What it’s like being at PAX

As soon as you approach the Melbourne Convention Center these days, you will see the above sign. It welcomes you “home”. “Home”, as in a place where you belong. And truer words have never been spoken. Gaming is something that nowadays connects 65+ year-old’s to 14 year-old’s, whether that game is called Pokemon Go!, Fortnite or Candy Crush. The community has spread out so wide that you would need to have your head stuck persistently in the past to not be able to see this, as some communities still do unfortunately.

So here I was at PAX Australia, finally. And even though I had been to such a big gaming event in the past (check out my post about Paris Games Week a few years back), I knew that this was going to be something to remember. After all, there are only a few conventions worldwide that go under the name “PAX” and most of them are in the States, plus this year they were partnering with EB Expo to make the event even bigger.

I wasn’t wrong either. As soon as I stepped into the expo hall, there were big booths with all the greatest soon-to-come or fresh-out-of-the-oven hits by PlayStation, Nintendo, Xbox and PC. Of course there were independent developers as well (commonly known as “indies” within the industry) and a lot of them were from Australian Universities. There was a special area dedicated specifically to them titled “PAX Rising”, which from what I know happened for the first year ever.

An area that caught my attention was the “Classic Gaming” space, where you could see where it all began. You had your Atari’s and your Commodore’s all on display and you could also try out some of the first games. I saw someone playing Alex Kidd on the Mega Drive and my mind traveled back quite a few years to Sydney where me, my cousin and the son of my mum’s friend who was around the same age as us would sit around the TV and play that game. Also there were a few Super Nintendo’s there but by now I’m used to seeing those.

Another great space that I noticed wasn’t as loud as the game hall was the Tabletop lounge, where people played card games (not on motorcycles). I noticed the Final Fantasy game is getting quite some traction, something that I am personally not okay with as I consider it an exploitation of the series, but that’s a discussion better saved for another time. I was really pleasantly surprised to see just how many people are still in touch with these more traditional forms of entertainment. I didn’t stick around for any of them due to my lack of time, but I would never dismiss them. Besides, I still play the Pokemon TCG every now and again.

And speaking of Pokemon, I think it’s time I get to the nitty-gritty of this piece: what games were there? Which games were absent? Which ones did I play and what was my opinion of them? Okay, here goes.

As soon as I got into the hall, the first thing I noticed in front of me was a Smash Bros Ultimate wall of characters and above that, a screen advertising the game. It was fully playable and there was even a tournament going on. I didn’t get to try it out unfortunately but people were going berserk over it. I did spy on some Cloud Strife wins though (attaboy spikey!)

Around the corner from that though, there was another huge line of people (seems to be a common theme at these events) waiting to try out Pokemon Let’s Go! Eevee and Pikachu. Thankfully I was smart enough to wait until the closing hours of the show and seeing I wasn’t in a group, they let me try it out for a bit. However, what I have to say about it may not excite Pokemon fans. The game is extremely underwhelming. Imagine taking the essence of Pokemon Go! (which is going outside to look for the creatures) and simply putting it on the screen. That’s all it is. Alright, the animations in the battles look gorgeous, I’m willing to give it that much, but they could’ve done much more than keep it tied down to the Kanto region. That really holds back an already limited title. This looks like 90’s mechanics in 2018’s visuals. Not good I’m afraid. I hope what Game Freak have under wraps for their next Pokemon console title is a lot better cause I got bored after 10 minutes.

Next to the whole Nintendo booth was a line waiting for one hour to play (what else?) Kingdom Hearts 3. I’m gonna do a separate piece with my opinion regarding this title, however the love so many people have for it got me excited enough on its own. If there’s gonna be a launch event somewhere downtown, you can bet your goofy boots I’m gonna be there to “share the magic”. It was a long wait to try it out but as I said to someone who asked me about it “I waited 10 years for it, another hour or so won’t bother me.”

Right across from Kingdom Hearts 3 (and Jump Force, they kinda had a shared booth being under the Bandai Namco umbrella. I got to try it out again and I really like Jump Force) was the Playstation booth. PS pulled a bit of a BS move in my opinion as they kept both Days Gone and the Resident Evil 2 Remake in hidden rooms. So unless you were willing to wait in line, standing for over an hour for RE2, or even worse download an app and book your time to try out Days Gone (clear exploitation and a way to get their name on people’s phones), there was simply no way you could see those two titles. Completely unacceptable marketing strategies and especially towards the people that made them who they are today. It’s like they’re afraid of showing the titles to too many people cause they had no faith in them. I’m scared to think of what would happen should they had brought The Last Of Us II to this event.

From the games that I did get to see from Sony, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice surprised me with how wonderfully vibrant it looks. It’s definitely not a NiOh copy because I remember trying that game and it was way too grim. In Sekiro you can see the cherry blossom trees and what separates Feudal Japan from other places and times. I am definitely more invested in this title. There was also a small lounge-like area in which one of the people from Media Molecule, developers of Dreams explained how the title works. I wanted to see it but unfortunately didn’t have the time as it clashed with some other things I wanted to attend.

Of course every other major title that has already been released was there: Spider-Man, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, the only one I didn’t see was Red Dead Redemption II but we all know that Rockstar play by their own rules and never join these parties. At some stage I noticed a huge video wall with Vegeta kicking the crap out of Kakarot (pure joy) and it got me thinking how much DragonBall FighterZ has stuck with audiences. It has been everywhere, I even saw an event in Greece before I left.

Ori and the Wild Forest was the one thing that really grabbed me from the Xbox booth as everything else is already pretty much available on other consoles. The lack of demand is evident from the fact that Kingdom Hearts 3 was available to try out in the Xbox area as well, yet not even a quarter of the people were gathered there as they were in the actual KH3 booth. Maybe they didn’t notice or maybe most of them just grew up playing the franchise on their PlayStations, I don’t know…

Speaking of PlayStation, one really nice touch by the Japanese giants was a form of “museum” they had in their own booth in which you could see each of their consoles, the year it came out and a bit of a story behind it. It’s unbelievable that we’re already 21 years from the first ever PS console. There were also some great consoles on display, such as the Switch Pokemon Let’s Go! edition or the Xbox One X Fallout 76 edition. Bethesda had their very own dedicated space at the expo as did GameSpot but sorry folks, I couldn’t find them. VR also had a strong presence throughout the halls of the event. Apart, from PlayStation’s own separate PSVR titles, there was a separate area in which people could try out hovering, driving, playing cricket, and all other forms of virtual reality activities. Even though I have my opinions about how I don’t like the way this is being forcefully marketed upon the public, I have to admit some of it seems fun.

It wasn’t all just games though. There were a lot of interesting panels as well. I attended three of them. Although I’m not too sure about the first one, as they had game developers trying to answer questions while eating spicier levels of chicken wings, to the point of someone getting the hiccups and the whole thing just deteriorating into a mess (as was the point from the beginning I’m assuming). The second panel was a lot more informative but also a bit cleansing, as people gathered and shared their stories regarding how gaming impacted their lives. It was challenging to get up in front of a room of tens of people, with a camera on my face and talk about my life’s story and how I’ve been living for the past 20 years in a society that thinks that if you’re a gamer, you’re just a waste of time, but I did it anyway. Finally, the third panel was regarding video game reviews that was truly interesting and fun at the same time, yet I feel left me with more questions than answers: if a gaming site or a reviewer is promoting a specific game title, can they truly be trusted as subjective and not bias? How do you conduct a proper review? Do you emphasize more on your personal experiences on your titles or do you mainly point out what the game mechanics are? Do you honestly pay attention to comments when you have hundreds of them coming in?

Anyway, those were my impressions from my very first (yet definitely not last) PAX event. I really enjoyed the show and next year I’ll be there for the whole three days and not just the one. These types of events bring the whole community together and I was pleasantly surprised to find people who are hard working, smart, and have now found their own place in Australia’s society (some of them work for ABC). One image that stuck to me as I was leaving though were these two older women (must’ve been in their late 50's-early 60’s) trying to take a picture with a huge Poke-ball and Pokemon Let’s Go! sign that was near the entrance, with one of them saying “get me closer to Pikachu!” Then it hit me… we really are a huge community.

Originally published at sopeoplewhatsup.blogspot.com on October 27, 2018.

Media graduate, professional journalist and self-proclaimed Final Fantasy fanboy. Interests (and die-hard passions) include gaming and sports (mainly football).