Penny Arcade unites gamers and game creators

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A Nintendo Switch is on display in mobile configuration at the third annual PAX South gaming convention Jan. 29 in Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. The convention is based on the “Penny Arcade” web comic. Photo by Austin P. Taylor

Local developers shine thanks to student’s efforts.

By Austin P. Taylor

sac-ranger@alamo.edu

Local indie game developers — from high school students to Northwest Vista faculty — demoed new designs alongside industry juggernauts at the third annual PAX South, a gaming expo Jan. 27-29 at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in downtown San Antonio.

An engineering sophomore at this college helped those indie developers get there.

When Isaac Gonzalez attended the first PAX South in 2015, he was disappointed by the absence of the local independent game community.

“There weren’t any local development panels,” he said Feb. 7. “I looked through the event calendar.”

When he brought this up with PAX’s PR division, they asked Gonzalez to assemble local indie developers.

So he created the Greater Gaming Society of San Antonio, a Facebook group for the local indie scene.

Over the next two years, an outpouring of support from the community gave the society the momentum needed to have a significant presence at the expo.

PAX stands for Penny Arcade Expo, a trade show devoted to the gaming medium, whether board games, tabletop games or videogames.

This year PAX South played host to Nintendo. Late last year the Japanese gaming company unveiled its new home console, The Switch. PAX South was one of the first public demos for this new piece of hardware, and people seemed to be excited.

The line for the Nintendo booth had to be capped Jan. 28 to avoid clogging the convention hall.

Joe Chaib, the PAX enforcer assigned to the Nintendo booth line, said the line for “The Legend of Zelda: the Breath of the Wild” would take about two-and-a-half to three hours.

This is a rather common story with the more high-profile games of PAX South. Capcom, the developers of “Street Fighter” and “Resident Evil,” used ticket reservations to control the length of the line for their “Resident Evil 7” demo.

But PAX is about more than the latest title from a big-name gaming brand. The roots of the show are in its appreciation for the indie game scene.

Brian DeLong wears a $1,800 costume of Darth Revan from “Star Wars: Knights of The Old Republic” at the third annual PAX South gaming convention in the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center Jan. 29. The convention is based on the “Penny Arcade” web comic. Photo by Austin P. Taylor

Off to the side of the Expo hall next to “Dauntless,” a free-to-play action role-playing game, visitors found a booth that housed a plethora of indie projects native to San Antonio.

It was operated by Rick Stemm, a local game developer, playwright and community activist.

Stemm met Gonzalez when he started the GGS. When Gonzalez went to the courthouse to get the trademark for the GGS, individuals at the court directed him to Geekdom.

Geekdom is a collaborative working space for entrepreneurs, developers and creatives based in San Antonio. This is where Gonzalez would meet Stemm and where the GSS would really begin to take shape.

With PAX describing itself as the largest consumer-focused trade show for gaming, Stemm was excited to see an opportunity to participate.

Stemm’s area at the expo included Say Si, an after-school program dedicated to teaching game design to local kids in sixth through 12th grade. Say Si demoed “Date Me Super Senpai,” a dating sim revolving around events at a high school for kids with super human abilities.

The demo that was playable on the show floor was created in six months by high school students including Lily Pesina of Fox Tech High School and Luis Castanea of Southwest High School.

“This is great promotion,” Pesina said as she looked around the expo hall, seeing the other projects there. “It’s a great way to get our names out there.”

Stemm, Gonzalez and the GGS helped get PAX exposure for Northwest Vista, which offers game development degrees.

Right next to the Say Si students, a virtual reality demo area showed ”Cosmic Awakening VR,” a project made by three instructors from Northwest Vista: Victoria Sertich, Vista’s program coordinator for game development, as well as two instructors of 3D animation, Tracy “Cullen” Morris and Joe Guerra.

This was the first public playtest of their game, an atmospheric sci-fi horror exploration VR experience. Sertich reported positive feedback on the demo, from both the general public as well as her students.

“This is something … when you tell the students, they become very interested,” Sertich said. “Now they know that I know this stuff, which makes them very interested in what I have to say.”

“Seeing her go from being my tutor to PAX, in three years, is pretty cool,” said Brianna Gonzalez, a graduate of Northwest Vista College.

PAX is the brainchild of Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, the creators of the “Penny Arcade” web comic.

They hosted the first convention Aug. 28, 2004, at the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue, Wash. Since then, PAX has become what organizers describe as the largest consumer-focused trade show for videogames, with five conventions under its brand and another one coming this November.

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