Sep 222010
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If you’re just tuning in, here’s what you missed so far: the pre-con Day 0, PAX begins in Day 1, and the first of our two-part look at Day 2.

And now, Day 2 Continues.


PAX 2010


After lunch we had a decision to make. We were incredibly interested in the live D&D session with Penny Arcade’s Gabe and Tycho, PvP’s Scott Kurtz, and Wil Wheaton. Checking Twitter however, I saw that we were not alone in our interest, and even with a couple of hours to go, the queue was almost filled. As keen as we were, we didn’t want to spend what would essentially be the next four hours just on this, so we decided to give it a miss. My hopes:

1. That this will be on the DVD.
2. That next year they hold a similar event.
3. That they put it in the concert hall.

From all accounts it was incredible and way too short on seating, so I think that all three of the above is very likely.

We wandered around a bit more and came upon some guys playing Catan.

Oh, but not JUST playing Catan.

PAX 2010, Day 2: Catan on the Microsoft Surface.

It's Catan of the FUTURE.

They’re playing the game on the Microsoft Surface, which I hadn’t even heard of before just then. This thing … guys, this thing. It’s a full on multi-touch interface device that responds to gestures and items and I dunno what else, with multiple contact points. So more than one person can use it at a time, and it can do different things depending on what’s being used to touch it.

Like, take Catan here. I won’t get into the game mechanics specifically, but in that picture above you can see how each person has a little shield covering up some small pictures, right? That’s their resources, which are to be kept hidden from other players. When the shield is down over the resource area, the person sitting in the seat can see what resources they have. But when that shield is moved so that everyone could see, the resource squares are blanked out. It works much like your hand in a game of Scrabble, only imagine that you have the holder but all your tiles are digital and IN the table itself, only to be seen, by you, when you put the holder in the right place.

It can register all these touches by the shield, the roll of the dice (which looked just like clear plastic cubes but when in contact with the table revealed numbers in a spinning circle around the cube), the players rotating the board and moving pieces, and it could do this all at once, in a vibrant, lossless, beautiful hi-res display.

This is Star Trek: The Next Generation level of starship interface control here, people.

We had an awesome chat with a very nice lady there who was I think a designer who worked on the Surface and whose name I can’t for the life of me remember (Amber maybe? I packed her business card in the PAX’10 box), who was telling us all about the ins and outs of this thing. Obviously its purpose is far beyond JUST Catan – she was telling us how, for example, it’s been very successful in reaching special needs kids or people who are recovering from head trauma. I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of it before. The price range is something like $12,000 right now, but I was thoroughly taken with it. This is what living in the future feels like, and it feels awesome.

But enough of that, back to games!

PAX 2010, Day 2: End of Nation's 2000" TV

End of Nation's 2000 inch TV

Okay I lied, first a bit more tech drool. End of Nations had this GINORMOUS TV screen above their booth. My problem with size is showing me up again as I have no way of relating to you how big it was. But it was big. And very beautiful. Mike tracked down the booth, just to ask them how much that screen cost. “More than you can afford” was the answer. How true. How sadly true.

The game itself? Didn’t play it. Got a t-shirt though!

Actually, I think it’s a game that we saw a little bit of info on at last year’s PAX, which seems to be a person/fighter/warrior type going through time and different violent historical eras, such as ancient Rome, the American Civil War, World War II, etc. An interesting concept, though I’ve no idea how well it’s been executed (nor even if I’m right and those are the same game).

Back in the same area was this thing:

PAX 2010, Day 2: Rift's dangling fruit.

I can't tell if this disturbs me or makes me hungry.

It’s for Rift. I know that. That’s about all I know. I have no idea what it is or what it means.

PAX 2010, Day 2: Mike trying out Rift.

Here's Mike trying to get an answer.

Please enjoy the kilted man at a machine behind Mike. There are a great many kilts at PAX.

Mike’s experience with Rift: He logged in one of the pre-created characters which had been left in an area far to far above his level range. As he tried to find somewhere a bit lower on the “filled with things that will kill me” sort, he died. Like, a lot. He got no taste for combat, as he was barely able to get an attack in before being destroyed and rezing in pretty much the same situation each time. This went on for ten minutes or so before he gave up in frustration.

My experience with Rift: I got on a machine, loaded a character, moved about two steps, then my computer crashed.

At which point we shared a look, both went up to the booth, got our free shirts, and went about our business.

Rift looked pretty enough, and from the brief moments of gameplay either of us had it seemed much like your standard Warcraft-style hack and slash. But we can’t actually say for sure, what with the constant dying and crashing and all.

PAX 2010, Day 2: Fallout New Vegas

The least interesting side of the Fallout dinosaur I could have possibly gotten.

Why the hell I didn’t walk 90 degrees around the giant dinosaur to get a picture of its “Welcome to New Vegas” neon sign I will never know.

This is Bethesda’s Fallout: New Vegas demo booth. There was a bit of wait for that as well, and so we passed; Mike knows he wants it and a demo would only make him want it faster.

I take a moment to give Bethesda props for one of the best shirts at the con: a nice army green shirt with a mutated California state flag with a two-headed grizzly bear. You can see one here:

PAX 2010, Day 2: All this to show you a t-shirt.

The guy about three rows back, near the center, head down.

Scored that shirt as well. And the green Guild Wars 2 one in the foreground! Shirt loot!

PAX 2010, Day 2: TRON's lightcycle.

Also making the con circuit this year, TRON's lightcycle.

So, con swag. Mike is really quite invaluable at things like this, because he is pretty well shameless (and I mean that as nothing but a compliment). Whereas with me it seems like the larger the crowd and the more strangers filling it, the more polite and British I get, Mike’s theory is that there’s nobody there whose opinion matters so screw it. As a result, he has zero problem walking up to booths and asking what swag they have and what you have to do to get it. So it is that we stumbled upon the Lord of the Rings Online booth and their loot.

PAX 2010, Day 2: Lord of the Rings Online

What was their offering? No, not Aragorn.

The One Ring.

Yes, that’s right. If you played LOTRO through to … a particular point or goal that I can’t quite remember right now … you got a little pseudo-velvet pouch containing The One Ring – complete with Elven script – on a chain.

I gotta say, it was pretty awesome swag.

Mike however declared it best swag EVER and vowed then and there that he must earn it.

There was, surprise surprise, a line for the terminals, but he managed to snag one relatively quickly. As I waited for him, I took a few more pictures of the surrounding booths.

PAX 2010, Day 2: Boothy booths.

A look back at the way we just came.

Stuff I just talked about: the Fallout dinosaur, End of Nations, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, the TRON lightcycle.

PAX 2010, Day 2: Epic Mickey

And ahead: Epic Mickey

Ahead of us was the Epic Mickey booth, which we never really examined in too close a detail. The line was huge, I can say that much, but it never seemed to actually have a game attached. I think some people were saying that they had a Disney animator, or an animator from the game maybe?, who was doing sketches, but I never saw anything that confirmed exactly what the long line was actually for. (Though to be fair, I also didn’t look all that hard.)

At any rate, Mike finished his demo and happily ran off to get his One Ring. Then it was my turn. I can’t remember what I picked – probably a ranger type, as that’s usually my default. I know I started following Strider around and rescued some dwarves or something. What I didn’t know was that Mike had spent several minutes setting up this perfect shot of me playing the game.

PAX 2010, Day 2: Me and LOTRO.

A shot which was then ruined by the dev who chose JUST THAT MOMENT to talk to me.

Apparently both LOTRO and D&D Online were going free the following weekend. The dude hooked us up serial keys to start playing early and codes to get free points to spend in the micro-charging system they’ll be using going forward.

We did, in fact, load the games when we got home (though the week after, as I was pretty sick for that first week back). We didn’t hit up LOTRO yet, but we did try D&D – and it was slow and laggy and frustrating as shit. But I’ll say this, it was also interesting. I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and say that the servers were probably getting slammed from post-PAX interest and having just opened the game to everyone. I used to work with some folks who loved LOTRO (and paid for the privilege to do so), and I’m hopeful that starting with a pay model will put the overall quality at a slightly higher point than, say, Wakfu or last year’s semi-disappointing Dungeon Fighter. I won’t be trying it again for several months at least, what with Civ 5 and Rock Band 3 around the corner to fill all my gaming time. But I doubtless will try again, and encourage anyone who enjoys MMOs but not the cost to go give it a try. At worst you waste a few hours downloading and playing.

Next we moved across the Skybridge to head back to the other side of the con floor, when we were spotted by the Intel badge brigade and handed our winning tickets.

How that works: Intel hands out tons of badges. Then at random times, they send someone from their booth out into the con. If they see you wearing their badge, they give you a bar coded card that you then take to their booth. They scan the card, you get the prize. Prizes range from pens to processors and laptops. So it’s a pretty awesome deal.

I definitely didn’t want to miss out on that, so we started heading in the direction of Intel’s booth. Unfortunately they had two booths, and I of course picked the wrong one. Then I remembered that it was where Band Land was last year, and off we went.

Unfortunately so did everyone else who got a prize card. And there were a lot of prize cards. At 4:55pm I Tweeted, “The line for whatever Intel thing we’ve won, possibly the slowest line today.” So true, Past Me. So true.

There was no Terminal to entertain me, but there were a few things of interest.

PAX 2010, Day 2: Back to the Future's DeLorean.

Like say the DeLorean.

Very cool, even if I saw the actual DeLorean from Back to the Future II when the movie was doing a press tour in London when I happened to be visiting my grandparents. And hey, there’s apparently a Back to the Future game coming out! Who knew.

(Mike is questioning if this was not, in fact, also the real DeLorean from the films. I must admit I don’t have proof it wasn’t, so what the hell. I’ve seen the real DeLorean TWICE!)

PAX 2010, Day 2: Samus Aran in chalk.

And this guy.

He spent the whole weekend doing this gorgeous Metroid chalk art.

I’m not sure how long we were in line, but it could very well have been an hour. Time gets a bit spongy in the middle. However long it was, both Mike and I walked away with sweatshirts rather than i7 processors, which was a little disappointing, but at least it wasn’t a pen.

With our swag bags full and our feet aching, we made our way back to the hotel room. It was time for a little sit down and a quick bite of food before the concert.

Saturday night’s concert is traditionally the “big one” (though neither are exactly what you’d call small). That night we were getting MC Frontalot, Paul and Storm, and Jonathan Coulton. Saturday’s concert is also where you get to see Round 4 of The Omegathon (which I’ll explain in Day 3’s write-up; for now just know that it’s a big gaming contest between randomly selected PAX attendees.)

As previously mentioned, the concerts this year were being held in Benaroya Hall, which was five or six blocks away. The seating was much, much larger than what was possible in the main room of the Convention Center. The good news was that lots more people were going to see the show. The bad news was that lots more people were going to see the show. We had a wristband, which meant we were guaranteed to get in (wristbands were allowed to queue inside while non-wristbands had a separate line that would start to fill in the hall after all the wristbanded folks were seated), but to get a pick of seats we wanted to not wait until the last minute to show up. As such, we were in line by about 7.15pm. The concert was scheduled to begin at 8.30pm.

At first all seemed well. We were right by the bathrooms and the water fountain, so all immediate needs could be easily met. Also, because we were in a narrow hallway and by the restrooms, we didn’t have to scrunch in quite so tight.

Then the heat and stuffiness began to kick in. 50-something people in a closed in hallway for an hour with a couple hundred people in front of you and a couple hundred people in back … it was threatening to become A Situation (though thankfully never did). I distracted myself by listening to Mike make new friends – because he’s Mike, and that’s what he does.

PAX 2010, Day 2: Hallway waiting.

The hallway (and rest of the line) stretching out behind me. Foreground: An unintentional shot of Mike's two new friends.

(Favourite part of the picture: the claimed electrical socket with iPhone plugged in.)

I don’t recall their names; I told them I wouldn’t. But they were two very nice girls who apparently loved Rift (that was the game that Mike died in repeatedly and crashed on me … so there you go, there’s an endorsement), were having an incredible time, and couldn’t wait to see Paul and Storm. Their plan was to get as close to the front as possible. Mike and I were more interested in going up high so we could see it all as unto Gods. We actually somehow managed to spot them in the sea of people below us (UNTO GODS!), and so I know we both got our wish.

But that only came after I nearly passed out from stuffiness. After an hour, the line began to creep forward, then soon sped up. A chorus of cheers went up from those of us bound together in our hallway entrapment.

PAX 2010, Day 2: The line into the concert.

The hundreds in front of us who had queued up even longer.

As I said, Mike and I decided to aim high, and high is what we got. The very front of the uppermost section.

PAX 2010, Day 2: The view from the heavens.


We had it to ourselves for a few minutes, then a group of seven or eight Swedish guys came in. They were very excited and chatty. Nordic accents aren’t something I hear often, so I was pretty tickled to just listen to them in the background.

PAX 2010, Day 2: The balconies in Benaroya Hall.

One side of the concert hall, with all the individual boxes.

Mike likened it to the Galactic Senate from Star Wars. Not an unfair comparison.

There was more waiting, and me fighting off the extreme tired. Then I saw activity onstage, and recognized Drake and dropslash setting up Rock Band drums and mics etc. So no mystery what would be Round 4 of the Omegathon then. But first …

PAX 2010, Day 2: Tycho & friends playing Rock Band.

Tycho had a song for us.

What we later found out:

  • Tycho had written this song (very metal, just crazy insane instrumental) for the winner of last year’s Child’s Play auction.

  • Harmonix musicians played the instruments in the song and John Drake authored it for the game. (Though as yet it appears to be RBN demo only, no word if/when it will be in the store itself, much like last year’s “Are You Really a Woman?”)
  • The guys up there playing while Tycho sang it had been hand-picked by people secretly scouting out the Rock Band Free Play stage at the con.
  • The players had only gone through the song once, and that was just before taking the stage.

They did a hell of a job, and there was no shortage of behind-the-head playing and other show-offy moves that were, really, pretty well deserved and totally understandable when you have almost 3000 people cheering you on in your pwnzing game of choice.

Then Gabe and Tycho bantered for a bit while they prepped the stage for the next event:

PAX 2010, Day 2: The Omegathon, group 1

The fourth round of The Omegathon, featuring 'Omegadeth'.

Their opponents …

PAX 2010, Day 2: The Omegathon, 'Telekinetic Sweater'.

'Telekinetic Sweater'!

They each had to play Foreigner’s “Cold as Ice”, with the victor being whichever group scored the most points. The losing group, they were all knocked from the competition. Pretty brutal. “Telekinetic Sweater” won the day, which was a pity as Fallout – the guy now in his third Omegathon – was finally knocked out. (The runner-up of the previous year’s Omegathon automatically comes back next year to try again. So yeah, he’d almost made it twice before.)

But enough of that, it was time for concert!

PAX 2010, Day 2: MC Frontalot starts the show.

MC Frontalot starts the show.

I haven’t listened to a hell of a lot of Frontalot’s music (not super huge on hip hop, though I appreciate his rhyme and flow), but I have to say that he put on a pretty energetic show.

PAX 2010, Day 2: Frontalot, doing whatever it is he does.

He's pretty intense for a nerdy white rapper in a tie.

Then he’s joined onstage by Paul and Storm and JoCo.

PAX 2010, Day 2: Concentrated stage geek.

How much geek music is one stage expected to hold?

And they all sing The Gregory Brothers’ Double Rainbow Song and it’s pretty clear that PAX can’t possible get any more awesome.

In fact- Just found it! Enjoy.

Then his set was over.

PAX 2010, Day 2: Frontalot makes his exit.

Frontalot exits the stage, with style.

How else can you leave the stage but at the back of a marching band including Storm and JoCo on vuvuzula?

PAX 2010, Day 2: Frontalot's Marching Band

You can't, that's how.

There was a brief stage reset, and before long:

PAX 2010, Day 2: Paul and Storm

Paul and Storm, the opening band who weren't actually the opening band.

JoCo joined them onstage for a song or two, but I have to be completely honest and say that I actually can’t remember what the hell they performed. I was feeling my old right about now, and I think my brain was drifting in and out a bit. (High seats are cool for view, but not so much for keeping you in the throng.)

PAX 2010, Day 2: P&S building their arm-waving army.

I don't know that they necessarily missed our immediate participation.

But time was marching onward, and schedules were demanding to be adhered to (and promptly swore at and ignored, but still). Then it was time for, of course, “The Captain’s Wife’s Lament”. P&S were helped out by their good friend and ours, Mr. Wheaton.

PAX 2010, Day 2: Wheaton's Lament

Wesley CrushARR.

If you’ve ever heard it, it’s probably of no surprise that “The Captain’s Wife’s Lament” ran on for a bit. As in, nearly 13 minutes. This was in no part aided by Wil picking up on a joke that kept interrupting Paul and Storm throughout their set.

One would say something and the other would pick it up and say “X is the name of my Y cover band”. Such as, “‘Trumpets and Beards’ is the name of my Blood Sweat and Tears cover band”, “‘Start Being Quiet’ is the name of my Belle and Sebastian cover band” and “‘Deploy the Yoda’ is the name of my Nerf Herder cover band”. It was pretty insane and only got insanier when Wil came and continued the joke without hesitation.

Result? A nearly 13 minute “The Captain’s Wife’s Lament”. And you’re in luck, because I found that online too.

It includes Wil’s near game-breaking cover band. I’ll let you watch and find it yourself.

PAX 2010, Day 2: JoCo takes stage.

Then it was time for Jonathan Coulton.

And yes, you’re seeing correctly: It’s electric JoCo. For the first time, he was performing with a band, which he’s also using for the first time in the recording of his new album. He switched up the songs in his set tonight, some new and some old. And I have to say that I was on the verge of drifting in and out by this point. Maybe it was the venue (it was really nice but lacked the intimacy and energy of last year’s I felt), maybe it was the fact that he wasn’t out with Paul and Storm for the whole set. Maybe it was simply the fact that you can’t compete with full on geek music double rainbow and a 13 minute cover band laced Lament. I dunno. Whatever it was, I really didn’t dig Coulton’s set like I did last year. Pity.

PAX 2010, Day 2: Re, Your Brains

But there were certainly more than enough zombies chewing on the door.

The show wrapped up with a bit more of what I had been looking for: Coulton with Paul and Storm, as well as Molly Lewis and Kristen Shirts doing their “Two Girls, One Uke” bit.

PAX 2010, Day 2: JoCo and Friends.

JoCo and Friends.

We let out around 1.30am as scheduled; they were pretty antsy about time as well, which I suppose is another consequence of hiring out a third party concert hall rather than just staking out a big room at the Convention Center you’ve already got permission to run around in unimpeded for three days. Back to the hotel for a quick shower and in bed by 2.30am. I was treating myself to a bit of a sleep-in for Sunday.

Little did I know just how much I’d need it.

  • Phoenixanew

    DDO has actually been free to play for a while now, it was just LOTRO that recently went free. I haven’t played LOTRO yet, but personally I don’t care for DDO. My main problem with it is that you don’t get experience for killing individual monsters.. you only get XP after completing a quest. So if you die in the middle of said quest, that was all for nothing. Even on the open outside world areas, you have to kill x number of enemies to get experience, a number that rises each time you reach the goal. I chose a ranger and found out later that apparently ranger is a very difficult class to play in that game unless you really know your stuff. I stopped playing after about a month or two because it felt too monotonous and too hard to make any real progress.

    On the other hand, my bf loves it. He loves it enough that he’s even paid money to unlock some of the bonus quests. He currently has a barbarian and a sorcerer and enjoys playing as both. So I guess it really just depends on what you’re looking for.