The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

March 21, 2014

Banging Your Head Into the Wall for Fun: Why Do We Enjoy Frustrating Things?

Filed under: Games — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 8:30 pm

Image credit: Flickr user sharpshooter99, Creative Commons

Earlier this week, I had been working on some insipid Blog post about the arrival of Spring, the temporary reprieve from Winter (sort of) that it brings and all sorts of stuff like that, but even by my own standards the whole thing was pretty much inane drivel, so you get to read this instead (believe me, this can’t be any worse than that…)  Besides, I’ve been a bit distracted lately by various things.  Work, as usual, is the big one (it seems to come and go, although even on a “slow” day things get pretty hectic lately,) but as tends to happen on occasion, I’ve found myself spending quite a bit of time on Luftrausers, a game that came out just a couple of days ago on PC and Playstation platforms.  On the surface, it’s pretty simple.  You have a little fighter jet called a Rauser (basically a vaguely German-sounding word that means absolutely nothing that I can figure out) made up of various customizable parts, a relentless pixelated navy of various things that are trying to kill you, about five shades of monochromatic beige, and about fifteen seconds worth of cutscenes to tie it together with the flimsiest of cheap throwaway plots.  Basically, the idea is to blow up as much stuff as possible before you meet your inevitable demise (which is basically every arcade game made before about 1985 or so in a nutshell.)  This video should give you an idea what to expect:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=749KA3rvSwA

Generally they’ll do it pretty quickly too, since you can only take about 2 or 3 hits at a time before you blow up.  Your fighter will slowly repair itself if you stop firing, but there isn’t exactly much time to do that when you’ve got a whole fleet of enemy fighters on your tail and a giant battleship wantonly tossing artillery into the airspace in front of you.  As such, your lives in this game tend to end up being nasty, brutish and short.  Scoring is pretty standard aside from a chaining system that adds multipliers to your score as long as you keep killing things (you have about five seconds between enemies to keep the chain going, which might seem generous at first but can still be tricky to maintain at times,) and caps out at 20x the base value for each enemy type.  Staying at max chain for a long period of time will bring up your score quickly, but can also be very risky, and there’s a good chance you’ll get yourself killed by taking unreasonable risks to keep the scoring streak going.   And then you’ll do it all over again.  As you play you unlock a number of different parts, different combinations of which will change the way your fighter works.  You’ll probably find favorites as you go on, but you’ll find certain missions (basically tasks you’ll probably accomplish in passing) will need certain types of fighters.  As simple as the game might seem on the surface, It’s surprisingly easy to end up spending an hour or two doing this without even noticing it.  I decided to play a couple of quick rounds after I got home from work (admittedly a bit later than usual) this evening, and when I looked up it was 9:30.

And yet, in about 2 1/2 hours of playing almost nonstop at about 1-2 minutes per run (you will be lucky to last that long in most cases,) I had only once or twice come close to beating a high score of about 27,000 that I had managed on pretty much a fluke the previous evening (at the time, it ended up being as high as #107 on the Steam leaderboard, but it’s dropped a fair bit now.)  Yes, I’m terrible at it, but given the developer’s track record (Vlambeer’s most notable release before this one was Super Crate Box, another game in much the same “keep playing even though you suck at it” vein) that seems to be by design.  Anyone who has spent enough time playing video games with me knows that I tend to get frustrated with things pretty easily (if you ever come and visit, ask to see the pile of broken controller parts I probably have sitting around somewhere.)  And yet, even though these games seem like the ones that should be the most rage-inducing (aside from random Nintendo games from the Eighties back when practically everything had the difficulty cranked up to “merciless” straight out of the box,) I can play them for hours and not even really care if things are going badly.  There seems to be a fine line between hard yet fair and rage-inducingly cheap, and occasionally you get a game that manages to come right up to the line without crossing over.  Luftrausers seems to have done a pretty good job of this.

Another game in a similar vein that I’ve spent quite a bit of time on in is Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2.  Although this particular game is a rather chaotic 2D arena shooter that throws huge amounts of brightly colored badguys (er, bad polygons) at you all at once, surprisingly the one mode in the game that I couldn’t stop playing was the one that didn’t involve any shooting at all.  Sure, you still have all sorts of enemies coming after you from all directions (although it’s more of a big blue Advancing Wave of Doom than the Technicolor assault of the regular game modes) but since you can’t shoot, you have to pass through gates that trigger explosions which will destroy enemies in their proximity.  On the surface it seems pretty simple, but the difficulty ramps up quickly, and in this particular mode you don’t get any of the screen-clearing bombs you have in the other modes (you’re a pacifist, rember?) so basically your only recourse is to keep moving and using the gates to hold back the swarm.  You build up score multipliers by collecting little trapezoid things that the enemies drop when defeated, and as you last longer your potential for scoring increases until you make it well into the millions.  This video shows a particularly high score (for reference, my own highest score in this is somewhere in the 35 million range.  It happened once, and I haven’t been able to get past 25 million since that one run in spite of plenty of trying.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FmD73uoRyWU

Without much searching, I could find plenty of other examples to cite here (the whole Flappy Bird craze that appeared and disappered in about a week and a half last month comes to mind as a notable recent example,) but the balance between fun and frustration can be really difficult to pull off.  Even though I’m not a game designer (nor do I profess to be anywhere close to one,) it seems to me that there’s a few common threads between games like this:

  • Make it cheap and easy to restart.  If your players are going to be dying repeatedly for ridiculous and/or quite possibly stupid reasons, at least make it easy for them to try again.  In Luftrausers, after you die you can literally be starting a new round within two seconds, just long enough to see your score from the last round and jump back in.  In some ways, simpler games have distinct advantages in this department over more elaborate ones, simply by merit of not having to worry about things like load times and changing settings.  In a notorious counter-example, the critically panned Xbox 360 game Too Human forced its players to endure a pointless unskippable 20-second cutscene every time they died.  
  • Give the players something to shoot for.  This can be done in a number of different ways.  In Geometry Wars there wasn’t much to do but blast (or dodge, in the case of Pacifism mode) your way to a high score, but the game over screen highlighted a leader board that showed all your friends’ high scores, and also the scores from your last eight rounds.  In addition to this, the in-game screen showed the score above yours on the leaderboard to use as a goal to shoot for.  Luftrausers isn’t quite so forthcoming with the leaderboards (you actually have to dig a bit to find them) but it does come with some goals to aim for in the form of the missions.  And on top of that, it’s always clear what your high score is so you can try to beat it.  Which brings me to the next point…
  • Keep the player too busy to care about their score.  Just staying alive for any length of time in games like this can be a challenge, let alone doing whatever it takes to get a high score.  Then again, it’s hard to care much about your score when you’ve got two aces on your tail and you’re dodging bullet spam from a battleship.  When the battle gets heavy, oftentimes you won’t even have an idea that you’ve got a high score until you’ve reached the game over screen and see it.  And if you’re a few points short, it provides good incentive to jump in and try again.
  • Give the players incentive to take unnecessary risks.  In the Pacifism mode of Geometry Wars, you can get additional score multipliers for diving through multiple gates all at once.  which can be a really risky thing to do but can also get you a large number of points if you can pull it off.  In Luftrausers, it can sometimes be awfully tough to resist the urge to make foolhardy divebombing runs on battleships, if for no other reason than the fact that it’s oddly satisfying to watch one of the things blow up.  There’s also the challenge of trying to maintain a max combo when things start getting really hairy.  You have to keep seeking out targets and taking them out to keep the combo going, and sometimes you’ll find yourself having to resort to charging headlong into a fleet of PT boats with guns aimed right in your face to try to take one out before the timer runs out.

I’m sure there are plenty of other lessons that could be learned from this type of thing, but since I’m just sitting here writing about these things instead of actually going out and making them myself, I’ll leave it to the professionals to figure those out.  As I said earlier, there’s a fine line between making something frustrating but fair and making it rage-inducing.  The trick is to figure out how close you can get to that line without going over.  It’s been said that the best part about banging your head repeatedly against the wall is that it feels so good to stop, but sometimes, the trick is to figure out how to keep people banging away at that wall.

January 11, 2014

What Software Testers Can Learn From Video Game Speedrunners

Filed under: Games, Quality Assurance — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 2:53 pm

I see a lot of this when I attempt to play video games.

Over the course of the past week, I’ve spent far more time than I care to admit watching other people play video games far better than I could possibly do it.  Every year around this time, Speed Demos Archive puts on an event known as Awesome Games Done Quick, where a group of speedrunners gets together and plays games nonstop as fast as they possibly can for an entire week, streaming it online as a fundraiser for the Prevent Cancer Foundation (and a pretty successful one too, raising nearly $450,000 last year, and as of this writing the total for AGDQ 2014 is sitting at roughly $663,000 with about a day to go, plus whatever bonus streams follow the main event.)    For someone such as myself who has pretty much no skill whatsoever when it comes to anything requiring fast twitch reflexes, it is fascinating to watch this type of thing for several reasons.  First of all, the amount of skill being put on display by the various speedrunners is amazing.  And the second (and perhaps more compelling) reason is that as the various speedrunners go through their runs, they tend to provide a running commentary explaining what they’re doing as they go along.  And quite a bit of what they’re doing is, quite frankly, breaking the games.

But as I’ve watched the marathon and seen the types of techniques that speedrunners use, it has occurred to me that there are actually some things I can learn in my professional career as a software QA engineer from watching this type of thing.  Even though I don’t do anything related to games in my job (and only one or two things I have ever done in my career have come even remotely close to it) it seems to me that a lot of what of people do in the course of speedrunning games is quite similar to what I do in testing software, with one significant difference:  As a tester, I’m trying to find problems to get them fixed, speedrunners are typically trying to find them to completely break things.  And to be perfectly honest, I think the speedrunners might be winning on this one, judging from some of the ways they can take tiny little glitches and completely break entire games with them.  In most cases this has no real impact other than to beat games far more quickly than they were ever intended to be beaten, but we’re generally talking about twenty year old games here.  If you’re running mission-critical software in an enterprise environment and things like this are happening, you might find the impact of something like this to be far more problematic.  Naturally, it’s best to catch these types of things well before the software (be it a game or something more functional) goes out into the wild.  As such, I thought I’d put together a post that goes through some of the lessons that I have learned from watching speedrunners during AGDQ.


1. People will go to great lengths to make even trivial gains in performance.  Although the speedruns in AGDQ are compelling enough on their own, the part that really makes it interesting is the commentary that goes along with most of the runs.  Whether it’s coming from the speedrunner(s) playing the game or from providing a play-by-play from the couch, it quickly becomes clear that the people doing this stuff have put as much thought and effort into this as most people would put into far more serious subjects.  I suspect that the collective knowledge that has been gleaned from one of the more popular speedrunning games such as Super Mario Bros. could fill a book, or at least an article in an academic journal.  Nonetheless, even for games that have been well documented and well understood for years, people are still trying to find ways to shave fractions of seconds off their times.  In particular, one of the popular (yet somewhat controversial) categories in speed running tool-assisted speedrunning, also known as TAS.  Tool-assisted speedrunners use various tools to do things like run games a single frame at a time and use savestates to keep running through segments until they can figure out the optimal paths through or pull off difficult tricks, which allows them to eventually work toward what could be considered a fully optimized run.  In many cases, these optimized runs can be much faster (often by multiple minutes) than what even the best human players can manage, but they also tend to do this by using tricks that human players would not be able to do.  Nonetheless, the TAS players can find hidden strategies that can save time in regular speedruns, but at the same time can also be very difficult and/or risky.  It’s not uncommon to see speedrunners taking big risks on difficult tricks that might save them a fraction of a second if they pull it off, but can cost them much more than that if they don’t.  Speedrunning is by its very nature competitive, and at times it can be mere fractions of a second that can separate players in a racing each other on an hour-long speedrun (I don’t have a way to link to it yet, but the 4-way Super Metroid race from AGDQ 2014 is a very good illustration of this.)

Although this isn’t a scenario that necessarily translates to real-world software in the same manner (as you might imagine, when working with most types of hardware and software the goal is far more to reduce risk as much as possible than to reward it,) one thing I do typically see in the course of my daily workflow as a tester is that there are a lot of repetitive tasks that come up, not just in the actual testing, but in the course of dealing with the other associated tasks that come along with it such as bug tracking, test case management, setting up test environments and reporting results.  Although the use of automation in test case execution is widespread and can save significant time over manual testing in situations where it can be applied, I’m not dealing with much of it in my current job.  Nonetheless, even if you’re not automating  your test cases, you can probably identify little repetitive tasks here and there that you might be able to automate with something like a batch script or a macro.  Even little things that don’t seem like much can add up over time, and in the long run you can make significant performance gains out of little things.

2. Things that may seem random rarely are.  As you watch the various speedrunners going through their runs, one of the things they point out frequently is where things are or aren’t random in the games.  As you watch the various runs, you realize that at least under specific conditions, most seemingly random things aren’t actually random.  This is frequently important because a lot of the strategies (speedrunners typically call them “Strats”) depend on certain things happening at certain times.  On the flip side of the coin, random events tend to be a hindrance, as they can interfere with things often.  Mostly through exploration using TAS and other playthroughs of the game, it is possible for them to determine what is going to happen when, and also to figure out ways to precisely control the circumstances in which certain things happen and manipulate them to their advantage.  While testing software, often one of the biggest challenges testers face is trying to come up with consistently reproducible scenarios for bugs that have been reported because you have no way to verify if you actually fixed a bug if you don’t have a reliable way to get that bug to manifest itself in the first place.  This can be difficult, especially for bugs that may have been seen only once or twice, or issues that have been reported by non-technical users who provide only limited information and in a production environment where you might not have access to the debugging tools you’re used to having on your test bench.  It is for this reason that you need to be familiar with the environment you’re working in, and that you know what circumstances might lead to one particular code path instead of another.  If possible, you also want to have ways to collect at least some sort of data from low-information users in situations like this.  In many cases, understanding what circumstances might cause certain unwanted behaviors to occur in a piece of software can be largely a matter of determining the state of the environment at the time the problem happened.  Granted, this can require going rather deep into things, but speedrunners (and especially TAS runners) have gone surprisingly deep into the games they’re speedrunning, and have managed to do some rather surprising things, as this tool-assisted run of Super Mario World from AGDQ2014 illustrates.  It starts out unusual, gets downright weird, and goes…  Well, you’ll just have to watch.

3. You’re always going to miss something no matter how much testing you do.  The vast majority of games being played in the AGDQ marathon were some of the best-selling and best known games of the time when they were created.  Although the tools and services available today to game developers has allowed many smaller indie developers to put out products that can rival the big-name studios, in general a lot of games being shown were produced by rather large teams of developers, testers, artists and other support staff, often across multiple companies.  That means that by the time these products made it to the store shelves back in the day (something that has, ironically, become less and less of a reliable indicator of a product’s quality as console technology has reached the point where patching has become not only possible but practically expected)  they may have had hundreds of people involved along the way, including large numbers of testers dedicated to finding and reporting bugs to be fixed.  In spite of all that, the speedrunners still manage to find glitches, exploits and other bugs.  Not all of these are necessarily going to be useful for reducing speedrun time (in fact, a lot of these don’t do much more than crash things.) but these can be little things, big things, or somewhere in between.

Of course, very few of these glitches are things that a player going through the course of the game in the intended manner would ever run into (a lot of them involve finding ways into areas that the player is not supposed to be able to go into,) but unless they’re specifically restricting themselves to this, most speedrunners are going to use every glitch they can manage to get.  And I’m sure that there are developers and testers out there who have smacked themselves in the head after seeing some of the stuff that the speedrunners have pulled off in their stuff.  In the course of running a test pass on a game like the ones featured here, a lot of the scenarios where the glitches appear would be considered edge cases, which are things that very few users would even go anywhere near.  The main problem with these edge cases is that you’re generally wandering well off the “happy path” that normal users would be on, and in general the returns on these test scenarios tend to be very low in terms of the amount of time spent running them.  Then again, if you aren’t going to find the problems here, there’s a very good chance that someone else will gladly find the problems for you.  And you’re probably not going to like the results when they do.

4. Anything that is deemed unnecessary will be skipped one way or another.  During this year’s AGDQ, one of the featured runs was for Resident Evil 4, a game that I’ve never played (it’s not the type of genre I’m interested in) but which was still quite interesting to watch.  One of the biggest things I took away from this particular speedrun was that the player basically just ran right by probably 75% of the enemies in the game without a second thought, and suffered no ill consequences for doing so.  A lot of these fights would likely be rather difficult (and time-consuming) if the player was to actually do them the way the developers intended, but oftentimes it turns out to be completely unnecessary, as they just run right by and keep going.  Of course, in a speedrun saving as much time as possible wherever possible is crucial, so a lot of effort goes into cutting out even trivial things.  In particular, cutscenes and dialog are frequent targets of speedrunners, who will often take rather unusual steps to keep them from happening or exit them as quickly as possible.  In some cases, you’ll see people literally reset the game or quit out and reload in the middle of a speedrun, because starting from scratch and reloading from a save can in some cases be much quicker than watching a cutscene.  As long as the established ground rules for a particular game allow it, this is considered perfectly normal.

Another thing you see that happens quite a bit is that players will intentionally take damage in a lot of instances in order to use the temporary invincibility that typically goes with it  to bypass things.  In games, people tend to think of health or energy (or even lives) as something they have to try to keep as much of as possible, but speedrunners tend to treat these things primarily as a tool.  In particular, games like F-Zero GX (one of the most notoriously difficult games in recent memory, and one of the major highlights of the past couple of AGDQs as speedrunners have absolutely destroyed it) give you an energy bar that acts as both your health meter and something that can be consumed as a boost, allowing you to go faster but significantly increasing your risk of failure by doing so.  Then again, this is a normal (and expected) mechanic of this particular game, but taking intentional damage to bypass obstacles and improve speed is surprisingly common in many speedruns, especially for 8-bit games like the Mega Man and Ninja Gaiden series.  In some games, strategically placed intentional deaths are a common occurrence as well if some advantage can be obtained by doing so.  Then again, most players need to use that health and those lives just to keep themselves from hitting the game over screen too soon, so a lot of this comes down to having enough skill in the first place to avoid unintentional damage as much as possible, since it becomes a lot riskier when people play this way.  This means that in addition to all the various strategies and optimizations involved in the whole process, there’s also quite a bit of raw skill required just to even be able to think about speedrunning a game (of course, even if you can’t do live speedruns you can always try to do TAS, but that’s basically something entirely different.)

5. If there’s a way to pull things off the rails, someone will find it.  In many ways, this really ties into #4, but I feel it should also be considered separately.  One of the most popular genres of games for speedrunners is the so-called “Metroidvania” games (of which the 2D Metroid and the non-linear Castlevania games such as Symphony of the Night are the most prominent examples,) which typically are played on large non-linear maps but ultimately still have a linear progression that the user is expected to follow.  Of course, it is possible to follow this linear progression and do a speedrun that way, but most of the time the goal is to finish things as quickly as possible no matter how this is accomplished, so when a new game of this genre comes out, the first thing the speedrunners do is try to find so-called “sequence breaks,” which are strategies that allow the player to subvert the expected linear progression of the game and skip significant portions of the game entirely and acquire items that they aren’t expected to have  until much later in the game.  Of course, it’s gotten to the point that a lot of developers these days just hide intentional sequence breaks into the games, but in most cases these have come about as a result of players messing around with things they aren’t supposed to be messing around with, trying to actively subvert the intended order of the game. 

The effort that goes into testing a particular piece of software is as much a matter of planning as it is execution.  After all, you (generally) have a specific set of requirements that the software must be able to meet, and you need to be able to demonstrate that the software can meet those requirements.  And these days more than ever, security testing becomes a very important part of those test plans.  After all, no matter what type of software you are working with, it’s highly likely that someone out there will be trying to find ways to get around whatever limitations happen to be in it, especially if you’re dealing with any system that stores sensitive data.  But even aside from that, you can find yourself surprised by some of the things you’ll see users try to do with your software, things you would never expect.  As you go through the various test passes and validations that you might do over the course of a software development life cycle, you start to develop a surprisingly deep understanding of how things tend to work in the system, even if you aren’t working directly with the code.  As a result, you tend to build a bit if an intuition for some of the unusual things users might try somewhere along the line.  Don’t hesitate to try some of these things out; you never know just what kind of weird issues you might manage to run into.  Not that all of it will necessarily get fixed (after all, developers’ time is a finite resource, and you eventually have to ship something) but if you can think of it, chances are that at some point someone else will do the same.

All things considered, there’s actually a surprisingly large correlation in the methods used by speedrunners and software testers for their respective tasks.  In both cases, people are going deep into the inner workings of the software they’re using to try to find things that don’t work the way they’re supposed to.  Both use a lot of the same methods, and both find a lot of the same issues.  It’s how these issues are used where things tend to diverge though.  As a tester, it’s naturally your job to find these issues in order to get them fixed.  As a speedrunner, you’re trying to find issues that you can use to break things even further.  Either way, the results can be fascinating to watch.

September 2, 2011

If it’s Too Loud, Am I Too Old? Some Thoughts on PAX 2011

Filed under: Games — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:22 am

Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear. And are probably shooting at you.

On the calendar, Summer still has a good 20 days to go, but unofficially, Summer is coming to an end quickly.  In just a few short days, children will return to school (Although first days of school vary significantly from place to place, around here school begins next Tuesday) and before we know it, the leaves will begin turning, and the long descent into Winter will begin.  And yet, even for those of us who have long since departed from schooling, there are certain things that mark the unofficial end of Summer and the beginning of Fall.  For some, it may be a fair (the Puyallup Fair is just a couple of weeks away, although it’s unlikely I’ll make it there this year with my schedule over the next few weeks), and for others it may be a festival (Bumbershoot, this weekend at Seattle Center) or something a bit more mundane like a barbecue or a campout.  Over the past few years, I have found the end of Summer to be marked primarily by the arrival of PAX Prime, which was held last weekend in Seattle.

Although by now PAX should need little introduction for most people, it’s one of the largest festivals of gaming in all its various forms (the primary focus remains on video gaming, but tabletop and pen-and-paper gaming also comprise a major part of the show as well),  with most of the space being taken up by a large and ever-expanding expo hall where hundreds of game companies, ranging from the big console makers (Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo) to scrappy little three-man indie teams trying to prove themselves, show off their latest and greatest, and provide the chance to play them before their release.  Or at least that’s the theory.  In practice, any of the highly anticipated big studio productions that make it to PAX inevitably draw long lines of would-be players, resulting in what can in extreme cases become waits of several hours just to play something for ten minutes.  Since I’m not exactly known for my patience, I tend to just skip these ones.  Then again, it’s not exactly like there was a whole lot of stuff worth standing around for anyway.

Your mileage may vary of course, and I suspect for a good portion of the people who were there it did, but as I wandered through the expo hall and looked at the many games being offered, I just couldn’t seem to shake the feeling that it seemed like all the big studios were making pretty much the same game with slightly different graphics.  This may just be me getting jaded in my old age, but every fantasy MMO seemed to be trying to hard to be World of Warcraft, and every shooter out there seemed to be trying too hard to be either Call of Duty or Team Fortress 2.  And if I really wanted to play Team Fortress 2 or World of Warcraft, I’d just play Team Fortress 2 or World of Warcraft (I’ve got pretty much zero interest in any of the half zillion Call of Duty games on the market, so I’ve never been inclined to bother with it. )  Granted, not quite everything on the floor falls into those sweeping overgeneralizations.  There were a couple of new fighting games that looked reasonably nice, but I’m pretty sure I’d get myself thoroughly clobbered at  if I tried playing them against actual players (my last fighting game experience at PAX was, to put it mildly, a tad disastrous.)  There was also plenty of cool looking new PC hardware that was way too expensive (although I have been looking into some sort of upgrade for my desktop system in the semi-near future.)  On the non video game side, there were also quite a few new pen-and-paper RPGs  trying way too hard to be Dungeons and Dragons and card games trying way too hard to be Magic the Gathering. 

I’m pretty sure I’m overgeneralizing a bit here, but I don’t think what I’m seeing is necessarily as much a problem with the gaming industry as a whole as it is a subtle change in my attitudes towards gaming.  I’ve long known (and asserted) that I’m something of a finicky niche gamer, having at various times gone through phases of being at least somewhat fanatical about DOS shareware games (which, growing up as a frequently broke PC junkie in the early 90s, were attractive mostly by merit of not costing anything to download off the local BBSes,) early 80s arcade games, pinball, arcade games on their actual hardware, a particular series of Japanese strategy RPGs and\or Imported Japanese 2D shooters, so I suppose it’s not too surprising if I happen to find myself turning into a bit of a game snob.  But even given that fact, it seems that I’m just finding myself gradually less and less interested in gaming as a whole lately.  That’s not to say that  I’ve stopped playing games (or even reduced the amount of time I spend on them much,) it’s just that I gradually seem to be getting more and more picky about what I spend my time playing.  There are at least a couple of games that I tried out at PAX last year, enjoyed quite a bit and eventually bought, only to find them nearly a year later still sitting in their shrinkwrap.  Since it seems unlikely that any of these are ever going to become highly sought after collectors items, I’m not sure what my excuse is for those ones. 

Another thing that might be influencing this newfound pickiness is that slowly but surely, I find myself spending a lot less of my gaming time on the consoles in the living room, and a lot more of it on my PC.  To some people this might seem a bit counterintuitive since the longstanding trend has been in the other direction, but with the rise of major digital distribution platforms like Steam, it’s gotten a lot more convenient to purchase and play things on the PC.  And while a lot of this comes from improvements to the PC gaming experience (mostly I’m just glad that we don’t have to mess around with DOS boot disks trying to squeeze out another 673 bytes of free conventional memory in order to get Jazz Jackrabbit to run,)  it seems that especially in the most recent generation of game consoles, the plug-and-play experience that used to be their biggest advantage has largely fallen by the wayside.  It seems like virtually every time I turn on my PS3 these days it does something to annoy me, usually in the form of an excessive load time or a mandatory patch that seems to download at about a quarter of the available speed I have on my Internet connection.  My Xbox is a bit better, but it comes with more than its fair share of load times as well.  My PC, on the other hand, comes with a nice little list of games I can run from my start menu, is usually pretty fast to start them, and Steam automatically takes care of the patches and updates in the background so I don’t have to worry about any of it.  I’d even argue that as long as you’ve got the system to handle it (my current desktop PC is about two years old now, and I haven’t run into anything yet that it can’t handle) a PC might even be a better plug-and-play experience for gaming than a PS3 or an Xbox 360. 

None of this is to say that I didn’t enjoy PAX, because even if I am getting ever more finicky about my gaming, I did still enjoy PAX quite a bit, and intend to continue going every year as circumstances permit.  But I do reserve the right to become increasingly jaded about the whole thing as I continue to get older, OK?

October 27, 2010

Yes, I Still Play With Blocks.

Filed under: Games — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:38 am

As far as toys go, you can’t get much simpler than a set of blocks.  Whether it’s the classic set of wooden blocks or the now equally ubiquitous Legos, it would be almost impossible to find some person who hasn’t played with blocks at some point in their childhood.  In fact, some people never seem to grow out of it.  After all, someone has to be buying those humongous $400 Lego Imperial Star Destroyers and Death Stars, and I’m pretty sure it’s not kids saving up their allowances.  In fact, there is a significant community of adult Lego fans who, thanks to years of experience and much bigger budgets for parts acquisition, build some thoroughly ridiculous stuff.  I do keep a small container of Legos around on my desk to use for a little bit of messing around, but quite frankly, even my best efforts are thoroughly amateurish compared to what some of these people are pulling off.  Every once in a while I’ll wander through the Lego shop at Bellevue Square and see some set that looks like it would be fun to put together, but I have a tendency to get about halfway into things like that, lose some critical piece or lose interest, and leave the rest untouched for some indefinite period of time before finally getting rid of the thing.  Combined with the fact that these days I don’t exactly have a whole lot of space in my apartment for such things, I find it’s best to just skip the stuff.  Then again, who says you need actual blocks?

If you spend any significant amount of time reading the various game Blogs on the Internet, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Minecraft by now.  There’s also a pretty decent chance that if you’ve heard of Minecraft, you’ve either spent way too much time messing around with it by now, or you just can’t figure out why anyone even bothers with it in the first place.  In a nutshell, Minecraft is a game which has so far been built by one person (who, thanks to the runaway success of the project so far, is now adding more people to the project) which basically puts you down in the middle of a procedurally generated world with nothing, and through a combination of exploring, crafting, digging and building you can go from punching trees with your bare hands to harvest wood to building your own tools, finding resources underground, and eventually building pretty much whatever you can think of.  You do have to watch out for various enemies that will come out of the dark and attack you if given the opportunity to do so, and as you might be able to tell from the screenshot above it’s all pretty blocky, but the game (at least in its current form) does away with pesky things like environmental impact statements and gravity, and lets you build all sorts of cool stuff. 

The tower you see above was built within a matter of roughly an hour, including collection of materials and crafting the necessary parts.   Given the fact that everything is basically built out of big blocks of approximately a cubic meter apiece there isn’t room to get too detailed with things, but given enough blocks and enough space (which, given the fact that the theoretical maximum size for a Minecraft world is roughly four times the size of the Earth, shouldn’t be much of an issue) you can build just about anything you can think of.  A number of people from an e-mail alias I probably spent way too much time on back in my Microsoft days (it’s been less than a year since I last worked at Microsoft, but it seems like it’s been ages)  have started their own multiplayer Minecraft server, and over the course of roughly a month that the server has been up, people have built entire mountains entirely out of glass, turned old in-jokes from the alias into humongous statues, created an extensive network of roadways and pathways all hovering ominously ten stories off the ground, and basically built their own little world (and just about burned the place down in the process, but that’s another story.)  I’m a bit late to the party compared to some people, but once I managed to get an issue sorted out that was preventing me from building anything without getting booted from the server, I’ve been working on establishing my own little spot on the server.  So far, my major contribution has been this lighthouse.

My next project at this point is to get rid of the inconvenient mountain currently located underneath it and make it float  in mid-air.  Ominously, of course.  After all, has anything that big ever floated in mid-air and not been ominous in the process?  Selective interpretations of the Laws of Physics make things like that pretty easy to pull off actually.  All you need is the patience to spend about an hour or two in otherwise unproductive digging.  Of course, this is small potatoes compared to what other people have been building (in fact, just off in the distance beyond all that fog lies a rather impressive floating castle that’s about twenty times larger than my puny little lighthouse.  Then again, it’s actually pretty quick to put stuff together in Minecraft as long as you have the resources to do it.  Perhaps Minecraft’s runaway popularity can be explained by the fact that there’s a lot of people out there who, in spite of claiming otherwise, never really grew out of playing with blocks, but the demands of adulthood have prevented them from being able to do so in any self-respecting fashion.  Not to say that there’s anything wrong with playing with blocks of course.  Maybe if I’d hurry up and get married and have a kid or two I might even get the chance to do so.

Oh, and since I happen to have it handy, I might as well throw in a quick night shot  of the lighthouse too.

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. 

(more…)

June 16, 2010

In With the Old

Filed under: Games — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 2:33 am

As you probably know if you have any sort of interest in video games whatsoever, this week is the Electronic Entertainment Expo (more commonly known as E3) in Los Angeles.  This is the one week out of the year in which all the  latest and allegedly greatest in interactive entertainment for the coming year gets shown off to the public.  Although the show itself is restricted to members of the industry, you’d practically have to live under a rock to avoid all the coverage in the various media, and as such E3 is quite the spectacle these days.  To be perfectly honest, I haven’t really paid all that much attention to E3 this year, but based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m not particularly impressed with most of what’s being shown.  I might elaborate on this a little bit later on, but the offerings this year seem to be heavy on gimmicks and light on content, and don’t really make a compelling case for the shiny new toys being shown off.  Then again, all the interesting stuff from E3 tends to make its way to PAX, which is now less than three months away, so I’ll hold off on getting too specific until then. 

Providing a stark contrast to all the new stuff down in LA this week was this past weekend’s Northwest Pinball and Gameroom show, held in a few conference rooms in an bscure corner of Seattle Center that I apparently didn’t even know existed until now.  As anyone who has been reading this site for any length of time knows, I’ve written a number of posts about growing up as an arcade junkie (much to my parents’ chagrin I’m sure) and lamenting the demise of the arcades.  Yet at the same time arcades are disappearing (a few scattered diehards notwithstanding) collectors have picked up the slack and gone to great lengths to preserve the legacy of the arcades.  By their very nature arcade collectors are diehards (you almost have to be, the space commitment required to collect full-size video games and pinball machines mandates that,) and by drawing upon the resources of local arcade collectors, a rather impressive collection of classic arcade video games and  pinball machines was brought together in one place for a weekend of old-school arcade goodness.  Once the (slightly steep) admission fee was paid at the door, all of the games were set on free play, so it wasn’t even necessary to worry about bringing quarters along.

The show was set up in two main rooms:  One for the video games, and one for the pinball machines.  On the video game side, all but a handful of the machines were made prior to 1990, making this a truly classic arcade experience.  In addition to the usual Atari, Williams and Midway fare you’d expect to find (and plenty of it,) there were a number of oddities on offer as well, including a surprisingly large number of 70s games, a couple of Cinematronics vector games (including Armor Attack, one of my favorites I haven’t played in years) and even an electromechanical game or two.  For the most part, the games were in original dedicated cabinets, and were in surprisingly good shape given their age, a testament to the efforts of the collectors that have in some cases gone to great lengths to restore and preserve these games.  Unfortunately, it does also tend to put my decrepit old conversion cabinet to shame…

In spite of the impressive showing of video games, it was pretty clear that pinball was getting top billing at this show.  A number of special guests (including some prominent pinball designers) were in attendance, and the pinball room included machines throughout much of the history of pinball.  Electromechanical Bally and Gottlieb machines dating back as far as the early Sixties could be found sitting next to the latest Stern games, with just about everything in between represented.  I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to play too many of the pinball machines (if I was a bit more patient I probably could have done so) but one of the highlights of the show was getting to play Nip-it, a Bally table from 1974, for the first time.  This table’s most prominent claim to fame was its presence at Arnold’s on the show Happy Days, but in my case, it was of particular interest because a number of years ago I actually did most of the coding to build a version of this table in Visual Pinball, a pinball simulator which I got involved in development for back in the early part of the last decade and built a number of tables for.  Although I did have a bit of help along the way from someone who owned a machine, I was glad to learn that although I could think of a number of tweaks that could use to be applied, I at least managed to get the rules of the table mostly correct.  Oh, and it still quite a fun table too.  Unlike some of the game’s contemporaries with their relatively lethargic ball action and minuature flippers with all the raw ball-pushing power of an asthmatic housefly, the action on this game moves at a relatively rapid pace for an electromechanical table (just don’t try to compare it to a Steve Richie table, OK?) and the Zipper Flippers (a rather short-lived Bally invention which causes the flippers to “Zip” in and temporarily cover up the center drain) add a bit of interest as well.  Maybe one of these days if I can ever get the table back into shape (it appears that Visual Pinball has some rendering problems for me on my current machine) I’ll put up a post with the stuff I’ve done.  I’m actually surprised to see that there’s still a rather active Visual Pinball community out there, so it might actually be worth doing.

All in all, the Pinball and Gameroom Show was a nice chance to reacquaint myself with some of the dubious distractions of my youth, if only for one weekend.  As tends to be the case every so often, I find myself briefly considering the possibility of actually getting a pinball machine once again, but that usually runs into cold hard reality pretty quickly as I remember that not only are the good tables expensive as heck, but I have no space for one (heck, I have no space for an arcade game either, but I didn’t figure that out until I got one.)  I’m trying not to let myself live in the past, but it is still OK if I visit every once in a while, right?

October 24, 2009

Is the Arcade Dead, Or Did it Just Sell Out?

Filed under: Bellevue, Games — Brian Lutz @ 8:46 pm

As some of you might recall, it was just a couple of months ago that I was lamenting the decline and fall of the video arcade.  At the time, I had no idea that there was anyone out there with the chutzpah to bring an arcade back to the Eastside, much less to put it right in the heart of downtown Bellevue.  But much to my surprise, just a few weeks ago it was announced that Lucky Strike Lanes in Lincoln Square (the Eastside’s only bowling alley with a dress code)  would be expanding to add an arcade called Power Play.  Even more shocking than the very existence of an arcade in this day in age is the price tag, purported to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million.  Of course, when you’re located in some of the costliest real estate in a town that’s getting pretty costly as is, expectations are going to be pretty high for a place like this.  Does Power Play deliver?  To be honest, I’m not so sure.  I’ll elaborate on this, and take a look at some of what passes for arcade games these days, after the jump.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

September 9, 2009

In Search of the Lost Arcade

Filed under: Games — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 1:57 am
 

 

 

Image credit:  Flickr user goodrob13

Image credit: Flickr user goodrob13

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Note:  This was going to be my PAX roundup post, but my introduction got a little bit long, so I split it off into its own post.  Another post on PAX will be forthcoming soon.)

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been something of a video game junkie.  For much of my childhood, there was one form of video game system or another in the house, although most of the time we seemed to end up with the really obscure ones like the Odyssey 2, the TI99/4A and the now incredibly obscure Emerson Arcadia 2001.  Eventually we moved on to somewhat less obscure games, starting with an Atari 2600 in the post-crash era when crummy shovelware games could be had for pretty dang close to a dime a dozen, then finally moving on to an NES, which hung around the house for quite a few years before finally disappearing in a move.  By that time, our family had acquired its first PC, and my interests quickly turned to computers as a result.  Without much in the way of income at the time most of my gaming was limited to unregistered shareware games.    In turn, I discovered the local BBSes, shareware downloads, CompuServe , the Internet and online gaming, then Subspace, then Asheron’s Call, and a brief (compared to some people at least) stint in World of Warcraft.   The pursuit of most of these met with varying amounts of parental disapproval.  In particular, the CompuServe one came to an especially ignominious end when I managed to run up an $85 bill in one month, mostly as a result of downloading stuff off the Epic Megagames forum.  This was when I was in high school without much of an allowance or much in the way of other income, so that was a fair bit of money to me at the time.  This was also back in the days when Epic was a shareware company known mostly for a DOS-based pinball game they had made and some shoot-em-up they seemed to perpetually be working on known as Unreal.  Last time I heard, it worked out pretty well for them.

On the other hand, no matter what consoles or PC games I might have had at my disposal around here, I’ve always had something of a soft spot for the good old-fashioned arcade.  Although it is now virtually extinct, I can recall that I misspent as much of my youth as I could manage to get away with hanging out in arcades, occasionally playing games when I could manage to scrounge up a quarter or two, but mostly just watching.  The small middle-of-nowhere town I grew up in had virtually no arcade games to be found (a couple in a dark corner of the Pizza Hut, a small gameroom at Big Cheese Pizza on the other side of town, a couple in the high school cafeteria and eventually a small arcade that I was instructed in no uncertain terms to not go anywhere near by my mother) so for the most part, arcades were something I only had access to when I was on vacation.  In particular, the two gamerooms at the Cherry Hill campground in Kaysville Utah were ones I spent a fair amount of time loitering.  It was here that I was introduced to such classics as Bubble Bobble, Raiden, Shinobi and Outrun (the full-motion version, no less) as well as the Neo-Ge0 (which was, in the relatively short period between the time it was released and the time when 3D graphics started taking over, pretty much the most amazing thing I had ever seen in the arcade.) 

Eventually, as I grew up, graduated high school and moved into the working world, I could actually afford some of the stuff.  It was about this time that the Gameworks in downtown Seattle opened, which happened to coincide with the year that I worked in the area.  With little else to do between the time I got off work at 3pm and the time that the bus back to Redmond arrived, I probably spent far more time than I should have in here, paying way too much to play the latest and greatest in video games (or so it seemed at the time.)  To be honest I’m not entirely sure how the place still stays in business these days, but it’s still around.  Unfortunately, there aren’t a whole lot of other arcades left around here.  One by one, the once ubiquitous mall arcades have closed up shop…  The little hole-in-the-wall arcade in the back of some long forgotten game shop on Redmond Way, Quarters in Kirkland, Casey’s in the Everett Mall, Silver Coin at Southcenter, Games ‘n Stuff at Alderwood, the Command Center in Renton, some little arcade I only ever made it to once at Northgate…  In fact, the only ones I know of which may still be around are a couple in the Sea-Tac Mall (they call it the Commons at Federal Way now, but I don’t know anyone who actually uses that name) and the SuperMall in Auburn.  The local bowling alleys usually still maintain some semblance of an arcade (mostly because they’d have nothing else to do with the space if they got rid of the games) but beyond those, an amusement center or two  and a few scattered pizza places, there are few signs of life in the once vibrant arcade.

To be honest, even before the arcades began disappearing en masse around here, most of the remaining ones were pretty mediocre.  Most of them were filled with all sorts of indistinct racing games in sit-down cabinets that took up almost as much space as a real car (and, if you’ve ever seen the prices on the stuff, cost almost as much too,) with a wall of fighting games.  a few gun games (usually Area 51 and Time Crisis, I think the arcades were required by law to have those two,) the quarter-gobbling ticket machines,  and shoved in some dark corner, maybe a half-broken pinball machine or two.  Places like that I could take or leave, but there one arcade in particular that I wish was still around:  The Game Plays arcade that once occupied a spot in Factoria Mall where the Jamba Juice resides now. 

From the outside it looked like any other dark, slightly dingy arcade, but the selection of games in that particular arcade was unlike any to be found anywhere else.  I spent quite a bit of time ar this particular arcade while I was attending evening classes at BCC and had time to kill before class (I usually tried to get to the area early to avoid the traffic),  and it had by far the biggest collection of shmups (2D shoot-em-ups such as Gradius, Raiden, R-Type and similar games) I had seen in any arcade.  They also (for a time anyway) had some of the nicest looking, best maintained pinball machines to be found anywhere around here, including a Twilight Zone machine with everything working (much more the exception than the rule with pinball around here), the volume on the machine cranked so you could practically hear it from the Old Country Buffet, and all this for just a quarter a play.  I have not found a Twilight Zone in that condition since then.  Other highlights included a Gauntlet Legends machine without the standard life-drain (which kind of makes the game a bit too easy, but you could play for a lot longer that way,) the only Radiant Silvergun machine I ever saw in the wild (that was the game I eventually bought a Japanese Sega Saturn  for, but never got around to actually buying, but that’s another story) and a lot more.  If my memory serves me correctly, the place hung on until 2006 or so before finally shutting down.

By that time, I had finished up my AA degree at BCC, began working full-time (mostly anyway) in my chosen profession, and was in the process of establishing my own household.  Having finally managed to move out of my parents’ house (and no, I was NOT living in the basement, nor does their house even have a basement) and gotten an apartment of my own, I made my one reckless, ill-advised, nobody-can-tell-me-what-to-do-anymore purchase:  An arcade game of my own.   For the price of $250 I bought an old (and somewhat decrepit)  arcade cabinet which had originally been a dedicated cabinet for some now obscure 80s football game, but had later been converted to JAMMA (a standardized connector used for practically all arcade boards made after 1985 or so, to allow easy conversions from one game to another) and came with Strikers 1945, a mid-Nineties WWII-themed shmup that wasn’t all that high on the list of games I was buying one of these things for, but it was cheap so I had it included.  Eventually I began to accumulate a collection of various arcade boards, and I now have about 7 or 8 (depending on what you’re counting.)  To be honest, I haven’t used it nearly as much as I thought I would when I got it, and I haven’t ever gotten around to doing the major control panel overhaul I’ve been meaning to do almost since I bought the thing, but it’s kind of nice to have one around for the occasions when I just feel like playing some obscure manic Japanese shooters.  It also makes a nice little conversation piece, assuming the den is clean enough to allow visitors into (which probably isn’t the case right now as I’m writing this.)  I also haven’t given much thought to what I’m supposed to do with the thing when I move out of this place, but on the off-chance that I happen to end up married at that time, I suspect that my wife would be the one making the decision for me.  I also suspect that the thing would be the very first thing to go as well.  Might as well enjoy it while I can, right?

In general, the playing of video games isn’t generally considered to be much of a social affair.  Sure, just about everything seems to come with online multiplayer in some form or another these days, but it seems that we rarely see many enduring friendships being built by people while exchanging virtual machine gun fire and assorted four-letter words unprintable on this Blog with each other.  There seems to be a lot of stereotypes of gamers out there, and I have to say that not all of them are completely unfounded (in fact, at times I’ve probably fallen into a few of them myself.)  On the other hand, maybe this has happened at least in part because of the decline of arcades in general.  After all, if you’ve got all the cool new games available from the comfort of your living room couch, who needs to bother actually going somewhere and paying money to go play their games?  Then again, after spending the last weekend at the Penny Arcade Expo, I’m starting to wonder if we could benefit from a return to the arcades of yore (or at least something resembling them.)  More on this in the next post, as I discuss this year’s PAX and some of the things that I observed while I was there..

September 3, 2009

It’s The Most Nerdiest Time of the Year

Filed under: Games — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 11:51 pm

I’d like to think that I’m somewhat of a casual video game player, but I suspect that anyone who entered my apartment would progbably disagree with me.  If  the big pile of Rock Band instruments sitting in the corner of the living room or the closet full of assorted retro consoles (well, sort of retro anyway, I don’t have anything that really goes much further back than 16-bit era at this point) here in the den aren’t enough to make that argument sound thoroughly unconvincing, then I suspect the full size arcade game in the den here would have no trouble doing so on its own.  Yes, I have to admit that I’ve got a fair bit of video game stuff around here, even if most of it doesn’t get played much these days.  I suppose that also, by default at least, makes me something of a video game junkie.  Those who know me would not be surprised by this. 

That said, up here in the Seattle area we’re lucky to have the Penny Arcade Expo, which is just about the largest gaming-related show in America that isn’t E3 (and E3 isn’t open to the general public either.)  It’s not just a bunch of people sitting around playing video games for three days either (although there’s plenty of that.)  There’s also significant representation of tabletop and pen-and-paper gaming, and a lot of stuff related to the general culture (such as it is) which has developed around these things.    The expo, now in its sixth year, continues to grow, and has this year completely sold out of tickets  nearly a week before the actual show.  I have been lucky enough to have been able to attend all of them so far.  I’ve had the chance to watch the show grow From the first one which took up about half of Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue where about 4,000 people showed up, (I actually managed to get in to that one for free by letting the organizers borrow my copy of SoulCalibur 2 for the tournament,) up to the 2009 show that begins today at the Convention Center in Seattle, taking up the whole place with 75,000 people expected to attend over the course of the next three days.  With attendance continuing to increase, and greater demand, there will also be an East Coast PAX next year in Boston.  This is an event people literally travel halfway across the country to attend, and here in the Seattle area we’re lucky enough to have it in our backyard.

For all of the PAXes I have been to previously, I have gone only for one day, which is the Saturday of the weekend that PAX takes place on.  On one hand, I generally think that one day is plenty to see everything there, but on the other hand, there’s also plenty you could do to fill another day up if you were so inclined.  This year, I will be attending for two days, and it was pretty much by accident that it happened.  About a week ago, I went to get my tickets (at all of the ones I’ve attended in the past tickets have generally been available up until the day of the show, and usually at the door) and found that Saturday tickets had sold out.  Having not expected this, I decided to get a Friday ticket as a plan B (those ended up selling out a day later) and put out a couple of requests to see if I could come up with a Saturday ticket.  I didn’t have much expectation of actually being able to come up with one (after all, the “tickets wanted” requests on Craigslist were showing some rather high prices,) but I happened to luck into one from someone I knew who wasn’t going to be  able to attend.  Thus I ended up with tickets for two days.  The timing works out well too, because after the way this last week at work has gone, I could use a good excuse to flee screaming from the building (I do have to go to work for a few hours in the morning but get to take the afternoon off.)

There’s plenty to see here, and I’m sure there will be plenty to Blog about at the show as well.  Unfortunately, I’m not exactly well equipped for moblogging these days, so most of the stuff will be showing up here after the show is over.  I will also be twittering (see the sidebar for that), and will probably post some grainy cameraphone pictures as well.  Now to go check the drawers to figure out where my geek shirt collection went…

Older Posts »

The Shocking Blue Green Theme Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 255 other followers

%d bloggers like this: