The 10th(!) PAX Prime kicked off today in downtown Seattle, and gamers are either delighted and exhausted or cursing their fate at the limits of space, time, and ticket availability. Penny Arcade's big show has grown more than 20 times over in just 10 years, and has colonized the east coast of North America and the entire continent of Australia with shows that attract just as much enthusiasm. The culture is fun (if you can tolerate occasionally crushing crowds), open, and welcoming—and every year seems to get better.
Take, for instance, the Indie Megabooth. Every year, dozens of small and smallish developers band together to stake out a huge space on the far end of the main exhibition hall, and this year it felt like the hall of champions. If you've got a ticket, make sure you spend some time there. We'll tout our favorites through the weekend, but we just don’t have space to cover so much awesome.
The local devs at Dwarven Delve (#880 in the Indie Megabooth) lured us in with promises of inflatable beards (which prompted at least one Michele Bachmann joke), but kept our attention with their delightfully energetic pitch. They've invented a new kind of game that they call an "Action Puzzle Crawl." You control a party of dwarves spelunking through a dungeon, but you get to spin the tiles to reshape the dungeon as they progress. It's a sweet gimmick, and it's super-fun to avoid a nasty fight by shunting monsters into lava pits. It should be out at the end of the year for iOS and Android tablets, later for Mac and PC. Vote on Greenlight if you want to see them on Steam, and watch for a Kickstarter in the next couple weeks.
Every hour, on the hour, INFLATABLE BEARDS.
We were also intrigued by Neverending Nightmares. Once we heard "based on the developer's struggle with mental illness," we were all like "Hell yeah, sign us up!" The art takes Edward Gorey and saturates him in bright red blood, so it's the prettiest game in the show. They launched a Kickstarter campaign today (because duh, of course they did) and have taken in over $15,000 as of this writing. You wouldn't be wrong to support it.
Some games must have started with an awesome title and worked back from there. Can we include Crypt of the Necrodancer in that set? Whatever the case, this "rhythm roguelike" is hell of fun, with a (literally) pulsing dungeon that rewards precise hack-and-slash thumping. The audio comes courtesy of the legendary Danny B (of Super Meat Boy, Canabalt, et al.), but you can also upload your own mp3s. (Upload a dirge for Easy mode?) They've brilliantly rigged up their Indie Megabooth setup with a DDR-controller, but it works just fine with arrow keys only. Order now for a discount, available in early 2014 with early access in November. These nice folks are semi-local, with half their team in Vancouver.
Legend of Dungeon is a fun four-player co-op roguelike created by a super-cute husband-and-wife team Robot Loves Kitty (sorry, no, the husband is not the "kitty") that literally saved the money to make it by LIVING IN A TREE. If you don't support this game, you basically hate trees.
Turning to the PAX 10, the curated set of indie games chosen for adulation by the folks at Penny Arcade and their pals (full disclosure: we were among the judges this year), we ended up playing Owlboy for longer than we thought we would. It's a nifty vertical platformer where you control a flying fella in a sweet owl suit who carries his gun-toting pal to fuck shit up and solve problems. The art is good fun and the controls really click. It'll be out soon for Xbox and PC.
Thanks, PDX, for loaning us a mini Ground Kontrol arcade for PAX! If you want to chill out and play some Bosconian or R-Type, get yourself the hell in there. Note that while the real Ground Kontrol has a full bar, this does not.
Right nearby, you can check out anything from a Dreamcast to a Gamecube to an Odyssey 2 (seriously) in the Classic Console Freeplay Area. ("Please DO Not Blow Into The Cartridges.")
This was in Rob's living room once upon a time.
Kudos to Catalyst Games for the oversized demo of The Duke on the south end of the 2nd floor. This chess-esque game gives you a lot to keep track of, with pieces whose abilities toggle between two different states and the choice to either move or pull in yet another option-fractaling piece each turn. If you don't want to play the giant version, you can take a spin with the tabletop Duke (lovely, in handsome embossed wood) just up the hall. We're betting this could probably use some sort of speed rule, but it's a fun idea.
You are the Duke.
It was with some trepidation that we went to the Hottest Women Game Characters of All TimeTop Women Game Characters of All Time panel. With a thoughtful, nerdy group of speakers (mostly but not all women, a producer from Telltale, a brand manager from Lara Croft, the inimitable Kiki Wolfkill, et al.), the group went through and picked favorites genre by genre, with occasional help from the audience. Chun Li took Best in a Fighting Game, GLaDOS took Best Antagonist, Jenny of The Darkness lost out narrowly on both Best Love Interest and Best Woman in a Refrigerator (to Cortana and Aerith, respectively). The debates were substantive, smart, and satisfying—and despite being an option onscreen multiple times, Bayonetta's name was not invoked once. This may be a first, but the best part was the Q&A, when gamers reminded the panel of characters they didn't include (Kate Walker of Syberia, Sarah Kerrigan of Starcraft, all the women of Borderlands, et al.), and it ended up with some fun questions (is GLaDOS a woman? is Pyro? is Liara? is an avatar a character?). Even with the likes of Samus and Alyx Vance, this panel would have been a lot harder at the first PAX.
There are only 12 of these in existence. If you spray water vapor, you can see the security lasers.
Here's how you finish your day at PAX (note, you do *not* need a PAX pass to do this): Go to the bodega by the Greyhound station and grab a six-pack. Go to the third floor of Olive 8. Hit the game checkout area and trade a driver's license for a game. Walk out to the common area and cheerily yell, "Who wants to play [the game you picked up]?" Meet folks from all over the place and enjoy. (We recommend Resistance!) YAY, PAX.
The Stranger Testing Department is Rob Lightner, Paul Hughes, and Mary Traverse.