PAX '08

PAX 2008 Wrap-up


This year, the Gamers With Jobs crew descended on the Penny Arcade Expo in force, with over 25 members in attendance. Each day was filled with dozens of sessions, tournaments, impromptu gaming and more. After a great Friday night Slap & Tickle at the Elephant & Castle pub, we continued our real-life meet-ups with a D&D session expertly led by Kingmob, a Rock Band tournament appearance, interviews and, of course, tons of game coverage. Even our representatives within the PAX Enforcers crew were able to grab some time to join in on all the fun. Read on for our impressions of the games of the show.

*UPDATE* We're back with a new batch of game impressions from our very own momgamer! Mirror's Edge, Need For Speed: Undercover, Crysis Warhead and more after the jump!

Battle Forge [PC]
Battle Forge is an online RTS with a dash of card game metaphor. When you play a card, you see it's effects on the screen and then your armies respond. If I had to make a comparison, I'd say it reminds me of a combo of Eye of Judgment and an old Xbox game called Goblin Commander.

The game comes with a 200 card "deck" that you can choose from to deal out the 20 cards use to play a game. Despite the swag packs of card replicas they were handing out, there are no physical cards required to play the game.

On top of the usual adversarial maps, there is also going to be a cooperative mode to allow multiple players to work to accomplish objectives in a persistent world. Besides the online play, there will also be an integrated marketplace to buy new cards and trade for others.

The developer said a reasonable machine and graphics card (GE7000-ish) can run it. It will also support anything up to DX 10.1. Scheduled for shipping in early 2009.

Colleen "Momgamer" Hannon

Crysis Warhead [PC]
Warhead is a standalone story, and you can play the two games in any order. If you've played the original, you may remember at one point in the story one of your teammates heads off and sort of vanishes for a while and shows up near the end with an alien body. This game is his adventures off on another part of the island.

The previous version of this game was a poster child for system spec creep, so I was a bit concerned that the sequel would be even worse. Hard system specifications are supposed to come out next week, but the demo box they were running it on was silky smooth even with a single processor. According to the demonstrator, this one will require no upgrade to the hardware to run the original game, and it will run on even lower requirements.

The price point was the real shocker - it's going to come in at $29.99. On September 16th, if you've got a decent rig you might want to take a look.

Colleen "Momgamer" Hannon

Facebreaker [Multi-platform]

Looking for a fighting game that isn't just for kids, but doesn't take itself quite so seriously? Facebreaker might be just what the doctor ordered.

The name isn't just a marketing ploy. The game is cartoony in look and feel, and the characters take cartoony damage as you play, too. Even if you win, by the end of a bout your guy will look like he did three rounds with one of those cartoon anvils.

Customization is where it's at here, with controls to fine-tune your character to be just what you want. As an interesting twist, when you beat someone you win their head. The game hangs it on a wall in a trophy room. It's not just for show; you can then apply that head to your own characters and use it yourself. The controls are accessible to new players, but with combos adding some depth and tactical maneuvering that can keep more advanced players interested. Both kids I had with me liked the system. One is a button-mashing queen and the other is my hardcore fighting game fan.

Add a T rating, local multiplayer that can handle up to six players (with King of the Hill and Round Robin tournament types), and a large online component, and this one will work well for a game night with the gang.

Colleen "Momgamer" Hannon

Lord of the Rings: Conquest [Multi-platform]
Pandemic, the developer who brought you Star Wars: Battlefront, brings you the marquee battles from the Lord of the Rings epics from a different angle. There are four character types for each side -- a warrior, an archer, a scout, and a mage -- and you can play the campaign from either the good or bad side.

You start off from the standpoint of a foot soldier of each type, but as you play you can unlock the main characters. Instead of a nameless Rohirrim or Gondorian, you can choose Aragorn as your warrior, Legolas as your archer, Faramir for your scout, or Gandalf for your mage. This is also true for the bad side. You start off as your generic goblin, but can unlock the big baddies like Sauron, Saruman, the Witch King, the Balrog, a Nazgul, or Lurtz (he's that Uruk-hai you saw being born in the films). This is by no means an exhaustive list.

It's all not just hacking your way through. Use the whole battlefield and everyone on it. Ride wargs and horses. Stride an Ent up to a Troll and drop the gloves. Call in an air-strike by the Eagles, or a Nazgul.

Ever imagined what it would be like if Frodo had failed? Well, they've got an idea. As you play through the campaign you can actually continue on past the battles at the Black Gate and lay waste to Middle Earth.

Add in local split-screen cooperative mode, online multiplayer with up to 16 people, and cooperative and versus modes on top of all this campaign goodness.

This is headed out on every platform that will stand still for it (including the DS) during the 2008 holiday season.

Colleen "Momgamer" Hannon

Mirror's Edge [Multi-platform]
I only got to play a limited part of this title, and only for a few moments but I was definitely intrigued. The story of an elite courier who does this sort of run is a common trope in dystopian sci-fi, but I've never seen it attempted from the first person perspective.

My main impression was of the title was of the vertiginous scale of the movement. We've been crawling up and down the tops of buildings in many games, but this was the first time I honestly felt I might be hurtling over the edge.

It’s probably not a constructive criticism, but I hope someone mods this with a Matrix skin and has you running from Agents.

Colleen "Momgamer" Hannon

Need for Speed: Undercover [Multi-platform]
We're back on the wrong side of the tracks in this latest installment in the series. You're an undercover cop trying to get in with some local street racing gangs to eventually work your way up the chain to take down a big syndicate. Wonder where we've heard this story before?

The game is actively going for a cinematic feel, rather than a simulation. The Heroic Engine that's driving the game brings the feeling of those big silver-screen moments to the game rather than concentrating on reality. Cars take visible damage, but it doesn't affect performance unless it would be integral to the accomplishment of the objective. The example I got from the dev I spoke to was a mission that involved stealing a car and delivering it to a chop shop. If you thrash it too much on the way there, the mission fails.

The world is absolutely huge. Take the city in Underground, and make it three times as big with a huge free-ranging highway loop connecting them. There are several new mission types to help fill out the old standbys.

It felt like the game was going back towards the series' roots, and as a fan I'm glad of it.

Colleen "Momgamer" Hannon

Twin Skies [PC]
Meteor Games hit the casual game space like a bomb with Neopets, and now they're taking aim at a slightly more ambitious project.

Twin Skies is a hybrid game that combines a classic 3d MMO, a casual MMO, and a community/socialization platform. Think of it as one world, with several ways to interact with it. The story is an original, with a sort of fairy-tale gone wrong feel. An in-house writing staff is on hand to keep it fresh and expanding.

You can load up the 3d world and go around kicking it with your guild. Or you can log onto the casual website from work and play mini-games, chat, or interact with the game. One intriguing example I got was a case where in the 3d game users would be trying to get through a valley with lightning striking, but the lightning would be being controlled by people logged into the website and the two groups would be able to interact. You would also be able to log into the community website to setup your characters and interact with auction/economics of the game. Later on cell phone integration is planned.

The game is aimed at socializing, and has features built in to help motivate users to get out of the Balkanized guild rut you can get into with other MMO's. There is plenty of ways to foster your friend group, but it also encourages getting out of your shell and making new friends.

The plan is for a quiet, viral sort of release in Q1 2009 with free accounts followed by a launch of a $5-$8 a month Premium level account structure. The free accounts would not go away, but the paying account would get aesthetic upgrades and expanded community features.

Colleen "Momgamer" Hannon

Pirates of the Burning Sea [PC]
I saw this game last year, and enjoyed the ship-to-ship battles and the world (and I proudly wear my "Getting Booty since 1720" shirt to work). Now that this seafaring MMO is live and in living color, there's even more pirate goodness to love. That is, unless you're the poor guys who were setup within t-shirt cannon range of the Flying Labs booth.

The capital cities all have new art to give them a shine. PVP features are easier to access, ad-hoc battles easier to find, and new features like insurance make it less risky to go out and mix it up.

Now battles are up close and personal. Once you've holed 'em between wind and water and brought the dastards to bay, board and storm operations and face-to-face dueling let you really swash and buckle your way across the main.

They'll be putting out a 2-week free trial in early September so you can set sail with Captain Morgan and see for yourself.

And on a geekier note, if you'd like to get your hooks into what's really cooking, they've offered programmers an API that allows you to access data from the game. Head over to this article at and read up to find out what you can get to and how.

Colleen "Momgamer" Hannon

Strongbad's Cool Game for Attractive People [PC and Wiiware]
Telltale games brings us another point and click adventure to enjoy. Strongbad, Homestar Runner and the whole gang give us episodic hillarity on the PC and over Wiiware.

Each episode gives us a story to work through, as well as an "awexome" mini-game you may recognize from the website. The first episode gave us Snake Boxer 5, and if you found the collectables, you could unlock the snake character for your side which makes it even more fun.

The first episode released on August 11th, with the second one coming along here later this month.

If you're a fan of Strongbad and his style, then you're going to have a good time with these.

Colleen "Momgamer" Hannon

Chrono Trigger DS

Square-Enix didn't have much to display on the show floor, but some time with Chrono Trigger on the DS brought waves of nostalgia for the 16-bit classic. The port is a from-the-ground-up rewrite of the entire code base, and the portion I played was solid and sported quick load times. Due to the DS's non-interlaced display, the already-gorgeous sprites popped with detail and animated smoothly. Other new features include a slick auto-map that fills-in as dungeons are explored, a robust bestiary, the PS version's extra dungeon and cutscenes, and an as-yet unseen competitive wireless multiplayer mode.

The Chrono Trigger port is entirely playable using a control scheme that involves simply dragging the stylus to the various edges of the screen. You can also quickly access your inventory, skills, character status, general options and the bestiary through convenient representative buttons on the touch pad. When moving Chrono and his companions around the top screen, these buttons slide out of view to make for a clean control experience. Once engaged in combat, additional buttons appear for the various actions available. The control scheme felt a little odd at first, but after a few minutes with it, I started to see it's potential - especially for a player like me, whose hands tend to cramp at the thought of the DS's directional-pad. If the new control mode doesn't sound appealing, the entire game is playable using the standard d-pad and buttons. The title will even sport a "Purists mode" that reportedly removes new helpful features such as the auto-map, touch controls, etc.

-- Jeff "doogiemac" Beeman

Far Cry 2

While Far Cry 2's visual tech has impressed me since it was announced, I've yet to see anything really captivating out of a game with the "Cry" brand. Having not paid much attention to the title's development history, I expected little out of the demo. I watched a long, hands-off Xbox 360 demo and, as I picked my jaw up off the floor, I slowly realized that it had stolen the show for me.

There are plenty of highly detailed previews that you can read for a full run-down of Far Cry 2's features, so I'll keep it brief. In terms of gameplay mechanics, what pulled me in and wouldn't let me go were the possibilities of the dynamic story system. Everyone can be killed, and the story is constantly being updated to reflect your choices and actions, drastically altering the experience. The procedurally generated/animated fire is not only gorgeous, but serves a deep gameplay purpose outside of its visual whiz-bangery, as it can be used to lure, flush-out, or otherwise distract (and, of course, attack) enemies.

Finally, Far Cry 2's multiplayer map editor is amazingly robust and is so easy to use that a fully featured map was created on a 360 in under 10 minutes. Using a paint-brush metaphor similar to Photoshop, maps can be created in minutes containing mountains, valleys, rivers, jungles, houses, vehicles and more. Vegetation, ambient noise, clouds, the day-night cycle... are all procedurally generated so changing a jungle scene to dried brush is a simple palette swap. Want to preview your map? At the push of a button you are seamlessly dropped in, and just as quickly taken back out of, the world you've created. I'm incredibly interested to see what sorts of maps the community creates with the editor once it's released.

-- Jeff "doogiemac" Beeman

Dragon Age: Origins

Taking a few passes by the ridiculously long line wrapping around the miniature fort Bioware had erected on the show floor, I finally decided to just brave the wait. After 45 minutes of pain courtesy of the Sing Star demo from Sony's neighboring booth, I was granted entrance to the Dragon Age: Origins demo.

The presentation began with an explanation of Bioware's desire to return to its roots with Dragon Age. They certainly appear to be headed in the right direction. The atmosphere of the early game oozes the style of Baldur's Gate with a focus on complex storytelling, great music, and beautiful architecture. Menu options for "Downloadable Content" and "Other Campaign" caught my eye and these, along with the announced mod toolset, hint at a similar level of dedication to the mod community as Bioware showed with Neverwinter Nights.

While Dragon Age certainly looks to be exactly what Bioware fans have been waiting nearly 7 years for, everything we've seen so far has been hands-off, so I'm cautiously optimistic.

-- Jeff "doogiemac" Beeman

Prince of Persia

Ubisoft's new Prince of Persia (no sub-title this time) is a series reboot that follows a new prince's tale. This was a another hands-off demo, but the title appears to be sporting some conceptually interesting gameplay mechanics. The first is the addition of a secondary character in Elika who, unlike her sisterhood of secondary female characters, does not seem to be a helpless princess. Elika appears to be completely integrated into the gameplay, particularly the platforming and combat pieces, in a way that should breathe some fresh air into the series. She is a helper, giving a twist on the traditional double-jump mechanic; a guardian, providing assistance in combat; and an occasional savior, acting as an active save point. The animation and art style are, of course, quite impressive.

Equally as interesting to me as the addition of the secondary character was the display of some artwork from the Penny Arcade-created Prince of Persia comic. The panels had a style Penny Arcade rarely explores, and showed potential to be quite interesting.

-- Jeff "doogiemac" Beeman

Sam & Max

It's been well over a year since it was originally reported that we'd see Telltale Games' Sam & Max on the Xbox 360, but little has been said about the port since then. When I asked about the 360's missing crime fighters, a developer reported that their tech works on the 360 just fine (see CSI: Hard Evidence for an example), but couldn't go into much more detail. After I pushed him a bit harder, and pleaded that I'd love to enjoy the game both in hi-def and from the comfort of my couch, he hinted at a possible reason for the delay, saying he'd love to see Sam & Max playable with direct control of the characters using the analog sticks, addressing the issues inherent in bringing a point-and-click adventure to the console. Price point and download size over XBLA appear to be issues, as well, so here's hoping that with two seasons of the series behind them, they may be able to put something together, even if it comes in the form of a retail release.

-- Jeff "doogiemac" Beeman


NC Soft's booth prominently featured Aion, an expectedly pretty (it's built on the Crytek's CryEngine) player versus player-focused MMO. From my brief time with the game, it felt heavily influenced by Guild Wars, both in visual style and gameplay. As a former Guild Wars player, it's hard to see how Aion adds much, if anything at all, to NC Soft's catalog. Aside from a nifty flying mechanic and a fairly intricate character model customization system, I came away from the demo thoroughly uninspired.

-- Jeff "doogiemac" Beeman

Chrono Trigger DS
Far Cry 2
Dragon Age: Origins
Prince of Persia
Sam & Max


jonnypolite wrote:

We need to hear your theory first.

Some men demand proper exfoliation, even in the middle of a nerd-fest.

Gentle, wooly exfoliation...

Demiurge wrote:
jonnypolite wrote:

A few more PAX pictures i put up.

I have a theory, but what the hell is going on here?

Here's what I think of your stupid pasta!

SnowBro wrote:

As a first time poster and refered to this site by one of your own at PAX i feel it only fitting to post in this forum first...Love the site.


totally recruited that guy.

Finally got my pics online:

Wish I got more pics of Goodjers! georob and doogiemac were fun to hang with.

Some of the cool cosplayers I spotted: