Tuesday, September 3, 2013

We went to PAX! Here's (almost) everything we played or saw.

Four years ago, we put out our first podcast. (Not on this exact date or anything, but around this time.) The subject was a convention Jarys and I had just attended together - The Penny Arcade Expo. For those of you who don't know about this glorious three (now four!) days, PAX is a convention that takes place over Labor Day weekend in Seattle every year as a celebration of all things gaming. While the main show floor is mostly dedicated to video games, there's enough of a board game presence there that you could never see a video game if you didn't want to.

PAX is honestly the best-run convention I've ever been to. Panels are cleared out inbetween, which stops the Comic-con "line all day" approach, there's always a short wait for the things you want to do, and even after the show floor closes, there's a ton to do in and around the convention center. Unlike Comic-con, these extra-curricular activities are actually managed by the convention itself, which means that they're subject to the same level of organization and always fun.

And with crowds like this, that's no easy feat.

We saw and did a lot at PAX this year, and I wanted to give you a blow by blow of everything that we encountered out there. Here, in no particular order, is Everything We Played or Saw At Pax This Year:


The only X-box One game I played at PAX was also the only one I'm stupid excited about. From the creators of Call of Duty, Titanfall is a futuristic shooter where everybody has jetpacks and can pilot a giant robot. I KNOW, RIGHT? The game looks fantastic in motion, and is even more geared towards constantly keeping you in the fight than Call of Duty. The nice thing about this game is the jetpack and movement options keep everyone running around - there's none of the camping or staying in place that you'd find in a typical CoD game. Twice I was able to double jump onto the back of a Titan, tear open its brain and toss some grenades inside, which was pretty darn sweet. Honestly, the entire time I played is sort of a blur of fun - which is a really good sign.


My time with the Oculus Rift was short, but sweet. I got to try a demo of an iRacing Simulator with it, which was unfortunate for two reasons: 1) I couldn't get the damn thing to focus, and 2) The graphics were outdated enough to break my immersion. Still, my brain was definitely tricked into feeling as if I was actually flying down the race track, and turning my head to see around me was cool. I'd love to try it again with a better game.


I've been calling this "Fables: The Wolf Among Us", but apparently the official title is just "The Wolf Among Us." I loved this update to the classic point and click genre. We played the opening scene, where Bigby (the Big Bad Wolf, and the Sheriff of Fabletown, the setting of this game) has to subdue a drunken Huntsman from Little Red Riding Hood. The two have history, and it ends in blows. The game follows a Mass Effect style conversation system where saying nothing is also an option, combined with a series of quicktime events. It's a great system that works really well for a dynamic story, and I'm really excited to see how they play in the world of one of my favorite comic series.



Spy Party is a game that's been a long time coming - we played it the first time we went to PAX. The work that's gone into it has really paid off. It's a simple premise: one player plays a Spy, the other a Sniper. The Spy has a series of tasks to perform at a party filled with NPC guests, including switching a statue or bugging an ambassador. The Sniper is watching the entire party through his scope, trying to discern which of the guests is the Spy. The Spy must blend into the crowd and pretend to be an NPC to avoid getting shot, matching the AIs behavior as much as possible.

The first game we played, I picked out my wife as the Spy in ten seconds. The second time, she got a lot more crafty, not even taking control of her character for the first ten minutes. My resulting disorientation caused me to snipe an innocent woman. The game definitely feels like it will have an "easy to play, difficult to master" approach that a lot of the greatest indie games have. It's almost finished now, just in need of a graphical update. (Pictured above.) Look for this one when it finally comes out.


Transistor is the new game by the folks behind Bastion, Supergiant games. I'd put it in my category of "Tattoo games", i.e. games that are going to have the kind of cult following that people get tattoos for. The game follows a mute protagonist and is narrated by the voice in her head, which eminates from the giant sword she carries. The very first scene of the game is her pulling the sword from a dead body, who we can infer the voice used to belong to. Red, the main character, is on the run from a group of scary-looking robots with names like "Jerk" and "Ladyjane".  You gain new powers by absorbing mechanical, data-looking blocks from dead bodies. In the most interesting game mechanic, you can pause the action and plan out three or four moves at a time, performing them at lightning speed.


The Wonderful 101 is a new game for the Nintendo Wii U. It should be exciting for me, since it's a game about transforming superheroes, modeled after the Super Sentai/Power Rangers asthetic and designed by the man behind Viewtiful Joe. The game is certainly chaotic, with four players controlling huge teams of heroes on the screen at the same time. You draw shapes with your lines of heroes, forming giant weapons like guns and swords. Unfortunately, the game doesn't really excite or grab me. Other than the "giant, team building" mechanic, The Wonderful 101 plays like every top down or side scrolling beat-em-up in years. Mash A to win. Not very exciting.


When I started playing Scribblenauts Unmasked, the guy told me I could edit any of the hundred DC heroes you can summon. So I created Doomsday, and replaced his hands with a chainsaw and a minigun. Then I dropped him into the Batcave. He was too much for Batman, Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl and Ace the Bat Hound. So I dropped in Superman, but then I also dropped in Gold Kryptonite and Doomsday killed Superman. Again. So then I dropped in Green Lantern. Aquaman, Wonderwoman, a sentient street, a friendly velociraptor, the entire 90s roster of Young Justice, and Cthulu. And then I just sat there and watched them fight. I have NEVER giggled so hard at a demo of any video game. I'm sure there'll be puzzles or something in the actual game, if I ever leave the title screen.

Pokemon X and Y

I admit, I've only ever played one Pokemon game before, so a lot of this was new to me. But Pokemon X and Y looks like it could be a lot of fun if you're a big fan of the formula. The new graphics look great, the Mega Evolutions (where a Pokemon temporarily evolves into a Mega version of itself for the battle) seem like an interesting mechanic, and the battle animations really add something to the fight. My only gripe is that they animated attacks hitting, but not them missing - when an attack fails, the Pokemon both just sit there as text describes the action. It just kind of seemed lazy.


Biggest disappointment of the show. If you've played any 3D sonic game in the past ten years, you've played this. Except it's slower.


We only got to play the multiplayer here, but it was a good amount of chaotic fun. Two teams of two played a twisted game of basketball, where everything from uppercuts to fireballs to exploding frogs is legal. I cannot recommend the rest of the game, because I literally know nothing about it, but if Castle Crashers is any indication, this game should be a lot of fun.


This isn't a game, really, but we met these guys on the floor and they were really cool. They're an actual church, who's dedicated to reaching out to people and saying "No, God's not really a dick, and honestly, Jesus would probably play video games." They sell a Gamer Bible and a bunch of t-shirts, and have a whole website for talking about religion and video games. Nice to see a bunch of God-people at a con NOT telling us we're all going to hell.
Oooh! Board games! Dark Gothic is a deck-building game in the style of Dominion and Thunderstone. However, where those games have a set of cards to buy that don't change over the course of each game, Dark Gothic has a stack of cards you pull randomly each turn to form the six cards you can buy. This leads to a very different style of game, throwing a monkey wrench into your careful plans every time a new card is flipped over. It's by Flying Frog Productions, who make all of our favorite boards games on this site, like Last Night on Earth and Fortune and Glory, and they've got a great track record.


Yes, we got in a game of D&D Next. If you remember, last time I played this game I was incredibly bored, and felt like there was nothing I could do except for two things. The rules have changed quite a bit since then, and are a lot more freeing. While the game is still crunchy like D&D should be, but I still got a Feng Shui kind of feel where our characters could get bonuses for coming up with cool ideas. I'm much more excited now about getting my fifth edition on next year.

Well, that's all from this year's PAX report. Expect more in this week's podcast.


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