PAX East 2013: Day Three

8:09 AM – Day three. Last year the third day fell on Easter, while this year we have the Game Developers Conference (GDC) starting tomorrow. We’ll see which one is better at thinning the crowd; I’m guessing the latter. Either way, I hope it doesn’t have a negative impact on getting to see the games I’m interested in today.

8:46 PM – It’s a good thing Boston is an amoral godless Hellscape, because it means there’s no traffic this fine Sunday morning and parking is a snap. The methadone clinic is still jumpin’, though.

Day three. Watch out for falling ice.

11:01 AM – Just got out of the “Borders and Bullets: Global Game Controversies” panel. There were some interesting discussions on the issues of social and cultural depictions in games, particularly in light of the ever-increasing realism of many video games, and the fact that it is often ambiguous to what extent they faithfully represent real situations and environments. The panel occasionally wandered into what I would consider the realm of hyper-sensitivity, though. We need to keep our eyes on the prize and not try to find offense in every honest mistake or oversight.

12:37 PM – Got to spend a little more time on the expo floor. Among other things, I finally got to sit down with Contrast, which plays as well as it looks. I also forced myself to play a few games for mobile platforms—I always wish there were more good games for iOS, but then I (like many people) never take the time in venues like this to see if there are folks doing interesting work. I had a good conversation with the creator of Third Eye Crime, a guy from the MIT Media lab who had applied some interesting probability models to make some pretty savvy AI for his 2D stealth game for the iPad.

I don’t care if it’s a cash grab or not, I’m going to play the hell out of this remake when it drops.

1:45 PM – Had to skip out of the last 15 minutes of “Everything You’ve Heard About Patent Law Is Wrong” to head to a different panel. I think I got the basic idea though, which is that software patents are fucked. Note to the panel: while it’s usually not a great idea to let the audience freely ask questions throughout the panel, it’s especially derailing to the proceedings when the crowd is full of aspiring lawyers who love to talk.

3:05 PM – Headed over to the “Gaming in Support of National Security” panel, where a few of my friends and colleagues talked about how they’re developing games for decision makers in areas such as disaster response, in order to help them learn to deal with rare and unexpected situations. Definitely a bit on the technical side for PAX, but they did a great job making it interesting and accessible. I believe it’s hugely important for people to hear about work like this, to see how much games are being used for beyond entertainment.

6:30 PM – I’m all paneled out, so I spent the last few hours of PAX tying up loose ends on the expo floor. I finally got to sit down with Don’t Starve, which not only has a great art style but also seems to have solid gameplay that capitalizes on all the things roguelike-inspired games are doing right these days. Another highlight was a charming game called A.N.N.E, which I thoroughly enjoyed despite being a mostrosity of modern game clichés (i.e. a pixel-art Metroidvania game with a robot protagonist and RPG elements). This is why people need to play games at events like this—so you can start to get past genres and descriptions to glimpse the subtle, special things that can make a game really different and interesting.

This is Mo, founder of “Games by Mo”, and creator of A.N.N.E: A Game by Mo. Also, he’s from Quebec. 

Now the exhibit halls are closed, and the great nerd exodus tells me another PAX East has ended. Even though the showing by major studios was weak, it still was a great event, particularly because of the interesting panels and the fantastic selection of indie games. Plus—not to get too Hallmark here—there’s the wonderful people of PAX. I’m perpetually impressed that when you take 70,000 people (many of whom are carrying giant swords) and expose them to Boston weather, ludicrously long lines, and overpriced food, they still manage to be such a civil, friendly, and helpful bunch. I guess we all just love games that much.

What Do You Think?