(Really Late) PAX East Notes: JASON?!

 I used to write about video games.

Seriously. I was part of a website, I got laughable press releases, the whole thing. Somewhere along the way, though, I just stopped. Perhaps it was because I went off to college and my reviews or features didn't count as grades. Whatever it was, I just sort of lost my passion for it.

Then I went to PAX East.

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I was reluctant at first. The local news had a few stories on it, with awkward people in cosplay being asked typical nerd questions as people looked on at them as if they were watching a National Geographic special. Not that I'm not a complete dork or anything, but I don't want to come off as being on the "Simpsons comic book guy" echelon of nerd. I think that's right above Trekkie.

Imagine my surprise when the crowd was not only friendly, but sociable. Developers of the smaller indie games were as excited to be there as the attendees, too. It really adds a lot to the experience when there's a shared level of enthusiasm among everyone there. Having a total stranger come up to you and ask what you thought of the Behemoth's new game, for example, is amazingly common. The absurd nature of the whole thing helps as well. Talking to the Protomen as Ken Levine walks past you and Wil Wheaton signs autographs feels weird at first, but soon becomes as commonplace as seeing a neckbeard at a LAN party. It doesn't take long to feel comfortable enough as everyone else to yell out "JASON!" right after someone else does (I can't count the number of times this happened during just the one day I was there).

You're probably more interested in the games I saw than anything else, though, so here's a list of everything I can remember.

- BattleBlock Theater was the first thing I saw, and I think it caused more confusion than anything else. It should really be called "Wait What Was That I...DAMMIT: The Game." It's way more competition focused than anything else the Behemoth has tackled, and the only real comparison I can draw is perhaps the original Atari Mario game. You pick an avatar and weapon at the start of the game, and after a few seconds you're off in either a co-op game against the AI or a versus game against each other (I believe AI partners are optional). The game changes itself up after a certain time period, so while you may be trying to cover as much ground as possible in the first game like some sort of reverse Lode Runner, you'll be trying to hit dudes and collect their ghosts in the second game, lest you be hit and all your dude-ghosts go flying away for the grabbing. I think the game needs more time to be completely understood, but it should be an interesting take on the typical party game genre.

- Shoot 1Up is an Xbox Indie title that tries to combine a lot of typical shoot-em-up conventions and pack them into one game. You actually control more than one ship at once, but you wouldn't notice until you hid the "spread formation" button and realize just how many things you had shooting at the same time. Another neat thing it does that I think more games of this genre should do is change the levels up from vertical to horizontal. It adds a lot of variety in a genre that is usually critiqued for being very repetitive. It's a dollar right now on XBLM, so give it a try. It's not super polished, but I think this team could put out some insane Treasure-style games if given a bigger budget.

- Joe Danger is going to be huge. You've probably heard that a lot if you've been keeping up with the IGF hype, but it's true. While it looks like an Excitebike clone, there's a lot more to it. The best way to think of it is if Excitebike and Trials HD had a kid, but it's not as simple as its plain mother nor as evil as its abusive father. While you fathom that weird analogy, throw in a Tony Hawk-like combo system; you can basically make it through a track with a single combo if you know what you're doing. There's a lot to that game including races, stunt runs, and God knows what else. Day one purchase for me.

- Split/Second is basically everything you've heard. Burnout on crack, Blur with environmental-based power-ups, etc. It's looking really good and plays well. I didn't see the framerate dip too much except when a giant space needle was exploding in the background thus changing the entire geometry of the track. Seeing as that's been the only real complaint among people who have played it so far, it should end up being great depending on how much it has to offer in terms of the game modes it includes.

- Crackdown 2 plays a lot like (wait for it...) Crackdown. We only got to play a "capture the orb" multiplayer game limited to rocket launchers, but it was good to see Crackdown back and looking nice. The announcer still sounds like an ass, which is a plus.

-My friend got to play Shank. I didn't. Fuck him.

The rest of my time was taken up by wandering the halls, playing old-ass arcade machines, trying out different games in the console free play room, and watching someone on the last level of Mega Man 2 in the classic console room (kill screen coming up). Sincere thanks to the Penny Arcade guys for putting this together, and special thanks to Jeff Gerstmann, The Protomen, and the people from Mega64 and Starman.net for signing things, talking to us, and generally making the experience more fun than it already was.

I leave you with the one cosplayer you would never want to eff with. Thanks for reading.
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