I went to PAX East for the first time this weekend after managing to snag an elusive Saturday pass at the last minute (friend of a friend had an extra; big thanks to Kara, Kevin, and Cam, you guys are the best!). For those who don’t know, PAX is one of five expos held throughout the year by the Penny Arcade crew. It’s a celebration of games and nerd culture from video games to table top gaming. There are panels on intriguing topics like empathy in indie game narrative, universality of video game music, and making a tabletop game/becoming a better tabletop gamer. You can explore the gigantic Expo Hall with booths from the biggest names in the industry like XBOX, Nintendo, Oculus, Microsoft, Square Enix, Capcom, Blizzard, and so many others (SO MANY). There’s even an area just for indie games in development. You can playtest games and talk shop with the developers. There’s a section completely devoted to tabletop gaming, where you can check out board games and play to your heart’s content. They have tabletop, Magic, console, and PC tournaments. There’s also a neat arcade area. People cosplay and generally geek out. On Friday and Saturday night, there’s a big concert (in addition to smaller events during the day).
PAX is OVERWHELMING. I’ve never been to a gaming conference, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I was very grateful to have Neil with me. First off, there is a LOT of people and it is kind of a clusterfuck. Coming in we had absolutely no direction. There was just a mob of people milling about and we just sort of followed the mob. After that disorienting experience we went into the Expo Hall which is just seething masses of people, mostly waiting in lines. I could see this con being an issue if you suffer from agoraphobia or even claustraphobia. Lots of people, not much breathing room. PAX could also be renamed LINE Con. There is a lot of waiting in queues, should you so choose. There were really long lines for the big names, so Neil and I mostly checked out the indie developers (who are near and dear to my heart). We saw some pretty promising stuff:
Deadwood: The Forgotten Curse from Steamroller Studios was one of the first booths we went to. We spoke to the Creative Director Adam Meyer, who was really nice to us and explained a bit about the game. It’s an action/adventure game with survival elements centering around wooden/tree life form characters. They just launched a Kickstarter and seem really into the project. The art was what really drew us in. It’s gorgeous and fun.
YIIK from Ackk Studios is a kind of crazy game. It is a “post-modern RPG” that follows a dude just graduated from college with a liberal arts degree and a lot of time on his hands. Things get pretty weird from there, but in a nice way. It’s puzzle and action based, allowing you to choose how many or little enemies you want to involve yourself with. The art is pretty groovy: pretty and bright. It looks zany, again, in a good way.
Wander was pitched to us as a noncombative MMO where you start the game as a tree, but quickly learn that you are actually a shapeshifter. I honestly don’t know a whole lot beyond that, but man it sure was pretty: drop dead gorgeous graphics. It describes itself as a “non-combat, non-competitive, collaborative multiplayer game.” So probably fun if you like to just explore stuff without being afraid of being attacked by things.
I didn’t end up going to any panels, though I did try to get into one panel (we were turned away). I was more interested in looking at all the exhibitions than waiting in line for an hour or more to get into something. If I had another day, I might be more willing to split up my time.
Neil and I also met Katie Rice, winner of Penny Arcade’s reality TV show Strip Search and the creator of the web comics Camp Weedonwantcha and Skadi. Neil and I have been big fans since day one of Strip Search so it was kind of a thrill to meet her. I tried not to be a totally awkward ball of weird (though I definitely was at first). She was extremely nice and tolerated my fangirling, for which I am grateful. We grabbed a print and a collection of her sketches. She’s also doing a Kickstarter for a physical copy of volume one of Camp Weedonwantcha.
My biggest regret is that I did not discover the wonders of the Tabletop area sooner. A few of my friends and I played the game Love Letter, which is incredibly simple with only 16 cards and 13 small “tokens of affection.” Once you learn the rules, it’s a fast-paced game. The object is to woo a princess by delivering love letters to her. The first person to gain four “tokens of affection” win. It’s a card game based on numbers: essentially, whoever has the highest card at the end of the turn wins. It is short and sweet. Highly recommend it!
The best thing about PAX was hanging out with my friends. I kept running into people I either hadn’t seen in a very long time or had no idea was even there. I didn’t even get to see all the people I wanted to! It’s such a huge conference with so much going on, it’s tough. But I had a lot of fun and would certainly do it again. I wish it weren’t so difficult to buy passes. They sell out super fast. We’re planning on being much more on top of it next year.