PAX Prime 2013 Review

First off, I have to say I had an amazing time at PAX this year. Four full days is a long time – incredibly exhausting, but it was worth every minute.

Most of my time was spent sitting in various panels, but I did manage to make several rounds in the Expo Hall. Once I found the Bioware theater, I spent an embarrassing amount of time in there (basically every break between the other panels I wanted to see).

Now to sort through all my notes to create some kind of review that other people can understand.

I don’t dare let someone else try to read my handwriting or random thoughts thrown all over the place in my notebook. 

Here we go, I’ll try to keep this as condensed as possible:

Friday

I attended two panels on Game Developement: The Evolution of a game Developer, and From Obsession to Profession: How to Forge the Career You Want in the Videogame Industry

One of the most important lines that struck me is “Creating more than you consume.” That’s actually the only thing I wrote down from the first panel, but it basically sums it all up. To be a great game designer, or really any kind of creative person, it is important to constantly be creating something. This is actually something I have lived by without even identifying it. I am always working on something creative, and honestly, have a really hard time just sitting still. I may watch Netflix, or whatever I happen to put on my tv, but it is never a passive activity – I multitask all the time. I will usually be working on something while the tv is on in the background, that way I can still at least attempt to get caught up on the backlog of shows I’ve been told I need to watch. To be honest, I have Doctor Who on while I currently write this… Anyway, everyone should set a goal to create something every day. It might take some work to get used to, but once you make a habit of it, you stop thinking about it and just create.

During the second panel, I was introduced to the indie game Nevermind. Below, I’ve added the developer’s video describing the game. This is the type of game that I am very much drawn to. When I first decided I was interested in game development, I, like most new people, just wanted to create elaborate AAA titles. Now that I’ve spent some time learning the process and the variety of games that can be created, I am definitely more drawn to games that can be used for more than just entertainment. Games that teach something, make the player think, or generally help improve someone’s life have now become more of a focus. Nevermind is a good example of how games can be used to help people on an emotional level.

Saturday

I attended the Bioware panel on Getting A Job at Bioware, as well as the WildStar panel.

I’m not going to give the entire break down of my notes on the Bioware panel – that’s a few pages of writing – so I’ll touch on a few keys things that were brought up. These can relate to just about any job, by the way, not just Bioware. Passion, Foundation, and Personality.

Passion: This was a continual theme throughout several of the panels that I attended. If I had to chose a word that summed up this year’s panels, it would be passion. It is important to show interest in learning and improving. If you don’t have passion for what you are currently doing, you better find something else that you are passionate about and pursue it. Show your thought process. Show how you create something. Even if it doesn’t turn out exactly how you expected, show what you learned from the experience. If you have the passion to learn and grow within your interests, it will reflect in your work and make it better.

Foundation: Having a strong foundation of knowledge is incredibly important within the creative fields. I’m going to focus more on the art side of this, but it works for many other fields. For art, knowing the fundamentals is way more important than knowing the various tools that can be used. A company is more willing to teach a new employee how to use their tools than they are willing to teach them the fundamentals of art. Well, realistically, if you don’t know the fundamentals, then it will be incredibly difficult to get a job. The foundation has to be established first in any sort of construction, and it’s the same within art. You also must learn the rules before they can be broken. This is usually seen in fantasy art. To be believable, you need to know the basics of anatomy, if not, the creature will not be believable. Just learning basic figure drawing is incredibly important. Even if you aren’t going to be a character artist, figure drawing trains your hand/eye coordination. It will improve all aspects of your drawing. If you really want a challenge, try figure sculpture. Anyway, back to the foundation, make sure you have a strong knowledge of the basics before anything else.

Personality: This one doesn’t get brought up often, but is still important. You have to be able to take critique. That is basically the entire job when it comes to art and design. If you aren’t being critiqued by your peers and leads, then you will definitely be critiqued by the people who eventually play your game. This was another idea that was repeated throughout panels. Keeping with the improv method of “Yes, and…” instead of saying no. I had not heard this before, but I really like it. It is a great way of thinking, especially when working on projects with large groups of creative people. Be approachable and willing to problem solve.

Now to the WildStar panel. To be honest, I didn’t know much about the game before attending this panel. I had heard bits and pieces about the game, but didn’t do any research on it. I am not big on MMOs and personally haven’t played any. I attended the panel out of curiosity, and really enjoyed it. This is one of those games that I might actually end up playing. My biggest issue with so many of the massive multiplayer games is that they have been established for a while and I really don’t feel comfortable jumping in so late in the game. With Wildstar, the world and lore is fairly new, so I could feel a little more comfortable about jumping in. The art style is beautiful, but what really got my attention was the housing part of the game. That type of customization could keep me entertained for a ridiculous amount of time.

Sunday 

I attended It’s Dangerous to Go Alone: Take This Panel, a couple Bioware panels, and You Can Make Games Too

TakeThisProjectPage

Take This Project Website

Take This Panel was an absolutely amazing experience. I am so glad that I was able to attend it. The project is for helping people with anxiety, depression, and other related issues. Because this has been such a big issue in my life, especially for those that know me well, I really appreciated all the speakers of this panel. Being able to hear their stories and relate to them in so many ways gave me an entirely different perspective. Knowing that I’m not alone in many of the daily struggles does make it a little easier. I’m glad that I wasn’t the only one that felt a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of people that file through the expo hall. The best part of it for me was that Ashly Burch (the voice of Tiny Tina in Borderlands 2) and Mikey Newmann from Gearbox (voice of Scooter in Borderlands 2) were both there to share their stories. When well known people can open up and share even their worst struggles, especially in a room full of other people, it really reminds me that everyone has their own problems they face, no matter how good their lives may appear.

The You Can Make Games Too panel echoed a lot of information that I heard in the previous panels, but did have a few key memorable points. One thing they mentioned was “Don’t ever take a job for the paycheck.” This is something I have been believing for a long time now, but have been opposed constantly. I was very happy to hear that someone else was promoting this mindset. The next good reminder was to never lose track of who you want to be. Have goals and follow through with them. You don’t need permission to keep learning and working hard.

Monday

I attended Unlock Your Creative Potential: 7 Steps to Becoming a Game Designer, and the Gearbox panel

7 Steps was hosted by Ethan Levy of quarterspiral.com. I’ll briefly run through all the steps he mentioned, as this post is starting to get a bit long winded. Also a lot of what he mentioned, I have already touched on.

1. Know Yourself – What do you want and why? What are the upsides and downsides

2. Know Vision – Communication. Game design document should be short and easy to understand

3. Know Prototyping – Most important skill. The goal of the prototype is to find the kernel of fun as quickly as possible

4. Know Tools – Learn what tools there are and find which ones will be most helpful to your idea

5. Know How To Listen – Finding the why behind the what. When a player asks for something, why are they asking, then fix it

6. Know Teamwork – Check your ego at the door!

7. Know How To Finish A Game – The hardest part.

Ethan was also promoting his game: Enhanced Wars. Check it out at QuarterSpiral.com

gearbox swag

And the Gearbox panel! I absolutely loved being able to attend this one. Borderlands 2 has been my go to game for the last several months. This game has absorbed more of my time than I am willing to admit, but no matter how many times I play it, I never get bored. I have most of the DLC, and now that I attended the panel, I have a whole lot more to look forward to. The borderlands dice, community day pass, and upgrade pack made the long wait in a tightly packed line completely worth it. Also the crew at Gearbox are hilarious. Only thing I regret this year at PAX is not finishing my Maya cosplay. Maybe I’ll finish it by Halloween.

Last, but not least, I have to promote Doctor Radio’s Immersive World. I know the team working on this game, and they have all worked long hours for it. It was so great to see them at PAX this year. You guys are awesome and I really hope your Kickstarter fundraising succeeds! Check it out on Facebook! or the Doctor Radio Website.

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