Un-PAXing (Part 2: Panels)

April 22, 2012

I always have a hard time picking out which panels to go to at PAX East. Sooo many interesting topics, so little time (especially because the show floor is where I typically prefer to be). Here are the ones I did make it to though.

An Uncharted 3 Story: The Chateau, Creation to Ashes
The chateau level of Uncharted 3 was one of my favorites. It had me standing up on the couch through almost the entire final segment where you’re trying to escape up the stairs, and that’s usually a fairly accurate indicator of exciting level design.

Uncharted 3 game director Justin Richmond, designer Eric Schatz and community strategist Arne Meyer walked the audience through the whiteblock builds of the chateau level (which ever since seeing Chris Totten present on his own skeleton builds at IGDA DC is something I’ve been really interested in). They also showed a gag real of some of the crazier glitches and animation mishaps that came up in the design process, showing Nate Drake being contorted in some really disturbing ways.

The purpose of the chateau level was to give Nate and Sully some quality “bro time” together, showing the dynamics of their relationship by having them work together and also creating some anxiety by having them split up. Some of the initial ideas that ended up on the cutting room floor were having Nate have to drain a nearby lake to reveal additional passageways in and out of the chateau. This idea was cut because it threw off the pacing of the level by lengthening the time it would take the player to actually reach the chateau itself, and for believability reasons. Draining a lake isn’t instantaneous and takes a few days, the panel pointed out, and Naughty Dog tries to maintain some roots in reality with the Uncharted series. (Which is really funny when you think about the believability of all the underground cities found in the series and that Uncharted 3’s plane scenes. Suspension of disbelief is a funny thing.)

While the Naughty Dog team had well-planned ideas for the final escape up the staircase (I really wish I would’ve taken a picture of the diagram they showed for that; it dissected the stairs into color-coded sections of what takes place where), something they had struggled with was the ending for the chapter. The panel joked about how they thought about just having Nate and Sully just jump out of a window and land in a tree. I can’t remember why they decided against this and for some reason didn’t take notes at this panel.

Another proposed ending was having Nate and Sully work their way up one of the towers, fighting enemies along the way and eventually reaching the top to jump on to the runners of helicopter. The helicopter would then spin out of control, and Nate and Sully would lose their grip and fall into, you guessed it, a tree. However, this would be an unreasonable amount of work for the game’s artists and developers (who would have to design and build the way up to the tower, and all the views you could see from it, plus the helicopter, etc., etc.) on the tight deadline the team was working under. The tower still made it in, obviously, with a slightly different approach.

It was exactly like this, except with Susan Arendt (managing editor, The Escapist), Graham Stark (Loading Ready Run), Kathleen DeVere (Loading Ready Run), Bob Chipman (Escape to the Movies, The Escapist), Kyle Orland (senior games editor, Ars Technica), Mike Wehner (Tecca), Dan Amrich (Activision) and Russ Pitts (features editor, Vox Games).

The Blankety Blank Game (aka, Match Game)
Fun, hilarious, relaxing. I really hope this comes back for future PAX Easts. Susan Arendt was a great host and had assembled a well-humored panel. As someone who was part of a game show group in college and put on several student-run showings of the Price is Right, this was a quintessential blast from two years past.

Although a practice round was done, it seems the audience could use some training or another primer in how Match Game is played. In it’s 1960s heyday, Match Game was about wit and saturated with innuendo. Participants didn’t seem to grasp this, and there were a lot of bland answers. Case in point:

“Halo fans kind of have a bad image because they open their mouths, but they want everyone to know that they’re really nice people. So on the cover of Halo 4, instead of holding a gun, Master Chief will be holding a ____.”

The audience participant answered flatly with hand grenade. But every time someone from the audience bombed (and there were a few very cunning answers, too), the panel was there to save the day. Their answers to the Halo question: mute button (for all the annoying twerps on XBL multiplayer), day-one DLC, an apology for Reach and a ban hammer.

StreetPass Network: Connecting Nintendo 3DS Gamers
I’m going to be honest—my interest in StreetPass was limited before this panel. I don’t own a 3DS (waiting for that inevitable lite version!), and I mostly went because Josh Lynsen, founder of the StreePass Network and its inaugural Washington, D.C., chapter, was hosting it.

I had heard good things about StreetPass before (mostly through the 8-4 Play podcast), and this panel reinforced the idea that it’s definitely one of the most valuable features the 3DS offers. The thing is, it sounds like developers aren’t really sure what to do with it outside of making glorified leaderboards and statistics swapping. Very few games with StreetPass support seem to go beyond this.

Sometimes its a matter of time and budget on whether you can incorporate it, said Jools Watsham co-Founder and director of Renegade Kid, which recently released the 3DS downloadable title that doesn’t support StreetPass, Mutant Mudd. StreetPass isn’t something that can be retroactively added to a finished game. Developers must carefully implement it from the start.

A lot of the panel discussed how StreetPass brings gamers together (i.e., it’s the “Twitter and Facebook that you can’t see”; it’s the “modern arcade”; it forces anti-social gamers to connect by people passing each other), but I found the bit about most developers not having the support or educational tools to realize what they could do with StreetPass most interesting.

N-Space’s Heroes of Ruin, which is slated for a June 26 release in North America and was described as a “portable Diablo” by an audience member, is one of the few third-party titles with a more meaningful StreetPass exchanges. The game has a staggering 80,000-some weapons, which seems nearly impossible to find on your own. But through StreetPass, players will automatically exchange weapons and be able to use them in game.

Jordan White, founder of StreetPass NYC, told what was my favorite anecdote to come out of the panel. He once StreetPassed a low-flying airplane from his third-story apartment, which is out of the range of reception from passersby on the street. The person he StreetPassed with was from Trinidad.

Also, God bless the person who suggested a World Ends With You sequel with StreetPass functionality. Square Enix and Nintendo better get on that.


2 Responses to “Un-PAXing (Part 2: Panels)”

  1. Evan Killham Says:

    I was at that Uncharted panel, too! How did we not meet that weekend?

  2. meghan Says:

    !!! That’s crazy. Wish I would’ve known! I could’ve sat next to you instead of a guy who said he’d fight me because I thought Uncharted: Golden Abyss wasn’t any good. :)

    [wow I went way too long without replying to this—sorry!]

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