The enduring appeal of PAX is that it is an exhibit that is primarily about interaction. You can play indy-developed video games and speak directly with the creator at the booth. You can attend panels hosted by game creators, promoters and analysts and ask them questions about their experiences. You can pick a random board game and have a complete stranger teach you the game and play a session with you. If you come to PAX and don’t end up talking to anyone, you’ve basically missed out on the best things about it.
The three day experience remains the optimal amount of time to get the full PAX experience. Ideally you’ll be wanting to spend your time enjoying everything that the expo has to offer – experiencing new technology and games demos, attending panels and chilling out and playing some games (board games, pin ball games, classic games, modern day games). For the last couple of years, I’ve only been able to attend Saturday and Sunday and felt a bit rushed trying to fit everything in. Saturday in particular is a difficult day to plan as it is by far the most crowded day of the expo which means bigger queues and longer wait times. Attending on Friday is the best way to see the various game and technology demos.
Of the playable games in the exhibition hall, my personal highlights included the new South Park RPG Fractured But Whole which looks to be an excellent super hero themed successor to 2014’s Stick of Truth, and there were a couple of independently developed games that stood out. There was an Android-based puzzled game called UFO Tofu, in which you create palindromes based on coloured gems which was really addictive. I also really enjoyed the chaotic multiplayer ‘sports’ game Birdsket Ball which took its graphical inspiration from old Commodore 64 and Atari games.
I only got to play one virtual reality game – the dinosaur shoot ’em up Primal Carnage – which ran on the HTC Vive. It was a decent enough experience but I think the demo that developer Circle 5 created was maybe a tad difficult or too short. The promo videos promised an exciting encounter with a T-Rex but I don’t think I saw a single person make it to that stage of the game.
Board games continue to be one of my favourite parts of PAX. This year we played a handful of new games – Flash Point, Dominion and In The Name of Odin. All three were terrific. Flash Point is a co-operative fire fighter game where you have to rescue civilians in a burning building. In The Name of Odin is a new Norse-themed game where players battle viking ships and compete against one another to amass the greatest reputation on the high seas. We were really enjoying our play session but unfortunately ran out of time to complete our session. You probably need a good couple of hours set aside to finish it.
My favourite game I discovered at PAX has been out since 2008 but I had never had a chance to play before. Dominion is a competitive Medieval-themed deck building game. Like the best of games, it has an appealing mix of strategy, luck and player-to-player interaction. We played it twice over the PAX weekend and liked it enough to buy a copy for home too.
We attended two panels at PAX. First – Sexy Stats!, hosted by gaming personality Eve Beauregard – was an interesting look at how analytics can help the marketing team for a video game understand the potential audience for a game and then once its launched, how to tinker with the game itself – based on how frequently people play the game on a weekly basis, how long they spend navigating menus and how much time they spend on each level etc.
The panel spent a lot of time talking about their experiences studying gaming analytics and also offered some good insight into social media marketing. One interesting tidbit I learned was that company’s should avoid using a Facebook video’s view count as a means of gauging popularity. Facebook only requires the viewer to see a video for 3 seconds before it considers it be ‘watched’, a startling low number considering that they run on autoplay.
The other panel we attended was a live recording of a comedy podcast called 28 Plays Later. I wasn’t familiar with the podcast or the hosts Kris Straub and Paul Verhoeven but I ended up really enjoying it. The show was also capped off with a musical performance from the long-standing Australian musical comedy troupe Tripod.
PAX Aus remains as good as ever. We left this year’s expo having enjoyed three solid days of gaming, caffeine and good eating. It remains one of our favourite events that we look forward to each year and I can’t wait to go back and do it all again next year.