The Wonderful PAX of Oz – a Diary

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PAX Australia 2014 came and went last weekend and to say it was an improvement from last year’s convention would be a massive understatement. The convention was moved to the utterly gigantic Melbourne Exhibition Centre on Southbank, solving a lot of the space problems that plagued PAX Australia 2013 at the Melbourne Showgrounds. Arriving there at 9am, I, along with the rest of the media who attended, were able to roam the expo hall an hour before general admission.

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I made a beeline to the Oculus Rift Booth, since I had yet to experience any Oculus VR before. I was able to play Vanguard V; a third person space shooter in the style of a Star Fox game. They were demoing the game on the 2nd development kit, Oculus Crystal Cove. The HUD is displayed on your  virtual visor, providing a really nice immersive experience with the main character Qu’s reflection faintly seen on the visor. The character is moved  by moving your head, and targeting is performed automatically by looking at the target. This didn’t work as well as I’d hoped, as there was significant delay between targeting and actually getting a shot off.

There was a great soundtrack that was unfortunately hindered by severe clipping for some reason. A really nice proof of concept that doesn’t really deliver in the gameplay, but is worth is for the immersion alone. I lined up to experience Alien Isolation on Oculus Rift, but the wait was rather long, so I put it off until day two.

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I moved on to The Crew beta on PS4, which had four players sit in bucket racing seats to complete a simple mission which involved ramming a target car to death. It was incredibly underwhelming. It looks and sounds right, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the most floaty and generic driving engine I’ve seen in next gen.

It does what many other arcade driving games attempt to do by trying to walk the line between arcade and sim, and just ends up feeling floaty and unresponsive. I should also mention that we were just using standard PS4 controllers, not that I think a wheel is preferred or would’ve helped at all. I think the open world concept has potential, but I feel like without a fun driving engine, it may die before it even begins.

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At 11:30am I headed to one of many one hour panels that I would attend over the three days of PAX Aus. Most of the panels were streamed on the official PAX Twitch page if you were interested in watching for yourself. Since there were so many, I will summarise the contention of the panel, and any notable discussion that came out of it.

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Why watch games when you can play?

Panelists:

Marc Fennell [Presenter, The Feed & Download this Show], Bajo [Presenter, Good Game], Hex [Presenter, Good Game], Michael Shanks [YouTube Creator TimTim Fed], Twitch TV Broadcaster

The first panel I attended was about the popularity of Twitch and watching rather than just playing yourself. The contention being that people stay not just for the gameplay, but for interacting with the streamer and to watch a unique personality play games.

They also talked about the future of streaming, where accessibility for people to watch and create live content will be so easy that anyone could do it. Overall, it was an interesting panel that confirmed most people’s feelings about Twitch; It’s only getting bigger.

Content Match: When YouTube and Indie Games Collide

Panelists:

Prescription Pixel [YouTuber, Indie Games Journalist, Prescription Pixel], Alexander Bruce [Indie Dev (Antichamber), Demruth], Pani [YouTuber, Super Pani Land], Tim Dawson [Indie Dev (Android Assault Cactus), Witch Beam], SilentCore [YouTuber, Boom Network Manager, SilentC0re, Boom Video]

This panel focused on the rather personal relationships YouTubers have with indie developers, without specifically mentioning the infamous hashtag that soon follows. The Youtubers on the panel emphasised the importance of joining a network to be represented better when navigating the blurry minefield that is copyright and fair use on YouTube. Requesting or offering review copies or codes should have a personal touch and avoid templates.

Alexander Bruce of Antichamber fame contended that while YouTubers are a great way to find a big audience for your game, it doesn’t always translate into actual sales for them. An interesting conflict occurred between Pani of the YouTube channel superpaniland and Bruce where he asked if she would take money for coverage of the game, which she said she would assuming she gave full disclosure on the video. This led to a discussion about the ethics of such a decision, and how it’s no better than a paid review or coverage from a larger media entity.

I didn’t agree with the personal aspect of communicating with indie developers, but I am in favour of supporting independent developers who make good games. It was good to see opposing opinions instead of a giant circle jerk where nothing of value is gained.

Political Proactivism for Geeks

Panelists:

Adam Bandt [Member of Parliament, The Greens], Sue McKerracher [Executive Director, ALIA], Justin Halliday [Investment Manager, Screen Australia], Conor O’Kane [Lecturer, RMIT], Dr Fiona Tweedie [Organiser, GovHack Melbourne], Nicole Stark [Director, Disparity Games]

This panel had a more political bent to it, with Adam Bandt, member of The Greens singing the praises of ‘geeks’ and ‘gamers’ being able to make a real difference to world issues. They discussed political message games like ‘Escape From Woomera’, which deals with the treatment of asylum seekers in detainment, and their worth as an effective way to spread a message. They also criticised the lack of transparency in government data, as well as the Transpacific Partnership to crack down on whistle blowers.

It was a good discussion that ranged from highly idealistic to surprisingly realistic outcomes for games with a message to share.

Queering Video Games: LGBT Representation and Why It Matters

Panelists:

James Dominguez [Games Writer, Fairfax Media], Jeffrey Yohalem [Lead Writer, Ubisoft Montreal], Liam Esler [Writer/Scripter, Beamdog], Luke Miller [Indie Developer, Up Multimedia], Maya Kerr [Lecturer, SAE Institute]

This panel discussed the lack of diverse characters in videogames, while criticising the often stereotypical portrayal of LGBTI characters.  They discussed gay or flamboyant characters often being portrayed as negative or a villain, even though they can still make great characters, it would be nice to see more varied representation. It’s usually indie or small games that even try to market to the LGBTI crowd, but the panel agreed that the economics behind such a decision makes sense in AAA games.

While it wasn’t the most comprehensive panel, It was great to see a panel like this get so much attention and really shows a push for acceptance of all flavours of people.

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That was my first day at PAX Australia! It went far too quickly. Join me next time for the day two wrap up.

Last Updated: November 6, 2014

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