Some PAX Prime 2015 Impressions

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Posted by austin_walker (561 posts) -
Highlight of PAX: Draining the power of the UnderDraker by stealing and spiking his precious urn on the ground.
Highlight of PAX: Draining the power of the UnderDraker by stealing and spiking his precious urn on the ground.

After a week at the PAX Prime convention in Seattle, where I checked out games, spoke on panels, and hung out with friends old and new, I’m finally back in New York. While it would be easy to slip into full post-convention recovery mode, I’ve actually been incredibly energized by a desire to share my thoughts on some of the games I saw and played over the last week.

Though there were a ton of major, upcoming AAA releases at the show, I spent most of my time investigating games from smaller teams or playing demos of projects that I just wouldn’t be able to get my hands on anytime soon. I also just don’t have the time or space to give details on every single game I saw, so just assume that if I’m mentioning a thing here, it’s because I think it’s pretty rad.

A Consensual Hallucination

For better and worse, I feel like 2015 has been dominated by one long, breathless conversation about virtual reality. While I’d experienced the Oculus Rift back at E3, it was only my experiences this week that shifted me over from ‘hopeful, if skeptical’ to “cautiously optimistic.’ Ironically, the thing that first convinced me that VR would be able to do more than provide Wii Sports-style novelty was the moment my Oculus Touch demo glitched out. I discussed this experience towards the beginning of our Saturday Night panel, but for those weren't there: I was left standing in a virtual grey-space, staring at the demo-runner's out-of-sync avatar as he struggled to reboot the system. Instead of the childlike glee he'd had during the demo he'd just given Alex, he was worried and unsure. I just stood there, watching a digital representation of another person trying to take stock of his virtual surroundings, unable to see me. The atmosphere was creepy and strangely heavy, and I left excited to see what sort of stories talented game makers are able to tell in this format.

I got one example of VR storytelling a few days later, when I tried out Call of the Starseed, a game for the Valve-backed HTC Vive VR device. Starseed is a first person exploration game that takes cues from 80s fantasy-adventure films like The Goonies. Starseed puts the player in detailed, moody locations and then asks them to solve puzzles with inventory items and objects in the environment. The Vive’s controllers are tall, Playstation Move-like wands, and they don't stand up next to the Oculus Touch’s comfortable fit.

"Blinking" from one location to the next is incredibly intuitive, and perfect for games that focus on slow exploration.

But Call of the Starseed offered something that the Oculus demo hadn’t: A potential solution for movement in (slow-paced) VR games. The player can walk around in a bounding box by moving around in real life. To travel further distances, they look at a spot in the distance and press a button to teleport there, setting up a new box to move around in. It’s a surprisingly smooth motion that works well for this sort of adventure game, though action titles will probably need a different solution. I’ll have an interview with Call of the Starseed creative director Denny Unger up on the Giant Bomb Presents podcast feed soon!

(I had a third virtual reality experience, too, but this one didn’t involve a headset. Nina Freeman’s Cibele was really the surprise of the show for me. It didn’t require me to wear a fancy headset to bring me into different time and place. Cibele takes me back so clearly to the time I spent on the internet as a teenager, using games as a way to meet people and to figure out who I was and what I cared about. Interested? Check out this interview with Nina that I recorded moments after finishing the demo!)

Walking Tanks

Yeah, that's right. I snuck a photo of some real ass hex tiles onto Giant Bomb Dot Com.
Yeah, that's right. I snuck a photo of some real ass hex tiles onto Giant Bomb Dot Com.

Speaking of nostalgia, it’s no secret that I have a long-running love of giant robots. So it shouldn’t be too surprising that I budgeted enough time to check out four different mech games.

  • Mech Deck: On Drew’s recommendation, I sought this out in the Indie Megabooth’s tabletop section. It’s a short, two to four player tactical combat game that combines a hex-based map, 3D-printed mechs, unique character abilities, and a deck of cards that give you special actions (and reactions) which can turn the tide of a fight. Mechs are built from a combination of modular pieces which can be customized or drafted at the start of the game to switch things up across multiple sessions. My bipedal, metal giant used a mortar to shell enemies at long distances, and then used a whip-like claw to drag in enemies that got too close, only to then bash them away with a super-fist. It was pretty dope. The designers just launched the game’s Kickstarter campaign, and the game should be available next fall.
  • Galak-Z Mobile Variant: The upcoming re-release of Galak-Z for phones and tablets works surprisingly well. Engine lights glow bright on the mobile screen, the game didn’t stutter any more than it did on the PS4. While the controls are a little wonky, it’s still impressive to see this console game running on a phone. It’s also a sharp reminder that however much I love my Vita, the system’s hardware limitations have contributed to the platform’s thin catalog.
  • Brigador: This is a game I’ve been waiting for ever since the striking reveal trailer got my blood pumping last year. Brigador’s environments are oppressive: Claustrophobic rows of scrap metal, warehouses, and the occasional monument barely lit by distant neon. Between the pounding electronic music, the Desert Strike-style gameplay, and hard-as-sin difficulty, Brigador feels torn from an alternate universe where we’re all playing a high-powered successor to the Sega Genesis. Which is pretty okay by me.
  • Battletech: Finally, I got a chance to talk to some folks at Harebrained Schemes about their upcoming Battletech game. Nothing to show for it yet, but the goal is to provide light story telling and intense tactical combat, something of an inverse from the studio's recent Shadowrun games. You'll be leading a four-member "lance" of mechs, and like XCOM: Enemy Unknown, losing your comrades is a real threat. Battletech will also be hitting Kickstarter later this month.

Harebrained had more than just flyers for Battletech on hand, though...

Procedural Death Labyrinths

Apparently the number one way to impress me at PAX was to be moody as fuck.
Apparently the number one way to impress me at PAX was to be moody as fuck.

We're well into the era of "What if Dark Souls but..." and while there were actually a ton of games at the show that drew inspiration from the franchise, two stuck out to me.

The first is Necropolis, also by Harebrained Schemes. Necropolis is a third-person roguelike that has a ton of style--everything has sharp edges and dark, flat shading. Like the Chalice Dungeons of Bloodborne, Necropolis offers an endless supply of procedurally generated dungeon levels to go through, tasking the player with climbing down through an underground pyramid at the behest of the archmage buried in its depths. The pyramid is filled with enemies from multiple factions who fight each other as often as they turn on you, and once they do, the combat is fast paced and smooth, which took me by surprise since Necropolis is the studio's first step away from their turn based/tactical roots.

As the show came to a close, I was fleeing from strange creatures, trying to bandage a bloody and dripping wound, and narrowly avoiding tripwires and spike traps. Okay, fine, I was actually seated on a tiny chair in the Indie Megabooth playing Capy's Below, but that game drew me right in. Like Necropolis, Below sets you as an explorer of mysterious dungeon that shifts around after every death. But unlike Necropolis, Below has a streak of minimalism in presentation and design that underscores the game's feeling of dread and loneliness. The camera is a sort of distant, bird's eye view that puts as much focus on the ruins around the player as it does on the player itself. Combat is quick and deadly--a few good hits will leave you reeling. The game's menu--a collection of stark white lines and shapes--doesn't give information about weapon strength or the healing abilities of your items. You'll have to figure those out for yourself.

And the winner is...

Ultimate Chicken Horse is basically real time, competitive Mario Maker.
Ultimate Chicken Horse is basically real time, competitive Mario Maker.

Like I said at the start, I saw a ton of other things that were cool: Masquerada, a stylish RPG filled with living books, magical masks, and political questions grounded in the ones we still ask ourselves today; Wattam, which was as wacky and endearing as Alex said it would be; Moon Hunters, a co-op RPG with a unique setting that uses Yawhg-style vignettes to define your character's traits; Ultimate Chicken Horse, which... listen, I cannot wait to play Ultimate Chicken Horse, y'all.

But the coolest thing I got to see at PAX Prime 2015 was: You.

I'm not kidding! I'm not. So many of you turned up for our panels, talked to us on the show floor, and voiced your appreciation for what we do. This was the first chance I had to meet fans since joining the site back in June, and it was a pleasure. I can't wait to meet more of you in the future!

So if you're one of the many people who made it out to the show, thanks! And hey, what was your favorite thing at the show? While you're at it: Of the things I mentioned above, which are you interested in hearing more about? Lemme know and I'll talk a bit about it on the Beastcast this week!

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#1 Posted by Jayxeno (136 posts) -

A very enjoyable read. Thanks for the write-up Austin!

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#2 Posted by subrandom (145 posts) -

Masquerada aka Friends At The Table Dungeon World the Video Game.

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#3 Posted by MattyFTM (14886 posts) -

The alternative title should be the real title.

Moderator
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#4 Posted by mrfluke (6101 posts) -

Call of the Starseed was definitely one of the most impressive things at the show.

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#5 Posted by joolsus (3 posts) -

Great article Austin!

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#6 Posted by Tennmuerti (9460 posts) -

Battletech: Finally, I got a chance to talk to some folks at Harebrained Schemes about their upcoming Battletech game. Nothing to show for it yet, but the goal is to provide light story telling and intense tactical combat, something of an inverse from the studio's recent Shadowrun games. You'll be leading a four-member "lance" of mechs, and like XCOM: Enemy Unknown, losing your comrades is a real threat. Battletech will also be hitting Kickstarter later this month.

Dude WHAT?!

Harebrained is doing a Battletech turn based game? Awesome.I do hope that have a deep enough tactical system and customization system tho. You kinda need that for a mech game. And that's kind of the only main weak spot of their Shadowrun games, the rpg system is kinda limited in those 2 aspects.

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#7 Posted by BillyMaysRIP (720 posts) -

@austin_walker Small mistake in "Yeah, that's right. I snuck a photo some real ass hex tiles onto Giant Bomb Dot Com."

Great read tho.

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#8 Posted by cooljammer00 (3089 posts) -

You mean you got to meet Time's Person of the Year from 2006?!

I think I played Necropolis at PAX East. It was like Dark Souls but faster and with better movement. Not like Lords of the Fallen, but more like say...DMC. I was fighting guys in the air, but I still had to parry and dodge and getting hit was meaningful in regards to dying.

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#9 Edited by NameRedacted (285 posts) -

Great article, Austin!

How's that dissertation going?

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#10 Posted by csl316 (14959 posts) -

"But the coolest thing I got to see at PAX Prime 2015 was: You." Oh man, PAX must've been very uncool then.

Anyway, hearing about VR makes my eyes glaze over so I hope to actually get an opportunity to try it some day.

Online
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#11 Posted by extintor (1090 posts) -

Austin Walker. The duder's duder.

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#12 Posted by AMyggen (7738 posts) -

@mattyftm said:

The alternative title should be the real title.

Agreed!

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#13 Posted by dudeglove (13736 posts) -

For those that care, Brigador's music is by Makeup & Vanity Set, although the reveal trailer Austin mentions was a piece by one of the Stellar Jockeys themselves.

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#14 Posted by lachrymoses (193 posts) -

Austin finishing the article with some corny Time magazine shit.

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#15 Posted by ETPC (111 posts) -

Never stop, Austin. <3

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#16 Posted by UnsolvedParadox (2161 posts) -

Thanks for the write-up, I'm off to back that Kickstarter for Mech Deck!

I stopped by the BattleTech booth on the 6th floor as well, can't wait until that game comes out.

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#17 Posted by mashzapotato (164 posts) -

One of the highlights of my time at PAX was getting to meet you Austin. You're a great dude!

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#18 Posted by ch3burashka (6086 posts) -

@amyggen said:
@mattyftm said:

The alternative title should be the real title.

Agreed!

From now on, every article starts with "Dear Diary" and ends with "xoxo, Austin"

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#19 Posted by TheHT (15839 posts) -

Ahhh, Masquerada looks so cool!

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#20 Posted by thesteve19 (105 posts) -

Getting some serious Syndicate vibes from Brigador.

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#21 Edited by NmareBfly (171 posts) -

Did anyone from GB check out Barkley 2? I understand the full Wizard experience in the Astral Lounge was about 20 minutes long and there might have been schedule conflicts, but not even checking out the floor demo seems a shame.

E: I'm sorry, to be clear I'm talking about The Magical Realms of Tír na nÓg: Escape from Necron 7 – Revenge of Cuchulainn: The Official Game of the Movie – Chapter 2 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa AKA Barkley 2: Queklainn No Vengeant.

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#23 Edited by Homelessbird (1622 posts) -

@austin_walker: Please tell us as much as you are legally able to about Below

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#24 Posted by MonkeyKing1969 (7537 posts) -

Very nice to have a write up of the event from your eyes.

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#25 Posted by FlashFlood_29 (4415 posts) -

Thanks for spreading the word of these cool games, Austin! I love discovering new games.

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#26 Posted by ichthy (1366 posts) -

Hold up, cell phones are beefier than the Vita now? I don't use my phone for gaming much, and especially not graphically intensive games, but that kinda bums me out a little about my Vita.

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#27 Posted by SourPatchJames (33 posts) -

Good stuff Austin! It was really cool meeting you at PAX. Keep up the great work.

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#28 Posted by austin_walker (561 posts) -

@nmarebfly: The floor demo was available but the floor was a terrible place to try that game. Looking forward to it, but it just wasn't the space to play a game like that for 20 minutes and try to render any sort of opinion.

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#29 Posted by ArchTeckGuru8 (246 posts) -

Hey whatever happened to Johnathan Blows game? It show up at PAX?

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#30 Posted by NmareBfly (171 posts) -

@nmarebfly: The floor demo was available but the floor was a terrible place to try that game. Looking forward to it, but it just wasn't the space to play a game like that for 20 minutes and try to render any sort of opinion.

Sounds like a well-reasoned decision to me. I'm just eager for any and all coverage of what will surely be GOTY 2023.

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#31 Posted by Lord_Anime (142 posts) -

@austin_walker "Just Shapes & Beats", was easily my favorite. No brainer since I loved Crypt of the Necrodancer, geomerty wars, and was a big DDR nerd back in the day.

Was great to meet you and bs with you a bit about no Wawa around == utter hell :P

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#32 Edited by TGJessie (456 posts) -

I don't know what it is about it, but I f**king loathe when people use the word "dope" (as an adjective).

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#33 Posted by valeo (296 posts) -
@tgjessie said:

I don't know what it is about it, but I f**king loathe when people use the word "dope" (as an adjective).

Youre probably just really white. :D

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#34 Posted by hassun (9946 posts) -

Feels good to be the coolest thing at PAX Prime 2015 even though I wasn't there.

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#35 Posted by ZandraVandra (323 posts) -

It was a pleasure meeting you! You are a wonderful addition to Giant "Evening With Friends" Beast. <3

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#36 Posted by kubqo (485 posts) -

I have not been to PAX but i want to ask you people if you had a chance to check out "Due Process" or "Planetoid Pioneer" and what do you think? Becasue those 2 look potentially awesome.

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#37 Posted by Corvak (1968 posts) -

I'll probably never go to a PAX, the badge situation is just too insane, and i'm too proud to buy sketchy ebay tickets for 2x the price.

I'm really glad GB always makes a point of recording what goes on for this reason :)

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#38 Edited by Cybexx (1633 posts) -

Austin, good to meet you a couple times at the show, albeit briefly. Yeah Ultimate Chicken Horse is pretty fun, I played it a couple weeks before the show at an Indie Dev Pre-Pax party that my friend was hosting to showcase a bunch of games that were heading to PAX. Tumblestone is a competitive match-3 puzzle game I highly recommend checking out when you get the chance. I have rare seen people get worked up over an competitive game as much as people seem to for Tumblestone which is thanks to some very smart tuning by developer Ty Taylor, who also just released The Bridge.

I ran into Zach Aikman, lead programmer at 17-bit, and we were chatting about Unity performance optimization. Last year I was talking to him about the performance issues he was running into with the PC and PS4 versions of the game since the initial PAX build last year was stuttering. I was surprised that the Mobile Variant was not only playable on the show floor but ran pretty well. He was saying that only about 3 weeks of work had went into that version so far and he regrets not being able to do a Vita version, mostly due to the fact that your average phone or tablet has double or quadruple the amount of memory. He did mention that the android console versions are up and running with controller support that pretty much duplicates the functionality of the PS4 version.

Like you I mostly checked out indie stuff at the show but I was glad I waited in line for 1.5 hours on Saturday morning to play one of the four Mirror's Edge Catalyst stations at the show, since mostly people have barely seen that game and the 15 minutes I spent with it gave me a lot of hope DICE is heading in the right direction.

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#39 Posted by NeoAthanasius (106 posts) -

Call of the Starseed was my first VR experience and I can't wait to try more! It answered all of my questions and concerns about VR. I'm glad Austin was able to give some impressions of it. Especially because Jeff and co. were not impressed by the Vive demos they tried. I think they would have had better things to say about it if they had tried Call of the Starseed.

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#40 Posted by stackboy (752 posts) -

Really keen to hear more about Necropolis. Love me some roguelikes!!

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#41 Edited by jacobmccourt (287 posts) -

Spoke to him at the panel about London, Ontario... he's the realest of duders. Great choice for new editor.

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#42 Edited by Jamsyarbots (2 posts) -

@kubqo: I did get to play Due Process and one of their devs (probably) got me sick.

It was a lot of fun to go through the whole planning phase of holding off a siege or executing one. The build they were using was not flashy in the slightest. The dev on site told me that they wanted to have a playable version with the most recent art but that build wasn't stable and ultimately played like crap so they brought a stripped down but playable version.

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#43 Posted by Blackout62 (2190 posts) -

"But the coolest thing I got to see at PAX Prime 2015 was: You."

Finally! A lead on my mysterious imposter.

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#44 Posted by Wazanator (67 posts) -

Mech Deck looks really awesome and I wish their site had more info on it.

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#45 Posted by Xpgamer7 (2483 posts) -

@nmarebfly: I played a bunch. You respawn at wherever has a nearby upgrade station which you can use to upgrade your weapons, genes and reload guns. Also go on virtual forums. The menus look great, and the gunplay feels OK. As for the weird ass story they weren't showing much. You get to go to a cyber dwarf town where everyone is pissed off at you, and if you die in the swamps you get modified or something. Also it's hard, I died about 25 times.

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