PAX turns itself upside down in Australia

The following is a writeup about the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), arguably the world’s largest get together of gamers that turns its focus inward. Unlike E3 which is primarily for the media or Respawn which is for the LAN gaming community, PAX puts the focus on the gamer. Our culture, what we like, and how we do it. I was sent in there with Ragnorok for Gamestah to give coverage, photos and interviews during it.

I went into PAX unprepared. Far from not knowing what was on the schedule – I knew Riot were going to have a large presence, popular Australian podcasts and TV shows like good game and game arena were doing things there. Occulus rift in various forms. Nintendo to have Pokemon championships, with the winner going overseas. This is Australia’s new chance to have a community of gamers have their voices be heard.

What I was not ready for, was how uplifting the whole experience would be, in many ways.

Gamestah's Ragnorok and SuperRoach near the end of PAX Australia

Read on for more information as well as a collection of images from the event.

Welcome home

Coming in to the Melbourne showgrounds early, I had planned a meet and greet of stalls there. However before I got that far, I had already started meeting people. People who I had been speaking with both online and in person over the years, and it was a warming experience to know that we are all in the same area for the weekend of PAX. Varied and plentiful, with gaming community from Cybergamer, fellow casters from Gamestah in various forms, and the Australian press for traditional and online in presence. Youtubers new and old in a wonderful show of wisdom and chat coming together.

Then there was the Cosplay. Oh there was was plenty of it. It feels like there may have been more of it than Supernova, although that would be very odd. I’ll make another post about this, however there is plenty of it in the Gamestah Facebook Gallery, We have Day one, two, and three all covered.

Speaking to people walking around, the common theme was obvious – PAX Was packed. Queues were long, with many of the panels for speakers and developers filling up 2 hours before the actual event. It is hard to comprehend how many people were at this event, so here is a photo from near the beginning.

Opening time on the first day

Lines to panels would often stream all the way out of the large marquee tents, with Enforcers (volunteers in bright yellow shirts) keeping count of how large lines are, and letting us know that past a certain point we would likely not make it.

The most negative part of lines was that you could not be checking out other things in PAX at the same time. In a way this was good news, because often people would be playing games with people they have just met in the line together – from the 3DS to other games like Cards against Humanity, spirits were mostly high during each line.

While waiting in the eSports panel, I have fond memories of chatting with a couple who had flown down from Canberra for PAX, and were loving everything so far. It was great to swap notes with them as well as their thoughts of where eSports is going in Australia.

I would hate for the lines to be the most negative part of PAX, yet if it does then that’s fine. Larger venues, as well as us being more aware of the systems in place for queue management (I’m looking at you, @PAXAux_lines) will let us be more informed about making a choice on if we should go to a panel extra early.

Unexpected surprises

Sometimes parts went wrong during PAX, that turned things on its head and ended up being a highlight. On Friday, the Train leaving to take people from PAX out of the showgrounds back into the city coughed and sputtered it’s last breath – whirring slowly on to our stop, then staying there for an hour before a replacement train came to take us instead. Waiting in the rain, it ended up being a fantastic chance for meeting people, chatting about retail horror stories and other fun gaming tales. The people who had umbrellas become temporary gods, as we flocked together to form a temporary Noah’s ark from the rain during the wait. During this I also met the team behind Metal Zombies Encore, chatting to their dev Robert and having a great insight into the industry from his perspective. Bonding at it’s finest which I will not forget soon.

Rain could not stop us.

Each night I woke up early, and went to bed progressively latter. This included a 3am sleep for Sunday and wake-up not long after at 7:30am. Despite this I could not be happier to spend that time collating the photos taken from the previous day, and trying in vein to edit the video’s together. Those will have to come after the event, I ended up deciding while starting to twitch and lose focus while going to sleep in a hotel dreaming out plans for the day at PAX.

Indie gaming

The real winners of this event I feel was a mixture of the gamers themselves and the indie booths. Connecting with developers who before this never had a way to connect directly with gamers. Games such as Metal Zombie Encore and Freedom Fall I had not heard of before this, and want to play them both for their unique take on gaming. You would have a difficult time to say that gaming has become stagnant in general with companies afraid to push the envelope or choose your own new term of hipster jargon here – no, gaming has got large enough for you to see marketing alone if you do not dig. PAX Australia can give you the glossy big games, and it can also give you the subtle nuances of indie and other games which have fresh takes on game play concepts ready to stimulate your mind.

JoustJS was one of many games at PAX Australia which did not rely on a screen at all – where up to seven players hold a motion sensitive Playstation move controller upright. While the music is playing slowly, it is more sensitive and forces you to move slowly. Faster music means you can dash around. The goal is to knock other peoples controller to take them out of the game.
http://vimeo.com/gutefabrik/joust for more information, the game always had a large crown around it waiting to have a go – and it was tense to watch being played!

Competitive play in Australia?

PAX also renewed the energy I see in the competitive scene. Australia genuinely does have a chance at becoming relevant. Riot have thrown a lot in having an Australian server for us to play on, World of Tanks is going for spectacle in bringing a literal tank among with developers that have an ear on giving shoutcasters just the right statistics to us to keep things interesting. In the past, due to the small scale of competitive gaming, fighting in various areas like ladders, commentary, has crippled our ability to be taken seriously. I feel this will still happen, because there are egos out there. Now though, if you stay true to your roots, do what the gaming community wants, you really can have something made that you can be proud of.

Kids at PAX

I think it’s the kid stories that are the most touching to read – Ben O’Briens one, and this lady who had dressed up with a assassains creed garb. While I asked her to take a photo, “Adult” Ezio walked by and also got a photo as well. Then on top of that, a person walked by asking to take a photo as well – he was part of Ubisoft and wanted to take it for a manager in the AC Team, who had just had a baby as well.
Cute Overload

Another parent had made a commander keen outfit for their son, the distinctive yellow striped helmut bringing back memories of jumping on pogo sticks on an EGA colourset. It was at that point I realized we are a lot more alike than we think, and there were many more stories like this. It was a great way for me to feel like faith in humanity has been restored, knowing how kind and friendly people can be to people they have not met before. Congratulations to all :)

A big thank you

I would also like to give a thank you for the people running it – The Enforcers were well appreciated and everywhere I seen them people respected their jobs, and in turn they would always go out of their way to help for directions and other odd requests.

Guy “Yug” Blomberg, the Australian Manager for PAX despite looking like he was extremely tired pulled off what seemed like would have been impossible a few years ago, and was still able to smile. He’s done it for PAX, and Gameplanet, and the Mana Bar. It takes a unique kind of individual to deal with organizing, lack of sleep, and to enjoy it – That’s worth raising a glass for!

Finally, the Penny Arcade and PAX crew, for believing in Australia, going through with it in the first place and setting our video game electro-wheels of fire turning.

Bonus pictures of three days at PAX