Saturday, September 06, 2008

Penny Arcade Expo 2008, the review

It was definitely another successful year for PAX. Initial estimates are that 58,500 people attended over the three days. That number of people, even in a large convention center, has its disadvantages, but not necessarily because of the number itself. More on that later.

First, the highlights.

1. Meeting Wil Wheaton.
Me and Wil
Need I say more? Probably not, but this was the coolest thing I did, so let me throw some words down here. I missed Wil's keynote at last year's expo, but listened to it online, checked out his blog, and have been a fan ever since. We are the same age, so many of his gaming and life experiences have been similar to mine, and it is both fun and nostalgic to read his writings about his life growing up, and familiar and interesting to read his writings about his life now. I "get" the Star Wars, Family Guy and most of the musical and gaming references.

I was looking forward to reading some of Wil's books, and after this meeting, I was not disappointed:
Sunken Treasure - Wil Wheaton's Hot Cocoa Box Sampler and Happiest Days of Our Lives
The "Hot Cocoa Box Sampler" is a limited edition collection of writings from his books, his blog, and several other sources. "The Happiest Days of Our Lives" is his latest book, and tells stories from his youth growing up and coming of age in the 70s and 80s. I have to say, regarding the picture on the cover of that book, I did not have pajamas exactly like that, but mine were similar (full-length zipper and footsies, you know it), and you'd better believe I had a bicycle with a banana seat!

Wil was an exceptionally cool guy to meet. I threw him a little curve ball when paying for the books by literally presenting him with shiny gold rocks. He recognized them right away and said that they were merely pyrite and not worth anything, to which we both then said "...but they're shiny gold rocks." I'm not going to start The Great Shiny Gold Rock Controversy of 2008, but I will say that Wil recognized the value of what I had thought to bring and credited me accordingly. I did also present several sheets of a cotton/linen blend paper printed with green and black ink, which he happily accepted. Surprisingly, no one had thought to literally bring him shiny gold rocks before I did. I wish I'd taken a picture of them, but alas, it was such a dark secret I dared not leave any trail of evidence prior to their unveiling. Do not be surprised if that was the first and only time such an audacious offering will be recognized.

I also went to Wil's panel, where he did some readings and then Q&A. Great stuff. He didn't just read, he did a bit of acting and made the stories fun:
Wil Wheaton panel
Wil Wheaton panel - WHEEEEE!

2. The Exhibition Hall

This is great every year. It's a lot of fun to walk around and see all of the latest or upcoming releases from developers and often, be able to talk to the developers themselves. The most visible thing was the displays for the upcoming iterations of Guitar Hero and Rock Band:
Guitar Hero III demo
Rock Band 2

Ubisoft was demoing the new Raving Rabbids game on the Wii, which was participatory like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, except the "instrument" is you:
Raving Rabbids

The main exhibition hall was probably 1/2 to 2/3 larger than last year's hall, so the show is growing along with the number of attendees.

The not-so-much highlight

The only thing that was not as cool this year was the waiting in lines. For everything. This has been reported elsewhere, and apparently the PAX organization is aware of it and will work on this for next year. The convention hall was crowded, yes, but not overwhelming. When forced to wait in a line, however, things became ugly. Not the attendees, just the waiting. As attendees, we all had similar "line-waiting" stories to share, so we all got along fine. It's just not very fun to wait 45 minutes to an hour or more to see a panel or presentation and not get in. This discouraged me from attending a couple of the panels because I wanted to spend time in the exhibition hall or just exploring instead.

Hopefully, some "pre-reservation," armband or another system will be implemented next year. It would seem that attendees could, if not reserve a spot when buying their admission pass, choose which panels or talks they want to see for sure upon checking in on the first day of the show. A similar system is already in use at PAX for those who wish to attend the band performances in the evenings (first 4,000 in line at the beginning of the day), so extending this to other functions should not be difficult.

The Omegathon

PAX would not be complete without the Omegathon and particularly the Omegathon finals. This may have been the most highly attended event of the show. This year's ultimate showdown was with "VS. Excitebike," which was apparently only released in Japan.
Omegathon finals - VS. Excitebike

A version of this game was released in the U.S., and most gamers from the classic era will remember it. The Omegathon finals is the culmination of an elimination tournament over the entire course of the expo, where the two remaining gamers face off to determine the true champion. The tournament games range from classic and the latest videogames to real-world physical manifestations like Jenga. It's quite a feat to win, and the past two years the prize has been an all-expenses-paid trip to next year's Tokyo Game Show along with $5,000 spending money. This year the prize also included custom-painted Penny Arcade-themed gaming consoles.

A Community Gathering

Ultimately, like years past, the Penny Arcade Expo is about bringing together the community of gamers. All types are welcome, from board gamers, to PC gamers and console gamers. There's a little mix of other related phenomena like cosplay also, which adds to the fun. This year, I believe the number of attendees may have pushed the facility to its limits, so it will be interesting to see how the arrangements are handled next year. Line management is a solvable issue, so hopefully next year will be even better.


deejrandom said...

Very cool. I posted a rather long reply at gamedays ;)

Maharet said...

hey, that was will wheaton! LOL how cool was that? :)