Two weekends ago Chrystie and I flew into Boston to visit my cousin and attend PAX East, our third Penny Arcade Expo and first one on the east coast. Visiting my cousin was great, the gaming convention, unfortunately, was another story.
Upon arriving to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, the lobby was absolute chaos – a mass of people with lines going in every direction, and no indication at all as to what the lines were for.
We wanted to grab our swag bags, lanyards, and programs (with maps) first off, but having no idea where in the enormous building to go, we asked an “Enforcer” who directed us to go behind escalators, down a long hall, down another hall, down an escalator, down another hall, around the corner and finally to the queue room. Big signs in the lobby would have been quite helpful, as would have putting the queue room anywhere near the lobby. After walking half a mile and waiting in line, we got to the queue room, where we were told we could only get swag bags after the crowd died down.
After getting our swag bags, we found our way to the line for the keynote address by Jane McGonigal, author of Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. We waited perhaps 45 minutes in the line and felt confident we would be able to see it when the guy counting heads to make sure there was enough room continued walking past us. When we got to the front of the line, they stopped the two people in front of us and said the room was full, apologized and asked us to disband.
Not getting into panels is to be expected when you have 69,500 people at a convention and the main theater only holds 3300, and the smaller theaters only hold several hundred. PAX has become World of Linecraft, where you must wait hours in line to guarantee yourself admittance to popular panels or to demo upcoming games.
The problem I have at PAX is there are so many things going on at any given time, and, not being able to do everything at once, determining my path of maximum enjoyment consumes me where inevitably I end up second guessing myself, missing things and regretting my choices.
The lines for demos of Portal 2, Duke Nukem Forever, and Rage were upwards of two hours. After debating whether or not getting to say I played it before it came out and getting a shirt was worth 2+ hours of my time, I convinced myself the lines would be shorter on Sunday. They weren’t – if anything, they were longer and I missed out. I ended up meandering on the expo floor getting shirts and swag, taking photos and watching others play Duke Nukem Forever and League of Legends.
The expo floor was far too small given the amount of space available in the convention center, and there were far too many attendees crammed into this small area. Getting anywhere quickly was impossible, rather you just had to go with the flow in a sea of people until you found a gap, then could zip ahead and merge in with the next group.
In previous PAXes, I recall frequently being able to walk up to a small-time game that caught my attention as I walked by and play it without having to wait in line. Sadly, at this one there were no such games to play – every booth had a mass of people around it waiting to play or doing something for a contest or just getting a breather before diving back in the crowd.
Some major games seemed to be absent from the convention, most notably Crysis 2, but also Batman: Arkham City, Battlefield 3, Dota 2, Doom 4, Final Fantasy Versus XIII, Infamous 2, Mass Effect 3, and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I imagine some are just waiting for PAX Prime, but the top games at PAX East: Duke Nukem, Portal, Rage and Guild Wars 2 were all featured at PAX Prime back in September, so I don’t see why it doesn’t work the other way around.
The one game that did pique my interest and has gotten me very tempted to get a Kinect, was Child of Eden. Not entirely sure what the game was about, I watched one of the game designers demo the game and I became entranced by the amazing beauty of the game. None of the trailers I can find online even come close to doing it justice – it was quite a visual feast. The plot of the game involves saving a futuristic computer network containing all human memories from a virus attack by using your hands as blasters.
The cosplay I was able to see at PAX East was utterly disappointing, perhaps due to the poor weather. By far the best cosplayer I saw was a girl dressed as “Cookie” Morgana from League of Legends, and she even competed in the Sunday League of Legends tournament wearing the cumbersome costume.
One of three panels we did get into was the Make-a-Strip panel, in which Mike and Jerry created a comic for their site in front of an audience. They bantered with each other while Mike drew the comic and Jerry took questions from the audience. The guys were amazingly accommodating to their fans – Mike included a disturbingly good My Little Pony (as if it weren’t his first time) in the comic, Jerry appeased a fans’ request to touch him, Mike drew Jerry as Wonder Woman, and both autographed numerous items.
It was here that the first mention of the dickwolf controversy came up which caused a communal groan among the crowd – an audience member asked Mike to draw a female dickwolf. As Jerry and both of their wives implored Mike to not give his critics any more dickwolf fodder, he said “Fuck it” and began drawing it anyway to roars of cheers from the audience. Soon after drawing the mouth, one of I presume many vaginas he was going to put on the female dickwolf, he thought better of it and stopped.
Another panel we were able to get into was the Videogame Antiques Roadshow. The panel included three guys who were very knowledgeable in the history and value of video games. Members of the audience were asked to bring up their ancient games or treasures and give a story about them, while the guys would tell some anecdotes and try to value the item, as well as give the audience tips on spotting counterfeit copies and determining the rarity of some games.
The coolest collectable that was brought was an original Nintendo Powerglove in a rare case that none of the panelists had seen or heard of before. It bore the official Nintendo emblem and the panelists joked that this may have been the one used in the movie The Wizard, but realistically it was likely a very rare promotional item and I believe they valued it at a thousand dollars.
Another interesting item that was presented was a misprinted game. The box and disc labels both said it was one game, but the game on the disc was actually another one. The guys said this is not unheard of and most people just call and complain and the company rectifies the problem by sending the correct disc and destroying the old one. While the misprints are very rare, they aren’t very valuable because not too many people are interested in them.
The panel was very entertaining, and could have easily gone on several more hours if there hadn’t been another panel scheduled after. They got rushed at the end and didn’t even get through half the items brought in, one of which looked like an original Pong game, which would have been interesting to hear about.
The last panel we saw, How to Win at Games, was not what I was expecting. The two hosts were two internet-famous bloggers and podcasters I had never heard of, but most everyone was there to see them banter and shoot the shit about games. I wasn’t expecting some amazing secret on how to win, but more an in-depth look at strategies for certain games, for example, one game mentioned for discussion was Settlers of Catan. I was interested to learn if perhaps there was something I wasn’t seeing about this game, some strategy that had a statistically better chance of winning.
After a goofy explanation of sports versus games and how Mario is a sport in their opinion because it requires reflexes, the panelists got to the crux of how they win games which they summed up as “be a dick”. Pretty much it boiled down to: study the game (play and practice), screw-over whoever is your biggest competition as much as possible, and never be the guy who “falls on his sword” to prevent someone else from winning – make someone else do it. They also seemed to suggest that this works best when playing with idiots, as they frequently mentioned anyone not in the room learning their winning tactics as idiots who haven’t got a clue.
I laughed when they began explaining the dots on the tiles for Settlers of Catan and how to pick the best spaces for towns. Again, I would expect anyone who has had the game explained to them and has given the slightest thought to dice probability to understand that when rolling two dice a 6 or 8 is much more likely to come up than a 2 or 12, so building adjacent to the tiles with better odds (the spot with the most dots) only makes sense. That was followed with the advice to never trade resources with anyone in a better position than you – more common sense. I walked out of that panel feeling smarter, but not from anything learned in the panel.
Chrystie and I decided to bail before the closing ceremonies, while I’m sure they were great, we were just done with PAX East. I feel like I failed at PAX East, everyone else seemed to be having such a blast, but I found myself unfulfilled.