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PAX Day 4: The End of the Line

Day 4 is always the hardest day. The presenters are run down, the show floor is a little less populated (which is nice, but it brings down the energy a bit); after three days early to rise, late to sleep, PAX was beginning to wear us all down a little. In retrospect, it was a little silly of me to book most of my interviews on Monday, but in the long run I think it worked out well. I had 4 interviews booked on Monday, and as with my previous posts, I’ll refrain from giving any interview-specific spoilers. The interview videos will start trickling in next week. That being said, I’ll at least let you know which developers I talked with: Refract Games, Serenity Forge, E McNeill, and Cloudhead Games.

The other interviews will speak for themselves, but my experience with Cloudhead Games’ Call of the Starseed: The Gallery was a little unique. Being the last HTC Vive Demo I would try at PAX this year, I thought I would put the headset to the gears, and really give it a run for its money. The Gallery features a mechanic called “blinking” which was created to circumvent the limitations of a room-scale experience, while also eliminating motion sickness. Added bonus: I thought this mechanic would give me a good opportunity to break the game. You see, similar to blinking in StarCraft 2 or Dishonored, blinking in The Gallery allows you to move a short distance in an instant. I used it to reach the edge of the orientation area / tutorial. Immediately I overheard the developer say “oh, we’ve got a gamer here” knowing full well what I was about to do. Finally reaching the level bounds, I wondered what would happen if I simply walked off the edge. Let me tell you: I felt genuine hesitation stepping off of the edge. In my mind I knew I was safe, but my body resisted. It felt as if I was going to fall to my doom, and much to my chagrin, I think I may have tripped up a little when the character actually did fall off the edge and the demo room reset itself. That being said, the demo itself was amazing, and certainly the most immersive of the HTC Vive demos I played. All of the other HTC Vive demos lacked a certain narrative flair and atmosphere. It felt good to step out of my shoes, and into the shoes of an actual character, rather than an abstraction of myself exploring a virtual playspace; it felt less gimmicky, and more like a (dare I say it) “real game.”

At the show floor main entrance, there was a two story fountain depicting of a scene from Dark Souls III. Click for the full image
At the show floor main entrance, there was a two story fountain depicting of a scene from Dark Souls III. Click for the full 1920 x 1080 image.

Between the 4 interviews and The Gallery demo, I had nearly killed half of the day. With just 4 hours left of showfloor time, and no interviews left on my calendar, I had just enough time to have a quick (very late) lunch. It was around this point that, conveniently, Orion sent a text asking to meet up so he could snag my Patriot Fuel+ 6000mAh Mobile Rechargeable Battery (gotta throw in that sponsor shout out, they really saved my ass during PAX this year). Orion’s personal additional battery had unfortunately bit the dust (it was a rainy day so I’m guessing moisture damage) and his phone was running on low.

In the glow of the arcade, I found nostalgia and serendipity.
In the glow of the arcade, I found nostalgia and serendipity.

While waiting for Orion and enjoying yet another amazing sandwich from NYC (this time I had the Classic Turkey Club), I bumped into the friend we made at last year’s PAX at the Indies Need Booze event, and this year’s tinyBuild Party Hard Release Party. He recommended that my brother and I check out the arcade room for something called the “Tinderbox” so that we could play Shitty Voltron. He said it was pretty much a mix of Total Rampage and QWOP, and one of the best game experiences he had at PAX. That was a good enough recommendation for us, so we headed up to the 6th floor.

Interestingly enough when we got there, the developers were currently talking about the Winnitron1000 (which you can read a bit about in my game jam piece). I mentioned we were from Winnipeg, and they gave me their business cards to get in touch with the Winnitron creators. Then, we played Shitty Voltron together, and it was exactly as described, and just as fun as you’d think.

Still checking out the sixth floor, I decided to return to a booth I’d promised I’d check out when the owner of the company was around. Lords of New York, by Lunchtime Studios, is a role-playing poker game with an advanced 2d animation system. The lead developer and owner of Lunchtime Studios (Dan Higgins) who had previously worked on titles such titles as Empire Earth, walked us through his custom engine. Basically, it uses one single image, and with some advanced warping, builds a dynamic animated character, complete with shifting facial expressions and articulated mouth animations. This allows the game to run on most mobile devices with a relatively low processing footprint and file size. He mentioned that he wants his studio to become the Pixar of game animation, and with a resume as versatile as his, I believe he can accomplish that goal.

It's rare these days for a studio to create its own in-house engine, but Dan Higgins and the rest of Lunchtime Studios gave us an extensive look behind the scenes of theirs, and from what we saw, I think it will be used in many more games to come.
It’s rare these days for a studio to create its own in-house engine.

The game itself is less of a poker game, and more of a dialogue-driven character crime drama noir. Think of it as somewhat similar to the conversations in Rockstar’s L.A. Noir, but focusing poker, with RPG elements that allow you to do things such as lie, cheat, or poison the other players.

Dan Higgins recommended we go back down to the Fourth level and check out Rust Belt in the PAX Rising area. On the way there, another game caught my eye. 20XX, which is basically a co-op Megaman X-esque rogue-like, had two demo stations set up just next to Rust Belt. While waiting for the Rust Belt demo to open up, I decided, as a huge Megaman X fan, that I should check it out, and to be honest it ended up being one of the best games I played at PAX. I could definitely use some practice (thank goodness the developer played the game with me) but everything from the art style to the gameplay to the music reminded me of Megaman X in all the right ways. After mentioning AYB, the developer gave me a steam code so I could live stream the game, so expect to see more of this game (I’m downloading it as I write this).

After finishing 20XX (ie: losing hard), the demo area for Rust Belt had cleared. This game centers around towing objects behind your rusty truck using a harpoon gun – anything from rocks, to exploding plants, to giant anchors, shipping crates, or even enemies and other vehicles can be towed. Once attached, you swing them around and smash them into things. Let me tell you this much: the first time I smashed a giant scorpion enemy into another giant scorpion enemy, and they both exploded into a shower of blood, I was definitely giddy. It reminded me a bit of Blast Corps mixed with S.P.A.Z.

Finally, to close the day, I headed over to the NVIDIA booth, which had one of the shortest wait times for Oculus demos. My brother mentioned that they had the shortest wait time of any Oculus demo (they did), and he mentioned that they also had Eve Valkyrie, which I had been dying to try. When we got to the NVIDIA area, the wait time was maybe five to ten minutes tops (contrasted with the 3 to 4 hour wait time at any of the other main VR areas. I guess not many people knew they were showing it off here. I got into the demo area almost immediately, and fired up Eve Valkyrie.

Having played a few hours of Elite Dangerous, I must say I was not as impressed with Eve Valkyrie as I thought I would be. It was certainly immersive, and certainly a lot of fun, and I definitely didn’t experience much motion sickness, but I think I’ll need more than a flavour demo to be sold on this one. Still, flying spaceships remains one of the most engaging Oculus experiences out there, and the sensation of almost smashing into your wing-mates is just fantastic. The sense of scale and urgency was also unreal, with ships as large as a city warping into view in an instant, delivering planet-smashing laser blasts. However, it lacked the sense of freedom and openness that Elite Dangerous gives.

After finishing the demo, my brother and I headed to the World of Tanks booth one last time to pick up a t-shirt, before meeting our travel buddies to head back to the hotel to rest (ie: we cleared through season 1 of Bojack Horseman and drank Seattle cider and beer). All in all, this PAX was awesome. It’s clearly becoming larger and larger each year, but it’s good that the little guys aren’t being drowned out in the noise – in fact I would say they are thriving more than ever. Many of my favourite highlights were from smaller developers making experimental or artistic indie games or VR experiences on shoestring budgets.

As always, I’ll sign off on my final day with some amazing cosplay highlights:

I’d also like to take this time to thank all of the unbelievable cosplayers who let me use their pictures in my articles. The following cosplayers gave me their cards, so I’d like to share their social media info so that you can check them out:

@cnepoy on twitter, @thewazaaman on twitter, @drlongshotx on twitter, @trojanwarred on twitter, @SuperSprill on instagram, undiscoveredphotography.com/cosplay, facebook.com/lovelyladyace, facebook.com/dv8props, and everyone else who did not share their information. If you see your cosplay here, and you would like me to link to your page, please let me know!

To read up about the other PAX days, check out the following:

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