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PAX East Thread
AJLange
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April 4, 2012 - 9:43 am
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Hi everyone! I've gotten busy, and my contributions on the site have slowed down a touch since GDC. However! I'm attending PAX East, and this time, for the first time ever, someone gave me one o' them press-badge thingies for access to more previews and press-only content. So that means that I should be filling the site with previews, impressions, and other stuff as fast as I can find time to write it.

So, since it takes me a while to put together features at times, this thread is going to be a general chatter thread about the event. I'll post whatever thoughts and impressions I have of stuff I've seen, or just talk about my day.

If anyone else is going to be at the event, let me know! Or if there's anything you are dying for me to look up there, I'll do my best! I've scheduled some press appointments strictly based on whether or not the pitch interested me and I'll be sharing those impressions here.

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Steerpike
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April 4, 2012 - 10:06 pm
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Have a great trip! And color me jealous - you got to go to GDC and PAX East.

Life is the misery we endure between disappointments.

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geggis
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April 5, 2012 - 8:39 am
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There looks to be some really interesting panels!

... and quite a few more ... ARGH, shit, that's just day one!

  • Reimagining X-COM with XCOM: Enemy Unknown
  • Plot vs Play: The Duality of Modern Game Design
  • If I hear “Gamification” one more time I’m going to scream
  • Real RPGs: Sexuality, religion, and race in design and play
  • The Indie Rant: Indie Developers Gone Wild

I'm not saying you should go see these but if you do attend, be sure to let us know what you thought! wink Have a good trip!

AJLange
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April 6, 2012 - 9:20 am
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I know for sure I want to attend the Criticism/Game reviews panel. It conflicts with the transgender issues one unfortunately!  As for Gamers with Jobs, I'll only manage to slink in if my appointment at 11:30 with SquareSoft is really short. On the other hand, hey, I have an appointment with SquareSoft.  I actually scheduled a lot of such appointments because, well, I COULD, and when else will I be able to?? With my development schedule, quite possibly never!

Right now I'm chilling out in the Hilton about to head over to get my badge. Doors open at 10 AM. The lineup starts at 8 AM, but being a vet of PAX West, I know standing in line is for suckers.

AJLange
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April 6, 2012 - 5:48 pm
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So the internet here is about as touch-and-go as you probably are imagining. But now that I momentarily have connection... I did get to go to the Criticism/Reviews panel, and it was a good one. Just cool to hear people chatting about what they like in game reviews, what critique is, etc. Sort of left feeling like Tap is just doing the right thing in that department, with having a pretty specific voice and community audience. So a good talk!

I'm also hoping to go to the 'long form journalism' talk that is happening tonight. Basically I hope to enhance my ability to write good critique too. So far I get the feeling that having development and community management experience piling up will help me out to write all this other stuff. Though it hasn't helped me find time to actually PLAY games lately.

This morning I spent largely in the SquareSoft suite checking out the press-exclusive demos. So that was fun. The only title I didn't really get to see there was Sleeping Dogs (which is actually a True Crime title, but I'm not so familiar with the series). I saw everything interesting to me: Hitman Absolution, Kingdom Hearts DDD (yeah, I know), Final Fantasy Theatrhythm, Quantum Conundrum, and Heroes of Ruin.

I'll start by saying Heroes of Ruin was the only one I came in with no opinion or knowledge about, since it's a new franchise, and it didn't really blow me away. A co-op focused fantasy game on the 3DS, it plays kind of like a cross between Gauntlet and WoW. Basically you get quests from a guy to go in to a dungeon, then smash 'em up with swords and magic and such. I imagine I'm not quite the audience for it, but the audience for it seems to be "groups of 4 people, mostly Americans given the art style, who all have 3DSes and want to schedule regular co-op sessions." ....so, good luck with that, Square.

Theatrhythm, on the other hand, was actually for me. Like it's literally like someone made a casual game specifically for me. The premise sounds pretty damn stupid, so I was skeptical, but basically it's like if someone took a semi-Elite-Beat-Agents sort of game on 3DS, and set the whole thing to Final Fantasy music directly from the games. It's all delivered in bite-size chunks, is all music I remember and have great nostalgia for, and is lighthearted and casual. There's some attempt to staple a "real RPG" on to this, but that part seems to be easily ignorable (unlike the maze of confusion that was Dissidia with its individual equipment and level grinding).  There's still plenty of room for this to get screwed up, but overall, it was kind of like bite sized chunks of old-school Final Fantasy nostalgia without the new-school Final Fantasy bullshit.

Kingdom Hearts DDD (goddammit) seems solid also. It's actually a sequel to Kingdom Hearts 2, sort of a KH2.5, without being some weird spin-off of a spin-off with backstory characters. There are also some new Disney worlds in this, if you're in to that sort of thing (I am). The level I got to play was the Tron: Legacy level including cartoonified Jeff Bridges and cartoonified Evil Jeff Bridges. Reportedly there's also a Three Musketeers level (as in Mickey, Donald, and Goofy), and a Fantasia Level.  (Personally, I'd like to see the Rite of Spring or Dance of the Hours here, but I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess that means Sorcerer's Apprentice like always.) (Yes I am the Disney fan) 

Hitman was a hands-off demo, so of course they can make you only see the parts that are working, but it looks smashing so far. The demonstrator started with a speech about how they had made the game more actiony, so as not to punish people who wanted to do a little more gunplay. My instinct was to say "oh, they dumbed it down." But then he showed that the stealth gameplay was still very much still in the game, running through the whole demo level either with a "professional" approach (hiding bodies and disguising himself) or with an "action" approach. In "action" mode it is more of a standard cover-shooter, but lots of environmental weapons are available. You don't have to play it this way, though, so the stealth still seems satisfying. With lots of funny good dialog, and some crawling through vents, it reminded me of Arkham City in a positive way.

Quantum Conundrum could go either way. It's a pretty-clever kid-focused puzzle/action game and is famously Kim Swift's new project. I'll probably elaborate on the mechanics more in a future post but from what I've seen it's got a lot of jumping puzzles! In FPS I find this hit or miss and died a horrible lot for an otherwise-cute-n-friendly game. On the other hand, maybe I just suck.  tongue There was also a mistake in the writing, and that really bothered me, but I wasn't sure who I should tell that to. Ha ha.

AJLange
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April 8, 2012 - 8:25 am
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I opted not to drag my laptop on to the show floor yesterday, because the internet isn't so hot anyway and my back was already hurting. So today I'm just using hotel wireless (paid ten whole dollars) to make sure I stay connected for more than a few seconds at a time.  

I went to a few other panels. There was one yesterday about games and storytelling with a bunch of famous people on it which I actually missed. The line was intimidatingly long, which is a theme with PAX sometimes. I instead opted to go to the Community Managers panel, as it's directly related to my current job. It turned out to be fun, though I'm still trying to figure out if I had a concrete takeaway, or if it was just kind of fun. On Friday evening I also went to Ben Kuchera's talk on long-form game journalism, which was interesting too. He thinks writing reviews is "too easy" and sort of pointless, because everyone writes reviews. I don't know how I feel about that. I do know I think reviews aren't my strongest writing and I hate giving games scores so maybe I'd like to agree with him out of laziness.

The two panels had the following career advice in common, which I found interesting: "Don't go to college. ...Unless you are my son and/or daughter, in which case, don't listen to me, YOU have to go to college." I think it's so weird how they aren't at all bought in to the college hype anymore and yet they are still totally bought in to the college hype. But I digress; it's probably a whole thread to itself.

I got a preview of Neverwinter, the new D&D MMO which is largely a 4th-edition MMO. Perfect World also wanted to show off Raiderz at that same press meeting, but it had technical issues (not dealing with the game, more dealing with the dodgy PAX network I believe). I may yet see it, but honestly if I didn't it wouldn't break my heart because it is a Korean MMO with Korean sensibilities for Koreans, and I am a soft American who doesn't want to spend 40 hours grinding a single boss. Neverwinter looks solid, though. This is of course coming from a huge Dungeons and Dragons fan who knows the fluff and crunch already, but it seemed to be a good translation of the D&D mechanics and should be fun for a D&D fan who burned out of DDO. (Though I've also discovered they're adding more stuff to DDO, which seems to be a bid to take it from Eberron to the Forgotten Realms to add more FR signature characters to it.)  I'll drop in more details about Neverwinter in a real writeup.

I went to the panel on the Future of D&D, which was hosted by Mike Mearls and Jeremy Crawford. I've been following this project very closely, but mostly via Monte Cook who is on the other side of the country right now. So I already knew a lot of the design philosophy stuff they talked about, though there were some interesting tidbids about some of the ideas they have. Really the main reason I was there was to beg for the playtest kit, but they totally didn't know how amazing/special/important I am and gave me the pat 'it'll be out later this month'. So, I guess I'll get it later this month, with the rest of the unwashed masses. D&D5 has me sort of cautiously optimistic right now. I think it's admirable what they're trying with it, which is, quote, "Classic feel, modern design." They're saying things like, they're going to be very careful about power creep in this edition, and, they're going to go back to a game that doesn't absolutely require minis and a battle grid to be playable. All of that sounds great, but... like... don't you guys have to monetize somehow? I got the impression that books just weren't big enough sellers to keep a brand like D&D afloat, and one of the reasons the battle grid was so required for 4th ed was so they could sell more miniatures. That's a direct reason for things like power creep as well. It's possible that their strategy here will be to take a loss on D&D5 from a "selling the tabletop product" perspective, and just have it out there as a brand, focusing on making the real money through these MMOs, tie-in products, and spin-off board and card games. But that's just speculation on my part.

I sat down with a bunch of indie games yesterday, too, though I'm far from seeing all of them. Played with Girls Like Robots, Primal Carnage, A Valley Without Wind. Played Girlfight, which, in brief, is a fairly-standard fighting game that is mainly selling itself on sexy/controversial/exploitative character design. I am increasingly unaffected by sexy/controversial/exploitative character design, especially in fighting games where it is the rule and has been since the 90s. Aside from that, it plays a little like Tekken. The same people are also making an updated version of the Deadliest Warrior fighting game, that was originally a downloadable on XBox Live, and now will be selling as a standalone product on a disk. It is awesomely stupid, because it has a "zombie mode" where you hack off the other guy's limbs, head, etc, and he still fights that way, like the Black Knight from Monty Python.

Primal Carnage is a deathmatch multiplayer where a team of humans fights a team of dinosaurs. This is a pretty fuckin' cool concept, and I think it has legs, though I personally am not much of a deathmatch multiplayer kind of person and I know this about myself.

A Valley Without Wind is a strange game. I want to just sort of screw my face up at the art style; the look of the game is a little inconsistent. It overuses Photoshop filters a touch. It feels fine, once you get past that. This is a platformer made by a company that mostly makes strategy games. The levels are partially hand-generated, partially procedurally-generated. You play with a mouse and keyboard, and I'm not sure that there is any other way to do it because it requires a lot more buttons than a controller has. There is crafting. The characters have a spell tray, like an MMO. I say "characters" because any time you die, you switch to a new character, though they're from an army of similar-looking guys. The fiction is that you're recolonizing a post-apocalyptic planet, and if someone dies, you just sent a soldier in to die and need to get another soldier. But then the next soldier comes in to play with all the old soldier's gear, so it doesn't set you back that much. You might use the word "Metroidvania" for this game, but that's kind of a silly genre name, isn't it? If anything, it reminds me a bit more of Commander Keen, in the sense that the worlds are big sprawling things that don't always make sense (due to procedural levels) and feel huge and intimidating. The game has that feel of an older experimental platformer rather than something that feels as if it was tightly put together precisely for an ideal travel path. I guess if D&D5 is supposed to have a classic feel with modern sensibilities, Valley Without Wind is more the opposite: a 64-bit 2.5D art style with old-school design sensibilities.

I capped off the day by having dinner and drinks with a bunch of cool people. I sat next to Christine Love for a bit, which I mostly mention to annoy Steerpike. She managed to catch the storytelling panel, and said it was only okay from her perspective, but the audience asked good questions.

Speaking of which, the audience this year at PAX has asked remarkably good questions. I wonder what happened. Is it just Boston? People at PAX Prime consistently asked dumb or embarrassing questions.

Today I just hope to get on the floor to see anything that I missed. I'm going to try to hit that Gamification panel, but I also want to get my Dragonlance book signed and I can say right now that's probably gonna make me late.

AJLange
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April 8, 2012 - 9:55 pm
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So, today was the last day. Enjoyed it muchly. Very tired, because, well, it's a con, and the last day is always the tired day.

Got a chance to play Raiderz, and it wasn't as grindy-Asian-flavored as I expected. So I may try to secure a beta invite for it and give it a closer look.

I also went to the "If I Hear Gamification..." panel, and let me say that it was mostly confusing. I left knowing less about gamification than when I started, pretty much. But there was a good conversation in there about how educational games never get totally finished, how it's weird there are so many being made but none as memorable or memetic as Carmen Sandiego or Oregon Trail in the last two decades.

I also went to the social games panel, and that was really pretty good! I kind of tried to ask a question about games for women being marginalized, and I'm not sure I got it out properly because I think I perplexed the developers on the panel. The audience for the panel was quite small but it was a little more intimate that way.

I'll have more articles to do up next week. Hope you've enjoyed my streamed ramblings. beerchug

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geggis
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April 9, 2012 - 1:01 pm
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Thanks for all the ramblings Amanda. thumb-up

“Don’t go to college. …Unless you are my son and/or daughter, in which case, don’t listen to me, YOU have to go to college.”

This made me chuckle.

Good to hear that Hitman: Absolution seems to be striking a nice balance between action and stealth. That must surely be a tricky thing to do.

The more I see of A Valley Without Wind the more my face screws up (just realised that's what you put :-S). It just looks so damned messy and unfocused. I dunno, sometimes I get a little pang of excitement watching the trailers but then I realise that's my Shadow of the Beast memories chirping up. It's due for Steam release soon as well, I think.

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