Welcome to PAX AUS 2014
How do improve on PAX AUS 2013, arguably Australiaís biggest and best gaming convention? PAX AUS was huge last year, taking over the Royal Melbourne Showgrounds over a weekend in July. There were great guests, great panels, some great new games from some big publishers on display and loads of indie developers getting the chance to promote their wares to the more than 50,000 attendees. It would be a tough ask to compete with that.
Location and timing
OK, so the city hasnít changed, but the convention has moved to the massive Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. The whole show is under one roof (well two rather close adjoining roofs), rather than scattered across several buildings at the Showgrounds. There was nothing wrong with the fact that last yearís was under multiple roofs until the weather turned nasty. Walking across to the PC Freeplay Area and the smaller Panel Theatres in the rain wasnít really a fun experience. Not the organiserís fault, it is Melbourne after all. But this year everything was under one roof. Hurrah.
Holding off until late October during the lovely Spring weather was a masterstroke as well. The weather is much milder and the flowers are blooming. Interstate and international visitors get to experience Melbourne at its glorious best. It is also Halloween weekend, so there are plenty of people dressed in the best horror or cosplay outfits. Sometimes it hard to tell which was which though.
The Big Publishers
With the larger expo hall and an extra year of watching from the sidelines, some of the larger publishers have decided to come on board. Last yearís big two, Ubisoft (showing off Far Cry 4, The Crew, The Division and their flagship series title Assassinís Creed Unity) and Nintendo (Super Smash Bros - on WiiU and 3DS, Bayonetta 2 and Mario Kart 8), have turned up again along with World of Tanks and League of Legends, but others such as 2K (Evolve, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, NBA 2K15 and WWE 2K15 as well as vision from Battle Born), Warner Bros (Dying Light, Mortal Kombat X and Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor), Bethesda (Battlecry), and EA (Dragon Age: Inquisition) as well as a large display from Xbox have come to the party or increased their presence at the show.
The Small guys
But PAX isnít all about the big boys. PAX AUS 2014 has also given more room to the Indie developers to display their labour of love. Many have been feverishly getting their games to a playable state in time to show at the expo. And the guys and girls who have put in all the effort were more than happy to have a chat about their own game, their inspirations and gaming in particular. The Indie Area this year was huge, allowing both more games to be put on display, and more room for attendees to wander the area and enjoy their experience with a new favourite game. Check out some of our favourites in the PAX AUS Indie Special.
Yes, we all like to hop onto our PCs, consoles, handhelds or even mobile devices and do a spot of gaming. And yes, it is fun for the most part (as a reviewer, there are definitely times when I wished I hadnít volunteered to review a certain game), but PAX AUS is not just about digital games. Wandering around with Playstation Move controllers playing Joust is a heap of fun. Sitting down with a group of strangers to play a game of Cards Against Humanity was hilarious. Some of the card combinations had us all in stitches. And then there was the Tabletop Gaming area, with its Dungeons and Dragons (and other clones), Might and Magic card competitions and general non-electronic gaming. At least you know if the power goes out, thereís still something to play. There were also the Panels, of which I wish I could have attended more. Although there were some serious discussions at some, there were some funny moments too. Iíve come away with the conclusion that gamers are less serious than the population as a whole. And after the Expo Hall closed for the night, the next party started, with the musical acts including probably my favourite musical comedians, Tripod singing their gaming related tunes.
Gamers (both electronic and table-top) have a reputation for being loners, people who like to sit alone in the dark and play games. But PAX gets all these crazy folk out in one place, and everyone I spoke with has had a ball. PAX has been a great chance to catch up with friends and make new ones. Standing in line for the Expo Hall to open with a heap of strangers was a great experience, each talking about their favourite game or aspect of the event. Waiting in lines to check out the newest games whilst playing a 3DS and stocking up on StreetPass friends is even kinda cool. Apart from the waiting, of course.
So was PAX AUS 2014 able to better last yearís event? You better believe it. The organisers have done an amazing job to make everything run smoother than a new car. Now Iím just wondering how they are going to top it next year. And with the recent announcement that PAX AUS will remain in Melbourne for the next five years, Iím super-excited to see whatís in store. Iíll even book my accommodation now... oh wait, I live here. Score.