Mar 18 2011

PAX East 2011 Part 2: Video Games

While Penny Arcade is a web comic, PAX is primarily based around video games.  In fact, with its attendance of 70,000, PAX East is the largest video game convention in the country.  So there.

Most of the big name games (Old Republic, Portal 2, LA Noir, 3DS) were all but inaccessible.  Most of them had a 3 to 4 hour wait.  As part of my resolution to not spend the entire con in line, I didn’t get to see much of these.  The LA Noir booth had a video playing on the outside, and Old Republic was visible without playing it, but the others were enclosed so without waiting in line there was nothing to see.  With the exception of Old Republic, those games are all coming out soon; it’s not like this was my only chance to see them.

Most of the games I enjoy playing are the less mainstream games anyway, and PAX is great for that.  I’ve got a bit of information about a lot of them.

Let’s jump right in.

Tropico 4

Alright, so there’s nothing really mind blowing here. I love the older Tropico games, and this game promises not to disappoint. Far from just being a rehash of the old stuff though, they have added new missions, new buildings, and a new mechanic. You can now get a counsel of ministers elected to help you get some of your more questionable plans passed and into effect. They’ve also added interactive natural disasters.  As I said, nothing really life changing, but I think it promises to be a really solid game.

Magic: Duels of the Plainswalkers 2012

Like Tropico, this is a sequel that while basically the same game as the original adds a pretty fantastic new feature.

The Magic TCG added a new multiplayer format called Archenemy.  It allows one player to control one large, epic enemy and up to 3 other players work together to take him down. I’ve played it a couple of times and you really have to have a strong deck and a strong coordinated effort in order to defeat the archenemy.  I’ve been crushed a number of times when the archenemy pulls a card that allows him to place a pile of 5/5 flying dragons on the board… and there’s nothing you can do about it.  They’ve added this multiplayer mode to the already pretty fantastic video game.

Defeating the archenemy doesn’t seem nearly as insurmountable as in the card game.  Brian and I did wait in line for this one, and we were matched up with one other person to take down Koth.  We were ultimately (and fairly smoothly) successful.  I think a large part of this was that the cards happened to be with us and not against us.  Only a couple of unlucky draws and we could have been in serious trouble.  I’m super excited for this game to come out.  I’ve been really into cooperative board games lately, and having a co-op video game that isn’t a shooter is pretty exciting.

If you are at all interested in Magic, even learning to play the card game, I highly recommend picking up the digital version.  It really helped me learn how to play, and I also get to play decks with more complex mechanics (landfall) that I would hate playing in a physical deck.  It’s rather akin to my love of playing Risk on the computer; there’s far less that you have to worry about figuring out. And far less for you to get wrong.

Child of Eden

This game looks pretty awesome.  It’s something kind of like a mellower Geometry Wars involving shooting shapes.  I can’t say that I was 100% certain of what was going on.

The game is apparently a spiritual successor to a PS2 game called Rez.  I never played it, but when I looked it up I discovered that it’s the game that in Japan came with an extra vibration piece you were supposed to put in your pocket to make the game more immersive.  (I remember reports that it was not being used for immersion, but that it was a great incentive for girls to play video games.)

Anyway, the interesting thing about Child of Eden is that it is a Kinect game.  For there to be a non-sports based Kinect game is pretty awesome in the first place, and watching people play is rather like watching them do Tai Chi. It also manages to be a Kinect game that’s not targeted at being a party game.  Other than the fitness “games”, there haven’t been many released that I really feel like I would use all by myself.  This one  seems like it could be really relaxing and fun.


I am totally excited about this game and it comes out next week on both the PS3 and 360.  It’s made by Hothead Games of DeathSpank and Penny Arcade Adventures fame.

It’s sort of a cross between Overlord and World of Goo.  The basic premise is that you start the level in command of 50 little Swarmites.  You get points based on how many of them make it to the end of the level.  You are meant to sacrifice some (in the demo video they show them all jumping off a cliff so that some can jump across their heads to get to the other side) and as you go on, some of them get different abilities (it looked to me like a few of them were on fire).  It’s that perfect combination of platformer and puzzle game that always gets me hooked.

Orcs Must Die

I won’t lie.  Just from seeing the name of this game I felt a little conflicted.  I mean, hey, I like orcs.  I like having them around.  I don’t want to kill them. Then I saw some gameplay and I got over it.

This game looks crazy. It’s a combination hack and slash and tower defense. Fear not, oh ye tower defense haters. It’s not like that. Instead of the standard fare of gathering resources and building units, you’ve got these traps you can place in the path of the oncoming orcs. There are spikes that shoot out of the floor, blocks that fall from the ceiling, springboards that launch them across the room.

Also different from your tradition tower defense is that you are an actual character running around and you have the ability to kill the orcs yourself.  This game has the potential to be incredibly fun or incredibly frustrating. Either way, the art style is fantastic and it looks like a solid purchase for me.


This game is not for me.  Then again, it never set out to be.  However, I feel like I need to mention it because it was the thing that Brian was most excited about seeing.

The game is described as a team based action shooter.  In reality, it’s a free to play MMO*. It’s a little bit Halo, a little bit TF2, developed by a guy who used to work on World of Warcraft. The game looks really awesome if you’re into those sorts of games, and I’ll admit that the art style is pretty cool.

Instead of classes, players will be able to use battleframes which will determine their combat style.  You can add to these battleframes or switch them at any time (I love the smell of microtransactions in the morning). It’s a really interesting concept and while it may not be my type of game to play, I’m interested to see how it does in the market.

*The developers have said that they don’t want to call it an MMO because it doesn’t fit into the traditional form of one.  I think they problem they have is that RPG so often gets automatically assumed at the end of MMO because, well, those are the types of MMOs that are on the market and doing well.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

This was the game I was most excited to see at PAX… and the only think I missed out on completely.  The keynote started late and ran long, and the Reckoning panel had already started when we got out (and was already full).  I had figured they would probably be on the floor as well, but sadly, they weren’t.  I’ll have to take my friends’ speechlessness as testimony that it’s going to be an awesome game. I’m just sad I didn’t get to see it for myself.

There were two games that are already out that I had passed over but as a result of seeing them in person, I am now very interested in.  One is Risk: Factions.  I adore a good game of Risk, especially a video game version.  The fewer tiny plastic army dudes I have to cram onto Australia, the better. I figured that I’ve already got Risk games, what do I need another one for.  The game said, “Yes, but now you can play Risk… as a cat.”  I’m in.

The other game is Raskulls.  It’s got over world levels and bonus stages with puzzles.  And the cutest art ever. Precious.  Gonna have to pick that one up too.

Well, that covers about half of the games that are out to take my money in the near future.  I’ve got a few pretty awesome board games to talk about in another upcoming post.

May 25 2010

PAX East or The Great Wil Wheaton Adventure

PAX East has been over for two months now, and I never did get around to writing about it.  I had started a blow-by-blow post of the whole weekend, but it was rapidly becoming rather long and rambling.  So I’ll skip that in favor of documenting the most important occurrence at PAX: When I met Wil Wheaton.

Me, dorking out next to Wil Wheaton. Yes, I am wearing my +5 to Sexterity shirt.

This was my first Con and I don’t know that I knew what to expect.  I should, by all rights, have had a terrible time.  I spent most of my time waiting in lines and sitting on concrete floors which left my back and hips extremely sore.  I didn’t get to play any game demos, and I missed all the panels I wanted to see except for the keynote.  Sounds like a pretty terrible time, right?

The thing is, I loved it.  I had a fantastic time and all thoughts of the event, even during and after the line sitting, are of pure joy.  I blame this on two things.  One is getting to spend three days with “my people”.  This is common at any gathering of geeks, nerds, dweebs, and other outcasts.  When we’re together, everything is a little bit better.  I made “line friends” who told me about boardgames I had to buy and swapped RPG stories.  The second factor leading to my phenomenal time is The Great Wil Wheaton Adventure.

It’s probably a good thing that I’ve waited so long to write about this.  I’ve had time to go through all the phases of acceptance: dorking out, embarrassment, and finally joyful acceptance.  I’ve shared this story with a few people now, and while it is universally accepted as completely nerdy, it’s also supremely cool.

I had no idea that Wil Wheaton would be sitting at a table signing autographs.  That fact totally escaped me. I knew he was giving the keynote speech and I had my copy of Just A Geek with me in case I found myself across a game table from him or something.  However, when we went looking for Scott Kurtz so I could procure my Skull plushie, there he was, Wil Wheaton with the longest line ever. (Actually, it was the longest line ever… until his line the following day, which was much longer.) Brian and I parted ways, he headed for Jonathan Coulton’s line, I for Wil’s.

A note about Star Trek: TNG and my family.  I was six when the show first went on the air and thirteen when it ended.  These were formative years and the show was always appointment television for my family.  We had big Bose speakers hooked up to our tv, which we didn’t use all the time.  We did, however, always use them for Star Trek so we could hear the rumble of the engines.  It was awesome.  I was also, of course, at the perfect age to adore Wil Wheaton.  I mean, who wouldn’t?

I digress.  So here I am, in line, talking to my line friends about board games.   I see that he has two of his books that I don’t own, and his Wheaton’s Law t-shirt.  I intend to purchase all three.  I get to the front of the line and forget all of this.  I shall now document the exact dialogue exchange as it happened.

Me: Hi.

WW: Hi.

Me: If eight-year-old me knew I was talking to you right now, she’d lose it.  I mean, you are pretty much the first man I ever really loved.

WW: Awww.  I’m glad we finally met.

Me: Yeah, it’s been really hard on our relationship.

WW: Well, you grew up as beautifully as I knew you would.

Me: (blushing profusely) You too.

And then he asked my name and signed my book.  I know, I’m a total dork, but it was the coolest thing that’s happened to me in a while. It was definitely the event that saved PAX.  I can’t really imagine having as much fun without it.

I less-than-three you, too, Wil Wheaton.