PAX Prime Day 3 - An Early but Powerful Day

On Day 3 of PAX East 2011, I woke up feeling feverish, congested, and with a sore throat that made breathing, much less swallowing, difficult to impossible. I still (stupidly and very selfishly) toughed it out and went to the show and ended up having a great conversation with a small developer from Australia and saw the Gearbox panel, one of my reasons for going to the show. I wasn't in as bad of shape this morning, but I could feel the telltale fatigue and slight tickle in my throat that was telling me "Dude, get some rest NOW or you'll regret it." Day 3 of PAX Prime 2012 will probably go down as my shortest day at the show, but it contained the most powerful and interesting experiences.

I decided that I would head up to the Pegasus Theater for two back-to-back panels: Harmonix's presentation on the development history of Fantasia and the Take This panel on depression and anxiety in the gaming universe. The draw of the Harmonix panel was the chance to see some early demos and designs from the forthcoming Fantasia: Music Evolved since a lot of this material never makes the light of day. The panelists from Harmonix and Disney were surprisingly open about how trying and rewarding the process of turning Fantasia into a game has been. The two early demos shown illustrated different approaches to the game: storytelling via music inspired by Peter and the Wolf and forging an emotional connection with the player through the music. It's not hard to see how both concepts were lacking, but were important steps on the journey to the game as it is now. Afterwards, I hung around and got a chance to ask Matt Boch, the game's Creative Director, how he makes the decision or knows when to cut something for good vs. when to keep trying or iterating on a theme. It was great hearing him talk about his process and underlying approach to design as problem solving vs expression and reaffirming for someone who does a more boring form of corporate system design. I just wish I hadn't been so entranced by his custom Sorcerer's Apprentice hat - I'd probably have retained 20% more of what he said but I'm grateful for the time he took and the opportunity to ask the question.

My second panel of the day was "It's Dangerous to Go Alone: The Take This Panel." The Take This Project was started by Russ Pitts and Susan Arendt, veteran gaming editors, in response to the suicide last year of freelance games journalist Matt Hughes. The panel featured Pitts, Arendt, Jeff Green, Janelle Bonanno, Ashly Burch, and Mikey Neumann sharing their stories of dealing with depression and anxiety and how to get help and relate to those around you. One of the amazing and fascinating things about depression is how it can be completely and totally isolating to those experiencing it...until you hear someone else talk about it. While no two experiences with depression or anxiety (or any illness, really) are the same, I could hear bits of my own feelings in each person who spoke and their experiences. Mikey Neumann was the last panelist to speak. He makes his living as a writer, manipulating words and has a kind of confident if not brash public persona...and he broke down completely talking about how he felt dealing with symptom fatigue after a diagnosis of a stroke and MS and the aftermath that has brought into his life. It was simultaneously heartbreaking to see someone who's work I've enjoyed so much struggle with his emotions and uplifting to hear the calls of support and and applause breaks when he had to stop to compose himself. This panel, combined with last night's ovation for Giant Bomb's Ryan Davis, was a great reminder of how supportive and amazing the community can be. Afterwards, I had a chance to briefly thank Mikey, Jeff, and Russ for the panel, and also ran into Artur Gies of Polygon and told him I enjoyed the reviews section at Polygon. He either really appreciated it, or is a master at faking sincerity. Either way, I was glad for the chance to say thanks.

I was in a weird head space at this point, and decided I should take one more lap around the fringes of the Expo hall floor, mainly to see if there was anything I missed or wanted to make point of seeing tomorrow. I found myself drawn to the Indie Megabooth, and made a startling realization as I passed Vlambeer's area. I didn't want to stop and play Luftrausers - I know I want to play it when it's out, and I feel this way about just as many indie games like The Moonlighters, Incongnito, and Hotline Miami 2 as I do about big budget AAA titles like Titanfall, Battlefield 4, and Batman: Arkham Origins to name just a few each from the show floor. It made me appreciate what a cool time we're in for this industry and hobby, and made me eager to search out some new hidden experience tomorrow on Day 4.

In order to make sure I make it to Day 4, I'm taking a pass on the Cards Against Humanity panel, which is supposed to feature some Giant Bomb news per Jeff Gerstmann at last night's panel. Fortunately, it will be streamed and my hotel internet has been surprisingly good. I was disppointed to get back to my hotel and see a tweet from Matt Rorie inviting people out to Gameworks for a beer right after I had walked by...but my immune system is probably grateful for the missed connection. Next year, I'm making "Buy Matt Rorie a beer" my top PAX goal.

2 Comments Refresh
Posted by AFunGuy

What you said about the Take This Project panel was spot on. To see someone who is so good at choosing the right words everywhere else in his life not be able to even speak, it was oddly more powerful than anything he possibly could have said. It was so sad seeming him up there pouring his heart and no one trying to comfort him, I was so close to jumping over the rows in front of me just to give him one.

Posted by Asmo917

It was probably super difficult for the other panelists, too. It's hard enough in a one on one situation when a friend is breaking down but trying to speak to know how to react and when to offer comfort and when to back off. In a public setting where the speaker seems to want to get his message out, and it had to be a tough call on how to react. Russ did go and put his arm around him pretty quickly after he finished.

I hope one of their big takeaways for their next event is "Have Kleenex on hand at the START, not near the end."