No rest for the wicked – another early morning for PAX East today as we got ready for our main con day. I needed to get to the expo center by 10am today so that we could get a game of Steel Battalion going with everyone in the morning. Since the shuttle service is a little slow between out hotel and the convention center, I managed to hop on board a van arranged by a group of fellow con-goers this morning in order to make it there on time. As expected, they were cool about me joining up, and $5 is all it took me to get to the con on time. I departed ways with them at the main entrance, but not before I snapped a quick pic with them and they told me they ran a YouTube group called The Squat Brigade. If anything, its wonderful to meet new people at PAX East.
Nevertheless, Andrew, Austin, and Chris were already in the middle of a game of Steel Battalion by the time I got there. Thankfully, Randall, Austin, and Dan arrived after I did, so we re-queued for another round. Why line up for a round of Steel Battalion so early in the morning? Well, lets just say it’s only the type of game you get to play at a con. It’s a mech battle game for the original XBox that literally comes with its own peripheral designed to control your mech. On top of a custom control console laid out in front of you on your table, there’s a set of pedals beneath you used to accelerate your mech forward and backwards. Its a set-up that would run you about $200 back when the game actually launched, but good luck finding a soul to play with these days.
Thankfully, one of the the dedicated exhibitors at PAX East set up a room that includes not just one but ten of these consoles wired for LAN play. The learning curve is so complex that the exhibitors even start each round with a tutorial to get each player started off. If you need an idea about how complicated it is just to start the game, you need to manually close your mech’s hatch before booting your operating system and then firing up your mech itself. After that it’s even a fairly complex process to pilot your mech – you’ve got switch gears to speed up in addition to locking and firing at your enemies. In fact, the game is so absurdly brutal that if you forget to slam the eject button on your console when your mech goes down, the game will literally delete your save game and profile when you die. Needless to say, it’s an experience you only get to enjoy at a con, when you actually have time to dedicate to such an endeavor. Despite an early lead, I still only managed to place 6th in the battle, though even the chance to play is kind of a privilege itself.
Afterward, it was time to head straight down to Tabletop to pick up our packets for Watch the Skies. Pete and Chelsea were on their game, however, and were able to grab them for us. While down there, I grabbed a game of Forbidden Island and Small World with Dan and Vicki before Pete delivered us our assignments and we headed in separate directions. Around lunchtime I managed to meet up with Kristen Linderman, Matt Cicero, and David Sillitti to make arrangements for dinner at the Barking Crab in Boston. After all, you can’t spend time at a con without enjoying your time with friends as well.
I grabbed a quick lunch with Randall, and then it was back on to the con floor with him, Austin, and my brother Chris, who met up with us late last night. I promised myself I’d explore more of the indie game section today, considering my entire day is going to be eaten up by Watch the Skies tomorrow. Even though I tried my best to see every game today, I still only got to see a handful of them. Randall and Austin, ever the Harmonix fans, got to try out the new Amplitude re-release. Everyone also seems to be pumped about Rock Band 4, which was announced at the beginning of the con on Thursday.
In the meantime, I explored the area and found the highly amusing card-game Never Have I Ever. Any person who has played the actual game with friends already knows exactly how it’s played. Apparently a couple guys decided to turn it into a card game with rules and a scoring system a la Cards Against Humanity. While rifling through some of the cards, I was actually shocked by some of the scenarios they had printed. Everyone knows “Never Have I Ever” is only about the raciest, raunchiest questions you can ask, but even I was surprised by some of the questions asked. Sure, some of them were rather tame – “Had sex before age 18” and whatnot. Others were downright cringe-worthy – “Had sex with the bride/groom before their wedding night”, “Took my kid on a playdate so I could bang the mom/dad while the kids played outside”, and “Accidentally killed my pet” were all shocking entries that far outclassed my own imagination for the game. If anyone were to pick up this game, I can only imagine there would be several questions that would destroy entire friendships.
So what about the rest of the games? There were lots to be seen, obviously. We Happy Few seems to be one of those indie games with a ton of polish on it, even in pre-alpha. In fact, it reminded me heavily of a Ken Levine inspired Bioshock/Thief/Dishonored game. I also got my hands on the PS4 port of Tearaway, ever the award-winner at the cons these days. I was also intrigued by VA-11 HALL-A by SUKEBAN GAMES. Even though bar-tending simulators are nothing new, I was interested in the unique setting of the game, which takes place in a cyberpunk future and uses fictional ingredients like “aldehyde” as clever substitute for actual drink ingredients.
Two games I still managed to miss on the floor were Dreadnought and Axiom Verge. The first has already been recommended to me by three people I’m with this weekend. From what I hear, you command a fleet of space fighters from within the helm of a mighty capital spaceship. It reminds me a lot of the finale to Ender’s Game, where Ender Wiggin is required to command a fleet of fighters in the human armada. I still haven’t even Googled it yet, though, so I can only report what I hear from others. Likewise, Jeremy Banks and a few others recommended Axiom Verge, and even though I haven’t even been able to pass by the booth yet, it’s supposedly getting a lot of attention at the con.
After all of that, my energy was depleted by dinner time. I wound up taking a break for about 30 minutes before meeting up with the others for dinner. I was actually okay with leaving with con a little early today – we rarely get to enjoy the Boston area each year despite being here for three days. We wound up at the Barking Crab, a local landmark with excellent seafood and fabulous decor. I even got two pints of their craft-brewed white ale, which was absolutely delicious. While there we also got to celebrate Dave’s birthday, before we finally grabbed an Uber back to the hotel.
The day winded down with a team meetup for Watch the Skies. I was truly unprepared for the level of strategy this game had to offer – we discussed strategy for two hours at the nearby food court before we finally called it a night. I really can’t believe I’m going to be spending most of tomorrow playing this game, but I really love the fact that I’m going to spending my day doing something I will only ever experience at a con. Likewise, my team mates seem equally enthusiastic about the game, so I’m optimistic about our chances of winning. Of course, you can expect some heavy feedback about the game once I return to Jersey on Sunday. Wish me luck tomorrow!