As I shift this blog away from “strictly project updates” and into “personal updates that won’t fit in 250 characters” we find ourselves in interesting and somewhat archaic turf. I used to post to my LiveJournal (ha!) all the time with essays on what’s been happening in my life. Let’s resume doing that, shall we?
Last weekend I was up in Boston for PAX East.
Let me be incredibly negative up front, because I’d like to load up on the positive afterwards.
Everything about PAX was great. Everything around PAX was absolute hell. Boston in March means blizzards and sub-freezing temperatures, gale force freezing winds, and airport delays due to breakdowns and rerouting and weather issues. This is a lousy time and a lousy place to combine together for a nerd convention, and it resulted in two solid days of travel hell. Add on top of that the lack of really good hotels close to the convention center (the Westin is perpetually unavailable) and you’re gonna have a bad time. Our hotel, the Element, was a weeeeird “hostel” style hotel. It had a kitchen! …with no grocery store around for two miles. It had a foyer and a desk and a couch! …and incredibly tight walking spaces around the beds. Too much stuff we didn’t need crammed into too little space.
And while I don’t wanna appear whiny… being disabled at a large-scale public event like this sucks real bad. Everything others take for granted… the ability to use any old random chair, bed, shower, or toilet… I don’t get that. I need adaptations, tools, or helpers for every single thing I want to do. The Boston Convention Center is a complete mismash of weirdly random toilet heights, none of which are kept particularly tidy, all of which have lines and irate bastards waiting to pee. When I finally do get back to the hotel room, I can’t even go to bed on my own because those big-ass queen sized hotel beds are 65% as tall as I am and I can’t climb in. So, yeah. It’s not fun. It’s very, very not fun.
And there’s always the question of: what’s the tipping point? When does the not-fun outweigh the fun? In past years, when it was merely cold and not apocalyptic, or when we had a better hotel… that was clear. This year was more balanced, and that’s bad. I haven’t given up hope, though, and I can say for sure that there was some fun to be had.
So let’s talk about what was fun: games. Here’s everything I played and what I thought of it. My main focus was indie games, particularly arcadey ones that’ll run on my arcade cabinet. You can keep your AAA’d open world military shooters; those are a waste to demo while at PAX. Instead I went for the weird stuff.
Adult Swim Games brought out a number of heavy hitters. Kingsway, a game that plays like using a Windows 95-esque operating system? Innovative as hell. Battle Chef Brigade? Saw it on Kickstarter, didn’t think much of it at the time, but boy is it a blast to sit down and play. Katana Zero? Delicious pixelly murder. My friend Sean Baptiste was there showing off the goods, and boy howdy were they good. I kinda like this niche ASG’s carved out for themselves, curating a fine roster of indie talent that always brings something a little new and a little quirky to the table, without sacrificing quality to get there. Oh, and the best part? The dev for Battle Chef Brigade actually took his demo unit apart because the cord on the controller wasn’t long enough to reach short l’il me. I’m no journo, I’m no influencer, I’m just some schmuck and yet he still went the extra mile for disability support. That’s professionalism.
Then there’s the Visual Novel Reading Room, which was a tiny expo hall inside a smaller expo hall (the Indie Megabooth) inside the actual expo hall. Here’s where all the Renpy games landed, ranging from amusingly stereotypical otome stuff (Spirit Parade) to weird death game datesim shenanigans (Date or Die) and some things I really wish I’d played but missed (We Know The Devil). It’s not all my flavor but it’s all good research for my own future aspirations, showing what’s possible and what’s tried and true in the form. …but more on that later. Later. Patience, friends. Patience.
Other random games I found included an arcadey realtime strategy game with beautiful pixel art (Tooth and Tail), a cute Ouendan-style game for iOS with a hiphop culture vibe (Floor Kids) and a goofy litttle game about dogs barking at people to make them throw their food in the air (Russian Subway Dogs). All cute, all easily overlooked, but all worth your time. Indies are tricky, because often they’re tucked away in obscure little corners of the expo hall, overlooked by many… and I try to make a point to walk right up and play anything that has no crowd. I take business cards, I offer feedback. Good stuff.
A special shoutout goes to Fantasy Strike, an amazing fighting game. Unlike others, ‘special moves’ are single button presses, not complex combination inputs… they want to take the busywork out of fighting games, stripping them down to a pure game of positioning and timing. Skill, not execution. Why highlight it with its own paragraph in this post? ’cause I talked with one of the devs about my arcade cab and spreadsheet, and how well the game worked on it. Discussed key remapping for disability, 4:3 screen ratios, and how badly Street Fighter V got everything wrong. A good discussion and again, he didn’t have to have it with me. He chose to step away and talk shop a bit. And that’s the kind of thing that only happens at PAX.
Speaking of “only at PAX,” how about panels? I’m always impressed by how diverse and interesting the panel lineup is, every year. You’d think amidst the insanity of the Gate Which We Do Not Speak Of that there’d be a pushback on social or identity issues and gaming, but no! They’re out in full force, across a wide spectrum, and there’s something for everyone at PAX. I personally helped my friend Miellyn run a “How to PAX” panel for newbies, which was a lot of fun. The “Romance in Games” panel with Sean and Miellyn and others I knew was also great, even if a burning need to pee kinda distracted me from the crazy antics. Plenty of comedy on offer too, with the Paxamania wrestling farce for good cringey humor, the Jackbox Games panel for professional funny people being professionally funny, and of course Acquisitions Inc.’s D&D show. I could’ve watched it all on Twitch, yes, but being there in person adds a special zing to it all.
There’s plenty I didn’t get to do, for lack of time. (Sadly waiting in line for events takes a loooot of time.) I didn’t cruise the tabletop area very much. I only swooped by the artists and musicians with wares for sale… just long enough to buy a massively expensive but beautiful (to me, anyway) Galaga arcade artwork painting. The classic retro arcade was flat out missing this year, which is a shame. And there’s freeplay areas, and tournaments, and other things I missed…
…but there’s always next year. Assuming I don’t look away from Twitter for twenty minutes and all the tickets are sold, anyway. If they aren’t, I’ll see you there.