PAX 2010 – In Review

This Labor Day weekend I spent my time at the three day video game festival PAX, here in downtown Seattle.  Taking up most of the Convention Center, exhibitors lined the floor with massive, eye-popping displays of the latest, the coming soon, and the most cutting edge in video game entertainment.  Most of my time there was spent exploring the connections in the video game industry to the world of cinema, which I found to be quite overwhelming and prevalent everywhere.  In order to better explore this perspective of video games in relation to movies, and vice versa, I directed my attention to the exhibition floor and interviewing representatives of several games that are forthcoming.

The first person I spoke with was a representative for Bioware and LucasArts’ upcoming MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic.  While I was told neither of these companies had any Marketing or PR individuals to interview for the MacGuffin podcast, this one rep was willing to answer a few questions.  Star Wars: The Old Republic is set in the Star Wars timeline about 3,000 years prior to the existence of Darth Vader and the Star Wars films.  The game incorporates some of the most iconic moments and aspects of the films into a new setting, with new characters and new storylines.  Fans of the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic video games will appreciate that some character plotlines will finally be resolved with The Old Republic. The game works to help further expand upon the mythos established in the Star Wars movies while allowing the fan to take the reins of a character in that universe, and in a free roaming environment, explore the virtual possibilities therein, along with other fans or gamers around the globe.

In a more candid exchange I was able to interview Patrick from Propaganda Games, about the upcoming TRON: Evolution. Patrick was very forthcoming and spoke to me for quit sometime, most of it is in an interview which is either already up or will be up soon with an episode of the MacGuffin.  I found TRON: Evolution to be one of the best examples at the festival of the concept of bridging the mediums of movies and games into a related linear experience.  By that I mean, we have at the beginning the original film TRON, which gave way to earlier video game adaptations where the fan of the film could play as a character as if they were in the world of the movie, and like the characters in the film play the games as the video game.  It was an inspired beginning for a crossbreed of different medium experiences surrounding a central type of narrative, like Star Wars did previously with action figures.  However, with the early TRON video games we there really was nothing in the way of furthering any sort of central narrative down a linear path.  Now, with the sequel film, TRON: Legacy telling us further adventures of the characters created in the first film, as well as new characters to follow, we are being given a video game that hands a role playing aspect to the fan to play as Tron and experience a linear narrative that expands on the stories that both films give us, by also acting as a bridge between the two films plots.

Video game publishers Bethesda was on hand at the festival to display several of their upcoming titles, one of which very obviously is cinematically inspired.  Again, we were told that Bethesda, like LucasArts had no marketing or PR individuals on hand, so I took a look around at the displays and videos.  The upcoming title, Fallout: New Vegas is a sequel to the Game of the Year awarded, Fallout 3.  Set in a post-apocalypse environment with characters, weapons and clothing ripped straight from the series of Mad Max films.  While the story really bears no resemblance to the films’, the game’s characters aesthetically do.  The game itself seems to carry very much a cinematic quality to its look, perhaps helping to further expand the concept of driving a narrative, like one that would be experienced in film, while at the same time giving the playing the free rein ability to live inside the narrative as they further it.

Perhaps the biggest news of the weekend was the sudden and surprising announcement by Gearbox Software of the upcoming release of the long thought dead video game, Duke Nukem Forever. While no one at the festival from Gearbox was willing to go on camera, I was able to speak with Adam Fletcher, marketing coordinator, about this announcement and what fans can expect.  I asked him what was the back story on the game as far as Gearbox’s unexpected involvement in resurrecting Duke Nuke’m from the bankrupt company 3D Realms.  According to Adam when 3D Realms announced they were going bankrupt and would not be finishing Duke Nukem Forever, Randy Pitchford at Gearbox decided to put together a proposal to finish the game and it was accepted.  Gearbox brought on top team members from 3D Realms who had been working on the notorious game since it was originally announced in 1997, and together finished it off.  As far as a ship date goes all Gearbox is saying is sometime in 2011, but that fans should rest assured that the game is practically finished.  A video showing some of the overview game play and a small demo were on hand for people willing to wait in, some cases, two hour plus lines.

As for the story of Duke Nukem Forever all Gearbox will say at this point is, aliens invade Earth and Duke Nukem has been missing for sometime but comes out of hiding when the aliens take his babes, and no one messes with the Duke’s babes.  Duke Nukem is another title very obviously inspired by movie characters and situations, Duke uses catchphrases from several different cult films of the 80’s, as well as some the settings seem very cinematically familiar.

All in all, PAX was an interesting and informative experience.  It definitely shows that the video game industry is one of cultural viability, lots of money, and a drive to entertain as well as engage.  The giant HD TVs, and film screens displaying various games at play throughout the exhibit floor if nothing else show the visual similarity both movies and games rely on as well as share.  As for film and video games as coexisting mediums I think the link between the two is only going to get stronger as they both develop over the coming years.  The upcoming release of,  L.A. Noir, is the first game to incorporate a movie specific motion capture process, that promises to elevate the concept of, movie watcher as participant, even more than ever before.


Benjamin Nason is a writer, film-maker and critic from the Pacific Northwest, where he lives with his cat Lulu.

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