April 24, 2019

The Alpha of the Omegathon

Veteran and video game writer to compete at national game convention

Photo provided by PAX/Penny Arcade

A view of the PAX East Convention floor in Boston.

Brian Horan plays just about every kind of video game there is.

“I play everything from puzzle games like Candy Crush (I don’t play that that much), Match Three — hidden object games — all the way up to first person shooters like Call of Duty,” Horan said.

The Homer man, 46, a disabled veteran, married with two sons, is also a video game reviewer for a website he created: AcesOps.Net, and will attend the PAX East convention this week in Boston, short for the Penny Arcade Expo, to write about the games he sees there.

Horan has been there past five years as a fan and more recently, as a writer. The event draws tens of thousands attendees and more than 300 exhibitors.

Katie Keyser/contributing photographer

Brian Horan of Homer is one of 20 competitors in the Omegathon video game contest taking place at the PAX East 2019 convention in Boston. He is seen here at his home on March 18.

THE OMEGATHON

This year, Horan is competing in its four-day Omegathon video game competition — which only 20 people can do.

Horan, who’s played video games since 1979, was randomly selected from thousands of attendees, a PAX East spokesman said. He will play with a teammate.

“I don’t know who my teammate will be until 8 a.m. of the morning of the convention. At 4 p.m. that day is when we play our first game together. Hopefully she or he is practicing,” Horan said.

Each day, the teams will play a different game:

Day 1: Red Hot Ricochet, an intense game of ricochet duels.

Day 2: Cinco Linko — like Connect Four but there’s no board, like the table top game. Players take turns trying to get five tiles of the same color in a row.

Day 3: Surgeon Simulator — “You have to perform surgery. The game has really bad controls to begin with. It’s an indie game,” Horan said. Who will operate the controls? he wonders. Will each get one control?

Day 4: A surprise.

“I am really excited and kind of scared. I am not the best gamer there is, but I also have fun when I game. So it’s going to be a really good experience no matter what,” Horan said.

Whoever wins gets their choice of attending any PAX event, which are held across the country and in Australia.

“Going to an event and playing three days? That sounds awesome,” said Josh Hartnett, avid video gamer working at the family’s business, Frank and Mary’s, in Cortland. He plays video games “every chance I can get.”

He plays in online tourneys, too. “There’s so many people playing games that have so many different levels of mechanics, so many different levels of skill,” he said.

“Surgeon Simulator is a very difficult game,” Hartnett said. It requires hand-eye coordination. “Things get messy, that’s the fun of it. The name is ironic. A lot of it will depend on how well he can work with a funky system. It’s a lot like doing a marathon on legs full of Jell-O.”

A TASTE FOR INDIE GAMES

Big-name exhibitors at the expo include Sony Interactive Entertainment America, Microsoft and Wizards of the Coast.

While Horan likes to play Anthem and Assassin’s Creed series, he’s looking forward to meeting indie developers. Horan goes for the games created by three people, not the 200 to 300 production teams behind mainstream games. He’s been enjoying indie games Rico, Farm Together and I and Me.

“The nice thing about the indie games, they don’t require all the super computer power. I have a basic laptop,” he said. “They don’t have the hyped up graphics. That’s fine by me. Most of the time it’s about the story and the game play.”

“Most of the gaming I do on console: Xbox 1, Playstation 4, and Nintendo Switch. … I used to play a lot of AAA titles, like the ones advertised on TV. A lot of them got very repetitious. Every year there’s a new Call of Duty, a new Assassin’s Creed. The story and the game play are almost identical.”

“Indie games, they seem to take more risk and tell different stories.”

IN BOSTON

Horan is bringing his wife, Emily, and his two teenage sons, Holden and Robert, to PAX East. All plan to attend the convention Thursday. On Friday, one son sticks with Horan and the other with his wife in art and history museums. They’ll swap, today. The Horans didn’t want the boys, who love video games, to be playing four days in a row.

“I do spend a lot of time playing games,” Horan said. “But I do break it up. As far as my sons go, I am worried more about them spending their time watching others play video games. I would rather them play than watch others play.”

“If you are playing games, you are getting experience, hand-eye coordination, problem-solving skills. They should be playing others,” he said.

The teens are on the honor roll at school and each was just named student of the month, Horan said.

THE TAKE AWAY

Horan said a game developer at PAX East inspired him to write video game reviews for his website.

The fellow wanted to make his own game, at that point just a dream. He worked for a game company one year.

The next year, Horan told him: “I was thinking of starting a game review website.” The developer said “Do it. Have fun and do it.”

Horan did. At Pax East 2018, he went as a member of the media. He saw the same developer. He was not with that company — but in a booth with his own game.

“He was at the beginning stages of his own game,” Horan said. “If you want something, even if it seems far fetched, keep working on it. I may not be the greatest writer or game player, but I enjoy what I do and keep working at it every day.”

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