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PAX East: Hurry up and wait in line

Before I begin, I feel it necessary to throw a disclaimer on this post: I had a really, really good time at PAX East. It was a fun (but tiring) three days of a real gaming convention that happened in my backyard, which is rare when you live out east. I'm very happy the the Penny Arcade crew realized just how great of an idea it is to tap into us folk out east who would gladly pay good money for this kind of thing more often.

Now, unlike my recent trip to GDC, this was strictly a "for fun" event for me. Yeah, there were industry people up the wazoo in attendance, and I probably could've gone job fishing if I really wanted to, but I had a lot of close friends (and a lot of new friends!) coming into town for the event, so I just wanted to enjoy their company instead of stressing myself out over my future. So, that's exactly what I set out to do.

The festivities, for me, really started on Thursday. I rushed into Boston (I live in Cambridge) to meet up with some friends for dinner, before going straight back to Cambridge to go to a Microsoft-hosted "Made in MA" event for Massachusetts game developers (although it wasn't restricted to just Mass devs). It was a nice way to kick everything off for the whole weekend. My one complaint is a total silver-spoon thing, but come on MS; a cash bar? Surely you can spend a bit of cash to give us some free alcohol. :P

After that, I ended up heading home early to prepare for a very busy weekend of awesome fun. On Friday, I met up with a friend a couple of hours before the convention started, we grabbed lunch, and headed to the Hynes Convention Center for what would end up being the theme of the whole weekend: waiting in lines. Lines lines lines lines lines. Always lines. And then more lines. And don't forget about lines!

Naturally, before the convention is open, you do expect to wait in a line if you show up early. Immediately, though, as my friend and I showed up to "the queue room" (that really should have been a red flag instantly), we realized just how bad it really was. I didn't take any pictures, and I can't do this justice with words, but we were there roughly two hours early and that line was huge. It probably tripled in size by the time the show opened up at 2:00, as well. It was absolutely ridiculous.

The usual suspects in this line were all prevelant: people whipping out their handhelds (which I didn't think to bring, but I did play some Plants vs. Zombies on my iPhone before realizing I was killing my battery), presumably lots of Pictochat, and conversations with total strangers about nerdy things. As a bonus, the swag bag they handed out all contained pre-made Magic the Gathering decks of a random single color (no, there weren't any OMG cards in them, just very basic stuff), so a lot of people sat down and played a game or two. I got roped into playing a game with my friend, despite not having played since high school. Lemme tell ya, red vs. red with 100% identical decks does not a fun game make. But hey, it was something to do.

There was also a setup of a bunch of huge screens with some entertainment, that my good friend Dan Bruno explains perfectly, both in its benefit and detriment. It was a decent idea, but as Dan points out, it would've benefited from a bit more content. At the very least, though, this particular line was managed very well, and felt like a well-managed midnight launch at a game store. (I use that analogy because in years gone by, I was a clerk at a Game Crazy and had to work several midnight launches. They are certainly hard to coordinate.)

Of course, when the doors opened, we had the fun distinction of being herded around by the "enforcers" to try and manage two simple flows: the people going to Wil Wheaton's keynote speech, and everyone else. Unfortunately, the main theater has entrances on the second and third floor, and the queue room was on the first floor. Now, the Hynes has two escalator areas and a few staircases. Everyone going upstairs (which just about everyone was, even if they weren't going to the keynote) had to go up the same single set of escalators (I'm shaky on the exact details, but I think two of the four escalators were ascending). No one was directed to the other side of the building, and no one was allowed to use the stairs. All the while, the "enforcers" (please call them something less terrible, PAX) were barking orders, making sure to treat everyone like mindless animals. (Of course, I'm sure this is necessary in a lot of cases, but it's never fun to put up with. I think it bothered me more than a lot of people, though, so maybe it's all me.)

Now this is where things started to irritate me. The show floor opened at 2:00 PM, and one of the panels I wanted to attend also started at 2:00 PM. Since I was stuck in this prison of a queue room, it took me a good 15 minutes to get to the panel I wanted to see. Apparently they started near or on time, and there were already a ton of people when I walked in, so I missed at least a portion of the panel. That irritated me.

All of this ended up being an ugly theme. Security all weekend did everything they could to make me feel like a child (and it wasn't just the volunteers, the actual security guards were even worse, although I don't particularly blame them. I'm sure most of them weren't used to dealing with people in utilikilts (uggggh)).

The lines were incredibly long for everything. If you cared about good seats, you pretty much had to show up to whatever you were going to at least two hours early. As I mentioned to a few people, planning your day around which lines to wait in is the opposite of a good time. I ended up only going to one other panel the entire weekend, despite there being a few others I would've attended under more ideal circumstances.

To make matters worse, all of these panels were scheduled back-to-back in the same set of three or four rooms. So, that meant there were panels going from (for example) 2:00 PM to 3:00 PM, and then one going from 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM in the same room. You might be reading this and already understanding what the problem here is. After each panel, they forced everyone in the current panel to leave the room, even if they wanted to attend whatever was in there after. I guess they aren't entitled to a seat if they didn't wait in line because they wanted to do something at PAX other than wait in line. You must wait in these lines. It is the law.

Of course, this leads to the scheduled times being close to meaningless. If something went from 2:00 to 3:00, that generally meant it went from something like 2:15 to 3:10, give or take 20 minutes. On top of those lines being so unbearably long, it took a long time to empty out and fill up the rooms in between panels. To make matters worse, they weren't cutting off the panels when they were supposed to, regardless of whether or not they started on time. You would think that once 3:00 rolls around, they'd be told something like "one more question, and you're done," but instead that was something around a ten minute warning, at least for the panels I went to (and one I waited outside of for a friend who was attending). Again, not so conducive to planning out a full day of events in advance.

Not that anyone from Penny Arcade is going to read this but please: add a 30 minute buffer (at least) in between panels in the same room. That was worse than trying to get to back-to-back classes in college.

That really was the unfortunate theme of PAX, and one that was the talk of the town for the entire convention. Everyone I talked to (and I was definitely a social butterfly this weekend) seemed to have the same horror stories of these awful lines, and even if you didn't attend anything, you were almost guaranteed to walk by one of these horrific monstrosities. I didn't attend anything where the two head honchos spoke, but I guess one of them did apologize during the convention itself.

On Monday, I heard that they've already given up on Hynes for next year, and want to move it into the larger Boston Convention Center. While this seems like a good move on the surface, any local will tell you that this is an unfortunate turn of events. Hynes is in an excellent location in Boston, and is near most points of interest in the city. Not to mention, it is directly connected to the Prudential Mall (that food court saw some good business all weekend, hah) and a Sheraton (where a good portion of out-of-town attendees stayed). The BCC is out by the harbor, and really isn't in a good location to get to...well, anything, really.

Like I said in my disclaimer at the beginning, I did have a fantastic time at PAX, despite this coordination nightmare. The people I was surrounded by were great fun, the Harmonix lounge was great (although just as crowded as everything else at times, but at least I could get in there at will), and the freeplay areas were managed well and didn't feel overcrowded(!). I even got to see Super Street Fighter 4 in action, which was cool.

The expo floor wasn't bad, either, although it had the same line problem. The best booth I visited was Nintendo's, if anyone cares. It was presented really well, the people working it were super nice, and they had Warioware DIY playable. Other than that, that game "Shank" people keep talking about was really awesome to see. It's an XBLA game, and the easiest way for me to explain it is this: it's basically NES-era Ninja Gaiden if the main character was Brock Samson from The Venture Brothers. Now then, go ahead and tell me which part of that isn't awesome. That's right: it's all awesome.

As I mentioned, I did attend two panels, and I took notes on both. I'll be doing a writeup on both of them, but if I can combine them into one entry, I want to do that. If it's going to be too wordy, or it doesn't sync up as well as I'm hoping, I'll split them up, though. I certainly learned stuff at them, and had a good time to boot. All in all, I'm sad this event is over.
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About Alakaiserone of us since 1:32 PM on 03.15.2010

The name's Tom. I used to work as an industry guy, and am currently on the hunt for my next paying gig. In the meantime, I'm working on a bunch of different projects that don't help me pay my bills. I write a lot. I'm a musician, although certainly not of the professional variety. I like trying new things and meeting new people. I'm still somewhat new around Destructoid, so sorry in advance if I don't know something I probably should.

About my blog:

I update daily (not really, but I like to pretend). Generally, my updates get pretty long-winded, but hopefully not to the point where they're unreadable. I'll wax poetic about whatever's on my mind, like current events in my life, things that are happening in the video games I like, or whatever happens to pop in my head that day. With a few exceptions, I write my entries the same day I publish them, so they're pretty fresh content-wise. It also might help explain the occasional typos. I do my best to avoid any errors, though.

About my work:

I worked at Harmonix Music Systems as a tester on a year's worth of DLC, The Beatles: Rock Band, Lego Rock Band, and Rock Band Network. Feel free to ask me questions about it, but remember: I'm still under NDA. Also, if you know of a job opening, please tell me about it. I'm flexible.

About my contact info:

Want to collaborate with me on something, big or small, related to the site or not? I'd love to. I like working on any project that I'm even remotely capable of working on, and would love to help you in whatever way I can. Feel free to PM me here, or otherwise send me an email at alakaiser(at)gmail(period)com. Even if you don't want to work with me on something, I'd love to just chat. I'm a pretty friendly guy!

What happened to that thing you did? You know, that one thing?:

I wrote an article that ended up getting promoted to the front page of the site, which is pretty damn cool. It removes it from my cblog archive, though, so I'm throwing a link in this here sidebar for the sake of an archive (and in case I lose the link myself).

The Great Escape: One Foot in Reality