PAX Aus has quickly found its footing as Australia’s premier gaming festival. From humble beginnings at the Melbourne Showgrounds, PAX Aus has grown significantly each year, refining itself into an awesome mix of local industry showcase, video game and tabletop playspace, and hub to share ideas and discussion. 2016 features a large Indie Game Showcase, PAX Rising, as well as the new addition of a dedicated VR area – VR Freeplay. I won’t claim to be able to sum up PAX Aus – I don’t think such a thing is possible! But I can give you an overview of my time at the festival.
For me, PAX – and the contagious, buzzing excitement that comes with it – began well before I left the house. My housemate, Laith, is doing a Monster Hunter cosplay this year, and as anyone who has taken public transport to a con will know, the transportation part of the day can be an ordeal. It tends to make for good smalltalk with commuters though
I chose to receive my 3 day pass via the mail, which left me free to do what any self-respecting nerd would do first thing in the morning at a con – get a coffee. I met up with some mates and after making a quick detour to the queue room where we picked up our wristbands, we headed for the keynote of PAX – Storytime with Major Nelson.
I’ve been to Storytime every year since PAX Aus began, and it always makes for a fantastic start to the festival. Previous speakers include Ron Gilbert, Pete Hines and Warren Spector. All juggernauts of gaming culture and history, and all have had amazingly different things to say about games, the sorts of games they want to see us make and the direction they’d like to see games go.
From the minute he stepped onto the stage, it was obvious that Larry Hyrb, the director of Programming for Xbox Live, and more commonly known by his public gamertag ‘Major Nelson’, loves his job. He gave an entertaining and informative overview of his career history, sharing how he came to be in a job he loves so much so that we might be better equipped to follow our calling and find the job that makes us want to get up in the morning.
The talk was cleverly centered around the question he most commonly gets asked which isn’t, as he joked, “What’s Bill Gates like?” but rather, “How do I get your job?”. This advice is coming from the guy on the team who invented the achievement unlock system which is now a staple of modern gaming – I was taking close notes. Hyrb took us through his early years working in radio, and how the thing that seemed to take him up and towards better opportunities was never saying “no, that’s not my job.” This advice has taken Hyrb through a fascinating career working for MSN and Microsoft, from visiting Iraq to judge a Rockband competition, to being literally set on fire for the sake of a promotional video. Throughout his career – starting with college – he met as many people as he could, said yes to trying everything, and collected an epic library of achievements that – although he had no idea at the time – equip him with the diversity of skill necessary to eventually end up in a managerial role at Xbox.
Hyrb is affable, charismatic, passionate and a great speaker, and he gave some really great advice – not just for finding a job in the games industry, but advice that felt generally geared towards finding happiness and purpose and ending up working on something that you love so much that every morning when you wake up you think “Wow, I love my job – I’m so grateful for it… I really hope I don’t screw things up today”. This idea of treating every day with the same passion, enthusiasm and sense of nervous energy that you’re fueled with on your first day in a new job is key to Hyrb’s attitude towards his work. Other great insights included:
- When solving a problem, instead of getting really caught up in the details, always try to take a step back and ask yourself (or your team) “What’s the real problem you’re trying to solve here?” because until you know what the right question is, you’re never going to find the right answer.
- Every time there’s something new – a new social media platform, a new way to play games, a game which seems like it’s going to change how people play – jump straight on it. Try it out and do your best to figure if it’s going to take off.
- “Try everything. Trying something is the quickest way to find out if you’re any good at it.”
- “If you’re comfortable, get uncomfortable,” because you’ll only be learning if you’re trying new things, and you should never stop learning.
- “Embrace what each day could have in store. Not every single day is going to be magical. You will work hard. There will be late nights. There will be challenges.”
After Storytime, we rushed off to our first panel LARP as Art: Players as Designers, in which a bunch of leaders in the LARP community imparted some excellent tips on how to get the most out of LARP experiences as a player. Their advice covered everything from one-off events to longer, quest style events such as those run by Swordcraft. The conversation followed the idea that making a flawed character is always going to be more interesting because their personality will lead to better stories, and in LARP it’s not really about winning or losing the game – it’s about experiences life in another world and creating epic moments (which later become epic stories) with other players. The panelists all agreed that saying “yes, and…” is always advisable, and that having secrets – but sharing them with some other players – are surefire ways to created drama and intrigue during a LARP.
After a quick lunch (because somehow it was already the afternoon…?!) I ran off to the Tabletop sign-up area and put my name down for a game of Numenera – a tabletop RPG which uses the Cyber system and is set in the far future – on Saturday. I’m looking forward to it.
I had a very quick look at the myriad of awesome games in the PAX Rising space before heading to the queue for NanoJam 2.0: Live Game Design, in which Maize Wallin (Composer), Leonie Yue (Illustrator), Rami Ismail (Gamedev and Programmer), Kris Straub (Cartoonist and Designer), Alayna Cole (Games Writer) produced ridiculously silly game concepts based on audience suggestions. Writer Jason Imms had the unfortunate position of trying to contain this ridiculousness – and ridiculousness it was. Amongst the ideas ‘shipped’ were games called Film Noir Caveman Simulator, Muscle Duck, Slumberdome and Surprise Zombie Dentist.
Next, was the panel Virtual Reality Hype Train. I’m just starting to dabble in making my own video games, and I’m intensely interested in developing for VR, so I tried to suck as much information as I could out of this panel. The discussion was fascinating – particularly the talk of the increased sense of responsibility VR content creators have, as their games have enormous potential to effect people in ways that are totally unprecedented, as well as discussion on how we can improve the way VR games are controlled, and the way the player is represented.
The final panel I attended was intriguingly titled What Would You Tell Yourself 5 Years Ago? and seemed geared towards giving tips as to the best moves to make if you’re an aspiring dev. It was an odd mix of concrete, practical advice and esoteric ponderings. Some of my take-aways were:
- Keep making things.
- Focus on developing your skills and experiment.
- Do lots of game jams. They’re great for helping you find your place in the community.
- Make sure your bed and your (work) computer are not in the same room!
- In moments of doubt, speaking to other people who develop and believe in you (and the industry) is important.
- Start with small teams and make small, achievable games. Having twice as many ppl doesn’t equal twice as much game.
- Own up to your own limits.
- Be critical with your own ideas.
- Volunteering is a great way to get started.
- It’s hard – but not impossible – to get (games) work overseas w/o a degree
- Education doesn’t mean going to school. Education means preparing yourself for what you want to do.
Looking back, I guess I spent a lot of day one at panels! I’m hoping to spend more time playing games on Saturday – especially in the PAX Rising and VR Freeplay areas. I’ve been tweeting the highlights of my PAX. Head there if you want to see more of what I’ve been up to. There are still tickets available for Sunday if you want to check PAX Aus out first hand, but at the time of writing Saturday tickets are sold out.