Thoughts on PAX 2011

I attended PAX Prime again this year.  It’s a good chance to get in touch with (somewhat) local friends, and to visit Seattle, which is a pretty cool city to just walk around.  And, of course, there were games there.

I don’t usually visit the big booths on the Expo Hall floor, since – by and large – the same content is out in a few weeks, and coverage on it is out in a few days.  I did try out the intro for Mass Effect 3, which was fun enough, but not worth the 2-hour wait.  The best under-the-radar game I saw there was Shoot Many Robots – a co-operative, 1-4 player shoot-em-up, which feels like a post-apocalyptic, hick-themed Metal Slug.  Some brief bits follow:

  • Got to (briefly) meet Rob Boyd of Zeboyd Games, developers of Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World – and, soon, Penny Arcade Adventures 3.
  • Tried out League of Legends: Dominion.  It’s faster, but still LoL.  I think they’ll have a hard time balancing it, but it is definitely a good way to keep the game fresh.
  • Good Old Games was passing out cookies.  They recently released Ultima I-III ($6), and Ultima IV (free!).
  • Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2’s demo indicates (to a non-Monsters vet) that it is like Pokemon, but with a much more adaptable leveling system.  I think it’s worth a look.  The free shirt I got cannot be worn in public by a guy with any sense of shame.
  • Wakfu, a free tactical MMORPG long in development, is nearing release.  It promises an EVE-esque fully player-driven economy and world.  The demo indicates there will be lots of beating up of cute bunnies, but the lengthy class list does seem interesting, and the art style is certainly unique.
  • Saw some pretty good cosplay, including a particularly awesome Recette (from Recettear).
  • World of Tanks was there.  Didn’t visit the booth, but I did get to see a guy in WW2 gear swigging a beer while sitting in the cupola of a tank.
  • Retronauts’ panel, the only one I actually made it to, was awesome.  Didn’t get to hear why Suikoden II is awful (sad), but I did get to see mass confusion when someone claimed the NES’ Rockin’ Cats was their favorite game.  I may have been one of a few people in the room who played it – and I don’t remember much.  Otherwise, the panel was mostly much-repeated complaints about well-known games (for example, FF6 is buggy as hell and has several irrelevant characters).  I enjoy Retronauts as much for the banter as anything else, though, so that was fine – it’s also awesome to see the well-versed people in the panel doing so well in the industry.

Finally, a couple of low points.

I missed out on the League of Legends tournament this year.  Signups were available Friday and Saturday, but both days the entry lines were poorly organized (a flyer at the hotel basically said “hey, line up anywhere you want!” but there was only one entry line).  I doubt our team would’ve done that well, but we have 2/3 of our 3rd place team from last year, so we wouldn’t have died off that easily.

This may be strange for someone who’s “only” been to three PAX events, but they are getting noticeably more commercial.  Part of this is growth – which is natural, and not too bad.  All that part does is make badges sell out months ahead of time and crowd the Expo Hall.  But since game companies are increasingly making major announcements at PAX, it becomes as much a media event as a gamers’ event.  I saw more media badges than ever, and I know they’re not that hard to get.  I could probably get one for this site, crappy and bare-bones as it is, if I wanted to fill out the paperwork – much less a more formal site like videolamer.  In 2009 and 2010 – and even 2011 East – the convention felt more informal – something organized from the roots of gamer society up.  Seeing the ever-larger displays like Firefall, Skyrim, Mass Effect 3 and The Old Republic makes it seem fully organized by their respective developers.  Even League of Legends and World of Tanks had huge, flash-and-microphone-heavy booths.  Nintendo’s was actually quite tame and felt more appropriate for a gamers’ convention – just the demos, please, no need to make a big deal out of everything.

That said, I would still continue going to PAX for the atmosphere and the attendees.  It’s not often I get to see cool cosplay, chat with people in lines, randomly come across indie developers, and do Pokemon or Dragon Quest multiplayer.  With a couple panels like Retronauts or Kajiya Productions’ on localization, it’s a really cool event even if you don’t set foot into the expo hall.  I do wish they had a PAX Midwest, but I don’t think any cities out here have an atmosphere like Seattle’s or Boston’s.

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