Sunday, March 15, 2015

PAX East 2015 Catching Up

Okay, let's discuss the events of last weekend.

There are posts currently "in production" as we say in the biz when we're trying our best to fool readers in believing that we did not just spent a week relaxing and having an easy time after a nice weekend trip to Boston.  I assure that instead of writing I was not enjoying the Starz On Demand collection of James Bond movies.  Nope, it never is more fun to watch a terrible Roger Moore movie after an eight hour shift at work than to do something constructive.  I've been working desperately hard every single second.  Yup.

Anyway, the point of this post is that I'm back after PAX East 2015 and I figured I would share some of my experience and what games seemed like fun.  Originally I tried to do this this post as a Vlog with my new camera... but even I cannot stand to look at my face for twenty minutes.  (Especially when Daylight Savings Time kicked my ass this year and I have awful circles under my eye.)  So instead we're going to do things the old fashioned text way - and only a week late!

Since Wikia was so nice to send me out there, I had the opportunity to take part in two events.  First of all I was in an interview for "Witcher 3: Wild Hunt" on the main Twitch stage on Saturday.  That was interesting moment in my life since I happened to know very little about the Witcher series and was playing along the best I could.  The game does look awesome though, I was not in any way saying anything I did not believe.  Apparently I did a very good job, and I've received very positive feedback.  The other event was Quizards Live, a fan quiz where I competed against two other Wikia Admins and the audience to win fabulous prizes.  I came in second, because I could not remember the name of the goddamn time travel machine in the Assassin's Creed games, but if you want to watch here's the twitch stream.  There I won a new video card and a terabyte harddrive, both of which I'll put to good use creating more content for you good Space Monkey people.

Now continue reading for the rest of my PAX story:

PAX East was, in a word, crowded.  The Boston Convention Center is about the largest building I have ever been inside, a mammoth white structure seemingly large enough to fit my entire home town.  There were about sixty thousand people there at one point so I am told, and I can believe it.  You just will not believe the insanity of the masses of human beings that you had to fight with.  For that reason unfortunately, I wound up missing most of the big games, even the ones I wanted to play.  "Halo 5", "Battlefield: Hardline", "Fable: Legends", "Grey Goo", and whatever Wargaming is (do not know, don't really care) were all things I immediately put on triage.  None of them were worth waiting on line, and so I ignored them.

"Final Fantasy Type-0 HD" and "Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward" were just impossible to get to.  Square Enix's booth would only allow about a hundred people on line at any point, and the lines were both an hour and a half.  Even after camping out on the line for most of a day, I couldn't get in.  So mostly you wind up gravitating towards the Indie games or the smaller merch booths.  Or you can drown in the masses of bearded men and girls in cosplay costumes and bored-looking lost parents with their small children.  Shopping, however, is very dangerous because if you're not careful you will wind up spending two hundred dollars shopping, like I did:

Toys! Toys!
(Currently Toon Link is in the hospital because his head came off.  The company I bought him from should have a new one sent to me soon enough.)

However, even though I could not play everything I wanted, let us talk about the games I did play, and my reactions.  there were great games at PAX, here are a few of them:

Oculus Rift Demo*

Technically this is not a game.  The demo I was given was only barely interactive, you could not actually affect the environments around you.  It was a very impressive movie though, it could potentially revolutionize that medium.  As for gaming, I am not 100% sure yet.  Virtual Reality is a touchy subject.  It only really became hot again in the last few years, and so far there is not much actual consumer projects to show for it.  To me VR means the Virtual Boy:  some blood red wire frames on a black background that will give you a nasty headache after twenty minutes.

Oculus Rift however, actually worked.  The demo I was given was about fifteen minutes long, so it was sizable.  You put on a huge headset - which is awkward for me because I wear glasses - and then are transported across a long series of vignettes.  A T-Rex would attack you, a cute alien would say insulting baby talk to you, some claw machines would fight over objects, there was even a little Sim City design.  It is very impressive tech, your POV tracks exactly to the objects and the perspective of the footage.  You can go up, you could go down, you could look past objects, you could see them all in full 360 motion with exact depth perception .  And even though most 3D does not work too well with my crappy eyes, this 3D really worked.  I would really not recommend putting your head inside any of the polygons though, that will make you sick very fast.

However - again - nothing about it was actually a game.  There are practical reason for this which could be awkward stumbling blocks for the technology.  Wearing the headset is terrifying at first since you're effectively making yourself blind and helpless against potential real-life predators.  (Though unlike me, most people probably do not have a severe velociraptor problem.)  You have to stand to play, and your actually movements presumably will be the game's controls.  It does not make much sense to use joysticks abstractly controlling a foreign being while you're audio and visual are supposed to immerse you entirely in another dimension.  Worse, Oculus requires at least a large investment in space, I don't know if many consumers are going to have an entire room to devote to VR adventures.  This is why I think that Oculus Rift should probably be best used for film, not games.  Or at the very least, amusement park rides for now.

The problem is that the technology is still not there.  There needs to be a large amount of innovation and problem solving before this can become a product any person can put in their homes like say, a PC or a PlayStation.  I know if I bought an Oculus tomorrow, there would be no way for me to play it.  This is definitely technology that is going to have a place, only I don't know if that place is the same one as the gaming industry.

Ori and the Blind Forest (March 11th, XBONE and PC)

"Ori and the Blind Forest" was originally announced at E3 2014 at the Microsoft Conference.  I distinctly remember it as being the game which was so dark I could not make out anything.  It was just released last week, so this isn't really all that useful as consumer advice for an upcoming title, but whatever.  I think this game is great.

PAX was lousy with moody 2D Indie platformers.  Just about every other game there seemed to be that style.  Bonus points if the game included a mysterious narrator a la "Bastion" or "Transistor"**.  "Ori", however, clearly stood out amongst the competition.  Certainly by being a platformer set in a beautiful foreboding world starring a cute creature it is hardly breaking ground - countless games have done this already including last year's brilliant "Child of Light".  Yet I still think "Ori and the Blind Forest" stands out as particularly impressive.  The soundtrack is just gorgeous, perhaps one of the best scores to a video game I have ever heard.  (100/10, no joke.)  And the visuals are just as impressive as you would expect.

The game itself is a Metroidvania action platformer.  You play as a little white mouse creature wandering around a dark forest, fighting monsters with your laser powers, collecting more skills in a huge maze-like world.  I love Metroidvania games, I love how this game is full of benefits to backtrack and hidden treasures.  Plus the platforming is legitimately difficult and fun.  The only issue I have is that instead of a proper save system, you have to set your own save points.  Meaning you can easily screw yourself by saving in a nasty spot with low HP.

Overwatch (TBA, PC and Mac)

"Overwatch" is not typically the kind of game I would play, being a multiplayer-only FPS.  Consoles are not nearly fancy enough for "Overwatch"'s luxurious needs, so that would probably exclude me too, being too low-born to ever join the PC Master Race.   But this game actually seems to have a great deal of personality and color to it, where games like "Evolve" look forgettable and dull.  They are definitely going the "Team Fortress 2" route with a cast of well-defined memorable characters that play completely differently.  It is actually really impressive how detailed the characters are and how unique they play.  Sure, it was awkward trying to play the demo with WASD controls - a first time for me.  But even my ignorant brain came to a conclusion in just a minute of play:  this game is going to be huge.

My instinct was first to use Tracer, the lighting-fast British girl with invisibility powers.  I love speed and agility over all else in all games, and believe defense or blocking to be cowardly signs of weakness.  She was good fit for me, just as I thought.  Then I tried McCree, a cowboy with six-shooters, and it felt an entirely different game.  It is actually shocking just how different the physics and the rhythm of each character are.  Essentially McCree and Tracer do the same thing:  shoot people up close and personal.  But they're so different in form and design, you could probably only master one.  Then there are characters that work on entirely other levels.  One girl is just a mammoth monster with an nigh-unbreakable shield.  Another girl heals.  One fellow builds stuff.

I remember last year being very impressed by another team high-flying FPS called "BattleCry" at E3, being published by Bethesda.  "Overwatch" blows that little game out of the water.  Honestly I think I could use a lifestyle change, because this game might have actually converted me to the strange world of PC gaming.  There is a genius to this game:  combine all the action fun of "Team Fortress 2" with all the personality cult of "DOTA".  They aregoing to make a lot of money, at least an assload, maybe two.

Or maybe I just really want to waifu Tracer.  That's always a possibility.

Code Name S.T.E.A.M. (March 13th, 3DS)

I already talked for a bit about this game in my March Look-Ahead post, where I said it was "by far the most interesting and memetic 3DS game in development."  Having actually played it, my opinion has tempered slightly.  It was not quite I thought it was.

"Code Name S.T.E.A.M." is essentially Fire Emblem but with a third-person perspective instead of a top down view.  In the demo you play as a single character with a set number of points.  You can use those points to either fire your gun or move on the grid.  This way you can walk forward, fire, and then retreat.  Stealth is a big portion of the game, meaning it is less of an action title and more of a puzzle game than I thought.  It is a game that is not easily understood immediately, as I spent about five minutes in the demo unsure of just what was going on until I finally grasped the philosophy of the title.  However, I still have some issues.

Sure, aliens and steampunk and Lincoln are great silly concepts that my generation's love of hipster irony will instantly gravitate towards.  But the game has strange niggling stiffness bits.  A great deal of this game is based on stealth, the idea being that you try to eliminate enemies before they see you.  There is no map, you have no idea what is lurking behind every corner.  But it is turn based, even if you do blunder into an enemy position, you can just undo the action, so all the tension of stealth is lost.  Even if you do make a mistake, the enemies have all the intelligence of goldfish.  However the worst part is the enemy turns.  You spend the entire enemy turn knowing that enemies are shuffling around somewhere in the level, but having no real concept of what is going on.  You're just staring at nothing while things you can neither understand or react to are happening somewhere.  This means:  find something else to do for sixty to ninety seconds, you are not going to be entertained during that time.

I'm going to assume the game's mixed reaction was thanks in part to the annoying wait times.  Let me check the reviews...

Yup.  Annoying wait times.  What were they thinking? 

Runbow (June, WiiU)

I found "Runbow" in the Indie section, far away from the "Halo 5"s and the "Final Fantasy XIV"s.  Little did I know it would turn out to be the most fun game of all of PAX.  This is a nine-player (!) party platformer game based on a very simple premise.  Every character is a different color, and every platform is a rainbow of different colors.  In a few seconds the background changes color.  So if the background is green and you're standing on a green platform, it will disappear from view, and cease to exist, dropping you into a pit.  You can be perfectly safe one moment, then doomed the next.  Your way can be clear at first, then you can be trapped in a box, all depending on the cruel random will of the evil rainbow gods.

"Runbow" is an incredibly fast twitch-reflex game with a nice jazzy soundtrack.  It can be picked up and played in just seconds, but there is plenty for the dedicated player.  You have power ups, tight controls, random effects, and a wild fun atmosphere.  The game requires intense focus and precognition to guess what will happen next, but even then, a lucky break from one of your competitors will screw you forever.  It seems cartoony and light (every round takes about thirty seconds) but it becomes amazingly competitive and intense.  This is the kind of frantic game to inspire new and exciting innovations in curse words such as "bitchsucking" and "mothershit" - both of which were coined by me when the red guy overtook me in the racing levels.


So in the end, PAX was an interesting show - very little in terms of AAA titles, but a lot of fun games still to be found just as long as knew where to look.  I played about fifty other games, everything from "No Time to Explain" to "Social Justice Warriors" to "Super Smash Bros. 4".  I could be here for hours describing them all.  You get to walk the halls next to your tribe of humanity, people who know it is better to obsess over whether "Final Fantasy XII" is better or worse than "Final Fantasy XIII" over say, boring topics such as smelly real human beings.   It is truly a great time, if you're a gamer, if you're just a nerd, I would definitely recommend going.  And if some nice company is willing to fit your bill, how could you ever say no?

Just don't go on Saturday.  It is a goddamn madhouse.

* This was the hottest line at PAX.  Unless you had an exhibitor's pass like I did and was able to sneak on line before the doors opened for the general public, you were not getting to play this demo.

** Which were both playable at the little Supergiant booth at PAX.  Not that you need to be told this since they're years old now, but they both rock.

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