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It’s that time of year again! With Christmas on the horizon, the difficult task of buying gifts becomes obvious. Being the well-skilled shopper that I am, I find buying gifts for my game-orientated friends the worst. It’s like buying shoes for someone without knowing their size.

So in the spirit of the up-coming season, I give you my guide to buying the perfect gamer gift.

Gift cards are the easiest solution for the picky gamer or someone you don’t know very well. Your friend can pick what they want without the risk of buying something said gamer already has or doesn’t want.

Games are a great gift if you know what your friend plays. Steam has a ‘wish list’ system that is a fantastic indicator. Games are ranked in the order that your friend wants them and they show up-to-date prices. If you’re buying a game for the console user, Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network Store and the Wii store offer a range of games that be purchased using a credit card or a point-system.

As far as the consoles go, Xbox One and PS4 bundles are a great choice. EB Games have Xbox One without Kinect + 6 game bundles going for $529, Xbox One with Kinect + 7 games for $599 and their PS4 bundles are just as good. Several different game bundles with the black or white PS4 console available for $598. Other retailers like Big W or JB Hi-Fi will have similar bundles available, so shop around and see what you can get.

Nintendo released brand new 3DS consoles this year and they’re going for $250, gifted along with the new Pokemon Alpha Sapphire or Omega Ruby, Super Smash Bros or The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, you’re going to make any gamer happy.

Big name AAA titles like Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!, Dragon Age: Inquisition and Far Cry 4 have been reviewing well. If your gamer hasn’t picked up one of the later year release titles, they should definitely be something to check out.

If your gamer doesn’t play video games, try to find your local tabletop games shop. The staff are generally very helpful and friendly. Check out the Youtube series Tabletop, hosted by Wil Wheaton, for some fun board game ideas. Tabletop has given my friends and I some great games to play, including Gloom, Zombie Dice and the friendship-ruining card game Munchkin. If your tabletop gamer like RPG-style games, buying the miniatures they want or a set of really cool dice will get you some quality brownie points.

If your nerd has a game in mind, but it hasn’t been released, offer to buy the pre-order for them. Some pre-orders are quite cheap and you still get some decent loot with it. If they already have a pre-order organised but haven’t paid it off yet, offer to pay the rest off. Some collector’s editions can be upwards of $150 price wise, so buying it or paying it off is always a good idea and who doesn’t want a shiny new figurine for Christmas?

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I picked up a PS4 a few months ago when Destiny finally launched as a full game. I was excited about Destiny after playing the beta with friends on my Xbox 360.

A white PS4 with Destiny and The Last of Us: Remastered from Dick Smith (where I work) for cheap? It was too good to be true. I’m starting to regret my decision, now.

My first console was a PlayStation. Many hours were wasted on 40 Winks, Crash Bandicoot, Croc: Legend of the Gobbos and Spyro. I moved on to the PlayStation 2 and the brilliant library that came with that console.

My love affair with the Xbox started with a second-hand Xbox when I was 13 or so. I can’t remember why my Mum bought it for me, but I got Halo 2 and a few other games with it in a deal EB Games had going at the time.

It was instant, life-long love and I’ve never really looked back. My first Xbox 360 was so well “loved”, that the disc drive failed. A common fault, but for a relatively old Xbox 360, surviving the 7 years that it did was a great feat. My second Xbox is slowly gathering dust until I can be bothered to connect it to my bedroom TV. Its place in the lounge room was replaced by the PS4.

The Destiny hype suckered me into buying the PS4. My friends suckered me into buying the PS4. The price I got from work suckered me into buying the PS4.

It sits quietly on the shelf above the TV, making friends with the Blu-Ray player I bought my parents a few years ago. My PS4 is unloved. I think my PS4 was a brilliant investment, don’t get me wrong. It’s something that I think will get plenty of use in the future, but looking back on my choice, I would have waited and picked the Xbox One.

I own the Titanfall Xbox One controller, I’m considering picking up the Halo: Master Chief edition without owning the console because my dedication to the Halo series runs so deep that I’m pretty sure my blood is khaki. I want an Xbox One, but spent my money on a PS4.

Giving up the PS4 isn’t an option with plenty of quality games coming out on it in the future, but in the present, all I want is an Xbox One, Halo, Sunset Overdrive and a weekend off so I can play video games until my hands form Xbox One-shaped claw hands.

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The sad reality of things is that it’s the day after PAX and PPD (Post-PAX Depression) has already set in. I woke up this morning with a bit of a broken heart because I couldn’t take the 20 minute walk from my hotel to the Convention Centre and hang out with the coolest people I know.

So, in a vain attempt to combat the PPD blues, I thought I’d do my write up of the weekend and the mind-blowing things that happened.

The major change between 2013 and 2014 was the venue. For those who couldn’t attend PAX Aus 2013, it was held at the Showgrounds in Melbourne. Because of the more “outdoorsy” venue, moving between theatres and halls could be troublesome. Forgiveable, considering it was the FIRST PAX being held in Australia the organisers listened to the complaints and moved the event to the MCEC.

Such room.

Much success.

Wow.

But seriously, the new venue is a major improvement. While the queueing is still an “issue” (tens of thousands of people trying to get into one place? THERE’S GOING TO BE A LINE.), the larger theatres and rooms made sure that if you waited in line, you were going to get a seat. It was a great improvement over last year.

Friday.

keynote edit

Pete Hines – Meat Shield

Friday was Rade-Sim day. By that, I mean that I was in civvies with a plumbob headband. My take on “casual cosplay”. Friday was spent exploring the convention, meeting people and attending panels. The first two I checked out were the Keynote (hosted by Pete Hines) and the Q&A by the ever hustlin’ Mike and Jerry, creators of Penny Arcade. Pete Hines had an insightful look into what PR in video games industry is like. His keynote was full of stories from his career and all the ways that Bethesda has grown. Oh, and horse armour.

The format for the Q&A was different to last year and I’m thankful for that. Robert Khoo picked out questions from The Internet for Mike and Jerry to answer, and were categorised by the type of question that was asked. Red envelopes were for more “serious” questions and white envelopes for “light-hearted” questions. A running joke of the panel was that white envelopes were a lucky dip of serious and light-hearted questions. But it meant that some guy couldn’t go on for 10 minutes about his telescope (check out the Q&A from last year) and bore everyone to death.

I got to spend time hanging out with my friend Tehkella (who writes good shit. Check it). She lives far away, which makes me sad but PAX brings us together. Which is what PAX is really all about.

With that major block of panels out of the way, I checked out the rest of the expo. The first place I headed was to was the Walk-Thru Walls booth to see the guys there. I met them last year and they’re cool kids. They also let me review for them, so that’s awesome. Then begun the wandering.

Wandering around the Xbox booth, through to the Cards Against Humanity area and just… around. I got lost in the expo hall. Listening to outrageously loud dance music, wondering how the fuck you get an enormous tank into the middle of a expo hall (no, seriously. Magic?) and just admiring all the fantastic cosplay. I’d managed to kill a few hours, but I hadn’t destroyed enough minutes to make it to the next panel. Cue the return home to my hotel and a quick costume change for my next panel. Little did I know, the next panel would be the highlight of my… month? Year? Probably writing career.

The panel was “The Realities of Writing About Games.” 5 people were about to destroy the dreams of a theatre full of people. It was a learning experience about what the people I want to work for want in your work. I found out I need to improve a bunch of my skills. But the best was yet to come.

The highlight for my PAX weekend was meeting Mark Serrels. He’s the editor for Kotaku AU and porridge enthusiast. I got to tell him about how he messaged me after an article (and subsequent comments) about some horrible shit at E3 and told me that I shouldn’t listen to the horrible people and keep going. This is something that has stuck with me through everything. This industry isn’t kind, but knowing someone believes in you is something to cling to, especially in the desperate times.

I told him this at the end of the panel, and he was just gobsmacked. Or, I think he was. But apparently I’d struck a chord with him because he wrote about me in a Kotaku article. [ insert fangirling here. ]

Everything after that was just… a bonus.

Saturday.

Cosplay day 1. I spent the morning wandering again, but this time dressed as a buzzaxe-wielding psycho. Had a few photos taken, screamed about poop at the top of my lungs (worth it!) and just doing normal con junk.

I decided to head off to a panel about Fake Nerds, featuring my friend Jimmy and hosted by my friend Jessica. Unfortunately, Jess’s schedule was all screwy and she couldn’t attend. But the panel was fantastic and by the packed room, it was clearly a hot topic.

Walking home after the panel, I hit the post-spring carnival race crowd full of drunks and then found one who couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Pro-tip to everyone reading this: Don’t call the cosplayer wielding a buzzaxe fat. The temptation to smack your face with it is NEARLY overwhelming.

Saturday night made up for drunk, asshole guy because I got to hang out with some friends at a really creepy restaurant and a really cool bar. Lots of drinking and impromptu karaoke.

Sunday

Whee~ Sunday! Sunday was the day I was looking forward to. After a late night and a VERY early morning, I headed to my friend’s hotel room so we could get into our Borderlands gear and go to the Gearbox panel.

After a superb Gearbox panel (free games, woo!) and a huge Borderlands cosplay group photo, we headed off to the Gearbox signing and got to meet the Gearbox crew and a photo with Randy Pitchford.

groupAfter that, we stopped at the Smithe booth so Maya could drop her bag off for work later and photos at the Xbox booth and 2K booth in front of their “Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel” wall panel… thing and trying to find the massive cosplay group shot. There were like… 60 of us at least in this photo and that was just the people who’d found out about it in various Facebook groups or word of mouth.

I met people I’ve been stalking heavily investigating on Facebook and take photos with them and scream about meat bicycles and junk. It’s the most amazing feeling to growl “I LIKE MY LOOT LIKE I LIKE MY BABY STEAKS… RAAAAAARE” with another dude and immediately become friends because of it.

PAX Australia is one of those things that you wonder about what it’ll be like and have all these expectations and then when you get there, you see a sign that says “Welcome home” and that’s what it feels like. It’s home. There are 30,000 cousins in this family who enjoy the same stuff you do and you all bond over that, it’s the best feeling ever.

 

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It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I am a Borderlands addict. My addiction led to nearly 600+ hours in Borderlands 1 and Borderlands 2, I own both the Borderlands 2 pre-order chest and the Diamond-played loot chest, a CL4P-TP figurine and David Eddings signed Gentleman CL4P-TP figurine. I also convinced my cousin to name a foal “Butt Stallion” and I’m an avid Krieg cosplayer.

…yeah. I have a problem. Clearly, the solution was to get my hands on Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!

Borderlands: The Presequel! is told like a flashback by Athena, a highly-skilled mercenary captured by Lilith, Brick and Mordecai. Throughout the game, you’ll hear commentary from Athena and the others about the events you’re playing through. BL: TPS explores Handsome Jack before the mask; back when he was just John. An attack on the Hyperion orbit station, Helios, finds you teaming up with the future pretzel-eating villain to, get this… SAVE Pandora’s moon, Elpis and the people who inhabit the surface.

Crazy, right?

aaaaaaFour entirely new classes have been added to Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. Instead of Assassin, Siren, Soldier and Gunzerker, you get:

Athena: The Gladiator. Athena made her first appearance in the Borderlands 1 DLC “The Secret Armory of General Knoxx.” Her shield packs a punch which you can throw at enemies, and of course, shield yourself with.

Nisha: The Lawbringer. Nisha will be familiar to Borderlands 2 players. She was the Sheriff of Lynchwood, the Eridium-mining town. Nisha’s skill tree “Law & Order” can give buffs to gun damage, health or shields. You can also duel-wield when you spec Nisha’s “Fan the Hammer” skill tree.

Whlhelm: The Enforcer. As you spec Wilhelm’s character, you slowly see him develop into the cyborg-human death machine that you fight in Borderlands 2.

Finally, you’ve got Claptrap: The Fragtrap. His “vaulthunter.exe” skill tree gives players (and co-op partners) buffs based on their current situation. He can also use skills used by previous by the previous vault hunters. At last, he’s the badass he wanted to be.

Gameplay is essentially unchanged from Borderlands 2 at its core, but with some interesting changes. Because you’re on the moon, gravity and oxygen are a new challenge to wrangle with. Instead of relics to change character stats, you now collect Oz Kits; masks that give you oxygen to breathe on the moon’s surface. They also provide elemental bonuses for your gravity stomp. Which is awesome.

Using gravity to your advantage, you can jump or boost jump (another Oz Kit advantage), you can slam down on your enemies and inflict elemental damage. With that elemental damage and a swift shotgun blast to the face, enemies can be promptly dealt with.

Gravity jumps and boost jumps can be a little difficult to work with in the beginning. Having your character accidentally jump off the map because of a misguided jump gets old pretty quick.

Another noticeable inclusion is the hundreds of Australian accents. Borderlands: TPS was developed by 2K Australia, so you’d expect one or two references about Australia (Like the bosses “Red” and “Belly”, to make “Redbelly”. A notorious snake in Australia), but it’s more like the residents of outback Australia were abducted and transported to Elpis in some bizarre experiment to see what Australians can survive. (Hint: It’s everything.) Plenty of jokes to keep Australian gamers happy, but maybe some of it will go over everyone else’s head.

I do have some complaints. While the writing is still on par with previous games, the ‘Straya thing it’s got going on can be a little (or a lot) over the top, and borders on insulting in some parts. I can appreciate the effort in trying to capture Australian culture, but sometimes it comes off more like a Crocodile Dundee movie than anything close to real Australian culture (says the city-slicker)

It also doesn’t feel as polished as the rest of the series. Characters clipping through moving platforms and AI bugs are a few things I’ve encountered through my gameplay. A little disappointing considering the quality of the previous two Borderlands Games.

All that said, the new heroes, new setting, new characters and new story work well with the old formula that made Borderlands and Borderlands 2 so popular.261640_screenshots_2014-10-19_00009

If you’re looking for something new from the Borderlands series, maybe wait until Tales from the Borderlands is released. If you played Borderlands 2 until you were blue in the face (like I did), then Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is right up your alley.

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<rant>1ce

There are a lot of problems in video games at the moment, and the one I’m super sick of (other than everything else) is this whole “Master Race” PC gaming bullshit.

Today, my friend linked me this Imgur post where OP essentially calls console gaming a niche market and that it’s ruining modern day gaming using screenshots from the currently unreleased Star Citizen and ArmA 3 games. He also applauds Cloud Imperium and Bohemia Interactive for not releasing the games on console because it would “ruin our games for PC gamers.”

What I’m getting from this is that he’s angry that there are really shitty PC ports of games and that it’s somehow the fault of people who game on consoles and NOT the fault of lazy developers.

Bad PC ports are awful, I’ve played a few in my time but I don’t blame people who enjoying playing games solely on their Xbox or PlayStation. The blame lies on developers who aren’t optimising their game for computers.

Console gaming isn’t ruining the video games industry, elitism about what platform you “correctly” play on is destroying video games. Whatever happened to playing games because you enjoy escaping into some fantasy world to avoid reality, or sitting down with your friends for a several hour long grind session? Is it too much to ask that people stop trolling others because “Hurr, you’re gaming wrong”?

Guys, let’s have a serious talk here: Play on whatever you want to play on, whether it’s on PC or on your Xbox, PlayStation, GameBoy, Wii, or whatever you play games on. If playing your favourite game gives you joy, don’t let any elitist asshole try to tell you that you’re doing it wrong. You’re doing it right because you’re enjoying video games, and that’s what’s it’s all about.

</rant>

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Over the last few months, I’ve had people coming to me for advice about wanting to break into the video games industry as a reviewer or journalist. To be entirely honest, I’m not sure I’ve actually gotten into the industry yet but I’ll give you whatever advice I can give. I’ve also asked friends who work in journalism or video games about what advice they’d give people, so that’s thrown in too.

“Video Games Journalism”

Let’s be honest with each other, there aren’t that many legitimate journalists in the video games industry. Not traditional journalists, anyway. A lot of what video games journalism is these days is regurgitating media releases and reporting on rumours. Doing legitimate journalistic work is pretty hard to come by, it’s more editorial work. Not that there work isn’t out there, but it’s probably being done already. You’ll need to prove yourself.

So, the advice I’ve got:

                On writing

It sounds simple enough, but depending on where you want to get into, your writing style needs to suit that style of publication. Read previous reviews of the publication you want to write for and get a feeling of their style. Having a range of writing styles is a great thing to have in your arsenal as a writer.

Write about anything and everything, it’s the only way to improve this utmost vital skill. Find press releases and rewrite them, write fake news stories about the characters in games, write reviews on everything you’ve used, played, seen or read. Start yourself a blog and put your opinions out into the world. You’ll get a range of people looking at your stuff and they’re going to give you their honest opinion. Just remember, all criticism can be useful if you don’t get upset by it.

On video games

Understanding how video games work is probably important if you’re interested in video games. Ask developers what goes into making a game, or take a basic coding course (there are some available online) to give you a greater insight into how what goes into a game. Your passion for video games is what got you interested in this kind of writing, a deeper understanding never hurts.

On industry shows

Go to every event you can get in to. Last year at PAX Australia, I introduced myself to indie developers showing their wares and built relationships with people. A few weeks later, I got an email from one of the guys I’d met asking me to review their game. I took down business cards with my contact details (work email, mobile number, website) and they sent me a copy of their game. Going to industry events is important for networking. Sometimes it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. It’s in your best interest to know everybody.

For stuff you can’t get to (E3, anyone?), streaming and live-tweeting are going to be your friends. Getting involved in hashtags will help you get into the conversation and gauge the reaction of your intended audience.

On the Internet

The Internet is a big, scary place and it’s full of individuals who have strong, conflicting opinions and you’re likely to meet someone who disagrees with you. And maybe, they’ll disagree with you so much they’ll call you nasty names, say horrible things about you to their friends and try to rubbish you so that you don’t get more work. It’s bound to happen. What’s important to remember is that there are people who agree with you, too.

It’s also a vital part of what you want to do. Traditional print doesn’t have much room for video game editorials or reviews (outside of video game publications), so it’s best to make yourself an online presence.

About yourself

Be honest. People will read your work under the impression that you’re being completely honest and transparent in your work. This is especially important when reporting news and writing reviews, even your editorials needs to accurately represent your opinion. If someone pays you to write something; announce it upfront. If you’ve been provided with a product; acknowledge that the product was provided by a company. If you don’t disclose everything, people will find out and you risk your reputation.

Have confidence in yourself, and your writing. If you’re not confident of what you’re writing, it’ll be reflected in your piece. This is something I struggle with time to time, but I have a good circle of support to help me realise that sometimes I write English good (yes, that was intentional.) Find people who are willing to read your work and give you feedback, it’s the only way you’ll learn.

If you’ve got the talent and the drive to be successful, you’ll be successful. People respond to people who are confident in their ability to progress and succeed. With help, I’ve written for Player Attack, been retweeted by PAX Australia and reviewed for ASUS and Walk-Thru Walls. Have the guts to ask for help and send your stuff to everyone. If they reject you, ask for feedback about what you can improve. If you’re accepted, ask what they liked about your piece. Every little bit helps.

 

Thanks to James McGrath, Lauren Grey (and her friend) and Scott Rhodie for their help with this post.

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With crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter giving developers direct access to fans and Steam’s “Early Access” …thing (what is it, anyway?) allowing people to test their games on the fly, it’s a pretty sure fact that gaming has gone through some dramatic changes. Except, I’m not entirely convinced it’s for the better.

Let’s talk about Yogscast; some great evidence about what I’m talking about.

For those who don’t know, Yogscast is a YouTube channel who gained thousands (if not, millions) of fans by doing Minecraft videos, backed on the success of their podcast. They had the idea of creating a new videogame; inspired by Minecraft’s design. By all accounts, this should have been a pretty simple Kickstarter and everyone walked away into the sunset.

But it wasn’t, and they didn’t.

The Kickstarter itself was successful. Yogscast and developer Winterkewl Games raised double than the original goal of $250,000, but money isn’t everything when it comes to developing a game.

Winterkewl Games was new to the development world and it started to show almost immediately. Rumours of people making ridiculous amounts of money for little work circulated like wildfire, their December 2012 release date was broken with the alpha release of Yogscast game being released in March 2013.

Winterkewl addressed their lack of experience and nearly impossible goals in the official Yogscast forums, citing that the project was too big and their team (only consisting of 6 people) was too small. By 2014, the company filed for bankruptcy.

Backers (some of which donated $10,000 for high-tier rewards) were denied refunds after the project failed but promised free games in compensation. Yogscast incorrectly stated they were under no obligation to return the money to the backers, which directly conflicts with Kickstarters Terms and Conditions.

Is a creator legally obligated to fulfil the promises of their project?
Yes. Kickstarter’s Terms of Use require creators to fulfil all rewards of their project or refund any backer whose reward they do not or cannot fulfil. (This is what creators see before they launch.) This information can serve as a basis for legal recourse if a creator doesn’t fulfil their promises. We hope that backers will consider using this provision only in cases where they feel that a creator has not made a good faith effort to complete the project and fulfil.

Everything went to Hell in a flaming hand basket.

Finger pointing was rampant and no one really knows what happened. I doubt even those involved in this mess actually understand how it all went so horribly wrong.

The story of Yogscast and Winterkewl is a prime example of why I’m weary of video games being backed through crowd-funding. Ambitious projects can be easily spun to impress fans and no one ever considers the risks. Once all the money that was so generously given is gone, there’s very little people can do about getting it back. People are left in the lurch with very little legal recourse.

The same goes for Early Access on Steam. The idea is that you pay a smaller fee for the game now (while it’s still being developed) and get access to the game through its various stages of completion until it’s finally ready for release. It’s a pretty alright idea, as long as it’s executed properly.

People who buy into Early Access games are promised frequent updates in exchange for their continued support of the game. These games are being purchased by people with massive parts missing. Some games, like Don’t Starve for example, were still worth their price when they were in Early Access. I was impressed with how it was reviewing and purchased it. But this isn’t always the case. You can go through the pages and pages of Early Access games and see how people who have purchased these unfinished games and see the scathing reviews they’re getting. Games aren’t being updated and are still unplayable.

I’ve got genuine concerns for this trend of games boasting finished game price tags, but are only sending out half a game. Most developers stay true to their promise of completing a game, and it gives gamers a better understanding of how games are actually developed, however there are a lot of developers in the Early Access section who has little experience in development and publishing, setting themselves unattainable goals and inevitably tricking their customers into buying a game which will never be finished.

Maybe I’m too cynical about these practices and I’m entirely wrong, but the evidence seems to point in my favour. It’s interesting to see how gamers investing their money into games has changed the industry and I can only hope that it continues in a positive fashion.

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Last year, I made a post about preparing for the upcoming PAX Australia convention. I drew on knowledge I’d gathered from other events I’d been to, and asked people who’d been to PAX cons in the US for advice. All my research still didn’t prepare me for just how massive those three days are! Now that I have some firsthand experience, I’m hoping that Survival Guide 2.0 helps new attendees and seasoned con veterans prepare for the event.

Hotels

With PAX Australia being just over two months away, getting any last minute accommodation sorted out would probably be a good idea. Hotels near the area would fill up fast, so look for ones near public transport (see below) for an easy commute. If you’ve already got your accommodation organised, call your hotel/motel/etc about a week before to confirm your booking and check in times. Some places have late arrival times, so knowing what time you can dump your luggage is going to be handy. Make plans if you’ve got some time to kill before you can get into your room.

Travel to/from PAX

The closest airport to the event is Melbourne International Airport. As well as having rental car and taxi options for your convenience, there’s also the Skybus which travels to the city centre from the airport every 10 minutes. The timetable and routes are available here.

This year, PAX is being held at the Melbourne Convention and Entertainment Centre (MCEC), which has five paid car parks scattered around close-by. These car parks are owned by Wilson and can get kinda pricy. ($12 an hour pricy) Carpool if you’re driving and split the cost. As the MCEC is a major convention centre, taxis ($$$), trams, trains and busses are all available and will have a stop close to the centre. Investing in a Myki and having credit loaded on to it will save you time and stress. Check (and double check) routes from where you are to where you need to be.

Getting lost sucks.

Getting lost in an unfamiliar city sucks more.

Tickets

Tickets for the event have sold like hotcakes. 3-day passes are sold out, as are Saturday day passes. International 3-day passes (for those of you flying into the country) are still available, as well as Friday and Sunday day passes.

What to wear

Enjoying yourself is key at events like this, but Melbourne is notorious for its temperamental weather. To avoid some of the PAX Plague, you’ll need to dress and pack accordingly. (Edit: A commentator on Twitter mentioned that when it rains, it pours in Melbourne. Take an umbrella or one of those $2 ponchos.)

Shirts: T-shirts are always comfortable and you’re bound to have a few favourite nerdy shirts lying around.

Pants: Jeans will keep you warm while you’re outside but aren’t going to overheat you while you’re inside. Let’s face it, you’re going to be doing lots of different activities (walking, sitting, gaming) and you’re going to need something that moves with your body. If you wanna wear skinny jeans, you might find they’re a little difficult unless they’re a day old or so.

Jumpers/Jackets: This is where things get difficult. A warm jacket is great for when you’re waiting for transport outside or outside the event, but they can be bulky. Try for something that you’re not going to be bothered carrying around with you all day and night. If you can put it in a bag (or tie it), the better. Same with any accessories like scarves and beanies. Any extra bulk is extra weight that you’re going to have with you the whole day.

Shoes: Whatever you know you can walk in for 8+ hours. It varies from person to person.

Note to Cosplayers:

Cosplayers, remember a jacket at least or layer up so you don’t fall into the same trap I did the first time I cosplayed Black Canary and end up with some kind of death plague because you didn’t dress appropriately.

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.

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.

Planning ahead

Planning can be what makes or breaks your weekend. Last year, one of the few complaints people had with the convention was the size of some panels and how long the queues were. Deciding what, who and where you want is going to give you a fighting chance at seeing everything you want. The schedule is available here.

The Guidebook app was a miracle last year and I’m expecting the same this year. It’s available on Android, iOS, Windows and Blackberry so everyone is covered. The MCEC website also has a map of the area, which can help plan where you want to meet up with friends. Edit: PAX released their map of the event, available here.

 

Keeping Fed/Watered

The days will be VERY long and it’s important to keep your energy up.  Keeping yourself fed and watered is going to make sure you’re going to have the energy to get through the day. Make sure you’ve got a bottle of water in your bag so you’ve got something to sip other than energy drink and Coke is going to make sure you’re always hydrated. Lunch and snacks are going to be your major issue.

Either bring food with you, or bring some money for the stuff that the cafes that the MCEC is going to have available. Having cash on hand is going to come in handy for the whole event, but having it with you to buy a quick bite is going to save you bank fees and a lot of time.

The south wharf promenade along the Yarra River has a great selection of bars and restaurants for you to grab a bite to eat during the day. Melbourne is famous for its bar scene, with some of the best places to eat and drink being in the city. PAX have organised a discount for PAX attendees with the owners and licensees of the venues!

Edit: A friend mentioned the 4-2-1 rule.

4 hours sleep (it’s a LONG weekend.)

2 square meals a day (actual meals, not snacks or something)

1 decent shower (for the sake of everyone)

Finally

Remember, have fun! That’s what is most important. There’s tonnes to do over the weekend in and around the event itself so be on the look out for cool stuff to do so enjoy the weekend.

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PC gamers have a love/hate relationship with gaming laptops. Some can see the use for them (it’s how I started PC gaming), especially when it comes to portability, but others see them as an expensive and underpowered. The Asus ROG G550J has some decent grunt to keep the most hardcore gamers happy, but still lightweight enough to take to LANs for those all-nighters.

Straight out of the box, the Asus G550J is pretty to look at. The Asus Republic of Gamers logo stands proudly among the brushed aluminium front. Under the lid, it’s all matte black and red. The keyboard is printed with red keys and has a matching red black light, which you can dim or brighten with function keys. The base is even lined with red. Since red is my favourite colour, I’m pleased with the colour scheme, but I can imagine it’s not for everyone.

The keyboard took a little getting used to, like all new keyboards do. But once I knew the positioning of all the keys, writing on the Asus G550J was a comfortable experience. I decided to re-write a couple of old reviews to get a real feel for how the keyboard would work in an everyday environment. The keys press nicely and are a nice size. One of the problems with 15.6” laptops with a full alphanumeric keyboard is the small size of the keys. Luckily, that’s not an issue with this keyboard.

The G550J also boasts enough ports to keep even the most intense user happy. With three 3.0 USB ports (two on the left side, one on the right), you can still plug a mouse in to the laptop, charge your phone and still have a port left over. There’s also a HDMI port (right side), an optical Blu-ray drive, a mini display port, an SD card slot (always handy) and a headphone jack. Something you won’t see on all laptops’ is the small yellow port near the charger, which is where you plug in the sub, which comes with the laptop. The sub looks like a small can and certainly boosts the low-end sounds of games, movies, and music.

I picked two games to test the limits of the Asus G550J with the help of a friend of mine. We took into consideration the graphical strain and how resource heavy the games would be and decided on The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, and The Witcher 2.

Both games can be played on their highest settings and look beautiful on the 15.6” LCD screen with the help of the Nvidia 850M 4GB graphics card.

During the initial set up, The Witcher 2 auto-detected what settings can be best played on. The surprising (or not so surprising)        result was to play in Ultra Spec. In Ultra Spec, everything is cranked to the max. Shadow details, character details and graphical details are all set to ultra.

When I started to play The Witcher, I had a few issues in the beginning with the touchpad getting in the way and trigging some menu options (an issue I have with all laptops), but once I switched the touchpad off and got back into gameplay, it was all smooth sailing.

The same can be said about The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. While I don’t run Skyrim with too many mods (just an inventory mod and a “realistic” skin mod), it can still be a difficult game for some computers to handle. The G550J automatically ran Skyrim on Ultra where all details are played in high (or ultra, where applicable.) With the battery in high powered mode, there’s plenty of power to play both The Witcher 2 and The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim in their wonderful glory.

The good thing is that I didn’t notice the laptop getting too hot during sessions of long gameplay. Having it sit straight on my desk, there was enough room for proper ventilation to keep the laptop comfortably cool.

The Asus G550J does make a lot of noise. The fan can be distractingly loud at times, even in balanced mode. While I had the laptop idling in balanced mode, it sounded as if it was playing a game in high powered mode. While it’s not a huge deal, with the noise being easily drowned out by background noise or headphones, it could be distracting while using the laptop in a quieter environment.

I could get 2-3 hours out of the battery with some general use (Wi-Fi on, brightness at max, battery on balanced). However, when playing games, I changed the battery into high power mode and made sure the laptop was plugged in. While a good habit to be in when it comes to gaming, not necessarily a great habit for reviewing.

Overall

The Asus ROG G550J could easily satisfy any PC gaming enthusiast with its looks and power. However, with the hefty price tag of AU$2,699, many gamers could find themselves resorting to cheaper options. Paying the extra isn’t without its benefits. The LCD screen performs wonderfully in all angles and all the power under the red and black colour scheme can easily play the most resource heavy games without becoming outdated too quickly.

The SSD drive size (256GB) leaves something to be desired for a gaming laptop, but it boots quickly and quietly, which could be enough for some users to load their favourite games and still have room left over for whatever else they needed to store on the drive.

If I had to pick a new laptop for gaming, the G550J would definitely catch my eye. It’s stylish, easy-to-use and powerful enough to do whatever I need it to.

tl;dr

Specifications:
• 15.6” LCD screen (1920 x 1080 resolution)
• 256GB SATA3 SSD
• 16GB DDR3 RAM (2x 8GB sticks)
• i7-4700 CPU @ 2.40GHz
• GeForce GTX 850m (4GB)
• Optical Blu-Ray drive
• 1 x HDMI ports
• 3 x USB 3.0 ports
• SD Card reader

Great for gaming, SSD is a little small, very stylish.

 

 

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Stacy, taking bathroom selfies with her friends.

This is Stacy. She’s my GTA: Online avatar and I have a strange affection for her.

When GTA: Online first launched in October last year, it was a disaster that most users experienced. It wasn’t until Rockstar had figured out how releasing an MMO-style online experience for their wildly successful game probably needed a LOT more server support that it originally had, that everyone started to really enjoy the experience. My friends and I created a crew for our clan and rode around on the Vespa knockoffs, which we had customised in various shaded of neon colours; just to make it that much more special and it felt like our characters could actually be real; if Los Santos was a real place full of gun-toting psychopaths who rode around on hot pink scooters.

She likes selfies

Selfies with the Vinewood sign.

I wanted to give my avatar a little more life and for whatever strange reason, I fleshed her out a little bit. I named her Stacy. She looked like a Stacy to me. The story I’d picked was fairly generic; when Stacy turned 18, she got all her stuff and moved to LS to become something, not sure what that something was, but it was more than the menial job she was in at whatever small town she was leaving.

After arriving in LS and performing the first few jobs she could to raise some money, she met her friends (seen in the bathroom selfie) and despite them being the bad kids your parents warn you about, these were her people.

As someone who doesn’t really get THIS in to RPG’s, it’s funny that I’d grow so attached to Stacy. It’s like having a Barbie, but in an ultra-violent setting; I change her hair, make up and clothes regularly and make sure that she’s not too bruised up. Although, if you’ve seen the way I ride a motorbike in game, Stacy bares the brunt of it.

She’s my favourite part of GTA: Online. When it’s released on PC and my friends finally start playing again, I hope that I can transfer her across. I’d be a little upset if I couldn’t continue to play with my virtual Barbie.

 

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