Sunday, August 19, 2007

Archival post -- Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) 2005

In anticipation of this week's glorious beginning of PAX 2007, I am reposting the full report of my visit to PAX 2005. The current host of my PAX 2005 article is going through a portal upgrade and the articles are currently down, so I thought I'd put the full text and pictures here.

From August 2005:

Penny Arcade Expo: The New Videogaming Mecca

I flew up to Seattle, WA last Thursday night to attend the Penny
Arcade Expo (PAX) 2005. The expo was actually in Bellevue, WA, took
place Friday afternoon through Sunday evening, and turned out to be
quite an event. I didn't know what to expect, yet somehow I was not
surprised by what was there. In short: tons o'geeks, consoles, PCs,
board games, arcade games, and plenty of good-spirited gameplay. The
focus was obviously on bringing people together to play games.


The full spectrum of gamers were present, from the casual puzzle game
player to the person who was in full character costume and had brought
his 4' x 4' custom-built and intricately detailed tabletop game board
with full complement of pewter characters to populate it. I don't mean
literally a board that just folds out, I mean a fully-realized 3D
landscape with trees, stone walls, altars, mountains and whatever else
was necessary for full immersion in the game. The cool thing was, even
with this wide range of different types of people, everyone got along,
was considerate and just plain nice.

It was the type of environment where everyone felt comfortable being
themselves and weren't embarrassed, for example, to cheer out loud
when one of the Omegathon contestants increased his Katamari ball past
another diameter milestone. If you're not familiar with what the
Omegathon is, this year it was a six round tournament, with a
different game each round, to test the stamina and skill of its
participants, or Omeganauts. A videogame sextathlon, if you will, that
took place over the course of the entire expo. The grand prize was a
classic gaming cornucopia consisting of every classic Nintendo NES
game and all of the hardware and accessories ever made for the system.
Seriously.

The layout

One floor was dedicated to "free console" play. Xbox, PS2 and GameCube
consoles were all available for play with nice plasma flatscreens
somewhere in the 40" range. You just checked out the game and
controllers and off you went. We played Mario Party 6 and Mario Kart:
Double Dash on the first day.


On this same floor is the Exhibition Hall, where sponsors set up their
various booths to show things off, and the Theatre, where seminars and
some tournament finals were held. At Nintendo's booth I saw the new
Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess in action, Nintendogs, and Mario
Kart for the DS.


Another floor was dedicated to several different types of gaming. Two
large rooms were used for tabletop gaming. These were places where
people could bring their boards and gear and just play. Some of this
stuff was pretty amazing when you consider the effort involved to
create the boards they used. The boards ranged from about 4' X 4' to
4' X 8' and often looked like a model train layout, but covered with
pewter characters, cards and various other paraphernalia which I did
not understand.

This same floor has another huge room dedicated to PC gaming. Players'
own rigs were welcome, and the neon light from countless case mods
bathed the room in a blue glow. Another large room was where the
console gaming tournaments happened.


This is where we played the Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory tournament on
Xbox, but more on that later.

Worth the price of admission

The best event I attended was the "Make Monday's strip with Gabe &
Tycho" seminar. Not only was it fascinating to have a window into part
of the creative process for the strip, the guys kept an auditorium
full of gamers entertained for an hour and a half. They were both up
on stage, Gabe at his PC with his desktop projected on two screens on
either side of the stage. Tycho did the initial typing of the comic's
dialog and then managed the Q&A session for the rest of the time.


You know a guy is a great writer when he can make an auditorium full
of people laugh out loud just by typing sentences on the screen. We
were then able to watch Gabe as he inked and colored the strip from
initial sketches he had done and scanned in earlier. Gabe uses a large
pressure-sensitive touchpad and pen to create the comic and finished
the final art during this seminar that became Monday's comic.

The competition

Sunday morning my friend Shawn and I played in the Splinter Cell:
Chaos Theory tournament. There were 16 teams of two, and each player
had his own flatscreen TV. That's me below.


The luck of the draw went our way the first round. There were two
teams that consisted of a pair of single walk-ons who had never met or
played with each other before, which left them at a distinct
disadvantage as far as communication and strategy went. We were
matched against one of those teams and pretty handily defeated them.
The second round was against a good team, but we played the map called
"Factory," which a lot of players on Live don't like to play because
of its large size and layout. These guys didn't appear to like it too
much, but it happens to be one of our favorites, so we also won the
second round.

The third round was against the team that eventually won the whole
tournament, so we didn't feel so bad about losing. It was a decisive
loss, by the way. They smeared us all over that "River Mall" level.
All we really wanted to do was make it past the first round, so
everything beyond that was gravy. We came in third place overall and
actually won the equivalent of $25! With our winnings we picked up a
copy of last year's PAX 2004 DVD and a t-shirt.


The best sponsor

One of the sponsors of PAX 2005 was Bawls, an energy drink. They had a
booth and sold individual bottles for $1 a piece. This was great
because these things are loaded with caffeine, and a $1 a pop, you
can't lose. Plus, the name lends itself to endless jokes:

"Dude, you're drinking Bawls!"

"I've never had Bawls this cheap"

"These Bawls are nice and cold"

We never tired of it. There was also a variation the company called
Sno Bawls, which was basically an "icee" version of the drink, and
that just added another variation to our jokes.

"Your Bawls are frozen"

You get the idea.

Oh, and did I mention the bottles are blue? We didn't use that in our
jokes, probably because it would've been too obvious. And the place
was full of guys.

A real-world hack

Late Friday night we were all lagging and looking for some caffeine.
The problem was the Bawls people had packed up and gone home at 10p.
However, the booth was still there. My friend Mish somewhat by
accident found an unprotected opening in the Bawls booth procedures
and architecture, which he fully exploited.

The "Sno Bawls" icee machines were still set up at the booth. An
exploratory pull of the lever on one revealed that they still had
Bawls flowing, though by this time the icee part had melted. At the
other end of the table was an empty pitcher, which seemed to provide a
convenient way to avoid spilling the cold Bawls on the floor. Pull,
pour, zip, zip and you have yourself something to drink. I managed to
catch this hack in action.


The woman on the left is one of the PAX volunteers, all of whom had
"ENFORCER" emblazoned on the backs of their shirts, and all she could
manage to say to him was "That was frightening." It was quite funny.
I'm not sure what they did to "patch" this opening, but this volunteer
may have radioed for assistance because a full pitcher from the Sno
Bawls machine was quickly taken down the escalator and shown to a
waiting group of other volunteers, presumably to show the magnitude of
the potential exploit.

A complete experience

This event had something for everyone. One of the things I didn't see
was the musical concerts held both Friday and Saturday nights. The
music was of course videogame-related, and apparently lots of people
enjoyed it as there was a line halfway around the entire building
outside in order to get into the shows. There were also many seminars
and panels with industry pros discussing online gaming, breaking into
the industry, marketing games, and gaming and controversy (think of
the recent Hot Coffee mod and GTA: San Andreas).

According to one of the organizers of the event there were 7,000
attendees as of the end of Saturday and a total of 8,500 to 9,000 were
expected for total attendance by the end of Sunday. This is a serious
event that I hope the videogame industry continues to support. What
sets PAX apart from others like E3 is that it is not "only open to
industry professionals." Anyone and everyone is welcome, and as an
attendee you are made to feel that way. If you can make it up to
Seattle next year, I highly recommend it.

1 comment:

Free Online Games said...

Would have been awesome I'm sure..