This was the third trip to PAX for Claire and myself, first in 2008 on our Epic Holiday[TM], and again in 2011 after arriving in Vancouver and getting settled in. But this year was special, as two friends and my brother joined us in Seattle for the first four-day PAX ever, and it was fantastic
Mike had arrived in Vancouver a few days early, and we all travelled south to Seattle by train on Thursday evening, meeting up with friends I had made on the last visit to PAX at the station in Vancouver. It certainly helped pass the time on the five hour trip to have friends to chat to.
In Seattle we met up with JP and my brother Stephen. They had been in Seattle for a day already, and had gotten a jump on us by attending a Microsoft event and playing the Xbox One! Thursday night was pretty much a crash, as we wanted to be up super early Friday morning to get into the hall for a full day of PAX.
The whole weekend was amazing! I got so much free swag, mostly in the form of t-shirts, and spent a not inconsiderable amount of cash on merchandise, again, mostly in the form of t-shirts. We all had a blast trying out and seeing upcoming games, and managed to spend time doing our own thing without getting separated for too long, or at least being able to meet up later without difficulty. It helped a lot that the convention centre wifi stayed working under the strain of thousands of nerds on mobile devices for the majority of the time. We could email and tweet at each other with plans from where ever we were at.
Once again, I didn't do much by way of panels. Stephen and JP came in early some mornings to get into interesting presentations without having to queue for too long, which was the best way to do it, in my opinion. I don't see much point in queuing for five hours to play a 15 minute demo of a game I'm already sold on buying when it's released a month down the line. We did go to the Gearbox Software panel together in the Paramount Theatre, which was hilarious and awesome, and then we got to meet the team after at their signing! Very cool!
But my big lesson from this year at PAX was that I'm becoming less and less interested in the triple-A titles on display and more and more involved with the indy games. I found myself in the indy games section at least once every day, trying out games I've never heard of, from companies that might not even have existed in 2011. My favourite games at PAX this year were all from the indy's, from the colourful and frantic four-player chaos of Speed Runners to the beautiful and hilarious Monster Loves You, both of which I got after the convention on Steam. The only triple-A title I spent any time queuing for was Nintendo's HD remake of Wind Waker, and only then for the free t-shirt. I've already played the game one my GameCube.
Two companies of particular note that I got to speak to this year are Vancouver's own Klei Entertainment, creators of Mark of the Ninja, Don't Starve and the currently on Early Access release Incognita, and the team behind my game of 2013, Gunpoint. I fanboyed out bigtime meeting Tom, John and Ryan at their PAX 10 booth. They were a pleasure to meet, and I'm delighted to have been supporting them since launch, buying my copy of Gunpoint before I even had my own Steam account, and before it became the massive success it is. I've been following Gunpoint since November 2011, and I'll be following this team onto their next big project too, whatever that may be.
And it wasn't just the indy companies that caught my attention. JP, Mike, Stephen and myself spend an hour in the DigiPen section, an area showcasing the best games from the DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond, Washington. The games were creative, clever, beautiful and masterfully crafted with love and care, and we spent longer there as a group than at any of the big name booths.
It was interesting to note that more of the Indy games we saw were supporting couch co-op or couch competition. I have many happy memories of playing Mario Kart or Bomberman on the SNES with my cousins, or GoldenEye on the N64 with the garda recruits that stayed with us, each sharing one TV, and having those immediate and intimate reactions only possible when sharing a couch with your opponents. Even from the Xbox 360 era, two of my favourite memories are playing split-screen with a friend. I'd love to see a resurgence in that social gaming with friends in the coming years, and I think indy games might be at the forefront of that.
I hope that the organizers of PAX 2013 noted the heavy foot traffic in the indy section this year and give them a greater space next year. I realize they can't cough up the same amount as the big studios, but they deserve the support and recognition.
PAX was a fun time with fun friends, and I've enjoyed it every year we've been, but Mike "Gabe" Krahulik's recent comments on transgenders and the whole recurring Dickwolves fiasco has definitely soured our interest in ever going again. At the start of September I said we'd probably never return to PAX, but that's a bit premature. I'm not willing to accept Gabe's apologies, as at this point it's clear he either doesn't really mean it, or he isn't learning from his previous mistakes. But I would like to come back to a safer, more accepting, open PAX with my future children and share with them the joy of being a gamer geek.
So never is a long time. But not next year.