RPGS – there is usually a whole area set up for people to congregate and play table top board games and role playing games. If you’re looking to try a new game, or play with friends in from out of town this is a great place to go
–Afterparties/Meet-ups– many of the major groups such as the Bomb Cast, 1-up.com, and even Frag-Dolls run after hours parties that can be a lot of fun. I know a lot of guilds and clans also use PAX as a way to meet up with members who live across the country
-Concerts- there are two major concerts one of Friday night and one on Saturday. They are often populated with pretty amazing geek related bands that fit right in with the experience. Jonathan Coulton often headlines.
While I do play a lot of card games and board games I went to PAX primarily for the video-games as that is something I am strongly interested in. I also have a close friend from out of town speaking in two of the panels that I wanted to go see. When attending PAX you need to plan out your schedule for the three days if you are looking to attend panels (due to line-up times) so that heavily shaped our plans for the weekend. I’ll admit I didn’t like the keynote as much as when Wil Wheaton did it but hey it’s Wil Wheaton after all.
I did get a chance to go to the Retronauts, Bombcast, and Raid Warning live podcasts and thoroughly enjoyed all of them. Given my audience I can only assume you’ve heard of Raid Warning so I don’t think I should preach too much about it other than Thespius Lodur and Seven are all awesome live. Retronauts I highly recommend as it really does go back to the roots of video gaming. This podcast which is now only continued on in radio call-in format has a huge list of episodes under its belt that you can go back and listen to. They discuss everything retro when it comes to video games from old franchises, game music, game tropes, and all sorts of interesting topics. Please head here to listen to their older shows I promise you won’t be disappointed: http://www.1up.com/do/minisite?cId=3156908. The Bomcast is a podcast hosted by GiantBomb.com that is still running and covers the current events of the gaming industry as well as newly previewed or released titles. You can find their show here: http://www.giantbomb.com/podcast/ or on itunes.
When not at those or at some of the other informative panels we were down on the show floor checking out the games available and I must say there were quite a few worth looking at. Here are some of the games I got to check out:
L.A. Noire – I admittedly am not a Rockstar fanboy. I have never been into Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption (though I completely respect the fact that they are good games) however this game floored me with its realism, and depth. Please go here and watch this video about the facial recognition software they used if you aren’t already familiar: http://www.rockstargames.com/lanoire/videos/6341/. Rockstar has found a way to capture every subtle movement and nuance of an actors facial expressions making the characters feel so real and significant. The gameplay itself centers around detectives in the year 1947 trying to solve a string of grizzly murders. You are tasked with investigating crime scenes, interrogating witnesses, and tracking down clues as to the identity of the killer. This stands out to me as a technical marvel and while the character models may appear jarring at times, it takes a huge step towards being a more realistic feeling video game drama. I would recommend trying this or putting it on your GameFly list come May.
Portal 2 – Hopefully by now you’re no stranger to Portal and are looking forward to its sequel. If you are unfamiliar with it though I recommend that you check it out. It is a first person puzzle game where the player has access to a portal gun able to link two points on any surface of the environment so that passing through one point expels you out the other. This can be fairly dizzying as you might need to fall through the floor and pop out a wall somewhere or run into a wall and fall out the ceiling somewhere else. Portal 2 takes this to a whole new level with a host of new obstacles and puzzle components to deal with. There is blue goo to bounce off of, orange goo to slide across, and beams that can be redirected via prism cubes or portals. What also still seems to be intact is their razor sharp wit and fantastic dialogue. Most of what I saw can now be accessed on you-tube via shaky-cam videos but they are worth checking out. Portal 2 comes out in April and I have put this on my must have list for sure.
Duke-Nukem Forever – It’s a first person shooter in which you can urinate. I played the originals a long time ago and honestly have no desire to play this game beyond morbid curiosity.
Nintendo 3DS, Kid Icarus – the Nintendo 3DS does exactly what it claims to do. The game is played in 3D. I can’t really explain it to you any more than that because it is something you need to experience for yourself. The system itself feels like a more powerful DS with a thumb pad in lieu of an analog stick. The graphics were beautiful and the design of the system is sleek but I have a couple major gripes. For Kid Icarus you needed to control it by holding the DS with your left hand, firing with the left trigger and moving with the thumb pad on your left hand which is quite cumbersome. This makes keeping the 3DS steady in order to maintain proper viewing angle difficult, at least for me. If the view angle is lost the 3D stops working. The aiming is done by using the stylus in your right hand, which was a problem as I am a lefty. There is currently no support for a lefty in the game it seems so I’m pretty much out of luck. My general opinion of this game is definitely biased because of this.
Orcs Must Die – this game by Robot entertainment was a real gem at the show. In this 3rd person action based game you play (in the scenarios available) a hero trying to defend a base from an onslaught of orcs, goblins, and ogres. You have access to a crossbow, sword, and magic spells in order to take them down. What makes the game interesting are the traps that you purchase, using in game currency, in order to help take down monsters. In the demo I had access to floor spike traps, tar pits, spring loaded launchers, wall spike shooters, wall razor cutters, and NPC archer units. It felt like a 3rd person shooter mixed with tower defense elements in the same vein as the Dungeon Keeper games. I liked the fast paced action the game provided and unlike most tower defense games you felt 100% involved in the combat; you weren’t just sitting waiting for your “defenses” to do all of the work. This was a fun game and from what I was told expect it out on Steam sometime around June.
Trenches – this game by Double Fine was yet another gem at the show. I have been a huge fan of their work (and still want Psychonauts 2 btw) and was thrilled to see this game playable on the show floor. Similar to Orcs Must Die this is a shooter/tower defense game, set in the early 1900’s, with a less cartoony look to it but certainly not more “realistic”. In this game’s version of history, some bizarre alien radio signal is sent to earth and picked up by military personnel. Everyone who hears it perishes except for two individuals who are made into geniuses. One of them, through a desire to walk again, uses the knowledge to build robotic walking legs…the other uses it to invent the “tubes” which evolve into evil TV monsters that threaten mankind. In order to combat the monsters, the robotic legs are used to create mechanized war units that are basically walking trenches with mounted weaponry. You must defend your base from swarms of attacking tube monsters firing your guns and creating turrets and towers from all of the scrap metal you find. As with any tower defense game you have access to multiple types and they can all be upgraded. The action is non-stop and since you aren’t sitting back letting your towers do the work you are fully immersed into each mission. I knew people who weren’t into tower defense games that found this game refreshing and wildly fun so I think it certainly is worth checking out. Trenches is going to be available exclusively through Xbox LIVE I believe.
As of right now I think my “to do” list for gaming is as follows: Dragon Age 2, Portal 2, Witcher 2, L.A. Noir, Orcs Must Die/Trenches. If anyone has any other good suggestions by all means let me know!
One last thing,
As I mentioned before, at the end of the day on Friday and Saturday they have some rather spectacular concerts going on that are always worth checking out. I did not have a chance to attend on Friday though I heard great things about the Proto-men, Metroid Metal, and MC Frontalot. On Saturday I had the pleasure of seeing the Video Game Orchestra (VGO), Paul and Storm, and Jonathan Coulton. If you are unfamiliar with the work of any of these artists I highly recommend that you check them out. I will continue to preach the word of JoCo: http://www.jonathancoulton.com/ and Paul and Storm: http://www.paulandstorm.com/ for they are truly awesome!