PAX East 2017 Logo
A Convention Full Of Gems

We’re home, just in time for the blizzard Stella to bury us inside, forcing us to sit around and play all these great games we got at this year’s PAX East.

It’s over now, and it’s time to sift through the piles of pamplets, bought gear, and swag bags that are handed out.  It’s time to try and make sense of the whole event.  Our day three recaps are below, and then our closing thoughts; each PAX event I’ve been to feels a little different, whether or not its because of the friends that come with you, or the games on display, or even just the time of year that the event takes place.  Here’s our attempt to condense all of our fun into a few short paragraphs.

Wyatt’s 3rd Day

Saturday was rough for me, but Sunday was a home run.  I got to see a lot of the show floor, and see some games I had never had a chance to run into before this point.  To put it lightly, I’m really excited about the next few months.

I was a huge fan of Banished when it came out years ago, for its ability to add a sense of gravity to what looked like a simple town builder.  Now, Northgard is here, and is upping the ante in all the ways I enjoy.  It’s a small town builder, but it's set in Nordic lands; the art is crisp and clear, and the feeling of creating your villagers roles to expand and explore feels great.  Northgard also adds something new to the table, with creatures from wolves to wyverns threatening your town, forcing you to defend yourself as you expand.  While its in early access right now, the full version will have a campaign to go alongside the game, and I for one cannot wait after demoing it with the developers.

A game I had never heard of before this convention, Absolver, looks incredibly promising.  A game created around the concept martial arts fighting, it attracts the eye with a distinct art style, and how all the characters wear masks as part of the lore.  After having a chance to play the game, I can safely say Absolver nails one important thing incredibly well: game feel.  When you punch people, you can feel the connection through your controller. When you get hit, the sound queues and stumbling avatar gives you the sense of really getting wailed on.  I enjoyed playing this game, and while it will probably be out much later this year, I’ll be looking for it now.

There’s honestly too many great games to mention, both already out and those to come in the next year.  Graveyard Keeper by Tiny Build, which promises to be a “dark Stardew Valley for adults”, has a gallows humor that will be impossible to ignore.  There’s a gem in Moonlighter, a game that’s trying to combine Recettear and Zelda.  I finally got to try out Divinity 2: Original Sin, and I have no idea how I’m going to have the time to cram in over 100 hours of gameplay into that great game to review it.  There’s just simply too many great games out there for one person.

Adam's 3rd Day

Day 3 of PAX always feels like the most relaxed day of the convention. You, like everyone else who's still around after three days, have probably seen everything on your "must see" list. It's a day for roaming or for spending that little bit of extra time sitting at a table to learn a new board game. For a couple years running now, there's also been a megagame for those willing to trade in their entire 3rd day for an epic tabletop experience. Other folks like to get their shopping done, carrying precious loot back home.

I spent my final day at PAX doing the former couple of activities. I had the pleasure of playing a board game currently on Kickstarter called Dubai: Rebuild the Ruins. For what looked initially like just another worker placement game, I was pleasantly surprised at both the innovation and polish present. One of my takeaways from a game design panel I attended while at PAX was that board game creators should be wary of being too conservative in game design (a sentiment I agree with), and this game definitely heeded that lesson. There were regular exclamation of "wow, that power seems really strong" from every corner of the table, and soon all the players were rolling in resources and money as we built our way to victory. Dubai recognizes one of the great truths in board games: it's really fun to get lots of stuff. I had a blast playing it.

I also had a chance to visit Osiris: New Dawn (visited by Wyatt the previous day). What caught my eye wasn't the stunning visuals or combat. It was a simple message that popped up on one gamer's screen as I stopped to look on: "warning, suit breach." I was raised on science fiction, and the sci-fi geek in me is overjoyed that this game exists. Suit breaches? Sign. Me. Up! This game is everything space fans have been waiting for. There's crafting for food and supplies, maintenance of your base, weather effects that vary with the different planets, and scientifically accurate facts from real scientists on whose work the star system is centered. If you've ever watched The Martian (which was no small influence on Osiris) and dreamed of surviving in space, look no further. I full well expect to be playing this along with Wyatt. And if he gets on my bad side, I might just have to find something sharp to poke his suit with.

Eric's 3rd Day

The theme for my third and final day of PAX was appreciating how far gaming has come. In my lifetime alone we've gone from 8 bit graphics to VR rigs that were once the stuff of science fiction. Just a few short years ago those VR rigs were in their infancy, expensive gimmicks being pushed by the likes of Oculus. Before that? We had the Kinect, which almost everyone acknowledged was a flop, and we had Wii motion controls, which could be fun but were imprecise and extremely limited. On Sunday I got to demo not one, but two indie VR games.

The first game was called The American Dream, by Samurai Punk. The American Dream is a game about using guns for everything in life. The demo took me from being a baby in a crib just learning how to load and shoot guns, to a worker in a bagel factory using my guns to shoot holes in bagels (which is definitely how that works) and clear bad bagels off the assembly line. Putting on that VR headset for the first time was definitely a bit surreal, but it was a great experience overall. My only complaint was that the game moves you down a track, and the motion made me feel a little queasy. I don't know if that's the fault of the game, or just a quirk of mine.

The second VR game I demoed was called Blasters of the Universe, by Secret Location. This one was a strange, but great, combination of first-person-shooter and bullet hell. In one hand you have your gun, the other has a shield, and your hitbox is your head. You have to move your head to avoid bullet patterns while shooting back at the enemies. It's an awesome use of VR motion tracking. It's also really difficult. The demo makes you unkillable, but the developers told me after I played that a first time player lives, on average, about thirty seconds. Still, I absolutely love the concept, and I love that it gets people on their feet and moving, even if it's just bobbing and weaving your head.

Personally, I would love to see that same kind of concept put into a boxing game.

Wyatt's Closing Thoughts

Summarizing a convention of over 60,000 people feels like you are doing it wrong somehow; so many people get so many different things out of this event.  For some, its a way to connect with friends that they only 'see' online. For others, its about the panels, getting a chance to meet the director of their favorite game.  I know for me personally, I was stupidly gleeful when I went to the Final Fantasy XII panel, and was happily surprised when I got a chance to meet Tom Vasel from the Dice Tower at a board gaming event. For others, its a chance to try out the new shiny games that are everywhere, and find ones you had never heard about before.

This is Absolver's booth from PAX East - expect to see a lot of hype about it come summer this year

For me, its a mix.  The expo is a juggling act, between searching for new games to get excited over, buying a unique item or special edition game, getting to panels I wouldn't get a chance to see anywhere else, and spending time with friends. Every year, I feel as though if I commit to one of these four things too much, I lose out on some other great part of the event.  Fortunately, with the exception of Saturday, I felt like I made great progress in that balance.  The Indie Megabooth was rife with great games, the panels I went to on growing a positive gaming community were inspiring, and the choice to head back to the hotel early on Saturday to try out all our board games was perhaps one of my favorite parts of the trip.  I'm happy with how well this year went, and I already can't wait for next year, with all the new knowledge and experience I picked up this time around.

Oh, and as for finding a cool unique item?  Well...

How about an art print of Rembrandt's "Man with the Golden Helmet" overlaid with art and design from Final Fantasy Tactics? This is happily already up on my wall.

Adam's Closing Thoughts

I was remarking to a friend that at first it felt like a disappointment that there were no big reveals going on at PAX this year (aside from perhaps Mass Effect: Andromeda). Overwatch came out last year and was huge, as was FF15 and all the VR that swamped the expo floor. This year had much less of that grand pomp, and yet I felt as if the convention was no less worse for wear because of it. Not having to stand in major lines to feel like I wasn't missing out on something became liberating. This was a year for exploring the floor, moving along the periphery to find some real gems tucked in the corners of the convention. And there were so many gems to find. I even managed to squeeze in a quick game of Netrunner against a player I'd met back during the NYC Regionals last year.

PAX this year seemed so much more personable. Less time spent in big lines, and more time spent talking face to face with developers and fellow players. I attended more panels, all of which were thought provoking, full of substance, and all around entertaining. It was nice this year to simply have the freedom to wander. If it's true that it's the journey, not the destination, that counts, then this PAX was an even bigger success than last year's. I look forward to PAX 2018 with even greater anticipation than ever!

Eric's Closing Thoughts

I noticed two running themes in this year's PAX. From the panels, I noticed a pattern of talking about positivity and inclusiveness. Every day had at least one or two talking about how to bring new people into the gaming community, how to make people feel welcomed, or how to use gaming to help others. Since those are the very ideals on which Sprites and Dice was founded, you can expect an article talking about those panels very soon.

Out on the expo floor, it was all about how gaming technology and theory has advanced. I talked about VR in my day three wrap-up, how it's come so far so quickly that even indie companies are able to create and demo games for it now. Going back to my day two wrap-up, there is also a definite pattern of taking old, familiar concepts in gaming and storylines and putting new spins on them. Think of Dimension Drive, which takes the classic 1942 bullet-hell shooter genre and essentially has you play two games of it at once, or the new Shovel Knight expansion - that entire game is about taking classic gaming styles and making them shiny and new again.

I've also noticed a shift in storytelling style lately, especially from indie developers. More and more, games are pushing to let players discover the story for themselves through playing, rather than feeding it to them. Embers of Mirrim, which I demoed over the weekend, tells you nothing about the world, but you discover more and more about it as you play through. I also played a game called Earth Night, which does the same thing. The game doesn't tell you why you're falling down from space and slaying dragons along the way. You don't even know where the dragons came from or why they're attacking Earth, at least not at first. The devs told me (although the demo was strictly gameplay and didn't reflect this) that the story becomes clear as you get farther along.

If I were to use a single word to sum up what I saw at PAX East this year, it would be "progress." Progress in terms of game design, technology, and social progress as well. This expo gave me a lot of hope for the future of gaming.

The Wrap Up

So there you have it: PAX East 2017 in the bag. It was a hell of a convention, and you better believe that the three of us are going to be busy for the next month writing about all the great games we saw.  Were you able to go to the convention?  Did you see anything that jumped out at you?  Let us know: part of the fun of a convention is seeing so many people, and seeing what so many people get out of the big event.