PAX East Invades Boston

Photo by Matt Tursi

How did I spend the beginning of my spring break? I catered to my nerdy sensibilities by journeying to The Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) East, which took place from March 22 to 24 at the Boston Convention & Exposition Center.

PAX was started back in 2004 when the folks behind wanted a gathering place for gamers to discuss and play what they loved — video games. The show, now dubbed PAX Prime, usually occurs at the end of August or beginning of September. Fast-forward to 2010, the show expanded to Boston with the name PAX East. The shows are exclusively for games, as opposed to conventions such as Comic-Con, which caters to an eclectic assortment of nerd culture.

With tens of thousands of attendees at each venue, the PAX conventions are the largest video game-only shows around.  And that’s truly the great thing about them. E3 is the biggest in terms of scope, important announcements, the games present there, etc., but PAX is the only gaming convention wholly open to the public.

Last year was my first time attending, but I was only there for one day and did not fully embrace everything I wanted to. This year I went with a group of friends and attended the show Saturday and Sunday.  That extra day alone made the show so much better, and gave me free time to see some of PAX’s more interesting aspects — the panels.

Panels given by industry professionals covered a wide variety of topics, such as Cards Against Humanity, live podcasts, discussions of video game violence, a certain website’s top games of a generation, post-mortems of previously released games and much more.  The Cards Against Humanity panel I attended was unequivocally hilarious and the highlight of the show for me (if you don’t know what it is, I highly suggest you look it up).

There were also several tournaments you could sign up for, and
if you wanted a break from the show floor’s hustle and bustle, there were a number of rooms to relax and play games in, including those from old Atari, Jaguar or Super Nintendo systems, all the way up to PS3, Xbox 360 and WiiU.  At one point, I took a break and played some “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” for half an hour in the enormous PC free
play area.

Being at PAX East was an amazing time, that is, if you’re into this sort of stuff. There’s something magical about being on a show floor with 50,000-plus people who share the same interests and hobbies as you do, and watching a swarming sea of nerds from the Expo Hall’s sky bridges is one flabbergasting sight to behold.

One thing I learned from last year?  Never wait in an obnoxiously long line just to see a five to 10 minute video of a game you’ll see online next week. That, or play a demo of a game you’ll be able to download in a couple weeks for yourself.  Seriously, there were people waiting more than two hours to play Sony’s “The Last of Us” demo — a game that comes out in June.  I know I’ll get it, so I don’t see the need to waste precious time at the show.  At the Ubisoft booth, there were also two-plus hour waits to see a video of “Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag.”  I didn’t even bother with it.

I did manage to see and play some games, though.  At the Deep Silver booth, they were showing a video for the upcoming “Saint’s Row 4” and I decided to watch it since the line was short. Despite some reservations I have with the game regarding its development, it looked spot-on and even crazier than prior games have been.

I also played a demo for “Metro: Last Light,” a survival horror-esque first person shooter, which was decent — however, it’s hard to play these games and focus with thousands of people swirling everywhere around you.  Other big games present were “Watch Dogs,” “Remember Me,” the PS3 version of “Diablo III,” “The Elder Scrolls Online,” “Splinter Cell: Blacklist,” “Dead Island: Riptide” and MMO “Marvel Heroes,” along with a number of titles at Nintendo’s booth and a bunch more.

Unlike last year, I visited the Indie Megabooth — where smaller games can flourish and be represented at a show where they might not be otherwise — and there were some gems to be found.  Games such as Supergiant Games’ “Transistor”  and Red Barrels’ horror game “Outlast”  were standouts for me.  Another highlight was Iron Galaxy Studios’ “Divekick,” an incredibly silly, yet ridiculous (in a good way) fighting game.

If you have even just a fleeting interest in video games (and the money), do yourself a favor and buy a pass for the next PAX East as soon as they go on sale. It was a place unlike anywhere I’ve ever ventured and cemented the fact that I love and hope to work in this industry one day. And hey, Boston’s a beautiful city, too, so you might as well go on a nice vacation next spring.