PAX East 2011: Day 3 Recap And Final Thoughts

Wow.  I can’t believe it’s already over. I mean, I CAN believe it, since I’m back home in New Jersey, and not in Boston, but man, what a weekend.  I have never experienced an expo like this one, and from what I’ve been seeing on Twitter and from my conversations with other Pax-goers, it seems this was just one that was off the charts.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  We have some Day 3 stuff to cover, so let’s get right to it.  I had 2 scheduled appointments with Duke Nukem and Firefall, so I’ll cover those first.   There will be spoilers for Duke Nukem, so if you don’t want that ruined, then skip a bit.


Duke Nukem Forever was exactly what I was expecting.  I suppose I should elaborate a bit on this point, but if you know what I mean, you know what I mean.  The joy of Duke in the old days was the level of interactivity you had with the levels, the over-the-top attitude of Duke, and the adult themes.  Duke Nukem Forever has been touted as a game that pays homage to all of that (probably because it’s been in the works for 14 years), and speaking to Jim Redner from The Redner Group, he reaffirmed that bringing Duke Nukem back from the dead was about bringing a fun game to the masses.  It won’t be ground breaking.  It won’t be perfect.  But it will be fun.  At least, that’s what they’re hoping for.  How did it play?

I’d say mission accomplished.  I was able to demo two levels in the game.  The first starts out in a stadium that is under attack.  Well, I skipped a bit; you actually start off facing a urinal.  The first command you learn? Piss is Right Trigger.  I had to laugh, as the game quickly lets you know a) how seriously to take it, and b) what to expect.  When I backed away from the toilet, I found that I could interact with most everything else in the bathroom; sinks, showers, other toilets, a white board (complete with different color markers and an eraser).  That was some of my favorite bits from the older shooters (the level interaction that had nothing to do with completing the level), so I’m glad that was retained.  Anyway, after running through the innards, you come out onto the football field to a giant robot, and it’s you, an RPG, and him.  Took me a death to realize ammo refills were being airdropped in, but once I found that, a few (about 150) rockets dropped the beast.  And that’s where it got interesting.

The camera pans back to reveal that Duke was actually just playing a video game of himself.  He’s actually relaxing on his couch, playing the game.  Oh, and getting.. serviced.. by two blonde schoolgirls.  Yep, it’s Duke Nukem Forever alright.  After that.. climatic.. ending, it loads into the next level.


I’ll stop detailing the levels, and just bring home the key points.  Graphically, the game is serviceable.  It’s better than I was expecting considering what the game has been through, but you won’t confuse it for Gears of War 3.  The controls are a little jittery, and there was some frame rate drops in the driving scenes.  You will experience QTE for at least defeating the first boss, so I imagine that’s a theme repeated in the game for the big battles.  The game is not afraid to make fun of itself (at one point mentioning how long it took to make the game).  The combat was fine, with bodies that got dismembered as they were shot in various areas.  I died a few times on normal while trying to figure out what to do (the game doesn’t hand-hold you too much, and I didn’t mind that, though I did see other players walk out frustrated, one muttering that he couldn’t figure out the console controls *shrug*). All told, when I finished my time with the game, I left feeling reassured.  The game would be what I had hoped it would be, wouldn’t take itself too seriously, and would bring closure to a long overdue game.  What’s key is that now Gearbox can do what they wish with the license, and I expect we’ll see a follow-up much sooner than 14 years from now, and in a more current-gen way.   I will certainly support this game, providing its priced right; I don’t know if I’ll be able to justify $60 for the game.


So that brings us to Firefall, which will be a free-to-play open world team-based action shooter.  I had the pleasure to speak with Red 5 Studios’s Mark Kern about the game, and had him help me as I learned the game (I personally love it when a CEO is as capable a player as most of the people I was around).  He talked about the game a bit, gave me a little background on the game’s influences (a blend of Tribes and WoW, which should surprise no one if you look at the staff involved in the game), and talked about how, to him, Firefall needed to be a game of skill.  He mentioned that it’s possible for a level 1 to take down a level 50 if the player is skilled enough.  Sure, the level 50 will have access to more mods and skills, but since each player can only run with 3 equipped boosts, it does help level the playing field (while not rendering levels useless as well).  Another neat feature that Mark was really excited about is the ability to create and manage armies in the game.  These armies would essentially be factions that will also have all sorts of tracking and personalization options that can be utilized on the fly, allowing for a more cohesive and informative group experience (rather than having to break out into a webpage to get the information).  You can also flip between first and third person, so it covers folks that prefer one over the other perfectly.

The demo itself takes place in a battlefield, which will be instanced warzones in the game.  Mark mentioned that these warzones are capable of handling hundreds of participants, although he conceded that they’re still trying to figure out how to make sure battles of that size fun, as currently the problem is that it’s just impossible to not die the second you move anywhere.  At Pax, they had it setup as 5 vs. 5 matchups, and included were 3 classes available to play: Assault, which is your gunner class and can deal out good damage, Sniper which is, surprisingly, the sniper class and has some cool tricks like being able to shoot proximity mines across the map, and the medic, which was my favorite class, and can use their gun to heal, buff, and even make teammates invulnerable.  The game uses cell-shading, and looked really great; everything was crisp, well detailed, and there was no noticeable frame-rate drops even when all 10 players were in close combat with each other.  The gameplay was very frantic at first until I got a handle of the controls (you can use a jetpack, so jumping and flying around added a level of complexity that took some getting used to), so there is a learning curve to the game.  One thing that is neat is that your team does not score a point just for killing another player, you must execute the player in order to score.  This means either continuing to shoot the player while they’re down for an extended amount of time, or going in close and curb-stomping them.  Of course, during this time, their team can revive the player as well, so what ends up happening is that dropped players become beacons for battle, where there’s a king-of-the-hill like skirmish for trying to score points on fallen players.  It all adds up to a very fast-paced experience that is a lot of fun.  There are a lot of ways you’ll be able to customize your character, both in looks and loadouts, and while the game will be free to download and free to play, you will have the ability to spend real cash on weapons that can be used in-game.  While things seemed fairly even in the battles in the demo, I do wonder how paid weapons will affect balance once everyone starts getting going with the game.  Still, for a game that is free, it was an absolute blast to play; I don’t see how anyone can justify not at least checking this game out when it’s released later this year.  So far it’s looking to be a PC only release, so time to get your gaming rig up to spec!


So that’s the skinny on Firefall and Duke Nukem Forever.  If you have questions about the games, let me know via comments, I may have omitted something that I can elaborate on.  Speaking of elaborating, I was able to view a few more fatalities in Mortal Kombat, so I’ll drop a few more for you (if you want to see more, check out my Day 2 recap):

Kung Lao: Decapitates person with his thrown hat, then grabs the hat in the air and slices the headless body down the middle.

Mileena: Throws the two katanas into the opponent’s chest, then comes up close almost as if to lay a smooch, before ripping the head off the body, and biting into the neck cavity in the head.  Awesomely gruesome.

Reptile: Grabs the opponent’s head, forces open their mouth, and spits acid down their throat.  While the person is going bezerk of having their insides eaten away, Reptile punches the person through their gut, and rips out their stomach.

Kano: Punches opponent through their back, shows them their own heart, and then pulls it out when he retracts his arm.

Kitana: Uses her fans to slice off the arms and then head of her victim.

Sonya: Does a handplant and uses her legs to grab the opponent, lift them into the air, and then through sheer force of her legs, rips the opponent in half. Serious thigh work there.

Johnny Cage: Punches victim’s head off, then rips the torso off.  Grabs the head and holds it up in the air.

Cyrax: Slices the body with a spinning blade, though the body stays together.  Then kicks the victim in the torso, and the body flies apart.

While we’re back on Mortal Kombat, I should mention that the 3D, while impressive, was actually made more impressive by something I took for granted yesterday: it looks great even without glasses.  The fighters are actually on the normal 2D plane, it’s the background and the HUD that are on different planes. Doing it this way means people can watch the game without glasses, and likely won’t even notice it’s rendering in 3D.  Also, I should correct Liu Kang’s fatality from yesterday; he doesn’t grab the person’s heart, he just punches through his victim.

I did spend some time on the floor doing other stuff, but honestly today I was just taking in the experience that was PAX.  It’s hard to explain, but I just felt like I was surrounded by people I’d known all my life, but never met.  We all have this inner nerd that loves games, or Magic, or D&D (or maybe all three), and it’s rare to find others that are like minded.  And then you go to an event like this, and you realize there’s a ton of people who love the same stuff you do, and they’re not all the uni-bomber recluse type (though there were a few of those too, and that’s cool, because PAX loves all kinds).  I was just really taken aback at the sort of.. I don’t know.. personal awakening or connection or.. epiphany I felt while I moved from booth to booth and checked out the tabletop freeplay areas.  Either that, or my nerves were shot knowing I was going to be doing my first interviews with game developers later that day.  I’ll err on the side of epiphany, it sounds much cooler.  But seriously, the people I actually met were really cool no matter what their level, from CEO down to a gamer with a Sunday pass waiting in line next to me.  It was a fun, easy-going crowd that was just there to experience everything they could, and I got swept up in it too.  The cosplayers were great as well (it stepped up during the weekend; I was wondering after Friday if folks just weren’t going to do it), and while there’s was fuss over the booth babes, I didn’t see the big deal.  There were all of 2 or 3 booths that had them, and frankly one of them was for Duke Nukem; if that booth DIDN’T have them, it wouldn’t have felt right.  I wish I had more time to hit all the stuff I missed, and I certainly wish I had a clone to hit the panels while I was on the expo floor; it was so hard to choose between the two, and next year I will have to do some serious planning to make sure I give myself time for both appropriately.

I want to thank Steve and Scott here at Platform Nation for making this happen for me, and for letting me represent Platform Nation at Pax East.  I certainly want to thank the folks responsible for setting Pax East up; everything about the event was perfect, from the signage to the enforcers to the scheduling and events, the layout, the new venue, and the friendly staff involved.  Everything and everyone worked to make this event not just memorable, but epic.  If the only complaint people could levy was that the food was expensive (and it was, but there was a food court that was a 5 minute walk down the street), then I’d say it was a success.  I also want to thank Kaz, Nicolo and Justin from The Rumble Pack for taking me under their wing for a little bit on my first day, when I didn’t know a soul at the place; it was good to connect with someone and talk.  I also want to thank Ken Hinxman and Mark Taylor over at Games Evolve for their help with getting me into Star Wars: The Old Republic’s meet and greet, as well as taking video of our gameplay (which once posted on their site, they were very cool with letting me use over here, so once it’s up, you’ll see it!).  I should also give a big thanks to my wife, who came along for the ride and enjoyed Boston with our daughter while her husband lived his dream in PAX for 3 days.

So that about does it for this recap.  I do have one final bit I will get up this week regarding Star Wars: The Old Republic, which will detail my gameplay experience, and include the video of that gameplay once it’s available.  I hope these helped those who could not go feel like they were part of the action.  I had a blast reliving the events as I put them down here, and here’s hoping next year, you’re not reading my posts, you’re a part of them!  I will leave you with a shot of the swag that I acquired (and I wasn’t even trying for it, this is just what I got for going through the things I did).  You can see more detail in the set of Pax pictures by clicking on the pic below.  Enjoy, and until next time, thanks for taking the time to read about my experiences at Pax East 2011.

For Pax East 2011 Day 1 recap, click here.

For Pax East 2011 Day 2 recap, click here.

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  • Bsu

    I know I’m certainly looking forward to Firefall. One of the things that the devs were adamant about, though, was that you couldn’t buy power. In other words, weapons aren’t something you can buy with real cash, they’re leaning towards cosmetics in terms of cash shop items, like in LoL.

  • Brian Heitzenrater (FrehleyzComet)

    Thanks for the coverage Tim. Glad you were able to go and have a good time. I’d kill to go to one of these events sometime in my future.

  • Bsu – you’re correct in some regards, I asked Mark about being able to buy overpowered guns and that causing imbalance and he stressed the fact of skill being involved more than gear. I didn’t exactly take that to mean bought guns wouldn’t be better than in-game gear, and seeing as purchased items are the only source of income for the game, I’d be amazed if there wasn’t SOME tactical advantage to purchased weapons. I do know that they’re working hard to make this a game of skill and not “dice rolls” as Mark put it to me.

    One thing I forgot to mention was that Firefall also features a full day/night cycle, and that different events do happen at different times of the day.

    And Brian, thanks for following the coverage and commenting. I’d love for you to join me on the next one! 🙂