The most fun you could of had in Boston last weekend was at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, where you and thousands of other people could have packed into a single room filled with widely-known developers, video game and technology demonstrations, and free stuff to weigh down your backpacks. You all walked out aching, tired, probably really hungover and best of all, your head was filled with glorious images, many of them you cannot touch for months.
Well when you explain it like that it sounds a bit tragic and overwhelming. Maybe I’m not doing this right. Let’s try that again.
PAX East 2013 is one of the biggest events of the video game year, and it proved that by selling out completely, with three-day passes selling out within a couple of days. Big-name developers such as Capcom and Blizzard used this opportunity to promote previously unannounced titles to varying degrees of success (I’m looking at you Hearthstone), and give players the time to demo future releases such as Last of Us from Naughty Dog, and Transistor, the next game from indie classic Bastion creator Supergiant. Both had at least a two-hour wait for a 10-15 minute demonstration. Some games had even longer lines that put Disneyland to shame. To play a round of Dance Central at the Harmonix booth took about an hour, and some of the smaller games had 30 minute lines.
Okay so maybe that doesn’t sound very fun at all. Shall I try one more time?
The thing about PAX East is that it is all inclusive. You walk into the expo hall and there is a game for everybody, regardless of how much you have to wait and what you expect at an illustrious video game convention. There were roleplaying and board games in the tabletop area, unfinished experiments in the Indie Showcase, and triple-A titles ranging from the obvious first-person shooters to the action-adventure sleeper hits.
For example, in the Indie Megabooth was Outlast, Red Barrels‘ debut title. One of the lone survival horrors in a sea of colorful platformers and gritty mindless shooters, it stood out simply in terms of presentation. The booth had a table with a video of the game, and a black curtain where attendees could play the demo out of the eyes of lurkers. It was one of the few places in the con that was completely isolated, even though that was for the sake of trying to scare the pants off of players. One of the most terrifying games in recent memory (it got a few very audible screams out of me), it will be released on Steam this summer to the delight of horror fans that always struggle to find the next stand-out title in the genre.
The fun of pushing through the crowds is way more about finding hidden gems like this to add to the ever-expanding list of anticipated titles. Besides Outlast, there were plenty of small, inconspicuous booths that offered pleasant surprises. There was Drunken Robot Pornography by local Dejobaan Games that allowed players to shoot down giant robots, or “titans,” whilst jet-packing around an uneven level. While still in alpha, the game was still a ton of fun in its simplicity, fast-paced gameplay, and unique robot designs. There was clearly a lot more going on underneath the surface than just shooting robots, and Dejobaan promises a lot more fun in the completed version.
Even without checking out a demo first-hand I was able to get a good idea of many of the titles, especially the ones with gigantic lines such as Transistor, which was the game I was probably most excited to check out but was unable to because of the nearly universal anticipation surrounding it. 2011′s Bastion was a masterpiece in both gameplay and music, creating a complicated and tragic universe by only utilizing a handful of characters, and only having one of them speak. The narrator returns in Transistor, which plays similarly to Bastion but contains more steampunk elements and an obviously different universe that distinguishes it just enough from its famous predecessor to make it a separate title, but not nearly enough to make it unfamiliar.
The best part is that I could go on forever about the things I saw, the people I met, and the interesting things I learned at panels or at booths, but the whole experience is exhausting and it would be a disservice to try and recollect it. Nearly 72 hours of constant running and alertness definitely can take a toll on anyone, although luckily 5-hour energy was on hand to help by giving out free samples to attendees. PAX East has become less of a fan convention and more of a fan experience that cannot be recalled Monday morning. It’s hard to explain, and the descriptions are elusive for most because it all goes by in the quickest blur.
So maybe it still doesn’t sound like fun to some, but for the people that the convention panders to, it’s the highlight of the year, and for good reason.
Oh by the way … FOTOBOM!