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Sunday, March 12, 2017

PAX East 2017 Highlights

So, there is one more day left to this year's PAX East conference. If you're not familiar with the conference, it is a gaming conference, with every kind of game from board games, to consoles, to VR, and beyond. The PA stands for Penny Arcade, the company/web site that puts together the show. The X stands for Expo. They do several conferences yearly, all around the world.

Last year, I was so exhausted after just one day at the show, I had to recover the rest of the weekend. This year, I had high hopes for the show. While I got slammed with press releases before going, I planned my activities for the first day more fully. In fact, I even found some parties to attend, too -- one party on Thursday night even. Friday came around, and I'm not at the show an hour, and I get a phone call that I have to come home. Family emergency. I squeezed in what I could before lunch but had to leave early. Here's what I found at the show and from the press releases.

Thursday night, I left work and walked down the street to grab my badge a day early. I remember how crowded the expo was last year to get badges on Friday and figured this would save time in the morning. I then walked across the street to Laugh Boston at the Westin for the PreGamer party. The party is available to the general public, if you know where to register and it isn't full yet. The focus of the event is having about 40 indie developers showing off their wares in a small setting. That, and you get unlimited pizza and unlimited play on about a dozen old school arcade cabinets, like Pac-Man and Dance Dance Revolution.

The indie developers at the PreGamer party were truly small scale developers. Many of these developers even had several games available. Some impressive, some not so much. Most of the developers being their own marketing departments, too. As a software developer myself, I was able to get up close and personal with the developers and spend time discussing their development processes and tools, as well as play the games. Definitely less crowded than the show floor, and I didn't feel as rushed in case the next person came along to the booth and had their own questions. My favorite game of the night that I played was actually a card game called Status Report. This launched through Kickstarter and is what the developers call a social deduction came. In our running of the game, the Captain lost and we killed off all his crew. Do watch their video on Kickstarter to get a feel for the game. They did sell out of their 100 copies sold on Kickstarter so I'm not sure if you'll be able to even buy it though.
Friday brought the typical craziness of the conference, with one additional twist. While waiting to get into the conference, it was snowing. This created long lines at the coat checks later. Do pack light to get through the metal detectors at the entrance, but do check your coat, too, as you don't want to carry that around all day. One tip, take a picture of your coat check ticket in case you misplace it later.
Press get to enter the show floor an hour early on Friday. My first stop for the day was The Behemoth booth. Of course, I planned out which booth to go to first due to the free breakfast. But, what I forgot to do was check on the map where the booth was located. Next year I plot out where everyone is and not just who I'm visiting.
The Behemoth is a console game company. I got to try out their XBox game Pit People with another blogger, Iggy Castillo, from over at Dragon Blogger. It took us a little while to figure out the turn-based funky battle game, but it was pretty fun in the end. While available single player, it seemed more fun playing in multi-player mode. In addition to being available on XBox, you can also get it on Steam for your PC.
At last year's show, I went to the VR play area early on, as I had never played with an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive before. This year, since I stopped for breakfast, I missed the early playtime but was first on line to play with the Vive during their open play. You need to sign up for a time for this, but then you get 15 minutes of play time with the device. You can sign up for both units. They had tournaments for different games throughout the weekend. If you've never played with VR before, definitely try to get your hands on the more expensive units during the show. I spent the whole time playing the Space Pirate Trainer game I enjoyed last year. I wish I had a spare couple thousand dollars to buy both the VR headset and a computer powerful enough to run it. Maingear offers a nice and powerful gaming PC starting at $1,200. Add in the $800 for the HTC Vive unit... and that cost is before you get additional games.
I also got to play with the Vive when I chatted with Newegg about their latest goodies. I definitely need to think about buying from them more as they do have a price matching guarantee. The VR game I played was called The Brookhaven Experiment. It is a zombie first person shooter game. It took me about 3-5 minutes to get an understanding about how the controls work. Then, I was able to advance pretty far in the game. The hardest part of the game is you run out of ammo so you have to look around some. I thought I did okay in the game as I made it past the first save point, so whenever I died, I at least didn't have to start from the beginning. 
Another company I talked to at the show was ThinkGeek. I've been talking to them on and off for years but we've never had the chance to work together. I got an understand of how most of their items are added to their catalog, basically, they're created in house through their GeekLabs. That would be a fun job. They offer gaming gear and other items related to pop culture games, movies, etc. Do check them out when looking for something for that hard to please recipient. Besides creating items in-house, they also will retail exclusive items, too. I could spend a ton of money on their site, easily. The Super Mario Piranha Plant Puppet pictured above was introduced at the show. Do visit their Twitter page during the show to see how you can still win while not being at PAX East. 
One of the more unique games I came across on the show floor was Metronomicon. What makes the game unique? You can play it with a dance pad. Instead of swinging your sword with your arms, joystick, or keyboard, you hop around in the four major directions on a dance pad, like Dance Dance Revolution. The developers compared it to Guitar Hero, too. If you don't want to play on the dance pad, you can play using the joystick, moving left, right, up, and down to kill the attacker, based upon what is scrolling down the screen. The game is a little more involved than that, but with the help of the graphic above, I think you get the gist of the game play with that simple description.
The last place I had the chance to visit was the crew at Starfighter. It is a multi-player, hardcore space combat game, based on real world physics. First off, I tried to play the game but died too quickly. They really need a way to bypass the starter stuff to get to the actual game right away. As far as the game goes, they ran a Kickstarter campaign a few years back that got to 90% and ultimately failed. I spoke to Lead Designer David Wessman at the show about that and the current progress of the game. They took the Kickstarter failure as a learning experience and a stepping stone to their current position. They're relaunching on Kickstarter this weekend, even, setting more realistic expectations of game and a better video demo. David was one of the authors for an earlier X-Wing series of games, and Starfighter is NOT a follow-on to that, something that could have been described better for the original campaign. Now, after seeing the progress that they've made while watching the game play at the PAX East show, I think their next round of fundraising on Kickstarter should lead to a better conclusion. And, if you're ever looking for a space shoot-em-up type game working off hard science, check this one out. You won't be disappointed, provided you like space games.

Before I leave you, a couple of other observations.... The Diversity Lounge on the first floor had several groups present again pushing for more diversity in games, whether that be female protagonists, people of color, gays, handicapped, and even indigenous peoples. They had a list of related talks at this year's show and it seemed like this increased from last year. Lastly, seemed to have a much larger presence at the show. They had a relaxation lounge with some free snacks and drinks inside. Good soft pretzels. I signed up for the site some time ago to get some bonus giveaway entries. I do go to the site occasionally, but I've never broadcast my gameplay, which is the primary purpose of the site.
If you missed this year's show, do try to make it next year. If you like any form of gaming, you'll enjoy being around others with a similar mindset. It was a fun time, I just wish I could have spent more time there this year. I didn't even have any time to do anything related to vendor giveaways this year.

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