The night was restless, but PAX waits for no one. We’d decided that of all the big ticket games, we had one in particular that we were going to aim for first thing; the siren song of the shirt was playing loudly in our mind. We could sleep later. In new shirts!
Saturday is the day we dedicate as our fullest of full PAX days. We get up at the crack of dawn, zero in on A-list titles to waste our day in lines for, and zoom around the convention center like a methed up Tasmanian Devil. Last year, Dragon Age 2 was our Saturday goal. Among our obvious choices this year were Mass Effect 3, Skyrim, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Bioshock Infinite, and more. But what stood out most was Borderlands 2.
Borderlands was a game that we had a ridiculous amount of fun playing. Despite raving often and loudly about the wholly unsatisfying ending, there’s no denying that Borderlands – or “Killing Guys And Taking Their Stuff”, as we came to call it – was the most unexpectedly enjoyable game we’d played together in a long, long time. We knew Borderlands 2 was coming, but Mike was a little uncertain about it. ME3, Skyrim, etc., those are given; we’re buying them no matter what, and playing them is little more than preaching to the choir. But Borderlands 2, there was actually something to be learned by lining up for that, and so it was our Saturday pick.
Plus they were handing out limited shirts. I’m bribeable, I’m not ashamed.
To try and minimize waiting time once the doors opened, we were up bright (maybe) and early (definitely) on Saturday morning. It does not escape me that the ultimate goal was to get there early to wait in line to avoid wasting time waiting in line. Another Top Pot inhaled and diet soda guzzled, we staggered from our distressingly clean-smelling room and back to the Convention Center.
Even more than usual The Enforcers were determined to squash everybody together, and it was a very uncomfortable number of minutes before we were allowed to carve out a small portion of floor space to sit. And with two hours before the main hall even opened, I assure you that sitting was a thing that was going to happen.
I mentioned previously about Terminal’s conspicuous absence from the Queue Room on Friday. I figured it was maybe something preemptive about Friday though and fully expected to see it the next day.
This did not happen.
What did happen is that for the two hours we waited for the doors to open, OnLive owned everything. Everything.
Rather than a morning filled with laughs and shared jokes and a sense of unity that kicks off the day, we had a static Halloween-coloured image on the viewscreen and nothing memorable from the sound system at all. That was the first hour. During this time, Mike and I were chatting with our neighbors and living in fear of getting this in the face:
Huge black beach balls. Sponsored by? You guessed it: OnLive.
Restless murmurs rippled through the crowds. We weren’t the only ones missing the morning communion. Then it was only one hour before the doors opened and things changed. Finally, something to keep me from falling asleep in a situation I did not want to fall asleep in! A commercial began for a video game. Several, in fact. A montage. It was … for OnLive.
Thirty seconds, was this clip. The music pumping in was a hard rock beat. There were horns and musical stings. It was very bass-heavy. Not too bad, but I was already pretty sick of OnLive by this point, so just wanted to get to something more interesting. The commercial ended. And played again.
For the next hour, the OnLive commercial was on ceaseless loop. It was inescapable. I wanted to kill myself. No, I wanted to kill OnLive.
Want. I want to kill OnLive.
Look, I get that a thing like PAX must be insanely expensive to put on. I have little doubt that this is a huge money maker for nobody but the Seattle Convention Center (and nearby fucking parking). I appreciate the effort to keep attendee costs down. But selling out the Queue Room? To ONE SINGLE COMPANY?
I really can’t stress enough how much I loved Terminal. It was the perfect greeting to every day at PAX. Everybody laughing, joking and playing together, before the convention had even started. It’s a touchstone. Within minutes, everyone is laughing with everyone else, and there’s no quicker way to make friends than with laughter. With Terminal uniting the thousands in the room, everyone was there for the same thing and sharing the experience. Without Terminal, it was just a lot of people taking up space.
Hopefully, if PAX 2012 finds it profitable or advantageous to “rent” the Queue Room, it can at least be done in moderation, with varied companies, and incorporated into Terminal. @Official_PAX has “sponsored Tweets”, but as it’s not @Official_PAX_Commercials it’s not too bad. Moderation is the key. And it’s smart, too. I’m sure that having thousands of “trapped” people is a strong allure for advertising, but I feel confident in saying that OnLive pissed off and alienated at least as many potential customers as it enticed.
tl;dr: monetize the Queue Room if you must, but don’t monopolize it.
Promptly at 10am the doors opened and the rush began. With no running, of course, because that’s not cool. I’d used my time trying to block out the 30-second loop wisely and had committed the most efficient path to Gearbox’s booth to memory. We had gotten there early and so were pretty close to the front of the line – relatively speaking, anyway. We beelined to Borderlands 2.
We were nowhere near the first ones there.
Last year, I believe we were numbers 16 and 17 for Bioware. This year? We were so far back we couldn’t even queue up at the bloody booth.
A minute or two later, and this was behind us:
You can probably imagine how well the idea that we had Yet More Line ahead of us went over, but hey, that’s what Saturday was designated for. I’d also remembered to hook up with the Expo Center wifi so at least my phone was of slightly greater use. Also of help, the things of great interest surrounding us.
League of Legends: Dominion was just nearby. Before PAX, I’d never heard of this game. That surprised me. Not because it was a game I hadn’t heard of – believe me, there are so, so many of those. But the fact that this booth had insane traffic. The day before, the line had wrapped around the booth in ever-widening concentric circles. This thing rivaled every A-list game on the floor, and I’d never, ever heard of it. As it turns out, League of Legends is a free-to-play game. And that is the sum total I know about League of Legends, save that people are insane for this shit. So we got a code for something free in the swag bag, right? And I didn’t play the the thing so I when I got home, I just tweeted that those codes were available to whoever wanted then. Suddenly that shit went VIRAL. Within minutes I had like several hundred replies and new followers and some kind of crazy whirlwind of pleading was spiraling around me. I do not even know. So check this:
Two hour wait time to play the game. This is at about half an hour after the doors are opened. If the previous day was any indication, this line would not go down even a tiny bit all day long. Oh, and then 30-40 minutes after that picture, Mike captured this one:
A three hour wait. From that point.
I do not know what is up with this game, but I suspect strongly it is made of pure cocaine and powered by Hypnotoad.
Also nearby, and of great amusement, was the booth for Asura’s Wrath.
Which right up until this very moment I thought was Rage. There was a lot of anger at this PAX.
Their gimmick was the sound-dampening booth you see in the picture above, with the red-faced gentlemen contained within. When it was your turn, you said what you were most angry at, got inside, and then screamed as loud and as long as possible. If you could max out the sound meter, then you were entered into a drawing for a $300 Amazon gift card. Helping you along the was an emcee of sorts, who would goad you on your path of fury. So people were saying stuff like “lines” or “traffic” or “little brother”, or one guy who said “broccoli” and was then teased with things like, “I bet you love broccoli. I bet you’re going to go eat a whole bunch of broccoli right after this.” which is quite possibly the oddest taunt I’ve ever heard. The whole set up was super spectator-friendly, because people look and sound seriously funny when they’re trying to scream. Many a cracked voice was heard that day.
About an hour after we’d gotten in line, we were finally in the Gearbox circle of influence.
From here we still had a 20 or 30 minute wait for the group in front of us to finish up, but sitting was finally an option and we were here, and these were joyous details that cannot be overstated.
We watched the Capcom vs. Someone matches going on at the booth across from us until the doors opened. We filed inside a little bunker with rows of benches, a big-ass TV, and a pause screen.
Once the place filled up, the demo began – live, but not hands-on. A guy who I think was the lead designer for Borderlands 2 was on the mic, and as you might imagine with a game like this, he was pretty funny and quite irreverent; you’ve got to enjoy a guy who within the first few minutes is like, “Hey, we discovered colours that aren’t brown, this is exciting.” Also fun was him talking about the original game demoing at PAX 2009. They were a little startup game at that point, no kind of budget for the con, and he said he guessed maybe five people stopped to look at it. I nudged Mike and he nodded and grinned; “Oh, and there are two of them,” the guys says. Because yeah, we did indeed pull in to check it out. I remember Mike being very intrigued by it, though a little put off by the possibility of actual ammo counts. (Mike is of the “blast my guns as much as I damn well want” school of shooters.)
He chatted a bit more about the feedback they’d gotten from the first game, what changes they made, but summed it up thusly: “We took the shit you didn’t like from the first game, fixed it, and left the rest of it the fuck alone.” Can I tell you this is exactly what Mike wanted to hear? Then the demo stared, and lo, they did indeed fix all the broken shit and left the rest alone. The demo was about 20 minutes I think, and looked fun as heck. If you liked the first game, the sequel looks to be a no-brainer. It won’t be out until the middle of 2012 at the earliest, but I think it’ll be worth the wait.
By this point it was well past noon – this Saturday line-up didn’t work out anywhere near as efficiently as last year and it had mucked up our plans a bit. We had Harmonix’s panel at 6pm which we wanted to be sure to catch and Mike knew he wanted to go check in with Paizo and possibly join a Pathfinder game or two, but we weren’t sure what to do with our relatively few open hours. So it was to wandering, while we sorted it out.
I think my favourites today were Batman Eating a Sandwich and SD-Snooki.
From there, our first of at least two check-ins with Firefall that day.
I surprised he was able to talk the guy into getting him a statue this late in the day, but somehow he did.
By the time this was done we noticed it was going on 2pm, and that singular donut wasn’t holding it together all that well. We also desperately needed to do another swag drop-off (next year: backpacks), so we began to slowly make our way out and back to the hotel. On the way we passed the Mass Effect 3 booth, which had a crowd even more thick than normal around it.
I don’t think I’ve seen voice talent at video game booths before, but I thought it was a pretty awesome idea. Jennifer Hale has, of course, only been in absolutley everything ever.
She was signing stuff and taking pictures and I was really, really hoping she would say “I’m Commander Shepard and this is my favourite booth on the Citadel” but alas.
Back out into the world, but as always, you never know quite what you’re going to find, even when you leave. Such as the Plants vs. Zombies zombies that I snapped a picture of the day before, putting on a series of choreographed routines to assorted numbers including Donna Summer’s “I Will Survive”.
I found it on YouTube so you will not feel too left out.
Back to the room for a brief rest and refuel, then Mike wanted to get to Paizo for some Pathfindering. I’ve talked a bit recently about how we’ve dived back into the world of tabletop RPGing (spurred on by last year’s PAX in fact) and particularly as this was Paizo’s first year at PAX, he was really keen to get in there.
I keep emphasizing Mike’s interest, which sort of by definition means I wasn’t so much. I was to a degree, but I’m still pretty shy and uncomfortable about it all, so I held back. On reflection I wish I hadn’t been so reticent, but I there we are. There’s always next year.
Turned out that Paizo had a contest of sorts going on. For every scenario that you tried (I think they had six?) you got three keys. You could use each key to try to open the lock on a big-ass treasure chest. If it unlocked, you rolled the d20, and that would determine your prize. So a lot of luck going into this – but Mike wanted keys, dammit.
He signed up for the next open group and after maybe ten minutes he went back with a group of five strangers and a GM who was rocking a serious Lemmy moustache.
I dumped my gear with Mike and went to wander the floor a bit. I demo’d a couple of indy games, including “Orcs Must Die!” which just got released on XBL. It’s a tower defense meets FPS, and honestly anything with “tower defense” in its description is a mad weakness so you know I loved it. I was also hoping to get in to try Arkham City, but the lines were beyond ridiculous. Oh, I did manage to score an inflatable omniblade from the Bioware booth, and that is more awesome than you can possibly imagine.
After a bit of aimless wandering I realized I was starting to not feel that great. I made my way back to Paizo so I could just sit and watch for a bit. The group was about half way through their adventure. It involved giant jungle monkeys, so there was that.
The prone figure on the right of the map was a player who I had the pleasure of seeing get himself completely ambushed and taken down in the opening round of combat. He spent the remainder of the session sitting there and spitting taunts at the rest of his party members. Eventually the group accomplished whatever they were supposed to accomplish, by which point we were a good half-hour off schedule for Harmonix’s panel. With plans to return and play again tomorrow, Mike and I rushed off to find the conference room.
We got there pretty late and had to follow a coloured tape line system that was clearly implemented to make the queue situation less confusing and which failed that mission in every conceivable way. The first 200(ish) people in line got something crazy cool. Arriving late, we would’ve missed out – but luckily Aaron had hooked us up the day before.
So what was this magical bit of Harmonix swag?
Your eyes do not deceive you – they are full-metal die-cast red cassette tape necklaces with “Dance Central” across the top. The day before, Aaron had given us the history of these things. They were promotional items created for Dance Central (the first game, not the sequel). Here’s where Mike and I diverge a little on our story: I thought they were created for something in Europe (likely Gamescon) while Mike thought they were for E3. Whichever way it went, they were for a some major event a long way from HMX’s HQ in Boston, and they didn’t arrive in time. But Harmonix really wanted them, so they overnighted the box to wherever they were. Now these necklaces, they are not light, and there were 200 of them total. I don’t know how much shipping was, but when you consider that it’s like $20 to overnight a letter, and I can only imagine. But even with this, it still didn’t arrive in time for the planned event, so Harmonix had to ship them back to Boston. From there they wound up in a MTV warehouse in New York where they sat until HMX split from MTV and they had to clear out all their old stuff. Hundreds of miles, hundreds and hundreds of dollars, all to sit in a box and do nothing. Thus, they became PAX swag.
But even better, whoever had a necklace had a ticket to a post-panel meetup at Top Pot Doughnuts where there would be free coffee and nummies and hanging.
The panel – hosted by (from l to r in the pic above) Eric Pope, John Drake, Aaron Trites and Annette Gonzales – was part “Reverse Q&A” where Harmonix asked questions of the audience, part introduction of VidRhythm, and part talking about Dance Central 2. It was loose and funny in traditional HMX style (you can see it here), and it was awesome to get the first look at VidRhythm, which was released about a week later and is way too much ridiculous fun to tinker with. I admit to being a little sad about the lack of knowing where to go next with Rock Band – but I can’t say that surprises me. I’m still holding out some hope that there’ll be a Rock Band 4, if for no reason other than to iron out some of the kinks from Rock Band 3, but I have to admit that I’m not sure what other innovations can realistically be made at this point either. For all that, HMX seems completely devoted to continuing with Rock Band DLC as long as people keep buying it, so I’m not sure what more anybody could realistically ask at this point. Dance Central is obviously a huge hit and as genre-founding for them as Guitar Hero was, and I can’t fault them for wanting to keep breaking new ground. Also, “Baby Got Back” should be amazing in Dance Central 2.
It was gone 7pm when the panel let out. Harmonix’s Top Pot meetup was about an hour away, but so too was the evening’s concert. Already the line was filling fast. We had a decision to make: Harmonix, or concert?
It was a tough call. On the one hand, Paul & Storm, Jonathan Coulton, and Supercommuter were performing that night. On the other, the impromptu meetup from PAX’09 with @HarmonixSean was one of our favourite memories from that con. We pulled into a relatively quiet corner and discussed it.
In the end, Harmonix won out. While the concert is a lot of fun, we’d seen P&S and JoCo several times before. It’s always fun, but there’s a certain level of comfortable expectation in it. Whatever else happens, you know Paul and Storm are going to close out their set with like a half-hour version of “The Captain’s Wife’s Lament”, and you know that “Re: Your Brains” is one of ten songs or so that are guaranteed to be in JoCo’s setlist. Those aren’t slams, just facts; details aside, I’ve already seen what I’d see at the concert that night.
Top Pot it was then, but there was another problem. By this point I was beginning to feel extremely queasy. This wasn’t necessarily unexpected, but it was disappointing. Every single Sunday at every single PAX I spend in some degree of diseased misery, and I’d been trying so hard to not have that happen this year. I was all but mainlining Emergen-C. Yet here it was, the beginning of the end.
I made the decision to have Mike go ahead. I was going to grab something a little more substantial than a peanut butter sandwich, lie down for an hour, then join him. He was reluctant but agreed. I followed through with my plan, eventually nodding off for a bit. When I woke up I was feeling better and about out the door to join Mike when he called – he was on his way back to the hotel. The meet-up had been awesome but he was all cute and worried and stuff, so Aaron forced more doughnuts upon him for me and he was almost back to the room. I put them aside for later (about to turn into a bloody doughnut by this point I swear) and just made an early night of it. The good news is I did not get sick on Sunday this time around, so regret the extra rest for not a single second. A beneficial, if perhaps dull end to the second day of PAX.
Or so we thought.
Oh. Yay. It’s back.
It was nearly 1am. Mike stirred next to me. “What the hell is that noise?” he asked.
“It’s happening again,” I said, closing my eyes and rolling over. “Check the bathroom.”
There was silence for a few seconds, soon broken by the click of a light switch. “WHAT THE FUCK?!?” Mike exclaimed.
“You get to deal with it this time,” I told him, and snuggled deeper under the covers. The next half hour or so I drifted in and out of sleep, but having lived it the night before, I know pretty well what happened. I remember cautioning him about the air horn doorbell alarm when maintenance arrived and told him to be prepared for it. He was not prepared for it. A parade of people came into and out of our bathroom but I blotted them out as best as I could. Then there was peace one again.
This time, rather than just clean it up, the hotel gave us another room. We’d still have full access to this one so we didn’t have to pack everything up in the middle of the night, but we could at least go sleep in another room that wasn’t threatening to drown us in bubbles at any moment. So began the pajama-clad migration, and I’ve never been quite so happy to have had an empty elevator.
The new room was fantastic, a huge suite with a great view.
It would’ve been even better if this had happened, you know, on Thursday night with the whole con ahead and not the obscene earliness of Sunday morning when we’d be checking out in six hours.
Unfortunately I was wide awake now. I considered seeing what was going on with the concert, but our room was overlooking the Paramount Theater, and as I was considering going to see if I could get in I saw the streams of people begin to pour out.
The concert was over. PAX Day 2 was officially done. You win again, sleep.
NEXT: PAX 2011: The Conclusion. The swag floweth, I rush to photograph absolutely everything, and I watch the single greatest spectator event I have ever seen.