My very first PAX

Before I go on Internet hiatus next week, it is only just and appropriate that I give some blogging space to my very first PAX this past weekend!

userinfosolarbird and userinfospazzkat have been devoted PAX-goers for some years now, which has never surprised me as they’ve been both devoted Penny Arcade readers as well as console gamers.

Me, I’ve never really been a console gamer, though I have a very healthy respect for the amount of detail and craft that goes into a good console game. Even if I don’t like to play them much myself, I love watching others do so if the game is suitably immersive; I had great fun, for example, watching both Dara and Paul play Portal and Portal II. Casual games have been more my speed, even before I started working for Big Fish. But nonetheless, Dara and Paul have been encouraging me to try PAX out. So I bought a one-day pass this year to give it a go.

I didn’t see nearly as many costumes as I typically do at a general science fiction convention, but I did see enough to note with satisfaction that why yes, I was indeed among My Tribe. Best costumes I spotted were a Fifth Doctor accompanied by a couple of girls in scanty “Dalek” costumes, mostly notable by their short skirts decorated with Dalek bumps and how they were both carrying around plungers. But we also spotted a girl dressed up like Ulala from the Dreamcast game Space Channel 5, which was cool, and Dara got a pic of me with her. I spotted a Tenth Doctor as well, and a Han Solo, and two guys dressed up like Beer and Bacon (to which my immediate reaction was OH LOOK TWO OF THE MAJOR GEEK FOOD GROUPS). There were other costumes I didn’t recognize but which were clearly based on various game characters.

Many mad props to the PopCap group doing the Disco Zombies from Plants Vs. Zombies, too. :D Four or five of ’em, all dressed up like PvZ zombies, doing coordinated disco moves! They were handing out bumper stickers saying “I’D RATHER BE EATING BRAINS”, and I was happy to snag one of those.

I found the expo floor mostly too big and too noisy, which didn’t surprise me much–given that that space is pretty much given over to mostly console game booths, that generates a whole helluva lot of noise. But that said, I did enjoy walking around and looking at what was being offered, just to see if anything looked at all relevant to my interests.

The Rocksmith booth had I think the biggest console-type game I might actually play. I was very, very intrigued by the idea of a Guitar Hero-style game, only with real guitars, that you can use to actually learn the instrument. Granted, it’s oriented towards rock guitar rather than the stuff I’m actually interested in playing (i.e., Celtic/trad), but nonetheless, the technology impressed me. I don’t know if I’d actually go out and buy the game for myself, but if it shows up in the house, I’ll totally play with it. And I may even be tempted to get a pickup put into the General, given that the people running the booth specifically said that yes, an acoustic with a pickup in it would talk to the game just fine.

Mad, mad props to the Citizen Skywatch booth for best booth experience, hands down. It was entirely in character, with several people in costume playing the roles of people recruiting for the Citizen Skywatch organization. The booth was decorated with all sorts of 50’s-era props and posters with messages like “WHY HAVE OUR SKIES TURNED AGAINST US?” and “IT’S THEM–OR US!” And there was a map purporting to track all sorts of strange events, newspaper clippings, and the like. Once you got into the booth proper there was a “doctor” and a “nurse” giving people exams and asking them to swear oaths of loyalty to President Eisenhower and that they have never been members of the Communist Party–and they were very clever and funny in doing this, too. The doctor character grabbed Paul from behind me in the line, and only after did Paul laughingly tell Dara and me that the doctor guy had asked him, “Do you know that woman?” (I.e., ME.) “Is she a Communist? Are you SURE?” I have no idea whatsoever what the actual game is like, but the setup of that booth alone was hysterical, and I totally want to see the game now.

We stopped briefly at the booth for Fruit Ninja as well, a Kinect game, since Dara wanted in on the drawing they were doing to give away a free Kinect. The game didn’t overwhelm us particularly, but it was fun seeing the little kid in the line ahead of us totally go to town with the chopping motions to take out all the fruit on the screen.

Other than that, though, I was mostly interested in what few iOS games were available on the edges of the expo floor, and up on the second floor of booths as well. I particularly liked playing around with Minor Lords and Jetpack Joyride, both of which should be coming out tomorrow and which I plan to buy. Dara and I had a very giggle-worthy time going head to head on Presidents Vs. Presidents, which is cooperative play on an iPad getting cartoon-ified presidents into boxing matches. I was Lincoln, Dara was Chester A. Arthur, and I won! Got a t-shirt. \0/

Also quite liked the Gamebook Adventures booth by Tin Man Games. They’ve got these nifty game apps that are sort of a cross between fantasy novels, Choose Your Own Adventure, and light combat RP, and in fact the guy in the booth pitched the apps to me as Choose You Own Adventure, only about six times as long and with more complex storylines. There’s also nice art scattered all throughout the pages of the app as well. I grabbed the first one and got a coupon code for one of the later ones as well, and I look forward to playing through those.

I wasn’t so much interested in going to the big famous PAX panels, like the live D&D game or the one where Gabe and Tycho draw a strip in front of an audience, mostly because those get huge queues and I’d already spent a big chunk of time in a queue to get into the expo room and expected to do so again to get into the concerts. So most of the day went to wandering around the expo room, though we did check out the Halo Fest exhibit as well; I don’t play Halo, but it was kind of cool to see all the stuff in there, especially the highly detailed combat diorama scenes.

In the evening, of course, were the concerts. This was the other big thing I was interested in, in no small part because I’d never seen Jonathan Coulton perform before. The experience was, sadly, rather mixed. Standing in the queue was decently fun given that we were all geeks and perfectly happy to entertain ourselves, and once or twice people spontaneously started singing JoCo songs. Once the show got started, the two big issues with it quickly surfaced: i.e., the sound and the lighting. The sound mix was awful, and I could barely hear the vocals over the instrumentation. And, given where Dara and Paul and I were sitting, the lighting periodically stabbed me RIGHT IN THE EYES, so I had to spend at least half the time with my eyes closed. Which was vexing.

Massive points off as well to whoever decided that JoCo was not going to be the final act. The actual first act was not music–it was another round of the weekend-long Omegathon, which was entertaining enough; that was a few pairs of guys competing in a dance-off to a Kinect game, of all things. The first act of actual music was Paul and Storm, who I’d also never seen perform. I found them about 25 percent hysterical, 65 percent decently entertaining, and 10 percent really, REALLY annoying; two of their songs in particular I could have done very much without, but on the other hand, their song about the boxing nuns was great, and so was Ten-Fingered Johnny.

JoCo himself was about as awesome as I expected, modulo the awful lighting and sound, which made it difficult for me to appreciate the songs I didn’t already know. But I DID get a big kick out of several thousand geeks all singing “ALL WE WANNA DO IS EAT YOUR BRAINS!” I’d like to see JoCo again, only, like, y’know, in a venue where I can actually hear him.

The last act was a band called Supercommuter, which we knew nothing about. And it really kind of sucked that they had to follow JoCo, because the crowd left en masse when his set was done. I felt a little guilty about it, but not so much that I wanted to stay, especially not given the bad sound and lighting. Dara made a point of stopping to buy their CD on the way out, though.

Seriously, though, they should not have followed Coulton. That’s just crazytalk.

All in all… one day of PAX was about the right amount of PAX for me. Some level of disappointment, but not enough to overwhelm the fun parts, and it’s likely I’ll come back next year for another one-day shot.