Author: Robert Haynie
Last weekend, the team at Black Hive Media traveled to San Antonio, Texas to explore the world of PAX South. Originally known as the Penny Arcade Expo, PAX is a convention that focuses exclusively on the gaming industry. They’ve got it all: tabletop game tournaments, a LAN party, exhibit booths from both major game developers as well as smaller independent shops. No matter where you fall on the gaming spectrum, PAX is sure to have something for you to get excited about. Unfortunately, our team only had one day to attempt to navigate the entire show floor, and if you’ve ever been to a convention, you know that seeing everything in one day is impossible. Despite the obvious time limitations, we did our best to see and do as much as possible.
As a first-timer at PAX (or any other convention, for that matter), I can only describe the experience as total sensory overload. From the sheer size of the crowd and the seemingly infinite booths to explore, I was having a difficult time figuring out where to start. For the first hour, our team wandered aimlessly around the show floor just taking in all the sights, sounds, and yes…smells. Eventually we made our way to our first panel of the day, a lecture on the history of EVE Online, presented by the guy who literally wrote the book on the subject: Andrew Groen. To be completely honest, this was not my first choice. I’ve never played EVE, so why would I care to hear a discourse on the history of a game I know nothing about? But as he begun to introduce us to the characters and world of EVE, I found myself listening closely, fascinated by the imagery and the storyline of the game. When he launched into his account of the first epic space battle, I was on the edge of my seat. Something about the 50,000+ real people living an alternate life inside of EVE is fascinating. The complexity of the in-game universe and its remarkable similarity to the real world are almost unmatched in other MMORPGs, and by the time the lecture was over an hour later, I was definitely left wanting more. I strongly recommend checking out Andrew Groen’s book, Empires of EVE.
From there, most of the team scattered to find lunch, while I decided to head over to the Brawlhalla booth. If you haven't heard of Brawlhalla, it’s a 2D brawl-style game that is free to play on Steam and is soon to be released for PS4. I picked up the game last summer and have spent a fair amount of time playing the online competitive mode. In my opinion, the overall gameplay experience is much more enjoyable than similar titles such as Super Smash Brothers. Between tighter controls and a simplified item system, the game feels significantly more accessible to the average gamer. But I'm not here to tell you why I think Brawlhalla is better than Super Smash, at least not today. What drew me to that booth was the chance to play against one of the developers and to tell them how much I enjoyed my time with their game. Well, I got my wish.
After standing in line for about 30 minutes, I finally had my chance. I anxiously stepped up to the booth, joined the game, and promptly got my ass handed to me by the developer. I think I lasted all of 60 seconds. Satisfied, I thanked the developer for everything and I was on my way. Mission accomplished. As a side note, my experience at the Brawlhalla booth did teach me something about myself that I wasn’t aware of before: I have serious issues performing in front of an audience. As soon as it was my turn to play, my legs began to shake and my mind became foggy and unfocused. I was so nervous that my hands could barely keep up with what my mind was trying to tell it to do. Hell, my deployments to Afghanistan were easier to handle than this! Talk about a weird problem to have, but I digress.
The team reconvened after lunch, and we found our way to our next panel discussion, this time focusing on San Antonio’s indie game scene. The panelists primarily focused on what it takes to be successful as an indie game developer and on outlining the different local game development groups in the city. The bulk of their advice revolved around getting involved in these clubs and actually taking the time to collaborate and create with other like-minded people. From what the panelists said, the indie scene has grown tremendously in the past year, which I see as a promising sign for anyone in the local area trying to find other game designers to work with.
As our day neared an end, the team once again split up to cover more ground. I quickly found myself in line to try out VRsenal’s virtual reality set-up, demoing a sci-fi first-person shooter called ROM. First impression: their VR equipment is top-notch. The headset was a comfortable fit and didn’t make my face feel all front heavy. The rifle they’ve designed looked and felt like a real rifle, and they even went as far as equipping it with a detachable magazine. Unfortunately, my curiosity and enthusiasm for the set-up proved to be problematic. In the short time I was able to play around, I managed to disconnect the rifle from the system, requiring them to restart the entire thing… oops. As far as the integration between the hardware and software is concerned, I have to say the VRsenal product is exceptional. Although the game is in an early state (only three months into development), I was impressed by how immersive the experience was. I hardly noticed any lag between what I was doing and how quickly the equipment registered it. All in all, it was an awesome demo that has me excited for the future of VR.
In summary, PAX was a great experience, and we’re all looking forward to the next one. Let us know what you think about the future of VR in the comments. We would love to hear your predictions on the future of VR and your take on how it stands now.