Monday, 22 July 2013

Notes from PAX Aus

PAX Aus was in town! The previously USA only, but now Australia (Melbourne?) too, all-about-gaming event was here. We had no intention of missing it! Thus yesterday my son, his Cyclops Teddy and I dressed up in our N7 attire and buckled up to make our way to attend PAX' last day. The only day I could get a ticket for by the time we made our minds up to go.
And then we had to unbuckle ourselves and go back home because our N7 car had a flat. This time around I couldn’t be bothered and called RACV for “rescue”. That turned out to be a wise decision as we were on our way within half an hour (next weekend, though, I will have a $210 + balancing costs appointment with the tyre shop).
Following is an account of the rest of the day that was.

I will start with my major highlight, because this highlight provides much needed background.
My highlight of the day was meeting up with four of the BioWare people behind the Mass Effect series: Lead editor Karin Weekes, husband and lead writer Patrick Weekes (also an author by his own rights), producer Cameron Lee and community coordinator Chris Priestly. The signatures of all four are on the above PAX program. Me, I will not deny it is the former two I was interested in the most because it is their art that makes the games as good as they are.
The main thing here was to meet some of the people that caused some major changes in the lifestyle of my entire family over the course of the past year and half. We were always gamers, to one extent or another; but through Mass Effect 3 captivating my nights, then my wife, then my days, then my son our gamesmanship has received a certificate of approval. The interest in the game was unsurpassed: its characters became household names, and as mentioned here before the whole family sat together for five hours for the game’s culmination.
This unprecedented interest triggered a domino effect. Gaming was on our daily agenda, as opposed to something I do after everybody else goes to sleep. My son took to iPad gaming, then grew interested in Skylanders, moved on to discover our previously dust gathering Wii for playing Skylanders with, and then discovered the Mario games we all but forgotten about. Today we have a Wii U we all play with, and we have a PS3 that’s devoted to Mass Effect but does the occasional job on the side (e.g., Journey). We’re all heavily into iOS games, and we even started looking into PC gaming. Note the use of "we".
It all started with Mass Effect. I recall saying there is no Shepard without Vakarian; well, there would have been no PAX for my son and I without Mass Effect.

Let me say the following about this past weekend’s PAX Aus: I have never taken part in an event of such a massive scale that was so well organized. Once inside everything went well, usually exceptionally. From parking (a reasonable $10) to the clean and well maintained toilets, the organization was impeccable.
The people were, too. I’m not talking about the hordes of cosplayers, many of which were scantily dressed young human females braving the cold. From the people running the event (the ones I spoke with were all volunteers) to the attendees themselves, everybody was nice. Everybody respected one another. Everyone was always nice to one another. I approached the event with some fear, worrying how I will cope with my son; turned out I had nothing to worry about. If anything, my son’s young age guaranteed us preferential treatment and extra understanding wherever we went. How shall I put it? I expected the football crowds I remember from my childhood but I got nice, friendly and often caring people instead. Should we attribute it to the lack of alcohol on board?
The two disappointments I did encounter were the result of external issues. We chose to use our car instead of public transport because the Sunday timetable plus the need to switch trains (or trams) meant it would take us hours to get there and back again. We proved ourselves right when we saw how packed the tram was upon arriving to the Showgrounds (to quote my son, “it was as full as a million potatoes”).
The other issue I had was with us being blocked from the PC gaming area in its entirety. Why? Because the area featured unrated games, and thus my son’s soul was to be put in danger were he to step in. That’s 21st century Australia for you: the country decides what’s good for you or not; you are too dumb, but the country knows better. Well, for the benefit of greater Australia and its glorious rating system I will mention that I had no issues taking my son in between violent console video gaming sessions. We both had a ball, and I’m sure he will grow up to be a mass murderer like his father before him.
Complaints aside, we all enjoyed the event a lot. Even Cyclops Teddy, which proved popular with Karin Weekes. I came in in the morning wondering how many hours my son will last; I left in the evening having to drag him away as PAX closed.

So, what’s in PAX anyway?
To cut things rough, the event is split in three. One area is the exhibition area, where manufacturers & Co display their wares. Next, there are areas devoted to panels where you basically go to hear people talk. On my particular day none were worth the agony of dealing with a bored child; that said, I would have loved to attend the BioWare and the Good Game sessions. The last area is the play area, where people come to play games. And by “games” I mean video games (console and PC), board games (proper ones, not Monopoly or Scrabble; I’m talking Katan and Small World grade here), and card games (again, proper card games, like Magic the Gathering; not poker and other casino grade stuff). It may surprise you to know we spent most of the day in the latter section.
At this stage I will go back to praising the organization: PAX was sold out, yet we were never crushed by hordes. We were able to access anything we wanted to through queues that this queue phobic person could easily handle. I hear that some of the panels were of exception, with both BioWare's and Good Games proving too popular and full to capacity 90 minutes before the show. Next time, Gadget, use bigger venues. Next time.
I quickly realized that all hopes of doing the things I wanted to do should be dispensed with. Instead, we would both have much more fun if my son was allowed to do what he wanted to do and I focused on the essentials. Thus when the tweet from BioWare announcing their signing event came up (through the event's all encompassing wifi) my son had no dramas with leaving his post to join my pilgrimage.
Thus we spent our time playing a bit, wandering around, and mostly watching other people playing all sorts of things. Mostly console games, but not only console games. Let me entertain you with personal points of interest…
  • Indie gaming: The iPad games coming from small developers I had a go at were all charming. Both my son & I enjoyed Tasty Fish (iOS universal) and Crabitron (iPad). Then again, how could a game where you play a crab go wrong?
  • Retro gaming: A special section was dedicated for old consoles and PCs. I spotted a Commodore 64, an Amiga, an Amstrad, an old Atari console (but not my first, the 6200), and Super Mario 3. My son was quite excited about what seemed to him as simple games, but he was quickly disappointed by their unforgiving nature when he took them on. Me? I enjoyed the blast from the past.
  • Nintendo: Amongst others Nintendo let us play their new Pikmin 3 game (released in a week’s time) and the new Mario 3D World (a Christmas release). Both were great: I can see myself playing the Mario game and having great fun, especially on multiplayer, just like Super Mario is fun on the Wii U today. As for Pikmin, the mechanics of it make it an ideal game for the child in the house. We will wait for the Good Game assessment (mostly because our bank account is in the red), but I cannot foresee a scenario where we do not buy this game.
  • Magic the Gathering: I managed to convince my son to give this card game a go. We bought a pack and got a volunteer instructor to teach us and take us through a demo game. I’m sure she let me win, but my son was all excited about the card gaming prowess I was putting on display… Regardless, between the pictures and the simple mechanics, there is a future for this game at our household. As well as a future for me forking out on cards and the iPad game. That’s $10 I’ll be spending once I get my iPad Mini; now, Apple, can you get a move on and release a retina Mini so I could buy it?

So yeah, we had great fun, doing this and getting that. I did notice some absenties, though. Most notable in the field of not being there was Skylanders, especially with Swap Force on the horizon; then again perhaps Activision mistook PAX to be an old man’s war. Silly them.
I was also short on the celebrity count. Good Game’s Bajo & Hex did not attend the Sunday, which left me with Clare Costigan  as the only Australian celebrity I managed to identify. She was very nice, though, posing for everyone with a camera. It's not every day a nerd like me gets a professional model to pose for him.
Indeed, as I said, everyone was very nice all the time, which meant it was a pity not to bump into anyone I know (as in, a friend). On that note, friends who want to try their hands at cards are welcome to try a game over Skype.
I realize I will be criticized for taking a young child an event such as PAX, with computer violence in the background and all. I realize I will be criticized for letting my son play too many video games and games in general when “he should focus on his studies”. Yet I argue that not only did he enjoy PAX, and not only does he enjoy playing; I argue the best learning he will ever get will come from playing. In this world where kids are driven everywhere and are not allowed to go outside on their own, video games are their only refuge. My son prospers playing them, and I will do my best to help him along - mostly by reminding him of his worldly responsibilities.
Here's to next year's PAX at Melbourne!

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