‘Heart' Still at Center of PAX, Says Founder

When you see an overview shot of a PAX gaming convention, the scene from above can look as high-tech as the event itself: The exhibit floor appears like a giant circuit board, with the booths as chips and the lines of people as copper tracts and dots of solder.

But getting a spot in the massive, four-day PAX East that opens today, can start with something very simple: blood, sweat, and tears – and colored Crayola markers and squares of white paper.

An image of the game Evergate. Photo courtesy of Ariel Wexler.

At least that was the road for computer game-makers Evergate, a team of four MIT grads — Ariel Wexler, M.R. Miller, Cynthia Lu and Kent Willis — who will show off their work today through Sunday at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

Evergate is coming up with a multi-level game about a journey through the afterlife that Wexler likens to a "fantasy novel."

"We pretty much just drew some scribbles on a paper, tearing the paper up, and rearranging it," said Wexler of the early stage of the game's development. The trial and error process included a year spent working on 10 prototypes until they finally came up with Evergate, now about four months into production.

Of course, Evergate will be just a tiny component of the huge machine that PAX – short for Penny Arcade Expo – has become. Headlining the expo in Boston is Brendan Greene, director of "PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds," and also on tap are Blizzard, Markiplier and Acquisitions Inc. and exhibits by Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Blizzard, Square Enix and many independent game-makers.

Live performances will include music and comedy by Paul and Storm, metal by PowerGlove and jams by Super Soul Bros.

"At the end of the day, it's a party for people who like what we like," said Ryan Hartman director of events for Penny Arcade.

While there's no central theme to this year's expo, Hartman and event co-founder Jerry Holkins advise looking out for virtual reality games and the new generation of mobile gaming.

The two also stressed that PAX East – now a four-day affair – is the biggest of the expos, more so than Seattle.

"Because Boston is awesome," said Holkins.

Founded in 2004 by the web-based comic Penny Arcade in Washington state, the festival has grown to include cities around the globe – Seattle, Melbourne, San Antonio, Philadelphia and, in 2010, Boston.

Reflecting on the start of PAX, Holkins noted that mobile gaming didn't even exist when the festival was founded, and it wasn't until Boston’s debut in 2010 that it really started to take off.

"When PAX East came around, mobile was the focus of the entire event," he said.

"Now," he said, "we're starting to see second-generation virtual reality headsets become a reality."

But no matter the technology, said Holkins, the core values of PAX remain.

"The reality is this is a great place to become a part of this (gaming) community," he said.

And, while big names like Greene of "PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds" are the draw for the thousands of attendees, for young game-makers like Evergate, the event is where they hope to get discovered.

"We're looking forward to getting ourselves out there," said Wexler, 27. "This is a big milestone for us. If you see us there, we say, 'If you catch us in a year, you will be playing this game.'"

This, said Holkins, is the "very old story" of PAX.

"The show is big," he said, but "heart is still in the center of it."

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