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Published on May 3rd, 2016 | by Justin Giza

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PAX East 2016

PAX East is one of the most fun, draining conventions that you’ll ever attend. I’ve gone several times at this point, and each time I manage to trick myself into thinking that I’m rested and prepared, only to be overwhelmed with all the goodies to be had.

I was lucky enough to have a second person with me this time around. My good friend Wesley came in from Philadelphia, and we spent a good portion of the prior evening triple-checking our goods and preparing to hike 4+ hours to a crowded convention hall. I went ahead and packed my PS3 so I could take another shot at Dark Souls. We picked up some bourbon on the way. I hoped that bourbon would help me get somewhere in that game.

This year had a lot of great promises: Overwatch on consoles, Lawbreakers, a gigantic T-Rex at the ARK: Survival Evolved booth, some Final Fantasy XV gameplay, swaths of board games, nonstop panels and musical entertainment, cosplay contests and loads of hands-on time with glorious games at the Indie Megabooth.

In other words, there was no way were going to cover it all. But we were determined to see as much as we could!

Day 1:

We drove from the mighty sixth borough of Jersey City to Boston. I grimaced at the convention parking price, which I swear almost doubled from last year.

Entering the hall is really quite a spectacle. After making your way through the lines, you arrive at a set of escalators that bring you down into the thick of AAA goodness.

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Folks are packed shoulder to shoulder, and that is all at once one of the most energizing and taxing parts of PAX East. Everyone is there for the same reason you are – to share a love of gaming, comradery and enthusiasm for a common interest. Incredible cosplayers meander through the space, indie developers are excited to share their games with attendees and there is SWAG TO BE HAD.

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After quickly scoping out the area, I made my way to the ARK booth. This year, they were introducing their newest version of ARK, Survival of the Fittest, and were hosting a tournament where you could showcase your survival skills.

Jesse Rapczak, co-founder of Studio Wildcard (creators of ARK: Survival Evolved) was kind enough to talk about their booth at length and give some more information about what’s coming up soon for ARK.



Then, graciously, he let me ride the dinosaur. Signing the death waiver was absolutely worth it.

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From there, I decided to take a spin around and look at all the hardware providers. I love tweaking my PC, and there was no shortage of incredible computer hardware to drool over. Steel Series, Newegg, Logitech G, MSI, Roccat, NZXT and others all made a great showing of their latest and greatest hardware and peripherals. I managed to get over to MSI’s booth where they were showing off their incredibly compact Aegis bare bones system. The slick design houses the power supply within the “stand” of the case, allowing for more room in the case itself for all the goodies you plan on filling it with.

 

 

Before the hall closed, I took a minute to buy some Magic: the Gathering cards in the back of the hall. I didn’t open any good cards. I snapped a few more photos of the booths, tried to plot my best pathing for the next day, and Wesley and I retreated to find food and rest up for the following day.

Day 1: Evening: Dark Souls Time

I went ahead and set up my PS3 that I had painstakingly bundled up and packed into my suitcase. I popped in Dark Souls, poured myself a nice bourbon, and then realized that I had left not one, but both PS3 controllers three states away.

Damn it.

Day 2:

This was going to be a busy, busy, busy day. Our appointments started at 10am, and we had a ton of awesome developers and hardware vendors to meet with.

My first appointment was with a really interesting group known as EquityArcade. EquityArcade allows gamers and people to invest (literally) in games they’re interested in, allowing the developers to raise up to $1M in funding. Interested parties are able to effectively buy stock in a game, and if the game does well, they’ll receive a dividend based on their investment.

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It’s a neat idea, one that keeps an investor involved in the project long after the game launches, unlike many Kickstarter projects that might drop off in terms of engagement after it’s through. The buy-in sounds pretty reasonable at a rough baseline of $100, but it sounds like something that’s just got just the right spin on the crowdsourcing market to lift off.

Up next was pretty exciting for me – my first taste with PlayStation VR and a little indie jam called Thumper.

 

Billed as a “rhythm violence game,” Thumper puts you on a psychedelic roller coaster where you’ve got to hit buttons in time with the beat while explosions delight and distract you. The music and gameplay were both pretty simplistic, but Thumper is visually stunning. The VR wasn’t essential to gameplay by any stretch, but made for a really nice first impression of the hardware. Thumper was entertaining, but “rhythm violence” was perhaps a bit of a misleading description amidst today’s bloody games. Still, a visual hoot.

I made my way over to Newegg where I got to test out a pretty nifty MSI laptop that features eye-tracking software. Fully integrated into the OS, it can be used to navigate through applications, or if you’re trying to teach someone to play a game, can be used to show others what you’re looking at on the screen.

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After that came a real treat – my first run with an HTC Vive. SO MUCH VR TODAY. I’m loving it.

All in all, I was having a pretty good day! Things were about to get even better, as we were lucky attendees for the Master of Orion panel, featuring notable voice actors such as Alan Tudyk (Firefly, Frozen, Wreck-It-Ralph) and Nolan North (Uncharted, The Last of Us).

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The panel detailed the latest Master of Orion game, and the Director of Product Vision, Chris Keeling, discussed at length the work that was going into the reboot to ensure that it was both a fresh product and one that remained faithful to the progenitor of the 4X-genre of games.

Panelists discussed what got them into voice acting, and the audience was treated to some nice video of another famous voice actor who will be a part of the reboot – Mark Hamill.

Star struck and feeling pretty giddy, I hopped next to the convention center to meet with a rep from CloudCade, a company that produces the mobile hit Shop Heroes. Part Shop simulator, part RPG, part Sim City, Shop Heroes is a free-to-play game that hits all the right buttons: lots of number to increase, loot drops and a very active community.

I’m always skeptical of Shop Heroes, but I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve emptied a LOT of my commute time into it since PAX. With a freemium price tag (and no energy bars limiting your gameplay), it’s pretty easy to lose a couple hours noodling around and redecorating your shop.

One of the last visits I had was with Octopus Tree Games, who had three games to show off: Buildanauts, Robot Arena 3 and Goliath.

Buildanauts is a sandboxy world-building game where you can build houses, a full road system and more. Terraform to your heart’s content, summon vehicles to handle tougher jobs, and level up your little workers to do jobs more effectively. The game is currently in Alpha, but showed some really nice promise!

Robot Arena 3 is for all the Battlebots lovers out there. With intense customization at your fingertips, you can build robots from scratch and then duke it out in various arenas. Another fun perk is that your plans can be shared through Steam Workshop, so you’ll never get tired of new designs.

Goliath really caught my eye. A top-down survival game that’s similar to Don’t Starve but leans heavily on its plot was something that I really thought was missing from that genre. There’s a lot of focus on sandbox and straight-up survival, but sometimes you just want those elements paired with a nice story. Gather gear, build giant robots, fight in your Goliaths. It looks like a winning combo that I’m really looking forward to seeing polished and out in the wild.

This was about all we had time for on this day. The hall began to shut down, and we needed Mexican food. It was very important that we eat Mexican food.

Day 2: Dark Souls Time (Replay)

I absolutely drove to the Walmart down the road and bought a PS3 controller. I don’t regret it. I managed to suffer through (and defeat!) my first boss in Dark Souls, and then played the gameplay-so-bad-but-atmosphere-so-good Deadly Premonition until I fell asleep.

Day 3:

We started this day right.

We started this day with Overwatch.

I had some hands-on time with Overwatch last year for PC, and Wesley and I were pretty pumped to try the PS4 edition. To be perfectly clear: we are both terrible at first-person shooters. Throw the word “competitive” into the mix, and we’re doomed. Completely doomed.

Here is a picture of poor, doomed Wesley.

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Here is a picture of our poor, doomed team. Doomed because they have to deal with us.

All in all, Overwatch really does lend itself to a fairly painless control scheme on consoles. It’s just as fluid as the PC version, and I feel like I fared much better than I expected, despite being completely used to a keyboard and mouse.

We thanked the folks at Blizzard profusely for our time (thanks Blizzard!) and took another spin around the show floor. Wes took some time with the board game crew, and I went and met up with the folks at Logitech G. They had a pretty fantastic display of 160 their G810 keyboards turned into a giant pixellated screen. Pretty incredible!

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Staying aboard the hardware train, I stopped by HyperX and started drooling over their headsets, RAM and SSDs on display. Though I rebuilt my computer last year, I kind of played the budget conscious buyer and left a bunch of stuff to be desired. Seeing all this awesome gear around me was a good way to kick my computer-envy into overdrive.

I had a great chat with one of the reps about their new Revolver headset, a great-priced unit with a studio-grade soundstage, comfortable memory foam, detachable noise-cancelling mic and mult-platform compatibility. We also spent a little more time than I usually get to talk with my friends about hard drives – they had some very slick PCI SSDs that caught my eye! I’ll probably be scoping those out again soon.

After HyperX, I hopped over to Steel Series where I got a look at the Siberia 350 headsets and the  Apex M500 mechanical keyboard. The Apex especially caught my eye – a few-frills mechanical keyboard with simple but elegant backlighting, a steel backplate and Cherry MX keys for longevity.  At only $99, this is an EXCELLENT choice for anyone in the market for a mechanical keyboard with a simple look and feel of a “standard” set of keys.

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Alas, our time was nearly up with PAX East. We managed to snap a few more photos around the Bethesda booth which was showcasing DOOM and Elder Scrolls Legends, an online card game. Neat!

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Overall, PAX East proved to be as exciting as ever. For anyone who plans to attend and hasn’t before, I would strongly recommend at least two days worth of time. One will simply not be enough to see everything that you want to see, and you’ll have a much better feel for what you want to do on day two if you have day one to plan things out.

PAX is a great way to try a lot of things before the rest of the public, but be prepared to wait in lengthy lines for the AAA stuff. It’s usually worth your while, but this takes planning and time!

VR made a huge, huge showing. The product is looking much better than expected, and I think a lot of developers are running with it very optimistically. Oculus, PSVR and Vive were showcased not just as a novelty, but as way to really enhance your game in a big way. This is going to make for a very interesting 2017!

First hands-on test drives with new material, amazing hardware showcases, fantastic panels and more can be had annually. Perhaps I’ll catch you there next year!

Pictures by Wes Bogan and Justin Giza

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About the Author

Justin spent many of his post-college years eating and drinking nice things and writing about them. He now resides near NYC, where he haunts the Nintendo store like some kind of horrible ghost, and moonlights as electronic and nerdcore hip-hop artist Zilla Persona.



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