“The Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) is an annual gamer festival held in Washington. PAX was created by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, the authors of the Penny Arcade webcomic, because they wanted to attend a show that gave equal attention to video gamers, computer gamers, and tabletop gamers. No such show existed, so PAX was born.” – Wiki
Another year, another PAX East concludes. After a 2 year hiatus from conventions, I decided to return to PAX East this year to enjoy the latest games, get my networking chops flowing again and to absorb the feverish energy that filled the showroom amidst a sea of 100,000 + humans. Gamers from all walks of life, all age groups, came together this weekend to experience what is ahead for gaming. Since I hadn’t attended in a few years, I was a bit surprised at some of the changes this convention has gone through.
First, the attendance. I arrived at a flood of people waiting in lines across multiple directions. This was new to me, but I had heard about the attendance growing in number each year.
There were metal detectors, bag checks and search dogs at the ready to search us then corral us like the cattle that we were. Didn’t expect all of this to be outside of the front doors to the convention center, though.
Once inside, I headed straight for the showroom floor. This is where developers and publishers congregate to show fans their latest work and generate a buzz for their upcoming products. All of the big names were in attendance, many with queues an hour or more long. I’m looking at you, Uncharted 4 Plunder hogs.
Also in attendance were several local and eastern-based game shops such as Game Underground, Replay’d, Video Games New York and more. You could purchase anything from plush dolls to comics and wall scrolls, homebrew reproduction carts, specialty headphones and gear and even Anime love pillows. I should have gotten one of those.
There were multiple game tournaments taking place as well. League of Legends and Street Fighter V being two heavily-populated spots for gamers. Top-level players from all over came to compete this year, and Twitch did a great job streaming most of the coverage throughout the weekend.
The indie scene was very well-represented via the Indie Megabooth and Minibooth. I spent a bunch of time here as there were so many promising titles on display. Here are some standouts:
20XX (Batterystaple Games) – A co-op 2d action platforming game that looks and plays sort of like the Mega Man X sequel we all hoped Capcom would eventually give us. Batterystaple Games started making 20XX in the middle of 2013. They are huge fans of the Mega Man X series and wanted to reimagine a modern version of the game with procedural, roguelike gameplay and multiplayer co-op. It’s in the early stages of development currently, but it’s shaping up to be a fine homage to our beloved blue bomber. A 2016 release is on track currently for the PC.
Burly Men at Sea – (Brain&Brain) – Brain&Brain is David and Brooke Condolora, a husband-and-wife game dev team with a love for quiet adventure. “Burly Men at Sea is a folktale about a trio of large, bearded fishermen who step away from the ordinary to seek adventure. Set in early 20th-century Scandinavia, the game’s story branches through discovery in a series of encounters with creatures from folklore. You play as storyteller and Wayfinder, shaping the narrative around the characters through interaction with their environment.”
This title afforded me quite a few laughs with its dialog and impressed with its nice character animations and art direction. A 2016 release is scheduled for PC and MAC.
Black Witchcraft (Quattro Gear) – A two person development team based in South Korea has created a Gothic RPG with great animations and a very slick art style. Not too much is known about this title yet, but the playable build felt pretty solid. A 2016 release is scheduled for PS4, XBOX ONE and PC.
CRYPTARK (Alientrap Games) – Toronto developer Alientrap Games brings a roguelike 2D sci-fi shooter with lots of strategic depth. Decide your plan of attack, set your equipment and take out the central core. It’s a blast to play, pun fully intentional. CRYPTARK is on Steam Early Access now.
Moon Hunters (Kitfox Games) – “Moon Hunters is a 1-4 player RPG about building your hero’s mythology. Adventure through a fantastical ancient Mesopotamian world that’s different every time to find what’s happened to the missing moon, showing your personality and creating a reputation that becomes your legend. In 2014, Moon Hunters earned $178,000 on Kickstarter, enabling Kitfox to grow the game to include online multiplayer and PlayStation platforms.”
A moral action-RPG of sorts, where your answers/choices determine the fate of your world and the moon. Another gaming publication that I won’t bother naming had (perhaps unfairly) labeled this title as a combination of Gauntlet and Diablo. Yes, there are some inspirations present, but one shouldn’t make the mistake of going into it thinking it’s going to be anything like those two. I’m greatly looking forward to playing this one more. Moon Hunters is available now on all GOG supported platforms, with a PS4 and Vita release planned.
Push Me Pull You (House House) – “Joined at the waist, you and your partner share a single worm-like body as you wrestle your opponent for control of the ball. It’s a bit like a big hug or playing soccer with your small intestines. With every action affecting both you and your partner (and mandatory shouting) Push Me Pull You combines the best parts of co-op multiplayer with the worst parts of your last breakup.”
This one had me in tears. It’s co-op Sumo Soccer, and it’s really really hilarious. With the players having to work together using this unique and awkward (at first) control scheme, the booth was full on laughter and screams of excitement. Look for it on Steam as well as a scheduled May 3rd release for PS4.
Thumper (Drool) – Drool is the two-person team of Brian Gibson and Marc Flury. They have contributed to a long list of games, including Rock Band, Guitar Hero, Dance Central, and Fantasia: Music Evolved. Thumper is a rhythm violence game. Hit notes in time to the beat while traveling at blistering speeds to some quality music and visuals that are certain to come with a seizure warning. I adore music/rhythm games, and with a PC, PS VR and PS4 release on the way, Thumper is sure to provide a new visual music experience.
Klang (Tinimations) – Last but certainly not least, Klang. From one rhythm game to another, Klang is a platforming music game. Since the developers couldn’t share much regarding the story, I’ll instead discuss the gameplay. You control Klang, an “Elite Rave Warrior on a quest to free himself from the shackles of Soundlord Sonus” who wields a tunefork sword and as you move, the notes move with you. You must jump along walls, over various hazards and reflect the notes back at each opponent to inflict damage.
It’s got one hell of a learning curve and plenty of replay value to attain better scores and grades, which are essential for unlocking secrets. It’s visually intense as well, with speakers and explosions all over the place. Klang features fast and euphoric rhythm-based gameplay, a beautiful neon aesthetic, Music and sound by the legendary EDM composer bLiNd. I remember bLiNd from his OC Remix days. Quality stuff. Klang will hit the PC sometime this year.
Of course, I had to hit up the Nintendo booth to check out the upcoming Wii U and 3DS offerings.
Pokémon celebrates its 20th anniversary with a special Pokéwall (mine, you may borrow) for people to take fun and silly pictures in front of. They also provided prizes for players that competed in Pokémon TCG Online and Pokkén Tournament sessions.
Also on display were Starfox Zero & Starfox Guard (Wii U) – Plenty of gamers gathered for the latest installment in the Starfox franchise. Even though “Booth Babes” are mostly a ghost of gaming conventions past, Starfox cosplay was on-point at the booth this year. Check out Goomba Stomp’s own Taylor Smith’s review for Starfox Zero here
Capcom showcased Monster Hunter Generations for 3DS complete with a giant egg above its booth, and some cool stickers for visitors. Capcom also noted during the event that this game would have a collaboration with Fire Emblem and Okami soon in regards to items. Be on the lookout for this one in the summer.
My personal favorite at the Nintendo booth, Kirby: Planet Robobot (3DS) – While the demo was short, it was certainly a good time. So much so that I’ve ordered the import version of the game because I’m impatient and need this in my life. It’s the classic Kirby gameplay we’re all familiar with, but with a new steampunk theme, armor suits that you can ride in, new abilities, tons to collect, a surprisingly deep storyline, and much more. Be sure to check back here at Goombastomp.com for a video review of this one soon.
Bravely Second: End Layer (3DS) – Lots of attention was given to this follow-up of 2012’s smash hit RPG, Bravely Default. (with an excellent developer panel here) It’s currently on the eShop and in stores. Another million seller, no doubt.
Metroid Prime: Federation Force (3DS) – The Now with a confirmed release date of August 19th this year.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE (Wii U) (with added US release censorship!) – This crossover RPG featuring characters from the Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei (mostly the Persona era though let’s be honest) series’ has had fans clamoring for a release. That release comes to us on June 24th this year.
Aside from the main showroom, the conference rooms on the above floors were loaded with tabletop tournaments, console free play, a penny arcade, a chiptune concert (with playable Typing of The Dead on the big screen!) and more. Panels from various Youtube and Twitch talents were greeted with lots of noise and mostly packed rooms. The photo above is from a room with 50+ monitors, the majority of which either had Street Fighter V, or Super Smash Bros. Wii U being played. Quite a sight to see and an energy to feel.
The big attraction every year is The Omegathon. A three-day elimination tournament. Twenty Omeganauts are chosen from those who pre-order PAX passes, and compete in games from every category (tabletop, console, PC) culminating in a live championship match on the big stage during PAX closing ceremonies. The combatants this year played Lift It! a board game in which you construct according to cards and you can’t use your hands. Starwhal, a 2-4 retro space battle involving narwhals, and more. Congrats to NotSoup and Gemst for winning the finals!
Let’s wrap things up with some quick P’s & C’s (and showings of respect) for this year’s event.
Community. People were very cool, friendly and engaging as usual. The developers were happy to meet fans and people were very helpful. Much less pushing and shoving this year.
The Enforcers. These folks help you find directions, and will even walk with you to get you there. Even met a cool enforcer that gave me tape for my blisters. His name escapes me. I am an ass.
The staff. How seemingly less than 50 of you did bag checks for that many people while remaining relatively calm is beyond me. I commend you all.
The tabletop growth. The last time I attended PAX East, the tabletop section was relegated to a smaller corner of the gaming showroom. This year, however, it’s practically half the size of the room. I was pleasantly surprised by all the new games available. Long live tabletop!
Soda Drinker Pro. It’s got pro in the title. ‘Nuff said.
Entertainment value. There was something for every game lover here. Card games and puzzles? Check. PC Games? Got em. Console and Arcade more your fancy? You’ll find it in another room 3 doors down. (pun not intentional) Want to learn how to promote yourself, improve your game streaming or apply to become a game tester? It’s a gaming convention, workshop, and a job fair. Can’t go wrong.
The attendance is still growing. It had to move to a larger venue once before, and it may have to again at this rate. The showroom itself is becoming increasingly difficult to navigate. This further makes getting around for the handicapped and for young children tedious as well. Because of this, a large majority of the more popular games had insanely long queues.
Swag Bags. They were being given out for those that could endure the line. I was not one of those people. It was confusing because many people were continuously sent to opposite ends of the line as it seemed some of the enforcers weren’t sure where the line actually began.
Swag was minimal. I like swag, I really do. So I was a bit disappointed to see that what were once usually free goodies (pins/stickers) have become priced and t-shirts were mostly given away via contests. I did get a sweet keyring for the new Doom, though, so there’s that.
I had a painful and exhausting experience in my return to PAX East this year. That’s because I had the ol’ convention rust to shake off. Personal old bones stories aside, I also was reminded of why I’ve loved games so much my entire life. It’s the passion, the smiles, the loud shouts of excitement and the energy that soars through these conventions that keep my love of games alive and stronger than ever. Oh PAX East. You hurt me, but I can’t quit you. To butcher a quote by a great Reggie, next year, my body will be ready.
Enjoy more photos below. Special thanks to Christian Rodriguez for shooting in this sea of madness!