PAX East and the Gaming Juggernaut

Been a couple weeks since I posted last, but it’s also been a few big weeks in the gaming world, with lots of news and a flurry of games popping up like so many motivated rabbits. PAX East is conveniently located across the river in Boston, and so this year was our first in venturing down to the new convention center to check things out.

We spent a decent amount of time just getting oriented to where everything is and maneuvering through the crowds and costumes, and then spent the last part of the day making sure we got to the panels and games you didn’t want to miss. The new Boston Convention Center is huge, maybe 3 or 4 times as large as the Hynes Convention Center, so figuring out up and down, left and right was a small adventure.

We visited the video game show floor first – all the new stuff on the horizon is generally there, and at least you can narrow down the games you think you may want to pick up. Of the games I saw on the floor, the ones that interested me the most were The Secret World and Neverwinter Nights, The Secret World due to the horror/Lovecraftian nature of the backstory as well as what looked like a very interesting plot and even a bit of mystery solving; and Neverwinter based on the level of polish as well as the franchise name—having played the single player versions of Neverwinter, I’m wondering if the scenario tools created for the original game will make its way into the MMO space, where it makes the most sense. I picked up beta keys for both these games and am looking forward to giving them a test run.

Also interesting were World of Tanks and TERA – I’m not a huge fan of tactical military battle, but the game looked great, and I could see myself getting pulled in if I have a chance to dabble a bit. TERA looked very polished, but it did appear to be very combat-oriented, and I’m at a point where I am looking for more depth to a game than just killing.

One of the games I’m most excited about, Guild Wars 2, wasn’t on the floor this year, but they did have a few people on panels, and I discovered they were handing out beta keys for pre-purchasers of the game and made note. We did make it over to the Lord of the Rings Online area, and even though this is an older game (5 year anniversary was this week), I’m finding myself pulled more to this kind of MMO—one where the story and the journey is more important than “leveling and gearing up” as fast as humanly possible—and I showed a few friends a bit of the gameplay.

Lots of other games that I didn’t get to closely examine: The DOTA-based League of Legends had a huge space, and top-view player vs player skirmishes were going on throughout the day – this game has become incredibly popular over the last year. A game based on the Alien movies had an large enclosed setup with space folks dressed up as space marines, but the line to get in and view was incredibly long, so not much chance to see what it was about. Star Wars: The Old Republic was also there, but having played the first bit of the game over the holidays and lost some steam (and interest) in the play, we decided to skip it.

In the afternoon, we scurried about trying to get to various panels. Some friends made it over to the Dungeons & Dragons panel where they were discussing the 5th edition of the game. The designers’ goals are to get back to basics, move away from the miniatures focus, and make rules much more modular. Sounds good to me, but my take is that gamers focus way too much on rules for tabletop gaming, and not enough on creating decent storylines and characters. I suppose since we’re transitioned more to video games, rules become much more prevalent within these games as the developers attempt to “code story.”

Speaking of tabletop gaming, there was a very large presence of both tabletop boardgames and roleplaying game retailers on the other half of the convention floor, and not a small number of tabletop gaming going on. While video games may be the big money markers in the industry, it’s really good to see face-to-face gaming going strong. The production qualities of these new boardgames are wonderful, too, and while most game sell at about the same price as video game these days, it really does feel as if you are getting great value in these boardgames.

The two panels of most interest to me were the Future of Online Games Panel and the panel on gaming journalism. The Online Games panel members were great, and the discussion interesting—I think the point from Curt Schilling, owner of 38 Studios (and ex-Red Sox pitcher) that made me the most optimistic is that designers of MMOs are listening to players now more than ever when deciding which direction these games should take. It became apparent as I listened both to the panel members and the audience questions that there is a hunger for something better in these games—that folks are tired of the level grind, and “kill 10 rats” kind of questing. Players want to enjoy the journey as much or more than the destination, and I think some of these developers are starting to listen.

The last part of day was a little trip down memory lane, visiting the Videogame History Museum room on the way out. Pretty much every console game you played as a kid was there—Super Mario, Pokemon, Donkey Kong, Joust—and it was fun to see those games in good working order. Lots of smiles in this room, and the perfect way to end the day.

Did anyone else visit PAX East or another local gaming convention? What were your impressions?

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