Thursday, April 12, 2012

PAX East 2012 Aftermath

The time of year for PAX East has come and gone, and once again it was an epic gathering of epicness. PAX truly creates an excellent venue by mixing the best of GDC and E3 into a mega-presentation made for the fans. As a game developer, it's great to see the latest games and hear some of my confederates current thinking and direction in games. Here's a quick recap of what I saw:

2012 Expo Hall Floor

Gamers are Awesome

Throughout the entire weekend, engaging with a packed convention center with only shoulder-to-shoulder space, I only had to deal with 2 jerks, and one of them was not part of the convention. Thousands upon thousands of fans converged and were kind, thoughtful, attentive, and considerate. They are also extremely passionate, which seems to be gamers greatest strength and biggest problem.

As gamers, we love this stuff. We love it when someone dresses up in Cosplay, getting to play Felicia Day in Munchkins, or having normal conversations with makers and audience. Just look at the recent Mass Effect 3 ending press. It is an experience that has serious investment from the audience, so much so that the audience is having EA remake the ending!! This connection between maker and audience just has not existed before. Now we live in a world where we can alter what is entertaining us after it has been manufactured!

Hopefully an ending remake that adds awesome this time

But this passion came become overwhelming for the uninitiated. Walking in a densely packed space with cosplayers and obscure in-jokes does not allow much room for a learning curve. These are fans that love this stuff, and cannot understand why you do not share their enthusiasm. It's hard to find common ground with non-gamers, even though we could make connection to how emotional people get over their local sports teams.

What really is the difference between this guy:

And this guy:

If you said "attention to detail", then you are probably a cosplayer.

Here's an example of just how great gamers are in groups:
At PAX East, while waiting in line for Friday, someone blew up a beachball and a crowd game started instantly. We all knew the rules: keep the ball in the air. People would shout at those close to the ball to help push it to those who haven't gotten a chance to play. One dad lifted his son on his shoulders so he could hit the ball. Then 6 more balls came into the fray and I heard someone scream "multi-ball!!" Now you had to be very aware of your surroundings in case a rogue ball came your way.

Even waiting in line is a game

All of this because we were waiting. And excited. But also a little bored. But mostly a community with an unspoken understanding. We are here to have fun. We are here because we are fans. We will not judge your fun or fandom.

The Best 

- Assassin's Creed 3 -my personal favorite of the high-end games catapulted the series to a higher level. There was a demo video that showed how the player would engage in the Battle of Bunker Hill. Expect large armies, historic settings, and a Arkham-esque approach to taking down soldiers from trees. 
- Chivalry - at first this indie game seems like an interesting attempt at first-person gladiatorial combat. Imagine Skyrim only you fight in a mutliplayer arena. It is in it's Alpha stage and it seemed very refined for that level of development. My first playthrough wasn't spectacular, but when I was pushed into a wall of spikes, the game got my attention. My last battle I finished off my opponent, stood over the ragdoll, and decapitated it before the endgame screen came up. I walked away cheering.

The game objective seems to be to kill chivalry in the most bloody way possible.

- Future of Education Panel- I was surprised how many educators came to PAX, but this panel was standing room only. I came away convinced that Valve is up to something that will significantly help your kids in schools. Expect great things in the next few years. 
- World of Tanks- this Russian-made, free-to-play tank game is doing extremely well in the PC market. And the developers are great to talk to as well. Also expect great things from this team in the not-so-distant future
- Secret World- a post-apocalyptic zombie shooter MMORPG. Read that again. The description alone is worth checking out the game.
- Independent Games -  there were a lot of indie games in demo at PAX this year, and every single one I played was a lot of fun. Many were niche games, such as throwbacks to old side-scrolling fighters. But I loved those games.
- Costumes - these fans are putting a lot of time into these intricate costumes, and it shows.
- Team Unicorn & Felicia Day - thanks for being approachable and playing a few games.
- Free-to-Paint Models - great idea to add a little crafting into the tabletop area. How can you not paint a dwarf or ogre when it's free.

The Worst

- More of the Same - Most of the Expo Hall floor was covered with more big shouldered space marine and special ops shooters so that you lost track of what game was what. This may be indicative of the industry as a whole as many studios shuttered in the last few years and this generation of consoles is nearing its end. Many studios are only looking to make money where it has been proven that you can make money. If you are looking for something besides this year's Gears of Duty, go to the indie booths.
- The Staff of the Royale - Usually the GGW party thrown by Digital Noob is one of the best during PAX. This year there was a bit of a snafu as the usual place closed down. Royale provided the save in the last 24-hours before the event. However, the bouncers were instructed to turn away anyone in sneakers and jeans. That's pretty much every single gamer in town.  I even heard Cliffy B was turned away.

This PAX East was bigger and better than previous years, and I hope the trend continues. I am already looking forward to next year's event. See you at the tabletop tables.

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