PAX kind of beat the shit out of us today, but in a good way like a much-needed gym trip. We saw the sights at the main exhibition hall, which was like living through a movie mashup of Tron and Un Chien Andalou. WE ARE SO SMALL. In any case, we're joyfully tired and ready to report. We're writing this amidst the blissed-out cacophony of the Magic: The Gathering preview party at Showbox at the Market for the new release Theros, of which more later. Lots of nerds, lots of booze, and a dark corner to camp in—we are where we're meant to be. At the end of a long day of hunting and gathering, we feast and tell stories and ask the gods for mercy.

  • First off, speaking of Magic: holy crap, local heroes Wizards of the Coast always throw the best parties, and tonight is no exception! The Showbox is mobbed with festive, fervent nerds who solved puzzles (rebus and otherwise) to earn much-sought-after tickets. Magic finally (inevitably?) has a Greek-mythology-inspired release with a bunch of cool new mechanics and whole hero-inspired narrative, and this party previews cards from the late September release. Like Innistrad, this is a set with a top-down inspiration (basically, Harry Hamlin), and the first major enchantment theme since Urza's Saga. We're going to check out the latest online demo tomorrow, so more then, but Magic players seem to be pretty dang happy with this set so far.

    This looks like human Magic card but it is 3 feet tall.
    • This looks like human Magic card but it is 3 feet tall.
  • We caught a quick glimpse of That Dragon, Cancer and got sucked in—because an interactive videogame tone poem about terminal childhood cancer, amiright? It's spooky without being macabre and it touches an empathetic nerve with those who still have a few left. Check it out!

  • First thing this morning we attended the panel "Everything We Know Is Sexist: Now What?" Though it was one of the first panels of the day, the hall was completely full, so yeah, it's an issue. It was primarily directed at devs, which are about 93% male, whereas gamers as a population are about 50% male. (Note: this is pretty bad, but hardly an outlier in the whole wide world.)

    Among the problems raised were the physical idealization of female characters, which invariably leads to the protest, "But male characters are idealized, too!" Yeah, sure, but male idealized characters reflect a male power fantasy, and female characters reflect another male sexual fantasy. The point was raised that female sex fantasies are rarely muscle-bound Schwarzenegger-types, but rather the lither Ryan Gosling–types. The panel also discussed the Bechdel test as a starting point for determining whether your game might be relying too heavily on the male POV, which was sweet and worth thinking about. As one panelist pointed out (duh), passing the Bechdel test is literally the least you can do. Also, the panel discussed the wealth of untapped material from female/LGBT/persons of color. Solving this can only make gaming a richer experience and continue to build an audience, which ultimately helps the industry—not to mention that diversity gives credibility to games as an art form. Diversity isn't a zero-sum game; the FPS with a SWM protagonist will always get made. As a contrast, the panel pointed out that comic sales have been pretty static for the last twenty years since there's such resistance to diversity (cf. Todd McFarlane).

    Finally, the panel addressed what can be done. Suggestions included gender-swapping all the characters in your game and seeing what happens (what if it's a women who's out for revenge because her boyfriend was raped and murdered?), sharing your writing with trusted colleagues from different backgrounds, and listening to complaints. One panelist stressed that making "the unexpected choice" surprises and delights the audience, which ultimately means a richer gaming experience. This is not over.
  • Our love for Tengami (in the Indie Megabooth) is without end. A textless, atmospheric adventure game taking place inside a Japanese pop-up book, Tengami has the ineffable, feel-good weirdness of Sword & Sorcery EP, with meditative gameplay and a tactile interface that can't help but communicate the love and care of the team (three folks, split between the UK and Okinawa, who are veterans of big name titles). See it if you're at the show (they even have some real pop-ups on hand), or watch for it on iOS later this year, and eventually on Wii U, PC, and OS X.

  • We had the opportunity to watch some Assassin's Creed: Black Flag multiplayer gameplay. The PvP adds an exciting element to the AC universe, plus: PIRATES. The single-player affords you the opportunity to captain a ship, the Jackdaw, in addition to traditional AC gameplay. Multiplayer pits you against other gamers vying for the same targets. Seen in light of this morning's sexism panel (see above), while the white male characters wear traditional heavy garb, the female characters are in Halloween-worthy sexy-pirate togs, and the black male characters are bare-chested Mandingos. Still, Ubisoft was lauded for their sensitivity and collaboration in AC3, so we're willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and see where this is going.

  • One of the more inspired game-PR creations of this year's PAX was today's free Elder Scrolls food truck. Although boo for misspelling nirnroot ("ninroot") for two press releases in a row! We know you haven't played the game and don't actually care about it, but please keep up appearances. (It's only, like, the name of the whole world, people.)

    Mmmmm, Eidarmelt....
    • Mmmmm, Eidarmelt....
  • On the subject of D&D's collaboration with Penny Arcade, Acquisitions Inc., let us establish one thing: even if you don't know anything about anything, it's just fucking amazing that the Paramount is *sold out to the rafters* for people to watch a single, four-player game of Dungeons & Dragons ON STAGE. That is ridiculous. Chris Perkins is a Hall of Fame Dungeon Master (in full Bhaal makeup this year, no less), and this year's new addition, mega-author Patrick Rothfuss, was likable and funny—and he made for some good schmomedy, with a recurring chandelier bit and a long funny take involving a dryad foursome and auto-asphyxiation. But now let's just talk amongst us connoisseurs of Acquisitions Inc.: This year's installment was probably the least good of what's been an otherwise superlative series. The building blocks of a great session were there—a unicorn with the voice of Wilbur, sort-of-accidental fireballing of party members, a climactic (nay, historic!) fatal tarrasque crotch punt—but unlike previous installments, whole minutes went by without a good laugh. As any D&D player in a long-running group will tell you, chemistry is everything: We didn't notice until this year that the absent Wil Wheaton ("HIS. NAME. IS. AEOFEL.") had been the only positive/noncynical presence at the table, and that made him a critical foil. Also, it doesn't help that the crowd input has gone from occasional and inspired to often loud and distracting. Don't get us wrong, it was still fun, but let's hope for a better outing next year.
  • This is a dude hanging out on a keyboard and playing game-flavored music for tips. Hey, dude: You are great.

    8 bit forever, yo.
    • 8 bit beats.

An important programming note for people without PAX passes: We've been planning to hit the Six3 Indie Expo over at ACT, which is free and open from 10am to 6pm tomorrow. You can see a lot of great-looking local games like "GO PLAGUE MONKEY! GO!" ("You’re an animal. You’re sick. You should be locked in a cage… but you aren’t.... You control a monkey with a highly fatal, contagious disease who is accidentally let loose in a randomly generated city. Go in every building! Kill everyone! Don’t let them stop you! Go Plague Monkey! Go!")

The Stranger Testing Department is Rob Lightner, Paul Hughes, and Mary Traverse.