I recently attended my first ever geek convention. Jardal and I took a trip out to Seattle to attend PAX, one of the largest gaming conventions in the country. Jardal is a huge fan of the Penny Arcade duo Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik (also known as Tycho and Gabe), who started the annual convention, and has been wanting to go for several years. I’ve been wanting to go to Seattle for a while, so we planned a weeklong vacation to coincide with PAX.
Consequently, I’ve had this song stuck in my head for over a week now. Apparently it’s a traditional part of PAX to play “Everyday I’m Hustlin’” when the Penny Arcade guys come out on stage. I’d never heard the song before, but now it’s unfortunately embedded itself deeply in my mind.
PAX itself was not an event I’ll soon forget. 70,000 gamers descended on Seattle (spread out over 3 days). The citywas literally swarming with PAX attendees. We ran into them with every turn – from Starbucks, to the street corner, to our hotel’s elevator. Even our plane from Minneapolis held several groups of geeky-looking guys who most definitely were headed for PAX.
The keynote speech we attended the first morning was given by David Jaffe, a game designer known for God of War and Twisted Metal. He didn’t warm up the audience (or even begin his speech with a complete sentence), launching immediately into an intense monologue about how he got to where he is today. It was one of the most rambling speeches I’ve ever listened to, full of personal anecdotes and a heavy dose of swearing. I still haven’t decided whether he’s crazy or just incredibly passionate. Whatever the case, listening to the “voice in his head” has obviously led to great success.
For me, the one of the best parts of the keynote was the theater itself. It was absolutely gorgeous.
We stuck around in the Paramount Theater for a Q&A with the Penny Arcade guys. Jerry and Mike are incredibly entertaining – it was almost like hearing a stand-up comedic act. The chemistry between them is just fantastic. Jardal had me listen to a few of their podcasts awhile back and I was surprised to discover how much I enjoyed listening to them ramble about video games and discuss how to make the comic for the day. In my opinion, listening to the two of them together is more funny than the comic itself. I suppose thats part of why they’ve been able to garner such a huge following, and why PAX came to exist in the first place.
As with any Q&A there were some incredibly painful moments, such as people wanting to touch them, or the guy who wanted them to introduce him to Will Wheaton so he could introduce him to Felicia Day so he could give her the amateur script he wrote. Yikes.
We waited in a long line down the street for some sandwiches, and after some wandering on the expo floor, eventually made it to a panel that sounded intriguing. The title was, “Change at a Moment’s Notice… User Interface”, which was supposed to be a panel of a UI team from WB games. I love UI design and was excited at the opportunity to hear a panel of UI experts talk about the subject. Unfortunately it was a rather disappointing experience, with vague metaphors comparing building a UI to building a house, and high-level job descriptions instead of a deep dive into what makes a UI good or bad. I eventually fell asleep.
We ended up leaving and caught a few minutes of the panel of the musical guests, including Jonathan Coulton (of Portal’s “Still Alive” fame), Paul & Storm, and MC Frontalot. I love nerdy music!
Saturday was definitely the “biggest” day of PAX, bringing what seemed to be thousands of additional people. The lines were extra-long and even many panels that seemed like they would be unpopular were filled to the brim. There were not only ticket scalpers, but people selling counterfeit badges on the street corners.
We watched the Penny Arcade guys create a comic strip live. Basically Mike drew the strip while Jerry answered audience questions. I loved watching the art transform from sketch to digital ink, to color flats, to a fully shaded drawing. Although Mike’s art style is simple, it’s still impressive to a complete drawing noob like me.
Then it was time wander the expo floor and play some games. There were tons of major gaming companies was in attendance with one or more recent/future releases, as well as a bunch of indie developers hoping to spark some interest. Lines to the more big name titles like Star Wars: The Old Republic, Skyrim, and Battlefront 2 were hours long. Since we’ve already pre-ordered the games we’re interested in playing, I didn’t really see the appeal of waiting in long lines to play them for a few minutes when I can just wait and play them away from the crowds and prying eyes when they release. While it was cool to get early access to games, I just wasn’t as motivated as most people seemed to be.
Another hang-up I had in playing games on the floor is that I simply don’t enjoy being watched when I’m trying to get the hang of new controls. I know it’s somewhat just paranoia, but I couldn’t stand the thought of all the eyes on my screen, silently judging me for sucking it up.
So I really didn’t play many games – just watched other people. That was really enough for me, and was enjoyable in its own way. Stay tuned for another writeup later on the games I saw at PAX (this post is already getting way too long).
Notably absent from the expo floor was Blizzard. There were still echos of Blizzard games floating around, from the WOW TCG card game at the Cryptozoic both, to the Starcraft 2 tournaments, but no official representation whatsoever. I understand that they have Blizzcon, but why would they pass up the opportunity to promote their IPs to tens of thousands of gamers – especially with a Starcraft 2 expansion, and Diablo 3 release on the horizon? It seems like an odd choice, and can be interpreted by the casual observer as rather snobbish? Are they really that confident in their success, that they don’t need to attract new fans or build up more hype?
I took some time to grab Jonathan Coulton’s new album. I still haven’t listened to it yet, but I’m looking forward to it (despite hearing reviews that it isn’t as “funny” as his previous stuff).
In the afternoon, we attempted to catch the Skyrim live demo, but the line for the room was full 1.5 hours in advance. Instead we watched the Penny Arcade guys play D&D with Wil Wheaton and another comic artist. I found it rather entertaining, despite the fact that I’ve never played D&D before.
Instead of attending the evening’s concerts, we went out to Brazilian BBQ with some friends. It was nice to get away from the crowds for a bit. Even though the restaurant was in Bellevue (a suburb of Seattle), we found a PAX presence there as well. A bunch of people from Riot Games (developers of the newly popular League of Legends) were there. We met a few of them who had definitely been partying it up, glorying in their company’s success.
On Sunday we spent some more time on the expo floor, but my energy level was quickly fading. I decided to play the fangirl and meet some more of the geek “stars”.
So would I do it again? Yes, but probably not an every-year sort of thing. I loved the people-watching, and the vibe of the whole experience, but I’m not sure that I’m really the target audience for the convention. I didn’t really care about playing the games, and most of the panels were good, but nothing mind-blowing. Three full days was also a bit much for me – being around thousands of people constantly is a bit draining as an introvert.
I really wish I could go to Blizzcon now! The live stream is always great, but I realize now that it doesn’t capture the experience of being at a convention – just the content. It would be great to be surrounded by people who share my passion for WOW and Blizzard. It’s amazing how many types of gamers there are – even at PAX I felt like although I was surrounded by other geeks, they weren’t necessarily “my” kind of geek.
Did you attend PAX (or have you ever)? What was your favorite part? What other geeky conventions have you enjoyed?