The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

September 7, 2010

It’s the Most Nerdiest Time of the Year: PAX 2010 Roundup

Filed under: Culture, Games — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 7:32 pm

"Bad ideas I have had", part #17,653 in a series.


As anyone who follows the video games industry is well aware, the Penny Arcade Expo has become a pretty big deal.  Last year’s PAX completely maxed out the available space in the Washington State Convention and Trade Center in Seattle, and sold out completely with a total attendance reported in excess of 60,000 people.  In 2010, not only did PAX expand to the East Coast for the first time with PAX East in Boston, but PAX Prime (as the Seattle show has been dubbed) has expanded even further, moving its main theater and concerts to Benaroya Hall and allowing the exhibition hall to expand even further.  This year for the first time, PAX brought with it major announcements, 

Once you have been to PAX enough times, you begin to realize that ultimately the exhibition hall is only a part of the whole experience, as there’s all sorts of stuff to do.  The Console Freeplay areas provide rooms full of systems and a big library of games you can check out, which provides a nice little opportunity to try out some of the stuff you might be on the fence about.  There’s all sorts of panels all throughout the three days of the show, and although only a handful were of interest to me this year, there’s a good chance everyone’s going to find at least one worth attending.  As usual, there were also the concerts which are a big draw, although this year I was unable to attend either of them.  There was also more content this year more tailored to professional interests in game design and development, something I’ve occasionally tinkered with in various forms but haven’t ever been really all that serious about (that’s probably a subject for another post, but who knows if I’ll ever get around to actually writing it?)  And as usual, PAX is also one of the more interesting people-watching locations you’re going to find anywhere (assuming that those are actually people in some of those suits, at least. ) After the jump, a roundup of some of the stuff I saw at PAX 2010.  Also a quick note:  Don’t expect to find much on the games themselves.  To be honest, I didn’t try a whole lot of them, and virtually all of the big-ticket games on the show floor require waiting through lines measured in hours to get anywhere near them, something I just don’t have the patience for. 



On the first day, I arrived roughly a half hour before the doors opened at 10am, and the line to get in was already out the door, exposing the crowds to direct sunlight.  I was slightly worried that I was going to step in a puddle of melted nerd on the way in, but encountered no such misfortune on the way in. 


As usual, there were plenty of interesting things to see in and around the expo hall.  Near the entrance was this DeLorean time machine (non-functional, of course) promoting an upcoming series of Back to the Future adventure games. 


Although the big focus at PAX continues to be video games, there seemed to be a much greater emphasis on tabletop gaming this year than I’ve seen at PAX in the past.  These people, seen at the D&D booth on the show floor, seem to have missed the point of live-action role playing completely. 


All those games need dice, and plenty of them.  Luckily, there was no shortage of dice available, just in case you need to find the right colors to match your +2 Cape of Getting Way Too Involved with Things. 


Or if that doesn’t work for you, there’s always the option of getting one really big die and calling it good. 


What’s the point of being around all those games though if you aren’t going to actually play them?  Here I was enjoying a notoriously brief round of Street Fighter 4 against Justin Wong, who just happens to be better at SF4 than just about every single person in the world who isn’t named Daigo Umehara (although he did fall victim to a couple of upsets in the Evo tournament this year, which I spent way too much time watching the Internet livestream of this year.  Long story.)  Naturally I lost.  Badly.  I think I managed to get in one hit in two rounds.  Of course, they were giving away a free SSD to anyone who could actually beat him, which apparently wasn’t too many people.  At least I got a shirt out of the deal. 


Speaking of swag, perhaps the most notable item in this year’s swag bag was this sample of dandruff shampoo.  I’m not sure if that’s supposed to be clever marketing or not. 


Then again, if people are running around the place with hair like this… I guess I had always assumed that Guile’s hairstyle was just a bit more improbable than that, but I don’t think that’s too far off from what happens if I go to bed with damp hair. 


One of the reasons that PAX is so interesting is that you never know what you’re going to see when you’re wandering around, and not think it particularly unusual.  For example, while traversing the exhibit hall I found I was walking next to someone in a Spiderman costume, and thought nothing of it.  In most places and times, something like that would get you hauled in for psychiatric evaluation.  Here it’s pretty much considered normal…  Sort of. 


Then there’s the stuff that just defies description.  Here we have a giant R2-D2 (I’d say full size, but to be honest I have no idea what the proper size for an R2 droid is supposed to be) with a projector and eight game consoles built in.  I’m not sure if that’s the coolest thing or the nerdiest thing that I’ve ever seen.  Probably both. 


Then there’s the stuff that just plain makes no sense at all.  This conglomeration of random items would seem to fall into that category, especially since it was found at the Harmonix booth. 


Last year was the first time I was able to attend PAX for more than one day (or in some cases, more than a few hours) and the first time I really had a chance to spend any significant amount of time in the freeplay areas.  This year I unfortunately didn’t make it to PC Freeplay at all, but did get to spend some time at Console Freeplay.  This 3-screen Forza 3 setup complete with wheel was one of the many items on offer here. 


I even got a chance to play a few things in the expo hall, although as usual most of the big-ticket games had huge lines .  To be perfectly honest, a lot of the big stuff doesn’t really appeal to me much these days anyway; most of the games I found interesting were downloads or smaller titles.  Comic Jumper, an XBLA game made by TwistedPixel (best known for ‘Splosion Man and its inisiduous donut song) is probably the one that stood out the most to me this year.  It can be annoyingly hard, but was also quite fun. 


Another favorite of mine which appeals to my occasional finicky niche gamer tendencies was Bangai-O HD, an XBLA sequel to a game I used to own on the Dreamcast.  It’s a twin-stick shooter that throws ridiculous amounts of missiles and lasers at you, and allows you to make equally ridiculous counter attacks in response.  


Even with most of my favorites being more niche titles I did still find occasion to spend several hours in line, although in this case it wasn’t to actually play something.  Instead, this line was for character sketches promoting Disney’s upcoming Epic Mickey game on the Wii.  As anyone who’s suffered through any of my Disney trip reports knows, I have a small but growing animation collection, and was able to acquire another one to add to my collection (in this case it was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.) 


In addition to all the other stuff going on at PAX, there were also a number of side events put on by some of the various companies, and I was able to attend one of these.  In order to promote the upcoming Dead Rising 2, Capcom rented out some out-of-the-way spot near the waterfront and set up a little fly-by-night hardware store stocked with all sorts of zombie-killing paraphernalia, ranging from swords… 


…To assault rifles (all fake, of course)… 


…And even the occasional rocket-propelled grenade.  Unfortunately, there weren’t many zombies around on which to try the stuff out, but I suspect I’d probably rather keep my brain intact anyway. 

When all was said and done I spent two days at the show, managed to accomplish about half of what I wanted to, walked out with three shirts, a new Tournament Edition Fightstick to replace the one I sold off before I moved (thanks to a special at the Capcom booth,) somehow managed to dodge Swine Flu for the second straight year, and unless something really off-the-wall happens, will surely be back again next year, as I have been for every previous PAX Prime.  After all, you never know what you’re going to run into.

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