Friday, March 6, 2015

PAX East 2015: Day 1

Greetings from Boston!!

Yes, I know, it's been literal years since I've posted anything on this blog.  Life, work, blah, blah you get the gist.  But know that's all changed.  The Bearded Bullet is back in the proverbial saddle, this time reporting from PAX East 2015!  This is my fourth year in a row at the event and is essentially the highlight of my year; I get to travel, eat terribly (like that's any different from my day-to-day normality?) and play games that won't come out for weeks, if not months.  There's nothing quite like a convention atmosphere - thousands of people are there for the same reason you are anld are genuinely excited.  There are many reasons to go to PAX; the board game scene, the indie game scene, panels featuring icons from the gaming industry, etc.  My friends and I go to play as many big games as we can, i.e. The Last of Us, Borderlands 2, Gears of War Judgement to name a few.  We're gamers who want to game.  I sincerely appreciate the indie developers whose showing at the event can make or break their game, but to be blunt I'm there for the big-ticket games.

Initial impressions:
First impressions set the tone for the whole weekend, and my first impression of the showfloor was that almost none of the big dogs of the developing and publishing community had any sort of presence.  EA, Activision, Ubisoft, WB, 2K, including Rockstar and Gearbox, Bethesda, and Sony all skipped PAX East this year, which to say the least, is incredibly disappointing.  No Borderlands: The Handsome Collection, Battleborn, Assassin's Creed, The Division, Rainbow Six, Witcher 3, Batman Arkham Knight, Mortal Kombat X, Fallout 4 (wishful thinking, I know), or Uncharted 4.  Some titles, such as Battlefield Hardline are part of Microsoft's booth.  Nintendo, Square Enix, Capcom, and Blizzard all have big old booths, with a TON of smaller developers (The Behemoth, Wargaming America, Arenanet, etc) and hardware manufacturers.  Oculus VR has a huge presence with a packed booth featuring two different demos, as does Logitech and Alienware.

Since I go to the event to check out the big games of the year, it's fair to say that I was more than a little disappointed after roaming that show floor for a bit.  There's no "it" game this year (granted, this could change by the end of the weekend, but nothing made an impact or had a massive crowd).  Previous years had L.A. Noire, Max Payne, Borderlands 2, Evolve - all booths and games that had lines that were nigh-impossible to get into.  We couldn't get into Evolve last year no matter how many times we circled the showfloor and came back, each time greeted with a PAX Enforcer holding a "line capped" sign, raining disappointment down upon us.  Oculus was damn near impossible last year as well.  Nothing this year screams "must play" to me.  Nothing was drawing a crowd so large that it caused a fire hazard (as did Evolve last year).  And that bums me out a bit.

It must also be said that the BCEC (Boston Convention and Entertainment Center) had incredibly poor planning with regards to parking this year.  For those who haven't attended, there's a massive parking lot behind the convention center.  When that fills up, there are satellite garages and lots about a mile or two down the road that somewhat of a pain to get to, but it's an accepted necessity at this point.  My friend and I were stuck in massive traffic for hours, just to make it to the BCEC and be redirected to the satellite area.  The garage was full and the secondary lot had been filled for "at least an hour."  There was no direction as to what to do.  No one from the city or BCEC to tell us where to go next.  The answer we got was "a lot not owned by us (the BCEC) or parking along the street."  ALONG THE STREET??  There are thousands of people descending upon the convention center and we were expected to find street parking.  We decided to head back to the rear lot to see if anything changed.  We were now told that there was parking in the Seaport area.  Once there, there was no one to direct us or tell us anything.  We ended up parking in an insanely shady-looking fish market where you'd expect the mob to dump bodies or do illegal business.  Oh, and I got a ticket for not having a permit when no sign stated as much.  It was a complete and utter clusterfuck of epic proportions.  This is an event in its fifth year, one that grows year over year.  How this was so incredibly botched is beyond me.

That said, we didn't get to do much after we finally made it on the floor after 12:30 (we're usually there between 9-10am).  We roamed the floor, getting the lay of the land, bought some merch at the PAX booth, grabbed some food (road rage makes one quite hungry...) and settled on checking out the Oculus VR.  We jumped in line around 2:30, a line that was capped within moments.  That means the line was SO long and took so long to get through that we would barely make it in before the 6pm closing time.  We actually made it in after 5pm, which made for a two-and-a-half-hour wait.  And that doesn't even come close to the longest we've waited to play something.  The Darkness 2 was about five hours.  Max Payne 3 was over 3, as was The Elder Scrolls Online.  Every minute of that wait was worth it, hands-down.  We demoed the Samsung Gear VR, which used a Galaxy Note 4 and an android-compatible controller.  There was a focus wheel on the top of the headset, with a "back" button on the side.  The set-up was topped off with a Tritton headset to get the full effect.  We were given six games to choose from.  I picked a spy-themed one that had me flying a jet pack around a rudimentary city.  The visuals were barely PlayStation 2-caliber, but that isn't the draw.  Being able to spin around in my chair and get a 360 degree view is just amazing.  And yes, I immediately flew to the top of a building and jumped off.  And yes, I felt like I was actually falling.  I had a physical reaction.  The second game was a top-down action game a la Skylanders and again, while nothing new visually- or game-play-speaking, the degree of the viewing angle was just awesome.  I simply cannot wait to use a VR headset with a more major game like Call of Duty or something simple like Minecraft.  There's a second demo that we're absolutely going back tomorrow to try out.

Surprisingly enough Harmonix had a presence on the showfloor, with the new version of Amplitude playable and Rock Band 4 signage all over the place (at the time of this writing Rock Band 4 was announced only days ago).  We jumped in the merch line and I picked up a sweet Rock Band 4 PAX-exclusive pin.  I chatted with one of the developers for a few moments and expressed my thorough and real excitement over this announcement.  It's a little moment that made me so very happy!!

With day one in the books, I really feel a bit let down this year.  It seems that as the years go on, big-time developers and publishers keep dropping out of the event.  And it makes sense; E3 has been fluctuating in size over the years due to big companies not wanting to spend the money and time on demos and booths, and I completely understand.  It's just that this is a major event geared directly to the public and a chance for the actual developers of these games to get real feedback and gauge crowd reactions.  I plan on checking out what Microsoft and Nintendo have to offer, along with some other random games and demos.  Here's to hoping days two and three go smoother..

The Bearded Bullet

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