PAX South 2016

The following is a collection of posts surrounding the 2016 PAX South event. These posts were originally published on Trevor Trove between January 28 and February 2, 2016

Day Zero

Hello from San Antonio!

For the next few days, I’ll be writing about my experience from PAX South. For those who missed the turn of events that led up to this trip, you can catch up here.

So today was day zero. I never wound up getting a Media Badge. I didn’t really expect I would as I have a minimal audience (thanks though), but I figured PAX South would be my best opportunity of scoring one. And by the time I heard back, Saturday passes were sold out. So currently I only have passes for Friday and Sunday. But I’m hopeful I can swing something for Saturday.

I spent the morning packing and getting ready for the flight. Around 1pm, fellow Arizonan Frank (@irrelevantjokes) met over at my place and Cat drove us to the airport. Outside of a meetup at Portillo’s a few weeks back, Frank and I have really only interacted digitally. But the language of video games served us well as we basically visited all the way through security, the hour and a half at the game, the two-hour flight, and the Uber to the hotel. There, we met up with Xyger and Luis and headed up to the room. Luis, as the first Patreon guest on Kinda Funny, was very curious to hear about my experience as the second guest so we swapped stories.

Then, it was time for a few rounds of Super Smash Bros. on Wii U. Now, despite picking up a Wii U last year, I never ended up playing Smash enough to even unlock the other characters. And Frank hasn’t played since the Gamecube. So this was all Xyger and Luis – the two people I think of whenever I think amiibo. They graciously offered to play with items for us. And fortunately that gave us the smallest chance of winning. But no, they still dominated.

Eventually, we got word that the birthday boy himself Sean Pitts had arrived. After dropping off his stuff in the room, we all walked down the street for some Whataburger. I’m pretty sure most of the people who came in after us were also in town for PAX. There were gaming shirts and Twitch hoodies aplenty.

And now we’re hanging back out in the hotel. While the rest of the gang picked up Smash again (and now Runbow), I figured it’d be the ideal time to do some writing. We still have a couple other roommates showing up later tonight so if the rest of the gang goes to sleep so they’re rested for their TakeThis volunteer shifts, I’ll be hanging out with my Vita.

Now I’m gonna go back to the schedule and try and figure out what to see while I’m here.

Day One

So here’s the thing…

Last night, a particular knerd who shall remain nameless insisted on cranking up the air conditioning in the room. And with six roommates, we had a minor shortage of blankets and pillows. So combining those factors meant I woke up after about an hour’s sleep freezing on the floor, with the air blowing right on me. Eventually, I made my way over the other guys asleep on the floor (who managed to at least still the thin unused comforters off the two beds before could) and turned off the thermostat. But the damage was pretty much done. I tossed and turned all night, getting very little sleep.

So I spent most of my first day at my first PAX back in my hotel room catching up on some much needed sleep while the rest of the gang was out and about.

That said, I did explore a little bit. Prior to this, the only conventions I’ve really attended were my two PlayStation Experiences. Now both of those shows had a very clearly delineated starting point. You attended the Keynote first, and then the expo hall and panels started afterwards. By comparison, PAX felt a little less intuitive.

I initially walked into the line to get into the Expo Hall with a few of my friends before looking at the maps and realizing, “Oh. Well I don’t really want to go to the Expo Hall first, I want to head over to the Loot Crate panel on the third floor so let me wander around over there instead,” not realizing that pretty much the only purpose of that big first room was to get everyone to queue up before going into the rest of the event.

Didn’t see that on any signs or in the PAX Guidebook anywhere. Oops. So by the time an Enforcer finally told me I wasn’t going to get in until the “Queue Hall” had emptied, I just went back in to wait in line with everyone else. On the plus side, while I waited I saw this tweet from Insomniac Games:

So I swung by on my way through the hall and got the first of the pins they handed out. (And apparently Pins are a big thing at these events?)

Then, it was off to the Loot Crate panel, which took longer than anticipated because, again, things weren’t particularly well-marked so I got turned around with the maps initially. But I eventually found my way to the line for the panel and played Bastion on my Vita while I waited.

Panel itself was cool and I’ll touch on it more when I write-up a Panel-centric post early next week. But the big announcement was Loot Gaming, another new subscription box they’ll be launching in the near future. As someone already subscribing to Loot Crate and Loot Pets, my immediate response was of course:

They also announced that the first 1,000 people to sign-up for it could get an exclusive lanyard at their booth downstairs. So instead of sticking around for the Q&A at the end of the panel, we went to do that.

Here’s another mild annoyance, the cell reception in the hall is atrocious! Why? We’re in downtown San Antonio? Why the hell does it take forever to connect to anything in that hall? Because there are a ton of other people trying to connect? Well then PAX or the convention center should really be prepared for that and boost the signal. 

Anyway, Frank managed to get his Sprint phone to connect while the rest of us failed so we all signed up and got our lanyards. Then we headed up to see Sean and Xyger, who spent the morning volunteering at the Take This Diversity Lounge. And while Frank and Joe took over for them at 12:30pm, my shift isn’t until Sunday morning so I decided it was time to go back to the room and get some sleep.

A few much-need hours later, I headed back over to the convention to effectively check out the things I still want to check out. I’ll probably stick mostly to the Indie game stations but a couple of the apparel booths and retro game booths caught my eye so I’ll likely revisit them in between panels.

On the way back to the hotel, I stumbled upon my core group and we went to Whataburger (again, I’m pretty sure Sean has a problem). Then it was eventually off to the IGN/Kinda Funny meet and greet. But the place we originally had reached out to screwed us over and doubled booked us. So while Sean tried to sort that out and get us more room, he sent Xyger, me, and the others to Dave & Busters to scout that as a possible back-up. And that’s where we ended up.

The meet and greet was easily the smallest and most intimate of the Kinda Funny or IGN events I’ve attended. There were basically about 30 of us around some tables in a back room of the D&B’s. I was fortunate enough to sit next to Destin Legarie and new IGN Editor Alanah Pearce. As I would love to work alongside them someday, I certainly relished the opportunity to catch up with them, having last seen them at PSX.

Eventually, we all headed over to the nearby Twitch party…and then almost as quickly left (at least the core group of Kinda Funny friends I was with). The event was 21+ and super packed so there wasn’t really enough to keep us in there. So back to the hotel it was so I could write this up and everyone else could head down to one of the gang’s other hotel rooms from some more Smash.

I’m definitely planning to get more sleep tonight. Though I still need to resolve the whole “lack-of-a-Saturday-pass” dilemma. It could be entirely possible my PAX South – Day Two write up is just a bunch of tourist-y pictures tomorrow.

Oh wait…apparently we’re heading off to Whataburger…again.

Day Two

I got in!

I won’t name my co-conspirators or our methodolgy (because snitches get stitches or whatever), but I was able to get into the show today.

Do I feel bad about it? Absolutely!

Buuuuut, I’m also the reason five of six of these people are even here in the first place so karmically, maybe the money I brought in through them makes up for the fact that PAX’s system is so screwy that I couldn’t buy a Saturday pass from anybody but scalpers.

Anyway, once inside, I hung around on the show floor a bit, walking around and checking out more of the show floor. For example, I learned today that a company named Songbird Ocarinas was there selling everyone’s favorite Hyrulian musical instrument. I checked out a few more games over in Indie-land so stay tuned.

While my co-conspirators wandered the show flow in search of lanyards, light-up ice cubes, and BAWLS, I hung out and relaxed with some more Bastion on Vita. The biggest event of interest for me today was the “Getting into the Gaming” Industry two-part panel. About an hour beforehand, me and my crew sat down in line and chatted to kill time. It was here that Frank discovered his new life goal to work for BAWLS soda, and spent the rest of the night pitching marketing puns for the company. Joining in the fun, I suggested the Kinda Funny needs a new integration: “Love and Sex Stuff is brought to by BAWLS.”

The panel itself was very insightful and even though it was focused on getting a job on the developer/publisher side of things, pretty much all of the same advice applies to getting into the games media side of things. I took copious notes, so I’ll share them in the panel write-up in a couple days.

Since none of us had eaten since breakfast, we decided to head on out for food. And since Sean was out doing his own thing all day, there was absolutely zero pressure to grab Whataburger so we grabbed Fuddruckers instead, hanging out there for awhile before heading back to the hotel.

And while I wrote, and the guys played Smash, we discovered that Xyger spent the last couple days thinking the painting on the wall was a window (and on the other side of that “window”? The restroom).

Bonus: Here’s a great video of last night’s meet-and-greet my friend Christian put together of last night’s meet-and-greet. Give him some love over on Twitter @pixelbrave. And check out his YouTube channel for other highlight videos he made back during PlayStation Experience.

Day Three

If anyone asks, I’ve always had this…

Now then.

My third day at PAX South started off with a three-hour volunteer stint for If you don’t know, Take This is a non-profit organization focused on educating people about mental health issues and trying to reduce the stigma associated with mental health. They run the AFK Room at every PAX event where people who might need a break from the crowds can just go relax. Sean and I got hooked up with them through some IGN friends and Sean managed to rustle up the troops so we were basically half of their volunteer force over the weekend. While the rest of the gang helped out Friday, today was my turn. They’re a really great organization. I’m definitely going to try to help them out at future events.

Another cool PAX thing I got introduced to while manning the Take This table: the PAX Pokemon League. PPL is an unofficial fan-run event where they invite attendees to battle them in the latest Pokemon games. They have Gym Leaders and Elite trainers scattered throughout the event who will award their own personalized badges when defeated. If I were still playing Pokemon games, I’d definitely consider giving this a go. 

After my shift wrapped up, I went out to the show floor to purchase some gear I’d had my eyes on. Namely a “BUTTS” shirt with Tina from Bob’s Burgers. But it being the last day of the convention, they had a special deal on multiple shirts. So I ended up picking up two more shirts: a Rick and Morty one and one title “Forever Gamer” with a ton of references to gaming iconography. As a bonus, I got a couple of posters. And then I saw their 8-bit glasses so I added two more to my ever-growing collection.

From there, while a few friends went over to play Super Fight, I went out to lunch with Sean, Andy (from Rooster Teeth), and Alex. This was particularly nice because I barely got to see them during Day Two. We had a delightful lunch down on the Riverwalk at a nice place called The Rivers Edge. After a somewhat disappointing week in terms of quality food and service, this place was a refreshing turn of events. Our waitress was great and the food was delicious. But enough of Trevor the restaurant critic.

After lunch, we were back at the conference and we checked out a few more games before all convening near the main PAX South sign for a Kinda Funny group photo. And we got to meet-up real quick with friend and fellow Blondenerd, Brittany Brombacher. We bonded over our love of Harvest Moon at PSX so she gave me a tip to check out Story of Seasons on 3DS. And if I can find my 3DS, I absolutely will.

Then we got our group picture and started to say our goodbyes. Overall, I had a great time at my first PAX event. I went almost entirely to hang out with my friends and I got that. I knew going into the event that this one wasn’t going to be overly impressive in terms of new games or panels (an end-of-January event doesn’t exactly play well with marketing calendars). But the event provided a ton of great memories and gave me the opportunities to spend time with some of my best friends. I won’t be surprised if I wind up hitting an event every few months this year. We were already talking about PAX East, Kinda Funny Live 2, and RTX plans.

Thanks for everything PAX South!

The Games

Ok, so up front, I didn’t actually go hands-on with any games on the show floor at PAX South. I was very much content wandering the hall and watching as others played rather than wait in the lines to play anything myself. That said, these are the games that looked really intriguing and cool to me so I’ll be keeping an eye out on them and would encourage you to do the same.

HAUNTED: Halloween ’85 – A side-scroller beat ’em up on Steam Greenlight and available on an NES cartridge. This one caught my eye because it indeed was being played on an old school Ninendo. So I sat there watching as the player ran and jumped through forests and a high school punching zombies and ghosts.

Rivals of Aether – Rivals of Aether is a Super Smash Bros.-esque brawler with elemental animal warriors instead of iconic video game characters. It’s available on PC and Xbox One.

Bugs ‘n Boo Hags – The thing that intrigued me about Bugs ‘n Boo Hags was its tagline: “Inspired by the History and Folklore of the South Carolina Lowcountry.” The game is an old-school single screen arcade-y platformer being developed for PC, Mac, and Linux.

Omnibus – I stumbled upon my friends playing this game at the Devolver Digital booth. In the Omnibus multiplayer I saw, they were each controlling runaway buses in a small arena and could ram each other or race around the arena. The goal was to be the last bus upright or still in the arena. It had the look of an N64- or PlayStation One-era game. The guys were certainly having fun with it. It will be available Spring 2016 on Steam.

Overland – Overland was one of four games on display at the Finji booth. Our friend Andy specifically sought it out because he’s a huge fan of their art style. And with good reason. Overland appears to be an isometric turn-based strategy game like Final Fantasy Tactics but with the player trying to survive the trip across a broken post-apocalyptic continent instead of fantastical RPG stories. It’s coming soon to PC, Mac, and Linux, with a likely console release sometime after.

Night in the Woods – Night in the Woods was another Finji game with a beautiful aesthetic. An adventure game Kickstarted in 24 hours in late 2013, Night in the Dark is coming to PC, Mac, Linux, and PS4 in 2016.

Feist – Feist struck me as a visual mix between Limbo and Ori and the Blind Forest. The third Finji game, Feist is available now on PC, Mac, and Linux.

Panoramical – I honestly don’t really know how to describe Panoramical from just looking at it off-screen but as I understand it, it’s an interactive experience with an emphasis on creating soundscapes, with the visuals of the world reacting to the changes you make. Bottom line: it looks really cool and sounded really pretty. Available now on PC and Mac.

Knee Deep – Described as a “swamp noir adventure in three acts,” the color scheme of Knee Deep caught my eye. An episodic adventure game a la Telltale or Life is Strange, Act III releases in March, with Acts I and II already available on PC, Mac, and Linux.

The Panels

One of my favorite elements of conferences like PlayStation Experience and PAX are the panels where I get an opportunity to hear stories and advice from the developers. So to round out my coverage of PAX South, here are my impressions of the few panels I attended.

Loot Crate: What’s Next? – I started subscribing to Loot Crate last January. picked up a couple of the specialty crates like the Fallout 4 one, and I got our pup Elphie a subscription to Loot Pets when it launched in December. So when it came to choosing between “Storytime with Cliff Bleszinski” or a panel with some of the folks behind Loot Crate, I went with the latter. I respect Cliffy B., but I’ve barely played his Gears of War games so this just made more sense to me.

Hearing the story of Loot Crate also resonated with me because a buddy of mine from college works with them. The co-founder talked about being amazed when it launched and watching how it has grown in such a short time to the point where he and his team have such incredible purchasing power with some of the biggest properties like Star WarsMass Effect, and Fallout. When talking about how they are already working with companies on crates a year and a half from now he talked about the privilege of knowing about Fallout 4 before its reveal and having to refer to it by the codename Project Institute.

The big announcement out of the panel was the launch of Loot Gaming, a new subscription service they’re launching this Spring with a specific focus on gaming, even going so far as to work with developers on exclusive content and possibly even some exclusive Indie games. As the gaming side of the Loot Crates tend to be some of my favorite bits, I’ll definitely be signing up as soon as I can. They did mention that the launch would be a limited one so I signed up for the email list to be notified hopefully right when it launches.

Get Into the Game/Level Up Your Career: Game Industry Career Panels Part 1 and 2 – The biggest reason I may or may not have snuck into the conference on Saturday was because I really wanted to attend this two-part panel on getting into the gaming industry. This panel was hosted by Rich Weil (Senior Vice President, Global Operations, Metaverse Mod Squad), who talked about having always been torn between panels on getting into the industry and advancing within the industry so this year, he decided to do both. Joining him were Chris Mancil (Director, Community and Influencers, Electronic Arts), Linda Carlson (Director of Community Relations, Trion Worlds), Bradley Jeansonne (former Publishing Art Lead, Certain Affinity), John Erskine (Vice President of Publishing, Cloud Imperium Games), and Gary Gattis (CEO, Spacetime Studios). As someone aspiring to get into the industry I knew there’d be some insight here. Even if my focus is more on the media side compared to the developer/publisher side, most of the information covered could easily be applied to both.

After introductions, the panel touched on tips and tricks for your resume and cover letter. From common sense things like “proofreading” to something I always do but others might not like “rewrite your resume and cover letter for every job you apply for.” Tailoring your skills and story to the specific job description you are applying for puts you leaps and bounds ahead of somebody who just sends out the same resume to 20 different companies, hoping for something to stick. There was a difference of opinion among the panel on the length of the resume and cover letters themselves, though, with Chris from EA saying stick to a page to Linda from Trion Worlds saying “make it as long as you need to tell your story.” Personally, I tend to stick to a page because both in my hiring career and in the resume building course in my business school, hiring managers tend to only read the first page anyway. Many members of the panel also highlighted that your best option in getting an interview though is probably gonna be to know somebody on the inside. The idea of networking (without stalking) was presented: meet people and conventions like PAX or on Twitter, volunteer, etc. They also stressed that, especially in larger companies, your application is most likely going to a gatekeeper in Humar Resources rather than the CEO so keep than in mind as you compile your content.

Other important tips provided:

  • You have to want to do it. If you hate mobile games, you probably shouldn’t just apply for a company that only makes mobile games.
  • The best way to prove you can do the job is to show them what you’ve already done. It’s way easier to show a developer a game you’ve made than it is to tell them about an idea you have.
  • Identify if you would be a good cultural fit for the company.
  • On the subject of handling defeat, they encourage the audience to ask for feedback. John Erskine noted, “Don’t take it personally. Ever,” He also mentioned, “if you don’t get the job, don’t burn that bridge,” and provided an example of bringing a prospect in, discovering that position might not be a good fit, but hiring that person on later in a different role that presented itself down the line.
  • On the subject of the interview:
    • Go in prepared to answer the hard questions.
    • Dress nice, but not too nice. (“Nobody in the games industry wears a tie.”)
    • “Be prepared for assholes.” Sometimes, an interviewer will be deliberately dickish in order to see how the interviewee handles stress.
    • The interview is always on, even if your out at lunch, an event, etc. They’re trying to see how you would fit in with the team.
    • Cram. Learn as much as you can about the company and people you are interviewing with.
    • Play the game(s) the company has produced. Have an opinion on it/them.
    • Take notes and ask questions.
    • Shower.
    • Smile (even if it’s a phone interview).
    • Be prepared to impress different sets of people. If applying for a position that works with programmers, marketing, and artists, be prepared to adjust how you approach each group.

Moving on to the second part of the panel, one of the first things discussed was “What is ‘Entry Level?'” This basically boiled down to working as a QA Tester on the development side of things or working in Customer Support on the Business/Community side of things. Both of these jobs are widely considered to have the lowest barrier to entry and serve as the best “foot in the door” for their respective sides of the industry.

Speaking to myths of the industry, Erskine mentioned that there’s pretty much always a “beginning, middle, crazy part, and an end,” when discussing the idea of turnover in the industry. Because most companies are project-based, developers will often work until a game is completed and then have to move on to a different studio/project.

When moving on of your own accord, the general rule of thumb, again, is to avoid burning bridges. It’s a pretty small community so if you have a meltdown, people will find out about it. Chris chimed in with, “Don’t talk shit.”

When trying to advance in the industry, Linda Carlson encouraged the audience to “be the person that drives positive change in your company.” The panel also identified the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) as a great resource for networking and sharing information.

As for everyone’s final round of advice:

  • “Be in it; don’t be about it.” – Chris Mancil
  • “Permadeath is real, people.” – Linda Carlson
  • “Don’t only talk to the people in your immediate group.” – Bradley Jeansonne
  • “It’s about relationships; this is a team business.” – John Erskine
  • “Be passionate and be persistent.” –  Gary Gattis
  • “You have to recognize that other people have brains and might know stuff that you don’t know.” –  Rich Weil (on being able to take negative feedback).

So that’s my PAX South round up. I hope this recap, particularly of the industry panel, has been helpful and that you’ve enjoyed my recaps of Days Zero, One, Two, Three, and the games that caught my eye.

Tomorrow we’ll return to our regularly schedule madness of whatever I feel like writing about.

Thanks for reading!

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