PAX (Penny Arcade Expo) is a three day convention where gamers come to celebrate the gaming industry.  PAX was started by Penny Arcade back in 2004 in the United States and since 2013 started in Melbourne, Australia which is the only country outside of the USA that currently presents PAX annually. The event is held at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre across the road from Crown Casino and brings gamers from around the country and even around the world to its doors.

While getting in can be a hassle if you haven’t gotten your hands on early-bird tickets, being a gaming event you get the chance to chat to all sorts of people in the line about the games that they are playing and if you have brought your handhelds can even play Mario Kart or other multiplayer titles while you are waiting. Soon enough you end up walking through the doors and it is easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of exhibitors presenting their games or products. These exhibitors include Nintendo, Sony, Xbox, indie games, retro games, tabletop games and all the latest gaming technology just to name a few. This is only the second time that I’ve been at PAX and I always find that there is plenty to see and do even for people who have been dragged along to this event by their friends or family. There are many people dressed up in costume (cosplay) as their favourite gaming characters and people taking photos with them throughout the day. The convention also holds gaming and tabletop competitions, conferences and demos of the latest games. The conferences range from your typical developer Q&A to interactive conferences where the audience gets more involved with making games in the space of an hour. Unfortunately I was not able to go to any conferences this year since I was busy enjoying the sheer amount of gameplay on offer.

One of the first games I got my hands on was Rhythm Paradise Megamix which is a fun rhythm game for the Nintendo 3DS where you play a variety of rhythm based mini-games. The one that I played involved a coin toss where you had to press the A button after three seconds to successfully catch a coin. Within the three seconds, a metronome is heard in the background which intuitively keeps you in time. A drum beat is then added after the first few trial runs. After completing this coin toss a few times, the game stops the music halfway through so you don’t have a crutch to lean on which was a bit hard to follow at first but after a while you can replay the music in your own head to fill in the gaps and successfully complete the coin toss mini-game. There isn’t really much to it but I was just amazed at how music was used in this game to educate people about keeping rhythm. I could potentially see this game being used in primary school as a tool to teach young kids in music classes to keep time when they are learning to play instruments. In the same section I played a selection of other Nintendo games which were fun but they weren’t by any means new. I was hoping that we would see a preview of the Nintendo Switch or some gameplay but perhaps it was a little too soon after it was announced for this to happen.

Simple but challenging.

After spending a bit of time in the Nintendo section, I wandered into the STEM Video Game Challenge section and spoke to some of the exhibitors there to find out what it was about. The video game challenge is basically an opportunity for year 5 to year 12 students to engage in learning about science, technology, engineering and maths in a fun way by designing original video games in a group based on these four subjects. The best entries are picked to be put on exhibit at conventions like PAX and potentially allow students to make connections with the gaming industry to secure themselves jobs after they graduate which is a fantastic incentive. I was lucky enough to get my hands on a game called Mole’D which is an RPG-style game created by year 8 to year 12 students and was amazed at how well thought out it was. I was told that the students who made the game were taught programming and game concepts from scratch. I wish things like this existed back when I was in school. I’m so happy that gaming is being used as an innovative and creative educational tool at school.

Though video games are loads of fun, I decided to take a break and visited the tabletop section at PAX to learn how to play the Dragonball Z TCG. I love everything about the Dragon Ball series so I had been wanting to learn how to play the TCG for a while. The friendly staff helped me and a friend play through the basics of the TCG and we had a blast. Later in the day, I even signed up for the competition where most of the competitors had only just learnt how to play the game on the day which was a fantastic way for us to learn how to play as we went. Even though I ended up losing miserably, I still had a great time and walked away with a few promo cards and my own starter deck which I bought. I would definitely recommend the Dragonball Z TCG to anyone who is a fan of the franchise.

Last but certainly not least, I went to check out the latest in Virtual Reality technology and came across the Virtuix Omni. The Virtuix Omni allows for full 360 motion capture in VR games. You get strapped into a dome-like structure with special shoes which allow you to experience a full range of motion within the Virtual Reality space. It is mind-boggling that technology like this exists and while it certainly still has a lot of room for improvement, a lot of game developers are starting to flex their muscles with the VR technology and experiment with it in innovative ways. Although the hefty price tag and set-up may be a bit of a deterrent for some, it is certainly starting to look like a viable option as an extension to gaming. While I wasn’t able to actually test it out for myself I was awed by seeing how well the technology reacted to human movement.

The Virtuix Omni VR treadmill 

Overall I had an amazing time at PAX and they had a lot of gaming related activities and events to offer. To fully experience what PAX has to offer, I would recommend obtaining a three day pass so you can get around to all the exhibits and spend more time in them which I will be definitely doing next year. PAX continues to be one of Australia’s biggest exhibitions for gaming and is a must see for people who love games.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.