East Peace 2011 Thoughts

You know that feeling you get going to sleep the night before Christmas?  That excitement?  You know the feeling you get on Christmas morning tearing open your gifts?  Well, that those sensations are exactly the same one gets during PAX.  Except instead of one night and one morning it’s three straight days of that mixture of anticipation, excitement, and joy.  It’s kind of like riding a three day high.  Of course come Sunday evening you’ve crested and are plunging headlong back into “real life” and it’s really like the worst come down ever.

One day your standing amidst 70,000 of your best friends and the next your sitting at your desk.  It is a bizarre, wonderful and unique.

This year’s PAX East moved to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center an enormous nigh airport sized building that made the 30% increase in attendance over last year completely unnoticeable.   So what was going down at PAX East this year:

The Good:

Keynote: I’m determined to finish Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken but she gave a solid and insprining keynote.  I really want a “contagious vector of awesome” t-shirt.  She talked to the audience about her attempts to recover from a brain injury struggling with near suicidal depression and how she created a game in order to facilitate the healing process.  Inspiring stuff!

The Q&A: Jerry and Mike are dynamic and entertaining guys.  While I didn’t ask any questions myself there were some damned hilarious and some serious answers.  It did spawn the idea that writer Patrick Rothfuss might one day join the company known as Acquisitions Incorporated, a notion I hardily support!

Live Jenga: Before the Saturday concerts was the third round of the Omegathon feature Jenga (made of massive blocks).  There was a live Jenga round at PAX 2008 and I was glad to see it return hear.  Watching competitive Jenga might sound dumb but believe me an audience of 3,000 people adds a whole new dynamic to the game and it surprisingly easy to get caught up in the tension of a Jenga game.

VGO: If you ever have a chance to see the Video Game Orchestra live, do it!  These guys are amazing and once again put on an awesome show.

The Not As Good But Still Pretty Good:

Concerts: The concerts were definitely good this year.  But, they were the same as last year.  I’ve always loved the concert aspect of PAX and for the first 2 years was a great way to discover new video game/geeky bands.  I find consolation in the existence of MAGFest but given the high profile of PAX it’d be great to see a new or lesser known band up on the main stage.  Maybe some sort of Penny Arcade Battle of the Bands to secure a slot on one of the concert nights?  There were some shows in the Jamspace this year including Armcannon and Powerglove.  These are bands that I think would kill on the main stage and it would certainly cure the extreme lack of Storm Eagle!

3DS: I got a chance to demo a 3DS.  While it didn’t blow me away the technology is none the less impressive.  While my DS has always languished beneath a thick layer of dust I find myself once again considering the purchase of a Nintendo hand held.

The Swarm: Something like Pikmin meats Lemmings.  This quirky side scroller was damned entertaining.  Looking forward to when this hits XBLA.

Shadows are the new Cell Shading: The success of the minimalistic art direction in Limbo has spawned at least two new titles with similar looks.  Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet and interesting side scrolling puzzle/sort-of shmup and Outland a Metroid influenced side-scrolling platformer.  Both look gorgeous but are definitely cribbing from the example set by last year’s Limbo.

The Bad:

Booth Babes: It should come as no small surprise that Duke Nukem Forever is responsibile for this one.  PAX has some sort of quasi-official rule that cosplaying booth babes are ok.  For the folks at Gearbox this meant a photo-op throne flanked by “cosplayers” dressed schoolgirl strippers.  Not surprising given the game but still a tad disappointing.

The Food: I really have only myself to blame for this one but the food available at the BCEC was pretty terrible.  A meal (food/drink) typically cost around $15 and was typically unimpressive.  The cost was expected the horrible tastelessness of everything was not.  In fact the Roast Beef Sandwich on Foccacia ($7) was so tasteless it really deserves some kind of award.  I found myself fondly remembering the $20 I spent on chicken fingers, crab fries, and large soda at the Chickie and Pete’s stand at Philly’s Wells Fargo Center.  Given the length of lines, and the amount of things I wanted to do, taking a walk for food wasn’t an option.  In hindsight we should have put the fridge in our room to good use.

Dickwolves: People are really desperate to keep this shit alive.  I missed this controversy (if there was really even that) at the show and am only catching some of it now via the internet.  Primarily I’m disappointed that after seemingly deciding to leave well enough alone Mike decided to honor a request at the “Make-a-strip” panel for a drawing of a “vaginawolf.” For those unfamiliar with the earlier controversy see here.  It’s heated and emotional and so far outside my own experience that I’m not in any competent position to comment.

Final Thoughts:

This year’s PAX East was a step up from last year thanks largely to change in venue.  Other factors added to it, including the wonderful folks who updated the pax_lines twitter account.  The event split the queue room and main theatre lines into seperate entities and I sort of missed the big room and especially the loss of the folks from Get In Line games (I believe there was a scheduling content).  There were tons of great moments this year and tons of awesome things I missed out on but by and large PAX remains the best fan convention I’ve been to.

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