The Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) came to Australia this year for the first time, bringing with it a gigantic celebration of all things nerdy, video games in particular. We joined thousands of geeks in Melbourne to get some hands-on time with upcoming games and new technology, as the Melbourne Showgrounds became games central for three days.
PAX was different to most of the other expos. It wasn’t just an opportunity for the industry to show off the latest technical marvels. It was a place for fans of video games and geek culture to get together and share their interests.
Major games publishing houses Ubisoft and Nintendo were showing off their 2013 line-up, along with around two dozen independent developers who passionately displayed games they had designed in their homes, with teams of just two to four people. It was a strong indicator that indie companies will be a large part of the future of games development in Australia. It’s an exciting prospect, given the high level of creativity on display.
Most of the games on show were suitable for all ages, but some titles were demonstrated behind closed curtains, restricted to players with an 18+ wristband, due to mature content such as highly-detailed, realistic combat, and other violence.
Hardware manufacturers were peppered about the room, pushing their gear to the absolute limit. They were a passing curiosity for most, but the hardcore tech-heads watched in awe as companies cooled their graphics cards with liquid nitrogen.
A hardware highlight was the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset with the potential to dramatically change the way consumers immerse themselves in entertainment. The games were great, but the virtual cinema, complete with a Wolverine trailer, really showcased what the Rift can do. Imagine being able to sit down and watch a movie in your own private cinema or walk around a virtual world that not only looks, but actually feels realistic, in the privacy of your home. And that’s just the start.
Microsoft previewed its upcoming Xbox One, due for release before Christmas. The presentation briefly detailed the technical specs before diving into the new Kinect, complete with a live demo from an energetic Xbox staffer.
The live demo showed off some of the more impressive, if somewhat creepy, additions to the motion-sensing tech. It detected the pulse of the energetic showman, at a distance - revealing that New Kinect can respond to your body both inside and out.
It appears that Microsoft is going all out to make the Xbox One with Kinect the go-to console for fitness-conscious gamers. The strong showing of Microsoft and Nintendo only made Sony’s absence all the more noticeable.
Panels, Q&A sessions and presentations ran throughout each day, with the waiting time of around two hours a good pointer to their high popularity. Industry favourites, including developers and journalists, got together to discuss current events and share expert opinions on various aspects of the games industry.
Classic consoles and tabletop tournaments
Tucked between food stalls and a relaxation zone filled with beanbags was the classic console museum, with nearly three dozen games systems dating back to the early 1970s. All were to play. It was a fun trip down memory lane with the Atari 7800, Nintendo’s Super Entertainment System (SNES), and the incredibly popular Commodore 64 from 1982.
The museum seemed to be filled with parents wanting to show their kids the games they grew up with. Some youngsters looked unimpressed by the 8-bit graphics, but most of them seemed to enjoy the hardware of yesteryear – at least until they tried to play the games, and realised the level of difficulty.
PAX also devoted a massive area to the increasingly popular genre of tabletop games, ranging from traditional casual board games to in-depth strategy titles such as Warhammer. The room was constantly filled with newcomers and longtime players alike. Everywhere, signs reading “learn to play,” “ask us how,” or “join in,” were sitting atop the tables, as experts volunteered their time to show newcomers how to get involved.
The community attitude made it pretty clear that geek culture in Australia is stronger than ever. Cosplayers (people who dress up as video game characters) were popular photo opportunities, and complete strangers bonded over their love of a particular franchise while stuck in line for a panel. In an environment that was friendly, inviting and inclusive, PAX had something for everyone.
The show wrapped up Sunday night to a final announcement over the PA and a mighty cheer from the crowd. If you’re interested in video games, board games, or want to find a place where you can learn about them, we recommend going to PAX next year. Everybody is welcome.