The queue room to get into the expo hall the first day:
And the line for the final round of the Omegathon:
They had huge rooms set up with free play consoles and PCs:
I tried out Starcraft II on one of the PCs, and it was pretty fun. I played a decent amount of Warcraft II and Starcraft, but found Warcraft III to be underwhelming, with the focus on heroes and restrictions on army size...seemed like it didn't know whether it wanted to be an RPG or an RTS. But Starcraft II seems like a return to form, at least from my limited time with it and out-of-date experience with the RTS genre. RTS games are somewhat like FPSs to me in that I loved them when the genre was brand new, then over time I lost interest. They all just kind of seemed the same.
And speaking of PCs, this interesting cooling system was on display at the Intel booth:
It's apparently submerged in mineral oil.
Booth displays in general were much more elaborate than the ones I'd seen at Gen Con. The two big Disney ones were especially neat- Epic Mickey:
Got to play both these games. Epic Mickey used this paint/thinner mechanic to fill in or erase objects and enemies. Seems like they could do a lot of interesting things with it over the course of the game. Tron had two demo levels- the one I played was a lightcycle race through a track that's slowly being destroyed. It was really cool. The other one, that I just watched, was combat and some platforming/parkour segments. It looked a bit awkward, people died frequently by falling into bottomless pits. Hopefully they'll tune it up a bit before release.
This display was the first I saw, it was outside the expo hall on the way to the queue room:
Besides the nerd appeal of being in the Back to the Future movies, DeLoreans are just awesome looking cars. I haven't heard much about the new BttF game...I just hope it's better than that terrible one for the NES.
And the Infamous 2 space at Sony's booth had this cool electric tube thing:
I didn't bother playing Infamous 2 because I didn't like the demo of the first Infamous very much. The first one had amazing graphics, and a cool power where you could slide around on elevated train tracks that reminded me of Jet Set/Grind Radio. But eventually you had to stop sliding around and fight people, and my instinct was to run up to the bad guys and fight them with badass electrically-enhanced fisticuffs...but I guess that wasn't the approach you were supposed to take with the game, you were supposed to shoot stuff. And I just don't like most 3d shooters. I like rail shooters like Panzer Dragoon and Rez. And I enjoy 3d free-movement shooters with lock-on or assisted aiming systems like Earth Defense Force and Gunvalkyrie. And I like top-down dual-stick shooters like Robotron and Geometry Wars. But ostensibly having full control of a character but having to focus your attention on moving a set of crosshairs instead rubs me the wrong way. So I just can't get in to a lot of the games that are popular now.
And speaking of top-down dual-stick shooters, I got to play Dead Nation (the zombie game by the developer of Super Stardust HD) at Sony's booth and it was pretty cool. It had real levels that you move through like Assault Heroes rather than the static spaces of a lot of these shooters, but kept the satisfying physical feel of SSHD. Definitely looking forward to that one.
Also looking forward to Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, even though I tend to avoid competitive online multiplayer games. The core action of Assassin's Creed is just so much fun that the thought of having an endless number of intelligent targets to do it with makes me happy. And the setup of the matches seems well thought out. I just wish I had more time with the game at the show, the session seemed like it was over in like 2 minutes. Hopefully the game will have a good matchmaking system to find other players...I really hate the concept of feeling forced to get a game and play a ton of it as soon as possible just so I don't fall behind everyone else and end up with a frustrating game.
I think what the deal was with the Portal 2 booth is with each group of people that entered, 2 got chosen at random to play the demo guided by a presenter, and the rest just watched on big screens. Though maybe it was other presenters that were playing it, not sure. Anyway, these two adorable robots are the two player characters in Portal 2's co-op mode. From what I saw, they have been impeccably designed, animated, and "voiced" with bleepy sound effects. The first Portal was so awesome, both to play through properly and to fuck around in. And now in addition to a single player game with tons of crazy beams and oozes and so forth to play with, there's a mode with 2 players, each with their own 2-color portal guns. Remember how cool it was to create an infinite loop of portals you could fall through and get crazy speed built up? Well, one player doing this, then the second player creating another portal to launch them out of their loop at speed is an integral mechanic in Portal 2. I'm not even going to try to imagine the stuff in the game that they aren't going to show before release.
Also they had the best t-shirts of the show:
My other favorite piece of swag:
It had shoulder straps, which really came in handy. And I didn't even have to wait in line to get it, just had to flip open my DS and show the Nintendo booth guy that I already have DQIX, which was in Tag mode for most of the show. I have so many treasure maps and inn guests now.
Also got a Dance Central sweat towel...an amusing bit of swag I thought. The game was really fun to play and functioned better than I expected. Still not sold on Kinect though. Also got to play Rock Band 3, played keyboards on Midlife Crisis. I'm not completely clear on the details but supposedly the keyboard controller will have some MIDI functionality, and you may be able to use a USB MIDI controller to play the game without needing to buy the new peripheral. My 25-key Novation would be perfect for this.
I like how Harmonix is trying to build bridges between music games and playing their peripherals as instruments. I mean, obviously they're really in to music in general- I remember reading around when Frequency came out, and was critically regarded as an extremely difficult game, their explanation was that they wanted it to be part game, and part rhythm training that would be applicable to real music making. Looking back on it, it seems harsh in how you could only unlock certain songs if you reached sometimes difficult scores or completed songs on high difficulties, while I think modern music games are more giving with their music. But OTOH, mastering some of the expert level stuff in Rock Band or Guitar Hero seems like it would take a lot more practice than anything in Frequency. Also more practice than learning to play a wide range of songs on real instruments, it seems. Or songs that someone, or their bandmate writes themselves. I wonder at what point in the spectrum of music game expertise do most people cross this bridge. I can't say from my own experience because I started playing with synthesizers and computer music before these games were out (at least in the US) and have always just played the games casually.
Wouldn't it be neat if Harmonix made another electronic music game, playable on a standard game controller, using all the expertise they've gained along their road to stardom? I think so.
And speaking of music...chiptunes!
Best powerpoint slide ever. Saw a panel presentation on chiptunes, and also went to a performance where Knife City, Fighter X, Spamtron, and a few other artists played. Really great stuff. I've written here before about how I overlooked "direct hit to the pleasure centers of the brain" music in favor of "intellectually challenging" music for a long time, and I think this is why I had kind of overlooked chiptunes up to this point, I knew they existed for a while but they never really grabbed me. But the concert was an awesome experience. It was early afternoon, like 1pm in a beige convention center meeting room. No alcohol anywhere around. But people were still dancing like mad! The artists were all totally into their performances too...it's easy to have a detached air when you're up on stage behind a MacBook Pro or an Access Virus, but a table with a bunch of Game Boys...not so much. I noticed they tended to plug their Game Boys into the mixer before powering them on, not after. So the Game Boy startup sound played through the PA, at the beginning of every set. An important detail, at least in my mind.
The other panels I saw: one about stories in games that I mainly checked out because Andrew Plotkin was on it. It had some interesting discussion about player vs. designer agency, emergent narrative. This was brought up, and yeah, it represents an exciting possible future.
Also went to the Retronauts 25th anniversary of the NES panel (recorded as a podcast). The knowledge those dudes possess is insane. I mean, like I know what Yasumi Matsuno's favorite band is, and even to most people who like videogames that's considered obscure. But the stuff these people know about is obscure as hell even to me. I've never listened to them because I've always thought podcasts were kind of an awkward format. But between the Retronauts and Giant Bomb panels that I went to, I need to check out more of these here podcast thingamajiggers. Listened to a few of the Giant Bomb podcasts from Matt's phone, and already downloaded a bunch of the Retronauts episodes, they've been interesting so far. They even had one about Phantasy Star! I am not going to go on a tangent about how Phantasy Star II influenced my view of life and humanity here, right now. Have to move on.
Big reveal of the show:
The night before PAX started, Matt and I went to Gameworks arcade. I was playing Street Fighter IV and this kid sits down next to me, we start talking about PAX and he said he met Tycho and was told about how Duke Nukem Forever was going to be the big reveal at the show. This guy was really nice, looked young, and told me about how he was from Philadelphia and had never been this far from home by himself before, so I thought it would make me an ass to call bullshit on him even though that's what I was thinking. But then it turned out he was right. What are the odds?
I didn't wait in line to play this game. I never really even liked Duke Nukem back in the day. Even my 12 year old self found it vaguely embarrassing in a way that Mortal Kombat and Spawn and Queensrÿche somehow weren't. But, if there's a playable demo at some point, or someone I know buys the game, I'll download/borrow it and play it. Just because of its vapor legend status.
And the Grand Finale, the reveal of the final round of the Omegathon. A "turn-based game about resource gathering":
The prize was A TRIP TO TOKYO GAME SHOW AND FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS. High stakes.
And that was the end of PAX, and the end of the pictures from it I thought were good enough to upload. I think I'll cover other games I played there, and general thoughts about gaming from the convention, in another post. Then go through the pictures of Seattle outside the con, North Bend/Snoqualmie, and Portland.