Monday, January 30, 2017

PAX South 2017: The Paxening

Another year. Another PAX South. The newest convention on the block for the PAX franchise just wrapped up it's third year, and I think it's probably one of their smoothest running shows that I've experienced in years. It's clear from this round that South is going to make it's name as the indie developer expo. Big teams and AAA titles are not common on the South show floor as of yet; maybe this will grow over time. But talking with the larger groups, we know that November-February are rough times to step away from work to hold a booth and show off your company's wares. Spring releases begin in March and products have to be as bug-free as possible to reach those deadlines. Soon after follows PAX East, which has become the preview event to E3 where all of the new titles are announced in June. South is an odd time, which makes it a perfect opportunity for indies to step in and steal the show.

Honestly? I'm okay with that. PAX East is currently the strong-hold winner for AAA titles. West is big on tabletop as well as larger developers. If South becomes the beacon for smaller and indie titles, that would be cool. They make up the bulk of content on today's market and provide unique experiences that are pushing the gaming medium forward. I'm all for PAX South becoming their spotlight moment.

This was also the first year that I attended a lot of panels. I wish there were more developer panels and less "fan panels" but as a whole I felt more involved in this PAX South then I had in years prior. Last year I didn't attend a single panel. So this was a vast improvement. Even the streaming panels about how to start your own YouTube/Twitch channel were informative. They gave great insight and provided the business perspective of how to manage a streaming lifestyle. 10/10 would go again.

Having been to PAX West, I did find a lot of repeat booths that I skipped. Earthfall, the non-Left4Dead clone with aliens, was showing off their game again. The Capcom booth had a spot-on recreation of their Resident Evil VII house and VR set-up. Truthfully, there wasn't anything captivating about the repeat offenders. But I understand why they did it. For Capcom, RE7 just released a few days prior and if they can sell a few more copies at PAX, why not do it? Earthfall is still relatively new on gamers minds and most in the South don't go to PAX West. It's a good opportunity for a mid-sized company to put their demo out there for people to play.

So this year it was a big focus on indie games.

And Nintendo. Cause Switch.

We didn't get in to play The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The line was always the first one capped (duh) and took hours to work through. It wasn't worth the effort for only 8 stations set up with a 20 minute demo (really Nintendo?). However, I will say that they did have one of the best booth designs. Half of the booth was dedicated to the Switch. The other half was "Switch in Reality." I.E. you could see how the Switch's portability can work in your life. They had a mini Mario café to sit at a booth and play, as well as a Nintendo airplane with goombas and mushrooms on the paneling, so you could play the Switch while you are flying in the air. It was a cute idea and a nice way to see the system in action.

The controllers on the side of the system are super tiny. Like, way too tiny. Tiny for my hands and I'm a chick with small hands. Using them sideways like a WiiMote made it worse! I would never use these controllers away from the Switch system itself. I'd rather they stay attached and use the external gamepad - which looks like a Gamecube but feels like a PS3 controller. The system itself is nice. It's portable to an extent. You would need a case for it, and it won't fit in most purses. But it's fairly light and intuitive. That's the key thing here. Even for the non-initiated Nintendo players around me, they felt like they understood the system once it was in their hands. The display, the control scheme, the interface, it all made sense. That's what will make the Switch stand out from others.

Another big change is the convention center itself. The East wing of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center finally finished construction and it looks so nice! They tore down the other side to rebuild, but at least we have this new area to play with. Much larger Expo floor, new panel rooms, and more areas to rest (which is always important at PAX). South did a great job of utilizing the space to it's potential and allowed for more involvement with the PAX Arena and Tabletop areas. It felt bigger then East, and that's a big convention center.

My gripes with the event are fairly minimal. Sineage still sucks. First day there I had to do a weapon's check for my prop, but none of the signs pointed me in a general direction on where to go for it. We had to ask a police officer, and he sent us in the wrong direction. The map on the app didn't help either as the station wasn't set up on Day 1. So...yea! There also needs to be a clear distinction on floor 3 being a split area. There are 2 sections of floor 3 and they are not connected to each other. Hopefully that's a future construction that will be remedied, but for now it sucks. The map needs to clarify that.

Some booths covered up entrances to bathrooms and made it difficult to circumvent them. There was a noticeable accident on Saturday in the Expo hall that probably could have been avoided if restrooms were easier to get to. I'll just leave it at that.

PAX XP. While I like the concept of having the game within the game at the expo, it's still a 2-4 hour trek with a ton of walking involved and long lines to be had. The "winnings" at the end were a small medal for the first 15 to turn it in, or a carabiner with the PAX logo. For that much time involved, something more substantial should have been given.

Having two entry-points into the convention is confusing and hectic. The area should be limited to one entry-point only at 8am (when the doors open) until 10:30 (30 minutes after the expo floor opens) to ensure better line control, and less people rushing/running. Safety first! It's fine at 10:30 when more people make their way to the convention, but not to start with.

Too many dead-zones of activity. There were panel rooms that stretched to the far end of the second floor, but a lot of the content from previous years such as group gaming areas and food stands were missing entirely. It felt empty and lifeless for parts of PAX, and that's very un-PAXlike. I'd like them to bring more of those gaming arcades and group games back to the floor for everyone to join in.

Will I go back again? Probably. The trip is way cheaper then any other PAX event, and I like indie games. It's still very relaxing compared to the frantic pace of the other PAX's. And I enjoy talking to developers one on one. You don't get to do that often with the bigger names, but Jim and Janie, mom and pop teams are the people you want to talk to. You get a better since of their passion for their creation, and it's infectious.

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