So that's that. PAX South is done and dusted. The very first PAX in the southern part of the United States and a much needed release valve for the crowded PAX Prime and PAX East.
I've been to a number of gaming-related conventions over the years, but PAX holds a special place in my heart. I don't get to travel abroad for Gamescom or EGX, so PAX is my chance to see developers and fans interact. For many devs, it's the first time they get to see their hard work reach real people. (Not that I'm not real, but it's different. I always feel like I have to be measured in my excitement when a dev asks "What did you think?")
What follows are some of my observations about the newest sibling in the PAX lineup.
The Mid-Tier Gets to Shine
All of the various conventions have different focuses. E3 is a mighty extravaganza where the biggest and the best compete to show everyone who will rule the next 12 months. GDC is the same developers in a more measured and introspective affair. PAX Prime and PAX East cover two different ends, featuring games from some of the biggest publishers alongside a very strong indie developer showing.
The problem with PAX South is it's stuck at the end of January. Most of those major publishers have spent themselves on the holiday shopping season and it's too early to announce what's next. It's rather odd timing for a show, given that East is only six weeks later with a larger attendance. For the big players, it's better to save their money and wait.
That translated to a smaller expo hall for South with a different mix of exhibitors. Instead, some of the mid-level publishers and developers got the chance to be front-and-center. Twitch remained a PAX staple with a sizable booth, but right next to them was Grey Box, publisher of Grey Goo and Dreadnought. Right behind Twitch was another big booth dedicated to Gigantic, the new competitive multiplayer game from Motiga. TinyBuild (Speedrunners), Devolver Digital (BroForce, Hotline Miami 2), Trendy Entertainment (Dungeon Defenders II), Undead Labs (State of Decay), and Frontier Developments (Elite Dangerous), Ronimo (Awesomenauts) also got the chance to be closer to the front of the hall.
The indie presence was still pretty big, even if it wasn't as well concentrated compared to the Indie MegaBooths of the larger shows. I'm reasonably sure the potential focus will change as PAX South grows, but it was nice to see some different titles feeling the prestige.
The 3DS Owns America, and America Owns the 3DS
I walked by the Handheld Lounge a few times on my way to different events. If you haven't been at a PAX before, the Handheld Lounge is basically a large area of beanbags where people and lay down, play their handheld games together, and relax.
I did not find a single PlayStation Vita at any point during the weekend. If I wasn't a part of the game industry, I doubt I would have even known the Vita existed as a valid handheld platform. The 3DS has an overwhelming presence at PAX events and PAX South is no different. The Handheld Lounge is a sea of people on 3DSes, playing Pokemon and Monster Hunter. I even saw a few iPads and Android tablets playing Hearthstone once or twice.
The lonely Vita in my bag asked, "Does anyone want to NEAR?" while the 3DS just kept pinging StreetPasses. It was sad, creating within me an existential ennui. If you never see anyone with a Vita, does the Vita really exist?
Small Group Competitive is What's Next
I understand it's partially because that's what plays well on the show floor, but there were a number of games allowing small teams of friends to play together co-operatively or competitively. It felt like there were fewer single-player experiences than there have been in past PAX events. These games came in two flavors: four-player, same screen games on the indie side and 5v5 action on the mid-tier.
In the first category I played Brawlhalla, Capsule Force, Just Beats and Shapes, Videoball, Gunsport, HiveJump, Super Slam Dunk Touchdown, Speedrunners, Check In Knock Out, No Time to Explain, and BroForce. Every game let you and three friends duke it out or work together. Many of them had play sessions measured in less than ten minutes. They're all very conductive to random quick play and the excitement level felt higher on the indie side of PAX because these smaller, more friendly games. Sometimes it's better to be able to look over at a friend or opponent and say "good job!"
In the second category, it seems that larger developers have decided that 5v5 is the perfect size for competitive multiplayer between two teams. It's something I've noticed before now (and will probably write more on later), with Rainbow Six Siege, Battleborn, Overwatch, Far Cry 4, and Orcs Must Die Unchained all featuring competitive play with that specific team size. Dreadnought and Gigantic continued this trend on the PAX South show floor. I admit that number feels about right, letting you contribute meaningfully without also feeling like you're dragging the team down if you fail. I'm a bit intrigued as to why that's the magic number outside of "because that's what MOBAs do."
Either way, playing together seems far more important this generation and PAX South overall was a testament to this idea. That's not to say there were no single-player games on the show floor: I played Rebel Galaxy, Freedom Planet, and A King's Bird, which are all single-player titles, but multiplayer definitely had a stronger showing at this show.
So that's the first PAX in the great state of Texas! It was a solid start and if South grows like East did, gaming fans can expect some more great shows in San Antonio (they've contracted the same venue until 2017). This week, you'll also get all of my previews and interviews from the show, so look forward to finding out about some new titles you may not have heard of before!