the artistry and psychology of gaming


PAX East 2012

PAX East 2012

PAX East 2012 was held on April 6-8 at Boston’s Seaport Convention Center. This was the third time the Penny Arcade Expo has visited the Eastern Seaboard and was once again a terrific event for gaming of all kinds, from video games, to card games, to table-tops, and beyond.

During my time at PAX, I saw quite a bit. I played some games (some anticipated, and some that caught me totally by surprise), talked to some insiders, enjoyed some professional panels, and enjoyed the friendly atmosphere.

Here were my biggest highlights:

Pax East

In case you can't tell, it was pretty big!

For games, I was looking forward to a few big showings, namely Firefall, Borderlands 2, Tribes: Ascend, and Max Payne 3. Each of these projects delivered in a big way, and have a lot to look forward to for them. Tribes: Ascend in particular I thought looked incredible; the rocket-powered FPS is billed as the “World’s Fastest Shooter” and from what I saw, that was definitely true. At the Microsoft booth, I also got to demo the upcoming Fable Heroes, and share a few words with lead designer Ted Timmons, who was excited about the project, hoping the game will harken back to the good old fashioned beat-em-ups like Streets of Rage.

Tribes Ascend
Tribes: Ascend – the world’s fastest shooter

Of course, it’s not always the big releases that grab my attention. Some of my favorite games of the shows were ones that I didn’t see coming. The show also received a strong showing from several indie groups with some enticing upcoming releases. New company Mugen Studios was featuring an interesting looking tablet game called Harbinger, a no-combat 3D exploration mystery set on a space station (the build had a few rough edges, but it certainly looks promising). A local Boston studio Lantana Games was displaying a game called Children of Liberty, a hand-drawn 2D game that uses backgrounds and scenery in a very 3D way. However, the surprise game of the show for me was a little strategy/combat hybrid called AirMech, by Carbon Games. Co-founder and game director James Green (Fat Princess, Unreal Tournament) confirmed my suspicions that the game was heavily influenced by Herzog Zwei for the Sega Genesis, and that AirMech has been a project he had personally been working on for ten years now (the company itself was only formed in July). Alpha versions of both Children of Liberty and AirMech are available for free, and definitely worth checking out.

This is James. He built the game. He did a good job.

Not all the excitement happened on the show floor. Developer panels and special events were woven all throughout the weekend, the most exciting of which was perhaps Irrational Games: Making a Monster, where Ken Levine and several other Irrational team leads discussed their creation process for the baddies in the upcoming Bioshock Infinite. We were witness to some intriguing concept art at various stages of the development process, while the team broke down how to expand on an idea, and in some cases take things in a completely different direction in order to best suit the overall goals of the game. Without giving too much away about the impending release, those will eventually find it interesting that “The Siren” originally was some magical guy in a cape that looked like Grandpa Munster. The design felt really supernatural and out of place, and to quote Ken Levine’s words: “Once you throw the rules away, you start losing people,” so it had to change.

I also attended the annual Retrogames Roadshow, where collectors bring in some big ticket items to be appraised. If you’ve ever wondered what could make a room full of nerds go really wild, I highly suggest you pick one of these up:

NES Earthbound
NES Earthbound Prototype!!!

So that about sums up my favorite moments of PAX East; great games, great info, and some great people along with it. It was really great to get my hands on the games being featured, and even better to share a few words in many cases with the developers themselves. The atmosphere at PAX was very welcoming, con-goers were all respectful of others, and it was simply a lot of fun.

I suppose I should also mention the costumes, as everyone always does. In truth, just about every major character could be found, from Pit and Mario, to the Dragonborn and Big Daddies. I saw 5 Ness’s, 3 Links, 2 Zeldas, 4 Princes of Persia, a baby Pikachu, quite a few Sims (People with suspended diamonds over their heads), and even a pair of wanderers right out of Journey. I know it’s customary to put together a full costume gallery, but honestly it wasn’t the main draw for me, and I didn’t snap too many pictures. I did, however, manage to capture what would ultimately be the best photo op of the weekend, so I’ll leave you all with that. Till next year!

Star Wars Ghostbusters
Has there ever been more awesome within a 5 ft radius?


  1. That was cool. Children of Liberty sounds a lot like Sons of Liberty, I hope Konami does not sue.

  2. I was there as well! Had I known we could’ve met up. I didn’t spend as much time on the show floor, I only waited in the line for Max Payne 3. Otherwise I just meandered around looking at the games and spent most of the weekend inside the panels. I missed the Irrational panel because I’d gotten there just as the line filled up, but I saw Ken Levine later at the Plot vs. Play one. I also attended the Dragon Age panel, DLC panel with Chris Avellone, Epic Games’ Panel, Gearbox’s, and I was at the live taping of X-play, six rows from center stage.

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