PAX East 2020

On the eve of the Covid-19 Pandemic, with the stock market tumbling, hundreds (thousands?) of game fans breezed into a convention center to try some new stuff, purchase apparel, and frequently use hand sanitizer. It was everywhere.

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There’s something sinister about the rise of Discord, but I can’t explain why yet

Thursday was far better than Saturday, so definitely go then if you can. I was able to play far more games, and the boardgame tables where much easier to navigate.

Exciting New Games

While speaking to the creator of BlazeSky, I name-checked Escape Velocity and he knew what I was talking about. But the more I look at it, the more it looks like Empty Epsilon/Artemis. The different styles of play (rescuing people, combat, exploration, etc) are represented by different characters who give you quests, which is a neat approach to writing storylines. I found the banking camera made it difficult to reason about where my shots where going, and I hope that at launch there’s an option to keep the camera steady while the ship turns, but even if there isn’t I’ll probably play the hell out of it.

Another game that was physically demanding just due to its camera was Sludge Life. After you fight through its extremely elaborate recreation of a 90s desktop interface you’re dropped in a colorful, heavily distorted 3d environment. Very Getter: Headsplitter. The distortion (I think the vertical FOV was unusually high or low or whatever) was jarring and slightly dizzying. I predict that this game will be a stoner-hit of Rez proportions. Devolver is playing in the same space as Adult Swim here.

Watched some people play Dunk Lords. The world is ready for strawberry-headed athletes. You could dismiss it as Space Jam: The Videogame but stripped of its bizzare branding, the concept of cartoony basketball feels pretty novel. Sports games that attempt to simulate a sport (like EA’s catalog) or Be a sport (like Rocket League) aren’t my jam, but using the basic rules of a sport to do something unique or new definitely is.

Watched some Panzer Paladin play. There was an enormous reproduction of the cover art, standing out against the crowd. Makes me wonder what the differentiator is. It looks like a Gameboy Advance game (specifically, it looked like Metroid) to me, and though the mechanics where cool and smooth, I wonder who’s buying enough copies of this to justify an enormous booth at PAX. What’s the differentiator. Are they just striking at the right moment? Is it the great Anime art? Am I not enough of a sidescroller fan to understand what the difference between it and AVGN Adventure (which we also demo’d) is.

A radically different sidescroller with very clear differentiation was Carrion, a game where the avatar resembles the blob monster from The Thing. I’m not sure what the gameplay is besides sliding and swinging around an industrial environment and eating (?) the little NPCs that run from you.

If you’re itching to play Star Citizen but don’t like social interaction or having to hire an entire clan to operate your large spaceship or pass flight training to join an org, and also want a game that’s finished, I unfortunately can’t recommend Everspace II yet, because it isn’t finished either. But what I did play compared favorably to Star Citizen, and I venture to say that it’ll be done far sooner. The vision of space was colorful and dense with things to explore and tractor beam into your ship.

I also got a chance to demo Brigador Killers. In addition to the stompy robots seen in Brigador, you get to play as an infantry suit or a giant floating wrecking ball. The controls are also slightly different – rather than absolute direction, your WASD controls are now relative to the mouse. It took some getting used to, especially with the wrecking ball.

Parting Thoughts

Check out the screen attached to this expensive of a gaming PC. I’m not sure words will do it justice, but if you’ve been here, you know.

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The dreaded launcher update.

I also demo’d a Cookie Clicker clone which I won’t name to protect the guilty. It pitched itself as being about the development of life from molecules to technological singularity. However, in reality it is a cookie clicker clone, the meta of a game (buy stuff on a tech tree to augment your abilities) without the actual gameplay (you score by just tapping the screen. Anywhere on the screen. I wondered again what the filter was between successful games and trivial games. Was presence at PAX a marker of success or a desperate gambit? I told myself I was done with the game, but then I reached down to the tablet and tapped it a few more times.

Unrelated image of a book that was on sale at the convention

Ogrodzieniec Castle

 

Ogredzienic castle is a bit of a drive outside of Krakow. It’s quite the experience-you can walk around it and inside it and it’s a goddamned castle.

There are many huge limestone monoliths around the site, some incorporated into the keep and walls. We thought that this one looked like a dragon.

The phrase “The very living rock” comes to mind. The builders where taking advantage of the natural stone to its fullest potential here. The keep has the majestic profile of a ship’s prow.

Most exciting of all, perhaps, is being allowed inside. The view from the castle is awesome. Really hammers home how powerful you’d feel behind these walls in, say, the 1400s when it was first built.

The modern safety additions mean that anyone able to brave the height (and ascend several flights of stairs) can get up high into the keep. I think that they mostly replace the wooden elements of the castle that do not survive into the present day.

 

You get a pretty good view of the nearby town from up here. Again, I’ll leave constructing a panorama as an exercise to the reader.

Up another floor, and I again felt compelled to photograph the inside of the castle. With many of the intended walls missing, it takes on a sort of MC Escher quality with windows nobody can look through and doors to nowhere.

The view from the higher turret of the castle is breathtaking. Careful on the ladder up the last story though.

From up here, the limestone looks even more like a dragon, with a few brave trees at the top giving the impression of a spiny crown.

More monoliths in the southern corner of the wall give the impression of a gate house.

The light was perfect for the photos after we did a tour of the interior, I’m particularly proud of this next series.

View from behind the castle.

Cars of Zakopine

This was our view of the Tatras on the road to Zakopine from Krakow:

Not a car:

I promise we’ll get to the cars-though this is of the rail variety. It’s a funicular railway which takes you up the slope of the mountain called Gubałówka.

Ok, back to automobiles. Another Polski Fiat. I’m pretty sure this is the same one twice. How many gorgeous green Polski Fiats could be running around one town?

Our neighbor had a cool black 90s P80. That car has the coolest profile.

This one was on Morski Oko (which isn’t technically in Zakopine) but here you go: Sizuki Jimny. A very popular car that you never see in the US.

This one is actually from Zakopane. I can’t tell if that’s a Nissan badge or an Opel badge, though I’m sure I saw more Opels than Nissans. I wasn’t able to track down the model.

People in Zakopane seem to enjoy off-roading. I’d never noticed snorkels before, and I still see them around New England from time to time, but they where everywhere in Zakopine.

One last vehicle from the top of Morskie Oko.

Morskie Oko: The Ascent

Morskie Oko is a lake high in the Tatra mountains in Poland. While you can take a horse-drawn carriage up the hill, we preferred to walk. There isn’t (and wasn’t) much to say, so like us (Sabrina, Tiernan, and myself) please enjoy the scenery.

At some points, we became impatient and decided to take sections at a run. This became a dicey proposition when we reached an altitude where snow remained on the ground.

There where some avalanche warning signs, as well as evidence of previous avalanches. This added an element of danger to an otherwise casual (if exhausting) climb.

There was a base camp building at the top with hot soup and drinks. Once I warmed up a bit, I dipped my hand in the lake, just to say I had. It was extremely cold.

I’ll leave constructing a panorama as an exercise to the reader:

Cars of Krakow

The dramatic but friendly outline of Wawel castle greets you when you get to downtown Krakow.

But of course, what you’re here for is that Ford Focus at the bottom of the frame right? Foci where the only Big Three cars that I saw in any signifigant number, and they where the early-model foci from before they could be had in the US.

Apparently the Polish word for Loratadine (as in, the drug that makes allergies go away) is “Loratadina” as luck would have it. On the way to the drugstore, I saw this beautiful Skoda Felecia. As you might guess from my love of 80s and 90s Volvos series cars, I’m a huge sucker for sharp angles, and this has so many of them.Front of a red car

You don’t see a lot of Italian cars in New England, but Fiat is all over the place in Poland, and people drive around in Alf Romeo 159s.

Inside Wawel castle there’s a bell tower with a view of the city. A harrowing climb just due to how dark it is and the knowledge that if you fall, there are plenty of stairs to go down. Schoolchildren prod at the enormous bell for good luck-I just hope to be lucky enough not to be around when someone manages to ring it. The view is, of course, very nice.

Immaculately maintained Polski Fiat. A classic car with a ton of history. We saw this while out eating in Krakow. I can’t overstate how delicious the food was.

A Volvo serving as a taxi. And I thought the Subaru Outbacks I was seeing in Cambridge where out there. Usually the plastic line you see on these is long faded, someone here knows how to get the original color back, which is nice.

Most of the police cars we saw where Kias, but there where also Toyotas. The rental car was a manual Kia which lead to several burnouts as our driver re-learned how to operate a manual.

Row of Kia police cars

Cars of Katowice and Gliwice

I arrived in Glowice airport severely jetlagged after sleepless night of watching the moon over our wing. There was a festival with music and beer trucks in Katowice so we hung out there for a while, delirious.

Buildings in Katowice
Some of Katowice’s more striking buildings. The coal towers where cool too but I didn’t get a clean pic of them.

The following morning in Gliwice, the car spotting began. I saw three Volvo wagons in quick succession which I think is what inspired me to start collectibg pictures of eurocars like trading cards.

 

White Volvo V70
Slick white 740(?), very boxy (82-96)

Picture of a car with a parking sign in-frame
Blue 95-00 V70 (?)

In addition to the Volvos, VWs and Fiats, there where tons of Skoda, Renault, and Opal cars.

Red four door hatchback car, sadly obscured by a tree
It’s definitely a Renault, I think it’s Cilo. The front looks right.

At an apartment block somewhere between Katowice and Gliwice we saw what might be the coolest car a super clean FSO Polonez Caro from sometime around the 90s. The orange plastic grille cover will probably aid in identifying it, I can’t find any pictures with the grille like that in my shallow googling.