We spent Thursday through Sunday immersed in the video game Mecca that is the Penny Arcade Expo. We had a fine time last year, and this year didn’t disappoint either.
We got a ride to (and from!) the SFO airport by our friend Brendan, so no clumsy airport transfers on the outgoing side. Apart from an ok drink inflight (Dewar’s, should have gotten the bloody mary mix and vodka like Julie) it was uneventful. Julie read some of the Primal Blueprint in prep for the Primal Challenge; I read some The Walking Dead in prep for the forthcoming AMC series. No airport transfer problems on the far end either. We took The Link which is light rail that connects the airport to Downtown Seattle in a way that makes BART weep. We met Julie’s sister Tiffany and headed out to a nice sushi dinner at Wabi Sabi in Columbia City (smalltownish district of Seattle) after a quick couple fingers of bourbon we settled in to rest and hang out with some dogs and cats.
Day one had us on the Link again to downtown and we headed up to the main exhibit hall after a failed attempt to get I to the keynote speech. I guess selling completely out with an attendance over 65,000 people means a theater holding 1800 can fill up, huh. Anyway, we got our badges and swag-bags and did a quick once around on a small part of the exhibit floor. The was already too much to see so we went to lunch at the Taphouse to fuel up for a big day. The Taphouse is a mostly American-food bar and grill though they do some sushi rolls and Asian-ish dishes. The distinguishing feature is they have 160 beers on tap! We got 4 beers each in sampler size ( equivalent to a pint and a half). Of those we didn’t come away with anything spectacular that time, but had a nice variety. Last year we found the Avatar Jasmine IPA (from Elysian brewing in Seattle). Food was good. I had a guinness and beef stew, she had ribs.
Upon returning to the hall Julie stopped for a bathroom break and I got in the Wil Wheaton photo and autograph line. I got my work notebook signed by him. We wandered back onto the floor and saw a bunch of games we were already expecting to get: the new Assassin’s Creed game, Dead Rising 2, Civ 5, and Rock Band 3. We got hands on most then went for a couple panels: one about community managers and the path to that job and another one highlighting some of the developers of the PAX 10 indie gaming awards. The longest line we were in that day was for the Epic Mickey booth which was pretty cool really bringing in elements of Disney history (Oswald Rabbit!) and had actual Disney artists drawing characters from the game by request! Julie got a Donald Duck and I got a Goofy playing ukulele. Awesome. Dinner was at the Night Kitchen which had very tasty cheese curds. A Link ride back and a good walk set us up for day 2.
Saturday started with breakfast with Tiffany at Verve which had really tasty benedicts and 6 mimosa choices! We got back to the con and through a mistake in some judgement lost about an hour and a half in a line before being turned away for a panel to watch the cartoonists of Penny Arcade, PVP, and Wil Wheaton play D&D. So nerdy. Though we missed that, they have recorded many of their games and released them as podcasts!
After that it was instant gratification time so we hit the floor to play Rock Band 3 (David Bowie’s Space Oddity with me on vocals and Julie on KEYBOARD!). Awesome. We did some fun dancing with Xbox Kinect and Dance Central (Lady Gaga’s Poker Face and M.I.A.’s Galang) and spent some time checking out the Indie games a bit more and learned how to play Revolution! which is a board game we will buy real soon. It’s made by Steve Jackson games which does one of our favorites, Zombie Dice. We got priority seating into the Wil Wheaton panel after losing out to the earlier one and got nice and close. Wil is a really down to earth writer, gamer, and actor so it was cool to hear a story about he and his wife and gaming (and love!) and listen to some Q&A about his latest projects and what he’s gaming. We did dinner back at the Taphouse with 8 more beers in sampler size. We actually got the same waitress and tipped her a little extra for remembering us and it was also her birthday! We got back to the con to play some more tabletop games and then got in line for the free play Rock Band stage which runs the entire day all three days. I played bass while Julie sang the heck out of Ida Maria’s Oh My God.
Our last day meant we had to haul all our luggage with us. We packed light and stuck to backpacks which meant we were still pretty mobile and not running people down with rolling bags. Our first order of business was a panel by Bill Amend who draws Foxtrot. He’s an old school D&D gamer as well as a current pc gamer and that was a fun talk as well to hear about him injecting more geek culture into otherwise mainstream comics. We checked out a co-op only game called Hunted which has potential, though I think the look of it was a little too dark and cavey. Still, glad to see co-op as a mode because it means more gaming with Julie. The rest of the day was spent checking out mostly tabletop games including Pajaggle. We met the game developer and it turns out he’s a Cal Poly alum! Go Mustangs! We did lunch at a Low Carb Cafe which was ok then hit the con floor one more time focusing again on the indie games. Our favorites were Shibuya: an iPhone drop puzzle with an elegant mechanic, Hoard: an unreleased PSN/Xbox live overhead game where you control a dragon who pillages the land to get gold, and Castle Crashers: a side scrolling beat-em-up in the style of the Simpsons arcade game.
One bummer about the convention (besides the long lines) was that Duke Nukem Forever came out and the world didn’t end. I guess that’s good, but the line to get in to just see that (not even play, apparently) was 3 hours long, so we didn’t check it out. The other bummer was Activision and by extension, Blizzard had no presence at all. So no Call of Duty and (more importantly) no Diablo III. Sucks. I played it for about 30 minutes last year, and I still want to buy it almost a year later with no release date in sight. Man, that’s a great game.
We left feeling good about ourselves as gamers and really excited to continue to play and have fun. We have a few pics of the many we took here. We want to invite you over for some games soon and maybe we can create some more buzz for next year’s trip!