PAX West 2023, Day I
Observing a Flock of Nerds, Stoners, & Jocks …. Entering the Expo …. The Chase for the Dragon May Finally Have Climaxed …. Rediscovering My Responsibility to Defend the Dungeon …. Finally Feeling Independent .... Pay To Lose …. Media or Mediator? …. Half a Yard of Beer Later
Observing a Flock of Nerds, Stoners, & Jocks
Trudging down the stairs towards the Capital Hill Light Rail Station on Friday, September 1st felt like descending into a humid portal that placed me in a small “VR Chat” waiting room packed with wacky-looking avatars as far as the eye could see. Entering the station, I discovered that the platform wasn’t only packed with Reddit mods, gamers, basement dwellers, Nintendults, excited kids, screenagers, furries, weebs, and cosplayers commuting to the Convention Center for PAX West on the Southbound line, but it was also stuffed with the Bumbershoot (known locally as ‘Bump or Shoot’) music festival crowd, who were all trailing along to the same stop (Westlake) to reach the Seattle Center. Adding to this paradoxical mix of loud and shy personalities were a bunch of burly UW gym rats, half-balding alumni, and about 40 nearly identical blonde sorority girls who spoke in a loud dialect reminiscent of valley girls. The Husky Stadium goers were mostly packing the opposite side of the platform to go on the Northbound train towards UW, but the cliques were scattered around the platform because there were so many people. Sprinkled throughout this conflicting cast of chaotic characters were a handful of cooler-carrying outdoorsy families, complete with wide smiles, hiking gear, and the traditional nuclear family vibe. These broods were clearly ecstatic to celebrate their Memorial Day weekend in peace, perhaps by relaxing by Lake Washington, kayaking around Lake Crescent, fishing at Angle Lake, or taking a serene hike up Mount Rainier in the few remaining days of Summer.
But not me. I was on assignment so I had no time to dilly-dally by a tranquil lake or hike up a mountain and soak up the last UV rays hitting Seattle for the next eight months. Four friends of mine and I obtained media passes for PAX West through Fatty Strap. So, rather than relish the fleeting days of summer in Seattle, I was committed to spending four days dashing around an indoor video game convention. Of course, I was ecstatic to be visiting PAX with a bunch of friends at no cost & with media credentials, but I couldn’t help thinking that Mount Rainier would have a tremendous vista on that Friday and would just be so peaceful– especially since that suffocating smoke coming down from Canada cleared up just a few days ago. Instead of fresh air and sun, I’ll be smothered by BO and overstimulated by LEDs.
The Link came a few minutes later and was absolutely packed, it reeked of nerds, skunk weed, and fentanyl. A few of the out-of-town UW Husky game goers somehow got caught up in the music festival/PAX crowd on the southbound line and it was hilarious to watch them look around confused for a few seconds, and then realize they were on the wrong train.
Once we arrived at the Westlake station we sauntered over to the Sheraton Hotel to acquire our media credentials. Then, we skipped through to the media entrance and stumbled past the extremely lax security. In my experience, Seattle has extremely laid-back security for entering venues (compared to Los Angeles anyway) because they’re mainly looking for weapons– people often forget that Washington is a concealed carry state. Regardless, I don’t think it’d be hard to sneak in much of anything considering the dilapidated state of their security.
Once we got into the Convention Center we climbed to the fourth floor to reach one of the three main areas of PAX West: the Arch Expo Hall.
Entering the Expo
Walking into the Arch Expo Hall was awesome. We had to trek up 4 flights of escalators jammed with people moving unbelievably slowly to arrive at the Arch so I was definitely anxious to get out of the crowd a bit and check it out. They did a great job, everything looked awesome. There were so many booths: everything from Devolver Digital demos to Pokemon TGC competitions, Among Us minigames to a Five Nights at Freddie's horror hall, photo ops and merch booths, an Esports Arena and many life-sized monuments to video game gods. It was an epic scene crawling with bearded hipsters clustered together like cigarettes in a pack.
There was even a Cheez-It bar sitting in the corner with a classic red & white checkered floor that looked like it was straight out of a pizza restaurant from the early 50s. It was sick: they were passing out free Cheezits, letting people play the retro arcade games, and letting visitors pass out in the sectioned-off area.
I talked to someone working at the venue about how he got this gig. He said it was really easy to get seasonal, convention jobs through Lead Detectors, a gig/talent website (this is not sponsored). I’ll probably be checking it out in the future, seems like a good way to make a few extra bucks and see some cool shit.
The Chase for the Dragon May Finally Have Climaxed
As we were doing a walk-through of The Arch one of the first booths that caught my eye was a huge surprise for me. I didn’t realize that there was a new Yakuza game coming out this year, but I’m ecstatic to announce that “Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name” has a soft release date slotted for November 8th, 2023. After demoing it for about 15 minutes, I’m also happy to declare that “Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name” is now one of my most anticipated games coming out this year.
My least favorite thing about the last “Yakuza: Like a Dragon” (the previous entry in the sprawling series) was the Pokemon-style, JRPG combat system. I found myself using the same moves ad nasium toward the conclusion until I hit a tough boss and had to get back to the tedious underground XP grind for an hour or two to beat him. That being said, “Yakuza: Like a Dragon” is a perfect game in every other conceivable way: between the variety of minigames (including a “Mario Kart” clone, a fully stocked SEGA arcade, an epic business simulator, darts, gambling, karaoke, and so much more), the engaging story, the wacky side missions, the insane characters, and the constant video game references hidden throughout. In “Like a Dragon Gaiden” not only are the graphics improved and there seems to be a wider variety of minigames but the combat system has been completely revamped, reminiscent of older Yakuza games like “Yakuza: 0”. In the demo, they introduced a death arena where you can fight solo or in a team of up to 8 people. The solo mode was basically what you’d expect: mashing buttons to sloppily punch, kick, throw, bash, and grab increasingly absurd enemies including ninjas, dominatrixes, video game convention nerds, and construction workers. It was a blast, but the team mode is what really blew me away. The team mode is similar to the party that battled with Ichiban in “Yakuza: Like a Dragon,” however you can have twice as many members and it seems like you can scout a much wider variety of recruits. It almost seems like you can recruit nearly every NPC off the street to join your team and then train them as a certain class depending on their background/attributes, but that’s just optimistic speculation.
Rediscovering My Responsibility to Defend the Dungeon
Just seeing the words “Dungeon Defenders” sparked a madeleine, or, ratatouille effect that took me back into a world full of worry-free Christmas anticipation. I completely forgot about this game— just seeing the logo produced an awesome full-bodied nostalgia trip. When me and my cousins were kids, we used to play “Dungeon Defenders” for indefinite hours when our families would all get together for the holidays. At the booth, I played “Dungeon Defenders: Awakened” on the Steam Deck, which was released back in 2020, but it was new to me all the same. Notably improved graphics, new heroes and powers, and smooth controls on the Steam Deck– I might have to make a bundle purchase for my family this coming Christmas.
As I was speaking to the exhibitor at the booth, he revealed to me that Dungeon Defenders has new entries on the horizon: there’s a card game that seemed similar to Magic The Gathering: Commander. I tried to buy one at the booth but they were sold out by the time I stopped by. Additionally, they’re planning on releasing “Dungeon Defenders: Next” (release date TBA) a Tower Defence/Hero game that will be the first iPhone-compatible entry into the series, similar to Kingdom Rush or Bloons TD. I’m definitely going to be keeping my ear close to the grapevine for more updates about “DD: Next”.
Finally Feeling Independent
One indie game that stood out to me was a little booth off in the corner. It’s called “Lone Wolf,” an arcade-style beat-em-up reminiscent of the arcade classic “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles In Time” but with gorey, glossy, almost hairy graphics. The game was published by Play-Em and has hand-drawn 2-D characters in 3-D environments which gives it a really trippy, unique look. The release date is coming up towards the end of 2023.
“Fashion Dreamer” is another fun indie game that I had heard nothing about but seems pretty cool– I probably won’t be buying it but I think kids and fashionistas would have a blast. It's releasing in early November of this year on the Switch. It reminds me of an actually fun & complete “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” app– the one that was super popular when it came out back in 2014. The graphics also have a cross between a Nintendo and an anime feel to them, it’s an interesting art style that immediately caught my eye while walking past the booth.
Media or Mediator?
I had an interview with Kingsale about upcoming “Wizard 101” content, but I got lost & sidetracked with all the other attractions. It’s tough finding a random booth between the sea of bright, distracting kiosks and being too young to know how to use a map. So, we decided to see if we could get passes to the Nintendo Live event with our media credentials.
The way the Nintendo Live part of the convention worked was weird: you had to get tickets beforehand through a raffle on Nintendo.com. If you didn't get the tickets, then you just weren't getting in unless you snuck through the gates. It was irrelevant that you were attending PAX: you had to get both the PAX & Nintendo Live ticket. It was a massive area they had sectioned off too, it was like 50,000-60,000 square feet. It wasn't even a question of if I'd be getting in but when.
I spoke to a lady at the Nintendo Live Media booth and she said she’d look into it and let us know tomorrow. I doubted that we were going to get passes legitimately either way, but figured it’d be worth a try. If we don’t get the passes through the correct channels, you know I’ll be sneaking in.
Pay To Lose
Toward the end of the day, it started to dawn on me: this convention is just a giant marketing ploy. People are paying around $100 a day to enter PAX, just to be marketed demos, merch, and new shit to buy. It’s fun– don’t get me wrong, but everything is for sale, making it all feel a bit cheap. About a month ago I went to the Rennaissance Fair up in Snoqualmie and had the same realization: all there is to do is buy shit. Between the $15 glasses of mead, the overpriced food, and all the booths (soap, armor, leather, swords, etc.) I was just paying to go to a giant outdoor mall that had jousting once every three hours. I still had a good time at the Renn Fair, but I don’t doubt I’d go again. At PAX, at least there were things to do (video games, tournaments, etc.) other than sit there and drink while waiting for the jousting to start, but still, it’s the same vibe. Just paying to lose.
Half a Yard of Beer Later
As the first day of PAX ended around 8 PM I found myself heading to Yard House, a gastro-pub near the Convention Center that serves half yard long beers with a few friends. Reminiscing on my day and going through my notes, I had a pretty good time. I didn’t hike up Rainier today, but I feel just as exhausted as if I had– in a refreshing way. My highlight of the day was definitely the new “Like a Dragon” game & just playing on the Steam Decks. I was skeptical about the Steam Deck, but damn it’s easy to use, fun, and the controls work surprisingly well. I also have a massive Steam library from before I owned a Mac and console so I already have a huge catalogue. Looking forward, I'm extremely excited for Nintendo Live and will do literally anything to get in that part of the convention.