On the morning of Thursday April 5th, 2018, geeks and gamers eagerly waited outside the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (BCEC) in the cold for the doors to open for PAX East 2018. It was hard to find the start of any lines, because they took many turns. Luckily there were volunteers helping to direct the crowds. Although there were many cold gamers, no one was complaining, because we were all so excited to be there. I’ve had the privilege to be able to attend the convention for the past several years. This year I’ll show you what it’s like inside one of the United States’s largest gaming conventions.
Doors opened at 10 am and the crowds flooded in. PAX East is an annual gaming convention that the Penny Arcade, a gaming company, started in 2004. They wanted a convention exclusively to celebrate gaming and game culture. The convention is usually three days long, but lasted four days this year. It consists of game testing, tournaments, panels, and mingling with fellow game enthusiasts.
The Expo Hall is where you can find the majority of attendees, and it’s easily the highlight of the convention. There are over a hundred booths and tables in the hall, filled with creative new ideas. Here you can playtest anything from big-name releases to previously unknown indie games. Most booths are for playtesting games, however some are for companies to sell their products or services. There is definitely a game for everyone at PAX, and navigating the crowds is well worth it to find new games.
If you want to avoid the hours of waiting, like me, it’s best to head to the Indie Megabooth. Indie games are video games that are often created without the financial support of a publisher and usually focus more on innovation and digital distribution. Here you can walk up to a booth and almost immediately playtest a game. I ended up spending most of my time here because of how interesting and unique the games were. From Disco Elysium, a detective RPG, to Pathologic 2, an open world survival horror, I found that the indie games were extremely creative and innovative. Additionally, the developers and writers of indie games are often present at PAX, which means you can talk to them directly about their games and ask them any questions you’d like.
Playtesting is a huge part of PAX. For indie games, the developers are often looking for feedback on how they could improve their games. It’s a great way to help out new game producers and be a part of the development process.
To playtest any of the more well-known games, you have to wait in line for up to four hours. It’s great if you have one particular game you’re really excited to try, but it isn’t the most effective use of your time and therefore doesn’t really appeal to me. This year, the XBOX booth featured games such as State of Decay 2, Sea of Thieves, and Below.
After hours of gaming, the hungry hoards will take a break to get some food at the dining hall. Getting to sit down and refuel for thirty minutes is key for me if I want to make it through the rest of the day happily. It’s best to go after 2pm to avoid the largest crowds, but there will always be a ton of people.
If you want to try out virtual reality (VR) gaming, PAX is a great place for that. Each year the number of games which incorporate VR is increasing. You can find it at VR booths, at indie and more well-known games, and scattered throughout PAX. I found that with the current development of VR, some styles of gaming work a lot better than others. For example, archery in VR is a ton of fun, but developers still haven’t made walking mechanics that feel natural (probably because you’re not actually walking).
Curvin Huber (pictured above) is a professor at Becker College in Massachusetts. He teaches 3D modeling and animation. This year Becker College worked with White Snake Projects to present PermaDeath, the first ever video game opera (like I said there’s a game for everyone). “At Becker, our students are mostly the 3D team. They’ve been taking the concept art from [Rhode Island School of Design] and then building the models and animations,” said Huber.
If you have some gaming talent and want to show it off, the PAX Arena is a great place for that. You’ll hear the Arena Announcers if you’re in the Expo Hall and every once in awhile there’s a large cheer from the crowds. There are also various game tournaments held every day outside of the Expo Hall.
The Expo Hall closed at 6pm every day, and if you stay until the last minute, you will be ushered out by the enforcers like I was. They aren’t rude about it, but they do force you to walk straight out. The enforcers (a.k.a. PAX Police) are a crucial part of making the convention run smoothly. They make sure that everything stays organized and friendly so that everyone can have a good time.
After the Expo Hall closes, a lot of the crowds will migrate over to the free play section. Here you can sit down and test out a board game or video game you’ve never played before, or you can play your go-to games to show off to all your friends. I sat down to rest my feet and play SmallWorld with my friends and family. This year they also had a free play VR section, but there was a 1-2 hour wait for that.
Panels happen throughout the day, but a lot of the more popular ones happen after the Expo Hall closes. On Friday, I went to the PAX East Indie Showcase panel. Here, the winners of the Indie Showcase discussed their games and the process that they went through to get to where they are now. “The indie showcase — and just indie games in general — is probably the single best place to find new types of game design, which is really really hard to do,” said Garrett Fuller, the Industry Relations Manager at MMORPG.com.
There is something for everyone at PAX. It is a great place to meet fellow game enthusiasts, find new games, and learn about how to get involved in the game industry. The organizers have worked hard to make sure that it is a happy place for everyone. One of their main slogans is, “Welcome Home,” showing that it is a very accepting place, where everyone can feel comfortable exposing their inner nerd. Tickets for attending next year’s PAX East will go on sale around October. They go fast so keep an eye out!