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The Guns of Navarro: PAX Aeterna

The Giant Bomb crew (barely) survived another PAX East, and Alex was even able to remember some of it.

I wonder how many of you out there remember when PAX East first came to Boston in 2010. At the time the concept seemed, at least to me, like little more than an acknowledgment by its Seattle-based organizers that PAX Prime lacked accessibility for those who couldn't just jaunt off to the west coast for the sake of checking out some video games. Initially held at the Hynes Convention Center, a dingy, peculiarly vertical event space sat smack-dab in the middle of one of Boston's busiest areas, that first PAX East wasn't much to look at or speak of. Publishers showed up, but were crammed into tiny booths laid out in a fashion that proved aggressively unpleasant for most people to navigate. I only went because I was still living in Boston at the time. Jeff joined me, primarily because he was invited to do a panel with Ken Levine and Chris Avellone. We walked around, saw pretty much the entire floor in an hour, and mused to ourselves about how low-key and frankly depressing it all looked compared to actual PAX.

The PAX East show floor, as seen by Game Informer's Dan Ryckert. I can practically smell the humanity of it all.

Flash-forward to this past weekend, which saw PAX East 2013 descend upon Boston's other, bigger convention center, where it has set up shop for the past three years. Trying to reconcile that first PAX East with the image of what it's become is like staring at two entirely different pictures. The show floor is swollen to the point of bursting with publishers, indie developers, and throngs of excited players waiting in lines, perusing merchandise, or just playing stuff. PAX seemed bigger in its second year, when it switched to the waterfront convention center. Then last year, it seemed huge. This year looked downright terrifying.

PAX East is for real now. It's one thing to hear the crazy sellout numbers, look at the nutty lineup of panels, and hear the stories. It's another to actually see the seething mass of humanity try desperately not to knock each other over as they attempt to navigate tight spaces with cosplay axes strapped to their backs. These shows are always a strange proposition for someone like me. I'm what one might refer to as "antisocial media," the sort of person who generally prefers the solitary confines of one's personal office, who prefers to interact with the larger world with the kind of measured distance an Internet-focused job allows for. Being in the thick of it gives me no shortage of anxiety. Not for any logical reason, of course. That's just what being around tons of people always does to me. It's something I can handle for a few hours, but once that time runs out, I become a silently shivering mess.

Yet, I know I need to go to things like PAX East. Not just for the information on-hand at these things, but because forcing myself to interact with developers, publishers, and an audience I typically only deal with from afar is crucial to maintaining an understanding of the industry. There's only so much you can learn from Internet commentary, after all. Going to the floor, talking to users from the site, seeing upstart devs hustling at the Indie Mega Booth, meeting up with industry friends I don't get to see nearly enough, it's all vital to maintaining a balanced perspective. I can sit in my little room and scoff at the scads and scads of toeshoed, utilikilt-wearing aggro-nerds who some might assume are the only sorts who go to these things. But in seeing the reality, the diverse array of ages, backgrounds, and creeds that all come together under the banner of games of all shapes and sizes, it takes a good chunk of that embittered sting out of me. I might hate being around people--and, occasionally, feel out right panic toward it--but every time I come to one of these shows, I feel like I come away with a better understanding of what this business is, and who it's for. That strikes me as incredibly important, considering how I've generally made my living over the years.

This year's PAX East in particular was maybe a highlight among all PAXes I've experienced. It wasn't the absolute best show from a content perspective--I only went to a few panels, and the primary games selection on the floor wasn't as strong as in the past--but in terms of audience interaction, inter-industry conversation, and sheer sleep deprivation, this was probably the most enjoyable PAX I've had in ages. Granted, if you saw me on the floor I might not have looked it. By the time I got on the train home yesterday afternoon, the bags under my eyes were so pronounced you could have used them to carry groceries. I assure you, those bags were pleasurably earned.

Saints Row IV looks wonderfully silly, but you probably didn't need me to tell you that.

Interestingly, I didn't get to play a ton of games at PAX East this year. We never go into these shows with a ton of appointments because, well, it's not like we're just going to write a bunch of hands-on previews of what we play. Instead, we tend to take the looser approach of just looking for what seems fun or interesting, and just continually wandering up to those things until we can find an opportunity to play them, or as Patrick is more wont to do, accost the people behind those games for interview purposes. This would generally tend to favor the Indie Megabooth stuff, which doesn't usually consist of two-hour lines followed by a ten-minute, non-playable presentation, as many of the bigger budget games at the show do. I was plenty happy to sit down and see Volition's presentation of Saints Row IV, a game that has only recently been shown at all. But stuff like Watch_Dogs, Elder Scrolls Online, Assassin's Creed IV, and what have you, those are all games that we've seen a decent bit of so far, and will see a hell of a lot more of come E3. With the indie stuff, who knows when or where you might get to see those games again before they come out?Hence why we tend to plant our flag on that side of the floor, versus the one dominated by the larger publishers.

That side, by the way, has practically turned into half the damn floor. This year's Indie Megabooth most definitely justified that "mega" part of the title. It was sprawling, filled with a wide variety of mostly great games that I didn't get to play enough of. Intriguingly, only a few indie booths, like Supergiant Games' Transistor and Iron Galaxy's Divekick, had regularly lengthy lines. For perspective, most of the indie devs only had a couple of kiosks for their games, if they even had more than one. The main indie area was certainly crowded, but it seemed to be more with people conversing than people playing. That's the nature of the indie dev hustle, it seems. You're not just trying to get people to play your games, so much as you're trying to establish an identity that people can latch onto for the long run. And hustle the developers did. I was inundated with flyers, handshakes, and people I maybe sort of possibly recognized asking me to check out their games, or their friends' games. Unlike most places, where I'd treat this sort of behavior with a kind of caustic disdain, I actually took people's advice. I listened, read their literature, and tried to play (or at least go see) as many of their games as I could. In nearly every case, I actually came away pretty impressed.

In order to prevent this piece from becoming (more of) a sprawling mess, I'm going to quickly segue into a list of the things I enjoyed most at PAX East this year, as well as a brief list of apologies for various indiscretions on my behalf at the show.

The Things I Actually Thought to Write Down so I Could Mention Them Later

Transistor, from Supergiant Games -- After sitting down to play it for just a few minutes, I love the direction Supergiant is taking this game. The art style is unquestionably gorgeous, and the gameplay's blend of turn-based strategy and realtime action is the kind of thing I figured out quickly, but kept discovering little things about as I played. All the while, the story unfolds with the same kind of purposely vague narration that kept me hooked on Bastion from beginning-to-end. As I said to a few people at the show who asked, Transistor appears to be Supergiant establishing a style that is entirely their own, while managing to not just make another damn Bastion. I love that, and I can't wait to play more.

Divekick is almost brutally stupid. I absolutely love Divekick.

Divekick, from Iron Galaxy Studios -- We all love Dave Lang, but if I'm honest, I don't think I paid this latest arrival from the Lang Zone enough consideration. In practice, Divekick is an insidiously exciting party game masquerading as some base-level commentary on fighting game bloat. Yes, there are only two buttons: jump and kick. You divekick until you hit your opponent, who immediately falls over. As Lang put it during our panel, every attack does 1,000,000 damage, and every character has 1,000 health. The pace of it is pretty fantastic, and the fact that every character does a slightly different type of dive kick means there's actually something resembling strategy in there. No one that I saw play Divekick left their booth with anything other than a smile on their face, and with good reason.

The existence of DuckTales: Remastered, by WayForward -- I say "The existence of" because I never actually got to try DuckTales at the show. For reasons beyond reason, Capcom decided to make a big fuss about this new version at its panel, then proceeded to only afford it a single kiosk at the publisher's booth. Given that there was never not a long line to play it, I opted to spend my time elsewhere. However, I love that this exists, and am excited to play it. Eventually.

Cards Against Humanity's PAX Packs -- As much as I think PAX-centric humor is...not for me, I am always impressed with the CAH team's ability to take niche subjects and make them as broadly, offensively funny as is humanly possible. These free packs were all over the damn show and every time I found a random card lying somewhere, I laughed. These guys are always funny, and their panel (which just happened to feature Giant Bomb's own Jeff and Ryan) was, according to many I heard from, one of the highlights of the show. I would have gone, but I was eating some very important steak tips. I'm sure they understood.

The guy I saw wearing a utilikilt, toe shoes, and a fedora over his ponytail -- Your existence put a smile on my face. Maybe not for the reasons you intended, but such is life.

Eric Pope's indoctrinating of unwitting panel-goers into the seedy world of dead child star YouTube tribute videos -- Friend of the site and Upright Citizen's Brigade theater manager Pat Baer held a peculiar, but enjoyably ridiculous panel on the Internet and its many questionable videos. It featured Pat, a vaguely interested Ryan Davis, Wired's Chris "I Really Enjoy a Good AIDS Joke" Kohler and Harmonix's Eric Pope. Each person brought some terrible slice of the Internet they loved with them to show to a damn-near full room of unwitting gamers, and Pope's delving into the abject horror that is videos dedicated to dead Poltergeist-star Heather O'Rourke was maybe one of my favorite PAX things of all time. R.I.P. Pope.

Our panel, and everyone who came to it -- As Ryan said on Twitter, I don't know how we will ever top this year's nonsense. We somehow seem to go into each panel with an even more flagrantly dismissive attitude toward planning and thought, and this year's might have been the apex of not-knowing-what-the-fuck-we're-doing-ness in panel form. Granted, much credit is due to the evil geniuses at Harmonix's community team, who crafted one of the finer three-part jokes I've ever seen at a live event such as this. Also, credit to the man who ran up to the panel stage in the middle of someone's sentence and presented Ryan with a vial of his wife's recently lactated breast milk, which he then summarily drank to the audience's horrormusement. I won't ever forget that, no matter how badly I might want to.

Everyone who came up to say hi -- Even if you didn't come to our panel (jerks), know that I was quite glad to meet you. Online personas do so little to inform writers about the types of people who actually read their stuff, and even if it was just a quick hey or a wave, getting to see actual, physical humans who read and (hopefully) enjoy your work is infinitely beneficial to an old loner like me. So really, thank you for that.

I'm So Sorry

To all the developers whose games I could not stop to play. I did stop to watch a lot of people play games, but time and attention-deficit concerns often kept me away from actual controllers. Here are all the games I watched that stood out in my brain.

To the folks at Harmonix, whose panel I had to miss, albeit for the admittedly good cause of hanging out with our fine site moderation staff. I heard their panel, in which they disclosed the secrets behind many of the bizarre mysteries of the industry's hellishly competitive "plastic instruments" period, was quite a hit.

To anyone I missed, ran past, or just forgot to mention. I'm the worst, I know. Remind me about it when you see me next year.

--A

Alex Navarro on Google+
77 Comments
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Posted by nbesnerson

Eric Pope Tribute was great!

Posted by Girth_Brooks

nice

Edited by tinodz

New content! Go Alex!

Posted by SgtSphynx

A day late, but it's forgivable

Posted by Xeirus

nice

That's a great contribution you have there, stand proud.
Quest gone and we still have these turds.

Posted by Milkman

Oh man, that Eric Pope tribute video. OH MAN.

Edited by MooseyMcMan

OH dear lord!

I hope they put that panel video on the site soon (assuming they recorded it, as they have done in the past).

Moderator
Posted by FinalDasa

I really hope next year I can make it to PAX East (or perhaps PAX prime this year?) because it really seems like a wonderful place to just enjoy games and all the aspects that surround them.

Moderator
Posted by Dalai

And that was PAX East.

Posted by Sphinx

Great write up Alex! Hope to get to PAX next year. Bunch of people went from my office had a hell of a good time, then flew down to San Francisco for GDC. I need to go, I work in the fucking industry - no excuse!

Edited by SlashDance

You guys need to upload that panel. I don't care about any excuses, I need to see Ryan Davis drink breast milk right now !

Edited by Greenshoes

Holy F***** S*** there are a lot of Heather O' Rourke tribute videos!

Edited by u2tall

@tinodz said:

New content! Go Alex!

Edited by cooljammer00

"Jump" and "kick"? I saw the button layout, @alex. Is the word "jump" in the title of the game? It's DIVE

Edited by bennyboy

I need to see footage of Ryan drinking the breast milk. Like, now.

Edited by Alex
Staff Online
Edited by Y2Ken

@slumberpunch said:

I wish there was a gif of Vinny on the podcast where he says cunt because this is right where I'd put it.

Closest I can do.

That Eric Pope video is something rather special. Thanks again for showing us the best damn things, Alex.

Posted by MrMazz

Also, credit to the man who ran up to the panel stage in the middle of someone's sentence and presented Ryan with a vial of his wife's recently lactated breast milk, which he then summarily drank to the audience's horrormusement.

O MY GOD. Now I really want to see this panel video. Cmon Vinny edit video faster in your most likely sleep deprived and unshaven state

Posted by Claude

Eric Pope died of an aids related children's disease on 9/11. It was sad day. RIP.

Edited by crummo

Last PAX I came to the panel but was sitting in the rear half of the audience and the echo was so bad that I couldn't understand what anyone was saying. It was the thing I looked forward to the most and it was really disappointing. I left with a bunch of other sad people. This year, I didn't bother waiting in line for the panel because I half expected the same thing to happen. But it was a hard decision to make. Knowing that you guys are grateful for everyone who shows up makes me wish that I had given it another shot. Next year I promise to wait in line again and to attend the talk. My favorite site and favorite games media personalities. Thanks for the good write up, Alex. Wish I bumped into you!

Edited by Trilogy

@claude said:

Eric Pope died of an aids related children's disease on 9/11. It was sad day. RIP.

Turns out you CAN eat too much mayonnaise.

Edited by Kingfalcon

Was lucky enough to run into @alex and @brad on the show floor on Sunday and it made my day!

Posted by porjos

I lost my PAX virginity to breast milk drinkage, and I am pregnant with happiness.

Posted by patbaer

That Pope tribute video was made like an hour after our panel. Nonsense. Thanks to everyone who came out to see it!

Edited by mellotronrules

@mrmazz said:

Also, credit to the man who ran up to the panel stage in the middle of someone's sentence and presented Ryan with a vial of his wife's recently lactated breast milk, which he then summarily drank to the audience's horrormusement.

O MY GOD. Now I really want to see this panel video. Cmon Vinny edit video faster in your most likely sleep deprived and unshaven state

holy christ- i thought this anecdote was just forum-blather. but it really happened. sweet mother of mercy.

next time there's a forum thread or comment about how the staff are "really cynical" or "tired" or "curmudgeonly" - i'd like you all to remember this moment. remember it for the glory, the horror, and the utter "where-we're-going-we-don't-need-roads" reckless abandon.

i love you all, but GOD DAMN.

Posted by Claude

@trilogy said:

@claude said:

Eric Pope died of an aids related children's disease on 9/11. It was sad day. RIP.

Turns out you CAN eat too much mayonnaise.

The things you learn on The Internet.

Edited by JeanLuc

@patbaer said:

That Pope tribute video was made like an hour after our panel. Nonsense. Thanks to everyone who came out to see it!

I had a fun time at your panel.

Great PAX overall. Can't wait till next year.

Posted by BD_Mr_Bubbles

OH dear lord!

I hope they put that panel video on the site soon (assuming they recorded it, as they have done in the past).

Edited by Xeirus

@y2ken said:

@slumberpunch said:

I wish there was a gif of Vinny on the podcast where he says cunt because this is right where I'd put it.

Closest I can do.

That Eric Pope video is something rather special. Thanks again for showing us the best damn things, Alex.

This is where I ask "Did I go too faaaar?"

Posted by fox01313

Interesting to see these first few GB views of Pax this year. Should be neat to see more later in the week from everyone else & more Alex too. Out of the games you listed that you missed Alex, Go Home Dinosaurs popped up on steam recently so anyone can check out this ( steamlink ).

Posted by blacklab

presented Ryan with a vial of his wife's recently lactated breast milk, which he then summarily drank

What the fuck. I hope they upload the video again this year...

Edited by RioStarwind

I'm really glad I managed to make it to Pax East this year. So many great/silly/crazy moments concentrated within 4 days. (I'm counting RB night since it had a line. Yay Lines!) Seems I went with the Alex approach of watching a game being played more than actually playing them. Was slightly worried I would do something wrong like not going the really obvious way up when I was playing Guacamelee!. <_<

Posted by Tennmuerti

I refuse to believe in the ponytail, fedora, utility, toe shoes guy.

Pics or it didn't happen.

Posted by Zevvion

@blacklab said:

presented Ryan with a vial of his wife's recently lactated breast milk, which he then summarily drank

What the fuck. I hope they upload the video again this year...

I think they said they did, but it will take a while. I think early next week? Maybe sometime this week. Don't remember exactly.

Posted by Fistfulofmetal

I had a lot of fun at PAX. Giantbomb panel was the highlight.

Edited by tourgen

kickass article

great saints row pic. any questions and concerns I had were put to rest with that pic.

Posted by Nakirendral

Aw Alex! Thank you so much for this post! I was at every panel with a GB appearance and felt so friggin lucky especially since GB was the biggest reason for me to come to Boston from NYC. Btw I saw the whole friggin crew walk into my hotel's bar and my friend saw my cheesy smile for like 30 mins thereafter! I of course was too shy and offer to buy all the crew a round cause it looked like friends/family were with ya'll so I didn't want to interrupt the personal time. But next year I def want to say hi more often and not be so shy!

Also! Mr. Gerstmann gave me the thrill of the show by granting me the honor of taking a picture with me after he apparently screwed up his ankle after the GB panel. A bigbigBIG thank you to the young gentleman from CA!

I will be returning to Boston...

Edited by MarkWahlberg

One of these days, they're going to come back from PAX and it'll have gone so horribly wrong that they just never acknowledge it happened at all.

Posted by elpurplemonkey

The panel was the highlight of PAX. Can't wait to relive it in video form soon.

Posted by Jedted

@porjos said:

I lost my PAX virginity to breast milk drinkage, and I am pregnant with happiness.

So glad that THAT was part of my first PAX experience!

Also loved Eric Pope with his Heather O'rourke Tribute videos. More proof that anything is funnier with chipmunk voices.

Posted by csl316

I don't want Dan Ryckert making any guest appearances in Giant Bomb articles until he beats Mike Tyson. Only professional gamers are allowed here.

Posted by Spiritof

The one-two punch of Poltergeist Girl Tribute video, and the drinking of human milk, made me both leery and jealous of anyone who attended PAX East.

Posted by UberExplodey

I feel like the next panel is going to turn into something like "Will Ryan eat ________?"

Edited by Lolzhacked

Although PAX pretty much destroyed my body this year with its sheer size and scope, I love it more and more every time I get to attend. And this year was no exception! I know it is said all the time but I can't wait until next year!

Posted by ChosenOne

I'll never go to PAX or similar events since I don't like large crowds due to a fear I have of being trampled to death. So the article is appreciated, thanks.

Posted by HerbieBug

Awesome!

Looking forward to seeing the archive of the panel.

Posted by Lind_L_Taylor

I bet it was a real sausage festival too.

Alex, you should check for some therapy on your fear of crowds. Being a recluse gets progressively worse with age, so no sense in nurturing that shit. Overcome your base fear. I have that same problem with my own job, but I try to fight it by going to crowded areas in evenings. :-)

Edited by SamitSarkar

I'll always love you, Pope.

Also, I'll never forget beating Dave Lang at his own game (the first time) and then badly losing three matches in a row.

Edited by Oobir

@tennmuerti said:

I refuse to believe in the ponytail, fedora, utility, toe shoes guy.

Pics or it didn't happen.

You have more faith in the decision-making skills of socially maladjusted nerds than I do.

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