This weekend I headed out to PAX East, the Penny Arcade-inspired video game convention out in Boston. I went last year and was put off, but decided to give it another go. Overall it was, well, just okay.
Thursday night we headed to the PokeCrawl, a Pokemon-themed bar crawl intended to help you meet some of the people at the convention. I had a reasonably good time given that a) I don’t know anything about Pokemon b) I’m not a fan of bars and c) social situations are mildly terror-inducing. But everyone was really nice and approachable and the bar games were fun and fostered light interaction. The drinks were weak, which seems to be a Boston thing?
Friday I made it to the first Gabe & Tycho Q&A, which is always a lot of fun, despite the relatively low caliber of “question.” These questions tend to fall into one of three categories: 1) I’d like to tell you my life story and also touch you; 2) I have this thing from this place I’m from I’d like to give you; and 3) I have a very generic question you’ve answered a thousand times. But Mike and Jerry manage to be funny and friendly even to the weirdest person in the audience, and roll with things no matter how borderline-or-over-the-border-creepy things can get. I have a lot of respect for them because they have a lot of respect for their fans. Even the crazy ones.
The rest of the day was spent in the Expo Hall and the open gaming room. The Expo Hall had some neat 3D gaming demonstrations, but most of the really cool material–the demos–had lines that lasted hours. As a huge KOTOR fan I would have loved to see Star Wars: The Old Republic, but I wasn’t willing to give up four hours for it. That’s how long the line was! I would’ve also liked to poke at L.A. Noire (the lines were closed before I even got there), Child of Eden, or Lord of the Rings: War in the North, but same problem. Too bad. At least I was able to try out a few things at the console freeplay: Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn on the Wii (laughably awful dialogue/plot and boring play, which is too bad seeing as I really like the DS game), Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (fun and silly), and some Kinect games. I never saw much appeal to the Kinect (don’t we already have the Wii?) but I’ve changed my mind. People were getting seriously into the dancing games and I can see a lot of potential for that kind of system. Unfortunately you need a room in your house/apartment big enough to flail around in, which means it’s not in my own future.
Friday night I skipped the concerts to play tabletop board games until 2am. It’s like college all over again! We tried out Pompeii, which was silly but pretty fun nonetheless, and discovered some gems like Maid: A Roleplaying Game.
Saturday was the Make-a-Strip panel, in which Mike and Jerry do their Penny Arcade strip before your eyes. Watching Mike create it is absolutely mesmerizing. He makes it seem so easy, and yet has such craft and deliberation. He also took an audience request and added a pony at the last minute, so props for that.
I also sucked it up and got in line for the Nintendo 3DS demo. Verdict: neat, but unnecessary, expensive, and still headache-inducing. At $250 I can’t imagine picking this up as a portable system. I can get an Xbox for that! And frankly, the 3D doesn’t add anything. I tried Street Fighter IV for it, and while the third dimension receded rather than popped out at you, I just don’t see the point. If you tilt the system slightly you lose the effect, and it always winds up looking cheaply holographic.
The rest of the day was spent gaming, mostly. The retro gaming arcade rooms and consoles were amazing, but PC gaming was a total headache. The only co-op games we could find were Left 4 Dead 2 (which my friends and I already have) and League of Legends, which was baffling and frustrating. The place just wasn’t set up for co-op. Half the microphones didn’t work, vent servers kept disconnecting, and playing anything was needlessly difficult. We spent 20 of our 30 allotted minutes trying to get set up. We had hoped for some Starcraft II, but you couldn’t play co-op without actually owning the game; they didn’t have Halo, which I’ve always wanted to try; Team Fortress 2 wouldn’t let us play without inviting 24 strangers; and we ran out of time before we could move on to any other games.
From there, I headed to the main theater for the Omegathon round before the concert. The Omegathon is an elimination tournament of 20 gamers, and the round up next was Jenga. The prize is usually an all-expenses paid trip to Japan or Germany for a game show, so it’s worth entering if you’re good at these things. Anyway, this game of Jenga was played with 2x4s, not regular pieces, so it was much heavier and looked very difficult to work with. It was tense. Insanely tense. Mike provided colorful commentary and we all bit our nails as the Omeganauts carefully walked around the ever-teetering tower. They tension was ruined, however, when they arbitrarily decided to introduce the “Omega Law”: you only have 10 seconds to choose the block you’re going to work with. The losing person lost not because he wasn’t good, but because he had to choose a block that was obviously structural, and so he swiped the tower over intentionally rather than let it fall on him.
Afterward was the Saturday night concert: Video Game Orchestra (who I like), Paul and Storm (who I love, though I didn’t like any of their new material), and Jonathan Coulton (who I also like, but again didn’t like any of his new material). By the time the concert let out at 2am it was actually 3am (thank you, Daylight Savings…) and I crashed pretty hard before the last day.
Sunday we managed to snag some more board games, the first being Betrayal at the House on the Hill, a kind of House on Haunted Hill board game. It was a LOT of fun but we barely scratched the surface in the half hour or so we had. Then there was Atlantis, a Mayfair game a little like its cousin Carcassonne in that it’s undemanding and fun. We also tried our hand at Pandemic, a co-op game about trying to cure disease. On introductory level it was insanely hard and we lost the game. When we turned it in, the woman at the checkout said no one had yet won the game!
Overall, I had a good time, but that may just because I spent it with friends and used it as a mini-reunion. It’s safe to say that 90% of the people I met throughout the weekend were really nice, really fun, and a pleasure to talk with. But the programming didn’t interest me–I’m not trying to start my own video game–and the queue/line procedure for everything from concerts to demos was so onerous and awful that it saps all your energy and goodwill.
Would I go again? I don’t know. I want to say no, but I said that last year and went anyway. I think if I went in with the mindset of skipping most panels/events and just playing games, I would consider it again. But at that point, why spend the money?