PAX AUS 2017 – It just keeps getting better

PAXAUS 2017 in Melbourne seemed to have even more energy than last year’s event and was, in my opinion, the best Australian PAX event yet. The engagement felt higher than previous years with more to learn and experience, the local Indie dev teams as eager as ever to talk about their projects and the vendors putting their best foot forward again.

If you were just curious or mad keen about card games, consoles, PC, miniatures, overclocking, pop culture or eSports, this is the event to attend.

The GameSpot Theatre had a series of panel events running over the three days that covered one of the most diverse ranges of topics within a general industry that I can remember seeing. Everything from game-specific topics such as Open World game design and what makes a fighting game good, through micro-transactions, watching eSports and cosplay to more serious topics like online abuse and what it takes to be a games journalist.

Intel

There was a lot happening at the Intel area. There was much opportunity with VR as per previous years and a real buzz around their booth area. I also had the opportunity to talk to Glen Boatwright (BDM, ANZ Channel, Intel Corporation) about Intel as a company and their latest offerings in what was the most interesting session I had at this year’s event.

When I think Intel, I think CPUs and possibly motherboard chipsets. I know Intel also make SSDs and NUCs too but their sustained domination of the CPU market since Sandy Bridge is difficult to overlook. To date, there have been 2 CPUs that stand out in my mind from Intel as turning points, the i5-2500K and the i5-4670K. Both of these processors were impressive overclockers and represented good value on release. The Sandy Bridge i5-2500K was a game changer in 2011 when you consider the CPUs that came before it – we still have one in the lab for reference purposes. Looking at the new Intel Coffee Lake K-series and watching the HWBOT team running overclocking tutorials with them, I couldn’t shake that familiar feeling from the Sandy Bridge days. While Ryzen and Threadripper are attracting a lot of attention, when talking to the motherboard vendor representatives, the discussion was more around Z370 and Coffee Lake. Is Coffee Lake the next ‘Sandy Bridge’ moment? I’d like to think so – the hallmarks are there with good core speed, overclocking potential and an increase in the number of cores.

With the recent competition in the CPU market heating up, it is easy to forget about the other things that Intel have to offer. CPU speed and multi-threading is one thing but as a platform consumer PC users are still bound by storage speed constraints where the ability for most people to store large amounts of data/applications is reliant on slower mechanical hard drives due to the much lower cost/GB when compared to SSDs. Intel Optane provides fast, non-volatile caching and can apparently boost performance of a mechanical hard drive to be in line with SSDs for the most commonly executed tasks. Optane Memory is faster than NAND but not volatile like DRAM which makes it a good option for intelligently caching a hard drive to improve performance. Optane requires a 7th Generation Intel Core processor and is an example of Intel improving system performance outside of cores and clock cycles.

During PAX, a hard drive manufacturer spoke to me about Optane and how well it is suited to their line of high capacity mechanical hard drives – we will be looking to organise some testing of this in the months to come.

At the end of my time slot with Glen, he showed me the Intel Compute Card. I’ve used an Intel NUC before and seen the Compute Stick but the Compute Card got my attention in a much bigger way. The Compute Card is only 94.5mm long, 55mm wide and the thickness of a few credit cards at 5mm. Check out the product page for the specs.

Many of today’s offices involve an agile working environment with hot desks and centralised/cloud storage. I know several people who lug laptop bags between work and home, connect them to docking stations for ergonomic reasons and save all of their work to Box, Google Drive or corporate servers. The Compute Card, with a docking station at work and home, would be ideal in this scenario, reducing the risk of loss/damage to a laptop during transit and also reducing the carrying weight of the employee between work and home. Docking stations are available in Australia for $199 and when you consider that an m3 based Compute Card with 4GB RAM and 128GB SSD is $549, this works out cheaper than a laptop and provides a better option for those who don’t require the mobility. There is an i5 based Compute Card also available at $849 for users who need a little more grunt. We can expect to see monitors, tablets and other devices that can use Compute Cards in the future which will make upgrades and repairs less restrictive if the technology is embraced by the major OEMs and consumers.

Intel is all about choice

The consumer CPU offerings scale from bare minimum that meets basic needs, through many levels to the ultimate in performance, needed only by the top one-percentile of power users. Some CPUs can be overclocked by enthusiasts but mainstream alternatives are available at a lower price point for consumers who don’t want to pay for the tweaking ability that they will never use.

NUC and Compute cards that address another need in the market for small footprint or portability also scale in terms of compute power and price.

Optane isn’t required to run a system, however, the technology is included from 7th Gen Core series CPUs and there are 32GB and 64GB Optane memory modules available if consumers want to improve their storage speeds and system performance.

There is a fine line between too much choice and meeting the needs of a very diverse market but Intel seems to have found a way to pull it off.

HWBOT

I caught up with Dino from Gigabyte at the HWBOT overclocking training booth. This area looked like a lot of fun – I mean, when you have a group of industry experts playing with liquid nitrogen and blow torches to squeeze every last drop of performance, what could possibly go wrong? During my time at the HWBOT area, I saw Dino running a tutorial session on overclocking with a group of budding mad scientists. The instructions were clear with Dino using the Intel Extreme Tuning utility as the introduction platform while patiently explaining the parameters, how they all worked together and a reminder at the end that thermal throttling will lower scores despite higher clock speeds. The session was about understanding the overclocking process, not just following some instructions and overclocking a CPU.

Anyone interested or even a little curious in overclocking would have got their money’s worth on the admission price if they only went to PAXAUS for this session and I hope that we see a repeat next year.

Gigabyte

With a focus on their laptop range, I admit that I came away feeling compelled to upgrade my Gigabyte P34Wv3 laptop, despite it still running well. The Aorus Laptops looked the goods and the gamers checking them out didn’t seem to have any complaints.

Gigabyte motherboards were available for hands-on overclocking tutorials in the HWBOT Overclocking area.

AMD

This was the first time AMD had any presence at PAXAUS with any conviction and they had plenty to smile about. Their booth was all about RYZEN and Threadripper and showed off some great PC mods including an iconic Quake Symbol with a PC embedded inside.

The AMD crew on the stand were across their content, talking to the masses about their new CPUs, overclocking and which option was best for people’s needs.

For those considering a Ryzen upgrade, this was the place to get hands on.

MSI

The two key products on display for MSI at PAX were the top end GTX 1080TI Gaming TRIO graphics card with TRIO-FROZR triple fan cooler and the Z370 GODLIKE Gaming motherboard. Both are the current ultimate in high-end gaming peripherals. The Twin FROZR coolers have been arguably the quietest for a long time and the TRIO also looks very promising from a performance and acoustic perspective. The Z370 GODLIKE Gaming motherboard has all the bells and whistles with 3xM.2 slots, RGB lighting and it can function as a LAN and WIFI extender. There was also opportunity to get hands-on with some new high-end gaming laptops from MSI as well.

HyperX

As per last year, the HyperX booth was well laid out with a wall of their current products and a team of knowledgeable people on hand to answer any questions. The stand out for me was the Alloy FPS Pro mechanical gaming keyboard and Cloud Alpha headset. The small footprint of the tenkeyless Alloy FPS Pro keyboard is impressive as there is also no frame, so this is about as small as practical for a gaming keyboard. The inclusion of a detachable USB cable will also help with durability for those who transport their peripherals to LANs or school etc.

The Cloud Alpha headset has an improved design from previous offerings with a separate chamber for bass. This looks promising as an improvement on the already capable Cloud and Cloud Revolver headsets which is great news for gamers.

ASUS

The ASUS stand was centrally located at the event and had some decent kit on display.

Of particular interest was the ASUS ROG SWIFT PG27VQ curved 27″ 2560×1440 165Hz G-SYNC Gaming monitor. The PG27VQ is deceptive in that it looks more like a 25″ monitor due to the curve but it is indeed a 27″ display. 165Hz and G-SYNC will deliver tear-free gaming at the current ‘sweet spot’ resolution of 1440p. There is also an AURA LED that shines down on the desk which can be synced with other ASUS Aura products via the PC software.

In Win occupied a corner of the ASUS booth, showing off several of their cases including the popular 301 and 303 chassis that are great value right now. They also had their RGB fans on display and we’re hoping to see some of these in the lab for review in the not too distant future. The main attraction for In Win was the spherical WINBOT PC inspired by the movie Oblivion.

Samsung

Samsung’s booth was dominated by their new 49″ QLED gaming monitor. The Samsung C49HG90DME is a curved 49″ display with a 32:9 aspect ratio and a native resolution of 3840 x 1080. The panel is a VA type with a maximum refresh rate of 144Hz and a 1ms response time. It was pretty impressive to watch people gaming on the screen and was without a doubt the main drawcard to the booth. Samsung also had their 960 Pro M.2 and NVMe SSD on display, which is even more relevant this year due to the number of motherboards being released with NVMe PCIe Gen3 x4 capabilities.

Seagate

There was a lot to see and do at the Seagate booth with several gaming stations set up for Player Unknown’s Battleground and Rocket League as well as a VR racing simulator set up in a go-kart. We are currently testing a Seagate Firecuda drive and will have the review out shortly. Seagate was prominently advertising their Barracuda Pro series which is available in capacities up to 10 TB. Seagate’s newer lineup and the recent announcement of longer warranty periods were the main topics of conversation at the booth and it’s great to see Seagate backing their products with more confident warranties. Despite much focus being on solid-state storage, mechanical hard drives are still (for most people) an essential system component so any increase in product quality and competition in this sector is a good thing.

ROCCAT

In the week prior to PAX, we assisted the crew from DXRacer and Roccat with their PC showcase of AMD/ASUS/ADATA based PCs but we didn’t have much exposure to the peripherals so it was good to see the setup at the event.

Despite the shared booth area being relatively small, this crossover seemed to work, with gamers invited to sit and play whilst experiencing both the chair and peripherals simultaneously. Of particular interest were the Roccat Khan Pro, the ‘world’s first’ High-Resolution gaming headset, along with the LEADR wirelss gaming mouse. We look forward to reviewing both in the weeks ahead.

Logitech

Every year the Logitech booth stands out due to its sheer size, the number of activities, and attendance; This year was no different. Logitech had eSports on display with a projector, a pair of Playseat racing setups and their peripherals at stand-up benches. For people wanting to check out Logitech peripherals before making a purchase this was the place to get hands-on. There was a combination of PC and console peripherals on display to ensure that there was something there for everyone.

CoolerMaster

The focus here was clearly on cases and modding with the “Make it yours” branding, but they did have some nice peripherals on show for the attendees. The MM530 mouse stood out in particular as the successor to the Mizar that we have seen and liked in the past.

The star of the show was the new COSMOS C700P with curved glass. This is probably one of the best-looking cases that I’ve seen. We have used the Cosmos SE case in our showcase and concept builds over the years and liked the results but the new series is spectacular – especially up close in person.

NVIDIA

The Nvidia area featured Nvidia laptops g-sync monitors, an esports area with a big-screen projector and a display of the recently released GTX 1070TI. The 1070TI had only been released on paper so we were restricted to viewing the card in a glass box, not actually running, but the staff are knowledgeable about it and the card certainly proved itself a talking point.

Deepcool

The key standouts at the Deepcool booth were the Quadstellar case and the GamerStorm MF120 RGB fans with their unique frame-less design.

Stands in general

Alienware had an impressive stand as per previous years, this time the prominent gaming title was Destiny 2 being played on a variety of gaming notebooks and prebuilt PCs. The Alienware/Dell monitors also formed a pretty impressive display on the stand.

In the foyer outside the main exhibition hall, there was an Alienware Destiny 2 Lego display which was impressive and effective, looking great up close and from a distance. Props to whoever put that together!

HP had a more mobile booth in that they drove the Omen truck into the main hall and opened it up for a hard-to-miss result. The game of choice here was Overwatch with a nice LAN event set up. The Omen stand also had both VR and racing areas so there was a lot of fun to be had in this space

Steelseries had a variety of keyboards and mice on display, Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds set up and streaming in a closed off booth area. The build quality of the Steelseries products stood out prominently when comparing their peripherals to others at the event.

The Razor stand was also quite impressive with their trademark black and green LED. There was a clear RGB focus to the keyboards, mice, headsets and laptops on display. The game of choice here was Destiny 2 and there was also a strong underlying message of streaming with the use of Razor’s streaming peripherals.

LG had some impressive monitors on display in their booth area with the standout 32UD99 looking pretty slick.

eSports

The two dedicated arenas provided entertainment for all and perhaps some education for people wondering what the fuss is all about. I took these shots of the arena areas early but it was busy once the general public were through the doors and events underway. This is a must-see for anyone who attends PAX – even if you only watch one or two different matches.

Indie Pavilion

Forts was, again, our pick of the PAX Indie Pavilion. Last year we saw Forts for the first time and it was great to see the team from EarthWork Games returning. Forts is a physics based, real-time strategy, base building game, shot from a side-on perspective. Bases can be built from the ground up, on the side of a cliff or even from the top down in a suspended arrangement. This is one of those games that is fun to play, fun to watch and although it doesn’t require a serious time commitment, you can lose hours playing “just one more round.” If it isn’t in your library and you think it looks like something you might enjoy, just buy it on Steam here.

Brief Battles, brought to us by South Australian developer Juicy Cupcake, was another game that showed a lot of promise – check out the greenlight page here. The artwork and lighting of the levels has been really well done using the Unreal 4 engine, resulting in an attractive visual experience that you just want to keep playing. The gameplay is a pretty simple and casual platformer, probably best suited to couch gaming on Steam big picture and with multiple players. The “Brief” in Brief Battles has a double meaning in that the rounds don’t take long and there is a focus on briefs or underpants.

New Blood Interactive were demonstrating their old-school title Dusk. This drew my attention due to the familiarity of the gameplay and the graphics – it was just like a throw-back to the good ol’ days of the original Doom and Hexen. Whilst Dusk is easy to play, that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to beat – the game mechanics are simple and you are effectively rewarded for reaction time and prioritising the enemies that you take out… at a frantic pace.

Check out the Steam store page here

MonsterScope Studios had their mobile title Dawnblade on display and it’s a very encouraging RPG dungeon hack ‘n’ slash game set for release in 2018. Check out their Facebook page for more details.

There were other titles that demonstrated promising future local and international independent developers – as long as they can secure funding via means such as early access, Greenlight or Kickstarters. Keep the funding element in mind when you see an emerging title and if you like the look of a game in development, seriously consider chipping in a few bucks… unless it’s called Star Citizen where a few bucks doesn’t go very far.

As a Melbournian, it was great to see the dark pink banner stating that some titles were “Proudly made in Melbourne” on many booths.

The creativity, energy and raw enthusiasm of the Indie Pavilion was up another level on what had already been a great turn-out in 2016.

Miniatures

I have to confess that I’ve never really been into miniatures and tabletop wargaming, but I did spend a bit of time watching with interest as enthusiasts educated attendees in this section at PAX. The level of detail at a purely artistic level on the miniature figurines, vehicles and diorama scenery was amazing. The explanation of the tactics and strategy by the nearby PAX ‘enforcer’ was very easy to follow and well communicated. People seemed to be having a lot of fun in this area whether they were novice learners or seasoned players and the vibe was very positive. Next year I plan to properly allow a bit more time to see more of this element.

Mods and Builds

As expected, there were a number of heavily modified showcase rigs in the main exhibition hall. A couple in particular really took my interest, such as the Incredible Hulk, several at the AMD booth including the aforementioned Quake themed build, and others in the Thermaltake and Coolermaster areas. The level of effort and time that must go into these case mods is undoubtedly excessive, but the builders should have been proud of the end results.

Publisher AAA Titles

Square Enix, Ubisoft, Nintendo, PS4 and Xbox provided plenty of opportunities for people to play the latest titles including PS4 VR, which looked like a lot of fun. Just Dance 2018 was also on display and had a good following as per previous years; it’s also worth noting that Just Dance 2018 was also released for the WII which is great for people that have a WII console that they just use for that franchise. As expected there was a big focus on Far Cry Five, Assassin’s Creed Origins, Destiny 2, and an overwhelming focus on Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds a.k.a. PUBG

Speedrunning

Speedrunning is a core concept and it’s not about enjoying a game; it’s about finishing it or finishing a level as fast as possible. This is something that takes me back to my younger years with mates on the Nintendo where we’d all have a crack at finishing a level as quickly as we could over a few drinks. This was another unexpected gem at PAX 2017 and well worth spending half an hour or more listening to the discussion, and watching some of the panel zip through the titles on display in an impressive demonstration of skill/memory.

 

At the conclusion of PAX AUS 2017, it will be remembered as a great and well-run event where people can engage with each other, with vendors and with like-minded enthusiasts, in a wide variety of areas and in a place where everyone is encouraged to ‘have a go’. 

The atmosphere at PAX is fun, friendly, enthusiastic and curious – it’s a great 3 days and if you missed it this year, make sure to add it to your calendar for 2018.

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