What’s PAX East, you say? Generally a good time is what!
PAX is a convention the was begun in 2004 by Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, better known as Gabe and Tycho, creators of the smash hit webcomic “Penny Arcade”. Basically, there have been some industry conventions and expos geared more towards insiders and press for a variety of game-related things for a long time, the big ones I know about are E3 for videogames, Gencon for tabletop/card/board games and the San Diego Comic-Con for comic books (and games and movies and…)
So, being giant dorks with an enormous and dedicated fanbase that shared a passion for a variety of games, Gabe and Tycho figured hey why not hold a just “we all pretty much like games” convention? The first year drew a (relatively) small number of people, about 3,000. People were generally entertained, a massive LAN party was held, and a game competition called the Omegathon began the tradition of holding a tournament that featured an eclectic variety of games, in keeping with the spirit of the thing (the first round of the initial Omegathon was a dice game, the last was Pong).
So, good times. It grew, though. Shit did it grow. It’s sitting pretty at about 90,000 attendees in Washington and has spun off recently, producing PAX East in Boston in 2010. PAX East began at 50,000 attendees and has also grown crazy a lot. Between the original PAX (now called PAX Prime) and PAX East, basically almost 150,000 people attend these things over the course of the year.
And one of them was me! I was there! That’s what you should take away from this: it was important this year because I was there. Some other people I knew were there too, but they shouldn’t really figure in your opinion. They were there as dressing, mostly.
It was a nice time!
-Really crazy big convention center, plenty of room for all the events
-Many interesting games on display on the Expo floor space with various levels of actually having shit to do at them. Some were tiny little booths where you could try an indie game on a Calecovision (Fez still isn’t out, and yet looks to be fucking finished), and some were humongous ridiculous extravagances without actually having anything anyone could play.
-A huge room dedicated to tabletop gaming stuff, including a “library” where we could try out games that crazy people who are super into boardgames buy that cost like $90
-The “Freeplay” area, though we only used it for like 40 minutes, was really pretty great. Just check out a game and some controllers, take it to a console in set up in another room, and hang out with friends. It was pretty fun to wind down there after they closed the main expo floor.
-There’s a charity that passes out cookies for donations. That was awesome.
-There was a stage for Dance Central, a game designed to test the limits of your shame, which was pretty entertaining to walk by.
-The one presentation we all went to, the Deus Ex panel, was pretty excellent.
-Brink. Brink Brink Brink Brink. I never actually stood in line to play because the Hangers On were pretty insistent that waiting an hour for a game they didn’t care about was somehow rude but it looked completely sweet.
-The Enforcers, a sort of ad-hoc community policing/organizing group were all pretty nice and helpful!
-We figured out that so long as we got at least 3 free shirts, the con paid for itself (assuming $15 per shirt)!
-Other people in attendance were generally very amiable, if shy!
-Getting to see shit earlier and in more detail than normal people makes you feel like a wizard!
-Lines were insane, like Disney World. I got to play exactly a single game for actuals, because a group of four people isn’t going to just stop for an hour because one of us saw something interesting
-The panels on Saturday just weren’t really interesting. I mean, seeing a demo of Deus Ex was pretty neat because well shit that’s the game that powered my tiny heart for like 2 years when I was 12, but a lot of the ones I looked at seemed to be some form of “we show you something you saw already on Gametrailers”. I wouldn’t have minded more panels not promoting something. I was disappointed I missed the “You’re not a game designer” one.
-There was a lot of wasted space, and a ton of crowding. The Portal line snaked around the booth twice.
-There was way too little signposting, making it hard to find places. And I mean the entrance from the T and the actual main entrance queue were on opposite ends of the building. Also, it was tough to tell where shit was/what shit was on the expo floor. The space on the expo floor was very cluttered, and there wasn’t a clear design to the layout. Some booths were unclear about whether or not there was anything playable at them (*cough* Portal. The free shirt made up for it)
-Lots of events are really long and mutually exclusive. My friends and I could have played one game of D&D for funsies, but it would have meant missing absolutely all other content at the expo.
-Everything needed more space/consoles/computers/whatever. Because literally the entire crowd basically wanted a go at all the things there, there wasn’t ever a lull in any of the lines.
-The lack of a cookie brigade in my everyday life, now that it is apparent, is heart-wrenching.
Overall, it was a pretty positive experience. Fun times, good crowd, lots to see, and no one went home with any bruises. It was uniquely congenial, feeling like something put together more as a party than a trade show. I highly recommend that if you’re into anything remotely like a game, you check it out next March.
I’ll post in detail about a couple of things over the week! In the meantime, you won’t see those posts because I will not have made them yet.