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RPG Codex Report: PAX East 2014

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RPG Codex Report: PAX East 2014

Editorial - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 21 April 2014, 18:17:28

Tags: Chris Roberts; PAX East; Star Citizen; Tim Schafer

Have you ever been to a gaming convention? If you ever felt you might be missing out, don't: the RPG Codex's most famous person with a disability, esteemed community member mindx2, has just recently returned from this year's PAX East (held on April 11-13), and is here to tell you why it proved to be a disappointment for him.

A Weekend at PAX East

Or

How I survived the popamole chaos!


[Write-up and photos by mindx2; edited by Infinitron]

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Late last year, a few friends and I had the opportunity to get tickets to this year’s PAX East event in Boston, Massachusetts. Having never gone before, and hearing that many Kickstarter game creators had attended in the past, I thought “why not?”. Here was my opportunity to fight the good fight and talk directly to game developers about the decline of my favorite hobby, PC gaming! I would proudly trumpet my desire for games that didn’t dumb things down to AAA standards (ie, playable by anyone with a pulse or an IQ greater than 60)! I would be entering the lion’s den as a PAX virgin knowing very little about what to expect. One thing that should have raised a warning flag was that none of the panels were listed anywhere before you purchased the tickets. Would any of the Kickstarter game developers such as Obsidian, Star Citizen, etc, even be there? A few months after we purchased the three day passes, PAX released the names of the panels and their participants. Needless to say, I was disappointed (and that would not be the last time). Most of the gaming panels appeared to be focused on the social aspect of gaming, including such interesting topics as "League of Legends Youtuber Panel", "Indie to AAA: What you need to know about podcasting", "MMORG.com The future of Online Games", or my favorite - "Console Launches: A Post Mortem".

However, there was one panel that did grab my attention. It was titled "The (Incredible) Future of PC Gaming" and it included Chris Roberts of Wing Commander and crowdfunding powerhouse Star Citizen fame. This was one panel I was definitely interested in and had marked as a must see despite the fact that it was being hosted by PC Gamer. Things got even more interesting when a Star Citizen KS update showed up in my email inbox a few months later, inviting backers to an invitation-only Star Citizen and Squadron 42 (the single player portion of the game) preview and Q&A session, to be held on the Thursday evening before PAX began. I quickly signed up to ensure that I got in to this limited access event. Then I noticed that they were offering 1,000 tickets, and thought to myself, “No way will so many people show up for that.” Oh, how naïve I was.

The preview session was held at a night club not far from the PAX convention hall. The music was thumping and the lights were swirling, but everyone was just standing there bunched together like sardines waiting for the presentation to begin. I looked at the forest of people and realized there was no way I would be able to see a thing through the crowd. After finding an empty seat, I looked at my phone and saw that it was already 8:30 with only half an hour until the presentation began.

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9:00 finally rolled around, then 9:15, then 9:30. I looked up at the stage and saw several people frantically huddled around a computer. Someone then announced that there would be a delay due to “technical issues.” I rolled my eyes, wondering if I could make it through this thing. The pounding music made it close to impossible to talk to anyone - I had already answered several (polite) inquires on how was I able to play games, let alone a space sim, yelling at the top of my voice. What I did find pretty cool was that the person at the keyboard trying to fix the technical issues was none other than Chris Roberts himself. He wasn’t just some CEO standing off to the side, but right there “in the code” trying to iron out those last minute glitches. That impressed me. Eventually, the issues were resolved, and Chris began to address the crowd. He began by showing a video about what his company had been up to in the days counting down to PAX East, and about all the bugs that were still in the demo. He thanked all those who had helped crowdfund the game, and then went straight into showing the game. You can watch the whole presentation here, so I won't rehash it.

What was funny was that the first time he demoed the game, he immediately crashed his ship and had to start over. He explained that the dogfighting module would be released sometime in the next several weeks. It would be similar to Wing Commander Academy, with your avatar accessing a flight simulator for training. At that point I noticed something that made my jaw drop to the floor. Chris Roberts was demoing his magnum opus with an XBox controller! Alarm bells rang in my ears as I saw that dreaded console appendage in his hands. How could he sell out like that? My expectations for the game diminished at the sight. Then the game started crashing and glitching out (spinning uncontrollably, blank screen, freezes, etc). He seemed embarrassed by this and insisted that the build had been working fine that morning. After it crashed again he ended the presentation abruptly, and that was it. There was almost no discussion of the single player portion of the game. That was very disappointing, along with the use of the controller instead of the clearly superior joystick. With so many people there, I didn’t dare risk life and limb trying to claw my way forward to talk to him about my concerns. It was doubtful that he could hear any questions anyway, as the loud music started back up immediately. I rushed for the exit and resigned myself to having missed the opportunity to talk with Mr. Roberts. I do have to let my inner graphics whore shine through, though - that game sure did look pretty.

Friday rolled around, and it was time to experience PAX for the first time. A short ½ mile walk from my hotel to the Boston convention center and I was there, ready to geek out and see gaming greatness… uh, no. The first thing you realize is that this is going to be very much like a trip to Disney World. People rush around so they can stand in lines for a longggggggg time.

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My God, the sea of humanity that is PAX! They actually have queues that you have to stand in just to get into the event itself. There were around ten of these, and they only let several hundred people in at a time. After having waited in these long lines, people were literally running to get to the Magic: The Gathering, Oculus Rift, and Blizzard booths, just to wait in line for hours more. There were, of course, plenty of cosplayers walking around in their homemade costumes, depicting characters from renowned classics such as FFVIII, MGS, My Little Pony, and Mass Effect, along with hundreds of wannabe Jedi, Lara Crofts (some women should not even try) and others from who-knows-what anime series. The main showroom floor was such a mass of people that I felt like Frodo in a forest of Ents. I decided to head to the "Future of PC Gaming" panel as early as possible. Even though it was still forty minutes until the panel began, there were several hundred people already lined up to get in. How the hell was I ever going to get the chance to talk to Chris Roberts this way?!

Well, having no pride whatsoever, I walked right up to one of the PAX workers (also known as “Enforcers”) and expressed my fear of being trampled by the unwashed masses. I tried to appear as pathetic as possible and looked at the Enforcer with hopeful eyes. Needless to say I was the first one through the doors and told to pick any seat I wanted. :smug: I ended up sitting right in front, where Chris Roberts was going to be presenting on the small stage. I now have a new appreciation for SJWs.

Like any good geek I had brought my copy of Wing Commander III with me, hoping that I would be able to talk to Chris, or at least get a signature. I was afraid that he would leave immediately after the panel to fly back to California. As everyone in the audience got seated, I saw Mr. Roberts and two other panelists (Tom Peterson from NVIDIA and Matt Higby from Sony Online Entertainment’s Planetside 2) talking just to the right of the stage, maybe fifteen feet from where I was sitting. Many audience members stood up and tried to take pictures, but no one was approaching him. I figured this was my chance, got up and walked right up to him. I asked him if he was planning to leave right after the panel. He stated no, and asked why I was interested. I said I had brought a WC game for him to sign, and asked if he would be willing to. He told me absolutely, and to come to him after the panel was over.

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The presentation itself was rather enjoyable, as well as encouraging, for PC gamers. Tom Peterson began by describing the financial success of the PC gaming market, and its high profit margins. Money generated by PC games (not including hardware) was in the billions, beating out consoles and even professional sports. Granted, this included microtransactions, subscriptions, and pay-to-play, but the point being made was that if you wanted to generate a profit, the PC was the way to go. When the topic shifted to "preferred ways to play", the Sony and NVIDIA guys began to talk about bringing the “PC experience” into the living room, using cloud storage, etc, and how great that could be. That was when my fondness for Chris Roberts began to grow. He basically disagreed, stating that when he wants to play a PC game, he wants to do it from a desktop PC in his office, right in front of his monitor. Playing PC games any other way diminishes the experience, and is what separates PC games from console games and movies. He, and the Oculus Rift founder who was also on the panel, explained how most PC enthusiasts tweak, modify, and build their own machines. Even though this made programming that much more difficult, because of the existence of so many different configurations, you can build better games (thus creating better “experiences”) by fully taking advantage of the PC hardware. Roberts clearly has no use for “the cloud”, nor did he seem remotely interested in consoles. It certainly left a warm glow in my heart. The overall impression from all the panelists was that the future of gaming was on the PC, and they are hearing that even from the bigger players such as Microsoft.

When Microsoft was brought up, Chris Roberts rolled his eyes. He clearly has no love for that company. The NVIDIA guy bent over backwards to stress how MS was really invested in the PC platform, and how his company has had a great relationship with them. At which point Roberts interrupted and said “Like Windows Live?” which generated a good laugh throughout the expo hall. Even though he agreed that Windows would be the dominant operating system for PCs, he went out of his way to talk about how Star Citizen would run perfectly well on Linux. He hoped that other operating systems would gain ground, which in turn would spur competition and innovation.

The panel wrapped up, and once again a huge crowd pressed forward toward Mr. Roberts. With my game in hand (so to speak), I tried to edge my way forward. Chris glimpsed me through the throng of bodies, and told everyone to let me through. He smiled broadly when he saw the old film can version of WCIII, and signed it as we introduced ourselves to each other. Then, instead of handing the game back, he opened it up and asked if I wanted him to sign the manual and ship diagrams. I said that would be very nice, and then started to explain how the Squadron 42 portion of Star Citizen was what I was looking forward to the most. I said that the “MMO” portion just didn’t interest me, and that I was hoping for another Wing Commander-type game. He assured me that Squadron 42 would be better and longer than any of the WC games, and explained that he had put his brother in charge of it to ensure that it lived up to that legacy.

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At that point, several PAX “Enforcers” came over to usher everyone out as they got ready for the next panel discussion. To my surprise, instead of leaving, Chris asked if we could go to the room next door that was empty. Around ten of us followed him, and he spent the next hour signing autographs and answering our questions. He was very personable, taking his time with each person and never appearing annoyed or impatient to leave, no matter how many questions he was asked. Many of the questions directed at him dealt with guilds, leader boards, ship sizes, etc, for which I had zero interest. I did remember to ask one very important question about what I had seen on Thursday night - Chris' use of the XBox controller. I expressed my shock and distaste at seeing him use that horrific device and said that it concerned me. I lifted my arms and explained how frustrated I was with controllers, and how I hoped the game wasn’t designed with them in mind. To my relief, he assured me that Star Citizen’s designers are input agnostic, and that it is being designed with a joystick or mouse/keyboard as primary input controllers. He uses a controller at events because it is easier to set up and use on stage. He may not have a surface area to set his joystick down on at certain venues, so the controller is just logistically easier to use. After those reassuring words, I said goodbye to Mr. Roberts, leaving with a new appreciation for him and his fight to make PC gaming great again.

On the second day of PAX, I felt no great desire to rush over to the convention hall just to play human pinball through the aisles again. When I finally dragged myself over around noontime, someone mentioned that I might be able to rent a motorized scooter to zip around with. That sounded great, as I felt like I had already walked miles on the previous day. Turns out the scooters are free to use, and soon I was off running over furry and brony tails. At the recommendation of our own cboyardee, I headed over to the Indie Showcase, in hopes of finding a decent non-AAA game. As I rounded the corner, I came before a familiar sight.

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I immediately recognized several people from the Broken Age video documentary produced by 2 Player Productions, and thought this would be a great opportunity to let them know how disappointed the RPG Codex was with their game. As I prepared to motor over to where they stood, several Twitch “reporters” showed up in the game demo area to conduct an interview. I sat there on my scooter, near Double Fine’s cash register area, regretting my missed opportunity, when someone behind me asked the cashier where the autograph line was. She looked up and saw me, and said, “I guess it starts right there by him.” I looked around in confusion as more and more people started to line up behind me. Then I noticed the sign behind the cashier stand stating that the one and only Tim Schafer would be there at 2:00. It was 1:45, and I had stumbled right into the head of the line to meet the man himself! I would be able to deliver my message of disappointment face to face, and bemoan the fact that he had failed to recapture the glory of Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandango. Sure enough, about ten minutes later he was there, and I was climbing off my scooter to shake his hand. Granted, this was not going to be an in-depth conversation like I had with Chris Roberts. I would literally only have a minute to say whatever I had to say.

I walked up and explained that I had been tasked by the RPG Codex to report on my PAX experience, and he went “Who?”

“It’s a prestigious magazine/forum.” I said. He just stared blankly at me.

“We thought the game was too easy.”

He looked down at me, clearly not expecting criticism and said, “No it's not. You say that or they say that?”

“Well, the consensus was that that the puzzles were too easy,” I replied.

I will always remember his response to that. He said, “Tell them they're playing it wrong.”

At this point it was evident that he was getting annoyed, so naturally I asked for a picture. Seeing how funny and playful he appeared in the documentary, I asked if we could pose with me seeming to be yelling at him and him shaking his head no. Surprisingly, he agreed, but he seemed to be done talking with me, giving a halfway pose before motioning for the next person in line. I thanked him for being a good sport about it, hopped back on my scooter and zoomed away. Around the corner of their booth I stopped to see if the picture his aide had taken had come out. All I saw was the rafters on the ceiling. No! The picture was ruined! Well, I had to have proof that the encounter had actually taken place so I motored back over to the front of the line and asked for another one. The aide had certainly not heard the previous conversation between Mr. Schafer and me, as she quickly agreed to take another one. This time, however, Tim did not pose, and I ended up with a rather mundane photo compared to what the original would have been. I thanked him again, but he had already turned away. So there you have it, Codex. You just didn’t play Broken Age the right way. What the “right way” is I never had the opportunity to ask.

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I continued wandering the Indie Showcase area, but most of the games appeared to be simplistic platformers, or retro-pixel top-down hack-n-slash style games. (The retro-pixel look definitely seems to be popular among indie developers this year.) Alas, I found almost no cRPGs. The closest thing to one was a game called "Dungeons of the Endless" that described itself as a “roguelike tower defense game.” I didn’t get a chance to play it, and the developers were too busy with other people to answer my questions. As I wandered further away from the Indie area, I came face-to-face with this thing.

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It’s a creature from the game "Evolve", which dominated that part of the convention floor. The game itself looks like your typical AAA multiplayer crap, but I think it captured the truly over-the-top aspect of PAX, and it’s also where I got to see CliffyB playing the game.

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The gameplay seemed to involve running around the same small map over and over. I soon came to the realization that this game was the perfect metaphor for PAX East. People running from one line to the other, around and around, all over the convention hall floor, with no real end in sight. A convention hall dominated by the AAA console hype machine, with a small corner reserved for indie developers. It was such a letdown, especially after the Chris Roberts panel. Where was the PC Gaming Renaissance? Not at PAX East, that's for sure. I even went to the Ubisoft booth, hoping to find out where the Might & Magic franchise was heading to next, after the surprisingly good Might & Magic X. As I strolled through, I looked around but saw nothing but console game after console game. Then I spotted the Might & Magic logo from afar and raced over...to utter disappointment. This was the only thing M&M related at PAX this year...an online card game.

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I looked for a Ubisoft person who could talk to me about MMX and about what was in store for the RPG side of the franchise, but all I got were blank stares and fingers pointed towards the Duel of Champions table. It had magic and dragons so to them it was an RPG. I lowered my head in disappointment once again and slowly steered my scooter off the exhibition floor and back to my hotel room.

By the third day I was ready to head back home. PAX East was everything I had feared it would be. Dominated by AAA console games with hardly a cRPG or Kickstarter to be found. It was full of many strange individuals, dressed in outfits not even fit for Halloween, running around to stand in lines for hours in the hopes of holding a controller for five minutes playing the next generic game “coming soon to XBox One and PS4!” My meeting with Chris Roberts was definitely the highlight of the trip, but I will never return unless the format changes completely and the consoles have been put out to pasture. PAX is no place for a dedicated PC gamer...which seems like an obvious conclusion looking back on it all.

I did have one last thing to do at PAX, though. Throughout the weekend I had heard rumours of this strange thing called a Meat Tornado. Everyone was telling me that I had to find one, that my PAX experience would be incomplete without partaking of this wondrous thing. An hour before heading home, I found the vendor far off in the corner of the convention center. I was about to be subjected to a Meat Tornado, in all its greasy glory...

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$15.00 of meat heaven. Three strips of bacon, one large sausage, one large scoop of pulled pork w/ chipotle sauce, one scoop of ground beef stuffed in a cone shaped hard fajita shell topped with tortillas chips. Ain’t America great?

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