PAX debrief – all the things!

If you see me at PAX Aus next week, be sure to come and say hi!

Well here we are, returning to real life after an epic weekend of awesomeness at PAX Australia. The expo was held at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre this year, which as a venue was a vast improvement on last year’s Showgrounds location. It’s far more central and accessible for accommodation and transport, and in close vicinity to a great range of restaurants and cafes (many of which welcomed PAX attendees with open arms and offered a 10% discount on all meals). But the biggest improvement on venue was the sheer size. PAX spared no expense and booked out the *entire* Centre – both buildings were utilised for panels, exhibits and gaming areas. It was absolute bliss being able to get around so comfortably.

Even the queues were a pleasure.  After the first day, it became apparent that there was absolutely no reason to queue for two hours to get into your desired panel (unless you wanted to!), which meant far less needing to prioritise panel attendance, and potentially missing out on a lot.  The theatres were significantly bigger, and the queues were very well managed – I didn’t miss out on a good seat in any of the panels I went to.

The Expo hall was massive and, whilst busy, very easy to get around, with good wide avenues and plenty of Enforcers (staff) managing crowded spaces to make sure there were sufficient access routes. I didn’t buy much, but I did get some lovely Zelda necklaces from Sanshee, as well as some very cool d20 themed jewellery from Foam Brain. I tried to get some of the Australian edition packs from the Cards Against Humanity stall, but they were consistently sold out every day. My husband did manage to pick up a Reject Pack during a random giveaway, which was great; and thankfully they have launched an Australian store and are currently offering free shipping so I’m buying all the things right now!

The cosplay on display didn’t fail to impress. On each day there were an amazing range of costumes from basic to elaborate, with the vast majority falling into the latter category.  The most popular showings were characters and skins from League of Legends and Borderlands (both of which I have never played, though I am keen to check out the Borderlands franchise now). My husband and I cosplayed on the Saturday, but I don’t think many people realised who we were – particularly hub’s obscure but awesome Zak McKracken costume, which was mostly met with puzzled looks and remarks about his breadstick!

The atmosphere of PAX was even more wonderful than last year, and I was delighted to hear nothing about the whole #GamerGate fiasco during my whole time there. Apparently there was a moment in the panel about the realities of writing about games, but it was shut down pretty early on. My understanding is that the person who brought it up was probably more interested in being provocative than actually having a fair-minded conversation about it.

I attended a few panels each day, starting with the opening Keynote by Bethesda’s Pete Hines, which was informative and interesting despite my not having played any of their games (I know, I know, Skyrim is on my list!), followed immediately by Mike and Jerry’s Penny Arcade Q&A. There were a good breadth of questions ranging from lighthearted to quite serious. It was comforting to hear Mike talk about his battle with anxiety and depression, and how he managed (or rather, manages) his recovery. I then had a break before heading along to the Bioware panel to get a teaser on Dragon Age: Inquisition which is out later this month. It was great hearing about the way the people at Bioware build their worlds and stories. I am quite a fan of Bioware, having really delved into PC gaming with Baldur’s Gate and games of that era. It did make me very nostalgic to replay them!  Straight afterwards was the Cards Against Humanity panel, which was just full of horribleness and hilarity as you can imagine. The panel involved the team showing some great videos and email feedback and responses. They seemed like a blast to work with.

The next day was cosplay day for me, so it was a bit harder to comfortably get to panels given my corsetry and cumbersome props, but nevertheless I managed to check in with quite a few.  The first was a showcase of retro games, which was definitely interesting but my minor criticism was that I would’ve liked to have seem more than the 12 or so games they showed. I think reducing the amount of video content for each game, and talking more briefly about them would’ve allowed time for more games.  I also popped along at the last minute to the Gaming through the Generations panel and I’m glad I did. This was a fun and interactive romp through just about every major console from the original Pong to the Playstation/XBox era. It was great to see all the machines and even greater to have my husband yelling out answers to almost every question the panelists put to the audience. He is the uber retro expert!  I sang out the Pokemon theme when they asked what game has effectively not changed since its inception on Gameboy, but despite being wrong (it was Tetris), I got a lovely round of applause!  After that, I went along to a gaming as art panel, which was a bit disappointing as I thought it would be a bit more interactive with some audience discussion. Whilst I agreed with the inclusions of Journey and Child of Light as examples of beautiful games, I found it hard to consider Desert Golf “beautiful”. Yes, it was elegant in its simplicity, but I felt there was far too much emphasis on it to keep me engaged in that panel and would’ve liked to have suggested Okami and Muramasa Demon Blade as examples of beautiful games – sadly there wasn’t that opportunity.

Sunday I was back in my civvy clothes and pretty exhausted but I wanted to at least get along to a couple of things, so after a bit of a rest in the handheld lounge (eking out as many Streetpass hits as possible!) I headed off to the Diverse Skillsets panel, hoping to get inspired and told it wasn’t too late for me to get into the industry.  This was a very engaging panel, and as it turned out, in some ways it seemed it was too late for me (in terms of youth and exuberance), but in other ways, most definitely not, especially for the Indie scene, which is clearly a robust industry in Australia if the games showcased at PAX are anything to go by. I got to meet Jessica Citizen from Player Attack, which was pretty great, and I came out of the experience feeling very inspired to start creating and really getting more involved in the gaming community. One of the great take-home points from that panel was that at some point you make a choice between simply consuming the products made by others and actually creating games yourself. So watch this space, hopefully you’ll see some developments from me, and by next PAX I’ll have some further experience to share.  I wrapped up my time at PAX by going to the exciting final round of the Omegathon (Combat on Atari 2600) and the closing ceremony, which was short but sweet.

Besides what I’ve talked about here, some other highlights were getting to spend some quality time with my pal Radey, from Rade’s Gamer Diaries, meeting and chatting with people in queues and the handheld lounge, picking up some new Facebook and Twitter followers thanks to Streetpass, and just getting a wonderful feeling of togetherness and inspiration.

So that’s it for another year. I’m thrilled to know that PAX will remain in Melbourne for at least the next five years and I’m already planning out my cosplay for next year.  I hope you enjoyed my account of PAX Aus 2014 – hit me up in the comments with your own thoughts and experiences!

TL;DR: it was awesome.

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