Darren is a scientist and an educator by day, and a writer and reviewer by night. While he enjoys shooters, RPGs, platformers, strategy, and rhythm games, he takes particular interest in independent games. Additionally, he produces the Zero Cool Podcast, and he plays board games quite a bit.
PAX Prime 2010 has come and gone, far too quickly, as usual. Everybody has slightly different memories of the extravaganza; indulge me for a moment to hear about mine.
I got in on Thursday evening, and called up Wedge, because I was staying in his hotel room the first night. I knew the Sixth Avenue Inn was on Sixth Avenue, but I didn't know if it was north or south of the convention center. Apparently Wedge didn't either, and he told me I had to go away from the convention center. I assumed I knew what that meant, and went off south. After walking about twelve blocks, I realized that if a person is at the convention center, literally every direction is "away" from the convention center. Oops.
After finding the Sixth Avenue Inn (PROTIP: It's north of the convention center), and dropping my stuff off, it was time to head to GameWorks. We had a pretty large group there, and I'm pretty sure we pissed off this one dude who just wanted to watch the Seahawks lose to the Raiders, because we kept standing in front of the TV. I got to glimpse the Brournal, which is every bit as ridiculous as you could hope.
On Friday morning, I woke up on my own before my alarm went off, because I was so excited for the day. I spent all of Friday at panels. bluexy and I started with the keynote, given by Warren Spector. He made a point that I have to consider from here on out: gaming is mainstream now, and we don't have to be ashamed of it in public any more.
After the keynote, bluexy left, but I stuck around for the Penny Arcade Q&A panel. As usual, those guys are funny, and it was a good time. After that, the Rooster Teeth guys had their panel, where they did Q&A, but more importantly, showed the last two episodes of the current Red vs. Blue season. The second to last one is effing amazing, and you can watch it now here.
After Rooster Teeth, I had to head back up the hill and get in line for LoadingReadyRun's panel. If you're not familiar, LoadingReadyRun is a sketch comedy troupe that puts out some pretty good stuff. The highlight of the panel was an advance showing of this week's Unskippable, which you should totally watch if you haven't already. After LoadingReadyRun, I was off to the GameTrailers panel, where we got to see an advance showing of the current Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin' episode, which you should totally watch if you haven't already.
After that, I ended up at the Friday night concerts. I had never heard any of the stuff by the Protomen before, and it is incredibly ridiculous. I'm not entirely sure how they relate to video game culture, aside from their name, but the lead singer has a really powerful and impressive voice. However, I was mainly there to see Anamanaguchi, so it was lucky that they were up next in the lineup. Unforunately, they suffered from a couple of technical issues, where the chiptunes were almost inaudible during the first song, and one of the monitors wasn't working later on, causing one of the guitarists a significant amount of stress. Still, it sounded fine to me, and I couldn't help but rock out to "Dawn Metropolis."
I took off after Anamanaguchi so I could meet up at the Elephant and Castle with the rest of the Dtoiders, and luckily I ran into Hamza on the way saying that the party had moved elsewhere due to staff douchebaggery, so we headed back to GameWorks. I was starving at this point, having not eaten since that morning before the keynote (roughly fifteen hours before), and I was devastated when I got to GameWorks just after the kitchen had closed. I could watch other people eat, but couldn't order anything myself. I tried to buy Samit's half-eaten sandwich from him, but he wouldn't let me for fear of spreading conSARS. Dejected, I decided to go back to the hotel to drop off my stuff, and find food elsewhere.
I texted Polo Guy, one of my temporary roommates to see if he wanted to head to the Whiskey Bar to meet up with some people, and he told me that they were eating at the Elephant & Castle. I had him order up the most delicious hamburger ever for me, but in hindsight, it probably only tasted so good because I was about to die from starvation. It was funny that we were back at the E&C with Hamza, since just an hour earlier he said, "Never go here again, these people are dicks to us." The tune changed when it turned out it was the only place still serving food that late into the night. Polo Guy is an awesome dude, by the way. he bought my hamburger for me, despite my offers to pay him back. I got him a beer at the Whiskey Bar later, but it didn't cover what he paid for me at the E&C.I didn't spend too much time at the Whiskey Bar on Friday. The Destructoid LIVE! panel was early the next day, so I wanted to make sure I could wake up the next morning. I got back to the room and into my sleeping bag at two in the morning. I woke up on Saturday at around eight on the floor with my legs propped up on the loveseat, ready to start off the day.
I got myself a burrito at the convention center, then headed up to the sixth floor to wait in line for Destructoid LIVE! I was the first in line, but the Enforcers kicked me back down to the fourth floor, saying that the sixth floor wouldn't be open until ten o'clock. When I was finally let back upstairs, I was still near the front of the line, but not first. While in line, throughout PAX, I canvassed for Dragon Quest IX travelers, and was able to upgrade my Quester's Rest to what I think is completion.
Destructoid LIVE! was just what you'd expect. Niero came on with the serious business stuff (N33T sounds pretty cool), and then Jim, Chad, and Jonathan brought the irreverence. The entire panel is going up soon, so keep an eye out for that. Everybody saw the Bit.Trip FATE reveal coming once Jim posted the obvious teaser, but it was cool nonetheless. And of course, it's always a pleasure to see Lost Crichton in tiny shorts; that he also devoured a sinner's sandwich was icing on the cake.
I will say though, to the guy who got up and asked, "When I come to Destructoid, should I leave my brain at the door?" Screw you, pal. Jonathan Holmes had a very graceful answer to the question, "You should bring your heart to the door," but if I were up there, I would have just said, "Eff off if you think you're so much better than us." If you can't find the intelligent discussion on Destructoid, then you're not looking, and if you can't stand the less-than-intelligent discussion that much, then get out. I'm all for promoting pertinent discourse, but there's a line you cross when you get up in front of a bunch of editors and hundreds of community members and insult us all right there.
After Destructoid LIVE!, I had what might have been my memory of PAX 2010. As lame as it sounds, it doesn't involve any unreleased game, but rather a game that has been out for nearly a year, that I play almost nightly. One of DJDuffy's PC gamer friends challenged us to settle a debate once and for all: who is more skilled, PC FPS players or console FPS players? So DJDuffy, Mid3vol, Kryptinite, Knivy, BigPopaGamer, Storytime, and I assembled our team and headed to the console freeplay area for some Modern Warfare 2. Due to unfortunate limitations, the best we could do was 2v2, but we played about five matches and won every single one of them.
"It's okay," we said to them, "You're going to school us on the PC." When we first started up the game in the PC freeplay area, it seemed that would be the case. However, we played their preferred gametype (Team Deathmatch) on the console, and played OUR preferred gametype (Domination) on the PC. So even though we kept hitting the wrong buttons (I could never find the melee button when I needed it), and most of us ended up with a negative kill/death spread, we finished the first game (Domination on Afghan) with just a few points ahead. The second game was Domination on Sub Base, and we really got more into the groove of it. Despite still being underskilled in terms of pure shooting, our teamwork got us through to a pretty commanding win.
At this point, we maybe started to feel bad that we were beating these PC gamers on their own platform, so we decided to play some Team Deathmatch on it. The PC gamers got their first win of the day, but their victories wouldn't last long. On the last match of five, on Favela, we started with a deficit. I still needed to get my bearings on how to effectively play without being quick with all of the buttons, so I took on the Overwatch class (default classes only) so I could shoot down UAVs. After awhile, we made up our deficit and took a pretty commanding lead. I managed to accumulate a 5-kill streak, and I tucked the Predator missile away for later. Near the end, I saw the scores at 47 to 30-something, and announced, "All right, let's end this." I called in my Predator missile, and once I saw the screen, a flurry of unusual trash talk came out of my mouth. "Oh man, here it is, triple kill, suck it!" Boom. Three kills with a Predator near the soccer field. I stood up and shouted out an uncharacteristic "Fuck yeah!" and high fived Storytime and Duffy. It was probably one of the greatest gaming achievements I have ever accomplished.
The PC gamer guys were pleasantly good sports about losing to a group of ragtag console gamers, but I'm pretty sure this settles the debate; console gamers are better than PC gamers, fact.
After the Modern Warfare 2 games, I made my way off to one of the more professionally important panels I've been to, about studying games academically. At my core, I am an academic, and it would be a dream for me to do scientific research on games. It was enlightening, for sure, and I will definitely follow up with some of the panelists soon. Fingers crossed that it will lead to something good in my future. After that panel, I was tasked with babysitting Storyr while he gallivanted with the robot helmet. We got some pictures with a Katamari cousin, headless Zero Suit Samus, and some completely lame Kinect action. It was good times, but when it was over, I really wanted to finally hit the show floor for myself and check out some games. Of course, I only had about an hour to do that, so I didn't get more than a few hands-off glimpses of the PAX 10 indie stuff.
When the show floor closed, I decided that I'd call up my first night roommates Wedge and bluexy for some board games. They brought everybody from the room, including GrumpyTurtle, to my surprise (I thought I was the only person who was nerdy enough to enjoy strategy board games but also like Call of Duty). We all played a game of Shadows Over Camelot, which is a fantastic cooperative board game based on the Knights of the Round Table, but it was unfortunately the least perilous instance of the game I have played. Not once throughout the game did I think we were going to lose, and we beat the game pretty handily 10 to 2. It probably has to do with the fact that I've gotten more experienced with it (everybody else was playing it for the first time), and we lucked into having no traitor among us. I apologized that the game wasn't as fun as it usually is, but my fellow knights seemed to enjoy it just fine.
Once we packed up and turned in Shadows Over Camelot, I figured it was time for me to hit up the meetup at the Chapel. At this point, my phone was dying, so I was avoiding talking on it, but rather just texting people for directions. For the second time this trip, I was given poor directions (Polo Guy meant turn right but he said turn left), and I ended up going about three miles out of the way in total. After some lifesaving help from J-Ro, I got there, and got to enjoy some of the most delicious-yet-strong beverages I've had.
The venue itself was kind of a bust in my mind, because I'm not really into music so loud that you can't talk to each other, or bartenders so busy that it takes twenty minutes to get a drink, or transsexuals. Still, there were other Dtoiders there, and there was plenty of drunk to go around, so it wasn't all bad. I spent the majority of my night outside, as far from the oontz as possible, chatting it up with one of my former citymates, Zero Atma. When it was time to leave the Chapel, I was instructed on just how easy it was to get there, and I cursed my lack of a smart phone.
Back in the hotel room, Stella, Mikey, and Trevkor just stayed up chatting about random things while sobering up. It sounds like a minor event, and I don't even remember anything in particular, but after an exhausting day, it was just what I needed to get geared up for Sunday.
I was woken up on Sunday morning at around eight by Polo Guy coming back to the room finally (that man can party). I got myself all cleaned up for the day, and set out to enjoy the final day of PAX. The only panel I had on my schedule was for Gearbox, but I wrote that down when I was expecting something about the future of the Borderlands franchise, and after hearing the buzz on Friday, I was pretty sure it'd be all about Duke Nukem Forever, a game that I care nothing about.
So I started the day off completing my PAX XP quests. It was a neat little thing they put together for people new to PAX to get a feel for the layout, but it was still helpful for me now that there were so many areas offsite from the actual convention center. I also sort of did it just out of curiosity; the loot promised was a "PAX XP Zipper Pull," and I had no idea what that was. So I went around the convention center, performing random tasks (like rolling a 20-sided die or escaping from a Sumo bean bag) and gaining XP for it. It turns out that a zipper pull is a little button with a clip on it so it can attach to zippers. I was a little disappointed, but hey, free stuff, right? I clipped it on my hoodie and made my way to the show floor.
Almost all of my time on Sunday was spent at the PAX 10 booth, but my experience with those games will be saved for a future blog, so keep an eye here in case you're interested in cool indie games. Other than those, I also played some Monaco, and I watched several rounds of SpyParty. Monaco seemed very interesting, but I think I would have to have a set group of people with specific types of personalities to really enjoy it. As a cooperative game, it was really frantic when played on the PAX show floor, but I would have much preferred a slower paced, more methodical approach to the game. From what I could tell, the game is completely playable that way, but it requires the players to want to do it. I can't say much about SpyParty that hasn't already been said by people who have actually played it, but suffice it to say that I've always been really interested in asymmetric multiplayer, and Spy Party really looks like an interesting take on stealth and subterfuge.
Another indie game I played was the much-buzzed-about Slam Bolt Scrappers. I only got one game with it, and it was against more experienced players, so I might be wrong about it, but it just didn't click with me. When I wanted to play it like a thoughtful puzzle game, Alex Barbatsis would come over to my side of the screen and kick the crap out of me, and when I switched to playing it like a fighter, my tower got destroyed. It was altogether too frantic for me; I couldn't tell what was going on a lot of the time, and I couldn't place pieces where I wanted to with the speed an precision I would have liked. Perhaps it just takes some getting used to, but it's certainly not a game that I could immediately pick up and play.
Outside of the indie area, I spent a bit of time in the Nintendo booth. I watched somebody else play a cool looking platformer called Fluidity. It looks like a cross between LocoRoco and PixelJunk Shooter,
in that movement is controlled by tilting the world from side to side, but what the player is moving is an ever-growing mass of liquid. It looks cool, and I wish I could have tried it out. But alas, I spent my time at the Nintendo booth standing in line to play Kirby's Epic Yarn.
Let me just say that Kirby's Epic Yarn looks beautiful. It might be the best looking Wii game I've ever seen, and if I hadn't known any better, I would have said it was running at 720p. Of course, it's on the Wii, so it's doing 480p at best, but you wouldn't know it by looking at it. Secondly, I don't think the smile left my face during the entire demo. I played cooperatively with LK4O4, and while he was collecting gems and other knickknacks, I just kept double tapping left or right so Kirby would turn into a car and drive around. Also, when one of the characters swims in the water, he turns into a submarine, complete with propeller and periscope. It's not a very difficult game, but it is by far one of the cutest games I've seen.
The last thing I did at PAX proper was to attend the final round of the Omegathon. Not many Dtoiders care about going to it, but I always enjoy it for two reasons. One, it is sort of like the PAX closing ceremony, and two, there is nowhere else in the world that you will be in a room with thousands of other like-minded individuals, cheering on two guys playing the claw-grabber crane game. Of course, the game changes every year, but this year we were treated to the Omegaclaw. Watch the video above, and tell me you wouldn't like to have been there to see that.
After PAX, I met up with Polo Guy (have I mentioned how cool he is?) to get some Thai food at one of my favorite restaurants in Seattle, but it was closed, so we ended up just walking aimlessly until we found something. We smelled something good, and popped into a slightly overpriced Japanese place, only to see Tactix and company. We sat down and had some delicious katsu curry, before heading out to the final Destructoid meetup at Rock Bottom.
I was impressed when we got to the Rock Bottom; we actually had an entire huge section cordoned off just for us. And doubly surprising, there were several people there on time. I mostly stayed in my booth, but I got to talk to the ridiculous Jon Carnage, and I spent time with the talented and insightful Sean Carey. Also, I ate some bacon brownies, which were probably the best idea somebody has ever had. Afterward, I was awarded with a coveted Destructoid bobblehead, just for volunteering to chaperone Storyr with the helmet, something I had done simply to be helpful.
Unfortunately, I had to turn in early, so I left long before all of the shenanigans were over. I got back to the room and got a good five hours of sleep before waking up to catch a cab with Knives up to the airport. My last memory of PAX 2010 was drinking a Frosty milkshake with my Mexican friend before hopping on a plane and sleeping forever. Looking back at this blog, I really did quite a bit, and still, I wish I had more time to spend with you all. This was the best weekend of the year. PAX is better than the last day of school. PAX is better than Christmas. And so long as my finances allow it, I will see you people at PAX every year from now on until I get too old to fly my ass up there. I miss you guys already, and I'm looking forward to PAX 2011!