PAX East 2017: Day Three

We lost an hour of sleep last night, and I’m already running on fumes. The weather hasn’t gotten much better either.

We’re at the con at about 9:30, so I have time to line up for the floor opening. Andrew recommended checking out Absolver, so I head there first since it had a long line yesterday. The line is already stretching around their booth by the time I get there. A dev luckily invites me to the front of the line since I’m not grouped with anyone, so I probably skip a good 30 minute wait.

Although Absolver is meant to be a Dark Souls with martial arts, I’m not big on fighting games and queuing up combos to kill enemies was not my cup of tea. Maybe I’ll change my mind on it later.

Of course, if I wasn’t a fan of Absolver, then Fantasy Strike wasn’t going to fare much better (sorry Andrew!). Fantasy Strike is a fighting game created by a former Street Fighter dev. One thing I did enjoy about it is that it’s much more simplified than a standard fighter – no up/down positions, and combos are reduced to fewer button presses. Your health bar is also measured in blocks rather than a bar, so landing hits is easier to keep track of. I played against a fighting game aficionado, and he had a much better appreciation of the game’s mechanics than I did.

I pass the Devolver Digital booth and decide to give Ape Out a try. I really enjoyed this one. You control a rampaging ape trying to escape a facility as armed guards chase you down. It’s essentially Hotline: Miami but with melee combat and more of an emphasis on running and outmaneuvering your enemies. Like Hotline: Miami, you’ve basically got one or two shots before you are dead, so survival often comes down to making the right choices within a few critical seconds.

Last night, Dave and Brett recommended a game called The Long Journey Home to me based on my love of FTL. They turned out to be totally right – not just because it’s like FTL but because it’s basically a spiritual successor to Star Control II, one of my favorite games and an underrated gem.

The developer was ecstatic when I asked him about this – he confirmed that Star Control II was the game’s primary influence. He says the reason he made the game is because Star Control II has no modern analog. I agree with him, and I hope that The Long Journey Home finds a warm welcome in the modern gaming community.

At noon I head up to the game journalism panel, but on the way I bump into Randall, Chelsea, and Austin getting out of the GearBox panel (a bit of a disappointment, from what I heard). They’re heading to Danny O’Dwyer’s panel covering his new video game documentary series, NoClip. I decide to join them instead.

After the panel I grab some lunch with the crew (and brave the freezing weather to hit the food trucks). Around 1:30 I head back down to the expo floor again to do a final sweep. On the floor I bump into the last person I expect to see – my friend Kristel, whom I haven’t seen since probably college. First Chris yesterday and now Kristel today – small world we live in.

She tags along with me to try out Tooth and Tail. It’s essentially a party RTS for four players that can be played on consoles. You harvest food from windmills and use that to build spawners, which automatically create units for you to command. It reminds me heavily of Cannon Brawl. I managed to take out the green player, but blue destroys both of us with a large group of flamethrowers. He wins a free copy of Monaco – no big loss, I already own it.

Kristel and I part ways when I go to attend the Streaming 101 panel with Cathy and Matt. I’m 10 minutes late. The streamers there give some general advice – don’t worry about the perfect time to start streaming, don’t focus on numbers, make sure to interact with your audience. They also show off Beam, Microsoft’s streaming service.

I head out 10 minutes early to get to my last panel on journalism, but my attention is shot at this point so I basically chill on my phone for most of it. I also saw a lot of this panel last year, so there’s not much new info to absorb.

For the last hour of the con I do a rush of the booths to grab pins for my lanyard. I bump into Andrew, Austin, and Dave on the expo floor. We’re all burnt out and ready to go, so we say adios to the expo floor and get ready to make our way home.

It’s time to get out of this god-forsaken city (ahead of the blizzard, no less). My top 3 picks for the expo floor:

  1. The Long Journey Home –  Did I mention it’s filled with a ton of sci-fi references?
  2. Ape Out – They missed the chance to called it “Going Apeshit”!
  3. Tooth and Tail – Because I’m too dumb to play StarCraft II.

I’m going to sleep for the next 24 hours.

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PAX East 2017: Day Two

The air hurts my face today. The rest of the crew are going to a Resident Evil Escape the Room this afternoon, so I’m on my own for a while. I take a shuttle to the con for the first time in years because it’s too cold out to walk there. Good thing I have my Bruins socks to keep me warm.

The con has changed a lot since we first came here six years ago. Before, the indie section was almost non-existent. Now it’s at least half the floor, and there are actually lines even at the smaller booths. I find myself skipping several booths just because of this.

The first game that sticks out is Kismet, a VR psychic reading sim. Like, literally sitting in front of a physic reader and having your fortune told. You can pick tarot cards, get an astrology reading, or play a game of chance. I don’t know what content the game offers besides this, but it’s still a pretty amusing application for VR.

I take a selfie with the creator of Myst. He’s at a booth for Obduction, the spiritual successor to Myst for VR. I tell him how much I loved his game as a kid – he seemed to appreciate that. The line is too long for now, but I make a mental note to return tomorrow.

Up next I try Asura, a top-down rogue-like dungeon crawler. Same old story, I know, but what makes this one interesting is that it’s based on Indian mythology. The developer is also Indian, but that’s probably pure coincidence.

And what the hell is this!? Two dudes on stationary bikes wearing VR headsets? Oh god, that one episode of Black Mirror is coming true. Sadly, it’s not much more than a tech demo, but we all knew exercise VR would happen eventually. It’s kind of comical to watch to be honest.

Lunch break. I bump into Andrew on the conference floor. He tells me to look out for Absolver. Noted.

More games in the second half of the afternoon:

  • What Remains of Edith Finch has a really cool house prop built for its booth.
  • Bounty Train is a Railroad Tycoon-like sim with more of a micro-management/adventure approach. Plus stagecoach robberies. I play it for about an hour. It’s actually a lot of fun.
  • Kona is back from last year! With a bigger booth this time. It’s a narrative murder mystery set in the wastes of northern Canada. They release on Friday, and I really want to try it out.
  • The Church in the Darkness is a stealth-action thriller that appears to involve you infiltrating a cult-like church community. Looks well-polished.
  • Someone is releasing a new game on the NES called Haunted Halloween ’86. It’s programmed in the NES assembly language (good lord).
  • A Night in the Woods was on the floor, but it’s already out on digital download. It’s supposedly very good.

Towards the end of the day I bump into my old room mate Chris Delgado and his girlfriend Amy. Considering I haven’t seen him in a few years, running into him at the con was pretty shocking. We take a selfie before parting ways.

With the con floor closing shortly, I head up to the Jackbox lounge to relax. The day has one last surprise meeting in store – Ian Noel, who’s been a PAX Enforcer for several years now. One more selfie? How could I not?

Some folks are heading to the GiantBomb panel tonight, but I’m punching out early to celebrate Dave’s birthday over dinner. It’s 15 degrees outside.

Some games I still need to check out tomorrow:

  • Fantasy Strike (Andrew)
  • Absolver (Andrew)
  • The Long Journey Home (Dave/Brett)
  • Obducted
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PAX East 2017: Day One

We have arrived in the Land of Always Winter. A foul blizzard blows in from the north. After ten minutes of walking through the cold this morning, I realize that wearing Converses without socks was a bad idea and I am forced to buy Bruins socks from a local tourist stall. I don’t even know what sport the Bruins play.

The line is peculiarly long this year. By the time we make it inside, my toes have gone numb. Miraculously, our groups show up to the lobby almost simultaneously. Together we number 10. This is the calm before the storm, the one time this weekend we will actually be together in the same area before we fracture into groups.

Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t take long for us to split up. A quick detour to the restroom and they are gone without a trace by the time I get back. I immediately use the time to hop over to the Indie showcase.

At the indie mini booth I bump into Kyle Seeley, the designer of Emily is Away. I compliment his game and tell him I’m looking forward to the sequel. Also, I take a selfie with him.

The highlight of my day comes from the developers of BCE, a pre-historic fighter game. Unable to land a booth on the show floor, they built an arcade cabinet costume and walked around with their game on the floor itself. I picked up a controller with a fellow con-goer and fought the developers (we won). Talk about a guerilla marketing campaign. Color me impressed.

After meeting up with Matt and Cathy on the con floor, we tour the indie section and board games. Along the way we find Caroline, Jack, and Frank at Revenant Games showing off Where Shadows Slumber. Congrats again on making it to PAX East guys.

Some games we investigate while on the con floor:

  • Bulb Boy: A macabre point-and-click adventure where everything is shaped like a bulb.
  • Cat’s Manor: You’re a cat. You solve puzzles.
  • Xenno the Rogue: A basic 2D platformer with throwing axes.
  • The Shrouded Isle: A human sacrifice management sim. It’s so bizarre, we loved it.
  • BlockPocalypse: Build a tower blocks to escape rising lava. This was pretty cool because was four player co-op.
  • Ten Minutes to Kill: A logical deduction board game where you must hunt down three targets on the board while trying to avoid detection from other players.
  • Gruff: Cathy and Mate bought this (board game) but we didn’t play it yet.
  • Pit People: We somehow managed to sneak into a free spot at the Behemoth booth. Stamper’s voice is hilarious.

The floor closes at 5pm. I bump into Andrew in the hall. He recommends Fantasy Strike, which I will try to hit tomorrow. Matt, Cathy, and I head to the video game data panel at 5:30. Some interesting tidbits:

  • Female gamers account for roughly 55% of mobile gamers. It’s a little more skewed at 36% for PC. Nevertheless, a third is still an impressive number of female hardcore gamers.
  • Last year there were 7,000 digital game releases, almost all of them for Steam.
  • Lower barriers to entry for digital publishers means more cross-platform releases (which jumped significantly in 2016)
  • Men overwhelmingly tend to be heavier payers for mobile games (more impulsive I suppose?)
  • There are billion dollar premium (paid) and free-to-play PC/console games and billion dollar mobile games. But so far, no bestseller premium mobile games gave come out.
  • The top 2% of console games generate about 30% of console revenue.
  • Clash of Clans is basically dominating mobile gaming revenue.

And that’s it for Friday. Matt, Cathy, and I are heading to dinner with Alexis Holmdal (at the Squealing Pig in Jamaica Plains). The snow hasn’t stopped for hours. Tomorrow will be brutal.

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PAX East 2017: The Pre-Game

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Last time I posted, I had just reviewed Catherine back in November (still stuck on that game, actually). But with PAX East 2017 looming large, it’s time to shake off the winter hangover and get ready for three days of con coverage.

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Catherine: The Girl You Don’t Take Home To Mother

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It only took a few minutes of playing Catherine to know that I was going to enjoy it. On the surface, Catherine is a puzzle platformer with a grim premise: Climb a collapsing tower of blocks in a terrifying nightmare world or fall to your death below. Wrapped around this is a dating sim that forces you to weigh your (increasingly bleak) prospects with two competing women.

The result: A macabre game with pitch black humor and stylish animation that explores the morals of marriage, relationships, cheating, and gender politics. Oh, and death. There’s lots and lots of death. I simply love these types of games that take dark, violent gameplay and coat it with a nice layer of surreal humor. Think No More Heroes, and you’ll get what I mean.

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Battlefield 1: Nothing Is Quiet On The Western Front

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Tim mows down a trench full of soldiers from a zeppelin gunner’s nest. I blow up a plane mid-air using a tank shell. A horse gallops by at full trot, both it and its rider aflame.

These are just a handful of the “holy shit” moments Tim and I experienced within our first few hours of Battlefield 1. With the Civilization VI launch last Friday, I didn’t expect to touch a new AAA title anytime soon. Thankfully, Tim is a die hard Battlefield fan and picked it up for the XBox One, and I’m still coming down from our last game’s adrenaline rush.

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Civilization VI: O Brave New World!

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I’ll admit, I was worried Civilization VI might not turn out well. In a previous article, I wrote about my love affair with Civilization V (and my sincere disappointment with Beyond Earth). One of the reasons I was wary of Civ VI is because Civ V already does so many things perfectly: The cleverly-balanced combat, the struggle to outpace your opponent through a myriad of overlapping game systems, and an addicting sense of progress that’s interwoven perfectly with the actual historical advancement of the human race. Not to mention the charming faction leaders that were so noticeably absent from Beyond Earth.

It truly seemed to me like the series had nowhere to go but down. Sure, they could tweak a few mechanics, but would that feel enough like a new game? And if they abandoned the old mechanics entirely, would it no longer feel like a Civilization game? It turns out I was wrong on both parts, and Civilization VI is unfolding to be one hell of a game.

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Emily Is Away: You’re A Frigid Bitch, Emily

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Long before social media dominated our lives, we crafted our online personas through the glory of AOL Instant Messenger. We chose our buddy icons based on the latest movie releases, customized the our font to the most unreadable colors possible, and added our favorite song lyrics to our profiles (or if you were like me, added the most sarcastic comedian quotes you could find). Truly the early 2000’s were a magical time.

Emily is Away is a friend-zone simulator based around your AIM chats with a girl named Emily, your “best friend” as you prepare to graduate high school. The game takes place across five years, from your senior year to your final year in college. During each chat session, you’re presented with three different ways to respond that may change the course of your conversation or the actions you agree to take in real life (which happen off screen). In this way, it’s a lot like a “choose your own adventure” game that takes place across AIM.
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Achievement Hunter: My Quest To Nab All 286 Civilization V Achievements

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About three years ago I lamented on a Facebook status that I would have to spend the rest of my life playing Civilization V before I acquired every one of its 286 achievements. A friend shot back a challenge: “You’d better get started then, man.”

Now its the eve of Civilization VI‘s launch (Beyond Earth is for heathens), so it felt like a good time tally my progress. Just the other week I managed to pass the halfway mark with 154 achievements, a whopping 54% of the total. That’s 209 hours of gameplay as well. An honorable run, I’d have to say.

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Enduring Dark Souls’ “Return to Lordran” Day

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Dark Souls isn’t a game I ever thought I’d attempt to beat. My lack of free time means I don’t easily stomach frustration, and the Souls series’ brutal reputation basically kept me away for good. But after getting a taste for Bloodborne, I eventually consumed Demon’s Souls and, well, here I am. Dark Souls was the inevitable next step.

By fortunate coincidence, “Return to Lordran” day was scheduled for October 4. This annual event was initiated by the Dark Souls community as a way to rekindle the game’s online experience following the success of Global Restart Day earlier this year. Dark Souls has remained enduringly popular over the years, attracting a dedicated following that continues to discover new aspects of the game to this day. Many gamers consider Dark Souls to be one of the best games of all time. The game’s age, however, means that online participation has slowly dwindled over time, taking away a significant part of its experience. “Return to Lordran” was the community’s answer to that problem, bringing together veterans and newbies alike to relive the magic of launch day.

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