In late March, I continued my trend of attending PAX conventions and reporting back on the best things that I saw. This time, I attended PAX East at the Boston (Massachusetts) Convention and Exhibition Center from Thursday, March 23 through Sunday, March 26. Where the PAX Unplugged conventions I had previously attended (2021 and 2022) focused on tabletop gaming, PAX East is dedicated to electronic gaming of all types: console, PC, VR, and other media.
PAX East is big – much too big to see every single game, product, panel, peripheral, or other presentation in four days. What I did manage to see was mostly impressive, sometimes frustrating, and always entertaining. I didn’t find any pure escape room-style games in the vein of Escape Simulator or Escape Academy, but there were plenty of things worth bringing to your attention.
Knight in the Attic by Mighty Yell
In this puzzle game you control Guinevere, who has just awakened from a mysterious sleep and is now attempting to stop an encroaching darkness. Guinevere’s model reminds me of a Weeble, and the movement mechanic is based on the Labyrinth game – you tilt the game board to move her around. I only played the first level, but there were some fun puzzles to solve. I look forward to playing the full version when it releases on April 13 on Steam and Meta Quest.
Blinnk and the Vacuum of Space by Changing Day
In my working life, I am a special education teacher and these two worlds of mine don’t often come together. But as I walked by a booth that advertised “VR for Autism,” I was compelled to talk with the folks running the booth – who, by the way, came all the way from Scotland to put their game in the hands of attendees. While I didn’t get to experience the full range of accessibility options that Blinnk will utilize to make it more accessible for gamers on the autism spectrum, I did appreciate that many of the options were presented to the player as part of the tutorial. I’m told that options involving color palette, music, and more will appear in the game as well. Blinnk and the Vacuum of Space is already out on Steam and is coming soon to Meta Quest headsets.
Demeo by Revolution Games
Demeo is a tabletop roleplaying game (TTRPG) in the style of games like Gloomhaven. Players move their characters around a map (I played in a dungeon), using card-based powers to fight monsters and earn treasure. I really enjoyed that Demeo is crossplay enabled, so you can play with your friends across systems – even those playing on a non-VR platform. Demeo is currently available on multiple platforms.
Star Salvager by A-Game Studios
Star Salvager feels like a cross between Tetris and Galaga. You collect little bits of resources that fall from the top of the screen, which attach to your ship. There are also bad guys coming down from the top of the screen to attack you in very classic arcade cabinet styles. Collect enough of the colored bits in groups of at least 3 to add that color to your power meter which becomes ammo for your various weapon systems. The RPG elements of the game let you gain new powers and make your ship stronger. Star Salvager’s full release is TBD, but you can play the demo for free on Steam.
Scene Investigators by Ukiyo
Explore a crime scene, find clues, and use reasoning to solve the mystery. It’s a familiar format and it’s the entire gameplay of Scene Investigators. You’re dropped into a crime scene and have to use the clues you find to answer a set of questions relating to the scene. Scene Investigators launches in 2023, and the demo is available on Steam right now.
Paper Trail by Newfangled Games
Paper Trail is a top-down puzzle game with an original mechanic: origami. You have to move your character through a puzzle-filled world, solving the puzzles by folding down the edges of the map itself to reveal new map elements. I played the demo and felt that it was time very well spent. Paper Trail was part of the PAX Rising Showcase, a highly curated selection of games chosen by the PAX Team – and it definitely deserved to be there. Look for the full game later in 2023, or play the demo on Steam today.
Strange Horticulture by Iceberg Interactive
I’ll start by saying that this is the only game I bought a copy of while I was at the show. Then I told my sister about it and she bought a copy. Everything about the demo just hit right – inheriting a mysterious plant shop, identifying strange plants for customers, the music and general ambiance, and the black cat sitting on the ledge that I was able to pet. Strange Horticulture brought a lot of narrative depth and my choices mattered. I’m looking forward to a second playthrough to discover how the plot and characters develop when I make different choices. Strange Horticulture is available right now on Steam and Nintendo Switch.
Any attendee to PAX should make sure to investigate the well-curated panels and talks. There are a ton of them every day and at least one of them is sure to be of interest to you. I attended two this time around, and both were well worth my time.
While skimming through the panel schedule, I was immediately intrigued by the title “Emotional Manipulation is Good, Actually, If It’s Done with Sound” and its accompanying description about the power of sound in all forms of media. Three team members from the podcast company Multitude talked about the importance of music and sound in various media – for example, how they are shorthand for emotion and can instantly communicate feelings across cultural boundaries. The talk was very informative and even felt a little familiar. Chris Lattner & Malte Eiben delivered a related talk about light and sound design in escape rooms at RECON 2021 (watch it here). I’m hopeful that the creators in the audience took their advice to heart and hire sound designers to help create memorable audioscapes for their games.
I also attended the “Hidden Gems of PAX East” panel discussion. As I said earlier, PAX East is huge and I had little hope of fully experiencing everything that was available. This talk promised to relieve me of some of the legwork of finding intriguing but potentially overlooked games on the show floor. The presenters did a great job of highlighting a broad spectrum of games in a wide array of genres. Not everything caught my interest, but they did highlight two games I mentioned above – Paper Trail (which I had already seen) and Scene Investigators (which I had not seen yet). I’ll be looking forward to similar discussions at future conventions.
One type of booth that kept catching my eye because I never saw its like at a PAX Unplugged event was colleges advertising their game design courses. There were at least a half dozen of these displays publicizing different areas like modeling, level design, and overall game development. It’s uplifting to see gaming being taken seriously by colleges and universities as a viable career path, and they were definitely in the right place to reach their target audience.
This, of course, made me realize that in my years of attending PAX Unplugged I can’t recall a single board game design course or lesson being offered. A quick Google search shows some results like single courses at schools like NYU and some coursework at popular learning sites such as Udemy and Skillshare. I bet college-age Andrew would have loved to have seen it as an option.
This was my first time at PAX East and I continue to be impressed at the quality of PAX events. The conventions have been welcoming, well-organized, and packed full of things to do. I hope you find some of these games that I’ve highlighted as interesting as I did. And if you happened to be at PAX East and think I missed out on something, let me know in the comment section. See you at the next convention!
Disclosure: PAX Unplugged provided a media pass.