PAX 2009 Day 2: Playday

Since we were to fly out a day early (Sunday) we had to make the most of our Saturday, and since we’d gotten a very good overview of how this worked, we set about playing as many games as possible.

Our first thought upon arrival was to check out the Rock Band stage. We wanted to see how popular it was during on-hours for the convention since we had only visited it after the main exhibition side had closed. Somewhat disturbingly we saw our bandmates from the previous day and many of the same people. Some even in the same clothes. Hrm. Oh well. Thats’ why we didn’t stick around.

We headed up to the main floor and went through to the indie game area again. We played an unreleased wii-ware game called Liight. This seemed like the puzzle game for us — nerdy and good use of the wii controller. The deal is you place and twist colored lights which use the additive properties of color to light up sensors in various combinations. We also had a turn at Shank which is an unreleased game for a system they haven’t decided on yet– though they had it running on what appeared to be a dreamcast! Shank was a fun side-scrolling arcadey shooter. Very stylish. Your weapons are a knife, dual pistols, and a chainsaw. Yah. It’s ridiculous.

We ran out to lunch at the Elephant & Castle Pub & Restaurant which is apparently a chain and has a location in San Francisco. It seemed good enough and certainly tasty. We split a plate of curry chips (steak fries with curry sauce) and I had an extremely tasty beef dip with a black & tan. Julie had the Beer Fingers & English Chips (chicken strips fried ala fish & chips) and a Boddington’s. Grand. It was another nice day in Seattle, though it was threatening to rain a little bit. Apparently there was a game between the University of Washington Huskies and the Louisiana State University Tigers. Lots of tourists in the LSU Purple clogging the streets today. A different type of gamer. I think the Tigers won? Meh.

We got back into the convention area and went onto the main floor. We saw a few more costumes around, mostly anime/pokemon related, though. We passed by the booth for Darkest of Days which appears to mix weapons and time periods. Or else they just wanted to have a Roman Soldier sporting a M-60 machine gun and a Cowboy with an AK-47. Interesting, but for Xbox-360 only. We also saw a bit of Scribblenauts which is a very cool game for the DS. They built a dictionary into the game and you write into existence objects to help you get to your goal. For example, you need to get to the other side of a wall you you write “ladder” and drag it to the wall and up and over you go. Maybe, though, you write “tank” and drive it through the wall. Lots of lateral thinking! There’s apparently a revival of one of my favorite series of games called Tales of Monkey Island. It’s out for PC but not Mac, though Wii. Hmmmmm. The Sony Playstation booth had all their first-party games including God of War III (why isn’t this out yet, I must have!) and Uncharted 2 as well as a very odd tech demo where you could draw a shape on paper and use the PS3 Eye camera to capture it then turn it into a marionette for a very cute AI animal of some sort. An interesting use of technology, but maybe not for me. Julie was impressed by Heavy Rain which looks like a very noir-mystery game with very interesting play and control mechanics. We didn’t stick around the MS/Xbox area much (since we don’t have one) but there was a *very* long line to play Left4Dead2, the squad-based zombie-survival game which looks like the gold standard in uhh… squad-based zombie-survival games. I realize now that I didn’t seek out Dead Rising 2 in case that was on the floor playable. Shucks.

The main objective of the exhibition hall this time, though was The Beatles Rock Band. We simply had to get the free shirts we’d seen roaming around. Plus, even though the game was to come out a mere 3 days after we returned from PAX, we wanted to play it. We got up in front of the crowd and played Paperback Writer with Julie singing and me on bass and singing. It was pretty cool… but no shirt! There was a big line out the back and that led to a *huge* stage with multiple projectors and screens and the instruments, so we gladly waited in line and sang along to Beatles songs for about half an hour watching everyone get a turn. Julie got called up as a last-second substitution for vocals for “Helter Skelter” (and really sold it when she yelled “And I’ve got blisters on my fingers!”) When we got on stage, I took the drums and we played “I Wanna Be Your Man.” and it was awesome. It’s similar, yet not to the regular Rock Band experience. Julie and I are pretty big Beatlemaniacs, so we knew most if not all of the words to all the songs included, so it was fun to really take the challenge and play and sing at the same time. What was most interesting is when singing along to the radio or albums I will often switch up the part I’m singing. To get the highest score possible, one has to segregate the singing to lead or one of the backup harmonies. It will take some getting used to, but oh yes, it will be done.

The secondary priority in gaming land was Diablo III. I probably came closest to a game-induced case of carpal-tunnel syndrome because of Diablo II. I was totally engrossed in the point-and-click hack-and-slash. I loved the endless evolution of my gear. I even started a new game with Julie a couple months back and while visually it’s suffered a bit, all the gameplay is still there. I’m playing a necromancer specializing in an army of skeletons and corpse explosion. Whee! I think the demo they had lasted 15 minutes, so that means we waited about an hour for our turn. If all they did was gloss up the graphics and re-release the game, I’d still buy it, so I didn’t need much convincing, but we waited all the same because the game did look awesome over the shoulder. There were some tweaks to the interface which I wasn’t used to — I think mainly things learned from World of Warcraft crept in. The three-quarters isometric view is a bit dressed up, and is more 3d-looking, though seems to still be grid-based. There are certainly more animations and effects, and the gore got turned way up. Tiny-guys getting cleaved in half works for me, I guess. I love the general simplicity of Diablo because it’s mostly mouse-driven. There are some keyboard shortcuts you can use, but even those are available via mouseclick if one has the luxury. Blizzard did this in Warcraft and Starcraft, also, so their execution of this is pretty good. For some reason I’m not that excited about Stacraft II as I am for Diablo III, but I’m sure both will take up a good chunk of my time. I better get the wrist-brace out. Incidentally, according to Julie, someone who watched me playing? Wil Wheaton. The man must be following me… or likely Julie.

We stopped by the True Blood booth to check out the drink based on the one in the show based on the books by Charlaine Harris. A cheesy tie in that tastes a lot like punch. The “official” drink sponsor of PAX was Jones GABA from the soda line that features fan-submitted photos for ther labels. This line is apparently targeted at gamers to replace the Mountain Dew and Jolt supplies billing itself as increasing focus and mental clarity while increasing high scores. I thought it tasted ok, but I’ll stick to H20.

Dinner was fast approaching as was a panel discussion regarding User Interfaces in games that Julie wanted to go to, so I slipped out to the crepe-selling stand and got a dark chocolate and hazelnut one for Julie and a tomatoes and goat cheese one for me. The line between sweet and savory food preference is clearly drawn between her and me. I got to the panel room just before it started. It was an interesting talk focusing on video game interfaces as a component to the artistic nature of games. I thought it was a good talk, but it *really* needed visual aids. There were a couple “do you remember the interface in the game ______? Yeah, that was pretty awesome, right?” parts which kinda lessened the impact of the message. Julie did get some cool contacts out of the talk having dropped the Experience Designer card and found some common ground with some game developers.

While I hung out and played Mario Kart on my DS I ran into my former coworker Brad whom I hadn’t seen in almost a year, and he said he was “glad to know we run in similar circles.” That was pretty cool.

We headed downstairs again to kill some time and played some games in a freeplay board game area set up by SimplyFun Games. We played Drive (like Gin + cars), Handy (think pass-the-orange, but with just fingers), and Picky Sticks (pick-up-sticks + barrel of monkeys). It’s good to know that people are still making new board and party games. Ironically though, our favorite board game of late has been Pit which has been mostly unchanged since first sold in 1904. One of these days, though, we have to get Settlers of Catan on. Or maybe go full on and break out Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition.

Part of the reason for being by the board game freeplay area was that we saw it on the way to the Rock Band freeplay stage. This time we still saw some of the same people, though many had changed into different shirts. I.e. the free ones that were given away on the exhibition floor. We got up one more time and played through Bad Religion’s “Sorrow”, this time with me singing, and Julie on drums.

Full of musical energy, we went to the hall where they held the keynote to get in on the concert by electro-synthpop band Freezepop. One of the members of Freezepop is also a developer for Harmonix and inserted a couple songs of theirs into the games over the years. Their music is very fast, and the lyrics are either very simple, very nerdy, or both. While I think their music may be hard to listen to while say, studying or driving, they put a lot of energy into the show, and I enjoyed their set; plus two keytars is a sight to behold. I also learned that many gamers don’t know how to go to concerts. First of all, there were chairs at the back of the hall that were completely filled as were the walls. People were not just sitting down, but completely laid out. This is a concert, people, stand up and jump! There was a group of people with what looked like puppets of the Fallout 3 Vault boy which was funny that they were swaying them in unison to the songs, but I’m sure the people directly behind them didn’t think obscuring their view for the whole concert was that fun. While I normally don’t like it, the cell phone in lieu of lighter trick was pulled and I admit it does look impressive since people were also holding up their portable game systems. I doubted the structural integrity of the floor a little when the crowd started jumping up and down, but we made it out unscathed and made the late train back.

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