Ah, springtime in Melbourne. The time of year for some people to dress up in feathery hats and go to the races, and for some to dress up as their favourite video-game characters and head to PAX AUS, the Southern Hemisphere incarnation of the Penny Arcade Expo.
PAX AUS is three days of all-things-gaming, including console, computer, arcade, board, and roleplaying games, as well as cosplay and anything else to do with gamer culture. This year’s PAX was a huge event, with capacity at the expansive Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre being maxed out. After passing under a bright yellow “Welcome Home” sign, the hustle and bustle of the event started, with the action split into two large areas.
In the Expo Hall, dedicated to electronic games, the major developers and technology vendors were out in style, with flashy booths promoting the latest and greatest in both games and gaming technology. Bright lights, loud announcements, flickering screens and streams of people — including many in full cosplay outfits — sometimes made this area feel like it could be the set of a strangely chaotic sci-fi TV show. Highlights for me included the Final Fantasy XIV booth, where people could play a battle round of Square Enix’s foray into the world of MMORPGs (yeah okay, I’m a bit of a Final Fantasy fan). And of course the Lenovo Stage, which was mostly dedicated to running live League of Legends matches. That’s right, Riot Games were back at PAX, and were back in force! (And they even handed out limited edition Neo PAX Sivir skins, woot! Now if only I was better at playing Sivir…)
Between screening the live competitions, the stage also hosted a League of Legends cosplay parade. The quality of the costumes and attention to detail were incredible, with some of the most memorable entries including a fully armoured Mordekaiser (able to withstand the hardest hits, but best kept away from stairs), an Ahri (who, when asked how she made her nine tails, explained that she grew them herself), and a Blood Moon Elise (complete with an animated mini-spider puppet).
The second main area of the convention was dedicated to Tabletop gaming, including board, roleplaying, CCG and miniatures games. Despite a slightly less frantic atmosphere, this hall was no less busy, and included hundreds of tables that were available for both organised and freeform gaming. An extensive games library made it possible to try out both new and classic board game titles, while the available roleplaying sessions included well-established lines such as Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder and Call of Cthulhu (these three were so popular they got their own sign-up tables) as well as many independent games.
Steve Dee of Tin Star Games ran a playtest session of Relics: A Game of Angels, based around immortal beings who have been on earth for a long time and aim to protect humanity from the machinations of demons. We played pre-generated characters, but a particularly fun and novel aspect of the game was that beyond a broad character overview (outlining some of their historical background, their alliances and rivalries with other supernatural factions, and a defining power), other skills and abilities were determined collaboratively by the player group. This is done through a series of flashback scenes, where one player devises a short backstory where their angel interacted with one of the other characters, describing a particular ability that the other angel employed during the course of events, and thereby gifting that ability to the other player. Additional skills that are needed during the game can similarly be purchased by expending points, and switching from the main story to short flashback scenes where the ability was first displayed. Another interesting feature is that the role of chance is simulated not by the rolling of dice, but by drawing from a deck of Tarot cards. Relics is still under active development, but this session demonstrated what was already an intriguing setting together with novel systems that encourage a highly collaborative storytelling playstyle, and it will be exciting to see this game in its final form down the track.
I was also able to join a session of Fragged Empire, created by local game designer Wade Dyer. This game is set in a post post-apocalypse distant future, where four genetically engineered races are starting to re-emerge from the ruins of a great galactic war, and trying to establish their place in the universe. In this particular adventure, the players took on the roles of members of a salvage crew, living and working on a run-down spaceship and trying to make ends meet. Things seemingly started to look up when we were offered a lucrative contract by a Corporate to explore and retrieve valuable biotech from a hospital ship that went missing during the great war over 100 years ago, but had suddenly reappeared… and after so much time, it must surely be safe to explore, right? Of course, things are never that easy, and (without giving away any of the details) a tremendously enjoyable sci-fi–horror–mystery romp ensued, pitting the players against puzzles and unspeakable monstrosities, all the while racing against the clock. The adventure served as a great introduction to the Fragged Empire setting, showcasing a detailed and intricately designed game world and hinting at galaxy-spanning mysteries and secrets to be uncovered. It was also exciting to learn that Wade is about to release three new settings that use the RPG rules system that he created for Fragged Empire — the high fantasy Fragged Kingdom, gothic dark fantasy Fragged Aeternum, and pirates and eldritch gods Fragged Seas game worlds.
In the later evening, when the neon lights of the Expo Hall had been dimmed for the night, and some intrepid tabletoppers were still playing through their favourite board and roleplaying games, another event was ramping into action in China: day one of the League of Legends World Championships Semi-finals. Tired but content after a full day of fun and adventure, I intended to briefly drop in at the Gamespot Theatre for what was bound to be a relatively quiet gathering of eSports aficionados… wrong! Arriving part-way through the second match, there was a queue of people waiting to get inside. Eventually able to snag a spot in the packed venue, the excitement was palpable: SK Telecom T1, a Korean team who have previously won the LoL championships in 2013, 2014 and 2016 were battling it out against the Chinese team Royal Never Give Up. After winning two games each, the fifth and final match was a nail-biting affair during bans and champ selects at the start (Lee Sin jungle final pick? Controversial!), to the crowd going wild during team skirmishes and narrow escapes, all the way through to the ultimate SKT semi-final victory. Congrats SKT, will be cheering you on in the finals!
And what could have been a more PAX way to end the day than with a world-stage eSports viewing party? Farewell for now PAX AUS! Looking forward to seeing you again in all your glory in 2018.
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