PAX East 2019: Day One

“Holy s**t!” I scream, interrupting Andrew as he’s discussing the Giant Bombcast. Andrew hasn’t spotted it yet – the pillar of smoke and flames erupting from the road a mile ahead of us.

“What is that?” Jeremy, Andrew’s brother, asks from the back seat of the car.

Traffic slows down and merges left. On the right, a massive 18-wheeler is engulfed in flames. We pass slowly. Something pops loudly, and hot cinders slide across the middle lane. I inch onto the left shoulder, but we can still feel the heat of the fire as we drive past.

“Bet that guy ain’t having a good day.”

It was a hell of a drive to Boston this year for our annual PAX East trip. Andrew and I left my place at 2pm. Between horrendous traffic, exploding trucks, and a wrong turn that added a whopping 25 minutes to our trip, we didnt make it into Boston until 10pm.

Joining us this year is Andrew’s brother Jeremy (“Jay”), who is here for his first ever PAX East. Three people means that we had to skip on Yotel and it’s strange elevators and stranger rooms. Who knows, maybe we’ll be back one day.

It’s an early night Thursday, and we’re out of the hotel by 8am the next morning. While waiting in line for doors to open, I stumble across fellow Stute and Stevens alum Matt Keyser, along with his coworker. I haven’t seen Matt in years! Funnily enough, I mistook him for his brother Kris, who I’ve seen here at the con before. We catch up with each other to pass the grueling wait. Apparently I should keep an eye out for Josh and Allie Habel here as well.

And now it’s off to the races!

Close to the Sun looks like it could be interesting. Set in the early 1900’s, the game opens with a letter from your sister, a researcher on the gargantuan floating science vessel Helios. You accept her invitation to join her aboard the ship, only to discover the place a mess, no one around, and the boat under lockdown by Nikola Tesla, who suspects you of being an Edison spy. It’s not a first person shooter, though it does seem possible to die.

Where it loses me is that almost all of its beats feel directly ripped from Bioshock. It’s got the “Utopia gone to hell” theme complete with an art-deco steampunk aesthetic, where everything has gone to pieces just a little before you arrive, and a megalomaniacal antagonist paranoid of sabatuers ruining his fine city. I mean, it even does the “city in the middle of an ocean” setting. Something about it just feels way too derivative.

Alex Ward of Criterion fame is here advertising his new game, Dangerous Driving. It’s giving me serious Burnout nostalgia. I snap a selfie with him and gush about Burnout 2. He seemed a little anxious to sell the game to me (and was apparently a bit hostile to Andrew). Wonder if finances are tight right now.

Now hey, this looks cool! Just Shapes & Beats is a bullet hell game set to pounding techno music. I was able to witness some folks play a boss battle and it looked intense. Reminds me of something Randall might enjoy.

At another booth is Hyper Space Delivery Service, described as FTL meets Oregon Trail. The single screen interface and pixel graphics also gives me a Gods Will Be Watching vibe. You basically need to make light space jumps across the galaxy while managing time, fuel, oxygen, health, etc. Seems super intense.

Right before I break for lunch I spot a booth for that one game that floated around the internet a few years back. The one where objects got bigger and smaller depending on how far away you were from them. And then you used those objects to solve puzzles.

I know, it’s a vague description. In fact, that last paragraph is essentially what they put on their banner.

A few years ago I saw a video online. It was really cool. It was a game I can’t remember the name of, but when you picked up objects, they would change size based on how far away you were from them.

It was such a cool idea. I wonder what happened to it.

I don’t even think they have a name for it yet. Will stop back tomorrow to actually play it.

Time for lunch. God, do the lines keep getting longer at this con? Even the men’s rooms have ten minute waits. I spot Andrew at the food court. We opt for the shortest line, meaning hot dogs for lunch (Andrew: “Maybe con flu wouldn’t be such an issue if people here ate better”).

Back onto the floor. Let’s go to a lightning round:

  • Flotsam is a resource gathering strategy game where the world has flooded and you need to rebuild civilization on floating buildings. Very bright, cartoony graphics.
  • Rocketboots Mania is a tech demo of a third person parkour/free-running game. It’s actually quite addicting. They’re looking for a publisher now.
  • Mowin’ & Throwin’ is a party game where you have to mow your team’s lawn while chucking fertilizer over to your enemy’s lawn to hinder them. The lawnmower even needs gas. Reminds me of Splatoon with grass.
  • Church in the Darkness, Haunted Halloween ’86, and Dead by Daylight all making a return this year.
  • The Long Journey Home is back. Loved it two years ago as a spiritual successor to Star Control II. Was heartbroken to hear it didn’t get great reviews.
  • Side note: I might be getting a little tired of resource-gathering sandbox games. I snagged an open monitor on the con floor and gave it up almost immediately when the game asked me to gather wood and stones to make a crafting bench.

By random chance I run into Frank and Jack from Steven’s, once again showing off their game Where Shadows Slumber. Last time I saw these guys at PAX it was crunch time. Now their game is out and they’ve got a panel tomorrow at 1:30 about mobile monetization. Good luck fellas!

Immediately after I see Kevin Su from Stevens. We exchange some news about who’s at the con before parting. Kevin’s got enforcing duty, can’t keep him from his work.

It is getting dark out. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.

My last stop for the day is Afterparty, a game by the Oxenfree devs. This one is high on my wishlist – I loved Oxenfree and this one also looks promising. You play two characters who are sent to hell. Their only hope of returning to earth is to out-party Satan himself. I tried to play, but the line was cut at 5:30. I’ll check it out tomorrow.

More hot dogs and nachos for dinner with Andrew (ouch, my pancreas). Andrew and Jay are hitting the Giant Bomb panel tonight at 9:30, which means a two hour wait for those folks. I instead decide to hit a few rounds of Jackbox. I’ll be heading to a panel tonight about an AI trained to moderate panel hrough watching 1000 PAX panels. Sounds like a hoot.

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