I know what video game expos seem to the average internet denizen. They're magical, far off places, where gamers mingle among their own. Game publishers and developers wage battles of publicity, vying for the attention of the masses. New gaming platforms are launched like the flagships of old, setting out to fight in the seemingly eternal Console War. To the designers, video game expos are an endless battle.
Or so I thought. After a day at PAX Australia, I think I got it wrong. To indie designers, PAX is just a celebration of their work; a showcase of their handcrafted experiences that, in time, thousands of people will enjoy. The publicity is peripheral; their effort and love is self-evident.
And to the average convention goer? You get to experience those worlds. PAX is just fun.
Let's start at the beginning. Through a series of events involving Microsoft Paint, insomnia, two walruses and a temporary siege on the Monarchy of the Netherlands, I got my grubby little hands on a ticket to the first ever PAX Australia. Needless to say, I was pretty hyped.
My plane touched down in Melbourne at 8:50AM. PAX started at 10AM; I got there at about 10:10AM. Fortunately, this small time deviation didn't matter too much; since the lines were extremely long. The problem with PAX is that there’s too much demand and in this instance, just not enough space. Some of the "theatres" that the panels were held in only held about a hundred people, the line for the panels reached full capacity about half an hour before they started.
This had the unfortunate effect that for the half hour preceding any given talk, people just arriving to line up had to be turned away. Some, like the Stealth Gaming panel, were filled to capacity an hour before they even begun. I ended up only attending one panel today, that being on the relationship between anime and video games. An interesting subject, considering the strong historical ties between the console market and Japan. Considering that Madman Entertainment, an Anime distributor, had a stall at a video game convention, the link is functionally incontestable. But anyway. Lines.
So when you’re spending a lot of your day in lines, you need to find something to occupy your time. Conveniently, this can be occupied by 3DS streetpasses. It’s pretty obvious that when you pack hundreds of gamers into a room, a decent number are going to have a portable console on them. Carrying a 3DS with streetpass normally nets me one or two hits at most while walking through a shopping centre. At PAX, I was getting one or two hits every second. That’s not an exaggeration, by the way; the handheld lounge was filled with people just holding the fast-forwarding R shoulder pad in streetpass and rapidly tapping the A button.
Secondly, this time can be occupied by people-watching. This is especially enjoyable when lots of people are cosplaying as video game characters; see the video at the end for footage of this.
Finally, you can spend your time just talking to other people. PAX is a conglomeration of like-minded souls. It's always easy to strike up a conversation with other people when in a line -- you’re there to see the same thing as them, after all -- and it's always interesting to get the takes of others on different booths and attractions.
Compounding these points together functionally eliminated all boredom, even if the majority of my day was spent in various lines. Hopefully next year the panels will be in bigger rooms.
I got in to see Saints Row 4 today, as well. Unfortunately, they didn't let you record any footage of gameplay, and even more unfortunately, the game just... well, it was really similar to the Saints Row the Third DLC pack where you get superpowers. The ones which make all the other weapons in the game useless in comparison, and for that reason are only used in the DLC for an extremely short period of time. A big part of the fun of Saints Row has been upgrading your cars, jump-kicking someone out of the driver's seat, and launching random vehicles off the sides of cliffs. When you can run faster than any of the cars can, and jump onto tall buildings in a single bound, you're undermining that source of joy. The addition of superpowers just felt shoehorned in. Maybe this is just my own preference, but the Saint's Row formula ain't broke, so you don’t need to fix it.
The Saints Row series has definitely tended towards the over the top envelope-pushing over the last few games. Hell, PAX had to exhibit the "Australian version" of Saints Row 4, as apparently some people find anally violating random civilians with 20-inch explosive death probes "offensive", the prudes. But frankly, I don't see myself having much more fun with 4 than I did with 2 and 3; I have to conclude that people's suspicions about 4 being 3 with a new coat of paint are well-founded.
Though, keep in mind I was only playing the game for a few minutes; I hope Saints Row 4 will surprise us with more mechanics when it comes out later this year. Considering that it's going to have to compete with Grand Theft Auto V, which appears to be in for a return to its irreverent, Vice City-esque form, I'm not sure Saints Row is going to retain its market share... only time will tell.
There seemed to be a big emphasis on immersion at PAX as well. Oculus Rift-compatible games attracted notably more people than those without. Games like Johann Sebastian Joust drew enormous crowds, and a free laser tag arena took up the back end of one exhibition hall. Immersion of course can also lie in the simplicity of the games. Halfbrick are the undisputed kings of extremely simple and yet fundamentally enjoyable gameplay: Fruit Ninja Kinect always had a player on it. There's something that speaks to people's base responses when every correct action is rewarded with a visceral splash of watermelon. Their new game Colossatron was also a huge hit on the showroom floor.
Not only that, but multiplayer games had a massive presence too. There was an enormous League of Legends area, and I was surprised by the popularity of a game I was unfamiliar with, World of Tanks. There were a lot of hardware booths as well, which again were populated by competitive gamers playing Call of Duty, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, or StarCraft. If PAX has shown me anything, it's that eSports is far from dead.
All in all, this was a fantastic start to what should be a great three days.
Most enjoyable part of today: Seeing one Pokemon trainer cosplayer propose to another. Least enjoyable part of today: Insanely long queue times. Tomorrow: Australian indie games, types of innovation and (if the line isn't too long) the Xbox One.
Supplementary Resources for PAX Day One: Poorly Edited PAX Supervideo!