Pax East 2020 highlights (With pictures!)

PAX East is the one near me. It’s also the only major games conference I’ve been to. 2020 is my third year attending, and this year I took more pictures than any year before. Mainly to remind myself of things I wanted to keep an eye on after I left, but also to give me some photos to fill an article such as this, highlighting some of the more interesting and exciting games I saw.

Main attractions

Stuff that was on my radar going in.

Dangerous Driving 2

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Because of my own weird brain, Dangerous Driving 2 is the game I came to the show most interested to see. As a die-hard Burnout 3 fan, I’ve been excited to watch 3 Fields Entertainment’s progression towards making that scale and style of game again. And with DD one it felt like they had just about reached that, and I was ready to be content, but then they come out and say “hey our booth is open and we’re showing DD2!” and my ears definitely perked up.

Each 3FE game has been building on top of the previous, and DD2 is no different. The focus this time is taking DD1 and setting it in an interconnected open world. And after getting hands on, I can tell you it sure does feel like I remember DD1 feeling, which I’ll take as good news. The demo was locked down to a single race, so none of the open world aspects felt present, and most of what I know about it is from the developers telling me.

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I think it’s pretty well known that 3FE is a small team, but I didn’t realize until listening to the devs that the core of the team is just 2 people? No matter how long you’ve been making games, that’s a team size that really defines the kind of scale and scope of game you can wind up with. But also it says something about the level of passion going into these projects. You build half a whole ass game, and yeah you’re so excited to get the game out to people you don’t hold it back just to make a menu that sings and dances like a one made by a team that is dedicated only to crafting a fancy UI.

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I was already a fan, but seeing their attitude and hustle has taken me from curious about DD2 up to can’t wait for it. Plus they only got switch dev kits in January and already have the engine running on it, which is impressive on its own, but also means the game will be on that one console that everyone is gaga over. Until then, I’ve been given the hot tip straight from the dev that the real trick to DD1 is to go slowly along the tracks and read all the signs to get the secret canon of the DD story.

Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon

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Announced when the show floor opened, Pocket Dungeon is a (semi-rhythm based?) puzzle match rouge-like. You’re in a Tetris-like bucket, enemies and items are falling in from the top, and if identical objects or enemies are all in a group touching, interacting or dealing damage to one in the group affects all in the group, which is where the real combo puzzle element comes from. Each level lasts until the dungeon exit door and key falls into the matrix, and then you move onto the next level that has its own set of unique enemies and hazards.

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This was actually the only game on the floor I stood in line to play. Puzzle games are already a must for me, but I am especially fond of the character-action puzzle hybrid games (Super Puzzle Platformer Deluxe, Treasure Stack, Super Star Path, and Wario’s Woods all jump to mind). This one really brought the rouge-like elements to bare tho, with random shops and weapons and level progressions. Honestly if it weren’t for the Play In A Matrix constraint, my closest comparison might be a lighter Crypt of the Necrodancer. Which is still a great comparison to get!

Unexpected attractions

I didn’t know about them before seeing them on the floor, but for some reason they stuck with me most.

Together in Battle

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There was something about TiB’s graphic design that made me assume it was going to be something super generic. Maybe I’m just sick of the Colosseum sweat tone. But it was clearly a tactics game, so I gave it the chance.

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It is a tactics game, the demo making it seem like it will be mostly area battle but with some kind of story, but the real trick is that it’s also a procedural VN of sorts? During the day you hire fighters, and direct those fighters in battles that have just enough positioning, ranges, stats, and team comp to make really interesting combat puzzles. At night, the units in your roster mingle with each other and form bonds and have real meet cute moments? Sometimes they’ll start singing about how much they love diamonds? They start having opinions about the other members, and you have to take that into consideration when forming fighting squads? This section is all automatic and sort of algorithmically generated, but it’s still real cute to watch them start building their own stories and give you things to think about them more than just what their ice-resistance stat is like.

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It’s a tactics game with dorks, who you watch go on dork dates in between having unexpectedly descent tactics battles. And that’s worth keeping an eye on. (but also one of the things you do in a battle is gather up the item sacks from fallen units, BUT I DON’T THINK THAT ALLOWS THEM TO JUST PUT A “Sacks Grabbed” STAT ON THE MATCH RESULT SCREEN.)

The Forgettable Dungeon

I’m not really sure why this one has left such an impression on me. A Zelda 1-like with rougelike elements mapped onto it, and presented in voxels. Maybe there’s a part of me that would really like Rouge but just really can’t stand how actual Rouge looks or plays. Maybe I’m that much of a sucker for a good cloud of exploding voxels, or maybe a top down sword-swinging adventure calls to my subconscious. Maybe I just really like the gamble mechanic of not knowing what a potion does until you drink it or throw it at someone. But this game has all that and it co-op, so I’ll be keeping an eye on it.

Actually, that was maybe the most wild thing about it. The game was being shown with 4 player local co-op, and that’s great, but chatting with the dev they mentioned, “It’s also 4 player online...well technically 16 online, because the engine supported that many connections and I decided to just leave it enabled.” and I love that spirit of “it wasn’t intentional, but it was crazy so we kept it,” that I feel like I haven’t seen since the exploding rickshaws in Saint’s Row 3.

VR block

I own a VR set, so I must stay abreast of new VR games.

Takelings House Party

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Not the first game I’ve seen that sets a group of couch co-op players against a single VR player, but using the Borrowers vs. Humans theme gives a certain amount of whimsy that is definitely needed to counteract just how malicious the game asks the VR player to be. “Stick them in the toaster so their partners will have to come out of hiding and race to unplug it before they burn to death” is an interesting player interaction, but also maybe a bit too horrifying? I dunno, curious to see what other hazard interactions they think up. Maybe they can lean more slapstick than grizzly.

Smush TV

Hey, remember when Tetris was really reaching for new game modes, and they came up with that thing where there’s a little dude at the bottom of the well and you’re trying to drop pieces so they make a staircase for him to climb out of the top? Well someone decided that was an idea prime for adaptation into an asymmetric versus experience. A screen based player is trying to drop pieces to crush the VR player, while the VR player is using a bow-and-arrow-based translocator to jump around and make their way up and out of the well. As someone who has worked on an asymmetric 2-players-only game that didn’t have a VR component, that’s a really hard game to make the kind of fun that will really draw people in. But it was one of the most novel concepts I saw on the floor, so have to give them credit for that.

SpaceTeam VR

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Mother Fucking SpaceTeam VR!!!

If you haven’t played SpaceTeam, go do it. It’s a free phone app with local wi-fi multiplayer where each player has an inscrutable bank of buttons and switches and dials, and also a display that will give you instructions to call out to whichever player has the applicable settings to change. It’s a hell of a time.

So for VR they’ve done the thing that every VR multiplayer experience that wants to stand a chance does, and made it cross play with screen and even phone players. I don’t know if VR is going to add anything particularly new or unique to the SpaceTeam experience, but I’ll take any excuse to cheerlead for SpaceTeam and have something new to do in VR.

MORE TO COME...

I write slowly. I'll add more as I find the time.

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