The Last Two Days! Isaac's PAX West Journal

written by Isaac Thummel

On to PAX Day 3, the day I regret making any appointments before noon. The first major part of today was going to appointments with different games so I shall list them all at the end for you to check out in any order you want. Feel free to go to the game impressions otherwise I’m going to skip ahead to what I did after all the gameplay!

Finishing up my appointments for the day, I made my way to the sixth floor for the panel:  Informally Formal, A guide to Geeky life events.

Speaking on the panel was Joe Louie (GVL Studios), Tara Theoharis (President of The Geeky Hostess), Meris Mullaley (The Fabric Alchemist), Kiri Callaghan (Author, Actor, and Curious Bard), Greg Bilsland (ex-Marketing Manager at Wizards of the Coast). This panel was about how to properly coordinate and plan an event in your personal life to have a geeky lean to them without alienating people who are not so geeky.

Last item of the day was to go to see Acquisitions Incorporated Live. AI is a D&D podcast put on by Penny Arcade consisting of Chris Perkins (Wizards of the Coast) as the DM and players Mike Krahulik (Penny Arcade), Jerry Holkins (Penny Arcade), Scott Kurtz (Comic Artist for PVP),  and Patrick Rothfuss (Author). PAX has hosted a special D&D game for many a years with a variety of different special guests joining them. Acquisitions Inc. is the latest campaign for their game. 

The game followed the wild antics of the players raiding a Castle floating in the sky covered with Ice Giants, Dwarves, and Dragons. All of the players came out in different cosplay outfits for their respective characters. Chris Perkins’ outfit was actually co-designed by Meris Mullaley from the previous panel! The game was recorded and is available to watch both on Twitch.tv and Penny Arcade.

After the show we were all famished so we went to decompress and revitalize ourselves over dinner. Luckily we found a place close to Benaroya Hall that wasn’t packed with PAX goers so we had a relaxing evening catching up. Eventually we were all nodding off in our seats so we decided it was time to call it a night. PAX West is now 75% complete!

Earthfall

 I kick off with Earthfall developed by Holospark. A PvE Co-Op Shooter that feels reminiscent of Left 4 Dead and Killing Floor. Their booth has a couple of different alien creatures from the game standing around looking menacingly at the crowd. I meet with Chris Archer, Executive Producer at Holospark who sets me up with a team of three other players to play a few rounds with. The story of Earthfall is that in the year 2029 an asteroid came crashing into earth that was filled with these aliens that have been systematically attacking human civilization. You play as one of the rag tag group of characters trying to survive and help turn the tides against the aliens. Each character has their own backstory and reason for being on the team, but they all play and handle exactly the same. We get plopped into the level and are soon running and gunning our way through hordes of alien enemies.

Each map has a set of objectives and sub-objectives to complete while defending alien attacks and searching for supplies, weapons, and ammo. One of the cool features of this game is that in the near future, 3D printers have become extremely common to the point that you can find them littered around the world to make anything from weapons, ammo, health kits, and defensive items like barricades. To use these printers you first have to power them up and they take time to create the items. Both the powering up and the item creation makes noise with causes more aliens to spawn and come after you so be prepared! We run between objectives and fight off a variety of different enemy types throughout the level using an assortment of weapons. Despite our best efforts we lose to the alien mass. Well I for one welcome our new alien overlords!

Speaking with Chris after the match, he informs me that there is a story that you will follow through the game which will give context to each map. The area that the game takes place in is inspired around the Pacific North West. Each of the printers throughout the game will have different types of items that can be created as well how many can be made depending on the level. The games scheduled release is Early 2017 on PC/Steam, with X Box One and Playstation 4 releases in Late 2017.

So I was never a part of the Left 4 Dead bandwagon. While the gameplay of L4D itself was interesting and felt good; I disliked that there was no major story, context, or persistence between maps in the game. With the world they had created I wanted more story elements from it, not just a purely multiplayer match based game. I felt that there was nothing to keep me coming back to play L4D or L4D2. So with Earthfall’s promise of an over arcing story line as well as individual character stories, it has me excited to see what they do. I also like the idea of the item creation via printers and the ability to set up defenses and traps for the enemies.

The one problem I had is that the map we played felt littered with too many objectives. We had to get to a gas station, power it on, find a working car, find a new wheel for the working car, use a truck wench to open a gate, take tire to car, push car into garage, find gas for the car, bring 3 gas cans back to the car, find a battery for the car (WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS THE ‘WORKING’ CAR?!?!?!), try to start the car. We never managed to make it past that point so who knows how many more objectives there were for that map. It started to make it feel like busy work when we were also trying to focus on killing aliens who seemed to continuously spawn no matter how many you killed. 

I have high hopes for the game but am unsure if this style of game that people want or will get excited about in this age of gaming. A pure multiplayer game like this requires and active, thriving community to last. Fingers crossed that they find one. 

Karma Incantation

Next up I make my way into the Indie Mega Booth to check out Karma Incantation from Auralab. Speaking with Andrey Sharapov, CEO of Auralab, he describes the game as a Moral Choice 2D Point and Click Psychedelic Adventure. Whoa, okay let’s break that down a bit. The game is set in a hand drawn 2D environment. It is filled with moral choices that will change the story and outcome of the game; plus it has music written and composed by ZMEIRADUGA. ZMEIRADUGA is an aboriginal 6 piece band that classifies their music as Ethno-Dream & Dance.

The opening scene is these two floating orb creatures kissing in this bright, neon world when this black blob monster hits the world and turns everything black and spooky. There is no text dialogue in Karma, all conversations are had via music and thought bubble images above the characters. During the demo you acquire this orb that gives you what the game calls Astral Sight which allows you to see to how the world would be if the corruption hadn’t happened. The music and visuals of this game are truly stunning and despite having no text dialogue in the game it always felt like I knew what needed to be done. Games like this are going to be judges on a very personal basis depending on the level of challenge to the puzzles and how well written the story is. I for one am excited to try the live game which is set to release in September on Steam. 

YIIK: A Postmodern RPG

Continuing along the Indie Mega Booth lands me at YIIK (pronounced Y2K):  A Postmodern RPG. A colorful 3D Japanese style RPG set in the 1990s has you playing as Alex, a recent liberal arts college graduate who decides to start investigating internet conspiracy theories. The combat plays out like your standard JRPG with mini-games to increase damage and effectiveness of your attacks. Their website boasts a 25 hour campaign, fully voice acted, with six unique dungeons to explore. They have a downloadable demo with an expected release date of Summer 2016 for Steam, PS4, PS Vita, and Wii U.

The game handled exactly as you would have expected it to if you have ever played a JRPG. They didn’t have the voice acting in place yet so not sure how it will turn out. The story premise is interesting enough to make me want to check it out once it launches.

Antihero

Across the walkway from YIIK was Antihero, a turn based strategy where you play as a Master Thief running a guild and fighting for control of the city against the enemy guild. Antihero is being developed by Tim Conkling.

The game has a beautiful animation style that reminds me of Klei Entertainment games. Throughout the game you will collect resources, upgrade your guild, recruit people to work for you, and unlock new abilities while trying to complete objectives to win the match on a turn by turn basis. You can play against the AI or a human opponent both online and local.

Antihero will be coming out on PC, Mac, Android, and iOS. This game is a great strategy –light game for people who are fans of the Civilization franchise. Plus with the ability to play on your tablet or phone while you commute with bring it to a whole other demographic. I know I have been looking for more in depth games to play in the mobile spectrum.

Mages of Mystralia

Last but certainly not least is Mages of Mystralia developed by Borealys Games. Speaking with Producer Philip Pavlin he described the game as a story driven action exploration game with the story being written by Ed Greenwood (creator of Forgotten Realms world for D&D). To me it felt like Zelda meets Magicka. The cool thing about this game is that you use a glyph system to customize spells and link spells together to end up with insane combos while you run around through the world. There wasn’t much story in the demo but they were handing out a physical copy of the webcomic that they are releasing weekly along with the game itself. They are planning a console and PC release later 2016. Unfortunately their computers were malfunctioning so the little bit of game play I did get was stutter and laggy between computer crashes. I love both of this games inspiration sources so I will definitely be keeping an eye on it.

And now... in the words of the almighty Europe, It’s the Final Countdown! PAX Day 4 baby! Time to kickass and chew bubble gum…and I’m all out of ass. 

Today starts again at the bright and early hour of 9am with the now usual four shots of espresso. First item on the docket is a meeting with Take This, a Non-Profit Charity founded in 2012 after the tragic suicide of a friend of the three co-founders. After speaking with other friends and members of the community they realized that depression was a problem that no one was really talking about, yet many suffered from. I meet with Raffael Boccamazzo, PsyD. L.M.H.C.A, the Clinical Director and Shannon Gerritzen, Co-Executive Director. Dr. B, as he goes by, informs me that the mission of Take This, Inc. is to inform the community about mental health issues, to provide education about mental disorders and mental illness prevention, and to reduce the stigma of mental illness.

Take This, which originally started as a Google Hangout, has grown to have 250 volunteers helping operate their website Takethis.org and operate AFK Rooms at all the PAX conventions in the world, E3, and MomoCon with plans to grow to more conventions in the future. Through their website they post blogs, articles, and stories to curate a Safe Space for people to realize they are not alone and how to seek help when needed. They have a myriad of resources available on the website to help you find a mental health professional if you feel you need one. Before joining Take This, Dr. B ran his own private practice here in Seattle as a Doctor of Clinical Psychology. He trained in corrections with plans to become a prison psychologist. Two years ago he joined the cause of Take This by volunteering at the PAX AFK Room. He is now responsible for all of their clinical policies, making sure things are done in compliance with the correct ethical standards as well as making sure their outreach goals are in line with their mission. He wants Take This to destigmatize mental health, to get people to realize it is okay to talk about mental health issues, and to get people to stop being alone because it is dangerous to go alone.

The thing they are probably most visibly known for is the AFK Rooms. These rooms offer peace, silence, and a respite from the over stimulation that can happen at conventions. No photography or loud noises are allowed. One of the newest additions is coloring books of all varieties with markers, crayons, and colored pencils.  During all hours of operations, a fully licensed clinician is on staff available to speak with. It is to be noted that they do not offer treatment or diagnoses; they are there to be someone whom you can speak to for any reason, to give ‘Mental First-Aid’ as they call it. The space that this AFK room was in had a sectioned off area of black curtains if you needed some place a bit darker to relax in as well as an outdoor patio are to get some fresh air and sunlight.

Dr. B was excited to talk about their newest service available which is Studio Consultations for game development studios. They will speak with offices about mental health concerns of their staff and community members.  If you wish to find out more about Take This, donate to their cause, or volunteer your time, check out their website Takethis.org. Your knowledge and skills will place you into a role best suited for you and their needs.  I’m sure we have all either been directly affected by a mental health issue or have friends or family that has been affected by this. It’s time to break the silence people. Take This is an amazing organization that is greatly needed by us all. 

Well, now that the heavy part of the day is done let’s get back to some lighter topics! Next I went back to the Westin for the Co-Optional Podcast. It is one of the first four panel video podcasts focusing on the video game industry. It has featured a guest host every week of YouTubers, Streamers, game journalists, TV personalities and even WWE wrestler Xavier Wood. It is hosted by games critic John “TotalBiscuit” Bain; with guests Jesse Cox (Content Creator), Brooke “Dodger” Lawson (Content creator), and today’s guest Adam Kovic (Rooster Teeth & Funhaus).

The live version of the podcast is an hour long with them talking about what they have seen and played at PAX, both the good and the bad. With a healthy version of side tracking and tangential ranting mixed into it of course. They take turns talking about their PAX experience and followed up by a section of Q&A. This panel is viewable on both Twitch.tv & YouTube for anyone who missed it. Afterwards they hosted a signing in another room of the Westin.

With the panel complete I realized I had finished all the items I was planning on checking out and wept in joy to be able to just relax for the rest of the convention.  I made my way back up to the sixth floor to pick up some board and card games. My haul was Evolution, Star Realms with the expansions, and two expansions for Superfight. Sadly Red Flags was sold out so I will have to check out their website to get my copy. After grabbing some tacos I joined my friends in the tabletop free play area to check out a few games from their library. The ones we picked out were Codenames, Simon’s Cat: The Card Game, and Kittens in a Blender.

Codenames is a card based word game where two teams of 2 people give one-word clues to each other that can point to multiple words on the table. Their teammates try to guess words of their color while avoiding those that belong to the opposing team. Once all the words have been guessed by one team they win. Simon’s Cat: The Card Game is basically Uno with the cards being different characters from the animated show Simon’s Cat. Lastly was Kittens in a Blender, a card game where you try to get all of your cat cards safely placed in the box while throwing the other players cats in the blender and blending them. Maybe not the most kid friendly game but the art style is cute and funny leading to many cries of ‘NOOOOOOOOO!’ when the blender gets triggered.

Sadly my phone was almost dead so I split the team to go home and charge it. Later that night I rejoined them at El Corazon, a local music venue, to watch a show of different Nerd bands. Area of Defect, Kirby Krackle, and MC Frontalot took the stage to perform for their PAX going fans. After the show we went for some food and drinks, happy to relax and talk about all of our PAX adventures while lamenting returning to our daily lives. PAX West is 100% complete folks. See you all next year. 

; )