Episode 1: PAX At It Again

Cabel Sasser: We were surrounded by a lot of like, “it’s my time to get revenge on the… whatever.”

And that’s not our booth. Our booth was the very opposite of, " At last we meet again." Our booth is like, Dah “Dah, dah, dah,”

dah dah dah dah Welcome to the Panic Podcast, a podcast about Portland’s Panic, but maybe not exactly. I’m Christa Mrgan. Join me as I follow the quirky subplots and surprising characters that round out Portland’s most lovable indie software, game publishing, and game-console-making company. We really do a lot. Huh? And we’re back with a brand new season of the podcast.

Christa Mrgan: Today, we’ll look at Panic’s completely normal history of trade show booths and in-person events, from stealthy flyer drops to industrial scent machines. Plus: you’ll meet some of the game developers you’ll hear from in future episodes this season. And we’ll try to answer one of the toughest questions in both software and games, which is why would anyone-- and in particular Panic-- want to make a trade show booth?

Our journey begins in a kind of weird fever dream in the basement of a convention center in Seattle. Throngs of people, some dressed as video game characters, others in jeans and t-shirts, pinball between chaotic pits of light and sound on a darkened trade show floor. There are vine covered faux medieval walls made of plywood, pulsating lights, booming speakers, enormous logos suspended from the cavernous 40 foot ceilings, and a couch shaped like a giant baked potato, complete with butter pat pillows, where you can sit for a photo op before receiving a sample of microwaveable Idahoan Potato Shreds, which I guess is what gamers eat instead of food.

This is PAX West, Seattle’s Penny Arcade Expo, the west coast edition of a massive gaming festival known for video game and tabletop gaming tournaments, speaker panels, and a sprawling show floor where people can buy merch and try out brand new video games. And eat potatoes. And after a three-year hiatus Panic was back with its own booth in September, 2023.

Let’s hear from Panic Co-Founder and CEO Cabel Sasser and Director of Special Projects and Head of Playdate, Greg Maletic.

Cabel Sasser: So this year’s PAX was a challenge because we had more games than ever.

Greg Maletic: Yeah, this year in 2023, this is the first time we were back at PAX after the pandemic. And Panic had grown during that time, the games publishing side at least had grown quite a bit. So it was a lot to show, so we got a much bigger booth this time. It was 20 by 40.

The booth was divided into six sections. Five for the games, one for Playdate.

The Playdate one had six stations where people could touch and use Playdate firsthand. And then the other five were dedicated to the five games that we’re publishing over the next two years or so, Nour, Time Flies, Thank Goodness You’re Here!, Arco, and Despelote.

Cabel Sasser: We wanted to design something that maybe we could reuse. Which was a big issue with the former booths. Everything was so custom bespoke. Trade show booths are very expensive, just eye wateringly expensive. Nobody can see me right now, but I’m rubbing my eyes in anguish, just thinking about the invoice I had to sign for the booth. It’s just a lot of money. Even though you’re renting things, a lot of pieces are rented, it’s still just a lot of money. So we wanted to design something a little broader that we could reuse for future PAX and swap things in and out and still have little themed zones for the different games, but have an overall framework that could be Playdate and Panic, which is, us for the foreseeable future at PAX.

Christa Mrgan: Yeah. So Panic’s PAX booth showcases Playdate, of course: our little handheld game console that comes with a one bit black and white screen, a season of games, and a crank. And as Greg mentioned, the booth also features a bunch of new games that we’re publishing for consoles, PC and Mac. More on what those games are in a bit, But a quick reminder of how the heck we got here. If you’re new to this podcast, Panic was founded as a Mac software company back in 1997.

Cabel Sasser: We were just apps for the longest possible time. And then we accidentally ended up falling into game publishing via Firewatch, which was a game being created by a friend of mine, Jake Rodkin. And Campo Santo they wanted to make a game on their own and they were looking for a publisher and we talked all the time and we said, Hey, maybe we can help you. And then when we saw the trailer for Untitled Goose Game, we were like, oh yeah, we definitely need to publish that.

Christa Mrgan: Yeah, there’s a link to the episode about Untitled Goose Game in the show notes. And Jake Rodkin appears on our episode about Audion.

Cabel Sasser: So that sort of opened the doors to, “I guess we’re a game publisher now. We should maybe take this more seriously.” And then we signed more games, thanks to efforts of Nick and Alyssa.

Christa Mrgan: Nick Suttner is head of Game Publishing at Panic and Alyssa Harrison is a Games Producer.

Cabel Sasser: And yeah, now we’re like a real publisher and we also make Playdate and we also make Mac apps. This is very hard. That’s one thing we learned at Pax it’s very hard to explain what Panic is quickly to people.

Christa Mrgan: Yeah, it is. But I feel like the Panic ethos can be summarized as, “let’s get a bunch of smart people together and make some cool things.” And over time, the specifics of what those cool things are have meandered from Mac apps to t-shirts to video games and even our own handheld gaming console. But the throughline has always been this emphasis on beautiful design, experimentation, and fun-- which has helped us build an incredible community of customers and fans over the past quarter century.

Which brings us back to trade show booths. It’s not like Panic has ever had a physical retail store. We’ve always interacted with people online, going all the way back to things like the Audion Faces Yahoo user group in 1999. You can hear more about that in the Audion episode. But so trade shows have pretty much been our main way to meet our community in the real world. And the Panic has had a presence at PAX on three separate occasions, our history with trade shows actually starts a little before that. I’m talking 1998, which I think is before some of our current game developers were even born. Jeez. But anyway,

Cabel Sasser: After we introduced Transmit then called Transit, we went to Macworld Expo, but we did not have a booth. We could not afford a booth.

Christa Mrgan: Yeah, Macworld expo later called Macworld/iWorld, which, come on, that’s a stupid name, was a tech trade show centered on the Apple Macintosh platform later expanding to iOS, et cetera. And yeah, trade show booths have always been very expensive.

Cabel Sasser: So I had this incredible idea of, just going to Kinko’s and printing off a bunch of yellow flyers. They have all these literature distribution, kiosks all throughout the hall. And I was like, “Ooh. Let’s just put our flyers in there.” Of course companies pay for that. It didn’t even cross my mind. So we’d put a stack of flyers in and there’s one person whose job it was to constantly walk through all the kiosks and remove any flyers that weren’t supposed to be there. So I’ll put the flyers in and then 30 seconds later, the guy would take them out and then I’d do it somewhere else. And then the guy would take them out. It was the most ineffective marketing of all time. So we’re like, okay, maybe someday we should get an actual, proper booth. And we finally did a Macworld, and of course we got the smallest possible booth, cause that’s all we could afford.

Christa Mrgan: This would have been like one of those six foot long buffet tables with like a skirt around the bottom of it.

Cabel Sasser: And we just had a little vinyl banner, but then we did it again one time and I had this strong, clear vision of like an aluminum sign with the Panic logo in vinyl on it. And so I called up like a Fast Signs in San Francisco, asked if they could do this. And they made this big thing and it like hinged had like plastic backing. The Fast Signs was very far from the convention center. So I have like very specific memories of us carrying this like really awkward, giant aluminum sign like, everything was very ,ah, haphazard.

It kind of leaned on the back of the booth awkwardly, constantly falling down, but it caught peoples’ eye. You know, At least it was a big logo and it was shiny aluminum. Yeah, have really good memories of that time because we’re just making it up as we go along. For example, what do you do with that sign when the expo’s over? We had not thought that far ahead. Ended up giving it to somebody that we knew as a friend, they folded it up and put it in their car. I believe it lived in someone at Apple’s cube for many years. So I wish I could have seen that or had a photo of that. But it was just really fun. Like maybe we should do like a CD ROM with some demos. And that was super fun to design. And I got to do that and maybe we should give away some t-shirts and I got to design those and, you know, we were just doing all sorts of fun, little side things.

Christa Mrgan: Yeah, Panic’s Macworld trade show booths got more sophisticated as time went on, with more elaborate design and giveaways. But eventually Apple stopped participating in that event, and it kind of petered out. So Panic had stopped attending it I think in 2008 or 2009, no one really remembers. But that means we really hadn’t done any kind of in-person event, for quite a while by 2015, which is when we were preparing to publish Campo Santos, Firewatch-- a first person adventure game, where you play as a fire lookout in Shoshone National Forest-- and we decided it was once again, time to do some kind of event or trade show.

Greg Maletic: We were publishing Firewatch, we were going to get a space at Game Developer’s Conference

Christa Mrgan: GDC is an annual conference for game developers that, like the former Macworld Expo, is held annually at the Moscone center in San Francisco. And a bit like PAX, it too, has a big trade show, expo area where people can check out new games.

Greg Maletic: We decided against doing it on the show floor, but rather getting a space kind of outside Moscone Center, somewhere within a few blocks of there. I don’t know the precise reason, but I think it had something to do with money, and we had the idea that we might do something more elaborate than what we could possibly do on the show floor, and the idea came up: let’s really theme this place like it’s in the game, Firewatch. What if Firewatch were a Disneyland ride? Let’s like, think about what the queue would be like for that. And let’s make this space look like that. And this was super exciting to me, obviously.

Cabel Sasser: There’s definitely some real theme park nerds here at Panic. it’s always awkward to talk about. There’s so many levels of Disney nerd and I’m obviously a Disney nerd, but I feel like if you say that to somebody, they think that, yeah, your house is filled with Minnie Mouse figurines or whatever. I’m not that guy, but I do deeply love a theme park. And I think Greg does, too. Actually, Steve does too. And I think that nerddom comes from, for me, what it is, it’s all of the creative endeavors that I am interested in combined into a single product. Which is unusual. There’s incredible engineering, storytelling, very detailed design. Like for someone that likes to nerd out on details, no better place to go then a well-executed theme park for stuff like that. Incredible music, like even like cool show lighting, effects. We really like that type of thing, creating an environment, telling a story, and we don’t get to do it as much as I’d like.

Future goals. But yeah, we love that stuff and we love those environments and that’s definitely what led to wanting to make this Firewatch event be as cool as it possibly could within our budget. Our very modest budget.

The idea was to try to capture the atmosphere of Firewatch. And Greg did most of the work on that. We found an amazing venue that had a big open warehouse area, but amazingly had this wooden walled space on the end that actually almost felt like a Firewatch tower.

Greg Maletic: So we looked for spaces all over San Francisco, all within the vicinity of Moscone Center. And we happened across one that was really good. And It was divided into two rooms, one large kind of event space and one smaller banquet space. But the weird thing was the banquet space was segregated by a wall that had little windows in it.

And when you were standing inside there, it actually looked exactly like you were standing in a firewatch tower. And I’m not even sure if we really appreciated that at the time, but that ended up being a perfect setting for doing our, virtual Firewatch environment.

Cabel Sasser: The Firewatch event really made an impact and stuck in a lot of people’s minds. So that was our first taste of like, oh, it’s fun to do something like this. Honestly, I’d like to do something like that again. I might prefer it to a trade show in a way, because it’s an environment that we completely control and. People are specifically coming to visit us. It was really fun and secretly scratched our Imagineering itch that is steady, consistent theme in things that we do.

Greg found a prop store in San Francisco, got the typewriter. Like we really did an incredible job, really making this memorable space.

Greg Maletic: I found a props warehouse in south San Francisco because I needed to get a bunch of beat up looking camping equipment, essentially. A cot.

An old desk, a cooler, a stapler. The game is set in the late eighties. And so it needed to be kind of old and beat up and feel like that sort of light bureaucracy that you can imagine being a part of being a park ranger in that period.

And so, I found a lot of those things at this props warehouse. I also printed up a bunch of things like there was a desk calendar that showed the month where the game takes place and had Olly Moss’s art.

Olly Moss was the art director for the game. And so I printed up a real calendar that looked just like it. Some forms that are in the game, some literature and stuff. And set up the desk inside this banquet room. And it looked great actually. And one thing that it needed was good lighting.

And we had hired a lighting firm to help us out. And so for the lighting, we set up a big orange spotlight in the room and put one of those things that’s called a gobo over it, which is like just stencil. And so it looked like sunlight was streaming in through the windows of this thing and cast the proper shadows on all this old stuff. And once we did that, it actually looked fantastic.

And then the rest of the space was set up like you were outside. We set up a blue lights all over there to look like moonlight.

Then we set up, I think probably six PCs around the space where you could actually try out the game. They had, PlayStation controllers hooked up to them.

Cabel Sasser: There were rented trees.

Greg Maletic: We rented pine trees. We rented maybe a dozen pine trees from a place down in Sunnyvale. They were from like probably six to ten feet in height. So they were pretty big.

And to sit on, we wanted to have these natural wood stools. We looked for things to buy and they were all super expensive.

So we literally just bought logs. And we used those as the stools to play the games on. And somebody at Campo Santo owned a chainsaw, for some reason.

Cabel Sasser: Campo’s office was above a woodworking shop, so they got easy access to stumps.

That was the whole thing with the stumps. They were very heavy.

Greg Maletic: They were probably like a hundred pounds each. And so, it was a pain getting them in and out of there.

Cabel Sasser: Also. When I think of the stumps. We took them back to the woodworking shop and we stacked them up in front of the woodworking shop and we turned around for like five seconds. And when we turned around again, there was just like the absolute perfect San Francisco hipster dude, just sitting on top of the stumps as if he’d been there, his whole life. He had this beautiful beard. He was just like, where. Did that come from? How did he know we were unloading stumps? There’s a photo that I’ll have to send you.

Christa Mrgan: Yeah, this hipster guy wearing a fedora and a bolo tie is just perched on top of the stumps. You can see the photo on the website, along with other photos of this incredible themed environment that they created. There’s a link in the show notes.

. And maybe I’m spending too much time on this one Firewatch event for this episode, but I just found it really fun and interesting. And I’m the one who makes the podcast, so here comes a couple more minutes about it!

Greg Maletic: So that all worked really well. And then of course, somebody mentioned that the room needed to smell like the outdoors, like a pine forest. And so, that got Cabel thinking that This was an opportunity to investigate some cool hardware. And so he went on this side quest to find something that would make the room smell like pine.

Cabel Sasser: My big contribution to that, which I’m still proud of to this day, was sourcing the scent machines, where we piped in artificial forest smell, which my expectations were pretty chill. I’m like, I’ve always wanted to have a scent machine so, you know,

let’s get one of them and let’s get that little tree cartridge. But because we had rented trees in there, people would come in this space and like, “oh man, those trees smell amazing!” And I’m like, “Yes. You don’t know that it’s fake!”

Greg Maletic: It was intense, but It definitely worked, it definitely smelled like a forest.

Cabel Sasser: It was such a delight for me. Real hugely successful. I had hoped to recapture the tree scent at PAX when we did Firewatch at PAX, I even brought the machine again, but it turns out when it’s a giant open expo floor, air does not circulate in the same way. And you will never smell the trees or the forest for the trees. But yeah.

There was a first PAX booth for Firewatch. That was a hundred percent handled by Campo. They got the space and they did the work and I visited it, but we weren’t involved in it. If I remember correctly, the next PAX, we worked on it together. Same space, but we tweaked the design a little bit and then Panic put together this photo booth, which was really fun, where you could wear different Firewatch items. I think there was the like the Photo Dome vest, maybe and like a

Forrest Byrnes stand up.

Christa Mrgan: Photo Dome is a fictional inworld photo printing place in Firewatch. And for awhile, Panic ran this amazing service where you could order prints of photos you took inside the game with a camera that you find in the forest. And Forrest Byrnes is an inworld fire prevention mascot. There’s actually a whole Playdate Podcast episode about the spinoff game that’s based on him. There’s a link to that episode in the show notes, too. Anyway:

Cabel Sasser: And I found a prop company, oddly in Vancouver, Washington that makes like movie props and stuff and had them make a replica of the walkie talkie. So they turned that around really quickly and I didn’t even ask for this. They even wired up a button so that you press a button and a light comes on. And it’s funny because Jake was like, I specifically said, “let them know that they don’t have to like, weather it, because prop companies really like to weather everything.” And despite me telling them that it definitely arrived weathered, like beat up on the edge of. You just can’t help it. So that was like a sort of introduction into what can we do that’s fun at a trade show.

So then it was time to take it a little bit more seriously. And we had our first official Panic booth. We were in the corner of the upper floor.

And

Greg Maletic: we worked with a company called Jardiniere to design the booth. We didn’t know about how to design booths that were conforming to the standards of actual conventions. And we didn’t know the ins and outs of like, how do you erect this thing? What material should you use? And so having them as consultants was a huge deal.

Cabel Sasser: Cherie was introduced to me as someone that understands trade show booths and can make it happen.

Christa Mrgan: Yeah, Cherie Lui of Jardiniere has incredible knowledge of trade show booth design and functionality. She is great at logistics and coordinating people and also comes up with really clever concepts.

Cabel Sasser: And that is not an easy thing to do. Talk about multi-disciplinary, because I think of her as a connector. She knows all of the right people that do all of the right things. She knows designers who can give us concepts. She knows fabricators. She knows scenic painters. She understands the logistics and the crating and the setup and the unions and the everything that’s necessary to execute a good booth.

Greg Maletic: My recollection about 2018 PAX West was that we were on a show floor and so there wasn’t an opportunity to do something as immersive as what we had done for GDC in there were two main things we were introducing there. One was Firewatch for Switch and then the other was Untitled Goose Game. And so we had, I think, a 20 by 20 booth, and we literally split it down the middle, so the right side was themed with all the Firewatch colors and imagery. And the left side was themed with all the Goose colors and imagery. And we actually built some of the props from the game.

Cabel Sasser: We’ve got these two very different games, but we’re going to show them off in a unique way. We just don’t want it to be like a standing kiosk. So similar to the Firewatch event, props, you know, what’s the right vibe? Should there be fruit in this fruit stand, you know? Do we need cool pitchfork for the gardener?

Greg Maletic: The little English town where the game takes place as like a jobs posting board in the middle of it, and we duplicated all the flyers from that and put those up there.

Cabel Sasser: Steve even busted out his Apple ][ and his dot matrix printer and made some really cool flyers for that. Basically just any opportunity to have fun and design props and try to make this thing feel a bit like the world of the game. For both of those games, that was really fun.

Greg Maletic: It looked great, and it functioned really well.

In the following year, 2019, we did the same booth location, same booth size, 20 by 20, and again, we worked with Jardiniere, but this time the two things we had to show were Goose Game, which was still not quite out yet. And Playdate, which was the handheld video game system that we’d been working on for years, and we were going to be showing it publicly for the first time.

And so, we divided the booth in two again, like we did the previous time, although I think it was, like, probably… 60 percent Playdate, 40 percent Goose Game because we had, I think, probably at least a dozen stations where people can come up and play Playdate and play one of the games on it to get their hands on it so people could see it firsthand.

And that was similarly a success. Huge lines to play both of them, actually. Play Goose Game and play Playdate. In terms of theming, it was again, a middle ground. Playdate not themed per se. It had the, the colors of Playdate, which are yellow and purple.

And then the Goose side had some toned down theming from what we had used the previous year, where it used some architectural elements from the game, like the little village the game takes place in. But I wouldn’t say it was immersive. It was just inspired by. So, more along with what a standard show booth is like.

Christa Mrgan: And we were in the early stages of planning our 2020 booth when a global pandemic hit and kind of derailed things for awhile. But Panic was back at PAX West in 2023, once again offering hands-on time with Playdate as well as five games for PC, Mac, and consoles. And this time we were more strategic about creating a booth that was themed, but also more modular and reusable for future games.

Greg Maletic: It was sort of a, you know, a Panic themed booth. It wasn’t really trying to seem like it was the outdoors or anything. It was just trying to be a beautiful show booth. And it actually did a really good job at that. And we did this with Jardiniere folks again this year and it worked out really well. It was a big success. All the games attracted a lot of people. We had these very large, like 12 to 15 foot high panels behind each pair of stations where you could play the games that were illuminated from back and they just showed art from the game on there, along with the title of the game.

And so people could walk up to these panels and there were two stations at each. Not immersive but it it kind of felt like you’re in the world of the game at the moment you’re playing it.

Christa Mrgan: Yeah, I think each area felt really distinctive and brought each of these very different games to life.

Cabel Sasser: I thought it looked really nice. And really colorful, which I think really stands out at a trade show, especially a video game trade show, with the notable exception of Nintendo’s booth. I think Nintendo is colorful and we are colorful and everybody else is extremely brooding and everybody else has hoods on and is holding swords and machetes simultaneously. Is a machete, a type of a sword. Would you call a machete, a sword?

Christa Mrgan: I would say it’s a big knife!

Yeah, Wikipedia backed me up on that; machetes are essentially big knives.

Cabel Sasser: Yeah. Okay. So the machete is is maximal knife. And then like if you go an inch more, it becomes a sword. Okay. I would like to see the standards. But anyways, we were surrounded by a lot of like," It’s my time to get revenge on the whatever." And that’s not our booth. Our booth was the very opposite of,

" At last we meet again." Our booth is like, Dah Dah, dah, dah, dah dah dah dah I guess that’s like a. clown. Is that a circus? That’s what pops into my head is de.

Cabel Sasser: So, I guess we need to pipe that music into the booth next year. Okay. Anyways.

Christa Mrgan: Anyways, there will be a Panic booth again in 2024. And in subsequent years! I mean, we have this modular, reusable booth now. But while I love hearing stories from past Macworlds and about the amazing themed GDC event and other years at PAX West, my biggest question was still: why? Why do this? I mean, sure, it’s fun. I love it. But it’s also a ton of work. And as Cabel mentioned, it’s incredibly expensive. Even going back to those early days at Macworld, it just seems like things got more and more elaborate every year.

Cabel Sasser: Fun thing about doing this expos is that you got to know a cast of characters and you would see them like year after year. And that was always really cool. Like it really connected us with the Mac community. And looking at the photos of the expo is great. Just the random stuff. Like I have a photo of a giant banner that says “Macintosh Gaming Area” and it’s of course, all set in Comic Sans. And it’s like, oh, we’ve come a long way. But it was always fun. It was like when we gave away the t-shirts, we would take a picture of people holding the t-shirts. And then on the wall of the office, we printed them all out and put up this big grid of all of our customers holding up the t-shirt.

And it was just kind of a nice connection between the people that use our software and the people that like what we do, which we don’t get to connect with very often. So, that’s why we do expos, I think, and to this day, that’s why we do expos. We want to actually connect with literal human beings, not behind a keyboard and show them what we’re doing. And, you know, you get all the classic tropes that we still get to this day. We’ve talked about getting the like, “so why should I care about this?” Guy. It’s like, “I don’t know. That’s like a, you problem. You figure it out, here’s the some material” or like a, the confused, suspicious people or the whatever. I just, I kinda just love it. Everybody that comes to those conventions for different reasons, and they’re all kind of entertaining in their own way. The economic part is a huge question. Can you make the argument that our PAX booth meaningfully moves the needle on any of our games? It’s hard. You’ll never build a prove that. Certainly like with Goose, there was a huge line of people and it was like, oh man, this could maybe be a thing. But it arguably also had like a viral trailer and it was possibly already a thing. It’s hard for me sometimes to mentally justify. But even if you can’t, you know, A/B test or track the benefit of PAX directly to your sales report, I think it’s really great for everybody at Panic. It’s energizing for everybody to see the work we do mean something to people. It can help shake out a lot of like, oh, we should lean more into this or not into that based on people’s reactions to things. It helps people understand who we are as a company that like everybody at this booth or people that actually work at the company and we we think a lot about how Panic has essentially zero reputation in the games world. So what better way to start to build that up by, you know, just being there as people and meeting the devs…

Christa Mrgan: Yeah, a bunch of the game developers were able to fly into Seattle from all over the world. And we all got the hangout in person for the first time after months and even years of working together.

So let me show you around the booth and introduce you.

So at, I guess what you would call the front of the booth, depending on what side you approach it from, we’re showing off Nour: Play With Your Food on a single giant screen in front of this super bright, 15-foot-tall backlit teal panel featuring the Nour logo and a swirling massive, enormous, colorful donuts. And there’s a nice pink love seat for people to sit on while they play the game. Here’s TJ, the developer:

TJ Hughes: Hi, I’m TJ Hughes, and I’m making Nour: Play With Your Food. It’s a game about playing with your food and throwing it around, making a mess, almost as if you’re a kid again.

There’s no goals or objectives to hold you back from, just either making a mess, Making a neatly assembled little bowl of whatever you want. It’s just an absurdist little play experience all about the aesthetics and just fun food.

Christa Mrgan: Yeah, Nour is awesome. And it’s actually already out right now. There’s a link in the show notes to where you can find it on PlayStation, Steam and the Epic game store.

It’s a beautiful, super fun, surreal experiential game. There will be an entire podcast episode about Nour, too. Eventually. Uhh, I’ve been busy.

Christa Mrgan: Anyway, Nour is next to Arco and Arco’s backlit panel has this gorgeous painterly scene of a rocky desert landscape with towering cumulus clouds, and right in front of that backdrop is this awesome, fully dimensional, pixelated, wooden cactus which acts as a stand for the headphones and game controllers for the two Arco demo stations. It looks so good.

Three of the four members of the Arco team made it to PAX, and it’s not only the first time anyone from Panic has met them in person, but since they live in Mexico, Spain and Poland, it’s actually the first time that they’ve met each other in real life, too.

Antonio "Fáyer" Uribe: Hey, my name is Antonio Uribe, also known as Fáyer, and I work with the team of Arco.

José Ramón "Bibiki" García: Hi, this is Jose. Jose Ramon, also known as Bibiki. I am the composer and sound designer of Arco.

Franek Jan Nowotniak: I’m Franek, and I’m pixel artist and lead developer on Arco.

Antonio "Fáyer" Uribe: I work there as a programmer mainly. But I also help with game design and writing and a lot of different hats that we need to do on these indie small teams. And Arco is

Franek Jan Nowotniak: a tactics RPG, with simultaneous rounds.

José Ramón “Bibiki” García: It’s really cool 'cause you can just play through different scenarios, different characters and a get a sense of adventure and action in a really cool, interesting environment and atmosphere.

Antonio “Fáyer” Uribe: This is the first time we’re showing Arco publicly. We have shared the build before internally with friends and with Panic, but it feels different when you show it in a place and you can see the people playing it.

Christa Mrgan: Definitely. and the fourth Arco team member, Max Cahill, lives in Australia and had just had a new baby. So the timing wasn’t great for him to be here this year, but maybe next time.

And just past Arco on the left, a huge section of the booth was dedicated just to Playdate. We had a bunch of current and upcoming games on six different devices for people to get their hands on. We also had some of our engineers on hand and the SDK up and running, too. So game developers could check it out and ask the engineers questions directly. And that part of the booth still seemed just as popular as it had been back in 2019, when we first showed Playdate.

Cabel Sasser: That was also super surprising was the number of people that waited in line to play, Playdate. And that’s nice because we’re always nervous about what does it mean when Playdate it is finally in stock-- soon!

Christa Mrgan: This has actually happened! Playdate is in stock, and you can just go to the website and order one and depending on where you live, it will arrive within a couple of weeks.

Cabel Sasser: There’s always a low key stress of did we already sell a Playdate to everybody that wants to buy a Playdate? Was it just early adopters? But looking at that and seeing people’s reactions to playing the games and they’re smiling or they’re engrossed in whatever they’re doing on the Playdate gives me a lot of hope for how many people might want that thing. The lines were significant.

Christa Mrgan: Yes. And speaking of significant, to keep this episode from being over an hour long, I’ve actually split it into two diverging episodes. So, if you want to hear more about Playdate, what we showed at PAX and how we’re feeling about the future-- spoiler: we’re feeling great-- stay tuned for the sister episode coming soon to the Playdate Podcast feed.

Moving on to the back wall of the booth, another developer who is sadly missing was Michael Frei of Playables, who got sick right before PAX. But people loved playing the game that he and Raphael Munoz are making, called “Time Flies.” Here’s Michael:

Michael Frei: in Time Flies, you play as a fly. You get a bucket list of things to do before you die, but the list is long, and life is short. You can… Learn an instrument, get rich, read a book, get drunk, or just make someone smile.

Christa Mrgan: The time flies section of the booth looks really cool. The game is entirely in one bit black and white pixel art, So the enormous backdrop here is white with black pixelated line art from the game, featuring a fly and a disco ball. And then there’s this cool table and two chairs that look like they’ve been pulled directly from the game. They’re white with black painted outlines, making them look like physical manifestations of pixel art.

It’s a similar effect to that coffee shop in Korea where the walls furniture and even the mugs and cutlery look like they’re in a black and white comic strip. I’ll put a link in the show notes.

And right across from time flies is Despelote, with really expressive black and white, kind of cartoon style, character art of three kids playing soccer, set against a backdrop of a grainy, fuchsia and beige duotoned image of a residential city street in Quito, Ecuador.

And the two demo stations there had these wooden stands that basically it looked like soccer balls, bisected to hold the controllers and headphones.

Developer Julián Cordero is getting a kick out of watching people play the game.

Julián Cordero: I had public demos with it for a long time ago, so this is the first time I’ve really seen it in the wild, like in a long time. My name is Julián, I’m the lead developer and lead designer of Despelote. It’s a game about playing soccer and kicking a ball around with your friends in the park in Quito, Ecuador. And it’s sort of inspired by my own life growing up there and, my own relationship to soccer.

And it’s been, it’s been really nice. A lot of people approach me and tell me that it really reminds them of, their childhood

Christa Mrgan: yeah, it’s a really sweet kind of dreamy immersive game. And regardless of where people were from, I overheard a lot of, “oh, this reminds me of when I was a kid!”

And finally, wrapping around to the other side of the booth, a hand painted sandwich, board reading “You’re Nearly at Big Ron’s” points us to the fifth game for consoles and PC we showed at PAX this year: Thank Goodness You’re Here! And for this game, instead of the backdrop just showing some of the game’s art, it’s designed to look like one of the storefronts in Barnesworth, the fictional town where the game takes place.

Picture a brick wall with some disheveled bunting at the top, leaky pipes, mysterious splotches, graffiti, and rotting garbage, but like really cartoony and cute.

There’s a real, physical, yellow and white striped awning with a scalloped edge that extends from the wall directly over the two demo stations.

There’s also a full-sized garbage can painted to match the same cartoon art style as the game. And if you open it, there are a few cuddly rats inside. Let’s say hi to the developers.

Will Todd: I’m Will.

James Carbutt: And I’m James,

Will Todd: and we’re Coal Supper, from Yorkshire.

James Carbutt: It’s our first time out of Barnsley.

Will Todd: I’m pretty scared, but it’s nice to be at PAX. We’re making Thank Goodness You’re Here! An action comedy experience where we believe the salesman stranded in a strange Northern English town. It’s pretty cool to see people playing it in public for the first time. We’ve enjoyed it together in secret for a couple of years now. So it’s great to see people Yeah. having a good time.

James Carbutt: Yeah. People are finding a ton of bugs, which is cool.

Will Todd: Yeah. There’s loads to fix when we get home!

Cabel Sasser: I’m so glad people were able to visit. I mean, Thank Goodness You’re Here! guys, it’s the first time they’ve ever even been to the U.S. At all. So that was delightful. It was really great to finally, literally for the first time in person get together with these devs that we’ve been working for years on these games, there was like the pandemic and the continued pandemic and it was just not a great time to meet people in person.

Christa Mrgan: Yeah, for a long time, it really was not. And so just being together in person with the dev teams was a big part of the whole PAX experience.

Cabel Sasser: That was probably the best part, actually, although that’s an expensive way to meet devs. That was delightful and it turns out it’s just a great group of people and they’re from all around the world and everybody is united in wanting to make a cool game that people enjoy. It was a great, like a very different mix of personalities, but in a good way, like everybody had their character. And they’re all great to talk to, and now they all know each other, so there’s some camaraderie there and it’s like our little team. I’m super happy we could do that.

The second best part is watching people play the games and enjoying them and smiling. If it’s a funny game or, having fun, if it’s not. I’ll tell you a really specific memory I had from the PAX where we had Goose for the first time. And a guy came by from Nintendo and I’m like, frantically talking to everybody and being whatever my character is. I get really hyped up when it comes to meeting people and he like literally, I think physically pulled me to the side and was like, “Cabel. I want you to stop for a second and just look at your booth and look at the faces of the people that are playing these games. They’re playing this game and they’re smiling and they’re laughing and that is what we want to bring into the world. And you should be really proud that is what you’re bringing into the world.”

And it was this strange moment where like, almost like a movie where everything else got quiet and the lights dimmed. And like him telling me to focus on this thing actually allowed me to focus on the thing very hard for me in those situations to leave myself and think about what we’re doing and part of the bigger picture of the universe, and to look at this thing objectively, because when I’m in the moment or I’m doing work, I’m thinking about things that are wrong or things that need to be fixed, or what’s the next goal, or what’s the next project I’m going to do or whatever. So something about having this stranger from Nintendo pull me to the side and slow me down for a second made this enormous impact on me. I’ve never forgotten it. I wrote like a huge thank you email when I got back to the office because I don’t think I’d ever done that before. And it was really wild. And I realized that you know, He’s right, that this is a rare and special thing that this crowd of people they’re together, and they’re playing this goofy game about a goose. And everybody’s sharing this moment and laughing and feeling happiness. And like how many people in their lives get to cause that? Like not a lot of people, I would say. So that was a really fascinating moment and I’ve never forgotten it. And I think about it every time. So watching people play the game at any point now I look for their reactions and I look for their emotions. What are the emotions that we’re bringing into the world with this game, or the feelings that we’re giving these people? It transcends, “I hope they like the graphics” or “I hope the control scheme is good.” you know, it’s this higher level of, purpose. I’m sounding real hippie right now. But in a way that conversation probably subconsciously informs the games that we’re choosing, too. You know, Do we want to be a part of uh, “we’re not so different, you and I.” I don’t know. Maybe if it’s funny. But like,

I think there is more to it than just “we made a video game.” And that is definitely something that I think about now. And that is a huge reason to be at PAX because you’ll never get that or get to observe that online. You could watch a streamer. That’s about as close as you’re going to get. Like a streamer is having a lot of fun playing your game. That’s great. But there’s definitely something about just seeing a chunk of humanity trying your thing and being there to witness it. It’s really cool. It was really cool.

I don’t know that it means we’re going to sell 10 more copies of Thank Goodness You’re Here! But in a way, it doesn’t matter. All of that other stuff, I think, is so worth it.

Christa Mrgan: Yeah, me too. So barring any more pandemics or other global catastrophes, Panic will be back at PAX west annually, at least for the foreseeable future.

Cabel Sasser: I mean, like we better be back because if we don’t go back, it’s like the sunk cost fallacy though, 'cause it’s still gonna cost a lot more money to go back. But yeah the whole plan is that this booth can be reused. So I’m hoping folks can see us again next year with maybe some of these other new games.

Christa Mrgan: Yes, there are so many great games on the Panic horizon.

I asked Cabel what the future looks like for us as a games publisher.

Cabel Sasser: the future of publishing depends very much on the present of publishing. How are these next few games going to do? All the way up to including the next game from Okomotive and the next game from House House, like that’s our slate for the next couple of years. Hopefully, they do well enough that we can continue, but at the pace that we’re going right now, would be my preference. I don’t think we have any dreams of being a mega publisher anytime soon. Arguably, we maybe are doing too much even right now.

So maybe we need to just keep feeling it out. How many games is too many to have in the pipeline at once? But like, assuming these games would make some amount of money and then we could continue to invest that money in other games, I see no reason why we would stop doing it anytime soon, because it’s super rewarding. It feels great. It’s super fun to be a support structure. And it’s rewarding to help people bring their ideas into the world.

Christa Mrgan: It is. So any other thoughts on PAX West?

Cabel Sasser: No. But I can tell you lots more old Macworld stories.

Nobody wants those. Get outta here, old man.

Christa Mrgan: I personally love the Macworld stories. But yeah, I think we answered the question of why anyone would want to do a trade show booth, despite the massive investment of time and energy and money they require:

there’s really no replacement for connecting with people in real life. Plus, it feels good and it makes us happy. It’s a lot of fun to create a beautiful booth where we can meet people and show them what we’ve been working on and watch their reactions in real time.

And as a company that exists mainly online and that works with game developers from all over the world, it’s just great to be together with everyone in person. So the next time you’re at PAX West, come by and say, hello. We’ll be there!

So that’s a wrap for the first episode of season two of the Panic Podcast! Be on the lookout for more episodes coming soon. This season will mainly focus on all of the amazing games we’re publishing with some episodes full of Panic anecdotes – panecdotes --thrown into the mix. So as ever mash that subscribe button as hard as you can. And don’t miss some, all new episodes of the Playdate Podcast coming soon, too. Thank you so much for listening and we’ll talk to you soon.

Cabel Sasser: Thanks for listening. And more than anything else, thanks for visiting us at PAX or wherever we may show up in person. It is nice to meet you all. Y’all.

That was very awkward. Good luck.

Christa Mrgan: The Panic Podcast is written, produced and edited by me, Christa Mrgan. Our amazing theme music was of course, composed by Cabel Sasser. He composed some of the interstitial music as well. And this episode also features music from Maximillian Mueller, José Ramón "Bibiki" Garcia, Sebastian Valbuena, Bernhard Bamert and James Carbutt.

Neven Mrgan designed the podcast page and artwork. Tim Coulter built the website and wrangles the podcast feed. And Kaleigh Stegman handles social media. Michael Buckley made the super cool Audion web player on the website, featuring tons of faces he revived from the Audion archive. And a huge thank you to all of the developers who tolerated me putting microphones and cameras in their faces, despite being very busy and exhausted at PAX. And thanks, of course, to everyone at Panic.

Cabel Sasser: And I specifically remember one Macworld where I just got incredibly sick, like the second day of the show, like clearly had the flu. And my solution to this problem, like I had to work the booth, was to lay underneath the booth. And no one knew I was down there, but I was just. Like the curtain, I was behind the curtain just passed out on the ground, trying so hard to sleep and feel better. Felt like complete garbage. And the the next day I did the same thing, but I knew that I was maybe turning a corner because someone showed up with a can of barbecue Pringles, and it was the most delicious food I’d ever had in my entire-- like to this day, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten anything better than the barbecue Pringles you eat when you’ve been sick for two days straight and not eating. I devoured that can so quickly. And it like totally turned my life around. I was able to do the last few days of the expo. But yeah, just very surreal, just like laying down there and hearing the conversations like pass by you and just unable to move. I don’t know. Thanks, Steve, for holding down the booth while we did that. But um, yeah, just early expo, chaos days.