PAX East 2016 erupted into the Seaport District of Boston, MA on April 22 and served as a beacon for all nerds, gamers, otaku, and megafans of the North East. The Boston Convention and Exhibition Center was filled to the brim with a colorful array of characters and video game companies. It was loud, fun, awe-inspiring. After three straight days of playing video games, I was extremely exhausted (and a bit sick), but I would not trade it for anything. PAX 2016 brought the thunder and made sure to wow and shock us for the next year. I’m already excited for PAX 2017, but here are some of the high points of the convention.
Location, Location, Location!
For the past 5 years, PAX East has been held at The Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Unlike the Javits Center (NYCC), this building is three stories of open space. While the show floor is quite crowded with megafans, there were plenty of places that would allow you to get away from the crowd. While it was sometimes a little difficult to navigate, by day 2 I knew exactly where to go! I also knew where to seek refuge from the masses so I could charge my 3DS and play some Bravely Second (review coming soon). The location of a Convention is so important. As stated before the NYCC Javits Center is not nearly as open and easily succumbs to the massive amount of people that flood into every corner. The BCEC is a very clean and open space with tons of rooms for exhibitions, and a great view of the beautiful Boston waterfront. It’s the perfect spot for a convention, and I hope that PAX continues to use this space.
Virtual Reality: I Expect You To Die
We’ve played video games where we were able to control a superspy before. Games like Goldeneye have been an important piece of the videogame fabric for almost two decades. While I did have some cool experiences with Virtual Reality (VR) at PAX, I Expect You To Die was by far the best. Schell Games was showing off their new VR title at PAX and while I was a bit apprehensive at first, the second I strapped on the headset it felt like I was completely cut off from the real world.
In the demo you play as a spy trying to escape a car that is just riddled with ways to kill you. There are lasers, a bomb, and even a cigar, because this evil mastermind wants to cover all of their bases. Within the car clues are left for you to discover, so that you may escape and prove the title of this game wrong. Unfortunately, I wasn’t any good at finding all the clues…and I was able to live up to the title…I died…a bunch. I Expect You To Die had a very simple demo, but it proved to me the efficacy of VR and how it can be implemented properly. I may not be running to Amazon (because no one does) to pre-order Oculus Rift, but I Expect You To Die proved that VR is legitimate, and will push gaming just a little further. It’s about immersion, and I’ve never played a game that was both so simple and yet so all-encompassing.
What sets PAX apart for me from other conventions is the loving embrace of indie gaming developers. A significant portion of the exhibition floor was dedicated to the best and brightest in Indie Gaming. It was a dream to play games by The Behemoth, Rooster Teeth Games, and iNK Stories to just name a few. I was incredibly impressed with 1979 Revolution and after talking with its developers, it’s amazing to see how a video game can have a political effect on the world. 1979 Revolution, a game about the Islamic Revolution, has already been banned in Iran. Iran has come back with their own game to help discredit the work of iNK Stories. That is one of the beauties of PAX, being able to speak directly to the folks that make these games, get their opinions, and understand their intent. 1979 Revolution looks great, and is important for everyone to play.
On the less serious side of the indie spectrum, I got to play Ultimate Chicken Horse, a nonsensical co-op/competitive game that forces players to essentially create deathtraps to ensure that no one reaches the end goal of a stage. It’s quick, addictive, and immensely fun. It shows that indie gaming loves to embrace the simplicity of gaming and proving the intricacy there. This will be a great game to play with friends!
The biggest game of the convention, by far, was Overwatch. Blizzard’s answer to Team Fortress 2 was located directly in the center of the showroom floor. I was lucky enough to play a few rounds of Overwatch and meet with their development team. It was a BLAST! I’m not really much of an FPS player, but Overwatch is much more than just a team-based shooter. The uniqueness of the characters in this game was more than enough to sell me. I totally plan on purchasing Overwatch on PS4 in May. My 10 minutes with the shooter impressed me on a similar level to WoW. Blizzard is incredible at being able to convey their perfect sense of humor while still creating a game that can be taken seriously. I honestly don’t know how they do it. Overwatch will absolutely be one of the biggest games of 2016 and like all Blizzard titles, should thrive far beyond its release year. Team-Based Shooters don’t know what’s coming….or maybe they do. I was able to meet with Assistant Director, Aaron Keller, and it was an absolute joy to speak with someone who is so passionate about their project. I hope all developers think this way, as Keller’s attitude is that of a proud father. He expects a lot of out his game, but is there to guide it the entire way. I hope that Overwatch leaves the necessary impression and wins over the hearts of gamers as it has won me over!
It Feels Like Home
Lastly, gamers and other entertainment gluttons (like us here at PopChomp) don’t always have a place to call home. Many of them are fairly reclusive folks who don’t feel like they fit in anywhere. PAX offers the wonderful experience of allowing superfans from all different backgrounds to meet and celebrate the things they love. It’s a dream for many and the audience at PAX is one that celebrates unity through diversity. We all may come from different places, but in the end we can bond over the things we love. PAX East painted a beautiful picture of the positive sides of the gaming community. As a superfan myself, it’s nice to hear someone say “JRPG” and not receive a collection of clueless glances.
It’s also open to everyone, so it can serve as the perfect introduction to the culture for an outsider. As I traversed the show floor with my camera out, I would see cosplayers running about meeting with fans in graphic t-shirts taking pictures and spewing facts and theories about their favorite titles. With a smirk I realized that these people feel like their at home, as do I. Very few experiences can make the outcasts feel like the popular kids, so I applaud Penny Arcade and PAX for finally giving us a place to return home to each year. See you next year, PAXers!