The beginning of “Convention season” always gets me excited for PAX East which fortunately for me, is in the first quarter of the year. PAX (Penny Arcade Expo) started out west in Bellevue, Washington for their first show in 2004. Then in 2010, it expanded to Boston for PAX East, and it has been growing ever since. What makes this special for me is that it’s a convention focused only on games, but not just video games. From hardcore D&D to casual tabletop games & card games, they have it all covered. Many of these truly wonderful tabletop game creators even allow you and your friends can try out whole games before you even buy them in a special section of the convention designated for that purpose. The people of PAX are a very friendly community and it is always an enjoyable experience.
PAX East is a much smaller convention than the ones I’m used to, which is a breath of fresh air. I only purchased a Saturday pass because I can normally get through the whole show floor in a day. This year there was a much larger indie gaming presence and while I couldn’t have been happier, it did present me with a challenge. Being the completionist that I am, I had to attempt to get to each booth and find something that would leave a lasting impression on me.
As soon as you get onto the escalator to the show floor, you immediately know where all the big-name studios are. What surprised me was that Twitch had a much larger presence this year than in 2016. They had a lounge where you could network with Twitch streamers and relax. It was a nice addition because all they did last year was hand out deodorant (which I certainly didn’t mind. It sometimes gets a little stinky at the convention) and pamphlets to let people know about Twitch. Then there was also a see-through box with a single streamer inside playing a game. People would press their hands and faces against the glass and watch them like they were in a human exhibit at the zoo. There was also an area where an interviewer would talk to people and developers from the stow floor, but I was more interested in the indie games.
My first stop of the day was at a gaming booth dedicated to Polish game studios. The publisher of the following games was 11 Bit Studios:
Digital Sun is the developer of a game by the name of Moonlighter, an Action RPG with rogue-like elements. You play as Will, a shopkeeper that dreams of becoming a hero. This was my favorite game at the booth. You’re told a story of how the village you live in was once a profitable merchant town and shop owners would venture into the caves and bring back supplies to fill their shop, but soon the caves became too dangerous and the merchants began to leave. You are a brave young hero who dreams of becoming a hero and vanquishing the monsters in these caves. It’s a dungeon crawling game, bit it’s also a shopkeeper simulator. When you get back from exploring caves you can put the items you find on sale.
Pixel Crow is the developer of Beat Cop, a game where you play as Jack Kelly, a former detective framed for murder. You are reassigned to a new precinct where you are stuck writing tickets. Yes, you read that right. This is a text-heavy, story-driven game with multiple endings and sadly I didn’t get enough time it. I’d love to sit down with this one some more and read every bit of the text I can find. Lucky for me and other fans of the game, it releases in Spring of 2017.
The final game in this booth was Tower 57, a top-down twin stick shooter with 16-bit-inspired pixel art, destructible environments, and a heavy focus on co-op. This game was a lot of fun, and the way the “display” was set up was very cute. There was a couch at the very end of the booth. I was handed a controller and taken to the character select screen. There are 7 different characters you can choose from with different abilities. I obviously picked a female scientist, steampunk Abraham Lincoln, and a detective. You pick these 3 character and they act as your lives. If your first character dies you switch to the 2nd one, and so on. This game took me back to my childhood where I’d play these types of games with my little brother. I loved the couch setup which made it seem like you were in a living room playing with friends.
My next stop of the day was the Shovel Knight booth which was oddly tucked into the back corner of the convention. There were only a few show-goers there so I decided to try out the new co-op mode. If you weren’t aware, like myself, Shovel Knight and all of its related DLC are available now on Nintendo Switch, including Specter of Torment, which is currently only available on Switch, and hitting all other platforms in April. Playing it on the Nintendo Switch wasn’t really my cup of tea because the Joycon controllers were a bit too small to work with. After beating the first boss, the trial was over and I left to pick up a Shovel Knight keychain.
My next destination was the Raw Fury booth. The games they had were GoNNER; a cute 2-d platformer with an award winning soundtrack, Tormenter X Punisher; a top-down twin stick shooter where the goal is to survive and you only get 1 life, Kingdom; a kingdom-building simulation game where you control a king or queen and spend your coins expanding your kingdom, and finally Dandara; a metroidvania gravity bending game based on an Afro-Brazilian woman in the colonial period of Brazil.
Across the way was an elaborate set-up of booths for Melbourne International Games Week, Asia Pacific’s largest digital games celebration featuring conferences, events and activities for the games industry, game enthusiasts and the general public. The game that stuck out most was a beautiful water-colored mobile game called Paperbark.
“Paperbark is a game that tells a playful short story of the bush, a wombat and a very hot Australian Summer. It presents a sincere representation of Australian bushland, which has been inspired by iconic historical and contemporary landscape Artists and Australian children’s literature. The player follows a sleepy wombat; who spends it’s day exploring, solving problems and foraging for interesting things. As the story unfolds and new locations are discovered, the adventure builds with the heat of the day. The game has been created as a love letter to wandering through the bush and can resonate with anyone who grew up in Australia, or is interested in it.”
It was a cute whimsical game where you would swipe the screen to make the wombat walk around and if you swipe over the white space that uncovered more of the area around you.
Afterwards I decided to switch gears and try out some VR games. My friend had been deciding between getting VR or the Nintendo Switch and this was a perfect place to try both. Unfortunately for her, she hates horror games which is the biggest genre in VR right now but, we were able to find a few games that were safe for her. The first one we found was called The Lab, a mini-game collection created by Valve. After putting on the headset I was told by the woman at the booth to select the “Longbow” mini-game which is a bow and arrow “shooter”. This game was pretty straightforward. You are perched on top of a wall in your fort and you must shoot at the stick-figure people who are trying to break down your fort’s gate to enter it. When you shoot the stick-figures they release balloons you can shoot to regain your health. It was a silly game but it did a pretty great job of introducing you to the VR world.
We moved onto another VR shooter called Dick Wilde on the Oculus Home. In this particular game you must shoot mutated alligators and other giant swamp creatures while actively dodging projectiles being shot at you. This one was a bit more involved than the other VR shooter, but also more difficult because you have to remember to move around shoot. At the end of each round your score is tallied up according to how many creatures you shot and how many projectiles you were able to dodge.
The Cartoon Network booth was my next stop. Grumpyface Studios, which brought us the critically acclaimed Steven Universe game Attack the Light, is releasing their sequel Save the Light on consoles this summer. I never played Attack the Light, but had heard nothing but good things about the game. It is a blend of turn-based and real-time combat, sort of like Paper Mario, featuring the main characters of the Steven Universe show. The game will still be co-written by the shows creator Rebecca Sugar and it looks like it will further explore the lore in the Steven Universe universe. The only other game at the Cartoon Network booth was OK K.O.! Lakewood Plaza Turbo based on an upcoming Cartoon Network show OK K.O. Let’s Be Heroes. This game is a beat-em-up featuring characters from the show. The portion of the game I played had rhythm elements to it almost like DDR or Stepmania which I enjoyed.
My final destination of the day was the IndieBox booth. I had been excited about this for weeks because there was a rumor they would have Jotun, an action exploration game where you play as a viking warrior who must prove herself to the Gods so that she may enter Valhalla. I grabbed the box and was on my way to purchase the game when a sales rep at the booth informed me that they were having a special deal that day. If I spent another $20 I would get one IndieBox for the following month and 5 game codes. Typoman is their game for the next month and after receiving such high praise I thought it was an amazing deal.
As I headed up the escalator to leave the convention I couldn’t help but feel a little sad leaving my favorite convention. It’s wonderful to be able to get through a whole convention in a day, but I always think about the games I had missed out on playing or the people I never got a chance to talk to. All in all this is a great way to start the convention season and I wouldn’t want it any other way.