My PAX East 2016 Highlights: The Expo Floor

I know I’m a little late on writing this up–the days following the expo were a little crazy–but I wanted to share my experiences at my first gaming convention, PAX East. I’ve been watching shows like E3 and PAX from the outside for years, and I’ve always wanted to go, but have never had the opportunity. Then some friends, veteran PAXgoers, offered us a couple of their tickets, and I knew I had to go. To me, PAX was two distinct experiences: The claustrophobic-yet-exciting expo floor with all of its developers and vendors vying for your attention, and the more passive and interesting panels. Today I’d like to highlight a few of my personal favorite things from the expo floor. I’ll talk about my favorite panels in the coming days. I feel a little bit bad about my choices (only a little bit), because the show was really stolen by shooters like Overwatch and MOBAs like League of Legends, but those aren’t really my thing. But hey, this is my blog; I can write about whatever I want, right? Without further ado, here is my list.

Favorite Upcoming Game: Hob
Hob LogoIf you haven’t played Runic Games’ excellent Diablo-like Torchlight II, stop what you’re doing and go grab it. It’s probably my post played game on Steam, and the community has come up with some very well done mods. So when I heard that Runic was working on a new game called Hob, and that it was going to be at PAX, I had to check it out. I got to play a demo at their booth, and, while it had a uniquely Runic feel to it, the gameplay was much different from Torchlight, in all the right ways. From what I can tell, it’s more like Zelda than Diablo, with a bit of Metroid thrown in. It sports linear (presumably non-random) maps with a lot of smooth platforming, and item upgrades as you go rather than the levels, skills points, gear drops, and totally flat maps you’d associate with Diablo-likes. One such upgrade was the grappling hook, which had a very Metroid look and feel to it. They did a good job of using the grappler in creative and interesting ways, both as a means of puzzle solving and as a part of boss fights. Overall it had a great atmosphere and the quality gameplay I’d expect from Runic, and I’m excited to get to play more of it when it launches. Sadly, the guys at the booth didn’t have a launch target date.
Incidentally, I inquired about the promised Torchlight Mobile, and they said it’s still in development, also without a launch date. To me, the fact that this indie studio is supposedly working on two different games at once means that Torchlight Mobile is either nearly finished or nearly abandoned. Hopefully it’s the former, because, while the Play Store has a variety of action RPG titles, none of them compare to the quality of the Torchlight series.

Favorite Early Access: 20XX
20XXIf you’re a Mega Man fan, you can already guess what this game is. For those not in the know, 20XX is the ambiguous year(s) in which the Mega Man and Mega Man X games take place. Basically, 20XX is a faithful recreation of the best thing about the Mega Man X games, with a uniquely indie spin, even down to the choice of two playable characters, who play like X and Zero, respectively. The levels are randomized, so things are a little different every playthrough. Rather than the “Eight bosses in any order” model of the Mega Man games, 20XX takes an arcade approach–think Rogue Legacy or some of the other roguelite games we’ve seen in recent years–with the player trying to get through as many levels as they can before running out of health. Constant references to geek, gaming, and popular culture make the game extra entertaining. I got a chance to talk with both the programmer and the artist (who, as far as I can tell, comprise the entire team, which, as a member of a two man game dev team myself, is very encouraging), and they were both cool guys who seemed passionate about their game. They told me they are trying to learn from the mistakes and disappointments of certain other Mega Man-like games (I can’t imagine what they were talking about) who overpromised on their feature set and didn’t listen to their community early enough in the development process. As far as I can tell, they’re doing a great job so far.
The graphics in 20XX aren’t going to win any awards, but they’re far from painful to look at (which, to be honest, is all I’m really looking for when I play a 2D platformer, especially an indie one), and the music is perfect for an indie Mega Man-ish game. I’ve already spent several hours in the game, and it’s exactly what I was hoping it would be.
You can get it now on Steam Early Access. The devs tell me that the price will only continue to go up as the game develops, with a final cost around $15, so picking it up sooner rather than later seems like a good idea.

Favorite Cosplay: Mega Man, Proto Man, and Metal Man

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I didn’t get these cosplayers’ names, but if you know them I’d be happy to attribute if you leave a comment

Speaking of Mega Man, I couldn’t help but share this awesome Mega Man group cosplay, which was by far my favorite cosplay at PAX. I didn’t get it in this picture, but their buster guns even lit up!
From what I saw, Pokemon trainers were by far the most popular cosplay this year, outnumbering the ever-present Links and Vault Dwellers. I also saw a really impressive Sith Twi’lek couple, but sadly didn’t get a picture. I was surprised to see a number of oldschool RuneScape cosplayers, though I guess a paper crown and a cardboard anti-dragon shield isn’t exactly the most involved or expensive cosplay out there.

Sadly there wasn’t much MMO presence on the floor this year, and the ones that were there were games I’m not as interested in (like Final Fantasy XIV), but that’s likely due to the fact that there aren’t many new MMOs on the horizon right now. There was still a lot to see and do, and plenty I never got to. PAX East 2016 was my first gaming convention, and if it’s the only one I ever get to go to, I’ll be satisfied. I’d love to make it an annual thing, but realistically it may not be possible for a while, and that’s ok.
Be sure to check back soon for part two, where I’ll talk about some of my favorite panels!

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Catching Up

Here’s a little of this and that from around my gaming life that hasn’t made its way to a post of its own.

First of all, you may have noticed the lack of MMO Tourism posts lately. That’s because I’ve hit a couple of discouraging games. First was EverQuest II. Moving around felt somewhat clunky, outmatched only by the painfully slow combat. I’m guessing that, aside from the fact that it came out in 2004 and most RPGs were generally a little slower-paced back then, this is partly a holdover from the first EverQuest which, coming out in 1999, was played primarily by dial-up users, which meant they had to account for a lot of latency. Even in 2004 a significant number of Internet users were on dial-up (I think my family didn’t get broadband until around that time, despite being online since 1995). Combine that with the fact that they were more or less inventing the modern MMORPG as they went along, and I can’t really blame SOE. But to a modern player, coming off of titles like WildStar and Guild Wars 2, it’s really hard to get in to, and I couldn’t really get past that. I hope to give it another go, but my first impressions were not good ones.

I also gave Dungeons and Dragons Online a shot, but for some reason it crashed a lot. I used to have similar problems with Turbine’s other game, Lord of the Rings Online, every now and then, but not nearly this bad. I tried three times to make a character and gave up after it crashed each time before I even got in the world. I’ll have to do some googling to see if there’s some settings that will make it more stable on my setup. Maybe it has to do with my recent Windows 8/SSD upgrade? Or just ATI’s latest crappy drivers?

I’m a little late to the party on this one, but I finally got to read Worlds Collide, the epic Sonic the Hedgehog/Mega Man crossover comic book miniseries from Archie comics. Sonic and Mega Man have always been my favorite characters since before I can remember, so to have them together in one semi-official story is a dream come true. I love the art style and the overall cleverness of the writing. So many witty references to both games; the writers are clearly big fans of both series. It’s probably the most amazing game-related thing I’ve ever read. I’ve been buying them as compiled graphic novels, so I’m still eagerly waiting for the last arc later this month (no spoilers please!). I highly recommend them for fans of either series. Since I got my hands on the first one I’ve been on kind of a Mega Man kick (I’ve been trying to finally beat the last few levels of Mega Man 10 that I never got through, and my ringtone may or may not be the Proto Man whistle right now…), and this has renewed my sense of frustration that Capcom seems completely uninterested in further developing the series since creator Keiji Inafune left the company in 2010. I have high hopes for his new games, Mighty No. 9 and Azure Striker Gunvolt, apparent spiritual successors to the Mega Man and Mega Man Zero series, respectively, but I’m afraid it’s just not going to be the same. At least we have the comic book for the foreseeable future.

My necromancer in Guild Wars 2 continues to progress nicely. I have a good rotation down for cranking out lots of damage and DOTs using my wand/dagger and staff, and can take down most Veteran mobs without taking much damage, even without popping into death shroud (aka high damage, resource-is-health mode). Unfortunately I’m nearing that critical 25-35 range where most of my alts die, but I don’t see that happening with this one (of course, I’ve said that before). I also can’t decide which zone to do next, as I’ve done all of them at this level range. I wish I could skip over them and do some of the higher level content I haven’t seen yet. I guess that’s what I get for being an altaholic. I’m leaning toward the Charr zone next, since I’ve never played a Charr and I’ve only mapped that zone once.

In other Guild Wars 2 news, the new season of the Living World started last week. I missed out on most of season one (due mostly to the fact that I took my time getting to 80, and by the time I got there I was so behind that I had no idea what was going on or why I should care), so I can’t really judge whether season 2 has improved, but I like what they’re doing with it so far. The dialog and cutscenes are done more the way I would expect from an MMO, using in-game graphics and occasionally textboxes, and not like the personal story cutscenes that yank you out of the game and show the characters awkwardly talking past each other (which you’ve heard me rant about many times if you’ve been reading my ramblings on Guild Wars 2 for long). I really like the living story cast of characters a lot better than the personal story/Destiny’s Edge characters. They’re a lot more colorful and less generic racial stereotypes. I also like that they’re all obvious player classes. I never felt like I knew exactly what class Zojja or Caithe were supposed to be (I guess Eir was a ranger since she had a pet? And they refer to Traherne as a Necromancer, but he uses a greatsword), but the new group (do they get a cool name like Destiny’s Edge? If so I haven’t heard it yet) are comprised of obvious classes with identifiable skills that can be used by players (with the exception of Taimi, who uses her golem to fight). Also, without spoiling too much for those who may not have done it yet, that last boss fight is incredibly annoying. I can’t tell you how many times I got knocked off of that blasted rock, and the Zephyrite lightning jump kept glitching out for me and not landing anywhere near where I put down the target. It was worth it, though, and I’m looking forward to how the plot developers in the next episode.

Playing Catch-Up On Console Games

Sadly, I kind of did this in 2010
I’m mostly a PC gamer, but when I do play consoles, I’ve always been a Nintendo loyalist. But recently my fiancée moved her three generations of Playstation to my house, and I’ve been picking my way through her game collection, as well as adding a few console exclusives I’ve been wishing to try. I feel a little lame every time I realize that the game I’m playing came out five, ten, even fifteen years ago, but fun has no expiration date, right?

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