PAX (Penny-Arcade eXpo) was a blast. It’s getting bigger and bigger every year, almost doubling in attendance since last year. They had to moved to the convention center from Bellevue to the main convention center in downtown Seattle to fit everyone. One enforcer thought they might hit 30k attendees.
PAX itself is broken into 3 major branches: tabletop gaming, console/handheld gaming, and PC gaming. The was also a show floor and sessions all day long. The show floor was like a mini E3 with Sony, Nintendo, Intel and all the big players there. Valve was surprisingly missing. On the show floor I got some of the comic strip’s stickers and a pack of all 4 of their books. They were out of the PAX shirts I wanted so I skipped the shirt. I got to play a demo of the new “Precipice of Darkness” game they made and watched folks playing/demoing the new Rock Band game with all the instruments. They had a stage set up and everything, and the developers did a great job with it. One of my buddies kept playing it again and again with random folks. The line went on around 3 booths.
There was also the usual Indie crowd of table-top gaming guys, small game developers, the Army had a big showing with their stuff, Halo 3 guys were selling hats/shirts, etc. nVidia was having a contest where they gave out pairs of matching numbers to random folks. If you found who had your matching numbered ticket, then you got to spin this wheel and win a prize. Not bad prizes either: they had a slot for each of their 8-series cards. But it got annoying. Folks were walking around with huge cardboard signs with these numbers on them, a wall was impromptu pasted with paper, numbers scratched all over it, and ‘call me if you have this number’ cel numbers. It made getting around hard because folks would park in the bottleneck areas with their signs for more visibility – which made the bottlenecks worse.
Sessions were very good. Wil Wheaton was on hand, got a couple good shots of him but I didn’t bother to catch his talk. Most of the sessions I wanted to see were Friday (which I missed), so I only caught a few on Saturday. The Hothead game guys that made ‘Precipice of Darkness’ were there doing an open forum about the game. Amazing how many indie devs are switching to off-the-shelf engines and spending most of their money on art/content now with just like one/two coders. The game looked very fun; but I didn’t see anything particularly new. All the dialog and story was written by the PA guys, so it follows a lot of their style/humor. Should be a fun one to get as long as it’s about the $20 price point.
The PC area was easily 2x in size what it was last year – half being BYOC and Intel supplied the other half as free-play boxes. They came from the demo unit that I sit right next to at Intel. The guys said they shipped up 330 machines alone. Very nice boxes (I went out and bought one of the mice because I liked the kind they used so much). Played CounterStrike Source with a couple buddies on their freeplay servers and cleaned up pretty well. Tried to watch the finals of CS:source, but they weren’t letting anyone watch for fear of folks yelling hints, signaling, etc. Bummer. I would have liked to see all the other contests going on all day but just couldn’t make it to them all. You could just sign up for a game and play against others – everything from table-tops to console to PC. Some of them were quite large with multiple rounds of play and finals. The Frag Dolls were there whooping everyone’s butts on various games (mostly PC) – amazing players.
Only complaint is that it was beginning to feel less ‘Indie’ and a little more commercial. There weren’t as many weird cos play folks running around (though there were plenty), but it still had a good geek feel. There was still a great table-top showing and feel to those areas – but if they keep growing I’m afraid it will fragment into the different groups. When it was small, folks milled about and talked with other gamers of other genre’s (tabletop with consolers, etc). But with so many folks in each discipline, people could stay in their zones without stretching out or meeting other folks. Still, the combined energy of that many gamers really getting into the contests, music, talks, panels, and demos just makes parts of it almost electrifying. The Saturday night concert energy was also amazing. Watch the video clips on their website.
I watch a little of the Omeganauts on Saturday – pretty fun. Always drew big crowds and had lots of cheering and yelling. You could always tell when they were playing if you were even close to the same floor. Sunday, I went to my old seminary buddies ordination up in Everett – so I didn’t get to see the final round which was head-to-head Halo 3.
The freeplay console and table-top areas were bigger than ever before, and there were lines for the consoles most of the time. Bioshock was definitely the not-to-be-missed game of the whole event and Guitar Hero had its same showing. There were random DDR machines scattered around the playing area – but you can tell that DDR is waning quickly in popularity. They did movie nights each night and I dropped in for some Tron to relax. Listening to the crowd/geek commentary was just as entertaining as the movie.
At dinner, the Guild Wars guys rented out Gameworks downtown and I got in for a night of all the free food/beer you wanted along with freeplay of the whole arcade. I won a mini-usb lava lamp racing on an Indy500 game. The concerts were that night, but I’m not much a fan of Frontalot and the other guys I’d heard 2-3 times already. So I hung out with my buddies until midnight when I got in my car and drove to my seminary buddies house to crash for 5 hours until I got up for his 6am ordination.
The ordination went great, got to see a bunch of my old buddies and one of my classmates get ordained to the deaconate. I took off about noon and drove back to Portland after a stop at Dick’s burgers and Archie McPhee’s for a double dose of Seattle burgers and weirdness (respectively).