The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

September 17, 2009

PAX 2009: Putting the “Arcade” in the Penny Arcade Expo

Filed under: Games — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 8:31 pm

Hi Mom!

Hi Mom!

As you’ve probably saw if you read that particular post, the “In Search of the Lost Arcade” post below is the one that was originally intended to be my PAX roundup post, but instead it went off in a completely different direction, and became a separate post.  Although I’m probably a bit late to get this finished up as usual (just don’t ask me how I’m doing on getting that Disney World trip report from last December done, OK?) I’ve been meaning to write this since I attended PAX about a week and a half ago.  I’m not going to bother going into much detail on the games being shown or any of the panels (I actually only attended one panel, and  I figure there’s probably about a half zillion Blogs or so that have covered the games.)  Since I accidentally ended up with two days to attend this year instead of my usual one, it also gave me a chance to spend more time away from the show floor, and go explore some of the areas I haven’t ever had much time for.  Sure, I might have missed out on a couple of the latest in trendy communicable diseases going around the place, but I’d still say I got a reasonably good opportunity to get everything in that I came for (I did miss one panel I wanted to see, but that was my own fault, and the panel eventually ended up on the Web anyway.)

Even though I’ve managed to attend every PAX so far, I think that this one ended up being a completely different experience, largely because I had more time to attend this year.  Especially in more recent years, there have been a fair number of people from all over the country who have been flying into Seattle to attend PAX (in fact, due to popular demand, there will be a second PAX held over in Boston next year,) yet I’ve practically got the show here in my backyard.  On one hand, this makes it really easy to get there (even if the parking in downtown Seattle can get horrifically expensive, especially on weekdays) but on the other hand, it also tends to make it a bit too easy to just gloss over the whole thing, spend a few hours there and call it good.  The fact that for a number of years I’ve had schedule conflicts ranging from family get-togethers to wedding receptions on the day I had chosen to go to the show hasn’t helped much.

After the jump, a look at some of the highlights and other observations from this year’s PAX.

As usual, the main attraction (depending on your point of view, of course) is the opportunity to take an early look at unreleased games, and there were plenty to be found.  Getting a chance to try these games out generally requires a fair bit of line-standing, and although I didn’t bother with the hour-plus lines for some of the really popular games (such as Left 4 Dead 2 and Halo 3 ODST) but I did stand in a few lines, including this one to try out Diablo 3.  To be honest, I was a bit unimpressed by the demo, but then again this is the type of game you really can’t get a good feel for in ten minutes of playing from some random spot in the game.

On the other hand, you never know who exactly you might run into while you’re there, and while I was standing in line for a T-shirt at the Nintendo booth, Reggie Fils-Aime (president of Nintendo of America) and Adam Sessler from G4TV were over on the other side of the booth taping what I would presume to be a segment for X-play.  It’s like the Paparazzi, but for geeks.

Oddly enough, with all the new unreleased stuff being shown in the booth, they opted for WiiSports Resort, which had already been out for more than a month. 

In some cases, the demos give you a chance to experience the games in ways that you are highly unlikely to find elsewhere, such as this three-screen cockpit setup for the Forza Motorsport 3 demo.  And yes, there people dedicated enough to put these types of things together at home, but they’ve got a lot more money (and space) than I do.

Then there are the people who resort to out-and-out gimmicks, such as this booth where the main attraction was the apocalyptically skinned mechanical bull.  I don’t even remember what game this was supposed to be for, only that they had an apocalyptic horse.

Then of course, there were the giveaways, ranging from postcards to T-shirts.  Several booths were offering bluescreen photos, one of which resulted in the second dorkiest picture taken of me while I was there.  I think I will refrain from posting the first…

There were also a number of people who were there to sell stuff, and Capcom had a whole bunch of (rather expensive) stuff) for sale.  In fact, if you bought enough of their expensive stuff you could get this “EBAY-GOLD!” soundtrack for Marvel Vs. Capcom 2.  Being just a bit too lazy to determine for sure whether or not this does in fact constitute eBay gold, I’m trying to figure out how some martial-arts hotshot with some relatively low-damage fireball attack managed to get the front of the cover with all those superheroes that would probably trash him in a real non-gamebalanced fight standing behind him…

I think this might be the culmination of that little “Come to the dark side, we have cookies” Internet meme we had floating around for a bit.  BioWare actually took a whole room in the convention center and turned it into a little Star Wars cantina (minus the “wretched hive of scum and villainy” parts and the booze) to promote The Old Republic.  I even managed to grab a surprisingly decent looking T-shirt from here just by signing up for something.  I don’t really know exactly what it was I signed up for yet, and for all I know I’m going to have Boba Fett showing up at my door with a warrant at some point, but a T-shirt is a T-shirt, right?

Another thing that I’ve noticed over the years at PAX is that these days a lot more people seem to come in costume.  At the first one back in 2003, I think I saw 2 or 3 cosplayers total out of about 3,000 people.  This year, they were all over the place.  After all, it’s not often that you get a chance to go out in public dressed up like an Italian plumber and have it be (sort of) socially acceptable, right?

Then again, I think I lost count of all the Marios I saw in the place (must have been a bumper crop of 1-UP mushrooms out this year.)  There were a fair number of Princess Toadstools out there as well (but they were all in another castle.)  If you want to stand out from the crowd, why not try dressing up as Dr. Mario?

Of course, the other platforms were well represented as well, as seen by this Master Chief, one of several I saw at PAX.  For as complex as it must be to put together a costume like this, I’m surprised at how many there seem to be going around.

I’d have to say that by far, the most popular game for costumes this year at PAX (much as it was last year) was Team Fortress 2.  In particular, I saw a lot of the Heavy Weapon Guys out there, but all of the classes from that game were well represented.  And for some reason, even though the game has been out for several years now, for some reason I never actually played this game before this year’s PAX.  Speaking of which, to whoever else was on the red team in that one game in the PC freeplay area, I apologize for that crummy engineer your team got stuck with.

There is, of course, a lot more to PAX than just video games.  Significant portion of the convention center are devoted to tabletop gaming in all its various forms (I don’t do a lot of that, so I didn’t bother spending any significant amount of time there) and there’s also a lot of things (especially the panels) that just deal with the general culture that has formed around these forms of entertainment.  There’s also a lot of Internet memes floating around, and as a result, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that when the people waiting in the queue for the Saturday night concerts was subjected to the infamous Rickroll, not only did everyone know the words, but they all began to sing along.

In spite of all the new experiences and all the events going on at PAX, I’d have to say that oddly enough, probably the most enjoyable part of the show might have been something that I wouldn’t have expected.  On Saturday evening between the show floor closing and the evening concerts, I wandered up to the console freeplay area, where it turned out there was a high score contest going on for Geometry Wars 2.  This is a game that I have on my 360 at home and have played quite extensively there, but here, there were 3 or 4 people sitting around the machine, passing the controller around and taking turns.  The high score that had already been set on the machine was just a bit out of my league (I think it was somewhere around 11.5 million for Deadline mode, where my XBL high score is somewhere in the 8 million range) but I made a couple of decent runs, while one of the other players was getting closer and closer with each run. 

Finally, after several tries, he finally managed to break through, and get a good run going.  As we watched, it became clear it was going to be close.  The final 15 seconds ticked down, and with about 10 seconds to spare he managed to finally clear the high score, and managed to add another 1 million or so to the final total before the time came to an end.  It was that half hour or so I spent sitting here passing a controller around and trying to beat a high score that I enjoyed the most at PAX, and the one thing that seems to be lost these days in a lot of modern console games:  The single-minded pursuit of the high score.  Back in the days of the arcades, when games were much simpler and had to rely on gameplay rather than graphics to keep the players feeding in quarters, those three initials on the high score table were the primary motivation to keep playing and to keep trying to beat the guy on top.  It’s good to know that under the right circumstances, you can still find some of the spirit of the old arcades in an era that has relegated them to the dusty old warehouses of history.

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