On March 11, 2017, for the second time in my natural born life, I attended PAX East in Boston, Massachusetts. Like the last time I attended PAX East, I was only able to attend a Saturday. While it may have been a quick and short attendance for one of the biggest video game conventions held in the Northeast, I did enough to fill an entire day at the convention without ever feeling bored.
I’ve attended New York Comic Con plenty of times to feel prepared for anything. When it comes to PAX East, nothing ever really prepares you for what you’ll see when you first enter the Expo Hall. Maybe it’s because I haven’t attended PAX as much as NYCC and the novelty of the experience hasn’t worn off yet. Standing high above the Expo Hall and taking in the bright lights, the big and colorful logo signs of heavy hitting game companies in the industry, and the noise of excited gamers of all ages and kinds weaving through the maze of booths set up on the convention floor is overwhelming for a lack of a better word. After having my bags checked and flashing my Saturday pass at security, I really needed a moment to pause and let the moment sink in. I was here again and yet my brain and feet just weren’t emitting the proper response signals to get myself to move and descend the steps that will have me merge with the millions of other attendees already checking out what PAX East had to offer. Don’t worry though, I did eventually move.
The first thing I did was take a general sweep of the Expo Hall. The usual suspects were there (Xbox, Playstation, and Nintendo) with many games being played or observed by other attendees. There were sections for PC games, indie games, and of course tabletop games. Anyone can join in as long as there were no lines to wait in for your turn. I applied the same rule I always do at NYCC––skip the AAA titles. Lines at Xbox, Playstation, and Nintendo tend to be long or crowded. While the only game I would have wanted to play test more than anything was Mass Effect: Andromeda at Xbox, I already knew the line would be really long and the wait time would be insane. I didn’t like wasting time on lines, especially for a one-day attendance, and would much rather spend the rest of my day walking around and exploring every inch of the convention. After I did a general sweep of the main floor, I moved onto the second level to seek out the room BioWare was based in for the entire con weekend.
It’s not surprising that BioWare would have a big presence at this year’s PAX. The game is coming out this month (or at the time of this post’s publication it will be out tomorrow on March 21st) and the developers need to get fans excited for the game. Maybe woo the ones who still aren’t sure if they want to buy and play the game. Unfortunately, the only panel BioWare had to discuss Andromeda happened on Friday, which I wasn’t there for. Even though I missed one of the major panels I would have wanted to attend, I took the opportunity to hang out in the room turned lounge where gamers played Andromeda‘s multiplayer, while a huge screen showed off a campaign in progress.
From where I stood and observed, the multiplayer game looked very much like how I remembered Mass Effect 3‘s multiplayer. Also hanging out at BioWare’s comfy lounge were some of the developer’s for Andromeda. Attendees had the chance to meet and talk to the developers about Andromeda and even get their signatures. I chatted with a few of the developers sitting at the long table to the side, as there weren’t many fans crowding their area. Unfortunately, in my blur and excitement of being at BioWare base, I forgot to take note of the names of the developers in attendance and who I spoke to. I asked one developer about the process of figuring out the story for the next game. She said it was pretty much like how writers for television and movies go about developing a story––they lock themselves in the writer’s room and start brainstorming ideas. Another question I asked was if there would be a considerable difference in choosing to play one Ryder sibling over the other from a story standpoint. She told me she didn’t want to oversell what the experience of playing Andromeda would be like, but playing one Ryder twin over the other doesn’t really give players a significant difference in how the story plays out. Meaning you won’t miss anything you haven’t already experienced in your first playthrough if you choose to play Sara Ryder over Scott Ryder. It just means that if you play as Sara Ryder, then you’ll get to interact with the sibling you chose not to play as and vice versa in the game. I then asked another developer about Andromeda‘s multiplayer. What was similar or different about Andromeda‘s multiplayer compared to Mass Effect 3‘s? He told me that when a player plays the multiplayer for the first time in Andromeda, you’ll get a sense of familiarity of the gameplay mechanics if you’ve ever played the multiplayer at all in Mass Effect 3. He mentioned how he went back and played Mass Effect 3‘s multiplayer and then played Andromeda‘s multiplayer, and explained you will notice a difference in what they did for the new game. In a way, if you really enjoyed playing multiplayer in Mass Effect 3, then it’s similar to what you love about that multiplayer but with some new enhancements and improvements to the new game’s multiplayer. After I thanked the developers for speaking to me, I made sure not to leave without getting their signatures on some postcards they had stacked at their table. I didn’t really buy anything at PAX, but this was one of the best souvenirs I took away from the convention along with one other item. More on that later.
The second half of the day was spent doing more exploring before attending the only panel I kind of had an interest in. Their schedule of panels for Saturday didn’t really grab my attention. Any of the panels that involved bigger name games either happened the previous day, like Mass Effect: Andromeda, or the next and final day of the con, which I wouldn’t be there for. The one panel I attended in the afternoon was called Diversity in Gaming: How to Make Characters for Everyone. Because I was sitting in the back and being a tiny lady, I didn’t get very many good pictures of the panelists. The panel did start with a recorded video intro from author Chuck Wendig, who it seems should have been a part of the panel but couldn’t make it out to Boston to be there. The hour involved each panelist talking about why having diversity in gaming or in general was really important. Having stories from different perspectives and experiences not only matters to those who are often underrepresented or misrepresented in entertainment media, but it also educates everyone on those experiences and lives who are different from ours but still very similar.
The panelists picked examples of video game characters they felt were a step in the right direction when it came to featuring complex characters with really different and enriching stories. Among the examples cited were Max Payne, a character very flawed and struggling with drug addiction, and Joker from the Mass Effect series, a game to feature a character with a disability but doesn’t focus on it too much. Instead, it’s more about who Joker is and how he displays moments of heroism in spite of his disability, most notably in Mass Effect 2 when you temporarily take control of his character in a mini-mission of sorts. The panel then highlighted why misrepresentation, such as Arab characters in video games, is troublesome when it is handled incorrectly. A panelist who identified himself as Egyptian mentioned one example where he or his friends would play games that featured Arabic signs that were thrown together haphazardly by game developers who didn’t do their research or didn’t consult anyone who knew Arabic to check for accuracy. But to the gamers who speak and read Arabic, they can see how their language isn’t treated with the proper care or awareness it deserves, even if it’s something as minuscule as a sign to add to the game’s environment or world. I found the panel really informative and I felt I learned something new by listening to the panelists’ thoughts on the matter.
As the day started winding down, I thought I was going to leave the convention without having play tested anything. Eventually, I stumbled upon some of the indie games at the Expo Hall that had no line or had an open iPad free to play the game being showcased. The first game I played was a strategy card game called Eternal. It seemed like a Magic: The Gathering kind of game, even though I’ve never played Magic in my entire life. I went into the game blindly tapping on cards and sending out cards to fight against an AI opponent. At some point, one of the people in charge of this game came over to walk me through the game and advised me on the better moves to make. I lost to the AI when the short demo finished. I definitely had fun with it, but I’m not sure if it’s a game I’d buy and download. The next game I moved onto was another app game on the iPad called Lanterns. The woman in charge of this game explained to me that it was based on the board game Lanterns, which I’ve never played or heard of. Either way, I was attracted by the lovely graphics and decided to give it a try. The only way I can sort of describe my experience with the game is it’s kind of like playing the app version of Mahjong. In Lanterns you have to match and place the lanterns and colors on the best spots on the open lake. There’s also parts in the game where you have to decide if you want to make dedications and which lanterns you’re going to give away to your opponent. I didn’t quite understand how the game worked. Again, because I didn’t know what I was doing, I ranked last against three other AIs I was playing against. Probably if I had time and a bit of extra money to spare, I wouldn’t mind purchasing Lanterns. I was dazzled by the colorful lanterns, and if I knew how to play the game properly, I’m sure I can spend a few hours playing this.
I walked the rest of the floor with a friend I later met up with until we came across a booth that was letting players play a level of Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment. I’ve heard many good things about Shovel Knight and the friend I was with highly recommended I get it. We spent time watching someone else play the demo until they finished it. That meant the game was open to play. My friend and the guy running the booth were convincing me to give the game a shot. I was hesitant at first, preferring my friend to play it, but he wouldn’t have it. Neither would the guy running the Shovel Knight booth. After much convincing (or light peer pressure on both their parts), I took the controller from my friend and gave it a whirl. I discovered quickly that Shovel Knight was very much a platformer, and the kind of games I’m really bad at, but the booth guy and my friend were really encouraging. They guided me on how to do the jumps or which button I needed to press to wall jump. I eventually got the hang of it, a bit, but I did die which ended my turn. My friend took over from there and finished the level quite easily. Despite how bad I am at platform games, watching my friend play the level all the way through convinced me that maybe I may want to think about investing on the game at some point. It was certainly a lot of fun playing the game, and it was even cooler watching my friend fight against the level’s boss.
Remember when I said earlier that my signed Mass Effect: Andromeda postcard was one of the best souvenirs to come away with from the convention? Well, that wasn’t all. I was actually okay with not really buying anything from PAX. Most of the stuff I wanted was too expensive or I managed to grab a few freebies from the con, like free drawstring bags. When my friend and I were walking the floor, we stopped by the Behemoth booth because he wanted to buy some things for himself and his girlfriend. I was browsing the display cases and spotted the knight plushies from Behemoth’s most beloved game Castle Crashers. The plushie I fell in love with the most was Pink Knight, which I dedicated a whole post to on the now defunct Geek Force Network. For personal reasons, I had to save my money and didn’t want to buy anything. I pointed out the plushie to my friend, who knew how much I loved the Pink Knight. I was content with snapping photos of the knights on my camera, so I could have a memento of seeing them at the con. After my friend had purchased what he wanted from the Behemoth booth, he tossed a plushie at me and said, “Here. Consider it an early birthday present.” Can you guess what the plushie was? My beloved Pink Knight. I was really touched that my friend decided to buy it for me and hugged him, thanking him profusely for the unexpected surprise. So you can say I came away from PAX with two prized possessions that Saturday.
My Saturday at PAX East was an exciting and memorable one. I talked to the developers of BioWare about a game I’m super hyped about playing soon and I got to play some games, even if they weren’t the huge titles everyone would want a chance to play in advance before their release dates. My hope is that the next time I can attend PAX East, I’ll get to attend all three days of the con. At least once in my lifetime.
Scroll down for more photos I took from PAX East or check out my sneak peek post from last week if you missed seeing it.