A Seattle-based podcast about games, comics, superheroes, zombies, robots, wizards, dinosaurs, and other things relevant to your interests. We're SJW FTW, and we’ve been nerding out about nerd stuff since way before everybody was a nerd.
Age is a terrible drug, children. Rob woke up this morning creaking and cranking with pain all over his body, just from being alive at PAX for two days in a row. He’s been overseeing Nerdhole operations from our Capitol Hill HQ while Paul and Mary have been exploiting their youthful vigor and taking in the sights and sounds of Day Three.
Karma was the trippiest thing we’ve seen so far, and it’s sure to give a few of you some hearts and grins just to look at for a while. It’s a point-and-click game, generally not our favorite, but its gentle non-verbal directions and lack of time pressure make it a lovely, low-key experience. It’s won many nods for its art, style, and design and it’s launching this month on Steam. Check out the demo if you like what you see.
You can demo 2K’s Carnival Games VR in the atrium near the PAX swag booth. Available 10/28 for PlayStation VR and HTC Vive and eventually for the Oculus, the game itself is pretty straightforward–it’s exactly what it sounds like–but what’s more remarkable is just how pervasive and common VR is now. Last year PAX had a few VR games but this year a good percentage of the Indie Megabooth, as well as many of the AAA booths, were dedicated to VR games. We live in exciting times.
At the Indie Megabooth, Mary tried out the charming and extremely pretty Luna. A VR game for the Oculus Rift, Luna is serene, like trimming a bonsai. The textures have a vaguely mid-century feel and a bystander compared the artwork to the illustrations in Dixit. The demo starts with the player connecting stars into constellations which creates various natural items that become usable assets in the next phase. Once the player completes all the constellations, they are presented with a little terrarium-like landscape which they can populate with the items they created. (Check out our Instagram video below for a taste.) You can read more about the full game and story on their website. The game is expected to ship early next year.
Mark Taylor was an IT consultant stuck on a long flight playing a game that we love, rymdkapsel, when he thought, “What if somebody made this for VR? … and then made it an RTS? … and for multiplayer?” The result is the Tron-vibey goodness of Korix, one of our favorite games from this year’s Indie Megabooth:The RTS aspect feels like a nice blend of old-school Starcraft and tower defense: you’ve got a home base, and you spawn hordes of little rymdkapsel-esque “workers” who travel back and forth collecting resources from a limited number of pools on each level. You then spend those resources to buy defenses (walls, lasers, artillery, and the like, all of which can be repaired and upgraded) and offensive troops (tanks, aircraft, etc., on up to nukes) to take the fight to the relentless stream of enemy creeps.The VR was surprisingly satisfying for this kind of tower-defense tinkering: you’re like a disembodied god floating over the battlefield, using a “gun”/laser pointer to place and modify your defenses across a large grid. The mix of defense types and the large battlefield let you experiment with all sorts of strategies (do you build a maze or a castle? do you fortify a central area or sprawl out across the battlefield?), and that will surely be especially rich in multiplayer, which can be competitive or cooperative.Korix is also a great indie Cinderella story: Mark was working full time in IT and teaching himself Unity on the side. Sony called him up, interested in what he was doing, so he went to the London office and pretty soon they were discussing what he needed to make it happen for PS VR. As Mark says, “Four months ago I was booting server farms, and now I’m at PAX!” Korix arrives on PS4 later this year, and on PC for Vive and Oculus in late 2017. The floor demo is about 10 minutes, enough to play a full two-player coop battle against the AI, and well worth your time if you’re an RTS or TD fan.
Virtual desktops strike us as VR frippery, but the glee of one of our nine-year-old henchmen has made us take pause. He was using a Vive to search for Ssundee videos on YouTube (and to dismiss a banner ad for getting a flu shot), which seems like kicking sand in the faces of HTC developers—but wow, did he have fun. You can also modify your virtual “office” extensively, and the developers have plans for encouraging user-generated content, which has the potential for much fun weirdness. If you’re in the VR Village in the Westin, look for these guys behind the giant World War Toons encampment. They’re in town from Palo Alto and super nice and knowledgable, and it’s a great way to get some Vive time without lengthy lines and appointments. (We’re also going to watch for a fun-sounding party game they recommended, Sweet Escape VR.)
Speaking of World War Toons, that is definitely one of the essential visuals of this year’s PAX if you haven’t seen it already:
We’re wisely pacing ourselves this year and focusing on a few things instead of trying to do ALL THE THINGS. We hope to continue this trend through the evening and be in good shape again tomorrow (#HangoversofPAXPast.) At any rate here’s what caught our attention today.
We sat in on an Acquisitions Incorporated Intern Program orientation session, and were mighty impressed with the efficiency and deadly humor on display. Two AcqInc Career Counselors laid down the law, instructing new D&D players on the basics of gameplay with delightful snark and an amazing video straight from the Ninth Circle of Human Resources. With slogans like “Do Don’t Die” and “Sometimes teamwork means not being on the same team” (that last one ad-libbed by a deft Career Counselor), the interns were well prepped to head out and collect treasure.
Mary attended the World of Warcraft: Legion panel, which she’ll write about at greater length later. The mood was jovial, and both the fans and devs had a great time discussing the new content. The biggest news was the announcement of the Legion Companion App, available for iOS and Android. Launching this coming Tuesday, September 6, the app will allow players to complete certain tasks and quests from their phone when they can’t be in Azeroth. This has been a much-requested feature and the room erupted in whoops and applause followed by a lone shout of “THANK YOU!!!!” Check out the trailer below:
We passed a group of women in costume, each one a mash-up of a Playboy bunny and a superhero. Mary had some complicated feelings about the costumes: “I had heard that’s a thing and thought it couldn’t possibly be a thing. It’s not that I’m against sexy cosplay at all (my love of nerd burlesque is well-documented) and I absolutely believe everyone should wear whatever makes them happy. But I find it problematic to use such a blatant symbol of the male gaze since it seems to play right into the idea that girls aren’t fans, they’re just dressing up for male attention. It would be great if they were commenting on that terrible trope, but that didn’t seem to be the case.” Feel free to mansplain to Mary in the comments why she’s wrong. (Rob and Paul are pretty sure she’s right.)
We demoed a prototype of the Penny Arcade–Lone Shark Games collaboration Thornwatch today—with Paul running the demo!—and had a great time. The last time that we playtested this game was literally in a garage three years ago, and while it was already fun then, it’s really matured into a solid little gem. It’s part board game, part card game, part graphic novel. Play is quick and the learning curve is gentle as you master the deck of one of five members of the Thornwatch, but even crunchier gamers will appreciate the elegant ideas in play here—especially a “momentum” system that melds damage and initiative into a satisfying and constantly shifting back-and-forth. (Fellow fans of PA will of course swoon over the source material.) We exhort you to try the game either at Lone Shark’s sixth-floor booth or (even better) in the Thornwatch freeplay area on the third floor of Olive 8. The Kickstarter has already more than doubled its goal.
We made some Xbox One custom controllers the hard way back in the day with non-OEM parts, YouTube videos, and some sharp little arcane plastic tools. This is oh so much cooler. And yee, look at the Swatch one! Plus, with your gamertag. So ordering.
Indie games can take a long and winding road to release, and it’s heartening to see Night in the Woods so close to coming out (“this fall!”) on the PS4 (and PC/Mac/Linux) after its successful Kickstarter way back in 2013. Described at one point as “like Gone Home, in third-person, with talking animals,”Night in the Woods has a kids-book style but with a smart, intricate melancholy to it. You play as a wayward college dropout Mae (yes, a cat), back in her hometown and slowly discovering that something weird is up. Most of the exploration comes through dialogue, and the town is full of well-realized characters (apparently over 60 of them), and your choices affect the path that you take through an 8 to 10 hour story. What a nice weird break amidst the giant Sony presence.
We took a look at a few of the PAX 10, and were as impressed as usual. Blockships was a sweet little shmup that is strongly reminiscent of Galaxy Trucker. You start as the core of a starship and then race to collect new components to add to your ship while other folks are doing the same and trying to kill you. They keep it simple with just gun, engine, and power components, but there’s an interesting richness to it because each hit knocks off components that anyone can grab. It’s 10% off on Steam now through 9/9.
Splitter Critters, also in the PAX 10, looked a little intimidating until we learned that we were watching a very advanced level. It’s a lovely puzzle game with a unique mechanic—players swipe to split the level and then can shift the pieces to create new configurations. It’s easier to show than describe, so check out the trailer below. We’re psyched that this has been Greenlit on Steam.
We’re back at PAX, which has finally succumbed to the reality of large, successful organizations and renamed itself “PAX West.” We’re super-psyched for the success of our favorite nerd show, but it was nice to experience Northwest privilege while it lasted. PAX Prime is dead, long live PAX West!
Other than that, the vibe and essence of the con haven’t changed, as far as we can tell. Everyone is still super-friendly, the scene feels super-inclusive, and the focus on fans and players is clear as day. They’ve put together something special for sure, and we’re grateful for all they do.
We swept through the Indie Megabooth, scouting it out for more focused time during the rest of the show. One very noticeable difference was the massive number of VR games available. This was also true of the main show floor, but it was fascinating to see that tech get adopted so quickly by small, scrappy devs. Rob tends to experience IRL nausea when he’s set up with VR, but Paul and Mary welcome the new hotness.
We may have more to say about this later, but we wanted to give a quick shout out to Open Sorcery, which is on display at the Indie Megabooth. It’s a text adventure that incorporates modern elements to damp down frustration (it’s based on Twine, which is a big help) (can we just take a moment to reflect on how great Twine is? Like really?). You are a magical being that is also a firewall protecting community sites from intrusion, which should send some of you straight into the Smile Zone. Maybe its premise is a little hard to explain, but it’s well worth a look—check it out free online. It’s also on iOS and Android if that works better for you.
Mary wandered into the Bethesda booth and was immediately mesmerized by the trailers, standing open-mouthed and staring for a very long time. You won’t be surprised to hear that we’re all really looking forward to the latest Fallout 4 DLC, Nuka World. We saw both the adorable animated trailer and the gameplay trailer, the highlight of the latter being feral ghouls getting run over with a roller coaster. We really want to do that.
When we walked up to Republic of Gamers’ booth and there were only three or four people waiting to play Minecraft on the Oculus, we were like, “Did this come out last year?” But no! It was just the magic of Friday. (And perhaps the distraction of the ridiculously huge ARK T-Rex across the way.) Minecraft VR is pretty much brand new—less so for Gear VR—and it is hell of fun. Our nine-year-old nerdling henchmen very excitedly said, one to the other, exactly what you might expect: “It’s like you’re in Minecraft, dude!” We talked to the nice RoG guy about the future of more and more games being VR ready, and the coding hurdles required in basically creating simultaneous tandem left-eye and right-eye renderings. He was partial to playing Project CARS on Oculus (games where your avatar is stationary, e.g. in a driver’s seat, are of course ideal for VR), and he said that Project CARS 2 will likely be built even more for that experience.
A video posted by Nerdhole Podcast (@nerdholistic) on
We have little experience with Dishonored, but the trailer for the sequel looks fantastic. In a very general way you could say that it’s steampunk-meets-Assassin’s Creed, but that’s not really doing it justice. Both the cinematic and the gameplay trailers show a neat mechanic that involves the player character turning into a smoky, ethereal form to sneak up on enemies and squeeze through tight spots. There’s architecture that literally folds up and transforms as you pass through it and an eerie conspiracy driving the plot. We’ll post more if we’re able to try out the demo.
Rob was intrigued and a little nostalgic about the trailer for the rebooted Prey, coming next year from Bethesda. It’s one of the first games he picked up for his Xbox 360, and it had some fascinating physical mechanics—like portals, a year before Valve’s Portal made us fall in love with magical door-like contraptions. It also gave a taste of social justice issues, as it starred Native American characters and used some kind of problematic Native American spirituality in what was basically a bug hunt. It turns out that the developers did a fairly decent job of reaching out to Native communities, and the protagonist is nothing like any stereotype we’ve ever seen. The new game is a “reimagining,” which could mean practically anything, but Rob will keep his eyes on it.
We were surprised to see that Blizzard had an entire booth dedicated to their brand-new World of Warcraft expansion, Legion. Blizzard makes relatively few appearances at PAX West, and generally it’s been well before an expansion drops. On the other hand, they’ve been working hard to make WoW even more accessible to new and returning players, and this is most likely part of that push. Mary will certainly have an entire post dedicated to Legion at some point since there’s plenty to say about it, but here’s the tl;dr: it has launched much more smoothly and with more fanfare than the last few expansions, so if you’re thinking about trying the WoW, now is a good time to do it.
We took a quick look at Yukon Salon, which was being touted in the board game zone by our podcast pal Andrew of A Podcast For All Intents and Purposes. It’s a fun-looking card game that involves (among other things) giving afros to miners and bears. More like BEARSTYLES, right? Anyway, there’ll be a Kickstarter coming your way in the very near future, and we’ll let you know when that goes live.
Our nine-year-old nerdling henchmen took us on a tour of Kaladesh, i.e., into the depths of a completely Magic’kd-up Paramount Theater to celebrate the debut of the new expansion. These were the highlights: For Seattle gamers who have probably seen everything from the Pixies to Soundgarden to Yo Gabba Gabba Live! here (we’re not judging), it’s exciting to see the Paramount all dolled up for one of our favorite games.
These guys were playing in the “Inventors’ League,” a free casual competition in which you grab a small deck (you pick your favorite color, plus a random one), put on a lanyard to identify your inventiveness to other Inventors, and then play five matches for a $2 discount on tourney play. There are many OP events (including 2HG, Mini-Master, and Deck-builder’s Toolkit Challenge) all weekend.
Or you can simply bask in the Magic World Championship happening on center stage, with the top 24 players in the world playing quietly in the background and duking it out for $70K. The stage is also home to many great Magic panels and an M:tG improv show on Saturday night that we kind of can’t not go to. (Is “Yes, and…” an instant? I need the name of a planeswalker and an enchantment! We’re here all weekend, folks.)
You can also just stand in the lobby and fog up the glass looking at REAL LIVE KALADESH BOOSTERS!
Last but not least, follow Magic on Twitter to learn about how they’re giving away these over-sized cards from the new set several times a day. This one went to the first person to bring a “vehicle” (in this case, a Magic Carpet card) to the corner of 9th and Pine at the appointed time. BTW, even if you don’t have a PAX pass, the whole alley beside the Paramount will be bustling with Kaladesh madness that you can partake in starting at 10am every morning, including Kaladesh cosplayers, glass-blowing, and a build-your-own-ornithopter(!) area.
Check out previous years’ PAX coverage at the Stranger right here. We’re also posting tons of stuff on Instagram!
We’ve overcome our exhaustion and tech troubles to post our recap of this year’s PAX Prime. There was a lot to see and do–maybe too much? But we had a great time and are already prepping ourselves for next year.
We’re running on (mostly blissful!) fumes here after an action-packed four days, so this will be a quick one….
We talked aboutMech Deck and the Boston Game Makers Guild on Saturday, and Pleasant Dreams also benefited from that game designer collective–and it offers yet another reason to be thankful for the dense goodness in the Indie Megabooth tabletop zone. In this smart and cute-but-creepy card game, you’re trying to maintain your blissful slumber while stacking the deck with nightmares to wake your opponent up. The dark imagery and clever tarot-style card design really set this game apart, and gameplay involves alternating happy and macabre images. You’re constantly counting cards in the deck and figuring out how far you can push your luck–and one of the coolest mechanics involves holding the deck under the table and blindly trying to place cards (whether good or bad) for maximum effectiveness.The game’s core dynamic is straightforward, but you get two one-time use cards each game that will completely change your strategy–and that gives this otherwise slight game some serious legs. Like any game of prediction and bluffing, repeat games with the same person are also especially fun. Check out the rules and printable version on the Pleasant Dreams site.
We had a great time catching up with the latest content in the demo for Pit People,the upcoming game that you might remember from last PAX Prime as “Game 4”–this being the fourth game from beloved developer The Behemoth, probably best known as the makers of Castle Crashers. (Speaking of, we are not a little excited that Castle Crashers will soon appear on Xbox One in “remastered” form.) Pit People is a “fast-paced, turn-based co-op adventure” that continues and builds on the cute, snarky art style that defines all The Behemoth’s previous games–with BattleBlock Theater’s Narrator star Will Stamper joining in again, too. Even if you normally might find turn-based strategy games too slow or intimidating, Pit People will surprise you with its snappy approachability–and that’s no accident, with the studio’s philosophy of bringing fresh takes to genres they haven’t tackled yet. It felt like forever as we eagerly awaited BattleBlock Theater over several PAXes, and Pit People will likely be no different–but it’s hard to complain when the art, music, voice work, and design are always all so perfectly baked.
So… How Do You Create the Perfect Panel? We’ve seen quite a few panels over the years, at PAX and other gatherings, and while some have made us smarter, happier, and more informed, others sent us politely lurching for the exit. We want to see more of the first kind, so here’s our guide to making your panel that much shinier next year:
Pick a topic and stick with it. The best panels are easy to explain. If yours takes more than a couple of sentences to cover everything you want to cover, consider trimming. Make sure all your panelists know what to expect and why they’re on board. Digressions are always welcome, but the moderator really needs to make sure that the conversation loops back to the main topic when it strays.
All things in moderation. Before you can steer the ship, you need to learn the ropes. Make sure you’ve done your time as a panelist before stepping up as a moderator, as that role requires more out of you than quick, thoughtful ad libs—already a tall order. You also need to set the tone with your introduction, keep the conversation on track, make sure all panelists get more or less equal time, monitor the audience for attention and questions, and plenty more. Some moderators are at their best fading into the background and letting the panelists shine, while others are better off mixing it up as a kind of super-panelist. Consider your style and that of your panelists, and then decide beforehand how you want to interact with them.
Diversity is vital. It’s essential to include many different voices, and yes, we have to keep saying this. It’s partly about fairness and decency and community building and all the other SJW stuff we endorse, but it’s also partly about communicating effectively (which we also endorse). Your presenters are part of your message, and if they’re all white guys, that speaks volumes—like it or not. Challenge yourself to ask for help improving your panel’s diversity; it will only be awkward until it’s not anymore, and you can help us all get there.
Choose panelists with care. This is where things get tricky. It’s not completely essential that panelists have strong public speaking backgrounds, but they do have to at least prep themselves and take direction from the moderator before and during the panel. We’ve seen folks who were plainly too terrified to speak or (worse) were too quick to fill in gaps and thus dominated the conversation. If they’re not pros, they’ll likely need coaching, but you’re doing them, your audience, and the community a great service.
Beyond mere public speaking competence, it’s also a great idea to get people with different perspectives. That doesn’t mean you need to engineer a shouting match—the world has enough of those already—but thoughtful disagreement is almost always more interesting than unanimity. You could also just go for panelists with varying experiences, so everyone isn’t just repeating each other’s lines.
Nerdhole’s rules of thumb for panelists:
Speak into the mike
Pay attention to the audience
All righty then, that’s all we’ve got for PAX 2015—but we met many developers, designers, and other assorted geniuses whom we’ll be following up with in the year ahead. This PAX was bigger and better than ever, and we’re looking forward to the next one already. Nerdhole out!
Rob woke up with a migraine and Mary couldn’t make it ’til the end of the show (stupid day job), but we still managed to take in lots of great PAX action, starting with the amazing Eldrazi sculpture outside the Magic show in the Annex (see above). Here’s our report:
We kicked off this year’s PAX in a big way by cohosting Nerd Trivia Night at Raygun Lounge. The house was packed, and while we suffered some unfortunate tech issues, our cohost Andrew of A Podcast [,] For All Intents and Purposes handled everything with grace and charm. Mary’s “Shitty Vampire Things” category was a big hit, and the winners were super-stoked thanks to our extremely generous prize donors:
Pelgrane Press gave a 13th Age core rulebook, Eyes of the Stone Thief mega-adventure, and a super-sweet icon die spinner ring. Check them out in Room 206—they’ve got tons of cool stuff going on.
Wargaming.Net gave two delightful (and practical) prize bags containing World of Tanks gaming mice, minifigs, and more. It is almost literally impossible to miss their huge presence in the main expo hall, so make sure to check them out when you see them.
This stopped us cold in the Indie Megabooth tabletop zone. A small, handwritten sign read “Scrabble + Dominion = Paperback.” WHAA? We watched a bit of a demo and are going to try to play it sometime over the weekend. Like Dominion, you start with a small deck of cards, each of which has a letter (sometimes two) and many of which have special rules attached. On your turn, you use your cards to form a word and score points to buy new cards for your deck. Victory points come in the form of novels you help write, which are added to your deck just like in Dominion. There are some nifty complications that look like they could give this game some real legs.
We have a friend who runs a landscaping business, and his advice for picking a landscaper is to choose the one with the best-looking business cards. His reasoning was that appealing design was a relatively reliable indicator for just generally Caring About Things, and–fair or not–it’s not a bad way to apportion your attention on the showfloor at PAX. That’s a long way of saying that Antihero grabbed us first with its cartoony good looks (see below!), and then likewise proved to have equally satisfying gameplay–fun, fast, quirky, and scratching many of the same itches as games that inspired it, like the beloved Civ series and seminal mobile game Hero Academy. You play a Victorian-era skuldugger, managing a thieves’ guild that’s trying to 4X its way through a mist-shrouded city. Play is turn-based (with a 1P campaign and asynchronous multiplayer), and involves juggling several-but-not-too-many resources, upgrade trees, and menacingly cute units like thugs and urchins. Like! And good news: it’s been Greenlit.
I Heart PAX
Rob here. I just need to break in on the journamalism to express my deep, sincere affection for PAX culture. My generation was ruined by degenerate irony, so it can be hard for me to feel all the feels I should be feeling, but I love seeing all the young nerds unburdened by my cultural baggage. They are who they are and they love who they are, and I love them for it. That goes double for all the folks who have been (and, sadly, continue to be) underrepresented and/or exploited by nerd culture over the years.
Cards Against Humanity
We don’t have too much to say about this party game that hasn’t already been said—but their marketing this year is brill. They’re selling oversized popsicles with small packs of cards inside. They look yummy (we found the truck just as they were closing shop) and are great at provoking curiosity in onlookers. Great job, marketing team!
If you like isometric games where mechs, tanks, and other belligerent vehicles destroy everything in sight using multiple weapons and smashy-smashy physical attacks, then check out Brigador. The WASD/mouse controls can take some acclimatization (especially with a mech), but it’s got a nice Crush, Crumble, Chomp vibe with its destructible environment and pell-mell attackers.