PAX Prime is a lot like Christmas for gamers. This is the expo where big studios and tiny indies alike turn up to show their projects with the public. PAX is not the show where ground breaking announcements are made, but rather where consumers are united with their passions and the developers behind them for four days. That in itself is pretty magical. I got the sense that PAX is about the celebration of gaming more than anything else.
The Penny Arcade Expo is sprawling, spanning four buildings in the heart of downtown Seattle. For one weekend, the streets are crawling with pedestrians walking from panel to panel, or eating sushi lunch between playing the Heroes of the Storm or Dragon Age: Inquisition alpha builds, among many other upcoming releases. My experience going to PAX for the first time was a bit overwhelming- almost like a dream. These were my highlights from Friday, Day 1 of PAX Prime 2014.
We woke up at 7:30 AM to get ready for PAX. The doors opened at 8, but the main expo hall and panels generally only started at 10 AM. We used that early start to camp the merchandise booth, because PAX swag is some of the best. I got a Pinny Arcade set and a t-shirt to bring home. After that initial lull, the rest of the day became a hectic race from panel to panel, building to building. There was barely time to even hit the expo hall.
My first panel of the day was called Women Surviving and Thriving in Games Media, a panel led by 5 very talented women from IGN, Gamespot, Destructoid and Polygon. Three of these women had been in the industry for over 10 years. The panel touched upon the issues of implicit sexism within journalism and especially about women’s issues with being taken seriously in the boy’s club of gaming. There was a lot of talk about what I call “pretty woman” syndrome. If a person, especially a female, is attractive, it is often assumed that she can’t be an expert in her field, and she is dismissed as just a nice face for the camera.
Obviously, this isn’t true. How a person looks should have no bearing on their intelligence, and it was actually quite sad to hear once again that some people still believe that a woman can only be pretty or smart, not both at the same time. Or that people assume they don’t write their own scripts as hosts for a video series. And especially that attacks against female journalists are directed not at the content of their work but the measure of their attractiveness. I could go on, but the panel was brilliant, and a great start to my long day at PAX.
The rest of my panels centred around careers and writing in games, and they were all exceptional, packed with useful information from industry veterans. The thing that got hammered into attendees over and over again was that passion was king, but only hard work could bring you to where you wanted to be. And also that the games industry is a tiny community where everybody works with everybody else at least once, and networking is king when it comes to opening doors. These are important things to consider for anyone attempting to break into gaming, and coming from the lead writer of ArenaNet and the project heads at Sony I was inclined to believe it.
In between panels I dropped by the Expo Halls and tried to ignore the crying of my soles. I got in a test round with Strife, an upcoming MOBA by S2 Games, creators of Heroes of Newerth. While there I signed up for a future closed beta, so expect more coverage of Strife in the near future. I also took a look at Dragon Fin Soup, an upcoming indie rogue-like with gorgeous at direction, starring an alcoholic Little Red Riding Hood. Both games I am very excited to see more of closer to launch. I’ll be spending more time in the Expo Hall in coming days to bring you the latest on Inquisition multilayer, Heroes of the Storm, and all the other great games on show at PAX.
The end of my day came with the PAX 10 Indie Showcase, which was at once a hilarious and profound look at the art of development from indie’s upcoming hits. The many-hatted directors of Flicker, Counting Kingdom, Life Goes On, Framed, and Mushroom 11 were on hand to talk in-depth about their process and their philosophies on the making of games. The incredible thing about independent development is the tiny, tiny team sizes of the operation. Usually, less than 5 people will be working on a title for anywhere from 1 to 3 years.
They touched upon how to keep up passion and morale through the long and hard process of designing a game from the bottom up with limited funds and less time. Questions like how to deal with failure and what happens when a game doesn’t quite match the vision of its creator were answered with extreme clarity and honesty. Honesty, in this panel every single developer brought a lot to the table, even relative newcomers like Keith Tallon, a student dev from DigiPen. I was especially impressed by Joshua Boggs of Framed fame. Indie 10 was unmatched in its candidness and depth of discussion. As an audience, we really got to pick the brains of these remarkable individuals, and that was invaluable. And not only that, their moderator did an excellent job of curating discourse and generally bringing a lot of laughs to the theatre.
By the end of my first day at PAX, I was left with the impression that in this industry I am surrounded by such an immense pool of talent and achievement that it feels hard to measure up. But at the same time, each encounter I have with the beast that is gaming the more I fall in love with it. And not only with the games themselves, but the people behind them. PAX offers the typical consumer of interactive media an opportunity to come face to face with their heroes, and to discover idols they never realized were there.
As always, thanks for reading. You can keep up with me and PAX”s spotty wi-fi connection on @batpham on Instagram and @phameow on Twitter. Tell me what you want to see more coverage of at PAX, and I’ll try to make it happen.