Wednesday, February 03, 2016

More Pax South Things - The 2016 Edition

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I'm back from PAX South 2016 - with a cold. Not the PAX Pox, thank goodness. Though I'm seeing my social media news feed blow up with people who are now feeling the effects. Speedy recovery everyone! I guess you can never have too much Vitamin C at an expo.

It was another fun time at the event, even with the sickies trying to bog me down. We got to experience a lot more new games, some that I'm really excited to see later this year. Which I will feature these games throughout the week with Indie spotlights as PAX South was clearly the showcase for all things indie. Let's jump into my overall review.

There were some improvements to PAX from it's first year, and some things that won't change due to issues with the location that are out of their control. You may find that a number of these things will be repeats from last year:

1.) Cell reception still blows massive monkey balls. Monkey balls. See what I did there? But really, the reception sucks and good luck finding any wifi connection as even most of the Starbucks in the area can't offer it for free (which is a staple) since the signals are so shotty. This is made even more amusing when you find out that there is an AT&T tower only a few blocks away. It's not just the convention center with crappy wifi service (which you have to pay $79.99 a day to get access to it - talk about a ripoff). But the entire city of San Antonio. An extra 50,000 people descending on the 1.4 million sized city shouldn't affect wireless signals so badly. There are times where even going into the mall your call will completely drop and you will only have access to emergency phone numbers. And this is a normal, every-day occurrence in San Antonio. Locals confirmed this for us.

What made it more of a kick in the pants is that the convention center PAX is held in just opened a new expansion early last week. It looks really nice except it's missing a key feature: access to wifi. Yep. Never built into the plans to get a reliable wifi service up and running for people to use for a "reasonable" fee or for free. The city is not designed for tech shows and they need to fix it. Fast. This is 2016 and everyone is on their phones for digital content. This will, unfortunately, hurt PAX in the future if the city can't get their act together. And it's completely out of PAX's hands!

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2.) Layout Change Much Improved - But Dev Booths Not Flashy. I've already seen people gripe at the new layout, but I think it worked to the benefit of the convention center. Last year, attendees could enter into any door and it was difficult to manage traffic flow especially in front of main events. This year, they had a designated entryway (they need to do this with an exit as well) and it helped keep hallways clear for big panels. This did mean more walking, however. But to me, it made sense. And it gave the indie devs more facetime as the expo hall queue line butted up right next to the tabletop space. Perfect!

However there were a number of booths that lacked imagination. The Tron booth was abysmal. I don't know if this was something where they got the space at the last minute when another company backed out or what, but it was the saddest booth I had ever seen. And it was a big booth. There were 2 consoles set up on opposite corners with two plastic chairs at each station. Inside the "booth" there was a photo-op area where you can be green screened onto a Tron background. That's it.

It's freekin' Tron! You have so much at your disposal with that world, you can make one of the coolest looking booths on the show floor that it would have put Dreadnaught to shame. Instead we got...nothing. Which is silly. The game itself was quite good. It's focus is more on the Tron Universe where you are the program sent into the games and have to make you way through obstacle courses, races, battles, etc. to survive. Very clean. Didn't notice any bugs. I really love the music and the complexity of the challenges. But the booth was virtually empty all weekend (haha, made a pun) and I would argue that a lot of it had to do with the lack of draw from the design of the booth itself. There wasn't even a sign up for the game! I just know it's the Tron game. (I've googled and found that it's called Tron Run.)

3.) Second Year Expos Are Always Testers. Look to PAX East as an example. Their first 3-4 years had a lot of headaches. And PAX South ran very smoothly. Yes they didn't have as many big name developers there this time (the absence of both Bioware and Gearbox was noticeable), but it's giving South a framework for future events to work out the kinks now before they develop into big issues over time. Everyone on staff did a great job this year and should be proud of their efforts. It was an efficiently ran expo.

4.) San Antonio - Great for Crowds and Food. See #1 About Wifi. Again, this will hurt PAX South in the long run.

paxsouth16-0105.) Panels Were A Downer. We didn't feel compelled to visit any panels this year. And after hearing reviews on the ones I considered attending, I'm glad that I didn't. This year's content was more fan focused and a lot of tournaments, less on developers talking about their products and company. With the exception of how to mod for X-COM 2, not much was going on for panels. The video game theory panel I thought about turned into a general chat on why the panelists like games. And the "turn your craft into a business" were held by artists that I've never heard of. If it were Volpin Props or Sanshee hosting that panel, I would have been interested. People who use their crafting as additional income on Etsy is something I already do so...nothing I could learn there. Compared to last year, I felt that the panels lacked the spark needed to bring people in. The Expo hall felt much more crowded compared to last year and now I understand why.

6.) Dev Access Still There! This is the cool thing about PAX and why it's fun to go: you get to talk to developers as you're playing their game. You get to learn about their thought process, their inspiration, their goals, their hopes, and become an on-the-spot QA tester as you break their game. It's fun! That's something I really enjoy about the PAX experience that I hope never changes. I enjoy talking to people about why this game. What makes this project special compared to all others you've worked on in the past? And just like last year, YouTube gamers walked around with the rest of us without a barrier in-between (for good or ill). I met Commander Holly (Konrad) and took an awkward selfie with her. My duty was fulfilled!

7.) Dev's Caught On to the WiFi Issues Last Year. So instead of posting parties the day of online, they had events figured out weeks in advance. Thanks for that - you all have no clue how much better that made everything instead of having to fight with the lack of internet service. There were still newbies to the floor that asked us to follow their Instagram or Twitter accounts for free stuff while you're in their booth. It didn't always work. But to those who knew better then to try that gimmick, thanks.

8.) Anime Fans and AAA Game Fans Looked Confused. PAX South is setting itself up to be the indie game central compared to it's counterparts in Boston, Seattle, and Australia. And I'm all for it. It may not be what the big dev fans are looking for, but it's an area of gaming that is gaining a lot of support. It's good to see PAX through it's weight behind it.

paxsouth16-237Anime fans still think they're going to a convention. They'll catch on one day.

9.) Gamers and PAX Pox. Sadly, still a thing. That's never going to change. I just wish people would understand the value of bathing. Daily. Please.

10.) However, Lots of People Wearing Masks and Hand Sanitizer at Booths! While it's not going to stop the spread of germs completely, it does help limit the amount we encountered throughout the weekend. So thank you to those people who cares about our health. Thumbs up to you. You're also some of the funnest, most enjoyable group of people in any nerdom to hang out with. So thank you for being such an inclusive group of people! We need to stand up for our brethren more as we exemplify what it is to be a gamer. Not what the loud minority of bigots and jackarses have been spewing over the past few years with their hate speech.

Overall, I had a great time. I'm looking forward to going back and trying out the next crop of indie games next year. And who knows! Maybe some of the peeps at Microsoft, Ubisoft, and Sony will show their faces next year and have something cool to bring along.

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