If you ever wished you could visit a magical place full of videogames, technology, free t-shirts, middle-aged men dressed up as a Big Daddy, and thousands of LCD screens, well, you’ve missed it..it was last week in Seattle. Sorry about that, but with all bad news comes good news : I was lucky enough to not only have previous knowledge of the event, but the privilege to attend such a majestic gathering along with it. At this point I’m solely depending on you, the reader, to have read the title of the post, but if you haven’t here is an explanation: PAX is not the theatrical adaptation of Pac-Man in the year 2055, nor is it a hip line of backpacks centered towards pre-teens (although, who wouldn’t buy one of those?), it is a gaming convention located in Seattle, Washington. It was created by these two gentleman to celebrate gaming as a lifestyle and a culture, without the media based rhetoric associated with the the PR teams sent to conventions such as the Electronic Entertainment Expo. In short, its a weekend, where gamers get to converse with the friends they never knew they had, as well as catch up with Mr. Vitamin D while walking the busy streets of Seattle.
After waiting weeks with the tickets in the mail, and then eventually in my hands, I finally set foot into the convention center where PAX is subsequently held. Thousands of people swarmed the escalators, and tackled the bean bags to get some 1v1 Pokemon battles rolling. Having been my first time ever attending a convention of this stature it was almost overwhelming with the amount of people and things going on the main floor. It’s hard to put the feelings that flowed through me in words, but believe me, I could of kept an accurate count of the number of times I blinked throughout the day.
One of the most important things present at PAX was Gearbox’s announcement and demo of the long awaited, Duke Nukem: Forever. While rumors had been circling around, most of them were old news to the ones who have more or less grown up with the game never being available.
You know, when Duke Nukem Forever was first announced, I didn’t have a cellphone yet … and the idea of a cellphone with a camera on it? Madness. – Chris Grant (Joystiq.com)
The line surrounding the booth that held Duke’s return to players was surrounded every moment I walked back to check. Although I would of liked to play the newest iteration in the series, you couldn’t say I was overly excited to control his urination with the Xbox’s right trigger in the opening of the demo. All bodily fluids aside it was pretty amazing to see those guys get a playable demo out on the floor, especially not requiring you to be a member of the media to get your hands on it.
Also among the largely popular games on the floor was the Portal 2 Co-op demo. They were even giving away some sweet t-shirts, depicting the two robots in mid high-five if you managed to get in. Again, I did not have the patience to wait three and a half hours to play it, for those that did, I totally get it. Actually, I will just get it out there now, I did not play much of anything at PAX. Most of my time was spent taking it all in and enjoying the panels.
Along my journey I came across a lonely controller hooked to a PS3 with the Infamous 2 demo in it. I absolutely loved the first Infamous, and it is still one the my favorite open world titles that I’ve played to date, even though I never actually beat it. Moments into the demo you find yourself whacking away some rather disturbing looking enemies than in the previous entry. The melee is well improved albeit lacking any sort of complexity: you just spam the square button like a maniac and cool things happen before your eyes. At one point in the demo the game tells you to press right on the d-pad and see what happens. As any normal gamer would do I jammed my thumb on it and witnessed the re-designed Cole swirl up a tornado of electricity and flinging it loose in front of him, similar to shot put. This vortex of destruction picked up cars and people in front of me and slammed that against anything near it’s path. I have to say, it was brilliant eye candy that made you feel extremely powerful. It does make you question Coles morales when he is single-handedly wreaking havoc in a city setting…you know, full of innocent people.
Games are far from the bulk of what PAX is. The panels featuring many big names from the industry was and is equally exciting to see. Early on Saturday morning my friend and I sat down for Bungie’s Halo Reach Panel. They mostly talked about some of the certain aspects of creating the game, and what they decided to focus on. A clip showing different types of voice acting and face animation showed that it’s not only about the accuracy of the mouth and lips for a character to feel realistic. It was also learned that Noble Team, from Halo: Reach, originally consisted of two more Spartans that were later cut from the game. One clip actually showed a rather odd looking boat that was supposed to be usable in the original Halo but lead to boredom during a mission requiring you to trek across a couple miles of water. On one hand it was exciting to see some of the beginning designs behind some of the upcoming levels and how much work the team put into Reach, but on the other hand it was very sad to realize that it was the last panel that Bungie would be showing off a Halo game.
Game Informer’s panel about the process of choosing the game to be plastered to the front of their magazine was one of the best panels I went to. The two representatives from Irrational Games discussed the phone call and pitch that was made about the unnanounced (at the time) Bioshock: Infinite. Editor-in-Chief Andy Mcnamara was known to avoid choosing games that weren’t being revealed for the first time via the cover, but he was so amazed with the trailer they had shown that he immediately nodded his head in agreement. Lately GI’s covers have been a lot more informative simply through the art now both on the front and the back. Andy talked a lot about the different rules/standards they broke for magazines in general. For one, they began to leave the the magazine free of capitalized words and flashy text for a more mature and focused look. On their Gears of War 3 cover they didn’t even bother to put the name of the game on the front. Andy explained that if their target audience didn’t recognize Marcus Fenix and friends staring back at you on the cover, they are the wrong type of people to buy the magazine anyway.
After various hints about the Bioshock: Infinite cover, they presented us the fifteen minute gameplay that the media got to see a couple weeks ago. I have never been a huge fan of the Bioshock games, but I’ve always greatly respected the story telling in them. After seeing the demo, I was very intrigued about the story behind the city of Columbia and the tale of American industrialization in the 1900’s. At that point we thought it was over but they continued on to show us the final versions of the October issue. Just look at them. They are very cool indeed.
We also manged to cram our ways into the Star Wars panel, that involved some more information on The Force Unleashed II and The Old Republic. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II was first on the agenda. The trailer from Spike TV was shown along with some gameplay. I’ll be blunt. The gameplay did not look fun at all. If anything it looked cheap, annoying, and repetitive..oh wait wasn’t there a game like that already? The Old Republic is what I came for and it looked relatively the same as what I’ve seen previously. If you are not aware, Star Wars: The Old Republic is an MMO developed by Bioware that is suprisingly looking to at least steal some sales away from Blizzard. The game is fully voice-acted and it sounds impressive. An instanced boss battle was played before us by two groups of 4, one having experience with the game, and the other brand new to the fight. Both groups tackled the encounter without a sweat, which leads me to believe the second group may have lied about their knowledge of the game. Once the lights were back on and everyone began leaving the theater, I couldn’t help but to begin discussing with my friend what we had just seen. After a lengthy conversation over some massive burritos courtesy of Chipotle, we came to the conclusion that the presentation didn’t do much to inform us any more about the game.
I can’t stress it enough, there were a lot of things at PAX this year. I even went back on Sunday just to see more of what I didn’t have time to gawk at on Saturday. PAX was a blast and I am looking forward to going next year, and maybe even the Eastern version in early 2011. People are already planning to head out to Boston next year. If you are a fan of the gaming culture, or even someone who wants someone new to school in Street Fighter 4, PAX is for you. It’s like getting to hang out with 67,000 of your best friends, and who is insane enough not to do that?