PAX Australia took place over Halloween weekend 2014 in Melbourne, Victoria – marking the second anniversary for the growing event, and another successful satellite show.
Short for Penny Arcade Expo, PAX started in 2004 when Penny Arcade founders Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik wanted to attend a show focused specifically on gaming. Besides PAX Australia, you can also attend PAX East in Boston, PAX South in San Antonio and PAX Dev, a developer conference, in Seattle – and there’s plenty of reasons to do so.
Indie Games Galore
For me, one of the biggest highlights of PAX Australia 2014 was the nod given to indie development, particularly given that industry events are so often led by triple-A publishers, energy drinks or first-parties like Microsoft and Nintendo. While the aforementioned were out in force, so too were the developers of some of next year’s best releases – many of which are still largely unheard of.
Among the best of them was Kickstarter-funded Bearserkers – a frantic multiplayer arcade game that involves trying to get fellow players eaten by bears in order to survive. It’s easy to pick up, tough to master and difficult to put down.
Upcoming comic book puzzler Framed is looking every bit as promising as it always has, as you re-order frames of animation to change each scene’s outcome and progress to the next page. Also proving that mobile games can steal the spotlight was recently launched free word puzzler Bonza, which puts a unique spin on a popular genre.
Two indie shooters also really stood out. Screen Cheat is a split-screen party game where everyone is invisible, and that means you absolutely have to screen cheat in order to win. The other was Gunscape, a Minecraft-meets-Quake spin on the fast and frantic old school deathmatch genre, with an emphasis on community-created content.
The full list of indie titles was huge, with everything from the crowd-funded and diversity-focused game Ninja Pizza Girl to the retro-tinged strategy of Black Annex, There was something for all tastes. The ability to talk to developers about their games can even involve you in the development process, with many speaking highly of the feedback they receive simply from talking to attendees.
Prove Your Worth (Or Play For Fun)
While most gamers love a challenge, not everyone is competitive. For those that are, PAX offers something special. The price of admission grants you access to tournaments all weekend (on just about every platform) with real prizes up for grabs. Also taking place over the same weekend were the League of Legends Oceanic Regional finals, featuring live commentary, massive crowds and chanting. It’s quite a spectacle if you’ve taken your eye off the eSports ball recently.
The “freeplay” areas were another highlight, offering attendees the ability to borrow and play a huge range of current releases. It’s a great way to play the consoles you don’t own at home (finally got my hands on Mario Kart 8) or try any new releases you’ve been eyeing up. There was nothing competitive going on here – simply a chance to kick back and play.
Of all the consoles dotted around the exhibition centre, none begged to be played quite like those found in the Classic Games area. I played Donkey Kong on a Coleco Vision, Sensible Soccer on an Amiga CD32 and watched the most exciting of Bomberman ’94 tournaments – all of which trumped the triple-A exhibitors in terms of sheer enjoyment (or I’m sad and boring – you decide).
PAX attempts to make itself different to the many other, bigger gaming events. Attendees with media passes can’t queue jump, and there’s only an hour each day for media to walk around a deserted exhibition hall before the hordes arrive. Arguably the biggest announcement was the Star Citizen FPS demo, and even that was a small reveal.
It’s a celebration of games, rather than an attempt to get you to buy as many as possible. This doesn’t just include video games, but extends to card, trading, board, tabletop and role-playing games. Before long, you’re surrounded by individuals who share your passion (or maybe a handful of them), and with no great focus on the latest or greatest announcement, there’s plenty of time to let the festival itself shine.
Being Halloween weekend, cosplayers brought the halls and corridors to life with homemade tributes to their favourite characters. Worldwide volunteer costuming alliance Rebel Legion brought a “life-size” Snowspeeder, R2D2 and plenty of costumes. Wargaming.net (think World of Tanks) packed a 1941 M3 tank and OriginPC had a very cosy Battlefield 4 setup inside a real APC. In this respect, PAX feels big enough – and there’s the ridiculous industry-standard amount of free stuff, too.
If there’s one game that sums up the fun of PAX (and similar conventions) it has to be Johann Sebastian Joust, a graphic-less egg-and-spoon simulator available as part of the Sportsfriends compendium on PlayStation 3 and 4. The aim of the game is to protect your motion controller from sudden movements, while attempting to topple your opponents. It’s even better when Lemmings play it, as you can see below.
Triple-A Titles Too
It might seem odd to mention the big releases at the end, but that was how I felt my PAX played out. While the big exhibitors drew the crowds, I had a lot more fun wandering around the Indie Pavillion, watching people play tabletop games I knew nothing about and finally getting my hands on some of the rarer retro consoles that existed before I did. I also had a chance to play the triple-A titles, many of which are nearing their pre-Christmas release schedule.
Far Cry 4 and Assassin’s Creed: Unity were both stars of the Ubisoft stand, with rubbery arcade racer The Crew veering into somewhat middle-of-the-road territory. Sunset Overdrive (which had its Australian release before PAX) and Halo: The Master Chief Collection were also present over on the Xbox pitch.
Bethesda showed off their latest project, Battlecry – a free-to-play shooter set to rival Team Fortress 2, but all I could think of was Action Half-Life. Also present was Evolve, an exciting asymmetric shooter due for release in February 2015 that uses a unique 4 versus 1 mechanic. Though there are a few Destiny-esque problems to work through, the teamplay itself is already enjoyable.
Oculus was there in force – complete with a playable VR Alien: Isolation demo. In case you didn’t fancy queueing around the block for the Oculus exhibit there were many other virtual reality games dotted around the hall, most of them in the hands of indie developers. Not all were good, but there was little excuse to leave PAX without finally trying the technology for yourself.
One smaller pleasant surprise came in the form of PS Vita game Tearaway, a game I’d never played before, from Media Molecule (the guys responsible for Little Big Planet). The game depends on a mechanic that involves manipulating the world using the Vita’s rear touch panel, and it does a stellar job of making you feel like your fingers are actually poking through the screen.
If the idea of attending a festival of gaming appeals to you, PAX is worth your time. There’s plenty I haven’t mentioned – from the screening of fan-made films, to panels with experts and discussions about breaking into the industry. If you enjoy games, you’ll find it hard not to have a good time at PAX.
Visit: PAX Worldwide
Did you attend PAX Australia?