Saw a lot of cool stuff and did some fantastic things on Friday, but it all required a lot of standing in lines. Luckily in a setting like PAX, even that was fun.
Took the Link light rail into downtown and walked over to the convention center for PAX. We were a little late to the party as the crowds were already in force, but we did get a nice surprise right as we walked in. I held the door for the person behind me as we stepped inside, and look who follows us in but Wil Wheaton! I snapped a picture with him and my wife. We were lost for a little bit because we apparently came in the back way to the convention. We decided to get into the line at the front of the convention with everyone else. In hindsight, we should have just done this later in the day as we already had our badges, and most of the free schwag in the bag everyone gets wasn’t that great.
We stood in a line that snaked around outside the convention center. The saving grace was that we were in the sun despite a fair amount of rain in the forecast. We saw lots of costumes. The majority seemed to be groups of people doing a subset of the Team Fortress 2 look. Once inside and full of free stuff, we did a quick run around a section of the exhibition floor highlighting smaller, indie game makers which had a lot of nice stuff, though we didn’t stay too long. We needed food and succumbed to having Subway off the convention floor.
We needed to stay inside because we wanted to get in on the keynote speech by game developer Ron Gilbert. We had to wait in a big snaking line for this one, in a room that probably had enough square footage to hold three lots from our neighborhood. We sat down as we had at least 45 minutes before the show and popped open our bag to play some Nintendo DS. I have the big honkin’ grey original DS and Julie has the ipod-white DS-lite. We fired up a game of Tetris to notice that there were numerous games being hosted in the hall. We joined one and were hilariously schooled by some anonymous gamer (well someone named Robyn, anyway) whom we never met. We joined at least three other games of Tetris and one of Mario Kart while waiting for the keynote. Thus begins the awesomeness.
Ron has a long history in the video game community and helped create some of the best formative games for me: Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island. His speech was a great retrospective of his career with a focus on the importance of the independent game developers, the face that there’s now a generation that is growing that will not know a time without video games, and how cool it is to be at PAX. And it is very cool so far.
Next up was a panel in the same room with Gabe and Tycho, i.e. the people behind the comic Penny Arcade. The panel was essentially a big Q&A for the two of them and their writing/drawing style and generally geeky fanservice. Maybe not the most productive use of our time, but it was cool to see the two of them live and in person vs. their comic-personae.
We were unleashed unto the floor of the main exhibition hall where we wandered the booths seeing glimpses of unreleased games, cool tech demos of fancy gaming gear, and a bunch of people in costumes. Some cool ones we saw: two Ghostbusters, various Mario & Luigi folks, a couple Master Chiefs, Sylar victims (“bloody” scar across forehead), and a guy who inexplicably was carrying a massive yellow hammer. I don’t get it, but I can appreciate someone carrying a hammer (even a fake one).
I wasn’t impressed with any of the gaming gear on display, though they did have the NVidia 3D glasses which are done as shutter glasses — they have little shutters on each eye that alternately open and close in time with your screen which is projecting two different images via a single screen. I was surprised they are using this technology (i believe the Sega Master System used this waaaaay back in 1986) instead of the polarized glasses technology used in most 3d-movies in theaters. The shutters’ main problem is while initially you can’t see the shuttering of the lenses, your eyes will feel it. I remember the massive headaches that Space Harrier 3d incurred on me. It was a major reason I went with Nintendo instead of Sega when given the choice.
Wow, major tangent. Anyway, other game gear around was Geek Chic which makes “gaming furniture” for storage and playing of tabletop games. The Emissary table looked especially nice, though almost any table will look nice compared to our IKEA one. Though ours has a nice frosted glass insert. There were a variety of headphones and gamer headsets which are interesting, but I’ll stick with my Logitech “Extreme Gaming” headset– a cheapie behind the head style. The main selling point was A. the cheapness, and B. the packaging had the “extreme gamers” who were so “extreme” they were standing on up while playing holding the keyboard in their hands above their desks. Posers. As for unreleased games, we saw Uncharted 2, and I even played (poorly) for about 10 minutes. I loved the first game, so this one’s on the must buy list this year. We also played a little Katamari Forever and got a picture with a someone in a great Prince of the Universe costume. We did a very quick run through of the floor then went out to dinner.
Wanting to eat a little nicer than lunch, we went to Taphouse Grill which boats 160 beers on tap. Not bad at all. We both got a different beer sampler and my winners were the Rogue Chocolate Stout and Moylan’s (of Novato) Kilt Lifter Scotch Ale. The other four I had in the sampler were also tasty. The food was also excellent. I was definitely glad to be on vacation.
We unfortunately did not make it back in time for one panel specifically about designing the failure in games — i.e. the conditions for losing and how to balance signifying to the player that they have lost but also encouraging them to try again. Apparently it was a popular panel because the room filled up before it started and the standby line was out the door. Undaunted, we went back to the main hall where there was a playthrough demonstration of the unreleased Splinter Cell game (ho-hum, I have a PS3, and haven’t liked Tom Clancy games since the PC Rainbow Six 3), and Assassin’s Creed 2 (OMFG I NEED THIS GAME A YEAR AGO). I really liked AC2, and it was cool to see it played live. The person playing the Splinter Cell game did a bad job in my opinion, because he did everything right. It was like watching every game trailer ever. AC2’s player, however, was nervous or had a better pace of script because he actually fell a couple times and almost died during a fight that really shouldn’t have happened. The only bad thing about that panel was that it started late and ran long which meant we missed the world record attempt for the number of people playing Nintendo DS at the same time. Oh well.
Coincidentally, one of the cooler things that they did at PAX was the “Distributed Tourney System” which gave all attendees two buttons to wear. If someone saw you with a button they could challenge you to play a game for a button. We were not approached for our buttons. We must have looked too hardcore. (hah). There were a lot of areas to just play games versus seeing them on the exhibition floor. There were rooms specifically for console, pc, and tabletop/card gaming where you could check out a game and play it. Also there were tournaments for various games, including PAX sponsored “Omegathon” which is a game over multiple weird genres. For example, this year’s group was: Mario Kart Wii -> Bookworm Adventures -> Halo 3: ODST -> Beatles Rock Band -> Connect Four -> Skee-ball. Insane. The freeplay area we were most excited about, though, was the Rock Band stage.
There was a full size performance space on its own corner of the center with screens set up like monitor speakers so the players could see the notes and lyrics. A projector and more monitors were set up for the crowd which was mostly made of people rotating in and out of line but also some people playing DS, card games, and some people just hanging out. We got in line and joined up with two random people who would play guitar and bass for us. We did the song Pinball Wizard by the Who (Julie singing, me on drums) and we actually failed pretty hard. We stepped down to medium while our bandmates stayed up on expert and rocked the song. Obviously we need some practice. We got in line and played another round doing Radiohead’s My Iron Lung and were much better. This was great. It was like playing with a whole lot of friends at our house. There were only a few performances that were kinda awkward, most notably one guy who sang Evanescence’s “Bring Me To Life” then ended the song by throwing the microphone down and storming offstage. The guy singing Boston’s More than a Feeling was legit, though — that song has some serious high notes and breath control. Also, the guy singing Alanis Morisette’s You Oughta Know was both brave and fantastic.
The Link stops running around 12:30am, and we left that night about 1, so we decided to just get a cab. Tired and full of gamer-goodness, we turned in for the night.