Please note that this post is hi-yuge, and quite pictoral. What’s more, it’s only actually the first half of Day 2. The second half will be coming later today.
The alarm went off at 7am. That probably sounds a little crazy for a vacation. I’d probably agree with you. I would definitely agree with you at 7am. But we had a plan.
See, there’s this game I love (yes, besides Rock Band). You may have heard of it. It’s called Dragon Age. I’m just nuts about this thing. I love the story and the writing, I love the characters, I love the gameplay. Just a great, fun game. So fun that as soon as I finished the game I started it again. This is a huge thing for me, because I normally hate replaying games like this.
For comparison: Mass Effect (made by BioWare, the same company that makes Dragon Age). I played and enjoyed Mass Effect. Beat it and was anxiously awaiting the sequel. Then, about a month before ME2, I messed up on a colossal scale and wiped out every single saved game on our 360 hard drive. (Don’t ask.) For those not familiar with the game, this is a HUGE problem because Mass Effect 2 allows you to import your character. The draw is that it your choices in the first game influence how the world(s) and people in it react to you. I was really stoked about this. I want this experience.
So I started playing ME1 all over again.
Mass Effect 2 has been out since January of this year. And I’ve only just left The Citadel in my replay. Translation: I’m about three hours in. It’s not the game. It’s a great game. I just really, really hate replaying games like this.
I’m about halfway through my second Dragon Age character, with another two that I’ve created and am keen to guide in their quest against the Darkspawn. In fact, it was only PAX itself that interrupted a massive Dragon Age-fest.
So yeah. Pretty stoked for Dragon Age 2.
I wanted to play the demo.
More than that, I wanted a shirt.
I wanted a shirt so bad I might’ve lured a DA2 dev into the shadows and beat them and taken their shirt, except PAX is surprisingly well-lit for a geek gathering. Also we had confirmation that BioWare was giving them out at their booth.
But the lines. Oh my stars and garters, the lines.
Still, I had a goal. A quest, if you will. And so it was that by 7:45 we were dragging ourselves into the Queue Room. Believe it or not, we weren’t the first people in line. They had already filled up the first long column. So much so that we were directed to the beginning of the second section.
That maybe makes no sense. Okay. There are three main entrances into the exhibition floor from the Queue Room. The lines are broken up into “sections”, one per entrance, with each of these sections being divided into several “columns”. The first column filled is the one for the entrance on far end of the room. When that’s filled, people are directed to start filling the first column of the second section/second entrance, then the first column of the third entrance, before moving to the second column of the first section and so on. When it’s time to go, the first column/first section goes first, then the first column/second section, etc.
That’s a lot of words for something that probably still doesn’t make sense. Cliff notes version: we were at the very front of the second group to go in.
It was only a matter of minutes before the line behind us had grown to epic proportions.
Of considerable note is the number of people with heads down. Just about everyone had a phone or handheld gaming system with them at all times. And this truth is fused together for Terminal.
Terminal is actually a couple of people at the front of the Queue Room, hidden behind black curtains. They have control of the computer which is piped through the sound system and the giant projection screens that populate the front of the room. Terminal types to the crowd, often insulting them in some way, and runs different video spots and games to entertain the throngs during the massive waits. These games are usually played via text messaging, the results of which are near-instantaneous and can influence what the whole room sees.
For example: Terminal will present you with four different popular Internet video choices. You text your vote for which you’d like to see, and then everyone in the room has to watch the one with the highest vote. As you might imagine, this is often used to troll the entire room. Like so:
I actually really love this time. It’s usually (not always, but usually) hilarious and creative, and there’s nothing quite like a whole room cheering on a choose-your-own-adventure style mash-up where Aeris has her partner (Cloud – an actual cloud) stolen by Koopas which she then eats Pac-Man style, only to still be killed by Sephiroth in the end. It’s a thing, but Terminal is one of my key PAX moments.
But nothing quite beats the con itself, and with pleas for us to not run her over, one of the enforcers let us in at 10am.
It was on.
Luckily I was prepared today, and I knew just where we needed to go to get to EA’s booth. It was, of course, at the exact opposite end of the Expo Center, but my many years of being an expert video game cartographer paid off and our brisk walk (no running!) brought us to the right place and we unhesitatingly leapt into the budding line.
According to my Twitter timeline, we were in place by 10:04am. A few minutes later and BioWare employees were distributing iPads for contest/newsletter signups. (It was Mike’s first hands-on with an iPad; it went very well.)
And just a few minutes after that, #PAX on Twitter was reporting that the line for Dragon Age 2 had already wrapped around the booth. Twice. I looked behind me and sure enough …
What’s more, I then saw BioWare on Twitter reporting that they had so few shirts that only the first twenty in line today would get them.
Then they began handing out numbered cards to those at the front of the line. Our numbers? 14 and 15.
We were ushered into the press area and watched the trailer for the game – the “director’s cut” if you will of the one that had already been released online. The extended version is now also online, and if you haven’t seen it yet, here it is:
Then we got our 20-minute hands-on with the game. I can sum it up by saying that I did not want my 20-minutes to end. I could have easily – EASILY – spent the whole day playing in there if I’d had but the opportunity, a comfy chair, and not the entire rest of PAX to see. The look of the game has been dramatically – dramatically – improved. As has combat. One of the devs said that they went back to the drawing board for combat and decided their governing rule was “when you push a button, something awesome has to happen”. In this, from what I could see, they succeeded.
Oh, and yes, you can be a female. What’s more, character interactions has been changed to be more like Mass Effect, in that your character has a definitive name, so the characters can speak to you directly and you speak back. I did always love that about Mass Effect.
At the end we collected our shirt (shirt!) and considered where to head next. Bear in mind that by this point we’ve actually been at the Convention Center for four hours and played exactly one game. Nice.
We decided to take a leisurely stroll back across the center toward the Harmonix booth to see how they’d decorated it up with all the crap they’d received the day before. I took many pictures along the way to share with you lucky people.
The Magic: The Gathering booth was right next to the EA booth, so a good place to start with the photoing. Once upon a time Mike and I were huge into Magic. To the point where it nearly destroyed our relationship. (True story.) That was a bit before the Legends subset came out. We had a LOT of M:TG cards; selling them nearly paid for our move to Portland from Baton Rouge. We don’t really play anymore (and certainly wouldn’t play to kill like we used to if we did), but the game still holds a nostalgic attraction.
Another of the super-games at PAX 2010 was Portal 2. Again with the multi-hour lines to try it out. We did not. (Though I would’ve liked a Portal shirt too, meh.) Consequently I can’t comment on the game directly, but from all accounts, it’s just as enjoyable as the first. No real surprise there.
Lots to see in this one. We’ve got Ubisoft’s booth where, on a big stage that faced a main entrance, they were humiliating people with Just Dance 2. There’s also a giant poster and TONS of crap just out of shot going on for Halo Reach, which was only a week or two from release at the time of PAX (plus, Microsoft’s right next door up in Seattle, so they always have a crazy huge PAX showing.) There’s Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, which had this awesome viral-style promotion going on outside the center with people offering up support group information for the inevitable betrayal and broken friendships brought on by the game; very interesting and clever. Also in the distance you can see NCSoft’s booth, where Guild Wars 2 was their main talk of the show (although there was also some space for City of Heroes: Going Rogue). NCSoft brought huge advertising for Guild Wars though, from renting out almost the entire t-shirt shop in the main lobby for free on-demand shirts for the game to a mobile billboard truck that pretty much circled the Expo Hall and surrounding blocks for three days straight.
Occupying a relatively small corner of the main floor was Sony’s booth for the PS3 and PSP. Little Big Planet 2 was their main draw, and I have to chuckle at how even that is intruded upon by Microsoft with Fable III. Foreground: something for the new Need for Speed, which I didn’t spend much time dwelling on as I’m not huge on racing games, but which got a hell of a lot of #PAX buzz on Twitter.
We made our way back across the bridge. Smaller, more indy booths lined both sides, with some larger but still pretty indy stuff going on in the middle.
I don’t know what is going on in this picture. I mean yeah, I got a picture of someone taking a picture of a guy poking the belly of a giant inflatable demon monster, but what does it MEAN?
More booths. In this one we have Dead Space (which I know was at PAX last year too, so it’s either a sequel or that game has been in development for quite a while now), Nvidia (who sadly didn’t do the button matching this year; they did a scavenger hunt which we didn’t see until late Sunday and decided to skip), Alienware, and a blond white guy with crazy hair.
This, I thought was awesome. I had read that Behemoth were going to try to pull this off: a custom-built four-player Castle Crashers arcade cabinet. Last I had read, they were doubtful. But here it is. It looked a little unpolished but was 100% functional, and pretty bloody excellent. Job well done.
We walked around to the other side of the Indy Game alley area for me to look hopefully at Twisted Pixel’s Comic Jumper and its hideously long line before moving on. That’s when we found ourselves back at …
I mentioned this briefly in Day 1. Here’s the deal.
Retro/Grade is a very eye-catching game. Bright colours, vibrant sounds, etc. What’s even more eye-catching about it is when you realize that it’s being played with a guitar.
It’s this odd little fusion that I can best describe as a rhythm-based guitar-controlled shooter where you move backward in time. Yeah, that’s my best description.
But it looked incredibly interesting. What’s more, they had a contest. If you could beat level 9 on Pro mode or harder, you got a shirt. They were cute shirts.
Mike wanted this shirt.
So he gave it a try the day before. He’s never played it of course. He wanted to go right into level 9, Pro mode. The Retro/Grade devs recommended against this. Mike did it anyway. He got beaten quite severely. He went to an easier level on an easier difficulty and did much better. By that point a bit of a crowd had gathered around him and they also wanted to demo the game, so we said we’d be back later to try again for the shirt.
Today was that later.
Here’s Mike, being urged on by a Retro/Grade dev who looked suspiciously like Paul Chaplin of MST3K fame. He started out doing well. Then things got tougher.
He actually did die a couple times in the level, but the game has an interesting Braid-seque time reversal mechanic via the whammy bar, and he had build up enough … space/time power or something, I dunno … to go back a few seconds and try again. He did.
There were mighty cheers and congratulations followed by shirtage. He was, as you can see, pretty darned pleased. It’s also worth nothing that when we went back by on Sunday, they had changed to where you could get a shirt on levels 9 OR 10 (it goes in reverse, so 10 was easier). But Mike didn’t need no stinkin’ level 10! Mike’s the original R/G!
All crowing aside, this really was a great little game. A very different spin on several seemingly incompatible genres, but they made it work. The feeling I got while watching it was that it was a bit like the love child of Frequency and Einhander. The only downside to the game for me is that, at the moment, it’s going to be exclusive to the Playstation Network. But hopefully they’ll eventually bring it to the 360, because I really don’t want any more plastic guitars in the house.
Moving on, we passed what was probably the huge talk of PAX 2010: Duke Nukem Forever.
A fill-in for those of you who don’t follow gaming news: Duke Nukem Forever is a pretty accurate description of its development. This game was announced in 1997. For thirteen years it’s been through the hands of more developers who dropped it, or went out of business, or vanished in the Bermuda Triangle. This game was a joke. This game wasn’t going to happen ever.
But I guess there’s something magical about the year 2010, because first Guns ‘n Roses releases Chinese Democracy and now, completely unannounced and as a surprise to absolutely everyone, Duke Nukem Forever was at PAX, was playable, and was coming out next year.
(ETA: It was pointed out to me that Chinese Democracy actually came out in 2008. This fact in no way diminishes the magic of 2010. Because I say so.)
What’s even funnier to me was that as we were racing through the Expo Hall the day before with a heavy box full of plastic kiddie pool and a bicycle pump, I passed this booth and saw the pics and said to myself, “Is that Duke Nukem?” which was immediately followed by “Nahh.”
But there it was! I actually have no idea how well the gameplay went over; all anyone could talk about was the fact that it even existed. And I can’t say that I care overly much as I have never played a Duke Nukem game that wasn’t published by Apogee (Commander Keen!). But hey! Duke Nukem Forever!
Moving on, here’s another random shot of the expo floor. In it we can see the new Mortal Kombat, Marvel Super-Hero Super Squad (more on that in Day 3), “gazillion” which I can’t even remember if that’s a game or a company, and LEGO Universe (which I’ll also hit up in Day 3).
This is the demo booth for Square Enix’s Wakfu, a free turn-based tactical MMO they’re coming out with. It was visually very similar to another free MMO we demoed at PAX last year (title unremembered), so I’m thinking either this is an expansion or the same art designer or something. Anyway, we’d actually played this the day before, but I wasn’t overly impressed – not the least of which because, as I said, the lines were ridiculous and you had to jump through a zillion hoops to get a chance at spinning their wheel to get some free crap. Which I did. And then landed on the equivalent of “Bankrupt” on Wheel of Fortune. So yeah, screw you, Wakfu.
I do admit that the game is very very pretty though. It reminded me of the minimal amount of Gaia I’ve seen online (not exactly a positive), and I found the interface very difficult to navigate; I think I only ever actually targeted the monster I meant to target through law of averages.
Gamer merch site fangamer had a pretty awesome booth – every day they changed out (or wiped clean?) the booth and let you start all over again. I wish I’d gotten more pics of this throughout the con.
Then finally we got to the Harmonix booth.
As the quicky box-ripped sign says, they weren’t handing out any more tickets for an hour in an attempt to get the crowd to thin out a bit. (Then Thrasher slipped us two tickets anyway.) Like I said in Day 1, Rock Band 3 and Dance Central always had a huge crowd around it. Yeah, it felt a bit less organized than the employee-directed lines wraped around the booth, but it also felt much more in the spirit of Rock Band. Everyone standing around, watching other people play, cheering when they did well and cheering when they did bad, singing along .. all very true to the spirit of the game in my opinion.
And hey! What’s that in the picture above, smack between the girls? I do believe it’s Amy’s picture of Badcrumble at dawn!
HMX had spruced up their booth full of whatever they got. Check it.
I do have to say that Dance Central was attracting a very interesting group. Just as it seemed people were unable to watch others playing Rock Band and not sing along, it seemed that most watching others playing Dance Central were dancing along.
This is a relatively small group that I saw doing this – not actually playing the game directly, but still doing the moves and dancing along to what’s on the screen. It was extremely interesting. Also, note the little kid with the headband in the orange shirt. He LOVED this game.
While we were waiting for our Rock Band ticket number to come up, he did at least three different routines, and that’s not counting the ones he was dancing along with in the background. I think I know that that kid’s getting for Christmas.
And then it hit me. I really wanted Mike to demo this game. I cannot tell you how much I wanted this to happen. But I knew he wouldn’t be at all relaxed doing it. (Which I get – I mean, you note that I didn’t say I could be demoing the game.) I went up to the HMX ladies and asked them if they’d join Mike in playing the game if I could convince him to do it. They were totally enthusiastic with this idea.
I did in fact manage to convince Mike to play. He danced Bel Biv DeVoe’s “Poison” with @thebeststeph and @HMXkatattack. I got pics and video, but have sworn an oath to show them to no one ever. I will say this though: He was clearly uncomfortable and clearly a novice to dancing, but despite all this it looked like there was a part of him that had FUN, and hell it LOOKS fun, and I thought he did great. What’s more, he is a hell of a better, braver sport than I am because I did not and would not get up there in front of a big crowd to try it myself.
We’re getting a free copy of Dance Central as part of our “Expert” level kiddie poolness. I believe I’ll also be asking for a Kinect for Christmas as a result of seeing the game at PAX. Because the safety and privacy of my own home, now that’s where even I can dance.
By this point it was gone noon and hunger had set in. We made a swag drop at the hotel and took a break to grab some lunch. I had checked online to see that the hotel room included a coffee maker. This meant boiling water, so I bought some of those cheap-ass Maruchan cup o’ noodles things. Unfortunately as it turns out the coffee maker was a fancy single cup dealie that didn’t work without putting in a single-serve in-filter coffee pack, and I didn’t much like the idea of chicken coffee ramen. But I was dying for something not a sandwich, so I just used hot tap water. Which wasn’t really as hot as I might’ve liked. Then I realized I forgot all utensils but a single butter knife. But god DAMN did I not want another peanut butter sandwich at this point.
So I ate my luke-warm undercooked ramen noodles with a butter knife and LIKED IT.
At this point this post is SO HUGE and we’re only at midday, that I’m going to split it. Part 2 of Day 2, coming later today. Yes today. I won’t allow myself to play Civilization 5 until I’m done with this bloody thing. Carrot, meet stick.
If anyone has actually read through all of this, you deserve something. I actually have nothing of value, so your reward is instead learning that yes, you CAN eat ramen with a butter knife. You’re welcome.