M’s PAX 2010 Diary, Day 2

While authorities continued to puzzle over the missing M, an email arrived with vital clues as to her whereabouts and her slow descent into insanity.

Saturday, September 4, 6:55 AM

MURGH. GHUH. MRGLE.

8:00 AM

All right, I’ve imbibed some caffeine and am heading over to the main queue hall to line up. Not because I need to be first in the door to the exhibition hall, but because the Men in Blue told me that the first 1000 in the lineup would receive free wristbands for the concert tonight. It means I have to line up until 10 AM (and thus miss the Create A Strip panel with Gabe and Tycho) but it’s worth it to see Jonathan Coulton, right?

10:05 AM

THEY LIE. THE MEN IN BLUE LIE LIKE THE CAKE.

Apparently the line for wristbands was at the Main Theatre several blocks away. You know, where Gabe and Tycho’s panel was being held. Where they’ve already handed out all the wristbands, and filled up the theatre for the strip panel. I just stayed in line for 2 hours for nothing.

FLAMES. FLAMES ON THE SIDE OF MY FACE.

Ah well, I guess I’ll head into the exhibition hall. It will be good to get my hands on Cataclysm at last!

… what do you mean, Blizzard doesn’t have a booth?

11:45 AM

All joking aside, a rudimentary browsing of the exhibition hall was very entertaining. This time I pressed a bit deeper into the hall and came across some excellent booths and some really good games. I think the coolest booth might just be the Epic Mickey booth, with its modernistic white structure and mysterious aesthetic to match the dark content of the game. It’s definitely going on M’s List of Games to Try On Sunday. I also took the time to eyeball a bit of Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, check out the Nvidia 3D demo (running Cataclysm, huzzah!) and buy a little Kingdom Hearts Sephiroth keychain… because I am a raging fangirl before all else. I also had the opportunity to play a few student games from the Vancouver Film School, and was impressed at what they had created. I’m definitely going to be trying more student games if I can.

After that, I curled up in a corner to play Dissidia, trying to console myself over missing the tournament in favor of…

2:30 PM

The panel on game writing was very informative and interesting, with a lot of cautionary tales mixed with hope and inspiration as well as some really thought-provoking discussion on the nature of game narrative as compared to other mediums like movies, books, and anime. The panel was hosted by Daniel Floyd (Pixar animator and co-creator of Extra Credit on The Escapist), Gary Whitta (Duke Nukem Forever writer and screenwriter of The Book of Eli), John Sutherland (Microsoft writer with credits in Mass Effect and Alan Wake, and head of VidGameStory.com) James Portnow (Call of Duty and other Extra Credit creator), Tom Abernathy (Destroy All Humans) and Anne Toole (freelancer who’s worked on everything from The Witcher to the TV soap Days of our Lives). Certainly a diverse bunch!

The big thing they said up front is that there is no set path to becoming a writer in the video game field; some stumble into it from screenwriting or novels, others became game designers and writers later, while still others found different routes. All the stories shared one common theme; a bulldog-like tenacity in networking, and a hell of a lot of luck. The panelists pointed out some of the major differences between game writing and other forms – it’s much more collaborative, and the final decisions on the story rest on the player vs. author – and discussed how trying to emulate movies is not the way to go. While there are common themes to all creative writing (e.g. Show not tell, have a protagonist who acts), common storytelling mechanisms like cutscenes actually result in a much more passive hero (as we’re now watching stuff happen to him rather than act as him).

Feeling a bit peckish, I wander off for cheesecake, looking longingly at the absolutely packed ballroom where Gabe, Tycho, Scott Kurtz and Wil Wheaton are playing their D&D game.

5:30 PM

Mmm. Cheesecake. It does not lie to me.

I got to the Women in Games panel late and missed the first twenty minutes, but it was still a very thought-provoking and challenging panel even midway through. Hosted by a female programmer, a PR/marketer, an officer in a feminist WoW guild and other men and women in the industry, it was a probing look at the reality of women trying to break into the industry, of how both men and women think of “girl games” and women in general, and how the industry both reflect prevailing gender ideas (e.g. Hot women = good, hot women selling product = sold product) and has its own dynamic which casts women as weird and oddball members of the community.

The programmer in particular spoke frankly about the prejudice she’d encountered during her schooling (“Oh, you’re just passing because you’re a girl!” “You’re just here to find a boyfriend!”) but provided some reassurance that the actual work world was quite a bit more respectful and that her colleagues acknowledged her as an equal. The panel also put forward some ideas for getting more women into the industry: less focus on “games for girls” (ie OMG PINK!), recognize that women are already gaming, promote game development as a viable career path from a young age (for boys and girls) and perhaps most important of all, getting men to help by calling out sexism and promoting the idea of women as equals. So Geek’s Dream Girl male readers, make sure to stand by your fellow gamers of the female persuasion! After all, points out the panel, we’re all in this together, and we’re all here for the same reasons… to frag a lot and get the high score.

7:30 PM
Just came out of the Getting into Games Marketing panel. Best. Panel. Ever.

Not just because of the panel – though that was good too – but because of one of those happy accidents of chance. While waiting in line… again… I happened to sit next to a couple who had somehow gotten their hands on the fabled concert wristbands, which by this point were becoming as rare and coveted as the fountain of youth. The couple were feeling tired and decided they didn’t want to go, and in a truly generous gesture handed over both wristbands. It just drives home how nice the nerd community can be when it comes together!

The marketing panel itself was pretty interesting when it came down to it. The emphasis was less on having the right degree and more on (yes, again) networking as well as having good soft skills such as patience, a good handshake and other people skills. Along with the usual suggestions of volunteering, the panelists emphasized the importance of internships, even unpaid ones; anyone who’s serious about getting into game marketing needs to start meeting people and finding internship opportunities in order to showcase their skills and dedication. They warn that the beginning will be quite financially difficult between unpaid volunteer work and taking pay cuts when you transition from other jobs… but as long as you have valuable experience, it will work out. In the end, marketing and PR has to be good with talking to people because, when it comes down to it, conversations (with customers, with the media, with different branches of the developer) are what marketing is all about.

No sooner had the panel finished than I had to run to catch the concert. Once more, the stars aligned and luck was on my side as a random guy handed over an incredibly cute Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood cookie he’d been given; I returned the favor by giving him my spare wristband. He seemed to feel it was a grand gift (especially when we discovered that getting a seat without a wristband was nearly impossible) but frankly, considering I have an Assassin’s Creed cookie, I think I got the better deal.

8:56 PM

The night’s festivities are getting off to a swinging start with Tycho himself leading a Rock Band… uh, rock band singing a fantasy metal number to an eager and screaming crowd. The lyrics are appropriately deep and thoughtful in regards to demons and the slayers therein.

9:00 PM

After the performance, Gabe has come out to join Tycho in introducing the third round of Omegathon, a long running video game tournament spanning over a variety of random games. This time, their job is to play the unreleased Rock Band 3 and its most terrifying offering to date… a keyboard.

The first team makes a respectable run through Cold as Ice, with plenty of pretty harmonies and a pretty skilled keyboardist. I was initially amazed by the skill of the vocalist only to realize that it was, in fact, the original singer. Whoops. The second band seemed initially to flub a little, but soon rose to the top to claim victory.

9:30 PM

MC Frontalot’s performance begins with a rather… odd music video involving – and I swear I’m not making this up – a crack squad of Japanese military bears that run around blowing up stuff to save the world. With low budget green screen. Awesome.

I’m not the biggest fan of nerdcore as I dislike most forms of rap,and I don’t know much of MC Frontalot’s repetoire but the crowd eats him up, and his lyrics make me smile… when I can make them out, that is! Now he’s singing about genius babies, for crying out loud. He’s got a lot of energy, his backup band is entertaining, and as an opening act, he’s not half bad.

9:56 PM

Now he’s singing about otaku and anime fans. I think he’s supposed to be lampooning us, but I can’t make out a single word he’s saying, so I’ll refrain from capslock rage for now. Love the Japanese singer he’s got for this song though!

10:12 PM

DUDE! They just brought out Paul and Storm and Jonathan Coulton to perform “Disease” with MC Frontalot. Admittedly they’re mostly just dancing around and singing the chorus, but it’s certainly a pleasant surprise!

And then for a chaser, they reappeared brandishing… vuvuzelas. Not so pleasant a surprise, I warrant.

10:45 PM

Paul and Storm takes the stage with a video of amusing nerd protests (“God loves Batman!”) and launched right into the classic Opening Band, complete with panties thrown at the perfect moment (“And sad to say, as of today, no panties have been thrown” followed by ducking). If MC Frontalot lit the keg, Paul and Storm is the explosion, with the entire auditorium on their feet and screaming. This time I’m right along with them. Their cheery folk music mixes so well with the hilarious lyrics that you can’t help but tap your foot along. Their interludes are also high quality comedy with plenty of wit and random jokes.

They summon Jonathan Coulton to the stage to sing Nugget Man, and out come the DSes and iPads, waving back and forth in place of lighters. It’s one of the most magical moments of the con.

11:43 PM

It is then blown out of the water by the finale, The Captain’s Wife’s Lament, with a guest appearance with none other than Wil “Don’t Be a Dick” Wheaton himself. The song itself is only three minutes, but the performance lasts for almost half an hour thanks to random “Arr” choruses, the endless cascades of running jokes, and Wil basically being awesome. I now want to go back and watch all of TNG again just to fangirl over Wesley Crusher. The audience leaps to its feet in thunderous applause and “arrs” as the song finishes and Paul and Storm leave the stage.

12:00 AM

And Jonathan Coulton keeps the audience on their feet as he launches into Code Monkey before embarking on a mix of both old and new songs on such topics as growing a mustache, being stalked by a creepy doll, downing tons of anti-depressants and polite conversations with zombified coworkers. If the crowd was excited by MC Frontalot and enthralled by Paul and Storm, they are downright worshiping of Coulton, singing along with every song with hands over hearts and DS screens waving in the air. I know, as mine was right up there with them.

Coulton’s sense of humor is slightly quieter than Paul and Storm’s, but no less funny. “So this is the part where I pretend this is the last song,” he quips, “and you all go AWWWW! Then someone yells for me to play Freebird, I say something ironic, I go offstage and listen for applause, and then I come back for the last few songs.” Well armed with this knowledge, we all proceeded to act exactly as predicted, down to the screams for Freebird. The man must be psychic!

Audience participation was high during the songs as well, with the crowds filling in as zombies for re:Your Brains and soloing the last chorus in Skullcrusher Mountain. Paul and Storm trot out to help with several songs, including the genuinely terrifying Creepy Doll, but arguably the best musical guests are Two Girls One Uke(lele), who then launched into a picture perfect rendition of the smash hit from Portal, Still Alive. And believe me when I say that there was barely a single voice that was not raised in joyous, crazy computer song.

2:00 AM

The concert ended half an hour ago, and I am at last back in the hotel room, ready to pass out before the last day of demo tryouts in the exhibition hall. Would go to sleep right away, but felt need to finish writing diary. Not sure why, as it’s not like anyone reads it…

Here the email ends, baffling authorities and leaving them with nothing to do but await the next tip.

…more of M’s diary tomorrow!

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