I sit here at home, fresh off of four days of PAX Prime 2014, thankfully free of the PAX Pox but still sore as all hell. This was my sixth PAX in as many years, and it gets both harder and easier every year. Harder, in that the demand for passes only intensifies with each show; passes sold out in about half an hour when they went on sale this year. And easier, in that once you’ve been to PAX enough times, you tend to become familiar with much of the layout; repeat vendors typically have their booths in the same general spot, and the more prominent panelists and panels make their return appearances.
But there’s also something new every year, whether it be a new game on display, a new panel or a returning panel I hadn’t seen before. Even after six years, I still come away with some good memories of the show. Also, exhaustion, pain, and possible illness, but that’s all par for the course. Anyway, here are some of the highlights of my time at PAX Prime 2014:
Note: These are not all of the panels that I attended (it was actually a very panel-heavy PAX for me this year), but these were the more prominent ones I attended.
Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi held a panel on Friday evening. It was the only panel of the show that I attended in the main theater, Benaroya Hall. Over the course of an hour, he spoke through his translator on topics ranging from why he feels Final Fantasy IV and VI have remained largely the most compelling games in the series for many folks, how well Final Fantasy VII has aged and the constant demand for an HD remake, and spoke a bit about other games like Chrono Trigger, Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey and The Last Story. The last fifteen minutes or so were then dedicated to talking about his current project, Terra Battle, which is a free-to-play tactical RPG for mobile.
It was an entertaining hour; my favorite panel of the show by far. Sakaguchi is humble, funny (when asked what Final Fantasy class he most closely relates to, he responded “Dancer”!), and shed some light on his time in the industry that hadn’t been shared before. He revealed that, many years ago, after the completion of Chrono Trigger that the team had wanted to make a proper Chrono Trigger 2, and he fought with the higher ups at Square to let them make it, but obviously didn’t win that fight. He didn’t go into the specifics of why, but it was interesting to hear nonetheless.
Sakaguchi is also a big fan of Akira Toriyama, and one of the highlights of his career was being able to work with him on Chrono Trigger, and much more directly on Blue Dragon. He shared a photo of himself with the Blue Dragon team:
That guy in red in the front next to Sakaguchi? That’s Akira Toriyama.
As for Terra Battle, it looks like an interesting game. It is, as I said before, free-to-play, so it has some of the trappings that come with mobile games of that nature. On the other hand, the game will be receiving content through what they’re calling a “Download Starter”. Basically, the more people download the game, the more things will be added, including additional music from Nobuo Uematsu, new characters from various designers, a new scenario from Yasumi Matsuno, the release of the game’s soundtrack, and so on. And if two million people download the game, Mistwalker will start working on a proper console version of Terra Battle.
As for some of his other answers, when the moderator asked him about seeing a sequel to The Last Story, he gave a very Hideki Kamiya-style answer, in English: “Talk to Nintendo.” He’s actually interested in doing follow-ups to all of the big RPGs he’s developed at Mistwalker, but the opportunities to do so simply haven’t presented themselves.
And when asked if he had played Dark Souls (because obligatory Dark Souls question), he said nope, he hadn’t played it. Simple as that!
Sakaguchi is a man responsible for some of my favorite games of all time, a number of which had a strong influence on me as I was growing up. To hear him reflect on his career in person is easily the highlight of the show for me, and I’m beyond happy he put on this panel.
Cards Against Humanity
This year was the first year I had attended the Cards Against Humanity panel. It was about what I had expected. The CAH crew came on stage and shared a couple of videos, including a prank from last year that fell flat. Apparently they had started the panel last year by pretending to be running late, and so a group of Morris dancers. Obviously talented people, which was probably the downfall of the prank. They were legitimately talented; not something to laugh at.
So after introductions and the sharing of the videos, they got down to business of soliciting card ideas from the audience. However, there was a twist this year. The CAH booth was set up with a card printer, and everyone that attended the panel could go to the booth later and pick up a custom pack of cards made up of the best suggestions of the night.
Speaking of the printing machine, the CAH booth also offered a special this year, free of charge. People that lined up at the booth could meet the CAH crew and give a suggestion for a personal custom card, which would then be taken to the printer and picked up later. I and a friend that attended the show with me went through the line and had our own cards made. Behold, my masterpiece:
Yes, yes, Youtube personality that screams at horror games a lot. He’s actually a pretty amusing guy, and one of my friends that came with me is very into his videos. She actually finds his brand of suffering for our amusement a pleasant thing when she’s feeling stressed or down. He’s also, to quote my friend, a human muppet. The panel, which was also the first panel he had ever done, was entirely Q&A, and he and his friend Wade would field questions, often running into the audience. There was wordplay, physical comedy, a Five Nights at Freddy’s cosplayer in the audience, and just an absurd, good time.
The Episodic Games Panel (Not the official name)
Another panel I attended was on episodic games, their ups, their downs, and the things that people need to be aware of to make them successful. It was hosted by two people from Telltale Games, Matt Gilgenbach, the creator of Neverending Nightmares, and Swery, still hard at work on D4. Ryan Payton, currently working on Republique, served as moderator and as Swery’s translator. Also, I got to sit in the front row for this one!
It was a pretty interesting panel to hear just because of the diverse viewpoints. The Telltale guys have obviously been doing episodic games for years now, Neverending Nightmares is being released episodically as part of the Kickstarter development process and will be released as a full game when it’s done, and D4, while episodic, is still in development and the first episode has yet to be released.
The biggest thing I took away from the panel is that there’s no real secret ingredient in terms of how many episodes an episodic game should be. What’s more important is maintaining the cadence of release. The Telltale guys alluded to this somewhat when they talked about the unusual time gap between the first and second episodes of The Wolf Among Us. It’s also important to be aware of your resources; Neverending Nightmares was originally intended to be a twelve-episode game, but various realities (read: the budget) meant that it had to be cut down, leading to a nine-episode game instead. This, of course, also meant communicating this to the Kickstarter backers, who were apparently and thankfully understanding.
Surviving the Internet
This was the panel that Patrick hosted on Sunday night along with Samantha Kalman, Trin Garritano, and Shawn Allen. And I almost didn’t go to it. It was 7:00 on the third day of PAX and I was ready to hop on a bus and go home. Then, when I was at the bus stop, I checked Twitter on my phone and oh.
Of course, the tweet was a joke, but I figured maybe going wouldn’t hurt. So I went, and it was an interesting panel, all things considered. Some great viewpoints from all of the participants. I can’t say that I personally got much new out of it, as a lot of what was discussed were things that I was largely already aware of or agreed with. So I found myself nodding along a lot, but it was not a bad panel by any means. Definitely well done and thought out.
Also, I introduced myself to Patrick afterward, which was a nice moment. He also knows my face now, so he can picture me in his mind when he shakes his fist at me.
So…many…games. Too many to count or keep track of. But here are the highlights for me. Starting with the obvious.
OH SHIT THIS GAME IS AWESOME.
Nintendo had stations set up for some of their games on the second and third levels of the convention center, away from the hustle and bustle of the main show floor, where their space was almost entirely dedicated to Super Smash Bros. They did have one Hyrule Warriors station in the exhibition hall, but on day one, I got in line to play the demo on the third floor, where there were more stations. (And a hilarious number of people). It took somewhere between an hour and a half to two hours to get through the line.
Yeah, the game comes out in less than a month, but I really, really wanted to try it out. And I did. And it was hilarious. Standing in line, I’d watch other people play the demo and see them sort of disprove the notion that Warriors games are entirely mindless. I’d probably still be in line if there wasn’t a time limit on the demo. So I walk up to the station when it’s my turn and let the rep explain the controls (which are actually different than the standard Warriors game). I then pretty much proceeded to blitz what was a truncated version of the first stage using Zelda, bombing King Dodongo like it was going out of style.
Nintendo held a separate Hyrule Warriors event as a PAX after-party on Saturday. My friends and I tried queueing for it, though we were too late to be guaranteed entry. We stuck around in the room, partially to wait and see if we might get in, and partially because that queue room was quiet and cool, which is just what we all needed after two days of PAX. And most people that were with us were the same way. Though there was the one guy that, upon learning he probably wouldn’t get in, stormed out in an amazing tantrum in which he chided everyone still present for just sitting around collecting puzzle pieces in StreetPass.
Uh, dude. Chill. Hyrule Warriors has me hyped, but there was never any guarantee I’d get into the event. It’s best not to put your eggs in one basket. (Is that even the right analogy for this situation? I dunno.) Anyway, this is also largely why I wasn’t at the Giant Bomb panel on Saturday evening.
Also, holy shit, that hotel carpet.
Super Smash Bros.
I actually didn’t try Smash Bros. until the last day of the show, as every time we walked by the Nintendo area of the show floor it appeared to be madness. But the lines were actually very quick, as the 3DS stations were largely one go at Smash Run, and the demos of the Wii U version were four players playing two two-minute matches each. So it was actually easy to get in, play, and get out. Also, I got a sweet towel out of it, which is very handy to have on a convention floor filled with humanity.
You guys know what Smash Bros. is? Then I probably don’t need to talk about it too much. What I can say is that Smash Run on the 3DS is fun, and on the Wii U, I’m good with Zero Suit Samus and terrible, absolutely terrible, with Rosalina & Luma. Also, this is the cutest thing I have ever seen in all my years of PAX:
Project Diva F 2nd
Yes, I imported the Japanese version. But I had to try the localized demo. And yes. YES. It’s another one of those games where I don’t need to demo because I know how it plays and I already want to get it, but the demo was there, it was convenient to try with a small line, and it was fun. They were handing out Project Diva F 2nd lanyards to people that tried the game, but I didn’t need it, as earlier in the show, I had bought a Hatsune Miku lanyard from one of the vendors on the show floor:
This is the greatest lanyard in the history of lanyards. I WILL BROOK NO ARGUMENTS IT IS A FACT.
Super Meat Boy Forever
Oh. Oh god. Oh god, what a mess this was.
Super Meat Boy Forever is a touch-based runner follow-up to Super Meat Boy. From the brief time I played it, I can only say this:
It’s fucking terrible.
Part of this may be the demo station I was at, which used a large touch-screen monitor rather than, say, an iPad. But the touches simply weren’t responsive enough, which is agonizing in a game that requires as much precision as Super Meat Boy. Worse, the levels are randomly generated, and it kept throwing different obstacles at me, eliminating the ability to practice through trial and error.
I just…what? Maybe the finished game will be better, and on a device more conducive to the experience they’re going for. But just god damn was this an atrocious demo.
Skullduggery! is one of the games that was on display at the PAX 10 this year. It’s a touch-screen based game that’s sort of like taking the core concept behind Angry Birds and making a better game out of it. You play as a skull, and to get around, you pull back on a piece of the skull, stretching his elastic brain, adjusting your launch angle, and then letting loose. This is done to get through levels, avoid obstacles, defeat enemies, and collect treasures. All while being met with silly pun after goofy joke all the while. It’s really cool.
Another PAX 10 game, Stikbold! is a game for up to four players in local multiplayer that is essentially a hilariously violent game of dodgeball with an aesthetic that dresses everyone up in ridiculous 1970s athletic wear and hairstyles. It’s very simple: You get the ball, you throw the ball at other people and try to brutalize them with spheroid rubber. Or maybe distract them with bees, or an overenthusiastic fan, or maybe take them down with a floor waxer.
It’s a ridiculous game in the good way.
Mushroom 11, yet another PAX 10 game, is also uniquely bizarre. You control an amorphous fungus, and to get from one end of the stage to the other, you need to shave, trim and cut it so that it can move with the physics and regrow to fill in necessary gaps. It’s intense just watching someone else play, particularly when taking on a boss, which can require some particularly precarious shaving, scaling, and getting things to land just right.
And again, you play as an amorphous fungus.
I’m really not sure what to make of this game.
Wander casts the player as a walking tree, essentially, and there’s a narrative to follow by exploring the wilderness and finding items that push the story forward. It’s also possible to team up with other players and give information on where to find these items. The whole game has been designed with a pacifist mindset; there’s no combat or conflict in the game. You just wander around and explore. In a sense, it’s sort of like Myst in that fashion. But in the time I had to demo it, I couldn’t really do much more than wander through the wilderness without aim, unsure of where to go or what to do.
The Moon is Dying & So Will You
This game, which is only about three weeks old and still super-early in development, was actually available for demoing in the Cards Against Humanity booth. It’s a very simple premise, in that you control a character with the left stick and a life preserver with the right stick, and both with the right stick when the character is in the preserver. The goal is to collect as many blue triangles around the environment as possible before dying. Or at least, that’s as much of a goal as there is right now in this super-early, impossible to judge build. It is interesting to play though, I’ll give it that. The team making it will be launching a Kickstarter in the near future for it.
And oh goodness, there are just too many other games to list.
I may have set a new personal record for the amount of money I’ve spent on convention swag and other goodies this year. Or if not, at least close to it. Totally worth it, though. Through various vendors and channels, I came away with:
- A Play Arts Kai Cammy figure.
- A Kotobukiya Bishoujo Cammy figure.
- A Play Arts Kai Snow Villiers figure.
- Two sets of Street Fighter X Sanrio figures.
- A Poison T-shirt.
- A Hatsune Miku T-shirt.
- Analogue: A Hate Story and Hate Plus (Physical releases.)
- Cards Against Humanity expansions 3, 4, and 5 and the 90s Nostalgia pack.
- The tabletop game Eldritch Horror.
- A poster depicting fan-drawn schematics of the Epoch from Chrono Trigger.
- 4 Vocaloid-related art books
- An Ys art book
- Not for me, but for a friend: Two Udon-published manga-style volumes that are adaptations of Les Miserable and Pride and Prejudice. (Huh?!)
Overall, it was a blast at PAX this year. I’d like to do it again next year, though who knows how possible that will be given the rate at which passes sell out now. Still, I’ll give it a shot. The show is pretty old hat, and a lot of the shiny allure of earlier PAX shows has definitely worn away as I’ve gotten more used to it and the show has gotten bigger. But it’s still worth going despite that and I’d easily do it again.
Also, Nintendo, please release more puzzles! I finished all of them already!