Like several thousand gamers, I spent the past weekend at PAX East. It was great to finally meet a bunch of the people I regularly communicate with on Twitter, Wave, and other places. There really are too many to be named, so I won’t even try, but if I introduced myself to you at any point during the weekend it was because I felt it was a genuine pleasure to meet you, and I hope to see you again soon. Unfortunately, with the press of people and the absurdly long lines for some panels, I wasn’t able to hook up with everyone I knew who was there. Hopefully the next iteration of the Expo will handle the lines a bit better.
Despite the need for an extended wait, I managed to work my way into a lot of great presentations. Probably my favorite thing I saw was the first showing of content from the soon-to-be-released documentary Get Lamp by Jason Scott. It’s a really fascinating look at the history of the text adventure game, discussing Colossal Cave / Adventure at length and also covering the Infocom classics such as Zork. The cut I saw needed another round with the editor, had some awkward shots that just went on too long, and was a little over-effusive in its praise of its subject. That last isn’t uncommon in docs made by people who are really in love with their subjects (and Jason clearly really loves adventure games), and I didn’t mind it too much. Many of the interview subjects were a bit too dismissive of graphical games, to the point of being condescending, but I suppose they have reason to be bitter. Overall, the chance to hear about the Infocom era from the people who created the games was great, but the best part of the film for me was an extended section on blind players. I don’t want to say too much about this because it’s better to hear it in their words, but that segment was really moving.
Friday was sort of an IF day, really. In addition to the Get Lamp showing I attended the Interactive Fiction panel, which was very good. Andrew Plotkin showed up a bit late and was challenged by an Enforcer who didn’t recognize him. I’m glad he didn’t get tossed out of the room, because he had some interesting things to say about writing twists into his games.
The “Rainbow Color” panel dominated by the GayGamer.net crew was unfortunately one of the most sparsely attended presentations I saw, but it was really interesting and featured some great stories. Overall, the tone of the panel was quite positive, which is understandable given recent steps forward like the changes to the XBox Live gamertag policy and the widespread condemnation of the Modern Warfare 2 “F.A.G.S.” video. Of course, the reality is that the industry is still dominated by straight white dudes, and although there are some champions out there, companies are still rife with sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. Helen McWilliams also had some pointed comments to make about some nearly universal attitudes towards bisexuals.
Not every panel I attended was as good as those, but there were some interesting nuggets at the panels on the death of print, the importance of sequels, and the one-hour RPG design. Speaking of RPGs, I also got to see four guys from Obsidian get buzzed during the panel on choice in games. And speaking of the excessive influence of straight white dudes, the Russian lady in their upcoming game seriously needs to put on a coat. Winter is cold in Moscow.
The expo floor was crowded, but a little light on things I was interested in. I got to see a couple of neat indie games, thanks in part to the showcase. Slam Bolt Scrappers will end up either being hot, or a mess, or perhaps a hot mess. Looking at Limbo and Miegakure resulted in two similar experiences, which reminded me that the only thing more frustrating than sucking at a puzzle-platformer is watching someone else suck at a puzzle-platformer. You have this uncomfortable feeling of wanting to scream advice at the poor bastard who’s repeatedly failing, even though you know your advice is just as bad as their instincts. Anyway, both of those games earned my attention, although the difficulty is something I’ll be keeping in mind.
I dropped by the Mommy’s Best Games booth to watch people get bowled over by Shoot 1UP and to check out Grapple Buggy. The new game looks every bit as awesome as you might expect, though it needs a little work on the physics. I was told they were currently hoping to get the game to XBLA sometime next year. In the meantime, if you have an XBox do yourself a favor and buy Shoot 1UP from the Indie Games portion of the Marketplace. It’s awesome, and it only costs a buck!
Since the end of the expo, I’ve seen a couple of pieces effusively praising Monday Night Combat. I have to admit I walked right past it because the character design made me instantly dismiss it as a TF2 clone. Glancing over the website, it looks like Uber Entertainment might be a bit touchy about this subject. Instead I went next door to the Atomic booth, where they were showing off Breach, a class-based multiplayer shooter emphasizing the use of cover and environmental destructibility. Ordinarily this is not the sort of game I find rewarding, so I’m reluctant to shell out full-game price for it. Fortunately, Breach is supposedly only going to be $15, which makes it a somewhat more attractive proposition. It seems I wasn’t the only person interested – some dickhead tried to steal the game’s code right there at the show. Anyway, if buying it helps Atomic bridge the gap until Six Days in Fallujah reaches retail, so much the better.
On that note, some publisher needs to (wo)man up and sign a deal for Six Days. I can’t guarantee that you’ll make money, hypothetical Six Days publisher, but you will max out my respect-o-meter. I am already contemplating buying a game in a style I don’t much care for just to support the possibility of seeing this game; the reality of its imminent release may cause me to reassess your portfolio, wallet in hand. Just sayin’.
Anyway, it was great to actually meet so many of the people I correspond with online. PAX was a great experience, and with very few exceptions it really put the pleasantness and creativity of gamers on display. I’ll definitely be going again next year.