I was talking on Steam's IM with the inimitable SWPM
a couple of days ago about my experience at PAX
last year. I really started to get on a roll, and with less than 50 days left until the doors open, I thought others who haven't been or are curious about the experience might like to know a little more about what to expect once they enter Arcadia. This is only through the lens of my own experience of course... your mileage may vary.
I wrote a bit about the convention in my last post
. I can say without hyperbole that it was one of the greatest experiences in my life. I'm going back this year, and I'd love to meet as many of you folks as possible.
Part of it is like any other convention you would go to... Blizzcon, Baycon, Comicon, what have you. Everything is video-game themed, though. There's lots of game companies showing off their stuff. Sony was doing a HUGE promotion for Drake's Fortune last year... I won some framed art and a ring in a really nice little box, and a T-shirt. Gonna have to buy that game to even it out one of these days.
I'd show the box the ring came in and the T-shirt, but I'm camera-shy.
The heart of the convention is the game floor where they show off all the new stuff. Last year they had Bioshock, Metroid Prime 3, Ratchet and Clank, Drake's Fortune, Rock Band etc. all playable, months in advance of their release. They also demo card and board games here. This room is constantly the most crowded and the most noisy... this is where you get the majority of your show swag, and it's also where the vendors are set up, so there's often people running around with really cool stuff they've just won or bought. There's rooms set up all around the hotel with different themes. One is just stuffed with tons of board games that you can borrow, there's another with a bunch of retro consoles set up anyone can play. If you want, you can bring your own games and play them, too. I'll definitely be bringing a few decks of Magic cards. The lobby areas have piles and piles of those big Sumo recliner beanbags all over the place... you'll often find people settled down there playing DS or PSP games wirelessly.
If you choose to, there are competitions you can participate in. There's what they call a "distributed tournament" for portable games... you start with two tokens and can wager them against other competitors in any game of your choice, from Mario Kart to Pong to Puzzle Quest. Whoever has the most tokens at the end of the event can win some pretty impressive prizes. Some of the vendors have prizes you can win too-- nVidia gives every PAX attendee a T-shirt and a badge-type pin with a 5 digit number on it. If you can find the other person at the show with the same numbered button, you can win some really awesome PC gaming stuff. This is the very definition of "Needle in a Haystack," but it's fun seeing how far people will go to try and find their match. There's also the "Omegathon," which takes place over the entire weekend and has an unbelievable gaming prize for the ultimate winner. Last year it was a fully loaded Scion Xb with game consoles built in, the year before that it was a gaming collection valued at over $10,000. Omeganauts are chosen randomly from PAX preregistrants and are pretty much treated like rock stars over the course of the convention. The last major event is the Omegathon final, where the last two competitors battle it out on a game that remains secret until it's go time. In years past, epic games of Pong
were played out before the crowds, so most people were expecting a similar retro game last year. Instead we were treated to this.
I think the guy standing in front of me might have made a mess on the floor when he realized we'd be seeing Halo 3. He had easy access, too-- he was wearing a UtiliKilt.
There are scheduled events and panel discussions every day, but you don't have to go to any of them. If you do, there are industry leaders talking about everything from music in games to getting your game idea out there to... well, pretty much anything you can think of. The big events though are the ones where Mike and Jerry (Gabe and Tycho) are actually there. They do a comic strip live in front of the audience... it's really cool to watch the art taking shape right in front of you. There're also a few major speeches and events... last year Wil Wheaton gave the keynote address
, Assassin's Creed was demonstrated live for the first time worldwide, and there was a surprise visit from the worst movie director ever, Uwe Boll.
There are concerts every night. I got to see Jonathan Coulton live last year before he exploded with "Still Alive." There are other types of music represented too... MC Frontalot does what he calls "Nerdcore" rap, which is more likely to mention rolling a natural 20 than popping a cap in some fool. There are covers and remixes of old NES game tunes, performed by bands like the Minibosses and the Oneups.
There are movies and stuff at night... they show "The Wizard"
every year. I think people are gonna start making up lines to yell back at the screen soon, like for the Rocky Horror movie.
"I love The Wizard... it's so bad."
The movies and concerts can run until the small hours of the morning, but that's no reason to stop having fun. There are frequently after-hours parties in the hotel itself (one's connected to the convention center, and there are several more in the vicinity, crammed with avid gamers). As long as you can keep from passing out, there'll be something for you to do.
Apart from the convention itself, Seattle is a wonderful city with lots to see and do. The friends I was with and I spent most of a day at the amazing Science Fiction museum
beneath the Space Needle, and had lunch in the Needle's rotating restaurant. (That was expensive, but delicious. The view was indescribable-- it was totally worth it.) We also did a tour of the Seattle "catacombs,"
a hilarious look at the city's history that I'd highly recommend.
Going to PAX last year was one of the best vacations I've ever taken. I'll be going back again this year and intend to keep going for years to come. I hope to see some of you there!