PAX East Blasts into Boston: A Preview and Survival Guide

It’s impossible to choose among the hundreds of events at PAX East, so here is a smattering of highlights you won’t want to miss before the weekend—or your game—is over.

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Photos provided by PAX East

PAX East, which returns to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center this weekend, is now the self-proclaimed champion of its nerdy weight class, billing itself as “the largest gaming festival in North America.”

But how to navigate this absurd array of geekery, from tabletop, console, and PC game play areas to nerdcore concerts, panel discussions, and gaming tournaments? An estimated 70,000 attendees—many dressed as their favorite plumbers, dark elves, and demon hunters—will be swarming the convention floor. It can all feel overwhelming.

First, some survival tips: Before you get on site, check out the online forums for insider tips. Like all good dungeon crawlers, you’ll need a map, so do get the guide when you arrive (or download the Guidebook app for your smart device). Also, hydrate. Be prepared to wait in lines. (You can monitor the lines for particular panels on Twitter @PAX_Lines.) And what is this Pokemon Bar Crawl all about? Ask rabid veterans via Twitter at @Official_PAX.

Then, plan your attack.

(Sadly, PAX East is already sold out, but some of the higher-profile events will be simulcast live on Twitch.)

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Talks & Panels

The heart of the convention, panels are where you can hear veterans discuss issues affecting the industry, learn how to be a better gamer, rub elbows with legends, and ask questions.

“Game Devs: The Next Generation” recounts how five area students from Hampshire, Becker, and Champlain Colleges, WPI, and UMass Amherst learned “the black art of making a game” in just 11 weeks at local game booster MassDiGI’s Summer Innovation Program. Friday, 10 a.m., Dragonfly Theatre.

Check out keynote address, Storytime with Alex Rigopulos,” a local hero and the CEO and co-founder of Harmonix Logic Systems, the company behind Rock Band, Dance Central, Frequency, and Amplitude, who will share stories from the gaming biz. Friday, 10:30 a.m., Main Theatre.

“How Urban Black and Latino Culture Can Be the Next Frontier in Games” looks at reasons why there’s a notable lack of diversity in gaming, and how that can change. Friday, 12 p.m., Cuttlefish Theatre.

Learn how to break into the biz at “Land My Job! Inside Advice on Getting into the Game Industry,” including advice from industry employees ranging from coders to designers, marketers and community managers. Friday, 2 p.m., Condor Theater.

“Games That Are So Bad, They’re Good.” Enough said. Saturday, 6 p.m., Bumblebee Theatre.

In “Sex, Sexy & Sexism: Fixing Gender Inequality in Gaming,” media critics and gaming journalists examine gender bias and imbalance in the gaming industry. Sunday, 11:30 a.m., Dragonfly Theatre.

Dungeons & Dragons and Penny Arcade present “Acquisitions Inc. Live: Dragons Over Easy,” with Morgan Webb, former co-host of G4′s X-Play, and other nerdy celebs, who bring their live D&D game to Boston for the first time. Sunday, 1:30 p.m., Main Theatre.

As we embrace the digital age, how long before games soon fulfill the function of heroic legend and classical mythology? Come find out at “The Mythology In and Of Games: Why the Legend of Zelda is just as important as the Legend of Beowulf.” Sunday, 3:30 p.m., Arachnid Theatre.

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Concerts

“Is it one attribute you did not roll? / Is it one bottle in the Bag of Hold? / Is it one goal: to pass the stat check? / To sip the extract, you command the respect.”

Thus sings nerdcore god MC Frontalot, who busts a few nerd rhymes, and stereotypes, along with The Doubleclicks and The Video Game OrchestraSaturday, 8 p.m., Main Theatre.

Friday’s lineup, same time and place, includes Bit Brigade, Metroid Metal, and Anamanaguchi.

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Gaming & Tournaments

What’s your game?

All weekend long, test your skills on the tournament battlefield (or building-field). Compete in tabletop games like Warhammer 40,000, Settlers of Catan, and even My Little Pony; or PC games like Minecraft, or console games such as Mario Kart and Halo 4.

If the last video game you played involved blasting black-and-white asteroids, or assisting an 8-bit frog across the road, check out the low-stress, free-to-play, old-school arcade games courtesy of American Classic Arcade Museum.

You can also channel your inner (or outer) diva at the Dance Stage, where brave gamers groove to Dance Revolution, and Freeplay Stage, where you and your pals can flaunt your Rock Band star mojo. Be sure to also wander to the Tabletop zone for some dice-rolling action, and try out games before spending any dollars, or Federation credits.

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Expo Hall

Laser blasts, gun battles, robotic yelps. The Exhibitor Hall is a feast for the senses—and undead. Some highlights, weighted toward local companies:

Framingham-based Disruptor Beam (booth 1051) will be showing off the tablet version of Game of Thrones Ascent and the just-announced Star Trek Timelines. Get your picture taken in front of the booth’s awesome photo walls.

You can find Cambridge-based Demiurge Studios with D3Publisher (booth 194), showcasing their hit mobile game, Marvel Puzzle Quest. Look for multiple Marvel-themed giveaways and raffles.

Needham-based Turbine/WB Games is showing off Infinite Crisis, its multiplayer online battle arena game starring DC universe characters (booths 536 & 636). Thirty stations will allow fans to try the game, and some $25,000 is up for grabs in three tournaments taking place throughout the weekend.

The big title that’s generating buzz is Wildstar by NCSoft (booth 562), a sci-fi MMO (massively multiplayer online game) developed by former designers from Blizzard Entertainment, makers of the wildly popular World of Warcraft.

Ubisoft (booths 824 & 836) will be touting Watch Dogs, its new open world action-adventure video game about the dangerous lives of hackers.

Oculus VR (booth 234), makers of the Rift virtual reality headset, will be at PAX East, in their first big event since being snatched up by Facebook. Visitors can test-drive EVE: Valkyrie.

The Indie Megabooth includes local games such as World Zombination, Codename Cygnus, Jungle Rumble, Elegy for a Dead World, Tower of Guns, and Let’s Quip! Be sure to also check out the PAX East Indie Showcase (booth 692), an annual curated selection of great “indie games you’ve never heard of.”

Wizards of the Coast (booth 462) promises Magic: The Gathering fans an “interactive experience” with Magic’s Planeswalkers. Plus, new Magic products releasing this summer will be unveiled for the first time at PAX East.

Finally, two Worcester Polytechnic Institute (booth 599) seniors have created a game called Gone, which schools players in depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Let’s hope you’re not suffering from any of those afflictions once PAX East is over.

 

PAX East takes place this weekend, April 11-13, at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, 415 Summer St., Boston, east.paxsite.com.


Full disclosure: The author is also a presenter of the panel “Why D&D Is Still Awesome: A 40th Anniversary Dungeons & Dragons Tribute,” with fellow D&D experts David Ewalt and Jon Peterson. Saturday, 3 p.m., Cuttlefish Theatre.

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