Pax Australia: The Good and The Bad

PAX is one of the biggest gaming expos in the United States, and it was only eventual for it to branch out to other countries. I’m here to tell you about what happened.

Waking up for what was probably the earliest I have ever woken up this year, I realized that wasn’t enough to combat Melbourne’s terrible train network, and settled in for a long day at what would be the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX).

Toting a ‘media’ pass which allowed me to skip the queue, the painfully late train still only let me beat the crowd by about 7 seconds, which was truly an impressive sight, as an announcer yelled ‘for the horde’ over the loudspeaker to release the floodgates, so to speak. PAX, for it’s debut in Australia, was impressive to say the least.

PAX was definitely the biggest gaming event in Melbourne since…ever. The cosplay was in full force and it was great to see so many passionate fans have fun and engage with others. The schedule was kept tight, PR guys were friendly, and the Oculus Rift was by far worth all the negatives just to have a hands on with it (more on that later). It’s great to finally have such a large scale gaming convention in Australia, and hopefully this is the start of a pattern that acknowledges Australia as an actual legitimate source of gaming.

While I didn’t get a chance to personally participate in the console tournaments and freeplay section, the ideas themselves were brilliant in design and execution. Allowing a huge segment for consoles and PC’s to completely be open to gamers, who would pick a game from a library and then play for a designated slot of time. The amount of games on loan were fantastic and it wasn’t even limited to just games, as people could use the time to check up their emails or go on Facebook. The tournaments chose to utilize a random selection of games for each day, and there were PC, Handheld and Tabletop competitions to participate in, with a huge variety for practically every type of gamer under the sun.

While many people were excited to go to PAX for a chance to play and test a tonne of unreleased games, I’m sad to say that there weren’t many games to preview and demo. I eagerly got my hands on Splinter Cell: Blacklist which had a full Spies vs Mercs booth going, and Saints Row IV was a popular choice (an Australian ‘modified’ version was on demo as it had previously been banned by the ratings board), but Ubisoft juggernauts Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and Watch_Dogs were noticeably absent for play.

Speaking of Ubisoft, I was incredibly disappointed at their presentations for their big hits. While they played the part of having a Ubisoft employee ‘play’ the game (on a PS4 controller), it was clear that the demos they were ‘playing’ were pre-run demos that we have already seen multiple times in E3 and YouTube. It was a damn shame to see this rehashed content, as I would’ve killed to see some actual new footage.

Konami pulled out the big guns with the upcoming Ninja Gaiden, Dynasty Warriors 8 (already up to 8?) and Castlevania: Lords of Shadows 2 all available to play. SEGA showed a behind closed curtains demonstration of Rome: Total War 2 and Halfbrick Studios (possibly the biggest Australian developer) showcased their new iOS/Android game, Colossatron: Massive World Threat.

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Riot Games pulled a huge crowd with a League of Legends presentation, livestreaming the Oceanic finals, which was absolutely hectic as the crowd just seemed to grow bigger and bigger and World of Tanks possibly had the biggest and best presence in the expo hall, with a huge mockup tank taking up pretty much half the hall, and an impressive two story booth holding tournaments for their MMO.

Nintendo were solid as always, with open demos for Super Mario 3D World, Pikmin 3 and Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. A huge line was almost constantly there for the Windwaker HD remake on WiiU, and for good reason. The game looked gorgeous and people do love nostalgia.

Booth babes were both a surprising and unfortunate presence. I thought PAX had ditched the idea of booth babes, and it just seemed a little strange that they were there in full force. I have nothing against women, I love them, but the booth babe culture is just so degrading towards women themselves, forcing them to pose and pretend they have nothing to offer outside of their looks. It’s a terrible culture and I thought PAX had curbed it. I guess not.

Microsoft brought their Xbox One…foregoing hands on or even a running demo, choosing to just display it for two hours in a glass cabinet. A really pathetic showing from Microsoft. Fortunately they managed to salvage a little with a huge presentation that was quite engaging. It was clear that despite the negative media backlash, it was no deterrent as each presentation (one hour each day) was completely and utterly packed. We had to line up 40 minutes in advance just to guarantee a decent seat.

The Xbox One showcased things already covered thoroughly in E3 and other media releases, with such phrases like ‘1080p’ and ‘4k resolution’ being thrown around. The Kinect 2.0 was given a significant chunk of stage time to showcase the improvements, and mixed in with the genuine humour of the presenters, it cautiously won me over. Live demos of Killer Instinct and Ryse were great to watch. While Forza 5 wasn’t demoed, it was name dropped constantly as one of Xbox One’s killer exclusives. The presentation closed with an already seen but no doubt exciting teaser trailer for the next Halo.

We were welcome to an early Sunday morning Q&A with the creators of Penny Arcade, Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, who took questions from the invited media about PAX and their lives in general. While the ‘controversial’ issues were skirted (devs and companies pulling out because of their disagreements with PAX, the uproar over the ‘Why So Serious?’ panel) the mood was positive and it was admirable to see how much effort the two put into running a smooth event. When questioned if their kids read the comics, an instant ‘God no!’ was uttered, in true tongue-in-cheek fashion.

As we left a farewell sign said ‘see you in 2014’. Taking into considerations the positives and negatives of the first PAX, I can’t wait to see where the expo will go from here! It’s safe to say it’ll be even bigger and better next year!