PAX Australia 2016

PAX Australia 2016: The PAXpocalypse

PAX Australia 2015 proved to be the best PAX Australia so far. My memories of PAX Australia 2015 mostly consist of drinking with industry people, meeting Paul Verhoeven, and being a panelist for the first time. Sadly, I won’t be able to attend PAX Australia 2016, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be helping you navigate the biggest convention of the year.

Travel

The closest international airport is the Melbourne International Airport, which is located in Tullamarine. To get to your hotel, you’re able to hire a taxi or rental car. However, there is a wonderful service called Skybus which operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week including public holidays. Skybus departs every 10 minutes and travels to the city centre.

PAX Australia will be held in the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, along the lovely Yarra River.

Melbourne has some great public transport and it got better for out-of-towners this year. Through Zone 1, there are free trams which won’t require a Myki card. The free travel zone is clearly marked and the tram conductors will announce when they approach the boundaries. Information about the free travel zone is available here, which has a downloadable map.

Hotels

PAX Australia has changed its date! Instead of being held over Halloween weekend and directly before the Melbourne cup, PAX Australia now goes from.Friday 4th, November to Sunday 6th, November.

This doesn’t mean hotels won’t be limited this close to both events, so if your accommodation hasn’t been sorted out, you should probably get on that. Look to combine your accommodation with your friends to save some money and keep the party going all weekend long.

If your hotel is booked and ready, confirm your details with them a week or two prior. Make sure you ask what time you can check in and what time they want you to check out. If it’s a late check in, you might be able to leave your luggage with your hotel and explore the city until your room is ready.

Tickets

At the time of writing, 3-Day passes are 98% sold! If you’re quick, you might be able to score the best value ticked for the weekend. International 3-Day passes are still available, if you’re coming from overseas, as well as Friday, Saturday and Sunday tickets still in supply. So if you miss out on the 3-Day combo pass, but still want to go all three days, maybe pick up the tickets now. You can grab those here and then you can pick them up at the convention on the day.

What to Wear

Melbourne is notorious for its insane weather. It’ll swing widely from blistering hot to brain-numbingly cold and every variation in between at the drop of a hat. Here are a few tips to plan your outfit accordingly.

Shirt: Your favourite nerdy t-shirt is going to be comfortable and easily customisable for the weather. You might even make a new friend if you display your fandom with pride.

Pants: Unless you’re a cosplayer, you have to wear pants. Luckily, you’ve got a couple of options for your leg traps:

  • Jeans are your obvious selection; comfortable and easy to move in.
  • Skirts if you’re keen. I’d suggest a maxi skirt so you’ve got a little more clothing to keep you warm in case the weather turns on you.
  • Leggings/Tights. A popular choice with retailers like Living Dead Clothing, Black Milk and KittyHawk Clothing having styles and fandoms a-plenty. Like jeans, they’ll be easy to move around in when you’re busting a move at the Just Dance! booth.

Jacket/Jumper: This is where you need to be smart. You want something that will keep you warm, but won’t be too bulky to carry around or put into backpack. Keep that in mind when packing your comfy as heck, but huge N7 jumper.

Shoes: Whatever isn’t going to make you want to amputate your feet after 20 minutes of walking around. There is going to be opportunities to sit down (panels, lunch, randomly sitting down on the floor refusing to move), but you’re going to be walking around a LOT. Pack some comfortable flats or some sneakers, but just make sure they’re broken in properly first. Nothing ruins your day like blisters the size of dollar coins. (take it from me!)

 

**NOTE TO COSPLAYERS**

Same rules apply to weather and stuff. Rug up so you don’t turn into a cos-popsicle.

PAX has some rules about what cosplay weapons you can and can’t bring into the convention. Information is available on the official website, and the Penny Arcade forums, but I’ll stick the guidelines here too:

All prop weapons brought to the show MUST be approved at the Info Booth as soon as you arrive. We will be looking for the following criteria:

  • It cannot fire any sort of projectile. (Nerf guns are only allowed if they have been deactivated and cannot fire.)
  • It cannot be an airsoft weapon. (Yes, even if it’s deactivated.)
  • It cannot be sharp or pointy enough to cut or pierce someone with moderate pressure. This includes all real swords, daggers and knives. It also includes ceramic blades, needles, syringes and anything that can pierce (for example, a Little Sister syringe made of wood would not be allowed)

 

Upon approval, your weapon and badge will be tagged and catalogued.

The organisers also say “Cosplaying attendees may be asked to alter or modify their costume if it is considered to be overtly sexual.” More information about this is available on the official PAX website, under the “Booth Babes” heading. These rules are to make sure that the event is enjoyable for everyone, since PAX is still a family event.

Cosplay is a huge part of these events, but please remember, cosplayers are people too. If you want a photo, ask the cosplayer first. Cosplayers are generally pretty happy to have photos with people and they appreciate it when people ask before taking a happy snap. If you admire the costume, let the cosplayer know if a polite and courteous way, but don’t touch anything without permission. You don’t know if the bit you’re about to touch is held on securely or not.

Cosplay isn’t consent. Please don’t harass or assault cosplayers at events, as you could very well be escorted from the event and banned from returning.

It makes the day unpleasant for everyone.

Organising Your Weekend

This is going to be what makes your breaks your weekend. The great thing is that the PAX Australia schedule is released about a month before the event, so you’ve got plenty of time to plan where you need to be.

The Guidebook app will also come in handy. It’s available on Android, iOS, Windows and Blackberry so everyone is covered. The MCEC also has information available on their website about opening and closing times, plus maps of the centre. If you’re prone to getting lost like I am, having a copy of the map on your phone or a physical copy will save you. (Or just ask an Enforcer!)

My pick of things to do:

  • Check out Storytime with Major Nelson. Major Nelson has been an integral part of the Xbox landscape since 2003! You’ll also often see him in interviews at industry events, launches and other shows.

Mana/Health/Stamina

The most important thing about enjoying the weekend is making sure your stats are up. Making sure that you’re getting enough food and water through the day will guarantee that you’ll be able to experience all three days the way they were meant to be enjoyed.

The MCEC has a variety of food stalls around the place with sandwiches and snacks available, but this might be a little pricey. You can always pack your own snacks and lunch to save a little money (or give you more money to spend on con loot.)

PAX Australia also happens to be held along the Yarra River where the South Wharf Promenade boasts a collection of bars and restaurants for you to chill out during the weekend.

Your mental health is as important as your physical health. Take This are a non-profit charity which run the AFK Room at the PAX events in the US and this year, they bring the concept to Australia. From their website,

More than a quiet room, the Take This AFK Room is a safe space for people who need it, staffed with volunteers and clinicians who can answer questions and offer support for people who are stressed out. Some visitors simply need a break from the excitement and stimulation of a large event. Others seek conversation about mental health related issues.

The 4-2-1 rule is a great guide to keeping yourself alive during this monster weekend:

  • 4 hours sleep (it’s a LONG weekend.)
  • 2 square meals a day (actual meals, not snacks or something)
  • 1 decent shower WITH SOAP (for the sake of everyone)

Finally

Have fun. Take photos, meet people, go to panels, play games, eat, drink and be merry. That’s what these events are about.

If you’ve missed any important information, here’s some great advice on the “Safety & Security” page on the PAX website, which is linked through this article.

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Review: Pokémon Go

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Such a wee baby

The term “smash-hit” gets thrown around a lot when it comes to video games. However, when your game surpasses Tinder downloads and active Twitter users in a week, the title is more than justified.

In early July, Pokémon Go was released by the former Google start-up Niantic, to instant and almost overwhelming success from fans. The game, available on iOS and Android mobile devices, received fairly average reviews from outlets. Pocket Gamer sums it up best with, “Despite its problems, Pokémon GO is an immensely enjoyable experience.” I tend to agree.

Starting Pokémon Go is as easy as downloading the app from your app store and opening it up. It requires a Google or “Pokémon Trainers” account to log in, as opposed to being able to sign up with a general email, or other social media account. This has been marred with controversy, as it was revealed that Pokémon Go had full access to your Google account. While the news circulated quickly through the community, it was just as quickly dealt with, with permissions being changed in the latest update. You then create a male or female avatar with a few choices as far as hair and clothing are concerned and you set off on your journey.

Pokémon Go is an incredibly physical game. While it might be set on your mobile phone, the game uses GPS tracking and Augmented Reality to give the player a greater sense of depth. To catch Pokémon, or find gyms and Pokéstops, you have to travel physical distances to find them. This has had an unprecedented effect on Pokémon trainer’s physical and emotional health. Stories are emerging of people who struggled to leave the house (like this war vet) able to go out into the world and social again without anxiety. Twitter and Facebook is flooded with similar stories of people going out and meeting like-minded trainers who are happy to talk tactics. Along with the improved mental health, it’s getting people up off the couch and into the world. J and I spent all of the Friday following release walking around our local suburb all afternoon catching Pokémon. We walked more on that Friday than we do normally. While the world is in the grasp of an obesity crisis, it’s ironic that a video game is getting everyone out and about.

Welcome to (Zu)Bat Country.

Pokémon Go is F2P (Free-2-Play). The game does have microtransactions, but if you don’t want to spend money on in-game items, you can hit up any number of Pokéstops; which are at local and popular landmarks and parks. Again, this is somewhat controversial. Pokémon Go uses Google Maps to generate Pokéstops. This means that places with historical importance like Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, a memorial dedicated to the victims of Nazi concentration camps during WW2, and a restored Church which was now a liveable home, were automatically turned into Pokéstops in the virtual world. In the craze Pokémon Go is generating, it appears that people are forgetting about the social courtesies that a lot of these places afford. With a lack of support from Niantic as far as reporting bugs and other issues, the places that want to be removed from the game may struggle to get answers.

The lack of support from the developers is grinding a lot of people the wrong way. While the game is incredibly fun and capable of great things, it’s buggy as hell. During the first release version of the game, the servers could barely keep up with the load. People were locked out of the game, unable to sign in, for hours. When you could access the game, you would have to manage multiple game freezes while trying to catch Pokémon which meant you needed to close the game and reopen it to see if you’d caught that Eevee you just spent 10 Pokéballs trying to catch. It also means that people have been forced to do their own research and figure out the intricate details of the game.

 

It’s conflicting. Technically speaking, the game isn’t nearly finished and isn’t what Niantic has promised gamers. If this game was released by another developer, people would be up in arms over the server issues and privacy concerns. However, nostalgia is giving people rose-tinted glasses which is giving Niantic more slack than they deserve.

However, Pokémon Go is doing some great things in society. Discounting the achievements made by people who suffer from depression, anxiety, PTSD and other mental illnesses along with the new burst of enthusiasm for fitness and walking would be an insult. The encouraging steps that these people (including myself) take to find something that brings them relief should be celebrated and rewarded.

With the potential updates of trading and trainer battling that Niantic has rumoured, I don’t see the enthusiasm around Pokémon Go dying down anytime soon. In fact, with more and more people hearing about it and downloading it, it’ll only get bigger and hopefully better.

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Hands-on: ASUS ROG GL552 (Sponsored)

When you think of gaming laptops, a lot of people automatically think about Razer or the previous champion, Alienware. What not a lot of people understand is that ASUS also create some of the most powerful gear for gamers today. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to review the ASUS ROG G550J laptop and this year I’ve been able to get my hands on the ASUS ROG GL552; an equally impressive beast.

“Look, I know you’re trying to work but…” – My cat, Ivy.

ASUS sent this laptop for review purposes. All of the opinions in this review are true at the time of publishing.

With the formalities out of the way, let’s get into the fun.

ASUS Republic of Gamers laptops are designed for your most hardcore LAN sessions and to look like you’ll beat the opposition. Before you even open the laptop, you’re faced with a lid that’s inspired by a F-22 Stealth Fighter Jet and I can definitely it in the sharp edges and brushed steel detailing on the front. The ASUS ROG “guitar pick”, as I like to call it, sits proudly among the simple design.

Once you open the laptop up, you’re greeted with a black and red full-sized alphanumeric keyboard and intricate detailing above the function keys. The keyboard is also backlit with red LEDs and the WASD keys are highlighted red, too. It’s also fantastic to use. Laptop keyboards can be a little funny when it comes to using them on a regular basis. While I’m used to typing on laptop keyboards and free-standing keyboards, using the keyboard on the GL552 wasn’t like using a new keyboard; everything feeling like it’s one inch to the left. While the very two-tone palette might be a little much for me, the keyboard makes up for it. Most of this review was written using the laptop, so I’ve got a good handle on how it goes with long sessions of writing.

The ROG “Guitar Pick”

When you strip the GL552 down, it’s clear this is a laptop meant for some serious gaming sessions. Armed with a Intel® Core™ i7 6700HQ Processor, NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 960M with GDDR5 VRAM graphics card and 8GB of DDR4 RAM (with the option to expand up to a whopping 32GB), ASUS have given this laptop everything it needs to be functional for years to come. And with easy access to the HDD and RAM stations, becoming obsolete isn’t an issue with the device since you’re able to pull it apart and install more memory or space with ease. Although with a 1TB HDD and a 256GB SSD as standard, you’re pretty good with space straight out of the box.

While playing a variety of games on the laptop (Borderlands 2, The Witcher 2, Portal 2, The Sims 4), it handled what I threw at it in its stride. The games auto-detected all settings and the laptop was happy to play then in high or ultra-high spec. I had some minor framerate issues in Borderlands 2 and The Witcher 2, but with some minor tweaking in the settings, it was  pretty easily fixed. What was a little unimpressive was the on-board GPU crashing. This happened two or three times while I was using the laptop as an everyday carry. The GL552 recovered well from the crashes, but it was a little worrying while I was writing or browsing the internet.

Sexy, sexy keyboard

Like I mentioned, I used this laptop like an everyday carry. During the day, it replaced my standard laptop so that I could get an idea of how the GL552 handled. It’s bigger than what I’m used to, boasting a 15.6” screen (I use a 13” laptop normally.) The screen makes watching Netflix or YouTube great; but since it’s an LCD screen, you do need to adjust it a little to make sure that you don’t get the weird viewing angle. It also did a funny thing where it shifted into a blue tint when viewing certain parts of a website. It wasn’t every website and it seemed to only happen when I was viewing a GIF or small video, but it was weird.

The sound while watching video or gaming is where I was disappointed. It wasn’t necessarily bad, it was just… underwhelming. It sounded a little tinny in places and while I was playing high-action games like Borderlands, it didn’t quite have the kick to it like I was hoping. It was easier to plug my headphones in and keep going.

When it comes down to it, this laptop is actually quite decent. A lot of PC gamers discount gaming laptops as expensive and limiting. ASUS have tried to address some of those complaints with the ability for users to upgrade their HDDs and RAM in the future. The ASUS ROG GL552 is stylish (but maybe not to everyone’s tastes) and carries a lot of potential under the hood. While I have some minor complaints about the sound and on-board GPU, overall, this laptop was a joy to use. It’s not so large that you couldn’t use it daily or take it anywhere, but it’s not so small that you lose details in games or videos to size.

The ASUS ROG GL552 is now available at Harvey Norman, Dick Smith and JB Hi-Fi, starting from $2,099 – $2,199 depending on your specifications.

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Christmas Post 2015: Santa’s Nerdy Helper

Hey, remember when it was the start of the year like… last week and now we’re a week out from Christmas?
The Jolly Fat Man is nearly upon us again and if you’re anything like me, you still don’t know what to get at least 3 members of your gift circle. This guide is for you and for me. MERRY CHRISTMAS! I GOT YOU A BLOG POST!

Great Success

Great Success

Buying a gift for your nerdy loved one can be a harder task than the office Secret Santa (which I’m also struggling with, tbh), but with a little research you can find something that will suit any nerd/geek/enthusiast.

Firstly, figure out what the person you’re buying for likes. Are they a gamer? If so, what platform? Do they like video games or tabletop games? More of an anime buff, which series? These are things you can ask to find out more information on what you can buy.

As always, I start out with Ol’ Faithful: Gift Cards. If you don’t know what to get someone, giftcards are perfect. Gamers (and geeks in general) can get a lot out of gift cards. The ones to general shopping centres (Westfield, Stocklands, etc) are great because you can hit up all the major gaming retailers and shop around. Gift cards get a bad rap.
For gamers, Christmas always brings out the best bundle deals. Previous generation consoles are cheap and great for kids, whereas new generation consoles are more expensive, but with the bundle deals, they turn into great value for families and more “serious” gamers. JB Hi-Fi have a great Xbox One 1TB console deal which is bundled with Fallout 3 and Fallout 4 for $529. If you’re looking for a PS4, JB are also doing a “PS4 1TB Ultimate Player Bundle” with Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, Just Cause 3, Destiny: The Taken King edition and MX vs ATV Supercross Encore. While it might not have the strongest lineup of games (Destiny lost me straight after release), it’s all available for $539. EB Games have some great deals on special edition consoles too. The super shiny Star Wars PS4 bundled with Star Wars: Battlefront is going for $599. Shopping around to see what retailers have is the best way to find the best range of games for the price.

PC gamers can be a little harder. PC gaming mostly involves online stores instead of physical media these days, but you can still get gift cards for services like Steam or if your nerdy presentee has an addiction to LoL or WoW, you can get gift cards specifically for those games too. They’re available at most major gaming retailers. Steam has a great “wishlist” system that ranks what the user wants. Mostly, I just dump games in there and when the Sales come around, I find which ones are on special. The system works.

Not every gamer likes to storm dungeons virtually. The last 12-24 months has seen a HUGE rise in tabletop gaming with the help of Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop video series. Classic games like Dungeons and Dragons remain a staple for most tabletop gamers, but your local games store will hold a plethora of games that will either bring the whole family together over adorable Sushi or destroy families in a game of deceit and suspicion on levels Monopoly wishes it could do.

And if worst comes to worst, get Cards Against Humanity and be shocked when Grandma pulls the Biggest, Blackest Cock card from her hand and wins the round.

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Review: Until Dawn (PS4)

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My friends and I have these nights that have become a bit of a tradition in our friend circle. We organise scary movie nights where we’ll binge on the best horror movies we can find until we can’t handle any more, then we binge on Disney movies until we feel better. We’re legendary at the pizza shop near my friend’s house, but that’s a story for another time.

It’s a weird, sadistic pleasure we all enjoy. That explains why I enjoyed every scream-inducing jump scare that Until Dawn has to offer.

Until Dawn is the story of eight high school friends who go back to the cabin they were staying at, when two of their friends (sisters) mysteriously go missing after a prank goes wrong.

Visually, the game looks amazing. Using motion capture with some well-known names (Hayden Panettiere and Peter Storm, just to name a few), the sense of Uncanny Valley isn’t nearly as off-putting as the motion capture in say… LA Noire.

Not only do the characters look realistic, the environments you explore look great, too. Eerie and unsettling, areas in the game only add to the suspense and anxiety you’ll feel during the game.

Sadly, the camera work lets the fantastic environments down. The camera in Until Dawn jumps to give you the best vantage point in the classic horror movie style. When you’re trying to navigate through 3D environments, this type of camera movement can break the immersion and really detract from the tense scene.

The biggest mechanic in Until Dawn uses to push you through the story is called “The Butterfly Effect”. This mechanic relies on the player making split-second decisions to situations and decides the fates of your fellow co-eds. It makes you think “What if I didn’t check his phone?” or “What if I didn’t try to wake up my brother?” Some of these decisions won’t affect your outcome, others will change it dramatically. It works really well with the quick-time events, where a stumble could seal the fate of someone else. Until Dawn combines the use of quick-time events and a brilliant inclusion of PlayStation’s Sixth-Axis motion control with a fantastic score and sound effects. Making a quick-time decision is hard enough when you’re trying to escape a tense situation, but when the controller is ticking loudly and violins are screeching, everything comes together in one anxiety-causing moment.

In the tense circumstances, every action feels like it’s life-or-death, and that’s the point. When you trigger a Butterfly Effect action, white butterflies will appear in the corner of the screen and you can see how this matches up with the story. These decisions also affect your relationship and personality stats. You can go back and review your decisions, along with clues or totems you gather along the way so you can modify your behaviour when you inevitably replay Until Dawn.

Until Dawn is also a massive, dirty cheater. During the game, you’ll be interviewed by Dr. Hill, who becomes increasingly more disturbing as you go through the story. He asks you what you’re more afraid of and the game uses this against you. Essentially, you have yourself to the game on a silver platter. During my interview, I said that I was scared of clowns, more scared of dogs over rats (big bitey vs little jumpy), and needles. The major scare it used was clowns, which made me scream (actual, blood curdling screams) on more than one occasion; much to the amusement of my jerk-ass boyfriend.

Dr. Hill reminds me a lot of the Games Master from the 90’s VHS horror game Nightmare, with most of his NPC interaction happening in changing environments and getting right up in your face. It feels like he’s actually going to crawl out of the TV and berate you in person. He’s a great way to break up the gameplay, but still keep terrified.

This game isn’t without flaws. Until Dawn started to lose me half way through the game when things took a weird turn after the plot twist, when the pacing changed and one plot device being used a little too much for my liking. The device makes sense in the greater scheme of the story, but it jumps from one bad guy to another without much explanation as to why. It also seems to focus on certain characters more than others. I felt myself wondering where one character was after huge repeating scenes with other characters.

The story also lacks in any kind of originality. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but Until Dawn relies on several horror movie tropes like The Jock, The Bitchy Girl, and The Quiet Nerdy Guy. Any of these characters could be easily found in a remake of The Breakfast Club, if it happened to be set in a Canadian cabin during a blizzard. I did find myself rooting for one particular character, and then I accidentally killed her because I was playing to her personality.

My bad…

Until Dawn managed to scare the pants off me and make me want more. Despite some poor camera movements and a slightly disappointing story, if this game was a movie, I’d pay to see it in cinemas and spill my popcorn all over myself. Definitely something I’ll be replaying again and still screaming like a terrified little child.

Seriously though, fuck. This. Game.

(Review also available on Player Attack)

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