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PAX 2008: Day Two Report

Brad Gallaway's picture

Day Two at the Penny Arcade Expo started off in true PAX fashion with the sounds of Rock Band flooding the Convention Center.

A group of eager musicians gave their rendition of ‘Learning to Fly' quite earnestly, with quite a few more would-be rockers waiting in the wings offstage. After a polite golf clap, the wife and I made our way to the press-only Q&A session with webcomic superstars Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik.

The relatively subdued session was credited to fatigue from the night before, though there were a few interesting bits of information to be had. In no particular order:

The sound of dice hitting mats is special to Jerry.

  • PAX has discouraged multi-story exhibition booths ala E3 to keep the scene mellow.
  • Approximately 75% of attendees are from outside Washington State.
  • The favorite swear word of the duo is "twatvomit'.
  • PAX East Coast is already selling exhibitor space for the show in 2010.
  • The offer was made to run Duke Nukem Forever on the main stage, only to be strangely
    denied by the developers.
  • The ‘Rain-Slick' game series will have four episodes, Ep. 2 is currently in production.
  • Ctrl+Alt+Del's Tim Buckley is viewed as an ‘art thief' by the duo.
  • The ‘PAX 10' spotlight on indie games will continue as a PAX tradition henceforth.

Having unfinished business on the Exhibition floor, my main priority for the day was to hit all the games that I missed on Day One. Unfortunately, the Expo was even more crowded today than it was yesterday, and it was tough at times to make progress through the massive crowds. However, did manage to see almost everything that I wanted to.

Left 4 Dead - PC, Xbox 360

In some ways quite surprising, and in others not surprising at all, Left 4 Dead was quite impressive in terms of presentation and energy level. Zombies in the game attack in large numbers and with great speed, and the image of ten or fifteen undead enemies rushing the player at once was genuinely horrific. I spent most of my time watching a multiplayer session where teammates' glowing silhouettes were visible through walls and architecture as an easy way to locate people in need of help. The action was fast and quite furious, and in one particularly brutal scene in the sewers, three out of the four members of the harried group were taken out of action in the span of just a few seconds. The game presents pretty much what I expected, just a lot faster and more raw than I had imagined.

Monster Lab - Wii , DS

This was a cute little game aimed at the younger set, though the needs of older players haven't been completely ignored. Tasked with creating mix-and-match monsters, kids venture out to perform tasks including a variety of minigames and turn-based one-on-one combat. The art style was attractive, and who doesn't like designing their own characters? Assistant producer Devon Detbrenner made a convincing case for the title.

Mercenaries 2: World in Flames - PS3, Xbox 360

Associate producer Ali Zandi put Mercs 2 through its paces for me, and I have to say that I walked away with a much higher opinion of the game then I initially expected. I was not a big fan of the first Mercenaries, deciding to bail on the title when I discovered that none of the munitions at my disposal could destroy a chain-link fence. When asked if such fences existed in the sequel, Zandi assured me that everything was destructible in the game, and that choosing your own path was encouraged. To demonstrate, airstrikes were called down on fuel refineries for satisfying explosions and physics-based damage. I didn't have any plans on checking the game out prior to the demo, but this display changed my mind.

Mirror's Edge - PC, PS3, Xbox 360

To be perfectly honest, I just don't get with the big deal is about this game. After demoing and watching one of the developers give his spiel, I'm just not at all impressed. If the game wasn't in first-person, it seems like it'd be about simple navigation and combat, which isn't anything new or noteworthy. The viewpoint shift didn't seem to add much in my estimation, and although the title seems solid enough, no excitement is generated.

Mortal Kombat Vs DC Universe - PS3, Xbox 360

What is there really to say about this? Although the graphics were nice and the character models were more visually attractive than they were the last time out, it's basically just a ludicrous idea. Actually seeing the Joker fight Scorpion was about as cool as it sounds, which is to say, not at all. Although most of the characters were still locked, representing MK were Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Sonya, Shang Tsung, Kitana. On the DC side were the Joker, Catwoman, the Flash, Superman and Batman. Mortal Kombat fans will want to check it out since it looks like more of the same, but I couldn't help shaking my head and scoffing. Yoda in Soul Calibur almost seems like a good idea compared to this.

LittleBigPlanet - PS3

Another one to file under "huh?" the fact that Sony is pinning so much on this title doesn't make any sense to me. The demo on display featured three or four different worlds, and four players at a time took them on. After a brief session customizing avatars, the action was quite simplistic and hardly anything that looked interesting. Granted, a big hook to the game is going to be the player-created content, but even so, I can't imagine this disc having much more than niche appeal. I've been wrong before and I may be wrong now, but I just don't get LittleBigPlanet.


The Pax 10 were clustered together and surrounded by beanbags in the Exhibition Hall, and if these selections are any indication, there are a lot of extremely talented game designers just waiting to be discovered. The highlights were:

The Maw

Probably the most ‘traditional' of the bunch, it's a bright, colorful adventure I name-checked in yesterday's coverage. Having already secured a deal for distribution through Xbox Live Arcade, look for this one soon... it looks like a lot of fun.

Sushi Bar Samurai

At least six months away from being released, this title was already looking good. Developer Casey Muratori was on hand to explain the intricate mechanics. Presented in a charming ghost world, the player takes on the role of a sushi-crafting samurai who must assemble the proper dishes to satisfy the spirits he meets on his journey. By combining different food elements in unconventional puzzle-type gameplay, this one looks like a real sleeper hit. At the time of this posting, there are no console distribution plans.

Impulse

A crowd favorite, Impulse was created by students at RIT. The goal is to guide a sphere through use of magnetic polarity and well-timed explosions. The school has cleared the title for sale to interested parties, though no other specifics were given.

Polarity

Another school creation using magnetism as a mechanic, the visual design was crisp and clear and the platform style of play was instantly relatable. Unfortunately, the game is reportedly only 20 minutes long and since the development team has graduated and gone their separate ways, the future of this title is uncertain.

Leading the Exhibition floor behind, we made our way to the Main Theatre for Bethesda's developer walkthrough of Fallout 3.

In a word: WOW.

Being a fan of the Fallout franchise and having respect for Bethesda's work with Oblivion (even if I wasn't its biggest fan), the footage shown and the elements highlighted by the devs went further than I was expecting and will undoubtedly be one of the biggest titles of the year. Socks were definitely knocked off.

The extended demo was about 30 minutes of gameplay selected to highlight features, and not the same 30 minutes that the average player will first encounter upon starting the game themselves.


Neither of these Bethesda guys is Todd Howard.

The first noticeable feature was a draw distance that goes "all the fucking way", to quote Bethesda's Todd Howard. And it does. From the portal of the Vault where the game begins, objects were clear and discernible all the way to the horizon. The level of detail in the environment was stunning, surpassing anything I can think of currently running on the 360 and with the frame rate allegedly locked at 30fps, it's extremely smooth.


Now you're playing with power.

Several weapons were shown, notably the Powerfist (a huge metal hand used to inflict melee damage capable of exploding skulls) and a rifle which shoots railroad spikes that can impale parts of enemies on the architecture behind them. Complementing the weaponry was the game's ability to be played in real-time or slowed down to give players a chance to focus on specific parts of enemies. Damage incurred by the opposition will have specific effects on their performance, and items will be able to be salvaged after victories.

The lockpicking minigame displayed later actually used a bobby pin and screwdriver, and the computer hacking game resembled going through the BIOS of a computer, line by line of code. The detail and care given to the re-imagining of these features was quite heartening, and began to reinforce the idea that the developers were going above and beyond to craft an experience that at this point looks to be second-to-none in terms of open-world role-playing.


Groin targeting was noticeably absent.

I was already fairly excited for the title, but after the demo I was ready to go down to Gamestop and pay for my copy in full. Can't wait.

That's it for Day Two coverage. Check back tomorrow for Day Three's final.

Read more at Drinking Coffeecola blog.

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