Think of the Children

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For the majority of last week I talked about games that I had played at PAX South, and in truth there are still a handful more than I want to discuss.  I think that is the real triumph of this years show, that I walked away with so many things that I found interesting enough to write entire posts about.  Granted in my super meandering way I end up talking about a lot of things other than the game during each of them.  Today is not going to change that.  In 2016 the most memorable game at PAX South for me was a game called Ultimate Chicken Horse.  In fact this was the sort of experience that I kept dragging people back by the booth to check out for themselves.  I don’t have a ton of opportunities to do the whole couch co-op party game thing, and it seems that when I actually do get that opportunity I want to take advantage.  I even wrote a couple of different posts about my thoughts talking about just how fresh and interesting the experience was.  Now I did not expect to find another game like this, but it seems like it found me.

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Ultimately I think I happened to stare a little too long at a booth as I was passing by, and within moments was engaged by someone talking about a game called “Think of the Children”.  Admittedly we had not shifted into “lets play all the games” mode yet, and this game was a good part of that mental shift for me at least.  The idea apparently came out of a recent game jam and was being groomed into a full game.  The concept was simple enough…  that you are parents and have to try and take care of a bunch of children.  The challenge comes in when you find out that the children are essentially lemmings.  They have no survival instinct and instead of simply slowly marching towards the edge of the a cliff… they are going to actively go find danger.  The kids might decide it is super awesome to go try and pet a jellyfish… and get stung to death, or mess with a bird…  and get pecked to death.  Essentially these little buggers are constantly trying to kill themselves and you as the parents are trying desperately to corral or distract them long enough to make it through the timer without losing any of your charges.

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This turns out to be exceedingly difficult, and just as you seem to have one group of kids under control…  another group goes off and does something truly horrible.  Essentially you have a few tools for managing the children…  you can either pick them up and move them away from danger… or shout at them which effects every child in range for a super short period of time…  before they go right back to doing whatever horrible thing they were planning on doing.  You can also temporarily distract children by setting up tables, or deploying a pinata.  I found myself largely throwing children away from harm while Rae who was playing with me attempted to set up the distractions.  Regardless I was an extremely bad parent and my first time out of the gate I got an F-…  and on attempt two I upgraded that to a D.  Let me just tell you that was the proudest I had ever been of getting a D in my life.

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Sure the game is morbid as hell, given that inevitably some of your children are going to die horrible and stupid deaths.  However the gameplay was so fast paced and frenetic that we spent most of our time yelling unintelligible sentence fragments at each other while desperately trying to keep yet another child from going and playing in traffic.  I mean there is a clear reason why I am not a parent of anything but animals…  because in truth animals have way more survival instinct than proto-humans.  Where the game shines is when you are sitting there playing co-op with one of your friends, and if I had an opportunity to do this often I would absolutely suggest this game in your rotation of what I term “party games”.  One of the cool things that happens at PAX in general is that you wind up striking conversations with random people while waiting in lines.  Each and every time this happened to me it ultimately got down to talking about our favorite games of the show, and this is the game that I kept sending people out into the world to find.  It was tucked into a quiet row and was ultimately rather unassuming, but man was it a great experience to play.  Even though I don’t have a lot of opportunity for couch co-op I am still going to pick this up for no reason other than to support what is ultimately a really cool game idea.  If you find yourself interested in this madness you can check out the official website, or do what I did and just add it to my wishlist on Steam.

Advanced Spellcraft

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I’ve talked about quite a few things that I experienced at Pax South, and this mornings post is going to do some more of the same.  I feel like this year more than others I walked away with a treasure trove of things I wanted to talk about.  I guess in theory it is because I approached the convention significantly differently than I have in past years.  In the past I largely only stood in line to play the games that immediately seemed to be in my wheelhouse, and as a result I am sure I robbed myself of a whole slew of interesting things.  The game I want to talk about this morning is a prime example of not being able to rely on our instincts and tastes.  If you have read my blog for any length of time you will know that I do not handle “finger wigglers” that well… or to clarify my own personal slang…  spell casters.  So when I walked past a booth demonstrating a game where the main character is slinging spells left and right, my first instinct is to keep moving.  However as a group we stopped and listened to the intricate tale that CEO Louis-Félix Cauchon had to weave.  Admittedly what make this game so interesting is just how detailed the spell system is.  We got to watch a twenty minute demo covering nothing but how the spell system works, before even getting into the awesome pedigree of the storytelling.

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Functionally your character has four spells, which in itself doesn’t seem like a lot.  However each spell can be modified with what I have been generically calling “mutators” to change the way it responds.  So you might have a spell that at face value is a small point blank spark, however by equipping a a behavior you can make it fire out like a fireball…  or by equipping an augment you can make it veer to the right after firing it.  If you suddenly decide that you don’t want to throw fireballs… but instead iceballs, you can simply go in and change the base element of the attack.  Over the course of this demo of the system we got to see personal shields turn into charge attacks, and glorious cascades of rock from the ceiling in place of a traditional blizzard spell.  Now you might ask yourself why on each you would need this level of detail for a spell system apart from the simple “wouldn’t it be cool” aspect.  Functionally the magic not only serves as a weapon, but also as a complex puzzle system.  So there might be switches that you cannot reach unless you modify your fireball to arc in a certain way in order to hit the trigger.  The spellbook also allows you to save off several different configurations of a spell, and in the final version you will be able to give them unique names allowing you to quickly recognize which version of a given spell is your avalanche and which is your frost barrier.  The only immediate limit to building insane combination spells is your imagination, and of course your mana bar.  Each trait that you give a spell increases its cost, and while it was described that this matters less and less as you go through the game… it does limit your early tinkering.  Additionally as you play through the game you find modifiers along the way, meaning your palette of abilities starts small and grows as you progress.

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Up to this point we have literally just talked about the technical spell casting system, which in itself is a pretty amazing game.  On top of this however they have added what is sure to be a pretty great story.  Ed Greenwood of Forgotten Realms fame has penned the story for this game about epic spellcasters, which only makes sense given that he gave us the character of Elminster.  Functionally I heard the game described as Harry Potter meets Zelda and that seems fitting, with a huge alteration in that there seems to be a lot more physical puzzle solving with your spells.  I find it so bizarre though that I am looking forward to the release of a game about magic users, and that includes absolutely zero armor clad characters for me to bash baddies in the head with.  At face value this game is traditionally far out of my wheelhouse, but it was also quite possibly the freshest feeling game concept I saw on the Pax floor.  We’ve done so much for martial combat and making it feel interesting and nuanced, but have done so little to bring that same level of nuance to weaving complex spells.  Most games give us the option of push button throw fireball, or push button create bubble…  but this is the first that I have seen that lets you take that bubble and then project it outwards or trigger another spell after the bubble casts.  I have this feeling that in many ways it will have an almost metroidvania feel in that each time you unlock a new ability to give you spells it is also going to open up new ways to solve puzzles and allow you to move deeper into the content.

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The game right now is targetted for PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One and does not have a firm launch date… but we heard March or April mentioned which I largely translated into a “Spring” launch window that might be plus or minus a month.  They are doing something extremely interesting to get us into the world ahead of the launch by releasing a comic that updates Tuesdays and  Thursdays and explains the world and setting.  I love it when I experience a game like this, not necessarily because “woo spellcasters” or anything of the sort, but because this is clearly the love child of a bunch of folks who care deeply about it.  Talking to Louis-Félix Cauchon within second it was clear to see just how passionate he was about this game, and the work and imagination that went into creating it.  That in truth is what makes the convention experience special.  You get to meet the creators face to face and see just how much they love what they are doing.  In many ways it feels like Pax South recharges the spark inside of me each year, and gives me fuel to keep going throughout the year.  We spend so much time on the negatives, the little details that bother us about this game or that.  However seeing a game like Mages of Mystralia shows me instantly that there very much still is magic out there…  pun only slightly intended.  I would definitely add this to your watch list and check it out when it ultimately releases.  I find it so bizarre that of all of the games I have experienced, this one ranks insanely high on the list of “wish I had early access” titles, if for no reason other than to play with the spell crafting system.  This is the first release from Borealys Games, but if they can pour this much passion into every project they are going to be a studio we see lots of amazing things from in the future.

Them Apples

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What has been bizarre to me has been just how different the three years of Pax South have felt personally.  During year one I was completely overwhelmed and did my best to hit as many panels as I could while also making a bunch of media appointments.  During year two we had roughly sixteen people roaming around in groups of various sizes, so my focus was to spend as much time as possible with as many people as possible.  I was also overwhelmed but in a completely different way, with trying to juggle meeting up with folks while also hitting scheduled media appointments.  Year three I completely cut the whole parking debacle out of the loop which greatly relaxed the entire experience.  Additionally we went from having sixteen to roughly seven… with two pairs of those largely roaming together and leaving me with a semi regular group of three people.  This opened up so many doors because three is not an unreasonable amount of people to sit down and demo something together with, and as a result I played way more games during the course of the show.  So many that I never actually made it off the main floor or attended any panels.  In truth this felt like the best possible thing because it gave me lots of interesting experiences to come back and shamelessly milk for blog posts.  It also let me spend maximum time with my friends while attempting to extract the maximum enjoyment.  It did nothing for my longevity unfortunately with me making my way back to the hotel around 6 or 7 both nights to hang with my wife and decompress from the days event.

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Of the really awesome games that I played, I think the very first that I sat down to play as a group is a card game called Wicked Apples.  At first I watched a couple of my group play it together, and when they finished the first round got dealt in for round two.  The idea is simple and the card game itself extremely small… I have not counted but it seems like maybe the card deck as a whole is maybe around 35 cards.  What I like so much about the game however is just how quickly it can be played.  One of the big challenges with most modern tabletop games is that they take a fair bit of time to set up, play and break back down.  In most cases you need a dedicated hour or more to really feel like you have enjoyed the experience.  At work I have been kicking around the notion of doing some tabletop gaming at lunch, especially since I have a coworker that is way deeper into the weeds than I am in the board gaming community.  However the challenge that is what sorts of games can you realistically play in a 30-40 minute window and get enough hands in to make it feel like you actually accomplished something.  When I saw Wicked Apples I immediately thought that this game would be perfect for this scenario because each hand seemed to last around ten to fifteen minutes depending on how much stalling from the players.

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The game consists of barrel cards, wicked apple cards matching each barrel color, and an assortment of unique apple cards that each have specific effects on them.  The game starts by dealing out barrels to each of the players… or in our case simply choosing whatever color you wanted to play.  That player the is handed the wicked apple of a color matching their barrel, as well as three random apple cards dealt face down.  The goal is to take these four cards and arrange them in any order in front of you face down… but at the same time memorize the position of each card.  The goal of the game is not to eat a wicked apple, be it your own or another players.  After setup the turn order is determined by the number on the players bucket from lowest to highest, but later in the game this will be determined by the top apple in each players bucket.  Each player can take one of two actions:  Peak or Pass.  Peak essentially means that you can secretly check to verify what apple is sitting in a given slot in front of you, and Pass means that you can take any one of your apples and give it to any other player.  After all players have either chosen to Peak or Pass, everyone has to choose an apple that they are going to eat that round.  If you are doing this right then all players reveal their apple at exactly the same time…  however we were pretty awful at doing this and wound up being a slow staggered reveal.  The eating order is determined by the number in the top right corner of the card, and each player performs the actions on their card if possible taking turns in ascending order.  The “if possible” is in there because there are situations where for example you have no apples… and as a result cannot say pass an apple as directed by the card.

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The game carries on like this until one of two things happen… either only one player is left standing at the end of a round where in that case they are the winner.  There is also the possibility that ALL players are eliminated in the same round, and essentially everyone loses.  Whatever the case, once you know the rules of the game it goes extremely quickly and I could see playing a bunch of round rapid fire in a short period of time.  There is functionally a lot of strategy and bluffing involved in what is essentially a game of memory.  Do you pass a good apple to the player beside you and think that ultimately they are going to assume you gave them your wicked apple?  Are you going to pass your wicked apple and then follow up by lacing it with the Candy Apple that forces a player to eat that apple next?  I absolutely did that last move, while also passing the poison apple to another player that round functionally executing both of them.  It is absolutely a game where you know every other players is going to back stab you and do so constantly, so the ramifications of this realization become greatly blunted and just part of the fun.  The individual decks at Pax South were $15, and I went back and forth on Friday about picking one up.  However one of the first things I did Saturday morning was run back and purchase one, and I am super glad that I did.  It seems as though they sold their last deck sometime early Sunday morning, and apparently this was their entire current stock as there are zero available through the website either currently.  So yeah… I guess it is probably cruel to tell you about a game that you literally cannot get at this very moment, but I still enjoyed it enough that I wanted to talk about it.  Like I said before I personally plan on taking my deck with me to work and trying a few hands over lunch to see how well it works.  It is easy to pick up and fast paced enough that I can see this doing really well with a wide variety of players.  If you have the chance to check it out in any upcoming shows I highly suggest you do so.

 

Embracing Chaos

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There are games from my childhood that I will always have an odd amount of nostalgia about.  There are the obvious ones like Zelda and Mario… but then there are the ones where I latched onto with both hands and never quite understood why.  Chaos Engine is one of those games in the second column because by all rights… it was not really a popular game in the United States.  We never really had the massive Amiga Culture here that the UK did… and while I owned one… I didn’t get it until my college years for use with Digital Video production.  However I did own a Sega Genesis and we did get Chaos Engine released under the confusing re-branding of Soldiers of Fortune.  I played the hell out of the game but didn’t realize what I had been missing… because while a completely functional port it is in no way as good as the original.  I bought my Amiga 3000 second hand… and it came with a box of crudely labelled Amiga floppies.  One of which was called Chaos Engine, and when I fired it up… I felt immediately at home.  The original Amiga game was so much better in every way than the port I was familiar with, and most importantly was the music.  I’ve included a video I found of the game intro running on an A500.  The game was essentially an isometric shooter but a much more interesting one than say Commando or Ikari Warriors.  It allowed you to pick from a cast of characters…  the Brigand, the Gentleman, the Mercenary, the Navvie, the Preacher and The Thug.  Each with their own strengths and unique weapons, and also added a small bit of RPG style progression as you could use the money found in each level to purchase buffs to further customize the way the character played.  Even today I have purchased every copy of this game that has come out…  from a Windows 95 CD version that no longer functions to the more recent release on Steam.

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While roaming around the floor at Pax South I came across what I could only describe as the logical successor.  Tower 57 is a game that I didn’t even know existed before this convention.  It apparently was on Kickstarter during August of 2015 and managed to raise roughly 55k dollars.  Had I known about the game then I would have likely backed it, even though my track record with video game kickstarters is not that amazing.  The game website describes it as:

In a dystopian, dieselpunk world, where Megatowers are the only enclaves of civilization, a group of extraordinary individuals is sent to infiltrate the reclusive Tower 57. Their skills, clips’ capacity & the ability to cooperate will decide on their fate.

Tower 57 is a top-down twin stick shooter with 16-bit inspired pixel art, destructible environments and heavy focus on co-op. It is also a modern take on what made AMIGA games so great back in the days.

What it felt like was a sort of Shadowrun meets Chaos engine, with a similarly interesting cast of characters.  Unfortunately I didn’t actually get to start fresh when I gave the game I try… but it seems like I could largely pick  between a female detective wearing a trechcoat and using a shotgun, and the diplomat which is a guy that looks like Abraham Lincoln with a flame thrower.  The game has all the right quirky notes that Chaos Engine did, and a similarly Victorian Era meets Steampunk meets 1920s speakeasy feel to it.  The artwork is absolutely gorgeous and the movement of the characters felt fluid, with interesting and challenging monsters that you encountered.  In the Pax South demo it seemed to largely be locked to the sewer level, and I was amped to see the gameplay unfold very similarly to what I expected with Chaos Engine.  Essentially doing something in one area of the map might unlock a secret area in another corner of the map, but also spawned multiple waves of mobs that you then needed to clear.

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The game is functionally a twinstick shooter, and the demo was played with xbox one controllers.  After a short period of time though I adjusted and managed to play my way through the level and get up to the mini boss at the end of it.  Ashgar managed to beat it… I however managed to take out the main encounter… then got super careless and died to something stupid on my way out of the room.  There was a line of folks waiting to take the controllers, so I stopped playing… but I would have loved to have had another shot at the game and tried playing some of the other characters.  Reportedly on both the game website and the steam profile the final version will include seven different playable characters, each with their own weapons and traits.  Another thing that I thought was really fun was the fact that the majority of the world appeared to be destructible.  Sure this serves a purpose with explosive barrels, but even when it serves no real purpose it is glorious to see the entire screen erupt in a hail of debris without actually slowing down the frame rate.  Reportedly the game will support local and online multiplayer co-op gameplay, which is admittedly something I am looking forward to.  I am probably going to convince Ashgar to play through the game with me some weekend…  which usually means he carries me super hard as I fail miserably somewhere in the background while looking for loot.

If anything I have said sounds interesting, I highly suggest you check out the game.  I have a huge amount of nostalgia for Chaos Engine and this game is riding heavily on that fact.  However Ashgar seemed to enjoy it just as much as I did, and he had never even heard of that game.  Right now the game has an ambiguous “Spring 2017” release date…  which to me means “any time before May” but to Square Enix apparently meant June when they were talking about Heavensward.  Whatever the case… the game felt really polished and hopefully that means the game will be available shortly.  You can pre-order now on Humble for $9.99 but to be honest I am more than likely going to wait for the steam release since I believe right now… humble disqualifies you from giving proper feedback on steam because it is not an “official purchase”.  To be honest the whole “steam purchase” versus “key redemption” thing is a mess when it comes to reviews.  Whatever the case it is definitely a game I enjoyed and I am ready to get my Chaos Engine game play back on.

Tale of Dice Games

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It is bizarre to me how I went into Pax South thinking it would be largely about the Nintendo Switch for me… and it wound up becoming almost entirely about Tabletop gaming.  More so it was the tale of dice games… and my experiences trying three different ones.  There was King of Tokyo that I had never actually played, and while I found it enjoyable it wasn’t exactly the sort of game I was going to rush right out into the store and purchase.  Then there was Dragon Dice…  which sounded familiar at the time as a game that TSR once published… and it turns out that in fact it is the same game just self published by the creator now.  The problem is that I looked in the general direction of the booth and got sucked in by an extremely motivated salesperson in the form of what I can only guess was the thirteen year old daughter of the creator.  I sat down to play… and got Ashgar roped into doing the same.  So we played and tried our best to wriggle out of the booth as soon and as politely as possible.  It was bad…  and not just in a general sense of not fun… but bad in a sense of whoever attacked first essentially put the other player on the ropes for the rest of the game and since attack and defense is out of the same dice roll…  it made it extremely hard to ever recover.  As a result we avoided anything else that was dice related like the plague… that is until while waiting in the hour and a half long Dauntless line I ended up getting into a random conversation with the folks I was standing shoulder to shoulder with as is the way of PAX.  We started talking about our favorite games of the show so far, and one of these other folks mentioned Dice Throne.  So before the night was up we wound up making our way over to the Dice Throne booth in the PAX Rising area, where unfortunately no one was giving demos at that moment.  However they mentioned that in the tabletop area there was a completely different set up where folks had been playing nonstop.  Little did I know that essentially this would be the last thing I played during my time at PAX and would eat up my last few hours.

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c3tib3xumaajc_wI am of course swiping images left and right from the Dice Throne twitter and Kickstarter for the purpose of this post.  The game itself is a weird mix of dice battling, action RPG and Magic the Gathering starter deck duels.  Each player chooses a character to play from the current list of Barbarian, Moon Elf, Pyromancer and Shadow Thief…  with Paladin and Monk playable at the show but ultimately stretch goals in the kickstarter.  Each character comes with a unique play mat, card deck, five dice, and a sheet that describes their status effects that they can give to opponents and explains the chance of rolling a given symbol on the dice.  What made the game addictive to me was the aspect that as you move through the session you can play cards on top of your playmat and upgrade your base abilities.  Sometimes this is just a matter of making the abilities more efficient, or having a lower number of dice needed to trigger the effect.  In the case of the game where I played the Shadow Thief… some of the cards actually served as two completely different abilities that you could then choose from.  I personally only have experience with the Barbarian and Shadow Thief, but I think Ashgar and Paragon wound up playing Shadow Thief vs Paladin… in which I heard that the Paladin is completely brutal.

Regardless of the specific configuration the game is ultimately a game about duels… which admittedly is the part that makes me the most excited.  I love tabletop games… but I don’t exactly have a wide circle of people that I can play them with locally.  I mean I could branch out and just show up at a game shop and look for people to play… but that isn’t really my way.  I am way too introverted to ever make that work.  So instead I have limited opportunities usually one friend at a time to play things.  Dice Throne is absolutely perfect for this situation because it creates a completely meaningful experience with only two players.  In theory this game also works with any multiple of two, in that players can set up 2 vs 2 or 3 vs 3 scenarios and some of the cards would play perfectly into that situation.  The reason Magic the Gathering comes into play as a reference for this game is that it is set up in a number of phases:  Upkeep, Income and Draw, Main Phase 1, Offensive Roll Phase, Defensive Roll Phase, Main Phase 2, Discard Phase.

Players start out with 50 Health, 1 combat point or CP and 4 cards from their deck with the ultimate goal of reducing the other player down to 0 Health to win the match.  Each round the players gain 1 CP during the income phase and draw one card, with the CP being spent to play the various cards they have in their hand.  Each character plays a little different in that the Shadow Thief seemed to be all about hitting the 15 CP cap as soon as possible and then striking from the shadows with critical attacks that scale based on the current CP number. The Barbarian seemed to be about healing back lost health and avoiding taking damage by simply overhealing the incoming attack…  all the while smashing with big attacks that can easily become unblockable.  Barbarian absolutely was “my thing” but it also sounds like the super defensive Paladin might have been a good fit for me as well.  Each round of attacks you roll your 5 dice and then take the symbols and numbers and try and make something with them.  You are given two rounds of re-rolls as you attempt to hone in on the exact thing you need.  There are also cards that shift your abilities so that you can make certain dice wild, or with “samsies” swap any dice to match any other dice.  These however take the luck of the draw and the CP to play them when needed.

What I found most interesting is that essentially you are having to look at the symbols and the numbers to see what the best course of action is.  All of the characters have something interesting that happens when you roll a small straight (4 numbers in sequence), and something interesting that happens when you roll a large straight (5 numbers in sequence).  Then again there are other things that are super powerful that can play off of the other attacks.  For example 2 swords and 2 “pow” symbols on the Barbarian gives you an attack that deals less damage… but becomes undefendable which when upgraded serves as an amazing way to finish off your opponent.  The Shadow Thief allowed you to shift in and out of the shadows… allowing you to be essentially untargetable until you exit on the next round.  Attacking from the shadows allowed you to roll an extra dice as you exited to deal a little bonus damage.  Every hero has an ultimate attack that is essentially triggered by rolling five 6s, but in truth I found these pretty freaking hard to make work unless I had a wild card or two available in my hand.  There is a lot more nuance that I feel like I cannot adequately cover after literally having only played two games.  Suffice to say there is a lot of meat on these bones, and I am sure more than enough to start to develop even a bit of a meta game among players.  I was not well suited for the Shadow Thief because the whole poke from the shadows thing is not really my deal.  That said I know players that would absolutely excel at that game play style since essentially the Barbarian and the Shadow Thief are playing two completely different games.  From what I understand each of the characters plays this way essentially with the Moon Elf focusing on dealing damage while defending for example.

The long and short of this is that as soon as I got back home on Sunday night I went out to the Kickstarter and backed the game.  I was completely and thoroughly sold.  As of this morning even though the page has not updated they have already hit the Paladin stretch goal so it will be included in the Champion version of the game.  Next up is an upgrade to Linen Cards at $35k, Vacuum formed tray at $40k, Thicker Box at $45k and finally the inclusion of the Monk Hero at $65k.  With 24 days to go they are already sitting at 200% of the original goal, and I have to think that Pax South is going to give them a lot of good exposure going forward.  There was a pair of guys who had literally spent about twelve hours over the weekend playing the game… and wound up serving as surrogate coaches when we had so many people wanting to play the game in the Tabletop area.  The rules are pretty simple and easy to pick up, and the game play while actually taking awhile to resolve itself… feels like it moves forward instead of stalling out.  I have to say for something in prototype form… the game felt really damned polished.  The cards and artwork all felt great… with the only complaint being sticker dice.  However the first stretch goal was to upgrade to engraved dice so that will in theory no longer be a thing.  I went with the $39 Champion edition which seems to be the point that the majority of backers are entering at, which in theory should give you access to all six characters and slightly nicer multi-tone dice.  The base game will include four characters: Shadow Thief, Barbarian, Moon Elf and Pyromancer which sits at $29… so I felt that extra $10 was more than warranted even for the shot at two more characters.  Dice Throne was definitely my tabletop game of the show… but in truth I think probably it was my game of the show as a whole.  I highly suggest if you have the opportunity to check this out at any conventions between now and the projected November release date that you grab hold of it with both hands.

Kickstarter Link

 

Why Not Try Pax South?

This is going to be a bit of a frivolous topic, but I am writing it the night before posting.  Tomorrow I have to be up well before dawn to take my wife to the airport.  As a result I searched my thoughts for something worth writing about and landed on this discussion.  Today the PAX West tickets went on sale… or PAX Prime for those not yet with the program…  or just plain old PAX for those who have been living under a rock and missed the slow invasion of the show across the country and world.  These notoriously sell out almost instantly, and unless you happen to be watching the site at the exact second it goes live, there is no way you are likely getting tickets.  I have two friends who tried today… one of which practically lives for PAX…  and while they both made it into the queue within a very short amount of time, but the time I actually arrived at a screen which allowed them to purchase anything…  Sunday tickets were almost gone and Monday was in low availability.  This is kinda insane given that they have expanded the show to a fourth day and seemingly keep expanding it.  The problem is that more people want to go than are tickets available.  I am sure a good number of the tickets get snatched up by speculators, and others are buying trying to get as many as their friends in as they can.  I even found out that apparently folks have written scripts that are supposed to get them in the queue the second the page is published.

This same sort of madness goes on with Blizzcon but is magnified by the fact that they do several small batches of ticket sales, each of them selling out in a matter of minutes.  Whereas with Pax West there is a nearly instant queue, and it simply takes awhile for those folks to filter through it to the other end.  Still it seems that you had to get into the queue with the first few minutes to guarantee that you had any tickets to purchase.  This presents a huge problem for folks attending, because at least for me a huge part of why I am interested in PAX at all is to use it as a destination to meet up with friends from the internet that I may never actually see otherwise.  Just watching the reactions from folks attending both PAX and Blizzcon this seems to be the general consensus and the challenge is that it is nearly impossible to insure that all of your friends can actually attend.  I know among my friends they had a complicated system of trying to make sure they could cover all of the people needed for Blizzcon with everyone trying to fight through the queue, and talking over chat to arrange who was buying tickets for whom when someone actually made it through the queue.  Watching my friends today it seems like that is just about the only way to actually guarantee attending PAX West as well.

What I am presenting with this mornings post is another alternative.  If PAX Prime is not your native PAX location… meaning it is further than reasonable driving distance away from you…  might I suggest the alternative of PAX South?  Granted it happened in January and is still over six months away…  but I’ve been attending since its inception and I have to say it is a pretty great place to be.  This past year we had something like fifteen people running around in different numbers taking in all that the convention had to offer.  While I failed miserably at spending time with most of the people due to the sheer number, it was nonetheless awesome to get to see and hang out with everyone.  PAX South has this super chill vibe to it and has a lot of positives going for it, that might not be the case with West or even East.  The show is still very much in fledgling status, but the attendance was up quite a bit last year and expanded to a whole new area of the convention center in order to accommodate a significantly harder tabletop section.  While the show was missing several of the headliners that were there the first year…  such as Bioware or Gearbox…  the indie section seemed to expand massively.  What I liked about it was that I could pretty much lay hands on any of the devs attending, and get to talk to them face to face about the game they were showing off.  Several of them were extremely excited to be talking about this labor of love that they had been working on so long.

I’ve always gotten the impression that at the larger conventions, unless you are wearing a media badge it can be really hard to actually get face time with the various exhibitors.  That seems insanely easy to do at South.  It also seemed like it was extremely easy to talk to the various streamers and gaming personalities.  While that is not really my corner of the world, I spotted several dozen streamers that I recognized mingling out in the floor or tucked away in a corner always willing to stop and chat with fans.  This was absolutely the case the first year as well, because one of the members of my party wound up getting a bunch of autographs from several of the personalities.  It is my hope that the 2017 show can somehow pull together the best of the two years.  Year one had some bigger names, but year two had way more stuff… and significantly more people in attendance.  If this year they can convince several of the larger companies to show products, as well as keep the attendance on an upward trajectory I think there are going to be awesome things in the future.  My goal as always will be to meet and hang out with as many people as I can from my extended circles.

I know how frustrating it can be to not get tickets for that event you wanted.  I after all tried to get Pax Prime tickets last year, and after the frustrating debacle that it ultimately was didn’t even try this year.  South is my home PAX, and is a roughly nine hour drive for me.  I will likely attend it every year so long as they keep having them.  I’ve gotten the impression that there are others like me that consider it their PAX.  However for those really just wanting the PAX experience, without the hassle and overpriced after market tickets…  I highly suggest you give PAX South a go.  I will continue to trumpet it as the year goes on… or at least until they have sold out the passes.  Throughout this post I have linked to a series of YouTube videos put out about the South show, as I am sure a way to try and drum up interest.  I know this will be the last year in Penny Arcade’s contract with the Henry B. Gonzalez convention center.  I think there is enough interest in the con to warrant it continuing in one form or another, but it might end up moving to another city.  I’ve greatly enjoyed both years, and while I would love to have it in Dallas or Austin… just because they are significantly closer drives, I am more than willing to make the lengthy trek to San Antonio.  Essentially if you failed to get into West/Prime…  South might just be the convention you are looking for.

Pax Pox

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The Convention Crud

So this weekend obviously was Pax South, and I am not sure how you could read my blog and not know this… but whatever.  It went pretty well overall, but on the drive home Sunday my throat kept getting more and more sore.  At first I was thinking that maybe I was getting closer to Oklahoma, and as a result my allergies were just going haywire.  The entire time I was in the San Antonio area, I honestly did not have much issue with my allergies.  It was just like they magically went away, so in theory driving back home…  could feel like I was coming down with something.  However yesterday I heard from Damai that he too is in the sore throat phase, so I am guessing we quite literally did walk away with whatever crap happened to be going around down south.  PAX is this universal incubator for illness, and last year I somehow escaped catching whatever Ashgar and Rae ended up bringing home.  This year however I was not quite so lucky, and in spite of using the hand sanitizer every single time I passed one…  I still caught something.

I’ve been in hibernation pretty much the last two days.  Originally I had requested off both Monday and Tuesday to recover, but had not planned on actually taking Tuesday.  However it seems like I apparently was clairvoyant in knowing that I would need that extra day.  This morning… I still feel like crap, but my fever broke sometime between going to bed Monday night and getting up Tuesday morning.  My lungs are getting consistently clearer, and my throat while feeling sore still is getting consistently less sore as time goes on.  While it felt flu-like at first, I am guessing it is just a run of the mill virus or cold, because I seem to be getting over it pretty quickly.  The irony is… that I completely resisted catching whatever my wife had prior to the convention… but I am guessing that probably taxed my immune system to the point of catching something while there.  In any case I think I am more or less on the mend, but going out and grabbing some groceries last night left me completely exhausted, so I can only imagine what state I might be in tonight when I finally get home.

Lady Monk

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The great irony of a gaming convention is the fact that during those few days… I end up playing far fewer games than I usually do.  The other strange side effect has been, that now that I am back at home…. I am not quite sure what to play.  As a result I have been poking my head into Diablo 3, even though I have seemed to lack much purpose.  Monday night I spent a good chunk of it running around with Grace and completing various stuff like greater rifts.  Then when she logged to go take care of something, I ended up starting a brand new character.  I realize that I could have probably gotten one of my friends to boost it to 70 within a few minutes… but instead I have been leveling a monk through doing bounties.  The funny thing about this is that with all of my paragon levels, Master is the new Normal.  I could probably ratchet up my difficulty some more, but I like how fast everything seems to be going right now.  I’ve needed to run bounties for a bit, and doing so on a fresh character feels like I am gaining more than doing it on my crusader.

The truth is, I’ve never managed to get a monk to 70.  My original non-seasonal one is 68 and I realize that I could very easily push it over the line.  The problem being that I just haven’t had any desire to play non-seasonal characters.  I have been in this mindset that “seasonal” are the “real” characters… and that the normal characters are almost like playing on some test server somewhere.  I realize that it is backwards from the truth, but I have shifted to this point of view as looking at the season as the only thing that really matters.  As a result I just can’t seem to bring myself to play any characters that aren’t in the current season, which I guess works out nicely since that seems to be what most people are playing.  The only thing that worries me is how I am going to function when I need to merge this season into my existing already overloaded bank.  At some point I need to spend some time eating some legendaries and unlocking abilities, because half of the junk that is clogging my non-seasonal vault is never actually going to get used.  In any case as of last night I hit level 43 , and I plan on working it up some more tonight.  I should be able to hit 70 in no time as I am gaining at least one level per bounty step on average.

 

Pax Deconstructed

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Not Prepared

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It turns out Illidan was right…. I was not prepared.  This morning I thought I would break down some things I learned this weekend while at PAX South.  Overall I had a fun time, but there were just some things that didn’t quite work out as planned.  The first year it felt like I had a lot of my time planned as I had numerous media appointments to attend to.  This year I was going for what ended up being the polar opposite, and that didn’t quite work out either.  Over the course of the weekend I walked roughly 25 miles, and either I have the beginning of the PAX Pox… or my allergies are just going haywire now that I am back in Oklahoma.  I am so insanely sore, and in truth I lacked the stamina for this conference.  Before the first year I had been walking every single day, and for the most part I took it all in stride.  This time around I am thirty pounds heavier and have not been walking at all…  and it took its toll.  Both Friday and Saturday I was up by 5:30-6 am and out at the convention by 8.  Then after wandering around largely aimlessly trying to sort out what to do for several hours…. I ended up leaving around 4pm each day and going back to the hotel room and crashing.  The first day this was largely due to a general lack of parking downtown, and having several of the major garages booked out by another corporate event.  On Saturday however it was absolutely due to the fact that I was simply “PAXed Out” and too tired to keep going.

The other thing that did not phase me during year one, but absolutely did during year two were the crowds.  There was this strange thing going on, where there were fewer big games at the convention…. but the crowds were so much bigger.  A prime example of this is the fact that on Saturday we were trying to find a table in the gaming area to play board games.  This area was over twice the size of it was during year two… but every single table was full with zero signs of anything opening up.  Similarly every other room in the convention seemed packed… the Jam room… the Arcade room… the Intel PC Gaming room…  all were just packed with people.  While the first year did not bother me at all when it came to crowds…. this year definitely did.  It makes me pretty certain that there is zero way I could handle the type of crowds that a PAX prime has.  By the time I left at 4 pm, on top of the exhaustion…. I just needed some peace and quiet and a place to sit down and chill.  I realize I could have probably gotten this in the AFK room…. but given that every other area was packed…. even the first aid station, I figured that would also be completely packed.  I don’t want to give the impression that I did not enjoy myself, because I absolutely did… it was just a much harder convention for me than the first year.  Year one was this super chill event, and it has just gotten considerably bigger.

The People

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For me at least this con was absolutely about the people.  The folks that were in attendance were…  Ashgar, Thalen, Paragon, Rae, John her brother, Tick, Dallian, Damai, Rowan, Sctrz, Genda and his wife, Exale and Maovis.  This at least was the number of people that I actually managed to meet up with at least for a period of time.  The problem is that it is really damned hard to have a meaningful amount of time with fourteen different people, that may or may not be in the same place.  I felt like I was constantly trying to meet up with different groups of people and failed miserably at spending much time with any of them.  Then there were other folks that I meant to meet up with, but never actually saw.  Early on I had every intent to try and meet Fynralyl and Psynister on the way down, or Beau and Leala…  but I simply ran out of mental bandwidth to try and juggle everything.  In theory I could have come up with ways to make it happen, but in trying to keep my schedule super flexible…. I spent a good deal of time simply doing nothing.  So the truth is next year… a bunch of things need to change.  While I hate having every moment of the day scheduled out, I feel like I am going to have to make some hard and fast appointments so that I can feel like I actually made the most of the weekend.  I also plan on making some more media appointments because they did a great job in the first year of breaking up the day… and also giving me a quiet place away from the crowd to sit down and talk about games with the developers.  To facilitate that however I am going to have to really get my shit in gear and get that Media pass.

Now that I am home… I just feel overloaded.  On top of the sore throat and sore everything else…. I am just feeling like I need to hide out from the world for awhile.  It is situations like this that make me realize that I am in fact introverted, regardless of how hard I try and be extroverted.    The happiest moments of the weekend for me, were introducing people to Ultimate Chicken Horse, sitting in the board game area and playing Codenames, or just chilling out and collecting street passes with Dallian early in the morning.  Had I been able to do more of that I probably would have been fine staying considerably longer, but there was one period where I walked non-stop for two and a half hours trying to sort out what the hell we were doing…. and after that, I was pretty much beat.  Essentially I think the key for me to be able to function at this bigger PAX Prime is to have better planning, which is not exactly a strong suit of mine.  I tend to do best when I roll with the punches, but there are far too many punches in this case to be able to roll with them.  I will say it was amazing to get to hang with all of these people in person, but I just feel guilty that I didn’t get to spend all that much time with any one of them.

Next Year

All of this said… I am absolutely going next year.  This is the only PAX that is really viable for me to attend.  Also we have made it into and event that my wife actually looks forward to for completely different reasons.  The big thing for me is going to be sorting out the parking thing.  That first day… was a huge damper on the weekend, and it made me super paranoid about finding parking on Saturday.  I think I am going to try out the bus system next year, that way I can get downtown without having to drive… which also makes me less paranoid about partaking of adult beverages.  Next year I also need to take more photos… because in the entirety of the weekend I only took five or six.  I think the biggest thing however is going to be scheduling actual lunch and dinner times with different groups of people so that I feel less like I abandoned folks.  I got to spend the least amount of time with Rowan and Sctr and Genda and his wife, but in both cases I get to the Dallas area more often than I do San Antonio, so hopefully I will be able to meet up with them on another occasion soon.  The biggest goal however is to be a much smaller person by the time PAX 2017 rolls around, because that thirty pounds and lack of regular walking made the biggest impact on my enjoyment.  Once I made it back to the hotel each night, I was just dead to the world.  I am so thankful that I ended up taking today off from work, because if I had to roll back in after travelling yesterday, and just the sheer exhaustion of the convention…. I am not entirely certain I would be able to function.

 

 

 

 

Parking Debacle

Pax Day One

The first day of pax was interesting, mostly because it started off on a bad foot.  I wrote about yesterday how I failed to charge my cell phone over the course of the previous night.  The positive of that however is that I learned my power bank does a phenomenal job of charging phones, and by the time it took me to drive from the hotel to the convention center it was sitting around 63% from the previous 15%.  Last year there was a plethora of parking options up and down Commerce and Market streets, but unfortunately yesterday every single lot had a full sign.  I finally ended up parking in a surface lot, having to pay $20 for 8 hours.  On the way to the convention I stopped and chatted with one of the attendants at the garage I parked in last year, just to find out what time of the day it actually filled up.  Turns out that some other corporate event is going on downtown, and that a company had booked pretty much all of the city run garages, greatly reducing the amount of available parking space.  She said that today they would be open again, so here is hoping that I can get into the garage I am used to.

As far as the day itself, it took a little while to connect with everyone.  I met up with Dallian in this coffee shop area near a giant Pax South sign, where we milled around until we joined up with Paragon and Damai… and eventually Ashgar.  Since we had not heard anything from Thalen yet, we wandered into the con and around the floor.  All the while I was on lookout for trying to sort out where exactly my first appointment was.  Turns out it was downstairs at the river level…. which is not something I even knew existed.  The rooms down there were super nice however, and in truth I liked them better than the area the Motiga suite was last year.  When I went to scope the place out I got nabbed by Deanna from Perfect World, and ushered into their room to hang out while waiting on time for my appointment.  They had this really great spread of brownies and other pastries, but unfortunately… I had just eaten a large breakfast at the hotel thinking it might be awhile before I found food on the con floor.

Livelock

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I will of course be writing a proper piece for MMOGames.com once I have more stable internet, but I still wanted to talk a little bit about it this morning.  I have to admit I was not really sure what to expect from all of the press announcements leading up to me actually getting to test it.  I had a basic idea that it would be a top down shooter, but I was not really certain past that.  I turns out that the game as a whole is a love letter to the twin stick shooters of the past, updated and infused with modern gameplay mechanics.  So in my head it feels like Ikari Warriors meets Diablo meets some almost MMO mechanics.  When the game is finished it will include three mechs that have specific niches, and in the discussion they mentioned tank/healer/dps holy trinity.  It seems as you level up your character to 30 you unlock ways to swap up your abilities and make them more defensive or more damaging.  I asked the ever important question about how big of a detriment a new player will be to seasoned players… and apparently the game is more skill based.  Level 1 characters and Level 30 characters have the same health, and the upgrades to abilities don’t really crank up the damage value, but instead change the way they work.  So in theory this might be a great game for impromptu co-op with friends.  That has always been the challenge in our own little circle, that if someone was not there on the first night… it is often difficult to play catch up and be viable until everyone simply hits the level cap.  The other nice thing about this game is that it is a straight up $19.99 game, and I grilled them a bit about future monetization plans.  It seems like right now they have no plans to offer a whole bunch of DLC characters or anything like that… they are just trying to design a really tight three player co-op experience and that is in many ways refreshing.

Ultimate Chicken Horse

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The other game I really want to talk about from yesterday is Ultimate Chicken Horse.  Now this is a title we have talked about before on AggroChat on our PAX Prime Show.  While Tam, Kodra, and Ashgar tried to explain the game to me… I didn’t really “grok” it until I was sitting there yesterday with a controller in hand playing it myself.   The idea is pretty simple…  you have a platformer that you compete with up to four other players.  The level designs are pretty classic and relatively simple to complete.  What makes the game amazing is that each round, each player gets a block that they can place somewhere in the level.  Some of these blocks help the players out like springboards or platforms…. and others will kill the player like crossbows that fire arrows, or spiked floors.  The goal of the game is the make the level difficult enough for at least one of the people you are playing with to die…. but not so hard that you cannot beat it yourself.  If everyone beats the level… no points are awarded.  If no one beats the level…  no points are awarded.  Things start to get really insane about five rounds in when the map becomes a field of death and destruction.  I can already tell this is going to be one of those must own “go to” games for hanging out with friends.  The best part about it is the fact that it does couch co-op and does it amazingly well.  The only problem I am going to have is that I am not sure if it supports network co-op, and I simply don’t have a group of people to play it with on a regular basis in local mode.  I am absolutely going to buy the game regardless because I want to support this flavor of insanity.  If you get a  chance, you should totally check it out when it ends up on steam shortly.

Ending the Day

The big problem with the day yesterday, was the fact that I was super paranoid the entire time about the crappy parking option I had.  Previously the $10 lots were for as long as you cared to stay, meaning I could be there late at night without much issue.  I talked to the parking attendant about the lot I happened to be in, and she mentioned that it was a privately owned lot and they were super quick to boot cars.  So the entire time while roaming around Pax I kept looking at my phone to check when it was time to walk out and get the car and try and move it to someplace better.  I finally headed out around 3:30 in the afternoon to do that, and in the time it took me to exit that surface lot… someone had already taken my space.  I drove around Commerce and Market streets and all of those lots still showed the “Full” sign, so I circled back around to the lot I had parked in… which now had a barricade across its entrance as well.  So everyone went off to Dave and Busters, and I instead went to the Hotel and played 3DS until my wife and friend got in a few minutes later.  Once the traffic had died down we went out roaming for a bit, because we needed some pop to throw in the hotel fridge.  The day took a lot more out of me than I realized, and I ended up crashing really hard about 9 pm.  Over the course of the day I walked a little over 15,000 steps, which is something I am just not used to right now.  It was fine and well while I was in motion, but once I got back to the hotel room… it took its toll.  Overall was a really good first day, other than the parking bullshit.  Next year I am going to sort out the bus system and just use it, because in theory there is a bus that picks up right outside this hotel and drops off near the convention center.

 

Journey to Pax

Travel Day

Yesterday was a very long day, and by the time I reached the hotel room last night I was pretty out of it and ready to crash.  In theory I should have blogged then, because now I feel like I am running late by stopping to do it this morning.  The travel itself went really smoothly.  The most interesting part about it was just how the world gradually warmed as we went south.  It was in the mid to high 30s when we left Oklahoma, and by the time we hit Austin it was a balmy 60 degrees out in the evening.  The other big revelation is that how much faster it seemed when not driving in the pouring rain like we were last year.  Our trip to Pax 2015 was honestly pretty miserable, and we got caught up in a quagmire of construction between Waco and Temple that put a massive crimp in the entire trip.  This time around we were bracing ourselves for the same thing to happen, but honestly the only really bad traffic we encountered was when we finished eating dinner in Austin and were attempting to leave town at around 7:30 in the evening.  As we went through the downtown area it was this irrational bumper to bumper traffic where everyone alternated between riding the gas and brake.

As far as the trip itself we meandered our way down taking in a bunch of random stuff along the way.  We however made significantly better time than we did in 2015, and as a result we had quite a lot of time to kill when we finally got to Austin.  I think more than anything that is the point at which I started to slow down.  Up until that point I had been constantly in motion with a clear destination in mind, and without that driving me I lost steam quickly.  By the time we actually met some friends for dinner I was pretty out of it, and while I attempted to keep a robust conversation going…  inside the world had turned into the “wah wah, wah wah wah wah” of the adult characters on the peanuts cartoons.  So when we finally hit the hotel room, we shuffled everything up from the car and attempted to “set up base”.  I would not have even set up my laptop last night probably, but my wife needed to use it to remote into something in her school.  The problem is… in my rush to make that happen…  I kinda did a half assed job of getting everything hooked up.

The Mishap

In the process of hooking things up, I connected my USB hub up to the laptop, and into that I connected my phone and the powerbank.  When I got up this morning, raised the lid of the laptop… and expected to be able to wiggle the mouse and have the screen come to life.  The problem is… nothing happened.  I thought maybe there had been a critical update or something that came through…  so I attempted to power on the laptop…  nothing happened.  Then it dawned on me…. that I had hooked everything up… except the laptop power supply.  So that means as a result my phone is also now sitting at 15%.  So in theory…  I get to test my powerbank early in this process because there is no way I can handle existing with only 15% battery.  At the moment I have it hooked to a high powered ipad style wall charger, and a usb3 cable… so here is hoping that while I eat breakfast it will continue to charge and maybe be up to 50% or so.  However for most of the day I have this feeling that I will be leaving it hooked to the power bank.

The awesome thing is that last night the whole group text thing seems to have worked, because after I sent the initial test message I crashed and crashed hard.  Over the night there were seven messages in that thread and it seems as though everyone met up at the Hard Rock.  There is a bit of a feeling of “missing out” because I am staying nowhere near the convention.  That said… after the drive there is no way I could have functioned.  I realize that Thalen made a longer drive, and he apparently joined in the reindeer games…  but yeah…  I was personally toast.  So at this point I am going to wrap this thing up, head down and grab a quick breakfast and then finish packing my bag for the day.  The goal is to be parked at the convention center around 8 am, and hopefully meet up with folks then.  There are a bunch of anxieties that I am trying to keep pushed down so that I can function normally today.  However if it goes anything like last year I am going to have a really fun time.