PAX South 2015 Report

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This was a weird expo. This was first PAX South, so I was expecting some bumps, but there were things that just didn’t add up. For one, Gearbox was one of the big sponsors, but they didn’t have a presence on the floor. They had some panels, but no booth. Likewise, Bioware was also there but was relegated to a small room where they ran a bunch of panels.

Perhaps it’s the merit of coming so quickly after the holiday rush, but there was almost no AAA gaming presence. As someone who’s not a big AAA gamer, this was fine with me, but it seemed odd. Nintendo was the only major AAA publisher there and they were primarily showing Majora’s Mask for the 3DS. There also wasn’t any big game announcements or news.

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However, this was fine with me as most of my time on the floor at PAX Prime 2013 was spent checking out the indie stuff. The first thing I made for once I got to the floor around 2:30pm was Jason Rohrer’s new game. All I knew is that he claimed he was handing out money for the game. He was showing Cordial Minute, an intriguing game played for real money. He brought real money so people could play his game without having to dish out their own money.

But since I told him I heard about him and had played some of his games before, he made me play with my own money against my friend. So PAX South was the first time I’ve gambled with real money (it was only $1). The game is played on a 6×6 grid with numbers 1-36 scrambled throughout the board. Each player picks two columns: one for themselves and one for their opponent. Where the column you pick for yourself and the row your opponent picks for you intersect is the number you get for that round.

The kicker comes in that when your go to bet, you see one of the columns your opponent picked. You don’t know if it’s the one he or she picked for yourself or for his or herself. From a design perspective, I loved playing this, but the fact that you have to play the game for real money makes me think I should stay far away from this game. I’m terrible at gambling games and my friend easily destroyed me (although he refused to take my dollar).

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After that, I checked out This War of Mine. I know it’s already out and I was interested in it, but not sure if I wanted to play it. I only played about 5 minutes, but it was fun enough to convince me I wanted to play this. My friend took over after I played and went scavenging. He invaded the home of an old couple and proceeded to rob them as they helplessly protested. Yes, we’re terrible people. I came back the next day and talked to one of the developers of the game and his discussion about how he wanted to make a player driven story experience further convinced me that this is indeed my kind of game.

I played an indie platformer after this called Light Falls because it looked pretty. It played okay, but didn’t have enough to it to make it stand out to me.  I also played a horror game and I can’t for the life of me remember what it was called. It had to do with some kid chasing his dog into a cave and getting lost. I liked the atmosphere of it, but there weren’t any mechanics to it yet. Also, an expo is a terrible place to experience a horror game.

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At this point, another friend showed up and I had to go outside the hall to give him his pass. Once we found him, we discovered a cosplayer dressed as Ash. Nothing particularly notable, expect that he had “PAX South Plays Pokemon” sign on his back. On a whim, my friend yelled “left” at him and he turned left. After this discovery, other people started yelling commands at him and over the course of several minutes we started yelling commands at him and eventually my friend decided to start running him into people. Hilarity ensued.

We went to the Nvidia panel which was basically a tons of giveaways in-between powerpoint slides. People went crazy. There was a contest to build a PC which was interesting. Also, they pushed their tablet and Nvidia shield a lot. At one point, two people were playing the Shield and both of them ended up losing connection and spazzing out. It was a waste of time but I wanted to sit down for a bit at that point.

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After this we met up with more friends and went to the Tabletop area and played a board game called Cargo Noir. We actually played this at PAX Prime 2013, and it’s a fun worker placement game involving betting for resources. I really dig this one. It’s simple, got nice art and the betting aspect feeds some people’s competitive nature.

The next order of business was food. At this point, it was pretty late and the show floor was already closed. However, a friend and I ended up finding an arcade area and he’s a big Street Fighter fan. He played against some random guys and it was a lot of fun to watch him. I played him a few times and got my ass severely kicked. He may or may not have convinced me to play DDR. After this, we called it a night.

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I started off the second day perusing the floor. Oddly enough, I found a booth for Vlambeer, which I didn’t expect to see at the show. Turns out they had gotten the booth at the last minute. They were showing off Nuclear Throne, which is a top-down shooter roguelike game I’ve been curious about for a while. It sounds like they’re angling for a bit more persistence across plays, which I’m not overly-thrilled about, loving the purity of fresh runs in Spelunky, but I still might give this one a play at some point.

I spent most of the morning camping out at the Devolver Digital booth. I checked out The Talos Principle first. There have been a lot of first person puzzlers in the wake of Portal, but this is the first one since Antichamber that is different and interesting enough to warrant my attention. While playing, one of the developers was getting interviewed and I tried to leave, but they asked me to stay so there’s possibly a video of me playing the game circulating out on the web. After playing, I talked to one of the developers about the game and he was kind enough to give me a code of the game so I’ll be playing that at some point.

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Also at the Devolver Digital booth was Ronin (link to old build), an interesting game heavily inspired by Gunpoint. I remember watching Tom Francis play an early build of this a while back. I’m glad it got picked up because any game inspired by Gunpoint is a game that has my interest. Hotline Miami 2 was also at the booth, but I already played it at PAX Prime 2013. It’s more Hotline Miami.

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The thing I was most delighted to see at the booth was Titan Souls. An action game heavily inspired by Shadow of the Colossus and Dark Souls, Titan Souls centers around battling series of bosses armed with only a bow and a single arrow. I loved the feel of this game and the boss encounters were punishing. Of what I played, this is the one I’m most eager to get my hands on in 2015.

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The Pillars of Eternity Panel was the event of the day. A spiritual successor to the old D&D Infinity Engine games, Pillars of Eternity is my jam. Also, seeing Chris Avellone (Planescape: Torment), Josh Sawyer (Icewind Dale II, Fallout: New Vegas) and Tim Cain (Fallout, Arcanum) in the same room was a delight. They showed two new areas: a map where you have to infiltrate a castle and a map infested with drakes.

Looking at the game, the most impressive thing was how large the maps were. They might not be that much bigger than some of the Infinity Engine maps, but having the game designed to play at a higher resolution made it much easier to take in the scope of these maps. Also, there’s a ridiculously funny big heads mode, which also includes making the hats comically gigantic.

Most of the panel consisted of Q&A. I actually asked a question and it’s on the stream! Check it out in this video. I’m also the guy who yells when Josh Sawyer mentions Darklands. I raged hard when the one guy described Divinity: Original Sin as an Action RPG. Otherwise, it was a pretty good Q&A.

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Afterwards, I went up and talked to them. I told Tim Cain how much I loved Fallout and Arcanum and how great making a stupid character was. He mentioned he wanted to get it in this game, but given how dialogue heavy it was, it didn’t make it into the game. I chatted with Josh Sawyer about the Darklands influence of the game and reactivity in Icewind Dale II. Chris Avellone seemed super busy, so I only talked to him for a moment, but he was super nice. I also got pictures with all of them! PAX South goal achieved.

After that, I felt like everything else would be downhill. I wandered the floor for a bit and checked out a couple of indie board games. A neat one was called Bring Your Own Book, an Apples to Apples style game where instead of responding to the prompt from a card, you flip through a book you bring to find an answer to the prompt. Seemed like a fun party game.

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There was also a neat deckbuilding game called Paperback where you played cards to spend words and based on the points of the word you could buy certain valued letters. I loved the look of this one and I’m thinking about picking up. It looks like a deckbuilding game that you could play with more casual boardgame players.

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With a low charge on my phone, I decided to camp out in the boardgame area for a while and charge my phone. While I was chilling there, a lady waddled up to me and handled me the card you see above.

After that, I bought some dice at the Chessex because they were much cheaper than they are online. Got three sets for about $12. I also bought a thousand Magic cards. Yes, that’s right. A thousand. I figured my brother would enjoy these and for $15 it was a hard deal to pass.

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I met up with some friends and we decided to food up. After dinner, a group of us went to play some board games. We played Carcassone: The Discovery, which was my first experience with the brand. It seems like a neat game, but I’m not sure how it compares to other versions. We also played Hanabi, which is a fun cooperative card game where you hold the cards facing out from you so you can see everyone’s hand but not your own. We ended up barely losing, but it was still a lot of fun.

And that was PAX South. I actually decided to drive home at night, which was crazy, but I made it back alive. I imagine next year will have more stuff to it as the show floor certainly left something to be desired. However, having everything be in the same building is a big plus over PAX Prime. It was lots of fun and I enjoyed catching up with people and I hope to go back in 2016.

© 2015 James Blake Ewing