This is my first PAX Prime, and it is really an experience. The closest I’ve been is attending E3 when it was an industry only event; PAX feels just as big, but the whole theme of PAX feels more communal and friendly. I don’t think the event would work without the support of the community. It’s awesome to experience the culture that has been created around gaming, in any format; console, PC, mobile, tabletop or board. People will go amazing lengths to support the games they love, from waiting in line for 2 hours for a demo, wearing extravagant costumes, and even spending their honeymoon at PAX!

I’m sure that there will be plenty of coverage of the ‘big’ games here at PAX, so I’m going to focus on the more Indie titles and the game design and development side of the conference. A portion of the main exhibition area is devoted to the PAX 10, the winners in the annual PAX Prime indie game contest. I’ll share some insight from the developers later in this post, but the games really impressed me. In particular, ‘Word Fighter’ and ‘Vanessa Saint-Pierre Delacroix and her Nightmare’ were clever, well made and extremely easy to pick up – I’m looking forward to seeing the release of both of these soon. Outside the main exhibitor floor there are also a lot of interesting panels and speakers on game development and design that are available for anybody to attend.

One of the most interesting panels of the day was ‘Hollywood Squares: Game Design Edition’. As in the regular Hollywood Squares game, a question was given to a member of the panel, who presented an answer; then the rest of the panel would agreed or disagreed with the response. Some of the interesting questions & debates:

  • What is the first question you would ask when developing a game?
    • Initial Answer – ‘Who is the audience?’
    • Panel Answer – ‘What is the business case’
    • Result: Panel Disagrees!
  • Next to game design, what is the most important skill for a game designer to have?
    • Initial Answer – ‘Understand feedback (empathy)’
    • Panel Answers
      • Communication, Leadership
      • Visual storyboarding
    • Result: Panel Disagrees!
  • If you had to add 1 mechanic from Mario to Halo, what would it be?
    • Initial Answer – ‘Air gathering’ (getting coins when jumping)
    • Panel Answers
      • Death from above! (jumping on an enemy kills them)
      • Warp Zones (skip the library levels)
    • Result: Panel Disagrees!

And as mentioned above, the ‘PAX 10 Panel’ was a chance to ask questions to half of the PAX 10 developers, who shared some interesting information on being an indie dev:

  • Organic development
    • One dev just started out trying to learn an engine, and ended up creating a game
    • The development of one of the games was described as a ‘series of happy mistakes’ – even the unique art style was built off a mistake in rendering.
    • One developer said their team thought they were in production for 2 years, when they were actually still prototyping
    • Preventing over-ambition
      • Start small – one of the games started just as attempt to build Snake in the Unreal Engine
      • Keep the bottom line in view; the game has to ship for you to make money, so make sure you keep that in view.
      • Cut features, even working ones, that don’t support your core mechanic(s) – ‘Distill down to the awesome’
      • Motivation, like money, is a limited resource. Know how much you have and learn how to recharge it
      • Advantages of being an Indie
        • The small guy is more nimble
        • Small guys can make quick changes, easy to shift 100% to something else
        • Passion can come through when you’re an indie
        • Just ignore the mainstream audience question – your audience isn’t the ‘Call Of Duty’ audience

Finally, I would remiss not to mention David Jaffe’s, creator of Twisted Metal and God of War, keynote. He talked about the ‘voice’ that all creators have, the one that compels us to follow our vision and create amazing things. He talked about a time during his life when the voice left, because of anger and frustration – something I think every creator relates with. And he talked about how the support of fans helped him overcome that time, which is something I think all creators appreciate but something that fans don’t always know. So, on behalf of creators everywhere – we appreciate our fans. You are more important to us than you will ever know.

Stick around for my PAX 2011 wrap-up coverage coming later!