PAX Prime 2013: Day Two

Good morning again from a Sunday morning on Seattle. We’re halfway through PAX Prime and I’m already tired. After several years of attending a three-day show, the folks at Penny Arcade expanded PAX Prime to four days. It’s throwing a lot of people off, and I expect plenty of people will be late this morning getting into the convention center.

Saturday started off with a panel by geek shopkeeps,which was very entertaining and pretty damn funny, which is impressive at 10:00am in the morning. Four owners and managers were talking about the stuff they see at nerd stores like the Pink Gorilla in Seattle and, of course, Gamestop. The common theme is how every store owner took their hobby and turned it into a business, and how they had to change their mental state from collecting for the pleasure of it, to collecting and reselling to keep their business going. It was also a warning for me, a good reminder that I need to keep control over my packrat behavior towards video game art and design books or I might one day find myself running a bookstore, just to have a place to store them all.

After the panel, I hit the show floor and spent some time playing Rome: Total War II. They had two historical battles set up, so I picked the one where I was trying to assault Ptolemy along the banks of the Nile. It’s one of my must-buys next month. After Rome, I walked over to Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, where a new gameplay demo was being shown. I’m not a huge fan of Assassin’s Creed, but the game looked very interesting, and the ship-to-ship combat and treasure hunting might be enough to keep me interested.

After the AAA titles, I spent more time in the Indie Mega Booth. Christine Love and I had been chatting about her game Analogue: A Hate Story at the Valve party, so I sat down and played it for a bit. It’s definitely different, a visual novel set is a generation ship as you try to help an AI recover her lost memories. From there I watched people play the visually-stunning game Nekro. For a small indie studio, it has an amazing design aesthetic, with bloated corpses and exaggerated horror elements woven throughout. Seriously cool art and a fun, minion management system.

Across the way from Nekro was Galak-Z, a space shooter roguelike that borrowed heavily from Macross in its visuals. The designers told me that it only reached playable status a few weeks before the show, but the controls were tight and the game was fun. Galak-Z is definitely one of the standouts of the show for me. As an added bonus, it was playing on the PS4, so I got some hands-on time with the PS4 controller. Comfortable, and an evolution rather than a redesign, like the XBOX One controller it felt natural in my hands. I’m still out on which console to buy.

In the afternoon, I lined up to watch Round Three of the Omegathon. If you’re not familiar with the Omegathon, twenty competitors are chosen to compete in multiple games throughout the convention, which can be as varied as Jenga (played at all three PAX cons this year) to Crokinole (a final round favorite from PAX East 2012), to a freaking crane machine (the final round of PAX East 2010). Round Three at PAX Prime 2013 was Geometry Wars 2, an arcade game on the XBOX 360, except with a twist: each team would be playing on pacifism mode, where you weren’t allowed to shoot the enemies. The tension was super high, as we watched the competitors juke across the screen and, eventually, reach an impressive high score of 12,500,000 points. In a twist, one of the losing contestants had a final game where he handily beat everyone else’s score, leading to chants to keep him instead of kicking him out. Great fun, and I can’t wait to see what’s in the final round this year.

From there, I spent some time in the classic arcade section, breaking my all-time high score on the South Park pinball machine, one of my favorites. I used to play pinball as a child at the beach, and the South Park machine, along with PinBot and the Simpsons machine, is one of my favorites. After I dominated that machine, I moved onto some Centipede and Q*Bert, reigniting my hatred for Q*Bert as I walked away angrily, flattened by a falling ball. Fortunately, right next to Q*Bert was a Street Fighter II Turbo machine, where I cheered on some tournaments and continued walking down nostalgia lane.

Later that night, I went to one of my favorite panels of PAX: Retrogame Roadshow. I’m a pretty serious collector of video game art and design books - I have about 250 video game and movie art books sitting in my basement bookshelves. On our trip to Seattle I only added to that collection, finding a copy of Macross Perfect Memory, an expensive Japanese import from the TV show (called Robotech in the states), a limited edition Fable III strategy guide, and, incredibly, a very cheap set of signed H. R. Giger books: Necronomicon and Necronomicon II. Yesterday I continued to add to my haul, grabbing a copy of Yu Suzuki’s Game Works from Pink Gorilla. Anyway, Retrogame Roadshow is all about four expert collectors pricing rare game items from the audience.

Last night’s items were: An original pink Famicom with disk system, a copy of Mother 2 owned by the translator of Earthbound, a mint, wrapped in box copy of the SNES Cleaning Cartridge (a whopping $15), a copy of Daytona USA Netlink Edition (somewhere around $1500), and, at the end, two - TWO! - copies of the Bill Gates signed, original XBOX launch edition console. One of them was unopened, which was estimated around $4000. We also saw, incredibly, two never-before-seen prototype carts, one for Block Out on the NES (now available as a rom after last night) and the other a prototype cartridge of Gauntlet Legends for Game Boy Advance. Neither had ever been seen in public before. Really an awesome edition of the show.

It’s time to head on back down to the convention center, and prepare for my talk tonight. Remember, if you’re in Seattle at PAX Prime, come to the Raven Theatre at 10:00pm for my talk. I’ll be there regaling you with stories from all of my exploits across online games - something my co-workers at Disruptor Beam have already heard a hundred times, but will be new to you!