I actually didn't spend all that much time touching stuff. The show floor was rather sparse this year, with more open space thanks to organizers moving the bounds outwards. Still, the large booths were few, leaving the majority of the space to indies, hardware vendors, merchants, and those odd participants that offer info on how you can get into a career as a 3D artist, or which sell development books. Honestly, I'm not a fan of most of what passes for "indie" games; most of them were either platformers, side-scrollers, or looked like they were put together in a weekend (despite having taken months, I'm sure...it's a "design decision"). Kudos to these folks for making these games happen, though. They just don't interest me, so I didn't spend any time with them.
So what happened this weekend?
Being a backer of Star Citizen, I went with Mindstrike to a club that was right around the corner from the hotel, where RSI was holding an event. It was a nice club, but is probably douche-central when it's not populated by gamers. We stood around for about three hours (!), since I guess we didn't pay attention to the flyer that said the event started at 9PM, but didn't actually get rolling until 9:30-9:45.
The demo was a certified disaster. Chris Roberts gave a quick demo of the system, but was talking more technical than PR, so that was really nice. He flew a ship around, showing us the exterior, the physics in action...and then clipped an asteroid and exploded. Second attempt, he tried to shoot down an enemy, but froze the game. Third time was the charm, as he was able to shoot down enemies, but was unable to clip any more asteroids. He did, however, explode when attempting to land.
Our first attempt to pick up the shuttle didn't end well. Thanks to being the second to last stop on a congested route, we opted to take a cab to the center.
Originally, our first order of business was to get to the 2K booth because we heard they were giving out passes to an event that they were hosting, but we kind of ditched that idea and stood in line for the Borderlands! The Pre-Sequel demo instead. We were ushered into a nice, air-conditioned geodesic dome painted to look like a moon, and sat down in the World's Most Comfortable Chairs as we learned about the new Borderlands game that inhabits the space between BL1 and BL2.
I like Borderlands but not as much as my friends. They seem impressed, but I'm not sure if it was that they really liked the features, or just want more Borderlands. As an added bonus, while standing in line some 2K people were coming around with the Vita version of BL2 that we could try. It runs really well, comes with add-on content, and can play online with other platform players. And if you have BL2 for the PS3, you can sync and share save games between the systems.
Also while in line, we watched the promos for Evolve. It looks at first like a Borderlands clone (complete with a character that looks like a much younger Sir Hammerlock), but without the cel-shading. Turns out it's something about four player co-op as hunters of different classes, with at least one other player taking on the role of a massive creature that hunts the players. At least that's what I got from the PR video they were showing on the TVs.
We made our first stop at the Orcs Must Die! Unchained booth to visit Dusty, and got to give the game a whirl. Like I said in the earlier post, I don't think I can say much about it at this time, so we'll save it for later.
After a while of wandering the floor, we hit up the Nvidia presentation. They were giving away a lot of stuff, including Tegra-based tablets and Shield devices, but the highlight was the announcement of a low-cost, high-powered video card (I forget the designation, sorry!) which is promised to allow older, lower end systems to continue to live on for a few more years.
We left the convention after that, fighting the Last Train Out syndrome to get a seat on the packed shuttle. We had sushi delivered and played Pathfinder ACG.
With nothing on the schedule, we didn't bust our asses to get the center early. Good move, since we were able to get a shuttle on the first try.
Mindstrike kept checking out the World of Warcraft booth to put hands on the WoD expansion, but we were told that at the point we were at (the end), it was a two hour wait. So we left and headed up the Firaxis panel where Civilization: Beyond Earth was announced. I was feeling like shit, though, so I had left the Firaxis queue before the panel started and took a nap in the sun for about an hour and a half before meeting up with everyone on the mezzanine of the Marriot attached to the convention center. Big Daddy had picked up Forbidden Island to play with his family, so we test drove it there. The goal is to collect four elemental tokens through teamwork before the island is flooded or one of the players drowns. Four players is probably overkill; we were able to accomplish the feat with no sweat. Fewer players will probably present a decent challenge. I also picked up Legendary, the Marvel card/board game, but I couldn't concentrate on the rulebook to start understanding it.
Another short day, we hit the shuttle at 4PM. We sat around for a while, then Orwell and Mindstrike went to pick up some take-out from P.F. Changs, and we played another round of Forbidden Island.
The highlight of Sunday was the Gearbox panel, which was at 10:30 so we eschewed the shuttle and took a cab. It was a wise decision, as we were able to get in line early and avoid the dreaded Queue Room. Gearbox panels are always fun. They talked about Borderlands, of course, and also a bit about Homeworld Remastered. There wasn't a lot of tangibles, outside of the fact that there is a super limited CE coming that includes a 1 foot USB powered lighted model of the Mothership. Expect that to seriously drain the wallet. Randy Pitchford did a magic trick in which he "crushed" an audience member's cell phone, and in compensation got some prizes (and his cell phone back). In a surreal turn of events, Cliff Bleszinski showed up for a muted three minutes, looking like he just woke up from a chloroform induced stupor. Or maybe he always looks like that. And we all got codes to reserve a free copy of the upcoming Borderlands game.
We hit the tabletop area in earnest, checking out what was available. One year I'll need to really devote time to sitting down at one of their demo booths to try some of these games. I saw a few Netrunner expansions for sale at various locations, but they weren't any cheaper than they are at Amazon, and I will eventually need to buy in bulk to catch up, so I held off.
We had to leave early (there was an emergency at work that came up on Friday which I had to handle by Monday morning), so we hailed a cab back to the hotel, packed up, and set out for home.
PAX is getting to be weird. The first year, it was pretty exciting! Nothing like this happens in the North East, so we really enjoyed the event, the participation, and the magnitude. Over time, however, it's become a weekend of expectations. The Pit will be packed. There will be the same panels that return year after year. If you want decent food, you'll have to get off-campus (pro-tip: We called for take-out from M.J. O'Connors, which took 25 minutes as opposed to the 45 minute wait for a table!).
I don't even want to talk about the people except to say that I think that when you're part of an interactive community event, you should be behaving in a way that enhances the community spirit, and not be a selfish, egotistical ass-hat. Gaming has been a thing for almost...what? 30+ years now? It's time to grow up, people.
I enjoy attending PAX, but I think my expectations have to change. It's not about the games any more. It's not about Wil "Don't Be A Dick" Wheaton's proclaiming that PAX is our collective "home". The crowds were originally electric; now they're just obstacles. We had more fun leaving the convention center early, relaxing at the hotel, and playing board games. Had other folks been able to make it this year, that would be an added bonus.
If it ever came down to having to go solo, with none of the remote folks able to attend, I would most certainly skip it without a second thought. Considering all the news that was revealed at the show was on the Internet within five minutes, the only thing left over is the crush of the crowds, and I certainly can find better uses for my time and money.
This was both an eventful and a non-eventful PAX East for me. Let's look at eventful:
- Due to the snafu (which is being very, very kind) surrounding the buying of the passes and the unavailability of the OnPeak hotel booking site when it was made available, I was the only one of my friends to get an actual three day pass. Everyone else had to get three, one day passes. We also had to move out from the convenient bosom of the BCEC's attached hotel to The Revere. This was actually kinda good, kinda bad. The hotel was nicely situated in the theater district, and on the edge of Chinatown. So we had a lot of dining options. And the hotel was really nice! The staff was accommodating of our requests to move rooms (to get a mini-fridge to keep the beer cold) and were very friendly.
- I dub this "Board Game PAX East" because we spent 100% more time playing board games than ever before. We got to play multiplayer Pathfinder ACG, and two cool smaller, quicker games called Kittens in the Blender, and Forbidden Island. Both of the latter are suitable for children (despite the imagery that Kittens in the Blender conjurers). I bought Legendary, but still need to read the rules, and also the sequel to Forbidden Island called Forbidden Desert.
- We got a free (as in beer) copy of Borderlands! The Pre-Sequel for attending the Gearbox panel on Sunday morning. We had all pre-ordered it through Amazon to get the free shirt, but we all had also cancelled our pre-orders since we all knew we would get it anyway when we actually had money, and frankly would rather have it on Steam. Now we can! And for 100% less monies! But then there's the season pass...
- Despite the fact that none of the Twitterati could make it to the Annual Tweet-Up, a surprise appearance by Robot developer and Swell Guy Dusty Monk helped alleviate the sadness. He helped us Suck Less at the demo stations for Orcs Must Die! Unchained, which I cannot talk about because they're in alpha and he said there was an NDA (/superfrown). But I can say what is known: it's MOBA-esque, which is a genre I really don't care for, but I actually liked this one because I didn't suck as bad as I usually do at these games. You can buy into their Founder's Program if you're so inclined.
- PAX South was announced for San Antonio, TX. A Big Welcome to our Southern Brothers and Sisters who traditionally have had to shell out a shitload of cash to head above the Mason-Dixon line to rub greasy elbows with their fellow gamers!
And now, the eventless:
- The hotel, which I liked as a hotel, was crappy for this event. It was on the most populous shuttle route, and was the second to last stop. This meant that the buses were full very early in the morning by the time they reached our stop. First day and last day, we took a cab which was an expense we hadn't counted on. I'm not a fan of the shuttles, because unless you cut your day abnormally short, you'll be stuck at the center until really late at night (last shuttle was at 1AM).
- Not having the Tweet-Up really carved a chunk out of the enjoyment of the event for me. However, since we discovered that Pathfinder ACG and sushi go well together, it was just as good.
- There's some...questions..regarding the announcement of PAX South. Namely, what will this do to the presence of companies at each of the PAX events (Prime, East, Oz, and now South)? No company can attend ALL of them, every year. Some companies can't even attend the ones that exist now, every year. What worries me the most is that the lion's share of developers/publishers exist in the South (especially Texas) and the West. That PAX East exists at all is a shove by the Penny Arcade folks to get the games industry to recognize that the North East actually exists. Now that there's Prime and South, it would be so easy for companies to put their efforts into sticking closer to home, rather than incur the expenses of shipping and flying staff to what I feel the games industry considers to be the "Black Hole Of North American Gaming". Even moving the event down the coast (to D.C. or the East Coast's darling, North Carolina) would only be moving it closer to Texas, but not close enough to appeal to companies who'd rather save money by planning a "staycation" in their own regions. Someone suggested, then, that South and East switch off, year to year. As painful as that would be, I think that it would solve the problem, but might anger the plebs when a Big Announcement doesn't happen on their watch.
- The Enforcers seemed a lot more dickish this year. One of them actually yelled at a crowd for not moving fast enough. I thought it was pretty degrading to be treated like that, but "by gamers, for gamers", right?
Later on today (or maybe tomorrow) I'll publish some specifics about what I saw and what interested me. Sadly, I didn't actually do very much deep-dives into anything this year (with the exception of Orcs Must Die! Unchained), so most of my info will be cursory, but hopefully also somewhat informative. To someone. Somewhere.
PAX East has traditionally been a great time for social networking folks to meet up at an over-priced bar to shoot the shit, to dump inhibitions, and to meet other Internet folks in person. I'm pretty proud that we've been able to host it every year thus far, because I feel that even though we're really friendly online, nothing beats the pressing of the flesh in person. We've had local folks, and distant folks (like, from Ireland!) attend, and it's really and honestly the highlight of the convention for me.
But because people are jerks, it was really difficult for the average gamer to acquire a badge this year. A lot of them were snatched up by opportunistic assholes who are looking to sell the passes at a profit on eBay, which it more than a gamer should have to endure. A lot folks can't make it, and that's sad. PAX is an event that's transcended the operators, and for me, has become a comfortable cocoon of friendship and like-minded individuals. I really divide the event into two parts: the floor, and the Tweetup, with the Tweetup being the highlight.
It is really my ultimate dream for everyone to make it to PAX East one year -- or at least as many people as possible -- so we can meet. As much as I love my social networking friends, there's something primal about meeting them in person, to talk with them without the delay or filter of the Internet, and to spend time with them in a more personal setting. We often times berate the anonymity of the Internet, so meeting the people behind the persona is about as intimate as we can get, and shows how much we can trust one another with our real selves.
Unfortunately, we won't be holding the Tweetup this year for a few reasons. Mainly, I'm not sure that anyone within the sound of this call to arms is going. Secondly, I couldn't get on-site accommodations this year, so I'm at the mercy of the shuttle.
I am really saddened by this year's proceedings. Hopefully, PAX East 2015 will be managed better, and more folks will be able to attend.