The gaming club I belong to, the Juans of Gamelon, decided to make a pilgrimage to the Penny Arcade Expo. Except we already live in Seattle and attend PAX Prime every year. So instead we decided to invade the great Republic of Texas for PAX South in San Antonio.
Our flight over left at 11:00 AM PST and we eventually landed in San Antonio at 9:00 PM CT with a layover in Denver. There’s not much to say about the trip over, other than I got some quality time with Undertale and Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam.
Having attended the original two years of PAX and the last three years of PAX Prime I had certain ideas of what PAX was, of what it should be. It wasn’t really any of that, which is kind of nice. Even before getting here there was a marked difference in tone. Individual day passes were still available what must have been a couple months after going on sale; unheard of back in Seattle. (Edit: Friday and Sunday passes are still available!)
When we got to the convention center there was a long line to get in but it moved fast. Once inside and in the exhibit hall there was… space, a lot of space, separating the video games from the tabletop games. In the darken end of the hall with the glowing Twitch and Intel signs there was more missing. Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, Sega, Square-Enix, Bethesda, EA, Ubi; the place was completely void of AAA studios and publishers with the exception of Capcom. Even the well known indie guys like SuperGiant Behemoth were nowhere to be found. Instead we saw a lot more hardware manufacturers like Intel, Zotac, DXRacer, and Kingston (parading as Hyper X) and small studios making small games. While jarring at first I don’t know that I actually dislike it. PAX Prime is a madhouse; not compared to PAX South but compared to something on the scale of E3. PAX South, on the other hand, felt like a reminder of those first couple years of PAX when it was in Bellevue’s quaint Meydenbauer Center. Do you want to talk to someone that works in the studio of the game you’re looking at? They’re right there. Want to see where the lead developer gets their inspiration from? They’re probably 10 feet away. Want to play a card game called “Poop”? By god it’s right there with no line and a friendly person eager to show you how to flush. It’s like a kid wearing their parent’s clothes and I absolutely adore it.
On the other side of the exhibit hall’s massive divide was the tabletop area, home to the Magic: The Gathering tournaments, various venders and studios, an PAX’s freeplay area where you can borrow virtually any game under the sun and make bitter enemies out of once close friends. This place was huge. Like, original Xbox huge. ‘Day-one patch’ huge. Not just huge, but full of gamers shuffling cards, rolling dice, moving figurines, cooperatively lifting objects with cranes attached to their heads… (yes, that was a thing). It was inspiring, like the shining yellow save points in Undertale. It just felt good.
* (The sound of shouty nerds fills you with determination.)
So despite all of the would-be short-comings of the event I think I actually prefer it this way. It’s like a breath of fresh air after the chaotic holiday season. I can’t really blame the bigger studios for not making an appearance, either. With most studios shipping back in November or pushing back until summer it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to invest so much money when you’re not in a position to see a return on that investment.
It’s now 3:16 AM on what will be day 2 of PAX South in under 7 hours. Tomorrow’s missions are to get this article posted (since our free hotel wi-fi isn’t connected to the internet), win Zotac’s raffle, and play every indie game I can put my hands on.
Oh, and a side note: Zotac let me hold their AMP! EXTREME GTX 980 Ti, a 2.5-slot tall graphics card that taller, wider, and longer than any card I’ve ever seen. And it costs $650-$700. What in the…