UFG Goes to PAX South 2015!

Nothing comes close to the excitement of entering the magical doors to the Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio for none other than PAX South 2015. I was ready. I had bought the hotel room the day they announced it would be in San Antonio. I made sure the hotel would be attached to the convention center to alleviate sore feet from standing in lines. I waited with baited breath for the tickets to go on sale and was one of the lucky few to get the 3-day pass. Then it was just a matter of waiting. I kept an eye out for any news PAX released for panels, expo attendees, concerts, etc. Then finally the day came. Nearly a year after purchasing the hotel room, it was time to take the long drive to San Antonio and attend what I had built up in my mind as quite possibly the most fun I would have all year.

Day 1

I drove with a friend from Dallas to San Antonio, leaving at 4:30 am. The goal was to get to San Antonio by 10 am, but it was all dependent on traffic. We knew traffic was going to be at a standstill while driving through Austin, and sure enough that was the case. We made it to the hotel around noon. No matter. We brought our bags up to the room and hightailed next door to the convention center and, lo and behold, so many people gathered together for one expressed purpose. For Games. It was amazing. My friend who tagged along with me is not a gamer and was shocked by all the people collected in one place for PAX. It definitely was not what he was expecting. Still, he got into the spirit of things and basically followed me around as I wandered the expo floor.

I beelined it to Devolver Digital and on the way, saw a brightly orange colored display for TinyBuild. I made a mental note to check it out later. Over at Devolver, they had eight games on display including, Enter the Gungeon, Titan Souls, Broforce, Ronin, The Talos Principle, and Hotline Miami 2. Titan Souls looked amazing, to the point where the line was so long I just couldn’t get myself to wait. I played a good 10-15min of Hotline Miami 2 – same frenetic gameplay as the first, with dual wielding pistols. Definitely going to get both of these. Broforce is good 80’s action movie fun, with each character based on 80’s style action stars (the Brominator, Robrocop, etc). Lots of fun to be had. If time allowed, I wanted to head back to Devolver, but with all the games on display, I had a feeling it just wouldn’t happen.

(Enter the Gungeon)

Across from Devolver, was a PC only game called Dreadnought, published by Grey Box Games. It’s a combat flight space simulator where you take control of one of many huge spaceships, each with different attributes. The play is more akin to being the captain or commander of a huge ship rather than just a pilot. Strategy and positioning is the name of the game. Dreadnought looked amazing, but admittedly not my cup of tea. My friend, however, ended up enjoying it a lot! Apparently he’s a natural at flight sims. He had no clue. Multiplayer matches last roughly 10 minutes and every time you die, you can change your ship. For those who are into strategy based games set in a flight sim atmosphere, this one is definitely one to keep an eye on.

We then walked to the tabletop section and out of all the new games being shown off, one definitely caught me by surprise. We sat down and played a few hands of Bring Your Own Book. Think of Cards Against Humanity but instead of the white card, you grab your favorite book and read out the line that best matches the card’s question/fill-in-the-blank. It’s a nice twist to an already great format. A kickstarter is underway for this, and I highly recommend you back the project. I have and I’m on pins and needles waiting for the release. This of course means we won’t “review” the final product. That said, you can follow me on Twitter and read my thoughts about Bring Your Own Book when it launches!

(Bring Your Own Book)

By this time we were starting to feel the day’s worth of standing catch up with us so we decided to catch a panel. Nicalis, the publisher who’s brought a couple of my favorite games to my PS Vita, 1001 Spikes and Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, talked for an hour about BOI and a couple of upcoming games. The 90s Arcade Racer brought me back to my childhood of Daytona USA and Ridge Racer with super colorful tracks and familiar gameplay. It was kickstarted back in February 2013 by solo creator Antonis Pelekanos and the progress that’s been made is just amazing. There was another surprise by pixel artist Matt Kap – his pet project Castle In The Darkness will be released on Feb 5th, and it hits every retro feels that I own. It seems perfect for PS Vita, but will only be released on PC for the time being. Hopefully, they broaden the release later in the year.  The one big tease wasn’t meant to be a tease at all. The laptop Tyrone Rodriguez and Matt Kap were using for their displays had a folder named Cave Story 2. An attendee had them take notice and asked if this meant a sequel was in the works. Tyrone answered with a wry grin, “Maybe. Maybe not.” Only time will tell.

After the panel, we checked out the console area where you could check out games and play for 30-ish minutes at a time. We did some Super Smash Bros, but our eye caught a super colorful puzzle game, Puyo Puyo Tetris. We played this for about an hour with others at the convention and had a blast. Developed by Sonic Team for SEGA, it’s a mix of the Puyo Puyo franchise and Tetris. Think of a perfect mix of puzzle and cute characters with a dash of competitiveness; it’ll put and keep a smile on your face the whole time. So much fun and a highlight of the show! After some research, I learned that this was a Japan only release with no future of being released in the US. I promptly ordered a copy and it should arrive this week. Review maybe to follow?

(Puyo Puyo Tetris)

After catching the always entertaining Giant Bomb panel, we went out to eat, had a few drinks, and called it a night. It was a long day, but totally worth it. Another day was coming and we had to rest up!

Day 2

Doors opened at 10:30 am again, but we slept in a bit. I guess the early morning drive the night before finally caught up to us. We left the hotel around noon and went back to the expo floor and checked out TinyBuild Games. We weren’t disappointed. A huge crowd formed around Speedrunners and No Time To Explain, both of which looked amazing. It was around this time I started to notice a theme when it came to the small development games at PAX South. The 4-player battle type games were in high gear. Just about every kiosk on the expo floor had some form of a pixelated mashup of Super Smash Bros, but with a twist. Speedrunners was a race against three other players where the object is to stay on the screen (sort of endless runner style but with a larger play area). The lead player controls the pace, pulling the screen along with them. Once a player is forced off, by failing to keep up, the screen will slowly diminish in size until there is only one player left. Lots of running, jumping, swinging, and crazy power ups, definitely some hectic fun to be had there!

We then saw an opening at Check-in, Knock-out by Lionade Games. Here was another 4-player brawl with a twist. Apparently, guest at a particular hotel are double booked and the only way to settle who stays and who goes is by fighting. This is done by picking up stuff in the room and knocking everyone else out. Each character has a unique playstyle, like one can carry two blocks and another throws explosions, etc. Again, loads of fun, with a great pick-up-and-play style that even my non-gamer friend could get into. We absolutely had a blast and looks like it will be coming to PC AND consoles this year, so keep an eye out. We tried to get to No Time To Explain, but the system crashed, so we walked away and bought some t-shirts.

(Check-in, Knock-out)

By this time we were so tired and in pain we decided to take a breather and head back to the hotel for a bit of a rest. An hour later, we went back down and caught the Scott Kurtz panel with his father and brother talking about growing up in a gaming family. For those that don’t know, Scott Kurtz is the creator of hit web comic, PvP. They all had a wicked sense of humor and told some amusing stories about growing up with a father that was into D&D and early computers. It definitely brought back some memories for me of the magazines that had games included where you had to input the code line by line.

We caught a bit of the Saturday concert but decided to call it a night and stayed up til late talking about the sights we’ve seen and what games we enjoyed the most. We also talked about how maybe the expo floor could be better suited for the influx of people. We had a great time, but we both have families to return to – the guys weekend was coming to an end. We didn’t catch anything Sunday. We just packed up and left around 11 am.

All-in-all we had a great time and would recommend PAX South, the baby PAX, to others. Sure there were barely any AAA titles shown off on the floor, but it did what PAX Prime does and gave indie developers a chance to shine. These are the games I enjoy the most anyway; it feels good to support the little guy. PAX gives hope to many developers, letting them know that even if you have a day job, if you want you can do it. You can be successful. This is the overall message I got from the weekend. I’ll be back next year!

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