By moelarrycurly 2 Comments
In this section the PAX East impressions finally come to their stunning conclusion! Hold on to your hats kids, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!
The biggest goal that we had on Sunday was to see the Sequelitis panel, which had a few big names that we felt compelled to see in the flesh: Ken Levine of Irrational Games, Dan Teasdale of Harmonix, Chris Avalon of Obsidian, and Jeff Gerstmann of Giant Bomb. The panel was going to discuss the rapid pace of sequels being released in the video game industry, and how those sequels fair in respect to their original games. It was going to be a good one.
Knowing full well that the line was going to be massive, we staked out our claim in front of the Manticore Theater at around 2:30, a full hour and a half before the panel was due to start at 4. Funnily enough, the friendly PAX workers told us that we weren’t allowed to line up until 3, but that didn’t stop us (and plenty of other people, I might add) from lining up for the line. This type of behavior was frequented quite often at this convention, but up until this point we had never partaken in such activities. So there we were, just outside of the line that was for the panel an hour before Sequelitis; it was kind of ridiculous, but hey, we wanted seats. We were in a ragtag “line” (the officials wouldn’t let us call it that) waiting for another line to leave. Patience is key at any big video game convention.
While waiting in the line for the line, I noticed a familiar-looking face over in the next hallway. Lo and behold, it was one of the Sequelitis panelists-to-be, Jeff Gerstmann. He was with Rich Gallup, who currently works at 38 Studios but used to work with Jeff at Gamespot. It was another weird experience for me, seeing these “internet people” in real life. You feel like you know these people, when in actuality you have absolutely no idea who they are and they know zero about you. In fact, they don’t even know that you exist. And yet, you feel like you know this person, and that you could approach them as if you were approaching a friend. This must have been the experience that my friend had with Jeff Green a couple days back. Anyway, Jeff and Rich were swarmed by a crowd of Giant Bomb fans who all wanted photos. I thought about saying “Thank you” or a handshake or something, but I decided to wait until after the panel.
Finally, the line for the other panel went in, and we were able to get in the “official” line for Sequelitis. The wait was a long one, and it was another weird experience for me, because this was one of the first times that I had actually felt perfectly comfortable playing Pokémon in public, without a drop of embarrassment. Everyone else around me had either a DS, PSP, or iPhone cracked open and were playing games, so me with my copy of Pokémon HeartGold and a DS blended right in. I remember getting the 8 gym badge right in that very line.
Eventually we were let into the theater, and boy were we glad that we had gotten there early. The theater filled right up to the brim, but we had very good seats, only five or six rows back. There were tons of people with cameras flashing away at the panelists up at the head table at the front, even though the room was very dimly lit. I noticed that only a couple of rows in front of me was the back of Rich Gallup’s head, and I decided that I would at the very least get a handshake out of him before all this business was done.
Then the panel started. They kicked it off by asking Ken Levine about his work on System Shock 2 as a sequel to the original System Shock, a game he hadn’t worked on. He said that it was extraordinarily difficult to come up with the right balance of old and new when developing the sequel, essentially because he didn’t want to abandon the older fanbase while still making it a new-feeling game. Essentially that’s what everyone agreed is the most difficult part of sequels: feeling new and nostalgic at the same time. Chris Avalon had similar sentiments about his work on KOTOR 2. The original KOTOR had been an extremely well-received game, and he, like Ken, hadn’t worked on it in making the sequel. He said that it was a really interesting experience, mainly because it was great to work with Star Wars and its characters. There were plenty of tweaks that he would have liked to have made if he had been making a new IP, but it was great learning experience anyway. Fortunately for him, KOTOR 2 was indeed well-received, if not quite to the degree of the original. (Note: I have played neither of these games.)
Dan Teasdale had one of the more interesting points in the panel. He was asked about downloadable content and the future of the Rock Band franchise, which is what his company, Harmonix, develops. His greatest concern was that it has become much more difficult since the advent of DLC to make new, standalone music games because the instrument sets have become so standard and there is such a great variety of songs available for download. However, that was his company’s idea from the beginning: they tested the waters of a complete-band rhythm game with the original Rock Band, and then refined the experience with Rock Band 2. Since then, Harmonix has released a ludicrous amount of music onto their store which is available to download for a per-song or per-album fee. He said that it’s a great business model because his company is continuously getting revenue, but at the same time they need to come up with grander schemes for boxed products, which is what investors look for. For example, The Beatles: Rock Band worked out well for them because it featured lots of music that was unique to that game and provided a specific experience when compared to other rhythm games: you got to play through the Beatles career with their music.
Jeff Gerstmann, as a reviewer instead of a developer, was generally more inclined to comment on the end-product and how it compares to its predecessor. A figure displaying the Metascores of Uncharted 2, Assassin’s Creed II, and Mass Effect 2 showed how all of these games scored higher than the first game in their respective franchises. Jeff said that this is often the case in the video game industry more than in film because developers, after figuring out the basic game mechanics and story in the first game, can refine and fix the sequel so that it is a more polished and overall better experience. I’ve played both Uncharted 2 and AC II and their predecessors, and I agree with Jeff completely: both Naughty Dog and Ubisoft-Montreal, respectively, had chiseled down the original game to its core and then expanded upon it with the basics already established, thus making a better final product. During the question and answer section of the panel, I managed to ask Jeff about his thoughts on Persona 4 (which I have never played but I watched plenty of Giant Bomb’s endurance run) and what he would like to see in Persona 5. He said that he enjoyed the characters more than the gameplay, so he would like to see their backstory enhanced and possibly see some slight gameplay changes for the sequel. I found neither particularly endearing when watching P4, but 100 hours with a game will make a man grow familiar with the characters, I suppose.
After the panel ended, Jeff (who was one possible handshake target) was instantly inundated in a sea of fans, so I decided to go with my original Plan B. Rich Gallup had nobody around him, possibly because he’s been out of the reviewing industry for a couple of years, so I managed to get a handshake and say “I really enjoyed the old Hotspot. I just wanted to say thanks.” He returned the favor, and thus my endeavor was successful.
Now there was only one thing left to do at PAX: the closing ceremony. The entirety of the convention was being funneled into the main theater. The balcony was already closed when our panel ended, so we ended up (after waiting in the Queue Room for 30 minutes) getting to stand on the floor. It wasn’t terribly difficult to see what was going on thanks to the dual massive screens at the front of theater, so all was well.
The closing ceremony was not much of a ceremony at all, but rather just the last section of the Omegathon, which is a video-game based competition that is regularly featured at PAX. In this part, there were only two teams of two left, and the winners would get to go to this year’s GamesCom in . The final round of the Omegathon featured four televisions per team, and the goal was to complete all of the assigned challenges in each game first. The first three TVs had single-player games, while the fourth was co-op. However, what the games and challenges were was unknown to the players, with each TV covered by a sheet. Each previous challenge had to be completed before the next could be started, so it was the ultimate video game relay race. And if there were any technical difficulties, the competition would start over.
As soon as the first TV was unveiled, the 8-bit glow of Super Mario Bros. lit up the theater. Cheers abounded. The goal: get 50 coins. However, the right team’s controller was broken, so there was a false start. One new controller later the games began for real. The left team blasted through Super Mario Bros. and moved on to the old racing game to get a certain score (I forget the name) on the next TV before the right team had even gotten 25 coins. Then the left team had moved on to Tetris (clear 10 lines) just as the right team finished SMB. And then, 10 lines in Tetris were cleared, and the co-op game was revealed to be: Contra for the NES. Everyone was in a frenzy at this point. And then… Contra froze on the left team while the right team was still in Tetris. “Robbery!” screamed the crowd.
So they started again, but this time the right team did better. Much better. Both teams reached Contra at almost the same time, and the goal was to beat the first boss. However, the left team was doing terribly, getting hit over and over again, while the right team was flaming through towards victory. And then the boss blew apart, and the right team had won. The left team had tasted victory and had it stolen. A tough ending indeed.
And with that, PAX East 2010 came to its conclusion. I, personally, had I great time, although it was very tiring and by that point on Sunday I was totally burned out on video games. An overload, if you will. It took me a couple of days to recover and get back to my regular routine. In any case, it was well worth the $45 entry fee and I’ll definitely go again when PAX returns to next year.