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PAXAus 2019, being there and slightly square

After all the build up and fervour PAXAus 2019 has been and gone. It was a first visit for me, probably not the last, but my old bones are currently arguing against it. Having become something of a big hitter on the gaming calendar I was keen to see this year what all the fuss was about.

As an eclectic gathering of Gaming, Pop Culture and Cosplay it does the job well, and you can see from the eyes of the consumer that wanders the floors glassy eyed that they are getting all the shiny things they need. I enjoyed the relative tranquility of the table-top game area and retro section, it was a relief from the pressing crowds squeezing through the aisles. The main event was loud, brash and exhausting, especially when I flew in for a single day with a maximum of six hours on the ground.

Why the MCEC for PAXAus 2019?

It was my first time to visit the Melbourne Exhibition and Conference Centre (MCEC), which is an interesting choice. Having spent a few years in the UK Exhibition Industry I know good venues and while the MCEC offers variety, it just doesn’t flow. With a confusing ground layout, the splintering side attractions are lost in the chaos. Altogether more of an organisers issue, the maps PAXAus maps were horrendous. Comparison to the bigger venues in the UK would be moot. I’m pretty sure the whole thing would be much more digestible in Brisbane or Sydney venues. Although the Harrogate Annual Lingerie Expo does take some beating.

On the plus side the catering is better than most. Considering the MCEC does charge expo prices, it never feels like you are being skinned alive. On the very negative side is the housekeeping and maintenance. I did visit bathrooms that would even be too gross for Borderlands or Fallout. The venue needs to prepare better for the animals that are abroad in the PAXAus faithful.

Hitting the crowds

Slipping in amongst the crowds, you could tell you were there. The vibe for the show was absolutely Nightclub Wars as the big stands fought for space and decibels. Being stupid enough to visit the show in a single day I also decided to go on a Saturday. Massive crowds were packing the halls, jostling for position in queues that would get them some limited hands-on with upcoming titles. Not forgetting the bright, imaginative Cosplay people peppering the place.

It always surprises at the (incredible) lengths people will go to when creating Cosplay. The spectrum of Cosplayers is wide and I take my hat off to all of them. The technical level of craft and conviction that the Pros achieve, along with the guts and enjoyment that the more basic participants throw into the ring. Good for them. It’s not something I could ever dive into, but the artist in me appreciates what they can do.

How about them console games?

Big games and big brands were on show. The main stands being taken out by Playstation, Xbox, Nintendo and Ubisoft as expected, although newcomer Koch Media had a cracker. In comparison the Koch stand was light on props, but had plenty of accessible screens and an interesting catalogue of new or impending games on offer. Titles like Bio-Mutant, Desperados 3, Darksiders 3 and the recent GRID were certainly getting attention. The Koch stand was also the place I got to have a closer look at the incoming Commodore64 reboot. Coming with a host of classic games, functioning keyboard, microswitches joysticks and built in Basic.

Let’s just say, I know what is on my Christmas list now.

And the rest of the Hall?

Some of the biggest stands were saved for the PC builders, gamers, streamers and e-sports. The humble PC has certainly undergone a huge revamp since the cream coloured boxes first landed. The tech and gadgetry is a marvel, not having the time to have a really close look these stands were little more than a quick “fly-by”. I’ll save that kind of insight for my dear friend Darren Price, whose opinion on the babbage boxes is one I count on.

Other than that there were  decent smattering of accessories and collectibles. EB Games had their suspertore up and running, but the bargains didn’t feel like bargains to be honest and the store wasn’t a patch on the last one I saw at a Gold Coast Expo. Our friends at Bluemouth were present with a nice stand, displaying their Figpins, Tubbz and a decent swathe of Audio equipment. Keep your eyes open for future hardware video reviews as they ramp up for Christmas.

Was it a day for the independents?

One of the great things about PAXAus 2019 was the solid presence of the Indie scene. It is a terrific vehicle for home grown talent to get in front of the public and share their projects. Having reached the area at the tail end of the day time was limited. That said with waning energy I managed to get hands on with a few titles and make some local connections which was nice.

Barrie recently reviewed Heist, it was nice to meet one of the guys on the team and express our gratitude. Seeing the passion that the team have for the music was a sight indeed. One of the bigger titles is Broken Road, still a way off, but looking gorgeous. The colour palette and isometric apocalyptic setting go well together, aesthetically it just doesn’t look like an Indie game. I spent some time looking at Hot Brass, an interesting overhead tactical combat game. The UI requires some imagination, but plays like a classic SWAT game I remember from the late eighties.

Brisbane had a strong showing too, firstly with Damsel and action packed platformer, which is lots of fun to play. Then Unpacking, which is a game I’ve had an eye on for some time and will cover in detail elsewhere. Topping the day off with some hands-on in the world of Espire1. An immersive VR game coming very soon from Digital Lode, shades of VR Splinter Cell is the buzz and it’s not far off.

PaxAus Loot

Overall the PAXAus 2019 day was…

Look, it was a good day. Great opportunity to connect or re-connect with people and it’s always nice to see your interests under one roof. A bizarre side effect is the gushing sentiment that being thrown around, because “everybody is so wonderful”. It really is a sign of the times. You can’t acknowledge someone without massaging their ego these days.

However, it was exhausting and hard to maintain a sensible conversation in the noise. With time limited fly-in fly-out attendance it is impossible to attend any panels, or queue for every hands-on experience.  Having had a personal invitation to the Cyberpunk 2077 demo I just couldn’t afford the time. For the people that hang out all year for the show and spend at least two full days it must be something special. Personally I prefer the atmosphere we had when the EBGames Expo was out on its own.

But, that’s me, at PAXAus 2019, being there and slightly square.