Wednesday, August 7, 2013

PAX AUS 2013: Expo Hall, Nintendo, Ubisoft and Framed!

I've been reading Penny Arcade since 2000-2001. That's a good 13 years and almost half my life. That's a crazy thought, to have read a webcomic three times a week for that long. Over the years it's grown from a simple webcomic about games and gamers into a multi-headed hydra. It's now a charity, a TV series, a video game itself, a tabletop game, a podcast and a reality show. The crown jewel in this multi-headed beast is the Penny Arcade Expo, or PAX for short. Held in Seattle and later in Boston PAX is widely regarded as the best gaming expo for actual gamers.

After months of rumours it came out that the third PAX added to the annual circuit (after Prime in Seattle and East in Boston) would be based right here in Australia. Melbourne to be exact. With little hesitation I snagged a couple of three day passes and book the cheapest, nastiest flights I could find (Tiger fit the bill).

My love for comic and pop culture conventions is widely known, but how different would a gaming con? Especially an international heavyweight like PAX? Hit the jump and find out!

Right off the bat, let me say what a wonderfully run and presented this thing was. It felt like a big time international convention. No offence to my beloved Supanova and Oz Comic-Con but they feel like dingy little Australian events in comparison. While there were crazy queues for panels, there were designated places for queueing that kept them out of the way. No repeat of OCC 2012 when the Stan Lee signing line literally consumed the whole convention. In fact, one of the many buildings at Melbourne Showgrounds that PAX used was entirely designated for queues. The Enforcers (event volunteers) would keep you informed constantly of how long the wait would be and your chances of getting a seat. They even roamed through the masses selling cookies for charity while we were trapped there. The queues themselves weren't so bad. Everyone was so friendly and there was a real community feel. It was a blast to chat with strangers, play games on our 3DS, iPad or phones or even sit on the floor and play a tabletop game while we waited.

The main expo hall was cavernous. Filled to the brim with colourful booths from the gaming world. As big as it was I never once felt crowded or uncomfortable on the expo floor and waits to try games were never more than 5 minutes or so. The largest space was taken up by World of Tanks and League of Legends. WoT had a few actual tanks on the floor and their booth itself was just as big with dozens of PC's running. In the middle was a giant screen broadcasting whatever advertisements or tourneys they were running at any given time. The LoL area was even more impressive. A *massive* screen flanked by art that was just as big formed almost a coliseum dedicated to LoL. They drew huge crowds over the weekend for their give aways and live games.

Of course, I'm no PC gamer. I'm a born and bred console and handheld guy. The biggest booths for a guy like me were Nintendo and Ubisoft's. Nintendo has a great set up that was slick but also friendly and inviting. There was a big screen up front broadcasting trailers, the Mario Kart 3DS tourney and later the Australian Pokemon championships. Surround that was a sea of beanbags filled with Ninty fans playing their 3DS's. There was even places to charge provided which was super handy. Behind that was a bunch of tables with 3DS's running upcoming games. The new Zelda, Sonic and Mario offerings were all there, ready to be tried. Link to the Past was really fun. I do so enjoy a top-down Zelda game. Sonic Lost World really surprised me. the surprise being it was actually pretty good. That's a rare trait for a Sonic game in this day and age.

To the rear of the DS area was a bunch of Wii U kiosks demoing unreleased games. Wind Waker HD, Mario 3D Land and Pikmin 3 were the titles on offer. Wind Waker looks freakin' gorgeous. I didn't play it myself as I played (and adored) the original but seeing it running so crisply and smoothly on the Wii U was a pure joy. How anyone didn't like that art style is well beyond me.

Mario 3D Land was as fun as expected. Taking the 4 player chaos of the New Super Mario Bros Series and putting in a 3D Mario game has made it even more ridiculously fun. Sure, you're meant to be working together but you spend the duration getting in each other's way and being as much as hinderance as you can. The new cat suit is super ridiculously cute and was already a fan favourite at the con. I'll be picking this one up and wheeling it out for drunken gatherings at my place for sure.

Speaking of Nintendo, the thing I spent most of my weekend doing had to be Streetpass on my 3DS. For the uninitiated, your 3DS will communicate other nearby 3DS's passively as long as they are both switched on. Their little Mii will appear on your device and you can play games, collect puzzle pieces and just generally assemble a horde of cute little people. The most you can get at one time before needing to clear them off is 10. At PAX I was getting 10 almost every second. If I had wanted I could of perpetually collected streetpasses for the whole three days solid. Insanity. To put it in perspective back home in Perth I'd be lucky to get ten in a week. Needless to say I now have over a thousand of the little buggers on my 3DS and have cleared all of the puzzles and most of the games. It was like crack. I had to clear them off every chance I got.

Ubisoft was the only publisher with a big presence at the show. Hopefully after the massive success this year was there will be a bigger contingent next year. Heck, Sony and Microsoft didn't even bother this year. Well Microsoft was there. They had one Xbox One console behind glass that was on display 2 hours a day. Seriously. What a joke. Anyways, Ubisoft had a big, right and colourful both with all their upcoming releases on display. Rayman Legends, Splinter Cell, Just Dance and others ready for your grubby little mitts. Rayman is really, really great. I'm still smarting the Wii U version was delayed numerous months so it can launch multiplatform. Lousy jerks. The animation is gorgeous, its really fun and inventive and a joy to play. The co-op mode is fantastic. One player plays as Rayman with a Wii-mote and the other uses the Wii U tablet to assist. It's great for the iPad crowd who are baffled by an actual controller. Just Dance was on demo loudly all weekend with numerous dancing people looking silly. Needless to say I watched that from a safe distance as not to be volunteered.

At the back of the booth they had a big screen and seating where they showed presentations on Assassin's Creed IV and Watch_Dogs among others. Both look spectacular and I desperately wished I could play them. Soon. There was also a Saint Row IV booth nearby where you could demo the game. This had a massive queue most the expo. I guess the forbidden fruit of a game that was refused classification at the time was a big lure. It was concealed behind black curtains (Think of the children!) for the duration. I had a go when the queue was shorter and it wasn't bad. I got to tool around with super powers for 5 minutes. My partner's demo was different and she informed me she got to obliterate people with a dubstep gun. Jealousy. I was always more of a GTA guy anyways.

While the lack of big names was a shame, this gave the Indie section some much deserved limelight. Dozens of quirky, locally made independant games were jockying for your attention. Many were on tablets (I don't blame them, its the easiest way to make some quick coin) and phones but there were a couple running on PC with the futurtastic Occulus Rift. The rift is a goofy looking headset with motion controls. Think virtual reality. It's a little jarring at first but really is something I hope catches on. It was very immersive.

My absolute favourite indie game (and probably game full stop) of PAX was Framed by Loveshack Entertainment. Ideally played on a tablet, Framed is a narratively based puzzle game in a noir comic book style world. The action is broken up into panels that you can arrange in the order of your choosing. Then you hit play and our silhouetted protagonist runs through the panels as he tried to avoid the police. Paying attention to where each panel starts and ends is key as you try to put them in the  right order to get our man safely through to the next page. It's just a beautiful game in every sense. The animation is gorgeous and just perfect. I played through the demo twice over it was so good. Eagerly awaiting it's release. Check out the concept trailer below:

Looks fantastic, doesn't it?

Beyond those highlights there were many, many vendors where you could blow a wad of cash on a Portal gun (so many people bought them), T-shirt or plush Pokemon, among other things. The overall crowd was super pleasant and friendly. Not a jerk to be found in the place. There wasn't as much cosplay as I had thought there would be. Much less than, say, a Supanova. There were heaps of Chell's from Portal and assorted Borderlands characters. Oh, and the usual array of Harley Quinns. Man, I am so over Harley cosplay. The best cosplay of the show? This guy:

Photo Credit to Bev_McLad on Reddit
Iron freakin Link. Everyone should just quit cosplay now. This guy won.


  1. Really sorry if i sound dumb and uncultured but what do you mean when you say hit the jump? Please excuse my complete ignorance :(

    1. You know when the articles are just on the main page and you have to click to read the rest? That's the jump.

    2. Ohh I get it now. So when you say hit the jump you just mean click on the link to keep reading? Is that right? Sorry again for being a loser :(