Let's talk about hats. Every year, some lucky PAX exhibitor gives away what turns out to be the must-wear headgear of the weekend. We've seen traffic cones from Plants Vs. Zombies that made us happy, and this year it was all witchy Gandalf hats from Guardians of Middle-earth. They were pretty okay, though we had to triple-check which game they were from because they are not heavily branded (memo to brand managers: if you're making a traditionally upturned hat, put the logo lockup on the back not the front). One gent detourned his into an awesome satellite dish which made us extremely happy (him, too, we think).
We spent a lot of time hanging with the amazing nerds who built the games included in the PAX 10, which honors Penny Arcade's favorite indie games of the year. These folks are almost all shocked, humble, rapidly blinking true humans who seem genuinely uncertain what to do with their newfound notoriety. They are charming and wonderful and one of the best parts of the big show. Here's what we learned:
- Containment is one of those games that looks like you ought to keep walking past it—but once you get your hands on it, it turns into a real delight. They're local (Ballard!), they are truly microscopic in scale, and they are making a lovely zombie-themed puzzler for PC and iPad. Do check them out.
- 50% of all conversations begin with the following string of words: "So where are you at with your Kickstarter …?"
- Indie darling Bastion (from a couple PAX 10s back) is up in the 6E Ballroom this year celebrating a new milestone: their release this week on iOS (at, it should be noted, a third the price of XBLA, at five Earth dollars compared to fifteen Microsoft dollars). You can play the new game (with a couple different touch control schemes) on iPads at their booth—or, even better, just download the game and spend your time at the booth playing the primitively appointed first prototype of Bastion.
- Hey, what happened to my Bastion?
- We checked out a sweet-looking new game called Monaco that can best be described as "Gauntlet meets Ocean's Eleven." You probably already know whether you want to check this out based on that lazy-reviewer construction, but the sweet old-skool graphics and nifty heist-movie feel are worth a peek. It's coming out soon on PC & Mac and will thereafter be released on a yet-unnamed console. We were told "it's probably the console you have," so take that for what it's worth.
- Between the Mass Effect–esque cage dancers, the themed shots served in test tubes, the huge meat carving table (red and green magic, natch—blood!), and the crazily fecund and mossy Wolfgang-Puck-mushroom-distribution platforms (straight-up green magic?), local gamer powerhouse Wizards of the Coast knows how to throw a Magic release party—back at Showbox in the Market again, like with last year's Innistrad event. (They were going to have aerialists this year apparently, but the ceiling was too low.) According to eyewitnesses, the announcement of Return to Ravnica at PAX East led to nigh-religious levels of spontaneous cheering, bro-hugging, and even—literally—weeping. Like people actually jumped out of their chairs, knocking them over, to the extent that security backed up to the doors and thought Something Was Seriously Amiss. Everyone loved 2005's Ravnica (hey, wait a minute, is there a Croatian-ism there?) and it remains one of the most popular expansions of all time—so it's no surprise folks were downright giddy at the Showbox, studying the 33 oversized preview cards from the new Ravnica-themed set. (Or, okay, maybe the test tubes account for some of that.)
- Tableau from the Green Room. What color is Breaking Bad?
- We feel a little weird reporting this, but it brought us back to our own tormented youth so we had to pass it along. While relaxing with a board game in between bouts of crowd-surfing, we overheard a 14/15-year-old woman waiting for her mom with an adult male friend of her mom's say "So this really smart guy I know only ever has three things going through his brain: science, rape, and porn." Adult Male stammered through an I-do-not-know-how-to-respond response that dealt elliptically with men and porn, and then she asked "So is that the kind of stuff you think about?" Then her mom showed up and we could all start breathing again.
- Oh, c'mon, we're so close! As we type this, local nerd production company Dead Gentleman (they are nerds—they do not produce the nerds, not as far as we know) are within about 5% of funding their Kickstarter to create a sequel to The Gamers: Dorkness Rising. These guys are great for reasons that are too numerous to mention here, but not least: all their stuff is Creative Commons, so you're free to rip it, share it, remix it, whatever. Check out their stuff for free online—if you're inspired, throw a couple bucks their way and pat yourself on the back.
- Back in the PAX 10, we checked out Puzzlejuice, which mixes Tetris and Boggle on iOS to create a brain-shaking game experience. It really is fun, but if you hate either of those games, you should stay away. The rest of us are having fun, though.