In its seventh year, PAX East has continued to grow in size and in relevance. This year’s show floor was expansive, packed with everything from the smallest of indie games to the biggest upcoming titles from major publishers like Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo. Here’s a look at my Saturday from PAX East 2016…
My group started our day by going straight to the show floor. When you do that, it means a lot of lines right off the bat. The convention center’s doors open at 9am, but the show floor remains closed for another hour. If your priority is to get on the show floor as soon as possible, that means you’re standing in line outside the convention center only to go straight to the indoor queue for the show floor. We were running a bit late so the lines to get into PAX were moving pretty well, but the show floor lines were already into their overflow areas. It was probably about 10:30 by the time we made it through the queue and into the expo.
Once onto the floor, the spectacle of an industry trade show becomes overwhelming at first. Many of the presenters are competing with one another for the most visibility. As you can see from the picture above, that means raised signs serving as a beacon for fans trying to find their favorite brands among the crowds.
With our bearings under us, we headed for the indie mega booth first. In prior years, the indie mega booth was the easiest way to jump into a game demo at PAX East. Although that’s still true, indie games were seeing a lot more love this year. Every time we passed through the indie section, there was a line at every game we saw. One such line was for the recently released Steam game Move or Die. The people crowding around to see it in action formed one of the more energized groups we had seen, so the game caught our attention quickly. After a few rounds of gameplay with friends and strangers, Move or Die became my early frontrunner for game of the show and was never unseated.
From there, we headed towards the front of the room where most of the big publishers were located. Microsoft’s XBOX booth was very crowded with people waiting in hour-plus lines to get their hands on Gears of War 4 multiplayer, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, and Cuphead. Unfortunately timing didn’t work out for me to demo Cuphead, but that didn’t stop me from watching gameplay for a while, which looks amazing. The art style, reminiscent of old hand-drawn cartoons, absolutely shines in motion. Gameplay looks smooth and impressions from people wrapping up the demo seemed very positive.
With Microsoft’s lines being a little too intimidating for the group, we headed next door to the PlayStation booth, which had a much wider variety of games on display. Uncharted 4 multiplayer and the recently released Ratchet & Clank seemed to garner the most attention from the crowd, but the two highlight games of the booth for me were tucked away in the middle aisle of demo kiosks: Abzû and 100ft Robot Golf. The two games couldn’t be any more different from one another, but were each a pleasure to play in their own right. Abzû for its art style and atmospheric approach to storytelling (similar to Journey). 100ft Robot Golf for the pure insanity of the concept. I’ll have full previews up for each later this week!
With some solid gameplay under our belts, we decided to walk around to the various merch booths. With product ranging from shirts to artwork to retro games to tabletop and card games, there’s something available for every kind of gamer. For me, I like to pick up new shirts at PAX. I bought two of my favorite T-Shirts at last year’s convention and found two more great ones this year. One of them is a crossover design with the first generation Pokémon starters dressed up as the Ghostbusters and trapping a Haunter. The other is a sort of graffiti take on Super Mario Bros. 3 sprites. Both will fit in nicely with the rest of my collection!
With about an hour left of the show floor (it closes at 6pm), we walked around to some of the booths we hadn’t really seen. That included scoping out the Final Fantasy XV Platinum Demo, Hitman, and Just Cause 3 DLC at the Square Enix booth before moving on to a string of PC hardware manufacturers’ booths to check out some current games like The Division and Counter Strike: GO running on max settings. The PC booths were a fun change of pace for us since all of the group primarily play on consoles and none of us own a gaming desktop right now. Seeing something like The Division running at the highest settings and 60fps kind of makes me want to rectify that, though…
After the show floor closed at 6pm, we decided to head up to the free-play console area and settle in at a PS3 with PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale for a little while. When the game originally came out, it sold pretty well but wasn’t received with as much enthusiasm. For us, the divisive “super” system makes it the perfect party game. It’s not going to unseat more technical fighters or Smash Bros. in terms of quality, but its simplicity and the crazy supers make it a lot more fun and competitive for our mixed-group.
After some time in the free-play room, we had heard there was an impromptu game of Johann Sebastian Joust happening on the lower floor so we headed over to check it out. By the time we got there, a group of between 50-100 people had gathered in a circle, watching rounds and passing the controllers around.
If you haven’t heard of Johann Sebastian Joust, it’s an off-screen game played with PlayStation Move Controllers where the goal is to hit another player’s controller, causing enough motion to knock them out of the round. Meanwhile, all of this has to be done while keeping your controller as still as possible. During the round, there’s also music playing at various speed intervals. More movement is allowed as the music speeds up, but you have to come to a complete stop if the music cuts out. It adds a lot to the crowd atmosphere when the music is building and the game speeds up and then people are quickly forced to freeze. It’s a perfect game for a scenario like PAX and gets strangers playing together and having a blast. I wouldn’t be shocked if this setup sold a few copies of the game, either. Unfortunately you need a PlayStation Move Controller for each participant (up to 8), so a full setup could get pretty expensive.
Our last stop of the day was back at the console free-play area. We had been reminiscing earlier in the day about playing split-screen shooters and wanted to take the opportunity to play some modern variants together. That was our first mistake. Our second mistake was choosing Halo: The Master Chief Collection on XBOX One. Unfortunately, the current generation consoles weren’t exactly made to be played in this environment. With about 50 consoles all set up in the same room, controllers were constantly being paired accidentally to the wrong console, so every now and then you’d have ghost inputs in your game because someone else’s controller was paired to your console either by accident or from a prior session.
Also, internet in the convention center isn’t good enough to be downloading anything with, so games couldn’t be patched. This left something like The Master Chief Collection just about unplayable. XBOX One’s long install times also meant waiting quite a while to get started. After the snafu with Halo, we saw that Black Ops 3 was already installed on the XB1 we were using, so I went up to the desk and swapped Halo for a copy of that and we were in business. It was fun to play some CoD together locally again, which we hadn’t done in a few years, and it got even more fun when a few people nearby came over and started passing the controllers back and forth with us.
That’s really what PAX is best at…connecting gamers together in a friendly atmosphere. Whether it’s sharing in demos on the show floor, waiting in line together for panels, or getting in on an impromptu game of Johann Sebastian Joust, it’s great to be in an environment where everyone cares deeply about the same hobby. In the same way a sporting event often can, PAX creates an environment that gets people talking together about something they love and, with the negativity that’s often found on internet conversations taken out of the equation, that’s pretty great.