The Penny Arcade Expo (PAX, for short) has come and gone in Melbourne for yet another year. PAX AUS 2015 ran from Friday October 30th to Sunday November 1st, and was held for the second consecutive year at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. But what is PAX exactly, and why do people get so excited about it (well… a certain subset of people)?
Penny Arcade is an online web comic, which was started in 1998 by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, who still run the site today. The first PAX was run in 2004, and was a result of Mike and Jerry’s desire to attend a show that was exclusively a celebration of gaming. It has then spread to several locations across the US, as well as Australia, which was the first country to host PAX outside of the US (and is still the only country to do so).
PAX Australia follows the same core model as the majority of its US counterparts – it’s held at a large, mostly indoor location, and includes a showfloor dedicated to booths from both independent and triple-A game developers/publishers (and increasingly more PC hardware manufacturers/resellers), panels on game-related topics held in theatres nearby, tabletop and video game tournaments, tabletop and video game freeplay areas, vintage video game areas, as well as further events and activities, all of which are game-related in some fashion.
In addition to this, there is an event-long “Omegathon”, which is essentially a tournament for select attendees, and is held in phases over the course of the three days. The final event is held as part of the closing ceremony, and the winner is awarded a prize… as well as Internet fame and fortune. Yet another important aspect of the even is Pinny Arcade, in which attendees purchase and swap PAX pins in an attempt to collect them all, sets of which are throughout the year, so actually collecting them all is a challenge in itself. Me? I have none. Success!
The doors open to the public at 10am on each day, and attendees line up in their thousands. Over the years, organisers have learned to not only enable a line structure that allows for controlled release of attendees on opening (in an effort to avoid the crush, so to speak), they’ve also employed methods to make the waiting itself more enjoyable. This year, there were Fallout 4-emblazoned targets for attendees to try to knock a large beach ball through. I’m told there were prizes for attendees that managed this, but given the number of people in the lines, I’m unsure how this would be managed…
On entrance, the Main Hall contains mostly video game-related booths. This year, there were booths from Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony (the PlayStation booth was perhaps the largest), as well as 2K, Wargaming, Ubisoft, Twitch, a large area dedicated to ESL, and many other booths besides. It was impressive, and there was more than enough on offer in just the Main Hall to fill up an attendees three days. Microsoft had a number of Indie titles on display (most notably, Cuphead was playable), but also had an area dedicated to Rise of the Tomb Raider, Halo 5, and Forza 5. Sony dedicated much of their booth to Star Wars: Battlefront, but also had a dedicated corner for Unravel, and two closed off areas – one for PlayStation VR, which was by appointment only (and appointment slots filled up VERY quickly), and the other was for Uncharted 4 – Multiplayer was playable for those willing to brave the lines. Nintendo’s booth was a colourful affair (as it usually is), with a major focus on Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, Xenoblade Chronicles X, and The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes. Ubisoft had both The Division and Rainbow Six: Siege on offer, and both had long waiting lines across all three days.
In addition to all of this, the Main Hall also included the “PAX Rising” section, which was dedicated to Independent developers and their titles. This was a great deal larger than in previous years and the quality of titles on offer was impressive. We will cover a number of titles within our PAX AUS coverage, but alas, there will be several gems that will have slipped through our dragnet… Notably (for us, at least), our own Dave Haldane had a stand this year, where he was showing off his own title, Hive: Not by Design. The PAX Rising section was consistently buzzing with attendees, and I expect that Independent Exhibitors received a great deal of valuable feedback.
Through to the next hall, there was a BYOC (Bring Your Own Computer) section, wherein attendees (who’d purchased a BYOC pass) could put their PC in order to take part in tournaments throughout the event. Next to that was a large tournament area, a large freeplay area (where console games could be “rented” and played onsite), the Vintage gaming area (article forthcoming), a large number of booths dedicated to tabletop gaming (board/card/role playing, etc.) – beyond this was a sea of tables, at which were seated a sea of people, all playing tabletop games in their various incarnations (and yes, there was an area in which games could be “rented”, so attendees didn’t need to bring their own).
On top of all this, there were shops, cafes, Johann Sebastian Joust, competitions, Laser Tag, a Fallout 4 booth with a questionably long line (considering there was no playable code), several Universities and other educational facilities, and many, many, MANY cosplayers. Truly, it was an enjoyable experience, and one I do recommend. Is there enough for three days? I would say yes, but it depends on what you want out of it. I took my wife and one of our friends, and I think they were both satisfied with the 3 or 4 hours that we spent there. Me on the other hand? I spent almost three full days and missed out on a lot of what was on offer – but I did score some suitably sore feet. Given that PAX AUS will be coming to Melbourne every year for the foreseeable future, I’d recommend looking into how you can fit it into your yearly schedule. Just wear comfy shoes.