The end of this week (March 22-24) sees gamers take over Boston as PAX East descends on the city. Gamereactor will be on the scene to cover the biggest stories and meet up with a sea of independent developers.
The Penny Arcade Expo, or PAX for short, has grown into a phenomenon that in many ways eclipse the web comic that gave birth to it. The original PAX Prime in Seattle in September, is now joined by PAX East in Boston in March, PAX AUS in Melbourne in July and PAX DEV that preceeds PAX Prime in late August. There has been murmurs of a European PAX, but so far it hasn't happened.
A Comic-Con of sorts for gamers of the tabletop and video game pursuasion is what it amounts to, and we have been warned by some that until you go to PAX you have no idea of what's in store. As it turns out not all gamers are high on personal hygiene and some may even be considered strange, weird or even nerdy. We shall feel right at home in other words, well, apart from the personal hygiene that is.
This year's event in Boston promises a few major announcement that have already been hinted at, as well as an onslaught of indies trying to drum up a bit of hype for their upcoming projects. It is interesting to note how Kickstarter has been given a specific lounge at the event, and we'll no doubt see a couple of new Kickstarters launch during PAX East. It's the perfect place for a face-to-face with potential backers.
By now you probably know that Blizzard are revealing something new at PAX East. In fact that's the first thing that will happen when the event opens at 10:00am EST (that's 3:00pm in the UK) on Friday March 22. What it is? We have no clue. But apparently it's something new - so don't expect an expansion, sequel, remake or that long rumoured new MMORPG Titan.
At the same time as Blizzard's announcement, (or rather half an hour later) Cliff Bleszinski will be taking care of keynote duties for the event. The former Epic creative may or may not have something to reveal about his next move, be it a startup or that he's joining "company x", but perhaps he'll take the stage to have a frank discussion gamer-to-gamer about what he thinks and feels about the state of gaming. The keynote is titled "Storytime with Cliff Bleszinski" so it may just be that he pulls up his favourite book and starts reading for the assembled crowd of gamers.
While already announced Deep Silver will show more of their recently purchased Saints Row 4 at the event, and Capcom are supposedly going to reveal a couple of new announcements at their panel "World of Capcom" (March 22 12:00pm EST). Double Fine will start promoting their new adventure game "Reds" to non-backers and press. Oh, and Gearbox Software will unveil the next DLC for Borderlands 2 at their panel.
All about the Independents
PAX is one of those rare shows where indies can actually afford to exhibit. 50 developers are housed in the "indie megabooth", PAX have their own "indie showcase", and on top of that there are tons of other independent game companies, small or large with their own booths at the show.
It's difficult to keep track of all indies, but let's make a note of some of the more interesting and known quantities that are to make an appearance.
Sportfriends, featuring J.S. Joust, BaraBariBall, Super Pole Riders, Hokra will be there. SuperGiant Games (Bastion) have a booth as does Drinkbox Studios (Tales from Space: Mutant Blob Attacks) and Team Meat (Super Meat Boy). The Behemoth, makers of Castle Crashers will be there with the long awaited BattleBlock Theatre that is finally entering the final phase of development. Ska Studios, Ronimo, Klei Entertainment, Born Ready Games, Trendy Entertainment, and 11 Bit Studios are also there.
Sure there are larger publishers in attendance. Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, Bethesda, Riot Games, NCsoft, Ubisoft, Capcom, Square Enix, 2K Games and Blizzard all have sizeable booths as does hardware and peripheral companies like Asus, Turtle Beach, Mad Catz, Skull Candy, Plantronics and Logitech. But PAX is all really about the indie.
The Local Scene
Boston has a thriving development scene, that you may or may not be aware of. Naturally the local developers are present at PAX East, both big and small. Ken Levine will lead a panel about Bioshock Infinite with some fellow Irrational developers, and Harmonix will close out (?) the Rock Band era with a panel called "Rock Band Behind the Music: A Music Gaming Tell All".
Boston lost one of its biggest studios when 38 Studios moved to Rhode Island in order to capture tax benefits and grants that was later a part of their undoing, but with the demise of 38 Studios a number of small independent companies have risen up from the ashes and many of these are situated in Boston. Founders of Super Awesome Games, Summer Camp Studios, Red Foe Games, Terrible Posture Games, King Bee Digital Games and Dancing Sorcerer Games will speak at a panel called "After the Endgame: Indie Studios Founded by 38 Studios Alumni". More local Boston indies will talk in the panel "This (Boston" Indie Life: From Breaking In to Making It" with people from Demiurge Studios, Dejobaan and Subatomic Studios to name a few.
What else is there?
PAX East plays hosts to tons of video game competitions and tournaments, panels about everything from the state of games journalism, to the state of JRPGs, how to find a job in the industry, and to help you evaluate your retro game collection. It's a packed schedule and it makes you wish you didn't have to run around all day doing interviews as some of these panels sound like an absolute blast.
There are also rooms with space dedicated to those who want to bring their PC, tabletop games or handhelds to the show as well classic consoles to sample. There are music acts to check out, and swag to be bought. Speaking one music - Friday night offers up Those Who Fight - Final Fantasy Rock Opera - we know very little about that act, but it certainly piques our interest.
As far as tournaments and competitions goes - the mother of them is the Omegathon - 20 contestants are chosen only one survives the 6 rounds of gaming to win a trip to the promised land of gaming - Japan.
When PAX East ends on Sunday March 24, the industry moves on to San Francisco and Game Developer's Conference and we'll also be making the coast-to-coast trip. GDC is set to give us the full unveiling of Battlefield 4 to name one of the more high profile announcements due.