Less than three hours of sleep a day would all be worth it at the end – for it was the weekend of Penny Arcade Expo, or PAX East 2015. In addition to meeting new people and relishing my position as an enforcer for the convention, I had the opportunity to explore the Expo Hall during the daytime and talk to various developers and exhibitors. Despite being too impatient to stand in line on the floor, I still got away with a decent amount of pins and had some “shut up and take my money” moments with the merchants. It was a memorable experience.
As a stereotypical fanboy, the first thing I did at PAX was attend the Blizzard panel and be the first to witness the unveiling of their new games, despite having to wait for an hour and a half in line. I was quite happy with all three major announcements: Overwatch got two new characters, a new map, and a projected beta timeline of Fall 2015; Heroes of the Storm received the long-anticipated hero Sylvanas Windrunner; and Blizzard put up a sneak peak to their latest adventure — the Blackrock Mountain. I guess after all, despite not getting free stuff from them, the hype continued, as evidenced by an often 30 to 45 minute wait to play Overwatch at the Blizzard booth on the show floor.
This year’s Expo Hall featured a variety of publishers, developers, and merchants. Despite Sony’s dominance last year, Nintendo and Microsoft gained a more solid foothold on the floor this year. Capcom springboarded off Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate’s success and became one of Nintendo’s biggest partners, while Microsoft brought major titles like Halo 5 to show. Square Enix showcased Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, Final Fantasy Type 0, and their newest Heavy Rain-like game, Life is Strange. Some of the other popular titles showcased included Grey Box’s multiplayer spacecraft-based shooter Dreadnaught and Undead Lab’s State of Decay.
With initiatives like Unreal Engine 4 becoming free, smaller studios were able to offer better content, given enough people with skill and dedication. Indie games have also become a dominant part of PAX. I developed a drinking game for every time an indie developer said, “My game is basically a [insert game title] mixed with [insert another game title].” This year saw the hybridization of indie games as small studios scrambled to capture a unique corner of a market and sometimes challenge ideas behind existing titles. As a result, despite the diversity, some genres and styles of game were more popular, namely roguelikes, deck-builders, battle arenas, and puzzle hybrids. Despite many of these games being in the pre-alpha or early beta stages, they looked polished.
I spent a lot of time playing indie games and discovered some great ones. The first to catch my eye was Necropolis, a Dark Souls-like RPG thriller produced by the same studio behind the Shadowrun series. The most notable part of the experience was when I struggled to exchange blows with the overwhelming number of monsters as a supposedly evil mastermind mocked me telepathically à la GlaDOS from Portal 2. I also had the opportunity to enjoy some of the already critically acclaimed titles like Shovel Knight and SpeedRunners, and truly understood what made them fun. My personal favorite, however, was Dead Line, a game by the team that developed the fairly popular indie game Breach and Clear. It is a post-apocalyptic survival game with a mix of real time and turn-based strategy, RPG leveling and progression system, and a sandbox world approach.
Novelties were not limited to only video games at PAX East, as many tried to bring simple ideas to life or combine popular trends with unique innovations. Many games jumped on the Cards Against Humanity bandwagon, introducing crazy party games. Never Have I Ever, a reinvention of the classic “Never Have I Ever” game with a much more “mature” theme, is “the game that will make Cards Against Humanity look like it’s only pretending to be horrible,” according to its promoter at the booth. I had the opportunity to try out many other board and card games, and found many interesting — if only my wallet and luggage allowed me to hold them all.
So many games, so little time. I had the opportunity to talk to Cloud 9’s Hafu, Blizzard’s designers, and many other personalities that fulfill various roles in the video game industry. Beyond the content PAX East had to offer, what I see are opportunities to connect to fellow nerds and geeks. Regardless of bumping into someone with the same outfit I had, picking up over 400 StreetPasses in Monster Hunter, or just having random chats over the most bizarre topics, my most valuable experience was in my interactions with fellow geeks.
Furthermore, while working or off duty, I bumped into some Stevens students, confirming the fact that many of us share this passion, and that I picked the right school. Needless to say, I am already looking forward to PAX next year.