PAX is dead. Utterly dead. For this year, at least. It'll be back, like six times per year now, it seems. But for now, it's dead and gone. All the guests have trickled out. There's still random glasses of water all over my house. Bedding is strewn everywhere--who knows whose it is by now. The house needs a good scrubbing from all the scrubs hanging out in it for five days. It's quiet now, blessedly quiet, and I can go back to my simple life as a farmer (in Destiny). Actually, that was like a week ago; it's now back to normal.
Man, that sounds like I'm complaining pretty hard there, but no, I had a great time. But maybe the better the time you have, the more exhausted you become. Ya sleep when you're dead, as they say. (I prefer sleep 'til you're dead, but whatever.)
I had a pretty epic guest list this year at the ol' knutaf house. Let's just tick them off one by one: DreadedCone and Candaysium, Frosty, Barneezy, Qalamari, Shinkiro, and Jerp. Moreover, we had a few hop-ons who didn't stay the night, like S0N0S, Sohlol, Fame Designer, and Avalander. That's a significant list. Aside from our illustrious SQID, no Dtoiders stayed this year. It's been a downwards trend in the last few years, but so it goes.
Though, speaking of Dtoiders, I did have one notable addition, whom I met up with for a little while during the show: none other than Smurfee McGee, who is a cool cool dude.
The current guest list reflects my streaming interests in the last few years--and, if we're being honest, my corresponding dwindling blog presence. Blame Dark Souls.
It was a massively packed five days. I started out making no fewer than four trips to the airport on Thursday, because everyone's flights were spaced out just enough for me to avoid waiting at the airport. In between those rides, I hauled various people to Costco and Safeway to stock up on foodstuffs for epic dinners to come. I had it all planned out: BBQ on Thursday night, Indian butter chicken on Friday night, homemade burgers (and store-bought dogs) on Saturday night, jambalaya on Sunday night, and er, something on Monday... I dunno.
And I pulled it off, somehow, miraculously, dead on my feet by the end of it as I was. We ended up scratching the burgers 'n dogs because we went out for an impromptu dinner for some burritos. And we pushed the jamba to Monday night because we stayed out late for the concerts, which were great. If you ever have the opportunity to see The Returners, definitely take it. Though I'm biased, because their guitarist, Lobos (and his equally awesome other half, Fieldy) said my chicken tasted good.
Woah, that was a weird detour. Let's keep it rolling. I'd never heard of the Bit Brigade, but they played a rad metal version of the Metroid soundtrack while a dude played through the game itself nearly perfectly live. A cool concept, and well executed, too.
I was curious to see the Protomen because I'd heard a song from them in one of my favorite shows, VGHS. Their performance was really high energy and at many times simply bizzar, especially with the weird anti-police-state, fist pump vibe going on. The music was good, though, and I'd listen to that again.
As usual, great fun was had every night. I think the game of the evenings was a toss up between Drawful and Nidhogg. I swear to god, watching two people who play a lot of games but have never played Nidhogg is a hilarious, peerless sight.
But enough about me. Let's talk about games. That's what you came for, right? Wait, why did you come here at all?? I will never understand.
Dark Souls 3
I would be super remiss if I didn't say at least something about Dark Souls 3. Well, Frosty is kind of a big deal, so he got me straight into the booth on Saturday (the busiest day), where I got to play for a solid 20 minutes. I feel a little bad but not that bad. The game felt awesome. The movement was so reminiscent of Dark Souls I was right at home.
Really, my only complaint is the hitbox on the ultragreatsword (think Zweihander) was deceptively short. I kept not hitting enemies I swear I should have hit. I chalk it up to just a bug.
Another interesting thing was all the demo machines seemed to be laptops, maybe with dedicated graphics cards. Laptops! It kept up great, so hopefully the specs to play this bad boy won't be too onerous.
One of the best kept secrets of PAX was that Dark Souls 3 was also playable at the Razer hardware booth, where there was basically no line whatsoever at any point in time. Veteran PAX-goers can tell you how rare that is! You better believe we spent some real time there exploring the area, beating the optional boss, and so on.
In a few years past, a large area of the 6th floor of the convention center got reserved for a League of Legends major tournament or something, but this year they smartly showed them the door, so that whole space was given to indie games instead. Oh yeah.
In the style of the ineffable Brad Nicholson, we're gonna do quick hits for these games. A link and a blurb. The Legend of Zelda: A Link and a Blurb. This I will do in no particular order; I just grabbed the stack of postcards out of my backpack.
For fun, count how many times I compare one of these games to Dark Souls. I told you, blame Dark Souls for everything.
Uniracers meets Trials. You flip your mutant motorcycle thing onto the pink or blue wheel and match the color of track, but you can also fly?? and also hang from the inside of the wheel?? It looked hard, but cool. Especially liked how you could see the upcoming track far in the background.
A platformer where you have a gun that gives you an impulse in the opposite direction instead of jumping, kind of like No Time To Explain. Looked competent.
Pretty first person puzzler that reminded me of Myst and that I'm pretty sure I got confused with The Talos Principle (amazing game) at some point. That's a good thing, in my book.
Cool, distinctive art style, but there was a lot of exposition, so I didn't end up sticking around long enough to see what it was actually about. It might be fairly story-based, which is cool, but doesn't show well in the crowded, noisy PAX expo floor setting. Dtoid also had a story on it.
A 3D Chu-Chu Rocket with bendy, twisty levels.
This was my pick of the show. A Descent-like game with roguelike elements? Just... stop talking and let me play. This is probably all I need, ever.
A strange platformer where you seem to dive farther and farther into concentric black and white circles. Heavily stylized, but I didn't watch long enough to see where the gameplay depth would come from; what I saw of it wasn't too challenging.
An 3/4 overhead action-puzzle game that had some clever mechanics, but dang, I can't even remember specifically what, because all I recall is that the build had some major, distracting framerate stuttering. Oof.
A 2-player local versus game where you shoot black and white bullets to both change the color of tiles on the map and try to shoot your opponent. You can only move on the same color as your dude, and shooting converts tiles to your color. You try to corner them and finish them off. It was fast paced and pretty fun. Qalamari and I squared off in this, and I think I just barely edged him out. Better luck next time, SQID!
This game needs barely any introduction around here. I barely gave it a glance, because I don't want to be spoiled. From what I can tell, it looks like the first La-Mulana (well, the remake). I fully expect a massive tomb with interwoven, complicated, subtle puzzles and gnarly bosses. I backed it on Kickstarter and can't wait to do another stream of it.
Some of the actual developers were there, so I tried to tell them about how much I loved their first game and about the monstrously large compendium of info I compiled over my playthrough, but they were very Japanese and understood only like three words I said. Dang.
This one is going to end some marriages, for sure. You and your soon-to-be-ex-friend control little dudes inside a ship. FTL-style, you move from station to station in the ship, each one controlling one discrete function. You need to rapidly switch between stations to move shields, pilot the ship, fire the guns, and so on, to maneuver around the area, save compatriots, and (I think) escape.
This was probably the most unique game I saw at the show, and another potential marriage ender... or maybe it'll bring you closer together! Who knows!? One person can see the TV screen, on which is displayed a bomb to defuse. The other person can only look at a real life paper manual that describes how to defuse the bomb. The defuser describes the bomb components to the manual operator, who looks up the right instructions to perform. My main questions are about the replayability, because it looked so very cool.
A pixely 2D Metroidvania. I see a screenshot in which you wield a sword like 8 times larger than yourself, so I'm in.
If we can't have a new Burnout right now, this might be the next best thing. Competitive 4-player racing where your car can jump and then fly, or also get sawed in half but you're still going. It was super fun to play; I think Qalamari beat me handily here because I kept looking for flying shortcuts.
Gorgeous pixely 2D platformer with an emphasis on parkour type movement. The bit I saw didn't have any combat, which is just fine with me.
I didn't realize Adult Swim had a whole game studio that has relatively little to do with their cartoons. This game looked like a pixely 2D Dark Souls (sensing a pattern here?), but the fighting mechanics could use a bit of tightening up. Specifically, I often found myself swinging my sword in the wrong direction, because my character didn't turn as quickly as I wanted.
A twin stick arena shooter that has little to do with cacti, I think. I played co-op with someone else and had a great time mowing down hordes of enemies frantically. We ended up playing a bit longer than we probably should have, because we just kept not dying. I really want online multiplayer, but I don't think it's gonna happen.
A simple game about a 3/4 top-down view of a car trying to drift around literally everything. The car drifts so easily that it's like it's on ice the entire time, making spinouts the norm. It was hard to control but really satisfying if you actually managed to drift. A neat little game.
A very pretty looking platformer. It looked fun and had really nice animations. This one is already out, so I picked it up the other day. It controls well and I can already see from the first few levels where some puzzle depth will come from. So far it's pretty cool.
I think this game was shown at the Microsoft E3 press conference this year. A really pretty action adventure game. It had a soft art style that was really nice. One thing that struck me is the world looked really open with a decent amount of verticality: you would jump off of cliffs into other islands and climb up parts of them pretty often.
I played some Papers Please and loved it, but I kept dreading going back to it because of how stressful it was in the execution. It made my brain have to exercise circuits to juggle all the procedures that I did not enjoy in the moment, though I loved thinking about. This game is by the same creator, and is about influencing the government or the populace through careful control of the media, a "censorship simulator" as they call it. Sounds great!
This one has been showing at PAX for a few years now. A stylized 2D Dark Souls inspired game, kind of like Death's Gambit above, but with more arcadey controls. I was lucky to get invited to the alpha a while back, so I didn't bother playing here.
An amazing looking action adventure game with art reminiscent of Titan Souls. There was a line here every time I came by to look. Man, did it look good.
A very standard looking pixely 2D platformer. I played it last year at PAX and got bored. I was slightly less bored this time, but it still stood out to me way less than anything else I played.
One of the most interesting games I saw, this one almost defined categorization. You seem to have a large box in the center that looks like a robot face, and you have to twiddle with many little levers, buttons, and other knobs to... do something to it (the person in front hogged it for too long and didn't get anywhere). I liked how tactile the game felt, with all its little things to grab, turn, lift, and so on.
A fast paced racing/rhythm game.
Who doesn't know about Cuphead at this point? A brawler/platformer that looks like a 1930s cartoon. I didn't get to play it at PAX because there was already a line, but I got to play it at a thing at work a little while back, and it is hard. Like, frustratingly hard. Like, throw your controller hard. They honestly need to tweak the controls or something. But man is it ever pretty, yanno?
A gorgeous 2D action adventure game by the guys who made Sword and Sworcery and Super Time Force (so you know it's gotta look good). I didn't get to play because there was always a line, but I've seen it at PAX for years and always had it on my radar.
A procedurally generated low-fidelity Dark Souls type game. Combat was a bit jankier and a bit more arcadey, but many of the elements are still there. It was pretty tough, too, but was a bunch of fun. Frosty made it really far and managed to get an ultragreatsword, so after seeing that, I'm in!
You control a blob that can shoot out portions of himelf to attach to other surfaces. It was pretty and kinda fun, but the controls seemed overly sensitive when I played, and I had some trouble making my jumps and swings. I'll blame that just on the station I played at.
You are a point of light that can shoot rays out from yourself, which lets you discover the walls in an otherwise completely black game. A cool concept, at least, and could be fun.
A 2D puzzle platformer where you can engage a "camera" mechanic that lets you draw lines on the screen that you subsequently use for platfoms to jump on. It was fun for a few minutes, but I have to wonder if the depth will be there.
Seven guests staying at my place was too many this year. I think I may have to cap it lower next time around. The nightly cooking and food really took its toll but was rewarding in the end. Four days of PAX is also too long, I've concluded. Next year I'll skip Monday entirely, despite missing the Omegathon final round, which was and is always a blast. This was my tenth PAX. It's still great fun, but the best part continues to be the people I get to see. Hopefully next year that will include some of you. read