Overall impressions of PAX: better than last year. Now that they had the entire convention center at their disposal, things were organized much, much better, and things *flowed* much more smoothly. Also, somehow the food options were *much* better this year, especially considering that I'm still boycotting Subway: the place at the back of the expo hall had decent sandwiches and side salads at relative bargain prices, and their personal pizzas were not awful. The other scattered dispensaries had decent-looking nachos, hot dogs, and chicken+rice bowls, and very little was ever out-of-stock (except for soda on Sunday evening). Tully's was in abundance this year, and I think one or two of the restaurants on the first floor have been upgraded since last time. Already looking forward to next year. Except, oh wait, PAX East is in another 6 months! I think I will be in Boston next March!
Most of my time on Friday was spent in panels (and, well, waiting in line for panels). First was Beyond Candyland, about boardgames and German strategy games. Discovered Dune board game which has an interesting mechanic: each player gets a different, totally broken ability (e.g. "Whenever anyone spends money, you get it instead of the bank", "If no one has won by turn 7, you do"). It's out of print and expensive to get; if I thought I could easily find the 4-6 players and many hours it takes to play, I would probably get it anyway.
After that was the Keynote and Penny Arcade Q&A panel, both excellent. Lots of laughs. Then there was the gaygamers.net panel, which I missed the first half of, frustratingly. Got some quick dinner () and toured the expo hall for a while. Everyone was gaga over Scribblenauts for the DS. It's cute, but I didn't see what all the fuss was about. The PAX10
were kinda cool: Machinarium was my clear favorite, and Liight was a decent 2nd. I liked the concept of Tag, but the game wasn't doing it for me.
Later was "An Evening with Scott Kurtz". This was such a strange panel: Kurtz is an excellent storyteller, with a lot of good ones to tell, but *wow* can he be inappropriate. I don't mean the swearing or being un-PC, I'm talking about the variety of gay jokes (paraphrase: "I'm not homophobic, so it's OK for me to say these things" No it isn't!) and self-deprecating fat jokes and things like that. Yikes. Anyway, he talked alot about the history of the rivalry between he and the Penny Arcade folks, and a lot of the details about the whole eFront saga were brought to light. Actually, in another panel, he and the PA guys actually talked about a lot of this stuff with each other for the first time, and in public, which was cool!
I didn't stay for much of the concert that night, just Anamanaguchi, who were quite good. Need to find out which CDs have their more "epic" stuff, as I liked that a lot better. After that was some freeplay console action, and I got home early, just after midnight.
Saturday was my second round of the expo hall, catching all the stuff I missed Friday. Most of the Nintendo stuff was disappointing, but the New Super Mario Bros. Wii looks absolutely kickass. Bought a bunch of dice from a vendor, as my previous online source has gone out of business, and these guys had a bunch of unusual stuff that I'd been wanting (pipped D10s, japanese D10s, binary dice, D10/12-inside-another, alphabet die) at reasonable prices. Another popular display was the Geek Chic
gaming furniture. It's much less lol-worthy than that may sound: it's really high quality stuff. Strangely, their web site doesn't have what I consider their best stuff: the convertable dining tables. I am seriously considering getting an Alexandria Codex
if and when I buy a place.
After the make-a-strip panel (see today's Penny Arcade news post for more details on how that went), it was time for what I consider one of the big highlights of every PAX: the Pitch Your Game panel. Usually, it's Jeff Kalles and two industry people; this year, it was Jeff, Porkfry (also from Penny Arcade), and Wil Wheaton. It was a blast! The theme this year, though, seemed to be great game titles
with no actual thought behind the games.
My list of highlights:
- Recession: the Revenge. Think Falling Down, except it's one man with a baseball bat going after credit card companies and bank executives. Starring Michael Douglas, with Kirk Douglas as an unlockable character.
- The year is 18XX. You are a member of a Pacific NW indian tribe. You keep seeing all of these white settlers invading your land, and you've had enough. It's time to head east and stem the tide. Get ready to play: Oregon Trail of Tears.
- Otherwise forgettable game with an interesting mechanic: when your character dies, you start playing as whatever AI character killed you.
- Foreigner In Texas. Point-and-click adventure where you have to get enough money to get out of Texas. (3rd place winner)
- Pinch. Game based around Photoshop "Pinch" effect, which you use to create terrain (mountains or holes) or pinch-and-release to move your character to solve puzzles. (2nd place winner)
- Zombie Car Wash. By trying to get the occupants, your zombies are rubbing against the car and washing it. You lose zombies by not getting them out of the way quickly enough to avoid getting run over, and gain them by reaching the passengers. Hope for convertibles. (1st place winner; I'm probably doing a bad job of describing this game)
- Nevermore. Japanese style RPG where 18th century authors have to battle their literary creations.
- Slate Minotaur, State Senator. The first openly mythological creature runs for public office.
- 3 Days to Mate. You are an insect trying to mate.
- Time Travelling Chef Ninja. Do things like create wasabi nunchucks to battle enemies across time.
- Schizophrenia. You are the voice inside a guy's head, and you have to give him instructions via microphone ("hide in the closet" so the guards don't see you, &c.).
- MacGuyver Online. You walk around collecting object like paperclips and rubber bands, then someone jackknifes you, you wake up in a closet, and have to escape. You get a full range of character creation options, but only one hairstyle.
- You are a dragon training your pet humans. Teach them to collect gold for you, and don't accidentally breathe them into cinder.
- 2008 Beijing Summer Special Olympics (this guy was booed, and told to stand in the corner staring at the wall)
- A flash game that pits kittys against their natural mortal enemy: Cats in a Blender.
- And finally, the title I can't say with a stright face: a series of puzzle minigames called "Escape From Uncle Touchy's Basement".
Immediately after that was the Harmonix Rock Band Network Panel. They are on the cusp of releasing this insanely awesome
set of software that lets you author and sell your own Rock Band tracks. It's Windows/Xbox only at first (sucktastic!), but PS3 is coming very soon, and they're working on Wii support. If you have a band, you need to check this out! For the panel, the demo they used was Jonathon Coulton's "The Future Soon", and they did a live upload of the track to an Xbox and had people from the audience play it with Jonathon himself!!!! I was seriously and truly crushed
that I was not chosen to sing it, because I know the song really well, and it's in my key, and because OMG getting to perform one of Jonathon's songs with him playing guitar, COME ON HOW AWESOME WOULD THAT HAVE BEEN. AUGH! Anyway, the panel was total rocksauce.
Later that night was a screening of the latest episodes of The Legend of Neil. My brother got me into this one; it's pretty funny. If you like dumb humor and The Legend of Zelda, I recommend checking it out.
The concerts that night were Freezepop (better than I expected), Paul and Storm (their opening number is outstanding, then they start sucking, and slowly build back up to being great), and Jonathon Coulton (as awesome was ever. Like I said, 3 encores!).
On Sunday, I didn't arrive at PAX until 11. Taking Friday off from work and spending it at PAX really made all the difference this year. No longer was Sunday a rush to get in that last half-day of fun, but rather a bonus day to enjoy myself at a leisurely pace. In fact, as I posted, I had had my fill of video gaming, and spent most of Sunday playing board games. First up was Dominon, which had been the most popular game at PAX all weekend. It was pretty neat: it uses deck building (kinda sorta like M:tG if you squint *really* hard) as the primary game mechanic. You start with 10 cards in your deck, and get 5 each turn. You keep adding new things to your deck from the cards on the board; some of which are victory points, some of which are money, and some of which actually do things. You need victory points to win, but they're just chaff in your hand, which provides a nice balance to the game. I liked it a lot, despite losing (I had 26 points, the others had 28 and 33). I misunderestimated the value of The Village, and the instructor told us 2 things about the rules that turned out to be completely wrong, so I overestimated the value of two other cards. Ah, well. It was still a blast, and we were playing the beginner setup, and there's apparently a much larger variety of cards available.
After that I wandered into the second Penny Arcade QA panel, because it had just started and there was no line to get in. Then it was back to the boardgame checkout room to find a new group to play with. There was this woman there with gloriously multi-colored hair, and she and I got to discussing games. She was also looking for a pickup game, so we started looking for one. An Enforcer (the volunteer staff) suggested The Stars are Right, a very new Steve Jackson game. Just released? By Steve Jackson? That description alone sold it for both of us! It uses a 5x5 board of tiles representing the stars in the night sky. On your turn you try to manipulate the sky (moving or flipping tiles) into certain patterns in order to summon cards (elder gods or their minions) out of your hand. It was a really good mechanic, and I love games where each card you get has multiple uses, so you not only have the joy of trying to figure out which use is best, but you also very rarely get a completely useless card. But based on my limited play (we only did 2 games), the luck factor is much higher than I'd like. I got a great opening hand the first game, and won 10-4-3, and another player got lucky early on, and he won 10-7-3-2. Those are wider spreads than I'd like. It could have just been luck (we finished 2 games, including setup and rules learning in 90m, and the online reports say you should expect 45-60m for a 3-4 person game), but I might want to try to tune it a bit, maybe play until 12 points. I dunno. I liked it a lot, but didn't buy it. I *did* buy a copy of Power Grid, because a local games store had it for a great price (~$25). Looking forward to playing that again.
So, yeah, PAX was a really, really great time. It was the most fun I've had in a while.
Notes for myself for next year:
- Definitely budget vacation days for taking Friday off, and the day after if it isn't Labor Day again
- Pitch my videogame idea if I haven't already turned it into reality.
- Take melatonin to PAX so I can get to bed earlier.
- Don't forget to buy a set of gay-themed shirts to wear.
- Test batteries a week before.
- Despite the hot men, *not* taking your camera was the correct decision.
- Consider purchasing a DSi or PSP or both.
- Consider not sucking at Tetris DS because that is what 80% of people want to play, apparently.
- Upgrade to an unlimited SMS plan to participate in in-line games.
- Prepare politics "PSA" based on chapter in yesthattom's book.
- Send suggestions to PAX folks about: earplugs, second "Get In Line Games" screen, shortest/longest distance prizes.
- Visit the info booth more often, as that is where many important things are posted that are not in the program for some reason.
- Finish my secret projects.