PAX 2009: Report from the Front

So, it's been over a week since the legendary annual migration of geeks to the great Pacific Northwest took place. I am, of course, referring to the Penny Arcade Expo (lovingly known as PAX) in Seattle, Washington. For those that may be unfamiliar with this phenomenon, I shall point you to the official PAX website to explain the details.


All we all on the same page now? Good.


Now, where to begin...

Upon arrival to downtown Seattle and the convention center, Andy was sucked into work with a last minute conference call. I suppose if you have to be in a meeting, there are worse places listen to said meeting than at PAX. At any rate, while he was occupied, I had enough time to get my barrings before heading towards the first panel. Upon escalating up to the fourth floor, my attention was drawn to the massive amounts of beanbag chairs littering the floors specifically deposited to accommodate optimal DS (or PSP) gaming and the occasional nap. This was a good idea. You hear that Dragon*Con? Take note.

The first panel I attended was the Wizards of the Coast Art Director's Panel. They presented some good information for those wanting to get into the game art industry, especially on tuning a portfolio for a specific industry. A lot of what they said seemed like common sense to me, such as "follow directions" and "be polite and professional", but it really is amazing how many people just don't get those concepts.

While I am certain there are many fabulous places to eat in downtown Seattle, we have a fondness for the Taphouse Grill. I like it because the food is mucho yummy, and Andy likes it because it features a ridiculous number (160) of beers on tap. I highly recommend this fine establishment for anyone visiting Seattle, but make sure to go early or prepare to wait. Rumor has it word has gotten out.

After a fabulous meal and libations, we moseyed back on over to PAX to investigate the night's activities. On the way in there was some sort of punk NES music street dance thing that I didn't quite understand, but never the less drew a large crowd. After finding our way inside, we noticed that there was a bearded fellow carrying a guitar being accompanied by a rather talkative slightly rotund fellow in glasses heading out way. We both immediately recognized JoCo and Paul but politely walked past without saying hi or any such interruption. However, *squeeee!* (at least I know I was, I can't speak for Andy). Ahem. Moving along... the expo hall was still open, so we explored the smorgasbord of new and upcoming games and other shiny sparkly game miscellany for ten or fifteen minutes before we were all herded out of the now closed expo hall.

Expo Hall

After perusing the schedule, we decided to check out the LIVE ON-STAGE DEMO - Assassin's Creed II & Splinter Cell Conviction going on in the main theater. After waiting a few minutes in the queue room (Yes, you heard me right. There's a whole theater dedicated to the lines. I have to say, another good idea.) we were funneled into the main theater. Upon entering the main theater, there was two rows of ladies with white Assassin's Creed-esque hoods concealing their faces handing out fliers. Kinda creepy.

The first demo shown was for Splinter Cell Conviction. While I have never played any of the Splinter Cell's (nor really feel compelled to), I do have to say the graphics and handling on this new one were damn sweet. I could watch the game play all day it was that pretty (well, aside from the graphic head bashing and whatnot). We didn't stick around to see Assassin's Creed because The Guild Season 2 Screening was about to start.

On the way up, I noticed that Storm was over in Bandland (the area for bands and other famous peoples for signings and swag selling) all by his lonesome. If I wasn't so shy I would have said hi and/or bought something. Ah well...

The Guild Season 2 Screening

On the panel was Jeff Lewis and Sandeep Parikh (Vork and Zaboo from The Guild) and The Guild's producer, Kim Evey. There was a brief intro from everyone before we started watching the episodes. It was probably a good thing Felicia Day was off at Dragon*Con instead, since the video kept freezing on the most interesting shots of her. I'm sure there's photos of it floating around the interwebs somewhere as several folks made sure to get pictures of the more humorous freezes. Afterward, there was a nice QA session with the panelists.


Upon arriving we quickly hopped into line at the queue room to secure ourselves wristbands for that night's concert. For the Friday and Saturday night concerts, up to 4,000 PAX attendees could acquire a wristband that would guarantee entry into that night's concerts. We had been told by official PAX looking people, that it would be wise to show up early. In reality, it wasn't as bad as they made it sound and we were through the queue within a half an hour. Why such the fuss? Well, that night was the Jonathan Coulton/Paul and Storm concert. More on that later.

After that ordeal, the panel I had wanted to go to that morning (Designing indie games with a team of one) was nearly over, so we wandered around the expo hall some more then went down to Pike Place Market to grab some lunch. At this point I wasn't feeling well, so we crashed back at the hotel for the rest of the afternoon.

After a valiant fight with an automated parking pay booth (we won, eventually) and grabbed some dinner, we hopped into the queue for the concert. (Btw, having our portables with us made the queues much more bearable. DS LEGO SWtCS FTW! I must keep this in mind for all cons.) While we were waiting, there was some sort of karaoke competition going on at the back wall. As far as I could ascertain, the purpose was to sing/dance along to whatever music video got randomly thrown up on the screen. At one point the contestants got Rick Rolled, which was pretty awesome, and caused quite the cheering in the queue.

Once we were into the main theater, there was a round of Omegaton (Rock Band Competition) before the first band, Freeze Pop, started. We sat in the back chairs during this one since neither of us were that familiar with the group and we wanted to save our standing strength for later. Freeze Pop ended up being an excellent high energy show.

We moved up and snagged a decent spot close to the right side of the stage during the intermission. It was close, but not a great view considering my lack of height. As as result all the photos I took I had to do bind, holding the camera above my head. Thanks goodness for digital cameras and large memory cards.

D20 of Power

Before Paul and Storm took the stage, Wil Wheaton sauntered on to the stage and gave the now infamous Department of Geek Affairs Proclamation as the official Secretary of Geek Affairs. It was beautiful. Paul and Storm pointed out Wil must also be the Pope of PAX or something.

Paul and Storm

After Paul and Storm graciously accepted the D20 on behalf of JoCo and posed for the obligatory photographs, the concert started. Paul and Storm were as awesome as usual and put on a truly excellent show. They even played "Frogger! The Frogger Musical" which if it wasn't the first time they performed it, it was the first time I had seen it. Yay for new stuff! I could definitely tell though that this was the first time a lot of folks, at least in my general vicinity, had the Paul and Storm experience. Good news is, they seemed to enjoy it (but really, who wouldn't?).

Then it was JoCo's turn. Again, excellent stuff. Molly was also there to join in. Yay! During the performance of "My Monkey", JoCo had replaced the words "my monkey" with "Wil Wheaton". This was met with much approval from the crowd and a very tickled Wil Wheaton (who was sitting up front on some of the big bean bag chairs). After the song Wil bounded onto stage and nearly knocked JoCo over with a huge hug which soon became a big group hug as Paul, Storm, and Molly joined the hug-fest. Then Will squee-ed a little and sat back down. It was quite adorable and hilarious.

Paul, Jonathan Coulton, and Storm

The rest of the concert was fabulous. So much so that there was three encores at the end "Sweet Caroline", "Birdhouse in Your Soul", and "First of May". It concluded at something like 2:30am. However, if you listened really hard, for several hours afterward you might have heard, blowing faintly on the wind, disjointed verses of "RE: Your Brains" or "Code Monkey" echoing through the empty streets of downtown Seattle.


We arrived back at PAX just in time to be turned away due to a full panel for the Wil Wheaton Presents: THE AWESOME Hour!!1. We were bummed. Considering the number of folks the PAX enforcers had to turn away for that panel, they really should have gotten him a bigger room. Like double the size of the theater they put him in. So, we wandered back downstairs in a bit of a grump, and spent some quality time in the expo hall.

At the front of the expo hall there was the PAX 10 games. The only one I had played was Closure. It's simplistic, but has a quite fun design. The premise is that your this little dude that's stuck in various dark rooms. Anywhere in the dark is an abyss. You will fall and die. However, if you have a light and can see where you are going, all is well. It's a puzzle game. You have to sort out how to get across the room and unlock the door given minimal options. There was also a demo of Machinarium going on that I stopped to droll over for a bit. Osmos looked very mesmerizing as well.

Further into the hall was the mainstream games. Things like Halo 3 ODST, Starcraft II, Left 4 Dead II, insert sequel of successful game here, etc. You could play any of these games but all the good ones required waiting in long lines for what looked like a long, long time. We just wandered around and watched others play to get a good idea on the game play.

Finished Bioshock 2 Art

At the Bioshock 2 display I got stopped and asked if I was with my parents. While flattered that they thought I looked like a teenager, I informed the nice ladies that I was, in fact, 29. They didn't seem convinced, but they didn't ask to see my ID either. There weren't any demos of Bioshock 2 however, but they did show some clips from the game. It looks like it's going to be even more creepy than the last one. I will sum it up in two words. Big Sister.

Next to the Bioshock display was the Nintendo display. Andy was memorized by the new Super Mario Bros. for the Wii. I do believe if we do get a Wii, that one game will be the sole reason. There was also, Borderlands, a first-person shooter, that looked quite good. PLUS it had co-op.  Another up and coming game was, Avatar. The game play reminded me a lot of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. I suspect the underlying engine is the same.

After loading up on the free swag, we went back down to Pike Place Market, grabbed a required piroshky or two and took off back home.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, no, I did not get the swine flu. I did however contract a head cold around Thursday, but it wasn't too bad.