PAX West 2023, Day II
Updated: Nov 27
Looking Down the Barrel of an Animal Well …. Climbing the Summit .... The First and Last Panel .... The Nintendo Live Curfuffle …. How to Sneak Into A Nintendo Event for Dummies .... Finally Alive at Nintendo Live …. Nintendo Tournament for my Vitality …. Make Room for Mario, the Wonderful Elephant …. All That Subterfuge Just for Mario? …. Chunithm Monkey Wacca Ball… Is There Room for a Gemini?
Looking Down the Barrel of an Animal Well
The principal thing on my mind as I entered PAX West Day 2 was “Animal Well,” a trippy 2-D pixel art survival horror platformer that looks and plays sort of similar to “Hollow Knight.” This gorgeous game is the nearly 6-year-old brainchild of Billy Basso: he generated everything from creating a one-of-a-kind modified C++ base engine to making pixel art and both producing and performing the soundtrack. While I didn’t get the chance to interview him myself, Basso seems like an ambitious, fun-loving, jack of all trades. This game also marks Big Mode’s first release, the indie video game production and distribution company created by Video Game Dunkey and his wife Leah–which is how I initially heard about the title.
It’s incredible: “Animal Well” absolutely lived up to my high expectations stemming from the relentless hype secreting from Dunkey’s slow trickle of information from his YouTube. I only got a 10-minute demo, but it only took about two minutes to become completely immersed in the distinctive environment that Basso created. The demo just drops you into the world, with no explanation of what to do, what anything is, or where to go. “Animal Well” emphasizes that the player must explore to find clues about the world and their objective in it so that they can eventually decide what their goal is and how to reach it. This type of emphasis on exploration, deep lore, and secrets is reminiscent of the experience that I’m currently getting from another game I just picked up called “Outer Wilds.” “Outer Wilds” just throws you into an alien solar system with a handful of diverse planets full of lore that you can scan– unlike “Animal Well” there’s no real fighting or hostiles other than the environment, but that feeling of immersive exploration on an alien plane is the very same.
Basso has stated on a few occasions that some secrets will take literal years to uncover. As such, “Animal Well'' has a very retro puzzle vibe, yet “Dark Souls” feel where the game won’t hold your hand–rather, it incentivizes the player to delve into the world and figure out their goals themselves through trial, error, & situational awareness. So, immediately the player ought to engross themself in this alien world with strange objects and phantasmagorical creatures (an unrecognizable mix of foes, friends, and neutral critters). Adding to the immersion is the eerie soundtrack that accompanies the gameplay. The compositions that I had the pleasure to listen to reminded me of those nature sound white noise machines but a dreamlike one that sonically depicts an exotic, dank cave on an unfathomable planet. With the noise-canceling Razor headphones I was wearing, the hullabaloo of PAX was completely drowned out by the ambient but reactive “Animal Well” OST allowing me to be completely absorbed in the game despite my chaotic surroundings. Ending my playthrough was like getting out of a sensory deprivation tank in the middle of an early 2000s mall. It was a surreal experience, truly. It’s worth mentioning that in my limited demo, I didn’t see any horror aspects of the game, but I could see how this game could provide a sort of void-horror, where you get so immersed in the game and the fact that anything can happen that you end up freaking yourself out with anxious anticipation. But who knows... “Animal Well” is now right at the top of my wishlist but still has a TBA release date, I'm so hype.
Climbing the Summit
After playing “Animal Well” and goofing around in the Arch Expo Hall, my photographer Sam and I discovered that there was an entire other building devoted to PAX– the Summit. Just getting to the base of the Summit was a trek in itself– it seemed like the entire convention decided to go from the Arch to the Summit at the same time, the sidewalks were packed with nerds of all shapes and sizes. I’m a fast walker who usually cuts through crowds, but even on the sidewalk, I was forced to slowly commute towards the Summit.
After about three city blocks that took nearly 15 minutes, we finally reached the base of the Summit. Luckily, we could skip the packed security line with our media credentials, but we still had to hike up five floors behind a phalanx of geeks blocking both sides of the escalators. It was the exact opposite of Zach Snyder’s phalanx of Greeks from the movie 300, other than the fact that the geeks were actually able to hold the line, unlike the Spartans. After about another ten minutes of travel, we arrived at the top of the Summit anxious to hop into our first panel “Sampling Video Game Voicelines in Music.”
The First and Last Panel
“Sampling Video Game Voicelines in Music” hosted by Bridget Lloyd seemed like the perfect panel for us to check out. Sam is a recent music school graduate & musician while I rap & write for a music blog–if we were going to enjoy any panel it’d be this one. However, we couldn’t have been more wrong.
The whole panel was just an expose of Lloyd’s uninspiring discography sampling video game voice lines rather than explaining how she sampled things, how to make actual music out of samples, what hardware/software she uses etc. It ended up being just a giant showcase of her and her peers’ rudimentary work (regretfully, I didn’t take notes on the specific videos/creators and can’t find her work online).
Once the panel was over, I asked the first question, “What is the legality of sampling, and, more importantly, what are the repercussions that one could expect? Additionally, does it matter if your music is free or paid, and is the platform that you’re releasing on of any importance?” She gave an absolute non-answer, cyclically revolving around her ultimate response of something like ‘I’m not sure, I think if it’s free you’re fine but if you get asked to take it down then just take it down. That hasn’t ever happened to me.’ As I was gathering my stuff to leave with this unanswered question still in the back of my mind, some guy stopped me and expanded on what Lloyd avoided answering. He said that basically worst-case scenario is releasing on Spotify where you could get a strike if it’s your first/second offense and they’d just ask you to take it down. YouTube is probably the most flexible/easiest not to get in trouble. And he had another really good piece of wisdom– it’s unlikely that you’ll get a strike or any serious litigious action until you make it big anyway, so you may as well just go for it.
The Nintendo Live Curfuffle
In my initial piece about PAX (“PAX West 2023 Day I”), I mentioned that I spoke to a lady with the Nintendo media team about getting press credentials for the Nintendo Live area. I doubted that it’d work out and was right– so sneaking in is the only way I’ll be able to get in. It was funny, I know she wrote down my name and information from the day before, but she had no recollection when I came back who I was or that I requested media passes from the day before… She said Nintendo does not and has not had any intentions of handing out additional media or standard passes... Fine.
How to Sneak Into A Nintendo Event for Dummies
So, the only option left was sneaking in. At this point, the convention was ending in about two hours, so it seemed like the best bet. First, we tried walking through the normal Nintendo Live queue where people would present their QR code and receive a wristband. Sam & I just decided to try walking through, but we were quickly rerouted to the entrance where they asked for our QR codes, which we did not have. So, we walked around looking for a way to get in that was short on security and accessible– and we potentially found one.
Out by where I decided to smoke a cigarette we noticed that the Nintendo Live had a smoking section that was a part of the smoking section in the PAX area we were standing in. And rather than security snooping, we only saw a janitor smoking a cigarette on his break and stanchions blocking off the Nintendo Live people from the non-Nintendo people. We decided that this would be the easiest way to sneak in for sure once this janitor was off his break because we just had to cut through a line.
While we waited, in order not to arouse any suspicion, we walked back into PAX for a bit to see if anyone would just give us a Nintendo Live bracelet– once we had a bracelet we were golden to get in. To my chagrin, the first person we talked to across the way from the entrance to Nintendo Live said 'Yeah, no problem.' It was a ginger fat-Thor-looking basement dweller who hooked up a ticket. I said I’d pay him $40 and he said no worries– he only had the one extra and the Nintendo Live Expo closes in an hour or two anyway. God damn, I love nerds– Sam thoughtfully waived his right to go as the time was dwindling and I did provide him the media credentials… So I raced through corridors that were previously filled with 2-4 hour long lines which were now only tape, plastered in convoluted line patterns in place of people.
Finally Alive at Nintendo Live
I finally made it! Check out these pictures of the wonderfully decorated and surprisingly large Nintendo Live event! A picture speaks 1,000 words after all...
Nintendo Tournament for my Vitality
The first thing I got in line for walking into the Nintendo Live event was the Mario tournament. The way it worked was in maybe 6 brackets of 8, the people in first place after two “Mario Kart” races advance, then the first remaining people who complete the “Mario Maker 2” level first advance, and then finally it’s a race to first in “Mario Kart” again with the remaining 8 people. The winner of the entire tourney won a limited edition switch controller. Most of the contestants were younger than me so I assumed I was going to do well. But God damn, these rascals are crazy. I swear, the younger someone was the better they did. Zoomers are just built different I guess. The final 8 were made up of kids between 8-12 years old. I placed fourth and fifth respectively in the first leg of the tourney, so I immediately was eliminated. With my pride shattered, I decided to move on to something that’d cheer me up.
Make Room for Mario, the Wonderful Elephant
So, I checked out the new entry in the Mario series “Super Mario Bros. Wonder.” It’s very similar to “Super Mario 3-D World” or “New Super Mario Bros. Wii,” being the new entry in the Super Mario Bros. series. However, it has unique graphics, powers, and a huge roster of characters. Like the previous entries in the Mario Bros. series, this game emphasizes multiplayer and accessibility, but seemingly to a new extent. There are characters that you can use who don’t take damage or don’t take fall damage, which may be great for young kids or parents to start playing Mario. This rising focus on accessibility in gaming also made me wonder: If a child or an adult is raised on gaming with the guard rails on, will they have a worse experience? For me, the fun of gaming was learning how to overcome harder tasks. If you’re comfy and stagnant efficiently completing the levels with the guard rails on, are you missing out on the fun and the point of the game? Is there value in overcoming the challenge of learning? Or can you learn and improve with guard rails on as most people do in bowling and biking? I don't know. There’s a lot of criticism towards “Elden Ring” for adding the spirit summons, in particular the level 9 clone, a spirit (sort of like a pet) that the player can summon which can pretty much kill any boss it fights. It enables the title to be much more accessible for novice players and lets experienced players who want to avoid the handicap do so effortlessly. However, there was always the nagging thought, the temptation in the back of my mind that I could be more time-efficient and productive if I just got through the game as quickly as possible. After all, if the devs gave you the tools they want you to use them right? In “Elden Ring,” I’m proud to say that I avoided using the level 9 clone for all of the bosses except Melania Blade Queen of Miquilla, after a week of smashing my head against a wall for 8 hours a day against her (thankfully I was unemployed at the time) I said fuck it and used my clone. I think I only got a hit or two in– the clone basically 1v1’d her. That win wasn’t fun– it felt terrible and unearned, and I quickly stopped playing the game. Melania was one of the last and hardest bosses I had to fight & I had already beaten the game, so I was weening off it anyway but I really do think if it weren’t for the clone incident, I might be replaying or trying to plat “Elden Ring” right now.
Anyway, sorry for the diversion. Back to Mario: the polished, hyper-colorful, retro-ish graphics also seem more childish. So do the power-ups– they seem more flashy than useful. For instance, they have an elephant power-up that lets you store water (from a fountain or something similar that you can find on the map) and then the player is able to shoot it. It’s cool seeing Mario or the rest of the roster as an elephant, but it doesn’t seem to do much other than give you a single shot until you need to reload with another fountain. The water may be helpful in fire or ice levels, but I didn’t get the chance to try it in those environments so I really can't say. There’s also a drill power, which lets the character drill through blocks and the bottom of the map. It adds some chaos and speed to the game, which is awesome, especially when there are four people on the screen drilling around and zooming in every direction, but I don’t think it’ll add a whole lot from a gameplay perspective. Again, due to the time limitation of the demo, it’s hard to say what this really does, but Nintendo also added a blue flower to levels that provides the player a sort of inverse level within the standard level. They can choose to take or not take it, so potentially there are one-and-a-half levels in every level. It could be interesting but it could also be a gimmick– it’s hard to tell.
Overall, I still can’t put my finger on how I felt about the new Mario game: it’s cute– as a kid, I certainly would have loved it. For my demo time, it seemed extremely easy, but I only played the first few levels so I suppose that makes sense. I still haven’t beat “Super Mario 3-D World,” so personally I think I’ll stick with that rather than upgrade. I’m still holding out for a new open-world Mario game, similar to “Mario Galaxy” or “Mario Odyssey.” Plus I still need to buy “Pikmin 4.”
All That Subterfuge Just for Mario?
Well, yes, pretty much. The Nintendo Live event was big and there was a lot of stuff to see, but not a ton to do. The only unreleased demo was Mario– there was a “Pikmin 4” demo and a few other assorted demos, but they were all games that had recently been released. I took a few photos at the booths that were around as well. Anyway, my hour was up and they were kicking me out anyway because they were closing up the Nintendo Live area. I knew that I had to come back to get Sam in there before the final day of PAX, so I'll be back.
Chunithm Monkey Wacca Ball
After Nintendo Live ended and I linked back up with Sam we sauntered back to the Summit to check out the classic arcade that was up there and meet up with some of my other photographers. There are three classic games that I wasn’t aware were things that I’d like to make a special mention because they were all so tight.
Monkey Ball: I’m sure everyone recognizes the title “Money Ball” from the Gamecube or the Wii, but they had an arcade version of it that I’d never seen. I played like shit, but it was such a blast. The joystick was even a banana.
Chunithm: “CHUNITHM” is another Japanese Sega game that was so tight. We waited in line behind one single person for about 15 minutes while they played three rounds. After politely asking them when they were hopping off because I was so excited for my turn, the person turned around and profusely apologized, stating she didn’t see us sitting directly behind her for 15 minutes. Anyway, the game is a rhythm game released in 2015 with a really trippy look to it. It’s sort of like “Guitar Hero” on the piano but is just super trippy and has that sort of late 60s retro-futuristic look.
Wacca: “Wacca” is a 2019 Japanese rhythm game developed by Marvelous that immediately draws you in with its mesmerizing rainbow circle that surrounds the screen. It’s pretty simple: you just hit around the screen where the beat shows up, again, sort of like “Guitar Hero” (which is clearly my only point of reference to rhythm games). Anyway, it’s tight, definitely check it out if you see it at an arcade sometime.
Is There Room for a Gemini?
After the convention wrapped up, we headed out to Gemini Room, a bar near my crib where I had a homie named Julian working. Sitting down after that long day, I was able to be fully grateful to the basement-dweller who gave me the Nintendo Live pass. Yeah, maybe I was a little critical of nerds today, but fuck they’re slow walkers and stinky. I mean shit I’m a nerd– or at least a geek too, but you don’t see me going half the speed of a tortoise down the street or making people around me gag. You also don’t see me talking shit on Reddit. Just on my music blog ;).
Teaser for Thursday, November 9:
Highway to Baldur’s Gate …. Bill Gates Stole My Dream …. Crank Console .... AT&T 3D Extravaganza
Hung Over It …. Is It Oktoberfest Already? .… VOVLY …. Getting the Gang into Nintendo Live
Slipping Bax Into Reality|Hindsight is 20/20|PAX Means Peace In Latin