The Penny Arcade Expo, or PAX as the rest of the world calls it, ended last Sunday and it’s taken me this long to recover, unpack and gather enough thoughts to finally post something about it. So, how was it? In a word? Awesome.
Now, if you’ve been reading this blog for any time at all you may notice a pattern I have when it comes to game conventions. I start out; “Hey we’re going to Convention XYZ!” then I come back and say “Convention XYZ was great! It was really big! It was way bigger than Convention ABC that I blogged about last time!”
Well, I don’t plan on breaking that tradition this time either.
Gen Con was big, and I was truly impressed by the scope of the whole event, but PAX is an entirely different beast. For starters it has twice as many attendees, seriously. Over 30,000 gamers attended Gen Con and while I don’t have the final number for PAX it’s at least 60,000. If you’ve been to Gen Con and wonder what PAX is like, imagine it taking over another floor or two of the convention center and then packing it shoulder to shoulder with bodies. Oh and go ahead and double the size of the Exhibition Hall while you’re at it… So yes, we keep experiencing bigger and bigger conventions. I like to think of it as “Leveling Up” our convention skills.
PAX was a little different for us as far as conventions go. We didn’t actually have a booth. Instead, I attended the show as a sort of volunteer for my good friends at Steve Jackson Games. During the day I helped them out by running demos of their games, but at night I was all about showing off Castle Panic to the masses.
In The Beginning
We flew out on Thursday, the day before the show officially started which, despite being a really early flight was relatively uneventful. Well, except for Will setting off the metal detector and getting his own special search.
It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon when we touched down in Seattle and took the amazing light rail straight from the airport to downtown. I grew up in Washington, so it’s always a lot of fun to come back and see what’s changed and what’s stayed the same. Sadly, every time I visit there seems to be more and more changes and fewer things I remember.
After we made our way to our hotel and got ourselves unpacked we had some preparation to do to get ready for tomorrow and I took a quick break to snap this shot of a beautiful Seattle sunset.
We played a few games in a nearby lounge and I showed a few new players what Castle Panic looks like when the Monsters win. Ouch. Then it was time for some pre-expo rest before the big day.
PAX Day One!
SJ Games didn’t have an actual “booth” at the show. (I’m doing air quotes as I type this) Instead they had a “big space right underneath the 2nd floor escalators”. (I’ve given up on the air quotes, it’s too hard to do them and keep typing) It sounds wacky, but it was actually right next to the giant Rock Band stage and worked great.
My shift didn’t start for a few hours, so I thought I’d take a quick tour of the Exhibition hall. (Little did I know…) Along the way I bumped into a giant Gabe mascot that was juuuuuuuuust creepy enough to make me not want a hug. Beyond that was the main hall where they had the actual DeLorean from Back to the Future. There was no Mr. Fusion on the roof, so I guess this is the one from the first movie. It was still completely cool.
Next to that was a chalk artist that was beginning a giant Metroid Other M mural on the floor. I grabbed a photo of it right as he began and decided to get shots of it every day to track the progress.
Then it was time to hit the actual Exhibition Hall and that’s when the size of it starts to sink in. When you walk in, the wall of noise and sights and sounds is a bit overwhelming. It really is a bit like going to Disneyland. You’re elegant plan of “I’ll just take a look around” is consumed in a frenzy of “Ooh, what’s that?! That’s cool! Look over there!” in a matter of moments.
There are booths of every shape and size surrounding you. Some are over 2 stories tall, electric and designed to dominate the skyline. Others are elaborately creative like this 12 foot tall, spiky, castle thing for the new Mortal Kombat game, and there are people everywhere walking around with their eyes wide and jaws open just like you.
Things like this life-sized Ringwraith statue, or the giant, battle damaged fortress corral for Medal of Honor tend to distract you from some of the smaller booths and displays, which I’ll get too a little later. In the meantime there were a gazillion demos of new video games, accessories, and hardware to be enjoyed. All of the big studios were here, Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft, Nintendo, Disney, you name it. If it’s a company that makes video games, they were here.
One of the really neat things about PAX is the PAX 10. It’s ten small, independent games that a panel of industry experts have selected from hundreds of entries as the best of their kind. The neat thing is that these games would normally go completely under the radar, but having the magnifying glass of Penny Arcade fans focused on them almost guarantees their success. . . and usually several crashed webservers to boot. You can get more info on the PAX 10 here.
Before I knew it my time was up and I had to head back to start demoing games. As I made my way back to the SJ Games area, I realized I had only seen about 1/3 rd of the Exhibition Hall. Wow.
The rest of the day was spent demoing games and then I had a great evening reconnecting with family and friends that I don’t get to see nearly enough. Overall a heck of a start to what would be an amazing trip.