Greetings and welcome to PAX Day 1. To enjoy our drunken pre-PAX adventures, you can read about Day 0 here.
Morning came, as mornings so often do, far too early. Still there was no time to wallow in the lingering embrace of hangover, not with so many lines to stand in!
We made it to the Queue Room around 9am. Giant black beach balls were already being punted around the room. This pleased me. The place was, of course, already packed.
Shuffling down the line under the constant friendly urgings of the Enforcers, we grabbed swag bags and packed in far too close to people we do not know. While I rifled through our first loot of the day, I made Mike take more pictures. I like the crowds, but I sure like the free stuff a lot too.
I was pretty drowsy and trying to look over the map to see what was where, and consequently only dimly aware of something missing. Something huge. Things were chatty and noisy with the expected excited buzz, but it didn’t feel right. Then I realized what it was.
Terminal was not in the Queue Room.
I talked quite a bit about Terminal last year, but because I figure you are all very lazy people, I will quote my past self:
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.
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.
I couldn’t entirely remember if Terminal was usually there on Fridays, so I didn’t dwell on it too much, and there were soon OnLive people who took over the front of the room with a completely shitty sound system meaning that nobody at the back (me) could hear what was going on. It soon became apparent that this was for a costume contest however (thank you, powers of deduction) and Line: The Game became a little more interesting for a moment. While I don’t remember everybody, I do recall a Tingle – who was just as terrifying as you would expect – and a Space Core. When asked who he was, Space Core’s reply was also as expected.
Then the countdown was on, the metaphorical doors were opened, and PAX had begun.
We didn’t rush. There was a lot of walking and a lot of standing in our future, and we didn’t yet have anywhere we had to be; Fridays are more for scouting in our PAX world. Thus began our leisurely stroll through the greatest place for gaming on earth.
Our first stop was made randomly – as in, “oh hey, nobody’s playing this yet” – but tied in nicely to the final game we played last year. It didn’t take Mike long to kill many many zombies in Dead Rising 2: Off the Record, the game that is essentially Dead Rising 2 all over again, but featuring Frank West, the main guy from the first game. I’m only passingly interested in the Dead Rising games myself, due in no small part to the fact that I can’t play them for shit. Mike adores them however, so getting his hands on a much-anticipated … sequel? retelling? … made for a great start to the con.
Wandering a bit further in, we came to the ginormous booth for Firefall.
Firefall is a free-to-play multiplayer shooter, and its devs really, really, really want you to play it.
Without a doubt, Firefall was the marketing juggernaut of PAX 2011. They had booth space that was bigger than my old apartment, with I would guess 20 to 30 demo stations – but you could tell me it was 50 and I wouldn’t be surprised. They had a massive screen with looping cinematics and gameplay footage. They had laser lights sweeping the floor with the game’s logo. And am I only talking about the booth. Firefall was pulling out all the stops to make sure that in an ocean of stimulation, you still zeroed in on it. What’s more, the booth had a “front desk” of sorts, which was the point of contact for the weekend-long game they had set up (yo dawg we put a game in your game so you can play while you play), ensuring that not only did you return to the booth multiple times every single day, but that Firefall would be lurking in your mind all the time.
I think I was more impressed with this balls-out blitz than by the game itself – and the game was pretty fun. So how did they hook you? Well for Mike, it was pretty simple.
The thing I circled up there? It’s a box containing a little statue. There were three to collect throughout the weekend with a different one each day; you had to be one of the first thousand (I think? maybe 5000?) to play to get that day’s statue.
Also, they had a scavenger hunt of sorts called the “Crystite Challenge”. Each day there was a laminate card with a list of things you could do (with either photo or video proof) to earn crystite (which is in-game currency if I recall). Then you could cash in the crystite for different prizes like shot glasses, t-shirts, hats, hoodies, etc.
To say that this was popular does not do it justice. Throughout the con, the line became larger and larger with people waiting to get that day’s card or to get crystite with their photos, or cash in for more goodies.
The “Daily Missions” were the same each day, but the bonus (for extra crystite) was always different. The “Friday/Saturday/Sunday Missions” were, naturally, changed up every day. It was really a tremendous amount of fun, particularly as some of the missions required you to mix and mingle it up with strangers (such as getting a group together to yell “I want Firefall!”, which Mike did with a group of very passionate cosplayers). The Nvidia button-matching game was a huge part of my memory from PAX’09, and I was pleased to see another company with a well planned and executed con-wide promotion.
Oh, yeah, I guess I could talk a bit about the game itself. As mentioned, it’s an F2P MMO FPS, which in less acronym-laden terms breaks down to “free” “online” “shooter”. I’m not sure all the different modes, but it seemed to have both PvP and PvE options. There were multiple classes to choose from and experience points earned to improve your character. Mike stuck mainly to sniper while I was more run-and-gun, and both offered fun and varied gameplay experiences. Mike was especially proud of the moment he headshotted a guy from about a quarter-mile away as the guy was using his jetpack to jump around, causing the body to freefall for a good second or two before landing in a crumpled heap; he got lots of applause from on-lookers for that one. From our talk with some devs it seems the microtransactions that are inevitable for F2P games were going to be fairly well managed and largely cosmetic. Time will tell, of course, but I had a lot of fun with Firefall and plan to give it a shot when it launches later this year.
From Firefall’s booth we wandered onward, sticking mostly to the main flow of traffic for now. This brought us to the Skybridge, and inexorably to one of my favourite spots:
I think I swerved by this booth to gaze longingly upon their wares two or three times a day. I know this is one of those things you either get or you don’t, but damn, is there anything more deeply soul-happy than all those rows and rows and rows of dice? While I could have easily (EASILY!) spent all of my money here, I refrained and only picked up a small handful of singles and a mug o’ dice. Yes, ONLY. Here is our mug o’ random:
Chessex’s neighbors were equally drool-worthy, though far more unattainable: the ever-impressive Geek Chic, supreme makers of the finest in geek furniture. We’ve long coveted their exquisite gaming tables, and our hardcore forays into tabletop gaming hasn’t lessened this desire.
Sadly it has also not lessened its price.
So we looked and we ooh’d and we wouldn’t-it-be-nice-if’d and then we saw something that made me stop in my tracks. Something I fell in deep love with instantly, despite its unattainability. It was like Romeo gazing upon Juliet on her balcony. Like Jett longing for the squeaky toy held far out of her reach. Like 90s cartoon Wolverine watching 90s cartoon Jean run to 90s cartoon Cyclops in that one episode where the X-Men fight the Morlocks.
It was The League.
Wooden comic book boxes. So sleek. So amazing. So beautiful.
I have a room in my house that’s just for my comic books. I need a room for them to live because they are legion. Let me show you part of this room.
Looks cool, yeah? But I admit, the swath of white comic boxes isn’t exactly the most attractive thing to ever grace a room. But imagine! Imagine it with THE LEAGUE! All the cool, with a zillion times more class! A nice level wooden surface upon which I can put sketches and action figures! Or a nice fake plant and kleenex like the floor model! I wouldn’t care! I’d have THE LEAGUE!
(okay probably like three of them by the time I was done)
I even took home a flyer so I could keep it by my bedside and gaze at it every night before bed.
One day, when I am rich? Oh yes. Yessss.
We moved away, dragged ourselves away. The other side of the main exhibition hall awaited.
Sticking to the main artery of traffic, we soon saw the Bethesda booth, where Skyrim was on full display.
Skyrim is the next big game that I’m near wetting myself for, so I was itching to get my hands on it. But with a line wrapping around the booth multiple times, I filed it away as a maybe for later.
Toward the back of the main hall, my nose detected something. Not the usual sampling of odors one can expect at the con, but something delicious. We followed the smell, and right at the back far corner I saw something I never expected to see at PAX:
A small brigade of white-haired grandmas were baking and handing out fresh chocolate chip cookies to anybody who wanted them. What game could this possibly be? Turns out it was GOG‘s booth, and of all the flash and spectacle at all the booths of PAX, I think that this one for Good Old Games was my favourite.
It so perfectly encapsulated what GOG is all about. No fuss, no insanity – just a warm comforting welcome with a smooth swirl of nostalgia from games that may not be new but have stood the test of time. I love the quiet confidence from GOG’s presence at PAX. They didn’t need flashing lights and deafening sounds. An afghan, an easy chair and a friendly grandma smile and the point was made. I’ve been a fan of GOG for years – this booth made me fall in love with them just a little bit.
Also cookies, fuck yeah.
We’d now reached the back wall and began to circle around for another pass through. Before we got too far, we found the buzzing Harmonix booth.
I wish that any of my pictures of these two playing the game had come out how I wanted, because they were having the time of their lives. Only Dance Central 2 from Harmonix this year so I knew there would be zero chance of me playing anything publicly, but luckily the game was such a hit and such a fun thing to voyeur on that even just watching was fun. We were specifically looking for a couple of the HMX guys though and didn’t see them, so didn’t linger long as we knew we’d be back later.
It was gone noon by this point and we hadn’t had anything but a Top Pot so we slipped back to the hotel room for lunch. Several hours in, and we’d barely grazed the surface. Refueling was a must.
Next: PAX 2011, Day 1 part 2.