Danny’s PAX East 2011 Recap

Just over a week ago we returned from Boston and from my first PAX ever, which I’m very happy to say was incredibly fun for both myself and my wife from start to finish. Without a doubt the highlight of PAX East for me is much the same as other conventions like GenCon, and that’s meeting great people and getting to play games with people that I don’t normally have the opportunity to game with. However there are a few big differences that I noticed which really made PAX East stand out from the other conventions that I’ve been to.

First and foremost PAX East is very clearly a convention designed with gamers in mind, and this concept oozes through every aspect of the con that we experienced. The amount of open console and computer gaming is absolutely staggering, if you wanted to go to the con and do nothing but play console games you could do it and have a hell of a time while you’re at it. I’m talking about an entire hallway of rooms set up with hundreds and hundreds of TVs and computers alongside libraries of nearly every game you could wish for, all there simply for your entertainment and enjoyment!

Who Knew that Gamers like Playing Games?

As if the amount of electronic gaming was not enough, a section of the convention center main hall as large as the exhibit hall itself was willed with tables and dedicated to open tabletop gaming of all kinds. When we first arrived on Friday morning this area was mostly underutilized but through the rest of the convention the area was packed to the brim with thousands of gamers playing various card games, board games, and roleplaying games. It should be no surprise that this room became our designated meeting area, as several of us would stake out a table and sit down to gather friends through the next few hours as they inevitably walked by.

One of the best decisions made about this room, that I hope to see replicated at places like GenCon someday soon, is that a handful of local gaming shops had sales booths set up around the open gaming area. If that doesn’t sound good enough to you, the real icing of the set up is that these vendors often stayed open well beyond the exhibit hall closing which I’m sure only benefited them as gamers seemed incredibly eager to buy all kinds of Magic: The Gathering cards and various board games well into their evenings of frivolous gaming. It was at several of these booths that I did the majority of my shopping at PAX East. I finally purchased a copy of Fiasco to play with friends when Dave isn’t around (who likes gaming with him, anyway?), but the item that made me positively giddy as a school girl was the brand new, still unreleased, boxed set of Battletech from Catalyst Game Labs which I was very happy to get my hands on. A full review of that boxed set is coming very soon, oh yes!

The Exhibits, Let Me Show You Them!

Throughout the three days of PAX East I spent a lot of time around the exhibit hall, but as a matter of choice I decided not to spend any of that time waiting in line. Let me assure you that there were plenty of lines available for waiting, and almost as many that I would have been very eager to join, but I couldn’t allow myself to waste much time at the convention waiting to see a video of a game or play a few minutes of a game that I would inevitably see/play in the next few weeks anyway. The consistently biggest line definitely belonged to Star Wars: The Old Republic, which even had a waiting line during the hours the hall was open early exclusively for press.

The nice thing about not waiting in line to play The Old Republic is that there were still several places that you could watch those people who had waited in line playing the game, and several monitors playing awesome trailers and gameplay footage of the game. For the most part everyone that I know who watched the game at this booth is dying to play the game, and probably the best way for me to summarize it is that it looks like the ‘World of Warcraft’ of Star Wars MMOs.

Here are some pictures of the booth and of the gameplay for The Old Republic (click for larger images):

The next game that I was really looking forward to seeing is the new Mortal Kombat, which is promising to stick closer to the original games in its design rather than the later games in the series which have changed quite a bit. Unfortunately the gameplay moves so fast that getting a picture of it always turned into an unintelligible blur, but let me assure you that the graphics look excellent and the game play very clearly emulates the first two Mortal Kombat games in its style. I haven’t played any fighting games in a long time, but with first Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and now this game I have started to take notice of the genre again.

Here are some pictures from the Mortal Kombat booth:

Next I’d like to talk about a game that I had never heard of before, but had such an engaging booth on the floor that I had to check it out. That game is Fire Fall, which is a free to download and free to play team based action shooter. What really caught my attention was that the game is free to play but the art, design, and game play of it really seemed to be beyond what I was expecting from free games these days. The game play looks fast paced and full of interesting action, reminding me of a lot of other shooters we’ve been playing lately but with the free to play model it might have a distinct advantage over other games.

Another game that I hadn’t heard of but really caught my eye based on its booth on the floor was Child of Eden for the Kinect. The booth was mostly plain except for the large screens projecting the game play, so what attracted me the most to it was the game play on those big screens. It appears to be a kind of shooter, but using the kinect you are shooting mostly abstract and bizarre shapes while traveling through beautiful and surreal looking environments. This is the kind of game that I envisioned playing the first time I used a Kinect, and I’m very happy to see it coming out in the near future!

There were a bunch of other games that I saw but there wasn’t that much new or exciting about them, such as Portal 2, Hunted, Brink, L.A. Noire, Red Faction, Bioshock: Infinite, and Gears of War 3 so I didn’t focus on them in this post. However, you can see some pictures of those games and their booths in the remaining pictures at the end of this post.

What Conventions are Really About

Without a doubt the best part of conventions like this is meeting new people, whether I’ve known them on the internet for years or am just meeting them for the first time, and playing games. The best moments of the con for me were spent enjoying games with some of the people I met while there, and really just basking in the pervasive atmosphere that invaded the convention center district of Boston for a weekend. With the amount of space that was dedicated entirely to open gaming, I get the impression that this kind of experience is exactly what PAX East was all about, and I’m incredibly glad to have been there to experience it!

Here are the rest of my pictures from the Exhibit Hall (click the image to see it larger):