Pax East 2012: The Exhibition Hall Part 1

By Shamus
on Apr 10, 2012
Filed under:
Video Games

splash_pax2012.jpg

The Exhibition Hall is the part of PAX where companies buy booth space to show off their wares. It’s a strange place. Some booths are run by one or two person teams and offer a single indie game for a single platform. These ten-foot booths are basically the videogame equivalent of a lemonade stand.

Other booths cover hundreds of square feet. They’re elaborate interactive sets with carpeting and fancy lighting, filled with gaming stations where you can sample the titles on display. Some places are staffed by developers, others by marketing types, and others by booth babes. (Not E3 style bikini girls. PAX doesn’t allow that. Here they’re more “spokesmodels”: Young, thin women who are paid to smile and keep the lines in order.)

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You can end up with some unknown basement developer sitting next door to Microsoft’s vast Kinect showcase. The crowds push and people tend to gather around the good stuff, which means that if you follow the path of least resistance you’ll be led away from the best things.

I don’t like to play games on the show floor. Sometimes I make exceptions, but for the most part I’m more interested in talking to the presenter and hearing what they have to say. For me, gaming is a quiet, reflective experience. (At least until the game pisses me off and I have to perform a Renegade Interrupt on my controller.) The first few minutes with a game are really important to me, and I never want to spoil them by playing the game while footsore, standing on concrete, and trying to block out the churning sea of noise, shoving, and blinking lights. It’s like trying to read a book on a rollercoaster. I’m sure it’s possible, but its probably going to ruin both experiences at the same time.

pax2012_floor.jpg

I don’t like the idea of walking up to an unfamiliar game that’s just sitting there. What are the controls? Do I need to know the premise? What is my goal? Should I start the game over or just keep going from this spot where the last person walked away? I don’t want to cheat myself out of the “true” experience by blundering through some disjointed, unexplained fragment of the game.

Imagine walking up to a machine showing off Deus Ex: Human Revolution and taking control of Adam Jensen after some other player has dropped him into the Detroit sewers and walked away. You don’t know who you are, where you’re going, or why these dudes are shooting at you. You won’t know about Jensen’s augments or how to use them, and the whole place is cramped, cliche, and bland. You could be forgiven for walking away thinking, “What an unremarkable shooter!” That’s what I’m afraid of when I walk up to anything at PAX that’s more complicated than Tetris.

So instead of playing games, I talk to people and take pictures of their displays. The pictures are my way of taking notes. In most cases the pictures aren’t for showing off to you, but for reminding me of the conversation. Then I can check out the game at my leisure once I’m home, in the proper gaming environment and mindset.

I didn’t make it in to see Max Payne 3. I’ve made peace with the game. It doesn’t have the tone and style I loved about the first one, but it looks like a solid game in its own right. I like the stuff they’re tying to do to make the gameplay / cutscene / gameplay transitions feel smoother. But I didn’t feel the need to wait in line for an hour to see it up close.

In comparing notes with others, I see I missed as many games as I hit at PAX East 2012. This is astounding, given the sheer number of hours I spent on the show floor. I wanted to see everything, or at least walk by and glance at everything. But there is more videogame at this show than a single person can reasonably hope to sample in the allotted time.

In the next few entries I’ll go over the stuff I did manage to see.

EDIT: Some people complained about the picture of Josh I posted yesterday. So here’s another:

pax2012_josh2.jpg
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202020426 comments.

From the Archives:

  1. JPH says:

    That Max Payne 3 trailer makes me think of Uncharted.

    This could be a good or bad thing. I’ve never played the Uncharted games, but they’ve gotten lots of praise from virtually everyone but Yahtzee.

    EDIT: Of course, it’s also by Rockstar, and I’ve never played a Rockstar game I’ve really liked, with the possible exception of Red Dead Redemption.

    • Klay F. says:

      The Uncharted games are great fun if you play the way the developer wants you to play. Don’t know which way that is? Well tough shit, now you get to die 50 times because you weren’t in the exact right spot at the exact right time. The Uncharted series basically makes a sick mockery of player agency the way no franchise in the history of the medium ever has, if you are okay with that, then you’ll like it.

      • Raygereio says:

        The Uncharted series basically makes a sick mockery of player agency the way no franchise in the history of the medium ever has, if you are okay with that, then you’ll like it.

        That’s putting it a bit harsh, I think. The uncharted games seem no more more railroady to me then something like Quake 4.
        They are linear platformers with the occasional shooting galleries; they don’t have any pretense at being more then that.

        • Mayhem says:

          Yeah, the Uncharted games are a heck of a lot of fun in terms of set designs, character interactions, and the story as a whole. In terms of level design, they are heavily railroaded platformers in order to maximise the wow factors. I never really found any particular point of sick mockery of player interactions though, unless you mean the last boss fight in #3 which required you to hit certain keys at certain times but hid the prompts in Crushing.
          To be fair though, the railroading can make the games feel more like interactive movies, but done right.

      • Gamer says:

        Have you ever played a shooter? None of them ever have much in the way of player agency.

        I like the Uncharted franchise. The story tends to be better than what I expect from modern games and the gameplay is pretty good.

        • Klay F. says:

          Yes, in fact, I play shooters all of the time. And yes, well designed linear shooters, like Half-Life, have plenty of freedom in terms of how you approach combat.

          Like I said, unless you are in the exact right place in the exact right moment, which you can only know by being A) lucky or B) psychic, then you better be prepared to eat shit and die 50 times because you didn’t intuit the exact path to take with exact timing through a firefight.

          The Uncharted games are basically like Jane Jensen’s adventure games, except with combat, turned to 11.

    • Alex says:

      they’ve gotten lots of praise from virtually everyone but Yahtzee.

      Yes, because as we all know, Ben Croshaw is a fair, reliable and level-headed critic, with a strong foundation for thoughtful and articulate evaluation of the products he is charged with reviewing.

      As for Max Payne, I don’t know. It just won’t be the same without the constipation-face on the protagonist…

  2. krellen says:

    The one picture you give us here proves that I should probably never go to a convention like PAX. (I’ve been to smaller local conventions that are entirely different affairs.) I’d just get overwhelmed with all that stimulation.

    I’m not sure how you managed it, Shamus, but thanks for taking the blow for me. :)

    • McNutcase says:

      I’m in much the same boat. Heck, my favourite tabletop gaming convention is my favourite because it’s still tiny. I can actually know the names of most of the people I’m likely to meet in any given day. Larger cons have me being pretty much a shut-in; I’ll either hang out with people I already know, or hide in the corner of the seminar room and heckle Kenneth Hite.

      I know for a fact that I don’t want to go to Gen Con. Too many people, too much going on. There would be flailing, crying jags, and general unpleasantness. PAX (whether PAX East or PAX Prime; I’m closer to PAX Prime by the width of the continent) would almost certainly go similarly poorly.

      I can completely understand Shamus’s reluctance to go anywhere without Heather. I have very similar hangups.

  3. Even says:

    My main beef with Max Payne 3 is the seemingly “grimdark all-serious-business” feel I get from watching the trailers and reading about the changes. One of things I loved about MP 1 and 2 was the humour and the way the games never took themselves too seriously. It reminds me a lot of the the transition from San Andreas to Gta 4. SA was all sorts of silly and comic-y, then all of a sudden we get a PTSD-suffering Eastern-European ex-military type with a story that makes all the attempt at being serious while still being interrupted by a wholesale of dark humour and anarchistic gameplay.

    I admit I managed to enjoy GTA 4’s story somewhat, but all the changes in tone and all, I’m still not convinced they were really necessary for the series. Now even less so with Max Payne 3. It just seems like their main course nowadays is just to have as broken characters as possible and then dive into their misery.

  4. The Nick says:

    I did like Max Payne, not so much for the gameplay but for the experience and the ‘feel’ of it. The ‘not taking itself too seriously’ angle was apparent all the way through, yet I still felt invested in the character no matter how crazy things got.

    Despite not being as popular, I always liked Dead To Rights over Max Payne and thought that everything in DTR was better than MP. I’m surprised it wasn’t more popular.

  5. Eleion says:

    I went to PAX Prime last year and just didn’t know what to do. I had absolutely no interest in standing in long lines to play a game I was mildly interested in for 15 minutes. It was my first time, so maybe I’ll figure it out this year, but I felt pretty lost outside of the panels.

    • Drew says:

      I don’t know about Prime, but tabletop at PAX East is just about the best place in the world.

      • ccesarano says:

        A lot of the GamersWithJobs crew spent nearly all their time in TableTop. For them, PAX was about a ton of the community getting together to hang and game together.

        Myself, I’ve decided to slim down on the panels and spend more time on the Expo floor. I figure it’s best to find out what the biggest games are on Day 1, then if any of them really catch your eye get in line early on Day 2 (and maybe 3) so you don’t have to waste much of the expo in line. This is how I got to see Aliens: Colonial Marines.

        Some AAA games don’t have long lines, though. Dragon’s Dogma was pretty short, and Theatrhythm had the longest line I could see in the Squenix section (then again, I was mostly in the 3DS section of that line). I hear Far Cry 3 was pretty short as well, which makes me a bit disappointed to have seen it.

        There’s a lot of indie stuff to see, though, of all kinds. I wish I spent more time with those. But still, when it comes to the big AAA games, well, this year the big ones seemed to be Assassin’s Creed 3, Borderlands 2 and Max Payne 3. AssCreed 3 was just a video so I wrote that off. Borderlands 2, well, I was never big into the first so I just snapped a photo of the game’s display and moved on. Max Payne 3 I was curious about, but not enough to wait in line.

        Which is basically the sort of logic you gotta apply. Are these big AAA games that I’ll probably buy anyway worth my time? No. Biggest reason I waited for Aliens was 1) I looooooove Aliens, and 2) There hasn’t been much released to give me an indication of the quality. I mostly went to see if the game would be a dud or not. After all, last year’s PAX East saved me from wasting money on Hunted: The Demon’s Forge.

        • decius says:

          I wanted to try Borderlands 2, but I was put way off by the line to get into the line.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          I dont get colonial marines.Why do people want another generic shooter in aliens world,instead of the awesomeness that was avp?Marine was always the most boring of the three in those,and yet people seem to love him so much.Weird.

          • ccesarano says:

            Well, anything with Aliens in it is going to pull me in because it’s Aliens. I cannot argue my rabid fanboyism (with the exception of AvP: Requiem. I will never see that movie after an interview where the directors said “We’re going back to the roots of the franchises” and then talked about nothing but gore).

            But I wouldn’t say the Marine campaigns of the previous games were the most boring part. They stood out the least, but in truth I honestly enjoyed the Marine campaign in AvP2 better than the Predator campaign. The Alien campaign was my favorite there. AvP3, though, the only interesting campaign was the Predator one. I kind of wish they had just scrapped the other two campaigns and focused on an 8-10 hour Predator shooter.

            Either way, the idea of playing the Marine is an obvious choice considering the popularity of the second film. People lack imagination so that’s the aspect of it they’re going to want to jump into. I wouldn’t mind an Aliens game that was closer to Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, where your resources were low and you had to focus on simple survival rather than combat. However, I also find Aliens to be the weakest of the trilogy (what fourth?) as it’s mostly an action film. The first and third Alien films are my favorite.

            In any case, I got to see them demonstrate the single player, which looks like it is going to be fun. The Aliens will have different A.I. based on their breed and it looks like they’re trying for some nifty thematic elements, which is one of the real catches. My only gripe is having to press X to not die when an alien pounces on you.

            The multiplayer is what surprisingly sold me on it, which is unheard of since I really don’t care for multiplayer a lot of the time.

            I can’t promise that it’ll be different, but, well, I’m a sucker for anything with Aliens in the title, and this looks to deliver.

  6. Ringwraith says:

    With regards to the whole cutscene/gameplay merging thing, I’ve seen some elements of this in Final Fantasy XIII, as the game smoothly transitions from cutscene to boss battle on occasion and it’s really awesome when it does so. Especially as the current leader usually leads off with a similarly awesome line as well.
    “Find your own road to hell!”

  7. burningdragoon says:

    I tried out an old school style JRPG for iOS/Android/PC called Shadows. I played it until I ran into a boss battle that there was no way of winning. It reloaded close to it so while I was talking to the guy about the game a bit I walked back to the boss fight and left the game ready for whoever comes next to get walloped. I may be a bad person.

  8. Aldowyn says:

    I’d love to go to PAX or something like that. I’ve gotten used to FULL convention centers with dozens or more booths to go see – the FIRST Robotics championship was in the Edward Jones Dome and the connecting convention center, and it was FULL. Pretty amazing.

    Hard to find a convention anything like this anywhere close, though, living in Oklahoma :/

  9. IFS says:

    I can’t see Josh in the picture, his sneak skill is way too high.

  10. King Lysandus says:

    One of these days I want to go to PAX. I’m right here, I might as well… but meh. I don’t really like people that much and there seem to be A LOT of people there…

  11. Drew says:

    The only game I played on the show floor was Neverwinter, which is just as disappointing as I thought it would be. This isn’t entirely the fault of the current game, mind you, it’s just the fact that it was originally going to be this great small-group co-op game with 4th edition D&D rules, and I couldn’t wait to try it. Then it swapped development houses, and became “GENERIC MMO 4.21”. It’s fine, I was able to jump right in and know exactly how it worked. There wasn’t anything in the demo that stood out from any other MMO, though. Well, except that when you finished the demo quest and looted the final chest, it contained “Neverwinter Loot Bag” (or potentially something else which I didn’t get), and one of the booth attendants would come over and hand you a bag. I thought that was kind of a nice move.

    But from a gameplay perspective, there just wasn’t anything there to make me interested in playing it instead of something else.

    • MelTorefas says:

      This is it exactly. I was INDESCRIBABLY disappointed when Perfect World bought Cryptic and turned what could have been a totally amazing game (a single player/small group 4E DnD platform built on the same engine as Champions Online) into what will inevitably be a bland, unoriginal, made for Free 2 Play slab of reprocessed MMO.

      It’s like we just went from an awesome gourmet hamburger to something from the McDonald’s dollar menu.

  12. ccesarano says:

    One of the big things about PAX is, even if you want to do JUST panels or JUST the Expo Floor, there’s no way you get to see everything. Hell, it wasn’t until I got home that I realized just how little of the show floor I got to see. It’s tough to find something that you really want to play.

    Particularly in my case, as most indie games I pass by look fun, but they don’t look to be providing the sort of gaming experience I want. Puts me in a tough spot, because on one hand I want to support creative ideas while on the other, well, I like what I like.

    Then there are some folks that avoid panels and the expo floor altogether, and just hang around in Tabletop Gaming playing with each other.

    I think, as time progresses, though, the smaller games at PAX will start getting more and more attention. I look at the Penny Arcade forums, and a handful of people complain about how long they had to wait in line for Borderlands 2 while dozens of others are saying “Why wait in line for a game you know you’re going to buy? Check out the smaller devs. They always have shorter lines and you find stuff you might not have discovered otherwise.”

    Sound advice.

    I think it must also be said that organizing your booth for maximum stations AND proper line queues is important. Squenix and Capcom were baaaaaaad at this.

    • Yeah, we missed out on multiple panels we wanted to see and had to split up for several. I would have liked to have more time at the table top gaming area (I broke off and spent some time over there because I was not interested in waiting in line for the AAA games– I will see them when Shamus gets them later so why bother. There were actually several table top games I would have liked to play and if our oldest had been along I would have (I don’t like doing things like that with all new people and Shamus and Josh had too many other things they wanted to do.)

      There were actually several indie games that were the sort of thing I like but I didn’t try because the lines were too long and the booths were crowded.

      • ccesarano says:

        I understand your point on the tabletop games very much. I met up with a lot of the GamersWithJobs crew in tabletop, but I didn’t recognize most of their faces and am a pretty big introvert that gets self-conscious of annoying other people (most of the time: I was too excited to be talking with you and Josh and Shamus to even think about that this year).

        I think part of it is so many tabletop games also take more time to play. I really wanted to try the Battlestar Galactica board game, as well as getting a chance to play the Order of the Stick game with some folks, but those games take a few hours, and hours are precious at a con.

        I think it might depend on your personality. For me, video games are typically a solo activity, though occasionally I do love a good co-op game. If I’m going to be with other people, I prefer conversation or board games. My love for video games is stronger than that of board games, so as a result my priority leans towards the expo floor.

        Gah, I have a year until the next PAX and already I’m thinking of how I want to try and tackle things next time.

  13. JPH says:

    I’m still not seeing a bonnet. What the hell, Josh?

  14. Grescheks says:

    Clearly, from that image of Josh, the one thing we can conclude is that…

    Josh is the Illusive Man

    PS Please excuse the horrible rushed-ness and poor image manipulation of the image. Didn’t want to spend too much time on a one note gag.

  15. Aldowyn says:

    Did you do the silhouette on PURPOSE?

    I know you’re giving us crumbs instead of just a straight shot on purpose, but I want to know if you took this picture expressly to use it this way or if you just happened to. I’m leaning towards the first.

  16. Gruhunchously says:

    Having examined the two pictures of Josh…he seems to bear some vague resemblance to Pritchard. Coincidence?

  17. Zak McKracken says:

    “read a book on a rollercoaster” – ha!

    http://xkcd.com/chesscoaster/

    … and apparently they’re enjoying it, at least some of them.

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