PAX Prime 2014: Weekend Recap

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A giant statue promoting a new IP FPS, “Evolve”.

The weekend at PAX was nothing short of a whirlwind of panels, game demos and running around, digging my gigantic camera from my bag and snapping pictures of the floor. I woke up every day at about 9 and headed straight to PAX to attend a morning panel on Saturday and Sunday, with non-stop panels and soaking up info after that.

Saturday was a very eventful day at PAX, and the most energetic. Saturday is when traffic gets really nuts since pretty much nobody wants to miss it. Theoretically Saturday has the highest-demand panels, the most crowded expo hall and the most exciting people. And those things are all quite true.

I met two groups of really fun people on Saturday while waiting in line for some panels. A group of indie devs and I got into a big discussion about narrative in video games and game design, which turned out to be a blast since I’ve never really spoken aloud about my beliefs before. Bouncing ideas off of one another and talking turned out to be one of the best things about PAX. Panels are all about people just talking to one another about a particular subject, and sometimes this yields really good and informative debate- but if those people don’t mesh well or the discussion moderator is inexperienced, a panel can easily get off-track ad become underwhelming.

I also chatted with a couple while waiting in the improv comedy line (which was ridiculously funny). We ended up going out for dinner afterwards and having a lunch and just talking about cons, games and Seattle. Conventions are great places to open up to the people beside you in line, and it’s especially true because you never know might be beside you. I ended up talking to two other game writers about their media access and websites and just sharing information with each other. This was my first time ever ‘networking’ anyone. By the end of Saturday I’d amassed a small collection of business cards.

Going to a convention and not trying to break out of your geeky shell is a missed opportunity. That was mainly what this weekend taught me. It’s important to remember that people at conventions are there for the same passions you are- and that was hard for me to learn, as an introvert by nature. But had I not said that first “good morning” and put away my 3DS for a few minutes I would never have met those awesome, cool people.

On the panel side, the highlight of the weekend was improv skits. Despite the panel being long after the show technically ended, they managed to pack a full house at 9 pm. As with all improvised work, one or two skits were misses,  but even the misses were funny. When the panel was good, the whole room was roaring with laughter. I thought my ribcage might collapse from how much stress it was being put under. In short, give comedy panels a shot- when in doubt, the line never lies.

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Points were made and votes were cast. Shots were definitely fired.

The unofficial “Top Women in Video Games” awards were also happening on Saturday, and they did not disappoint with their tongue-in-cheek jabs at tropes in games. It was the Emmys of video game heroines and villains alike. The winners? Best female in an action game: Tali (ME3). Best female in an RPG: Lucca (Chrono Trigger). Best lead: Amaterasu (Okami). Best love interest: Midna (Twilight Princess). And for lifetime achievement? Samus Aran, who needs no introduction. Of course, there were a few other categories, but I won’t lie and say I wasn’t biased when I picked the best award winners. Trust me, you don’t need to know that Mother Brain won for best female antagonist.

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It was a good headline and a good panel in a bad timeslot.

Another noteworthy panel addressed the growing audience for Twitch and Youtube, as opposed to traditional games writing. Publishers themselves are catering more and more towards internet celebrities and Let’s Players in order to advertise games. Were these new platforms slowly killing these kinds of websites, where most content is only written? In short, the answer was “no”, but really it was more of a “if they can evolve and adapt and learn from new media”. This is a very interesting subject to me as a blogger, and I think it’s one worth examining. What are the pros and cons of videos vs. written content? Is one clearly superior? It’s good to think about these things as a consumer of media.

And then there was a panel about how anyone can enter game development and increase the diversity of development teams in order to benefit the industry as a whole. And I think there’s a lot of truth in that idea. The proliferation of systems like Unity, like Twine, like mobile, make it increasingly more easy to start creating if a person has a passion. Recently there’s been a huge wave of controversy colouring the discussion of diversity, and especially gender diversity in gaming. But even with those flaws in the industry, this panel was out to prove that game making was great, even if and especially if one is a woman or somehow different from the typical designer mould. In that I think it succeeded while also being entertaining.

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Games-wise, I tried out Screen Cheat, Super Smash Bros., Project Diva and Freedom Wars, and I’ll touch upon the stand outs briefly. Screen Cheat is an indie game out on Steam right now, and true to its title it is about looking at other people’s screens in an FPS-style game. The twist is that it’s necessary to do that in order to kill people, since everyone is invisible. It was a fun little gem of a game which I recommend to anyone with 3 friends to play it with, since it could get hilarious and crazy.

Freedom Wars is coming out for the Vita in October. It’s a hack ‘n slash styled after Monster Hunter and Soul Sacrifice. The game offers up a huge amount of character customization and very fun, cooperative multiplayer options. It is definitely a must-watched for the Vita, and I know I’m already sold on the game. Smash went the way anyone would expect, though I only played the Wii U version and won’t be picking up a 3DS copy when it drops. For me, fighting games are best played on a big screen in a living room with real controllers, and the 3DS version just didn’t give me the same feeling.

That was the summation of my weekend at PAX Prime. Look forward to the convention wrap-up over the next few hectic days.

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