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Saturday, August 30, 2008

PAX Day Two - Megathread

posted by on August 30 at 16:25 PM

4:00 p.m.: Turns out I was able to sneak into the “Democratizing Game Development” panel after all (see 3:40 p.m.). Good thing, too; the four developers on hand spoke to the adoring crowd of budding developers by talking as little about games as possible. This was most apparent when the panel had book recommendations for the crowd—very few about coding or gaming. The Origin of Brands, and other books about emotional design and creative inspirations, spoke to a greater purpose—and a willingness to make biz risks—that might help a little developer compete.

Beyond that, the panel spoke to the difficulties game makers face versus, say, screenwriters or YouTube amateurs. Individual authorship doesn’t work in the traditional game world, where people usually expect a full team of coders, artists, modelers, etc. But that may soon change. Microsoft’s XNA program lets solo artists make full, robust titles for PC and consoles. Flash gaming is a real business, attracting moms and casual gamers by the truckload. And as Best Buy and Gamestop are replaced by online game shops and Xbox Live, publishing and marketing budgets will stop walling new game makers in.

Of course, the guys didn’t have answers about rising above the noise and the fray of an ever-expanding Internet of content. Nobody really does. But seeking greater inspirations for a project can’t hurt.

3:40 p.m.: First PAX complaint: The official panels are held in eensy teensy rooms at an expo with thousands of attendants. Sad, really, because I’m missing the “Democratizing Game Development” panel, the one I wanted to see the most. I miscalculated and spent too long playing more of the PAX 10 games before reaching the panel. Weird, actually, that I spent too long playing independent games to go and talk about them with official panelists and interested citizens for an hour. Well, that’s PAX for ya.

I did attend a games journalism panel an hour ago or so, which, sadly, was overrun with concerns about 10-point scales for measuring games. Maybe the issue isn’t how the games are scored, but how the games are chosen? Shouldn’t games journalism move beyond the Maddens and Halos, the ones that don’t necessarily need the attention, and perhaps break ground with a few discoveries? Not much commentary on that, sadly.

11:00 a.m.: Okay, Slog gamers. You never shut up about Spore (the latest title from SimCity/Sims maven Will Wright), so I played half an hour of Spore. For you.

Here’s the sad thing—I’d signed up in advance to play the game through an invite from EA’s PR army. I assumed they’d set aside separate press kiosks. Turns out the demos were held on the showroom floor—that’s fine, I don’t need privacy or fancy treatment. BUT. As I approached, a developer kicked a teenager off a demo rig so I could play. Chances are, this kid was the ultimate PAX attendant—waiting in line for hours this morning, rushing into the exhibition hall at the 10 a.m. whistle blow, making a beeline for Spore. His dreamy, dreamy Spore.

Jesus. This broke my nerd heart.

[Long thread, so I’ll jump older posts through the day.]

I later hit the Penny Arcade press conference, where PAX creators Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik heard this story from another critic. They flipped. Said there was a ironclad rule at PAX for devs: that nobody, press or “VIP” or whatever, gets special treatment above normal, paying fans. So I post this story in hopes that this kid stumbles upon my story and hears my nerd-to-nerd heart-to-heart: Dude, I’m sorry. If you live around here, track me down: sam alt samred dolt com. As soon as I get Spore, I’m inviting you over to play. (And you can’t fake being this kid. No way I’ll forget his sad face as he walked away.)

You might wonder why I’d go on about this. This means you’ve never attended PAX.

Last night, I was reminded about the glory of what this fest is about—that people make PAX what they want it to be. People stop wherever they please—beanbags, tables, open floor spaces, Rock Band kiosks, free-play rooms full of consoles—and they play. And they invite new people to play. And they yell and cheer and ask about each other’s home towns and get the hell along.

After overdosing on so many TV screens, I stumbled upon the tabletop annex, where dozens of fans were setting up games of everything from Carcassone to Magic, from a robot-filled WWII battle game to friggin’ Risk. I passed a group of four starting some board game filled with zombies and stutter-stepped. They took my pause as an opening and invited me to join them.


I think I might buy Last Night On Earth, a one-versus-all board game in which your George Romero fantasies become an 18-turn melee. Even comes with its own cheesy CD soundtrack. As Johnny the football hero, I managed to unearth a baseball bat and get an extra dice roll to keep my new friends (all Seattlites) away from the impending zombie menace. Hi, guys.

My point is, PAX isn’t about mega-money publishers showing off their new sequels and properties. Sure, they’re here. But PAX is more; it’s about trying new things—the weirdest things you might hesitate to dork out to in any other atmosphere—and surprising yourself with experiences and people alike. Gaming can be an escape, of course, but it’s more fun to take some cool new friends with you.

Oh, right. You wanted to hear about Spore?

Spore: ‘Salright, though obviously a 30-minute demo for a game like this is only so telling. The game is split into five distinct modes, each representing a stage of a culture’s development—from single-cell to galactic domination. As separate stages of development, each self-contained game feels sorta lacking. The opening two stages feel like open-ended Pac-Mans. The next two stages are dumbed-down versions of the orignal Warcraft, where your little species fights other little species. I had trouble seeing much in the way of extra challenge or complication over time in these modes—possibly to push traditional challenge-based games on the dollhouse/Sims crowd.

But at this point, I have to assume Spore is about the total, start-to-finish impact. When taken as a whole, the feeling of building a people’s history—and having each stage affect the next so hugely—has serious potential. And the final stage, in which you hop in a spaceship and take over a Milky Way-sized galaxy… uh, seriously, it’s huge, enough so that any complaints about other modes kinda melt away. The look of the game, and the ability to create every single thing in your world (creatures, buildings, etc.), will be enough for Lego-minded gamers, certainly.

Mirror’s Edge: I almost want to forgive EA’s PR gaffe today just thanks to my time with this demo. It’s a “first-person runner,” in which you run and leap across rooftops without the usual third-person camera angles. This should feel incredibly disorienting—having to run full-speed with a limited view of the action, not to mention the potential for motion sickness. But DICE, the dev team on this one, does a really good job color-coding and placing world elements around so that your movement makes sense. You can’t help but see perfect run-and-jump paths while mid-sprint. The demo was ridiculously short—essentially the same space that has been shown in official preview videos—but I’m happy to report that it feels as good as it looks.

The Conduit: A reader asked about this Wii first-person shooting game yesterday, and I did get about 10 minutes with perhaps the only “hardcore” game at the Wii booths. I want to like this game so badly; it’s got style, nasty baddies, and weirdo weapons that remind me of Duke Nukem 3D’s creative assortment so many years ago. Seems like a step up from the last Wii shooter of its ilk, Metroid Prime 3. But the general feel and interface is still in development; based on my frustrations, I’d say this wasn’t ready for public consumption. Thankfully, for such an early build, it’s already promising. The four of you who still haven’t sold your Wiis might have a good game for your wimpy white box in 2009.

I’m running behind today. Will post tons of photos later.

RSS icon Comments


Thanks for the mini Conduit review. The devs just released a little trailer that shows some of the control customization. But I guess the "general feel and interface" aspects you mention apply to the entire game.

Is it super crowded there? I was reading that lots of people had troubles getting in the panels. Is it worth coming there today or tomorrow and browsing?

Posted by stinkbug | August 30, 2008 1:03 PM

That's so weird -- I just bought Last Night on Earth a few days ago. I like it a lot, even though I've only played it twice, and according to the credits, film critic/nutjob Michael Medved plays the priest character. That's scarier than any zombie.

Posted by Kent M. Beeson | August 30, 2008 1:11 PM

@2: Ouch. Why would anyone play a character that you would want to feed to zombies?

Posted by demo kid | August 30, 2008 4:24 PM

Thanks for the Spore review.

Into each choice of species and civilizations a little "replacement" of species/civ must fall - just think of that when you worry about kicking the kid off of Spore ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | August 30, 2008 5:50 PM

plz send him home
he must be lost or something
fucking wii

Posted by horny | August 30, 2008 7:48 PM

Gawd, I was just thinking about how brave and prescient Dan was when he wrote this:

I get all tingly around the prostate just from re-reading it.

Posted by Josh | August 30, 2008 10:00 PM

Seriously, this post melted my geeky heart. Wish I were anywhere near Seattle.

Posted by MLeaver | August 31, 2008 7:44 AM

It was a lot of fun playing Last Night on Earth with you. It was a lot of fun! We all look forward to seeing you next year.

Posted by person34 | September 1, 2008 10:02 AM

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