PAX East 2010

Best. PAX. Evar.

PAX East was my third Penny Arcade eXpo, and in many ways my best… but as others have addressed, also an unfortunate reminder of how hard it is to manage a convention hall full of geeks, nerds, dweebs, and all the rest. The whining has been handled by others, and I have a positive attitude and had a great time in spite of the logistical problems, so I’m not going to talk about those problems much.

For me, the two huge differences were location (that the event was local to me, in addition to not involving a visit to my parental units in Seattle) and people (in addition to more random run-ins, I spent most of the con with my old roommate Fritz and my girlfriend Andrle, as well as bringing my Little Brother on Sunday). Since it was a much more social event for me, I didn’t enter any gaming tournaments (as I did both of the last two PAX Primes, even placing in RoboRally last year and winning a PAX medal), nor did I attend any sessions (in part due to line issues).

As per my usual, I caught Paul and Storm and Jonathan Coulton in concert (the 6th time I’ve seen them play live!), as well as the opening act with the Video Game Orchestra. Like last year (but unlike my first year at PAX ’08), I watched the keynote by Wil Wheaton and the final round of the Omegathon (the third round of which was in this case was the opening for the Saturday night concert).

As always, amusing nerd-watching, interesting demos, tons of free crap, and good times gaming. A few pictures, some game and product comments, plus my concert videos, below the cut.

Friday

I took the entire day off from work as a vacation day (although I did jokingly inform my supervisor that it was a religious observance). Fritz and I met up with Andrle at Trident for brunch, then headed over to Hynes to get in line. After the aforementioned keynote, we sampled  the expo floor in a fairly quick sweep, and then met up with Mark from Swat but more recently of Snooth fame for dinner and drinks at the Cactus Club.

We closed up the evening with a couple of games of Carcassonne, an old favorite of mine from SWIL that I never got around to purchasing since so many people I know own it. We called it a little early (and ignored the Anamanaguchi/MC Frontalot concert) at around 11:30 given that Fritz and I were T-ing back to Watertown and would be returning pretty early in the morning.

Carcasonne Farming Victory

Yes, I'm gloating. Fritz and I had a bit of a farm war for this one, but I claimed it 3 to 2 to get most of the cities.

The Third Dimension

One of the largest booths there was NVIDIA‘s, and in addition to their usual graphics hardware (showing off assorted game demos, including the Starcraft II Beta), they were really pushing their new 3D Vision™ graphics technology. As I’ve commented recently, I remain completely unconvinced of the coming 3D revolution. That said, in spite of the “one size fits all” goggles being too large for my head, the 3D game demos were pretty impressive. The huge difference between this tech and the 3D movies whose effect I’ve panned is that the graphics card has access to the complete depth buffer, and so can provide perfect perspective throughout the entire shot for a natively three-dimensional environment. It is definitely up to the game designers to design things properly, however; I tried a racing game where the UI was at a significantly different layer from the car, which caused a major usability problem since my eyes had to shift focus between them. I plan to comment on 3D in general more in a future post.

Saturday

We met up with Andrle and got in the line around 9:30 am, which seemed to be a good balance between the line being too large and waiting a long time. Part of the line was zipping ahead for the Penny Arcade and Bill Amend panels, but we waited for the expo hall, since we were going to meet up with Twitter connections Devon and Tiffany for brunch. Mark also ended up joining us, this time at the Daily Grill. Unfortunately, due to the tail end of Restaurant Week, their brunch menu was unavailable, but we had other tasty things and some great conversation.

We headed back to the expo hall for more demos, plus the reserved special showing of the Civ V alpha (more on that later). Then we had a great (but vicious!) game of RoboRally with Fritz’s potential summer internship employers, which resulted in this excessively cute tweet. I’m sorry. It happens but rarely.

One of the cooler games I saw (which I went back and bought on Sunday) was Turba, a music puzzler that was part of the Boston Indie Showcase. My game schedule and budget are both pretty tight for the rest of this year, between WoW and STO and Civ and the Mac version of Steam (all of which are to some extent sunk investments).

Among the various freebies, I purchased a PAX East 2010 T-shirt, and Fritz bought a Maw plushie. I think it fits him quite well. Reminds me of the old Month Python killer rabbit with big icky teeth thing he had when we were at Swat rooming together.

Fritz's Maw Plushie

Fritz being goofy with his new Maw plushie while we play RoboRally.

Civ V

I’m really excited about this game. Fritz pointed me to a Facebook fan page post the week before PAX, which gave instructions to sign up for an exclusive preview. He and I both grabbed a 2pm slot for Saturday, and after interacting with Amy (one of 2K Games’ excellent booth wranglers) we got into the right line. You must understand, I have a special relationship with the Civ series. My first all-nighter of any kind was at my friend Gus’ 10th birthday party with his copy of the original Civ running on a Macintosh LC III.

They obviously didn’t allow pictures (although two people were immediately That Guy and aped taking pictures with their phones), but I think I can talk about the features, since they’re covered by official sources already. The big changes are the switch to a hex map, and only allowing one unit per tile simultaneously. The latter change is really exciting, because it should prevent the AI’s “excuse me while I land 4 ships full of guys right next to your capital from just outside your view radius in one turn” trick.

Otherwise, the engine looks very pretty. Of course, they’re only talking about a PC version for now… so the question is do I buy that and put it on my Windows 7 partition right when it comes out, or do I wait hopefully for Aspyr to make a non-crappy port? It may all come down to how the release date synchronizes with the release of Cataclysm…

Saturday Concert

We grabbed a quick dinner at the Dartmouth Street b.good, and then encountered my largest logistic complaint of the convention: when we had left, a sign read that the concert line would open at 7 pm, but by the time we got back at 6:50, the sign had been edited to read 6 pm. While I realize the Enforcers needed somewhere to put overachievers who were lining up early anyway, I thought this was very Not Cool and was worried that we wouldn’t be able to get into the concert at all. In general, there needed to be a much larger emphasis on breaking up pre-lines, and telling people to have fun until a maximum of 30 minutes before an event.

That said, Mike, a friend from UniLu, had the right idea based on his experience with Friday that we should get in line for the balcony. We played some Monty Python Fluxx, which Fritz had just purchased (the references alone make it my favorite Fluxx edition that I’ve played), as well as some stand-up scoreless Dixit, to which Mike introduced us. I can only describe it as “Fictionary meets Apples to Apples meets modern art”. I can see it being a lot of fun. I have it on good authority that Andrle obtained a copy, so there’s a good chance I’ll play it again.

We ended up getting pretty good seats in the balcony, actual seats no less (unlike the standing areas on the floor), slightly right of center. There was some mild amusement with “That Guy” sitting behind us, and the Enforcers trying to get The Wave started in the nerdy crowd.

The concert opened with the Omegathon’s musical round (an odd choice, I thought), which consisted of two of the worst Rock Band singers I’ve ever heard. The second guy somehow managed to be worse than the first (and they even failed the song briefly). In their defense, I doubt either guy had heard Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler before. The second band ended up winning, I guess because the guitar and rhythm sections scored more highly.

After Mike and Jerry left the stage, we had to wait for the stage crew to reset everything, but eventually Video Game Orchestra got set up and played a bunch of classic video game music, including Mario Bros., Final Fantasy VII, Castlevania, and my personal favorite, this medley from Chrono Trigger:

I was lame and didn’t get any video of Paul and Storm this year (although I did last year), but they played a variety of good stuff for their set. I think their TMBG-style parody was new to me; they also announced their new CD. Also epic was their lip-synced trolololo opening (see the article on the original artist, Eduard Khil) featuring a guest appearance by Wil Wheaton (not my video). “The Captain Wife’s Lament” as usual got ridiculous, setting Jonathan Coulton up for a set full of “awwww”s and “ARRRR”s, although not as bad as the show Andrle and I went to see at the Paradise last fall at which “that’s what she said” became the crowd meme of the evening.

JoCo went all out, although there weren’t any songs new to me specifically. I didn’t get any video of it, but near the end of the set in addition to bringing on Paul and Storm for additional vocals, he added the guys from Metroid Metal, resulting in some significantly more rocking versions of a couple of his songs, which I really enjoyed. I swear I’m not singing along for “Still Alive”. Sadly, I stopped my video of “Mr. Fancy Pants” before some extra silliness in which Jonathan jumped around on the stage, setting off his Zendrum sound effects in amusing ways.

After the concert, we staggered back to crash at Andrle’s, since she lives near the convention center and the T was long shut down at that point.

Sunday

I got up early to meet up with my Little (I don’t use his name for obvious reasons) outside of Hynes, and let him drag me through the expo hall to see whatever he wanted (while also suggesting a few good items). Fritz and Andrle slept in, which was possibly wise. I think he saw what he wanted to see throughout, although we couldn’t wait in the long line for Skate 3 to try and win a PAX East custom skateboard deck. I heard some were waiting for over 2 hours, but since he could only hang with me until 3 or so, it was right out.

Andrle and Fritz eventually met up with us, and we cruised the expo hall some more. My Little definitely enjoyed the Immerz KorFX “chestphones” demo (possibly just because we played Left 4 Dead 2). It’s hard to explain them, but they basically play the audio channels into some chest-facing audio coils that make you feel the sound through the resonance in your chest cavity. Definitely better than a rumble pack, but I’d have to play with them more to see if it’s worth the added immersion. It is a Boston local company, which is cool.

After a quick lunch at Thornton’s Restaurant, at which our server asked to take a picture of my Little for looking “so fly” (he has this oversized aquamarine hat from Lids), we checked out some more of the classic gaming room, including some Waverace 64 (my first rental for N64), and the various classic pinball and arcade cabinets. It was very interesting to see the old (at the time) high-quality vector displays used in some games.

When I dropped my Little off with his mom out front, I saw what was apparently a PAX East attendee in handcuffs being arrested, with a police officer and a couple of Enforcers around him. I figured he either tried stealing someone’s bag or got in a fight in a line, but it turned out he allegedly tried to steal the code of an unreleased game. It will be interesting to see the details of what he actually did as the case trickles through the system.

Our PAX experience wrapped up in a line as we waited for the Omegathon final round and closing ceremonies, playing some more Monty Python Fluxx. We got seats in a similar spot up in the balcony, and watched the four remaining Omeganauts play in a 2-man NES relay, in which they had to earn 50 coins in Super Mario Bros., 1500 points in Rad Racer, 10 lines in Tetris, and finally, have both team members beat the first level in Contra (with Konami Code).

Andrle, Fritz and I closed out the evening with take out pizza from The Upper Crust and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

Conclusion

Awesomesauce. I will definitely go next year. I apologize to those of you Boston peeps I didn’t end up meeting up with at PAX East, but the schedule was packed and I was prioritizing the out-of-towners. I will probably “visit my parents” and go to PAX Prime in Seattle later this year, probably staying longer, modulo my sister’s and brother-in-law’s schedule for coming to the US.

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One comment on “PAX East 2010
  1. Donna says:

    You know, I’ve never even heard of Breach until the story about the guy stealing some of the code got out. It almost makes one wonder if it’s a horrible attempt at a marketing stunt.

    Sounds like it was a creat con. :)

Nurd Up!

Nicolas Ward

Software engineer in Natural Language Processing research by day; gamer, reader, and aspiring UltraNurd by night. Husband to Andrle
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