Last weekend Three weekends ago (this has taken longer to write than I initially expected), I attended the gargantuan beast of a convention that is the Penny Arcade Expo, or simply PAX. To use an adjective some feel is watered down by internet overuse, the convention was quite Epic. Not as Epic as last year’s experiences, but I personally feel that things of Epic descriptive quality frequently come in multiple grades of the term. In the next several hundred words, I will do my best to tell you all about it.
Since this post was getting way too big, I’ve broken it into two parts: Video Games, and Everything Else. Read past the cut for more.
The Expo Hall Experience
While everyone goes to these cons for a different reason, my biggest draw was the expo hall. Contrary to what some may claim, PAX is one gigantic industry trade show, where the biggest names in electronic gaming make an appearance to show off their latest and greatest creations. While it’s more customer-focused than mediacentric (like the more well-known E3 event), the convention is still very much a trade show, complete with big displays, never-before-seen products, and the ubiquitous booth babes who never seem to actually know anything about the products they are advertising.
I spent a large part of the con freely wandering through the massive expo hall, letting the milling crowd slowly take me where it wanted me to go. I visited a lot of vendor booths, too many to detail here and ever hope to get this post online. Instead, I’ll showcase the ones I found to be most memorable for both positive and negative reasons.
Best Booth: Dead Space 2
When we visited the Dead Space: Extraction booth last year, we met some really amazing staffers and fans of the game. This year those same people were manning the Dead Space 2 booth, and they returned with the very same levels of enthusiasm that made them so awesome last year. The two ladies I went to the booth with were both cosplaying as characters from previous games (Lexine from Extraction and Nicole from both Extraction and the original Dead Space), and the folks at the booth were just plain wowed. We got swag galore, and chatted with them for a good long while.
The Dead Space 2 demo was hard. As a veteran of the original game, and a fan so enthused that I wrote a spoiler-free walkthrough, I went into the demo expecting to kick some ass and take some names. Instead, I got repeatedly face-raped by a horde of new child-like necromorphs called the Lgion or the Swarm or some such. After being killed by them 7 times (I blame the old demo build for not letting me modify the look control sensitivity), I set the controller down and moved on. Don’t misunderstand me, though: that was awesome, and I will definitely get getting it when it comes out.
Later that same evening, wandering drunkenly around town, we randomly stumbled into Christopher Shy, the artist for the new Dead Space series of graphic novels (as well as the cover for the new novel). Wandering around with him was quite a pleasure, and really capped a long night of awesomeness with Dead Space-related fangasms.
Those guys were spot on awesome.
Best Booth Runner-up: Tera MMO
After meeting the Dead Space 2 booth folks, I donned my Lone Wanderer costume and went for another slow stroll through the hall. This time, my goal was simple: approach as many side-set smaller booths as I could, and ask them to tell me about their games. A few of these were disappointing, mainly due to uninterested staffers. But one of them was really surprising. At the booth for the upcoming Tera MMORPG. I met two people who were really excited about their product. One lady seemed almost surprised to have someone take such a direct interest, so she took me to a console and guided me personally through their fully-functional demo setup.
In this demo, I played a Popori, which is essentially an ass-kicking chipmunk-badger-rabbit-thing – yes, I always find the small, strange races to be the most alluring. Man… this game is just plan gorgeous. I was pretty wowwed by the environment within the demo, by the grace of the character animations, and by the synchronization between the characters’ movements and their surrounding landscapes.
Tera presented to me two major differences between it and the current crop of mainstream MMOs. First, all actions and commands are real-time and based primarily upon player skill. Combat was far more involved than pressing a few buttons and waiting for the actions to execute. In this game, you have to move around, keep your targeting reticle on the enemy you want to hit, and keep executing your commands. The few battles I tried were very engaging, even against piddling low-level enemies. I can only imagine the player-vs-player experience.
Second, the arrangement of actions and commands in the interface made it very easily playable by a standard current-gen game controller. Being a player who frequently likes to switch between controller and kayboard, I like this, a lot. This is a game that I will definitely be checking out when it gets closer to release.
Worst Booth: Dragon Age 2
Dragon Age 2 was definitely my biggest disappointment of the entire PAX weekend. I’ll turn this one into a list:
- All over the web they advertised that David Gaider, the lead writer, would be there from the start to meet fans and talk and sign books. Nope. He wasn’t.
- The intro video announcer obviously wanted to be somewhere else. His completely lack of enthusiasm wasn’t quite Ben Stein in quality, but it was depressing
- The playable demo was extremely buggy, and crashed on me five times.
- None of their demo staff would actually answer any of the questions I had.
- The female Hawke’s voice was… irritating. I swear it was the same voice as that damned annoying “Can I get you a ladder…” line from the first game, and it made me cringe. Male Hawke gets to be a total bad ass, while female Hawke has the voice of a delicate snowflake.
- The graphics of the game were seriously crap. I felt they were worse than the original one, which itself looked dated by about 5 years. The facial animations were poorly matched to the voices, too.
- Thanks to a complete conceptual artistic overhaul of the game world, Darkspawn now look like Putties. I don’t think they needed a change at all.
The combat system was slightly improved, though. Still, I would have loved to have gotten to see it on PC instead of the PS3. So far I’m unimpressed. C’mon, Bioware, you can do better. These may all sound like piddling complaints, but with this being my biggest draw to the con in the first place, it left me feeling very sore.
Worst Booth Runner-up: Bethesda
Having been completely unimpressed with their showing at PAX 2009, I wasn’t expecting much from them this year. Good thing, because I wasn’t disappointed in that expectation. Their booth staff was unenthusiastic, bored, and almost entirely ignorant of the company’s products. While waiting in line to play Fallout: New Vegas, the guy watching the line repeatedly told everyone who asked him anything that he “was just hired to watch the line” and that he “had probably played less of the games than everyone else.” Way to impress your fans, Bethesda. You won me over with Oblivion and Fallout 3, but your attitude really stinks.
I would have given them first place in the worst booths, were it not for their t-shirts. Gaming t-shirts are probably the most popular common swag acquired at PAX, but usually the shirts are kinda low-quality, and quite obviously nerd-shirts. I have to give Bethesda some props in this area, because the shirts they brought were not only of good quality, but they were well-designed with the “stealth nerd” in mind. They look like something you’d get on Threadless or Shirt.Woot, in fact, and would most likely only ever be recognized as gamer shirts by other actual in-the-know gamers. Kudos for your awesome shirt designs, Bethesda, but major Booooooo to you for your completely apathetic booth staff.
Expo Hall Cosplayers
Like any good nerd-con these days, the cosplayers were in full force at PAX. Here are some other pics I took while walking around the Expo Hall: