Tuesday, September 8, 2009

PAX: Meh

I attended PAX (The Penny Arcade Gaming Exhibition, aka PAGE; or at least it should be) this last weekend for the first time. People seemed to get so excited about it that I had quite high hopes.

And I was pretty let down.

I caught the Nerd-Cold that was being passed around PAX so I'm a little fuzzy-headed and not feeling my best, so I'll keep this contained to a few brief bullet points:

Post edit: Rambling fail. This isn't short at all.
  • You can meet and talk to the developers of the games!
    Not really, no. Sure if you are lucky, or you rush in right at the buzzer, or if you catch one at a quiet moment. But mostly, the exhibition hall is so packed full of people - and the developers are so busy with their tasks - they don't have time to talk. The few developers I did manage to snag for more than a few minutes only had time to tell me that they had a lot of fun making the game (shock!) and that they had an interesting experience and would do it again (double shock!); all the while handing out pamphlets or t-shirts to passers-by of our conversation.

    The typical meet-the-developer experience is to stand in line for 45 minutes and get spoken at with a megaphone. The words are usually empty; the standard press-fare you get around games. Everyone sounds like a talking press-release. Then you get a t-shirt for your patience.

    I attended GDC, where I could (and did!) talk to some developers for over 30 minutes. Some even went with me out to lunch for for a beer. There was never a line.
  • You can play all the latest games!
    Most of the titles at PAX have already been released. A few are on the cusp of being released. But then again, I don't really put any value in playing new games first. I don't really care about that benefit. I would love to (and do) participate in pre-release testing and sharing opinions to help shape the game - but when the game is pretty much gold and just waiting for the discs to be printed... all I'm doing is getting a sneak peak.

    Playing games "first" simply means that the game hasn't run through all the review sites yet, and there's a much higher chance that it's a piece of crap. Kinda like how the new movie GI Joe wasn't screened to reviewers when it launched - going there on Day 1 means that yes, you are first... But odds of having a horrible experience? Pretty high, and you have no chance of being warned beforehand.

    I really don't know where this whole "I got it first" mentality comes in. I'm not the kind of guy (14-year-old?) who runs to his friends and says "HAHA I PLAYED
    xyz BEFORE YOU!" and my friends get genuinely jealous. I'm a patient fellow; I wait until TV series are cancelled before watching them, for example.

    Contrast this with GDC, where you get to play early builds of games that companies haven't even decided on release yet; prototypes; exploratory gameplay visions... It's quite exciting.
  • You get to see all the FUTURE... TODAY!
    Again, I'm going to have to say GDC wins this one. A perfect example was the 3-D gaming concept.

    At PAX was the marketable (aka Cheap) version of the 3D gaming experience. Showcased by nVidia, they alternate frames on the display for your left/right eye, and using specially sync'd glasses they turn off your opposite eye from receiving said information. Being displayed on a nice 28FPS LCD display, that equated to 14FPS, with a very heavy (and very annoying) flickering effect. The technology is cheap though - a big enough video card with a special jack for the glasses, and you're set. I watched Resident Evil being played in 3D, which I admit looked cool - but ended up making me feel a little naseous and the twinges of a headache. Plus you are tethered to your gaming box to keep the glasses in sync, or you have to keep swapping in batteries for the wireless replacement. Either way is annoying.

    And I'm one of those guys that rolls my eyes at reviewers saying racing games makes them queasy. I'm pretty robust in that department.

    GDC's version was Sony's booth. They had a new TV, where they essentially doubled the pixels. Yep, you have to essentially buy two TVs to get this to work. Half the pixels on screen show left-eye information, and the other half show right-eye information. You get the full 28-FPS experience from your television set, which means no flicker, no headaches, and more information. Since the left/right channels are permanently polarized, you can use any standard cross-polarized pair of glasses - no batteries, no tether. Technically speaking you can also get 2xHD resolution in 2D as well. Obviously expensive though - new TVs for everyone!
  • PAX Panels are awesome!
    No they aren't. I was riveted to my seat for 3 days straight at GDC; I walked out of every single talk I attempted to attend at PAX. It's obvious in retrospect; the attendees are not game developers, they are game players. They don't want the straight-up insightful answer; they want to hear the generic bulk answer.

    I'm also pretty upset that most of the talks I attended ended up being microphone-driven. That is to say, the panelists introduced themselves and immediately opened the mic to questions, and just answered them for an hour. This annoys me for two reasons. First, it implies that they really don't have anything to say or share on their own; the talk has no actual foundation. Secondly, the questions are soooo inaaaaaane.

    Someone went up to the mic and asked the PAX10 panel if Microsoft's XNA framework supported multiplayer. (!!!!)

    Another dude asked the PAX10 panel, "Now that you've released successful games on your own, have you been able to get good jobs at the bigger gaming studios?"... This one just blew my socks off. I suppose the average gamer dude doesn't realize that indie games are an
    escape from the corporate world, not an icebreaker into it. I guess I can't fault them for that, but all in all it was just a waste of my time.
I guess what I'm saying is, most of the things people attend PAX for can be seen a hundredfold better at GDC - minus the lines, the headaches, and the hassles. Of course, GDC tickets cost 10 to 20 times more.

I had a pretty good experience in another genre at PAX though. It wasn't all bad news.

I ended up spending most of my time at PAX playing boardgames. A crapload of them. And I had a ton of fun doing it - it was really interesting and exciting, playing a bunch of things I had never heard of before. I picked out one or two that I'd even like to purchase, and I had some long talks (and played games with) the staff of the creating companies.

Then the realization hit me: This must be what people are getting out of the video-game side of things. I'm fairly entrenched in gaming media - I subscribe to every gaming site I know of in my RSS reader; I read most interviews and watch a lot of gameplay videos. Everything at PAX I knew before I attended. However, I subscribe to zero board game blogs. I don't even know of any that exist (I'm sure there are though), and as such I was taken completely off guard by the scope and selection of awesome board games at PAX.

I therefore conclude one of two things:

a) PAX is for gamers that do not have the internet (and are not aware of upcoming or released titles),
b) PAX is for gamers wanting to expand their horizons beyond their favorite medium, or
c) Both A and B.

I fall into category C, I suppose. Video games were a complete bomb for me; but Board Games was an awesome experience.

I don't have any plans to attend a future PAX (I don't see there being another 40 new board games for me to play if I do go), but if I did attend I'd probably spend all my time exploring RPGs or figurine-games like Warhammer and the like (since I didn't get a chance to myself).

Seattle itself was kinda fun though. I was so exhausted and spent most of my time at PAX itself that I didn't give a good go of the city, but the few places I went to were great. Tried some decent beers and had a really good curry or two.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting comparison. I know i'd have trouble resisting, even after this review, if I lived so close to Seattle though.

    Though, yea. Totally agree about the whole "sneak-peek" phenomenon falling flat. I don't get it either, though I suppose if I were younger (a teenager) I would have that kind of excitement.

    I find GDC is a can't miss kind of thing, also you should think about organizing a jam in the seattle area to sate your meet-up desires. TIGjam Northwest would be pretty successful given that it's such a hotbed for devs. First though, you gotta find someone with a venue in Seattle. :)