M’s PAX 2010 Diary, Day 1

On September 3rd, 2010, a blogger known only as M disappeared into the untamed wilds of downtown Seattle. After fruitless searching over countless minutes, authorities found nothing except a battered netbook spattered with 1-Up stickers and Sephiroth doodles. With advanced techniques such as plugging the netbook in and turning it on, the police were able to recover M’s personal record of just what happened…

Friday, Sept. 3, 2010, 11:50 AM

OMG PAX SQUEE.

Like salmon returning to their spawning grounds, so too do gamers of all walks of life find themselves drawn like magnets to Seattle for the Penny Arcade Expo, one of the largest fan-run video game conventions in North America. And it has one hell of a pedigree: founded by the Penny Arcade guys themselves, Tycho and Gabe, the convention boasts the same irreverence, quirky fun, and genuine heart that powers the comic and its fandom. The banner ads say it all: Welcome home… and it is a homecoming in many ways, a place to be with our own.

I arrive with great vim and vigor, ready for my taste of gaming heaven. Everything is going to be absolutely perfect!

11:51 AM

… except for the fact that none of the Greyhound buses arrived in time for me to catch Warren Spector’s keynote speech and the welcoming panel by Gabe and Tycho. My fail is as deep and boundless as the sea. Will never be awesome game blogging journalist.  I will now spend the rest of the convention weeping over my idiocy.

11:52 AM

All right, done.

A quick spin through the exhibition hall sounds just what the doctor ordered. Doctors usually order big screen Tvs, flashing lights, big and small name games and throngs of eager fans, right? The common response to the exhibition hall at PAX is a nice big ABLURGH accompanied with a slight stumble as you are overwhelmed on every level, your senses tantalized by more games than you could ever play, your arms beckoned to carry more swag than they could hope to hold. In other words, it’s absolutely awesome. Don’t expect to just breeze through here; come with purpose, with energy and with a couple of hours to blow. That way you won’t be regretting it as you wait in line for your first touch of Kinect or a turn at the Medal of Honor demos.

Knowing that I will not have enough time until Sunday to devote to the apples of my eye (WoW: Cataclysm, Birth By Sleep, anything by Nintendo), I glance around briefly before heading off to my first panel.

3:00 PM

Attended an excellent panel on QA and game testing run by a large contingent of Microsoft QA leads, testers and reps. What was most interesting was to hear the very different stories of how everyone got into the industry; one used to be premed but changed into beta testing when he realized he hated blood, while another came from English and theatre majors to work at a non-gaming Microsoft test group run by a friend’s mom. The name of the game, as always, seems to be networking, as a lot of the panelists’ careers seemed to hinge on the ever popular, “I have a friend who worked in Microsoft/Blizzard/Nintendo…” They suggested joining IGDA and finding other opportunities to meet industry insiders and differentiate yourself from, well, all the other people joining IGDA, meeting insiders and trying to differentiate themselves! They also shared some hilarious bug stories, such as the Alien vs Predator facehuggers that had particular affection for cow buttocks, or the prototype that-certainly-isn’t-Fable-nosirree where the game crashed after having sex with your character’s wife… resulting in an entire computer lab filled with dilligent testers and programmers working over a cacophony of moans and sighs. Good times!

All right, time for my next panel, the panel on game writing. This is the game writing panel that I’ve been looking forward to months. I can’t wait!

3:27 PM

RAAAAGE.

The problem with having so many interesting panels crammed close together is that you miss the stuff you want to see. I don’t mean in terms of panels overlapping… I mean in terms of emerging from the tester panel to see a snaking line twisting its way through the convention center and being told that the panel on Making Stories Worth Playing – the one panel I wanted to attend more than any other, the one I’d come all the way to Seattle to attend  – is now absolutely full.

ARRGH.

There is another similar panel tomorrow, but it’s at the same time as the Dissidia tournament which I’d also hoped to attend.

This is why I seriously think PAX needs to keep the same amount of content but spread it out over four days instead of three; there’s just too much awesome in one place at one time. See: 6 PM, where I will go absolutely insane as I try to bend the laws of space and time by being in three panels at once (Community Manager, IGN/Gamespot, and Square Enix).

Learning from my mistakes, I arrive at the Game Journalism panel over an hour before it is due to begin. Already people are beginning to congregate, rolling their dice and brandishing their DSes with the gritty skills of veterans in the trenches.

3:46 PM

Ways PAX wins number 256: lineups are actually fun.

PAX employs a horde of blue shirted Enforcers, who despite their Gestapo-like name, are very cuddly and fun. They are also intent on entertaining bored nerds in lines. Wherever there is a line, the blue shirt brigade are on hand to ask trivia questions, do random party games, and generally be friendly and cool. It’s a welcome effort, although I can’t help but wonder why there would be any risk of line-up boredom when every con attendee is brandishing their own DS, PSP, iPhone or other handheld games.

5:00 PM

Another excellent panel, this on video game journalism. Interestingly enough, only one of the panelists was an actual games journalists (Chris Kohler from Wired.com… who apparently used to write for Viz’s short lived game magazine!). The others were John Drake, a PR specialist from Harmonix, Arne Meyer, a community strategist for Naughty Dog, and John Ricciardi, an ex-EGM writer who now works in Japan in a games localization company. The panel was hosted primarily as Q&A, and covered a lot of interesting topics, albeit many focused on the age old “HOW DO I SHOT WEB, er, I mean, break into the industry?” There’s quite a bit of a certain something that begins with “n” and ends with “etworking” but a lot of it is building a recognizable body of work (and, with it, a good reputation). Of course, this sometimes means writing for free, and not even getting any review copies out of it. Such is what we suffer for our art. There was also an interesting discussion on objectivity vs. subjectivity and how a personal slant can help as well as hinder you as a writer; after all, if you have interesting opinions and facts to back them up, that’s more than enough to get attention. Lastly, they recommend writing in your own voice and following the golden words of Wil Wheaton: don’t be a dick.

5:05 PM

I emerge from the journalism panel to discover that there is already a lineup outside. Not for the next panel, mind you; that panel’s audience are quickly ushered inside with little to no fanfare. No, the lineup at 5:05 is for the 7:30 PM premiere of Of Dice and Men, a two act play about a group of D&D players written by a hardcore geek.

Other panels beckoned, as did the siren call of the exhibition hall, but I’d already learned my lesson once. At PAX, lineups are king. I sighed and got in line.

10:00 PM

Totally worth it.

If Of Dice and Men ever manages to move beyond PAX and gives a performance in your neck of the woods, RUN, don’t walk, to see it. It is one of the funniest and moving portrayals of D&D and the people who play it that I’ve ever seen. Admittedly, it’s not a topic that tends to come up in theatre very often, but this could be the start of something grand. Tackling serious topics like frustrated love, parting of friends and even the war in Iraq, playwright/director/star Cameron McNary also infuses it with all those gaming moments that have us chortling and nodding along. The passing of notes between GMs  and backstabbing players. The overwrought roleplaying of half-elven princess Alia Feathermoon Whisperwing Melindus Ravenhair etc etc. The squishiness of wizards and the Scottishness of dwarves. And, of course, the five identical rogues all dying in the same night in quick succession thanks to a certain Tomb of Horror.

It is a play for our tribe, as McNary puts it. And yet this simple two act play could be a window through which mainstream, “normal” people could see us for what we are… just as emotional, complex and hopeful as anyone else.

In other words, you should see this play because it is very good.

…more of M’s diary tomorrow!

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