The Comics, Indie Games, and Cosplay of PAX East
The Penny Arcade Expo — a gaming convention founded by the “Penny Arcade” webcomic creators Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik — made its first visit to the east coast this last weekend, setting up shop for three days at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. While video games were the main attraction, games and comics have seen a lot of overlap of late, with such series as “Dante’s Inferno,” “Mass Effect,” “World of Warcraft” and “God of War” all publishing tie-in comics, while DC and Marvel continue to release such licensed games as “Batman: Arkham Asylum” and the “Ultimate Alliance” series. Below are our favorite moments and images from the event, its panels, and some of the most eye-catching finds in the world of indie gaming:
Twisted Pixel, the studio that created “Splosion Man” and “The Maw”, showed off an early demo of its next game for XBox Live Arcade, “Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley.” The game takes a metafictional approach to the medium of comics. Its main character, Captain Smiley, is the star of his own comic book, a brightly colored superhero tale complete with insane mad scientists and cheesy humor that comes off as something not unlike a B-grade version of “The Tick.”
But sales of the book are lagging, and in an effort to stave off cancellation Smiley goes through a series of re-tools, with the comic’s tone and visual style changing to versions inspired by “Sin City”, early versions of “Conan the Barbarian” and manga to name but a few. Twisted Pixel promises that art, music, and even characters’ attitudes all change with these styles over the course of the game. For more on “Comic Jumper”, go read Twisted Pixel’s creative team talking about the game and providing first looks at some of the concept art.
“I’d certainly like to believe that [they'd sell like crazy]. There’s just no time. The fact is that the Monday-Wednesday-Friday comic has got to be the priority. Because if we ever are like, “Forget about that for a little while, let’s just make a graphic novel,” “Let’s just focus on being famous dudes,” as soon as the Monday-Wednesday-Friday comic suffers, as soon as people don’t feel like that’s cool anymore then nothing else that we do really matters. If people don’t like Penny Arcade, then they aren’t going to come to PAX, they’re not going to care that we’re doing a graphic novel. And that’ll effect substantially our ability to bring people into things like Child’s Play… that’s still a completely personal thing that we do. That’s not connected in any way to the larger Penny Arcade… The goal is to do as much as we can without ever taking away from the comic.”
Those of you who’d love to see the two work on a graphic novel might have just had your hopes crushed like an Italian plumber making a poorly timed run underneath an infuriated anthropomorphic stone cube. But it’s also good to know that, no matter what levels of success the two are able to achieve in other pursuits, they’re firmly committed to the webcomic first and foremost.
I have nothing to say about these costumes from “Gears of War” and “Ghostbusters” other than they’re awesome:
Rockstar Games was on hand to show off their new open world western “Red Dead Redemption.” It recreates the gritty atmosphere of the old west, where the harsh, cruel realities left its mark on a man, while a woman was free to spend hours on hair and make-up.
If you’d prefer to look at something that doesn’t carry the stigma of dirtying a beloved video game targeted at children, here’s Bayonetta:
Game developer The Behemoth has already created two titles, side-scrolling fantasy beat ‘em up “Castle Crashers” and 2D shooter “Alien Hominid,” that have built company a sizable fanbase for the company. Part of what links the works of the company together is the artwork of Dan Paladin, and Paladin’s distinctive style of cute cartoon violence is once more on display in “BattleBlock Theater,” the company’s third game. Players are put in the role of prisoners on a mysterious island, forced to star in deadly three act plays, gladiatorial games for the amusement of an audience of cats.
Each “act” takes the form of a mini-game, which the game’s makers have yet to fully document the wide variety of, aside from the fact that there will be “a lot.” The demo at PAX included teams fighting to collect pieces of gold dropped across the stage, a game where characters’ “souls” could be collected after they were killed and the goal was to catch and keep those belonging to the other team, and a mode where teams raced to change the color of the blocks that composed the level’s platforms. It’s a chaotic multiplayer experienced, enhanced by the fact that character’s heads and special weapons can be chosen by each player to suit their own tastes. At The Behemoth’s in-house testing, for example, a mix that’s come to affectionately be known as “grenade kitty” has become popular. For more on the game keep on eye on its website, which for now only shows the latest trailer.
Dr. McNinja offers an impromptu consult to Team Fortress 2‘s Scout:
But what really sets the game apart is its artwork by Klei creative director Jeff Agala. Agala lists Joe Madureira, Mike Mignola and Frank Miller as influences on his style. And the influence of comics doesn’t end with the character and background designs. In game cut scenes use panels that pop-up during dialogue as characters interact with one another. “Shank” will be available on XBox Live Arcade, the Playstation Network and on PCs. For more info, check out the game’s blog. And for more artwork by Agala, including work inspired by comics, movies and video games, go take a look at his art blog.
Developer Ska Studios, makers of XBox Live Arcade’s “The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai” and XBox Live Indie Game hit “I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES 1NIT!!!1,” showcased two games at PAX East. “The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile” is a sequel to their first XBox Live Arcade game, a 2D action platform game meant to provide players with a challenge worthy of the impossible Nintendo games that still haunt the memories of the youth of my generation.
“Charlie Murder” is a four-player beat ‘em up that Ska’s James Silva describes as a love letter to the punk rock and such classic co-op arcade games as “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “The Punisher.” The game follows the adventures of the punk rock band of Charlie Murder, Lester Death, Tommy Homicide and The Rexecutioner as they fight ninjas, zombies and an arch-rival metal band. Silva lists both Tim Burton and Edward Gorey as artists he admires, and that style is reflected in the dark, gritty looks of both games.
And with that, I’m out of time. Although they’re not.