Tuesday, March 22, 2011

PAX East 2011: Roundup, Part 1

Editor's note: One aspect of gaming that I've never been good at getting my head around is the fact that one can't be in all places at once. For instance, I'm currently trying to finish Dragon Age 2, which has all but extinguished my recently-rekindled preoccupation with Minecraft. There are only so many hours in a day; the two just don't mix.

And so it is with gaming expos, conferences, and related get-togethers—hot on the heels of GDC (which conveniently took place here in my own backyard), a trip to Boston for PAX East just wasn't possible—but that didn't mean I didn't want to be there!

Fortunately, Internet denizens and awesome games writers J.P. Grant and Sarah Elmaleh have been gracious enough with their words and their time to piece together a rundown of the show's events. Without further ado, allow me to present: Gamer Melodico's PAX East 2011 Roundup Part 1!

What were some of your favorite moments at the con?

My, Chun-Li, what powerful calves you have
Sarah: Cosplay never fails to fill me with cheer! A few memorable folks stand out not just for what they were wearing, but how. Sub-Zero making like Michael Jackson at the Kinect booth. A charmingly tongue-in-cheek drag Chun-Li and a truly lovely Bridget from Guilty Gear (my boyfriend goes, "I was seriously just checking out those legs. Those are man-legs. Awesome!"). And in the ladies’ bathroom, special moments: Mass Effect 2-era Tali with her mask off (hope she didn't catch the PAX Pox!), and Morgana from League of Legends unable to fit her ginormous wings into the stalls. Truly epic, that wingspan.

JP: Oh, the poor thing! I saw her crumpled in a corner at one point as an Enforcer struggled to reattach her wings.

Sarah: Yeah, she said they were a real production to get on and off, a hardcore back brace setup...I felt really bad leaving the bathroom with her standing there, helpless, having to pee. Her friend went for help or I TOTALLY WOULD HAVE.

JP: What an incredible display of craftsmanship, though, huh? Some of the creativity and fearlessness on display in the costumes blew me away. And Sub-Zero...that was classic PAX. Looking absurd and loving it.

Sarah: So I could watch people play Dance Central all day. I have a serious weakness for high school musicals (High School Musical)for the same reason: there’s nothing more awesome than people dancing for the sheer joy of it, ego be damned. While I wanna be into watching people put their Rock Band skills on display in freeplay, I’m inevitably distracted by their generally terrible song choices. With Dance Central, I'm diggin' it, whether you're kicking ass or sucking but having a blast.

JP: Yeah! I was more into the dance games than I thought I would be. Especially at PAX, where it's not uncommon to see a (literally) cold-blooded Lin Kuei ninja breaking it down to "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough." For all their faults, motion-control games do often help us lower our inhibitions enough to have fun embarrassing ourselves together.

Speaking of embarrassing moments, how about favorite moments outside of the convention hall?

Sarah: You're suggesting I embarrassed myself outside the con? WHAT DID I DO I DON'T REMEMBER OH GOD WAS THAT SWEET TEA VODKA? I kid. But really, though.

Con and anti-con are all bound up together, so I would have to add our marvelous, surreal evening of drinks and Grow21 in a top-secret location with top-notch company: Rob Dubbin, Darius Kazemi, and inspiring badass Courtney Stanton. I heard from Brian Taylor that he rued peeling off early. As well he should.

JP: Someday in the far future, when the grandkids on my knee ask me, "Paw-Paw? Have you ever gotten drunk in a Viking-Ass Mead Hall?" I can safely respond, "YES."

Sarah: Safely? ...I'm actually afraid to corroborate your description, because I think we might get assassinated.

JP: But getting back to the con itself, I have to say one of my favorite moments was seeing the Omegathon finals. So glad you convinced me to wait in line one last time!

Sarah: Dude, me too! I hope I didn't scream in your ear too loud. Have we already covered how as a person I'm, um, ebullient?

I found the Omegathon finals a great cap off to the weekend last year, and while they weren’t quite as epic this year, they fulfilled their duty admirably. I understand not everyone feels like PAX is their scene—but I defy you to be in a room with thousands of game lovers, cheering on their peer-champions in a frantic, bullet-blizzarding Ikaruga run, and not feel a little warm inside. I DEFY YOU.

Of the games you played, which were your favorites?

Sub-Zero, cuttin a rug
Sarah: I would rather make other use of time at a conference than wait in hours-long lines for snatches of games I can get my hands on in a few months. I like previews as much as the next person, yet I barely play demos; I like being able to sink my teeth in. I’m a late-adopter across the tech board, actually. So here’s your coverage—there were games, they were bright and loud, and lots of people were playing them.


Actually, that's a pretty fair description of the show floor experience. It's an overwhelming mass of lines and blinking lights and megaphones and hovering PR people—and this year, for some inexplicable reason, booth babes.

Sarah: Yeah—What. The heck? More on that later.

JP: I'm with you that playing a demo (which is, in all likelihood, an incomplete build anyway) on a show floor is not ideal. I was interested in LA Noire, but given that folks were waiting in queue for up to two hours to watch (yes, watch) a 20-minute preview...it just wasn't gonna happen. It was easier and more interesting to check out the smaller indie games on display, especially since developers were more willing to talk.

Sarah: Yeah. I mean, LA Noire is one of the games I'm most excited about this year, but I feel like the exposure for indies is what's really cool. To some extent booth/bust size skews the playing field, but still—it's great that there's one big pot o' games where the biggies and the babies are all there to be noticed and explored.

JP: Gotta say, though, in terms of new AAA releases, I had a blast getting my ass kicked by both you and Brian in the new Mortal Kombat. And at a stand-up cabinet, too! That game is looking like a lot of fun. I wonder if Sub-Zero has a secret Moonwalk Fatality?

Speaking of stand-up cabinets, I spent a little time in the Classic Arcade room, which was totally sweet. The dimmed lights, the Dragon's Lair scenes projected on the wall, the 80’s power ballads piped in through the speakers...it really took me back to the glory days. And dude, Warlords. That game takes some seriously intense coordination.

Sarah: You want intensity? How about our round of Spy Party? I'd first seen this game at the NYU Game Center, when designer Chris Hecker also spoke/blew my MIND, with all his fancy notions of a challenging, deeply skill-based game that forces you to curb your twitch reflex. I found our session harrowing as hell.

JP: Dude. Yes. It's a simple concept: one player takes on the role of a spy, tasked with achieving four objectives while blending in with the AI characters at a party. The other player is the sniper, whose job is to observe the characters and try to pick out which one is the human player. As my MIT pal Matthew Weise pointed out, it's a brilliant reversal of the traditional Turing Test.

Sarah: Yeah, well, we both need to work on being more Turing-y. As snipers we both pegged each other’s spy—I felt your laser-sight burning a hole in my shoulder almost the whole mission—we just didn’t get it together to shoot in time. Did you add time on me? I totally checked my watch right in your FACE.

JP: Dammit, the stupid button wouldn't work! I totally shot you! It was a glitch, I swear!

Sarah: Yeah, tell it to @checker.

Any other memorable gaming moments?

Because nobody ever got vomited on in a John Hughes movie
Sarah: I also played Left 4 Dead for the first time, in the console freeplay room. I squealed like a girl when the Smoker grabbed me. Kind of in that “Oh! Oh! That’s—that’s a tongue!” way. But also in very real delight.

JP: Um, right. So, do you wanna just go ahead and—

Sarah: Aw, jeez. I’m normally so good at pre-empting those... “That’s what she said.”

JP: Thank you. Moving on.

Sarah: ANYway, I bought a copy of L4D and a headset as soon as I got home; I can’t wait to get my procedural narrative on. Slash, join the rest of the modern world in zombie-slaughtering madness.

JP: Aw. Watching you get puked on for the first time was a special moment for me, too.

Sarah: That's so John Hughes of us.

Stay tuned! Part 2 is on the way, with reports on all the PAX panels you can handle.
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