Sunday, March 31, 2013

1st PAX Experience

Is it one word or two?

This past weekend, I went to my first PAX or Penny Arcade Expo. This particular conference was PAXEast, which took place in Boston, Massachusetts. As I stated in my earlier post, I was hoping that PAX would rejuvenate my love of gaming; unfortunately, this did not happen, at least not entirely.  (Quick disclaimer, this was written during my flight from Boston to San Francisco.)

Day 0:  Illegal Happy Hour

I say Day 0 because I arrived at Boston before the conference actually started. I didn't want to deal with any connecting flights, so I picked one in which I would get to Boston around 9 am. That first day I just walked around Boston, learning the area, where to get food, where to shop if desired, etc.
Essentially this became a very boring day. I now know the subway system of Boston much better and were I to do this again, I would definitely have gone to different places and extended my range of exploration. I did walk to the convention center to get an idea of how long it would take and what I was looking for. I have to admit, even with the weather being around 32 degrees, walking around Boston isn't too bad; though the cobblestone and brick sidewalks definitely don't make for the most comfortable walking experience after awhile.
Around 4, I decided to take in a local Mexican restaurant's happy hour, which I later learned was possibly illegal in Massachusetts. After drinking 3 of margaritas at the market price of $4 each, discovering that anyone I knew or would have liked to meet was either not attending this year or wouldn't get into the city until very late, I went back to my hotel and napped.

My second or third illegal margarita!!!




Fortunately, Dave Voyles, an indie reviewer, published programmer, and all around cool guy, invited me out to one of the many Irish pubs in Boston, Biddy Early's. I met some other journalist, but was mostly happy to just be out of my hotel room and socializing.


Day 1:  So Lonely

Yep, felt a bit like this little guy.

The first day of my PAX experience was definitely my worst. Simply put, I was unprepared in a number of ways. One was the number of people. This sounds stupid, but compared to GDC, there are way more people at this conference. Navigating the expo floor was frustrating, especially since Boston was cold, I had a coat and my messenger bag, which wearing became more and more uncomfortable as I walked. Also, my hotel, which was great actually, was a 20-30 minute walk from the convention. These are mostly my fault as I didn't book a hotel quickly enough and I was too cheap to use the $3 coat check.
One thing that did irritate me though is that I entered the convention very early -- 8 AM -- and was ushered into a panel I didn't want to go to for Cliff Bleszinski's keynote. I sat on the floor with other gamers, some playing Magic: The Gathering, others playing handled systems and just looked around like a deer in headlights. Eventually I got the courage to get up and just get out of the line. I guess it was just assumed that anyone coming to the convention center that early on the first day was there for his keynote. Sort of my fault as speaking up early would have prevented this frustration.

Also felt like one of these little guys at time.

Next, however, was a panel given by Capcom referring to some new announcements, and I'll just say I waited over two hours for a Street Fighter shirt and to discover that DuckTales is being remastered. I'm not mad to hear this or have obtained the shirt; I'm mad I waited over two hours when one or even 30 minutes prior may have been enough. Also, I had to sing the DuckTales theme with the other attendees for Capcom's sick amusement. I'm such a Capcom fanboy,  I am excited for Resident Evil: Revelations coming to next gen. consoles though and hope it renews my faith in the franchise.
After this, I went to the console tourney room to try and play some Marvel Vs. Capcom 3; however, due to the Capcom panel, I was too late to get in on it. To be honest, my skills are so rusty; not entering was probably for the best. Did I mention I almost lost the shirt from said panel in that room? Fortunately, I found it on the floor; at first I said I wouldn't have been mad about this, but this is untrue.

The shirt I received, which I will admit I like.

After this, I went back to my hotel. I was feeling sort of lonely and really wished I would have brought a friend to experience this with. I was also weirdly feeling guilty because there are tons of people who wold have loved this conference with every fiber of their being and there I was: miserable as all could be. Adding to my misery, it took me almost 10 or 15 minutes to get out of the expo. The maps were not very clear and the convention center is large and confusing, at first anyway.
After a dip in my hotel's hot tub, I decided to go back to the conference. I explored the expo a bit, which wasn't going to be open that much longer on the first day. One thing that was cool was I saw fighting game phenoms, Ricky Ortiz and Justin Wong, playing people in Street Fighter X Tekken at the Kensington (or Kingston or something like that booth). A part of me wanted to play against him, but seeing it was SFxT and that players were forced to use fightsticks -- I'm more of a controller enthusiast despite this being rather blasphemous in the fighting game community -- I decided to save myself the embarrassment, which is probably my biggest regret of PAX but not my only.
After exploring the Expo some more and trying out Capcom's remastered Dungeons & Dragons game -- which wasn't bad but the button layout was confusing -- I explored the convention center, which feels much larger than the Marscone Center where GDC is held in San Francisco. Low and behold though, I probably discovered one of PAX's more unique rooms, the console freeplay room. Like a deli, you take a number, rent a game and are assigned a console. This would have been cool, except, aforementioned, I didn't have anyone to play a game with. I decide to play Resident Evil 6 thinking this would be a great opportunity to play it since I had no plans to buy it. Sadly, the freeplay console room was not great for single player games, especially more cinematic ones. I couldn't hear the dialogue and just felt rather lonely again. After playing for maybe fifteen minutes, I returned the game and did more aimless exploring, more or less learning the layout of the convention center since I had such an issue before. I ended the night with Dave and Xona Games' Matthew Doucette at B.E.'s again, getting a bit more intoxicated than the prior night; this was probably the most enjoyment I had the entire day sadly.

Day 2:  Rusty Marvel

I had a better game plan for how I was going to spend my second day. For one, i left my bag at home. I don't drool at the mouth at the sight of swag, so i figured my bag only weighed me down and irritated me, and I was going to be flying to San Francisco after PAX. Also, only one panel, which wasn't until later in the day. I did some expo wandering with Dave and made plans to play Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 with him in the freeplay console room. He had to go do something important, so I decided to just play Super Mario Bros. for the WiiU in the meantime. It was alright. Again, multiplayer would have been more fun, but at least playing was tolerable. I love Nintendo platformers, but I was feeling underwhelmed by this one. It felt repetitive, which isn't surprising since this is like the billionth Mario platformer, but the Wii one was just more enjoyable. Maybe the fact I was surrounded by people playing other games and that I was on a 30 minute time limit changed the experience. Playing in a public definitely feels different from playing at home but also different from an arcade.
I hope these were disinfected between play sessions.

Then, I played some MVC3 with Dave. After a few victories, a stranger asked if he could play; this Sean (or Shawn?) fellow quickly taught me I was definitely out of practice. Though he won more matches, I had some keen victories of which I was proud. This Sean, who I wish I would have tried to get to know better, definitely got into our matches more than I did. I'm very quiet and look intense when I play; he was much more intense, often cursing and questioning the game when undesired things -- dropped combos, strange collision, Hagger piping -- would happen. I also experienced the unfortunate amount of lag on the freeplay game room's televisions and using wireless 360 controllers didn't help either. I guess I envied Sean in a way; not because he was better at the game than me, but that he had the courage to ask strangers to play, something I didn't do the entire conference. I guess my introverted attitude is to blame for this; I do much better when approached than when approaching others. This is unfortunate too since some people say I look intimidating and unapproachable, to which my response is often of confusion.

Even in UMVC3, the pipe deserves a little respect.
Eventually, I went to my second panel discussing the future of the fighting game community. This was my favorite panel and inspired me in a few ways. Essentially I want to help the fighting game community grow. I need to try and search out people in Pittsburgh for one; I can't be the only fighting game fanatic. The more important issue is how can I help. I'm definitely not going to ever be a top contender; I don't have the time to dedicate to mastering any fighting game. The panel had a question and answer, but it quickly filled up, especially after announcing prizes. But if I could have asked a question, I would have asked, "How can I as an indie developer and fan of fighting games, help the community grow?"  I still may contact the panelists and ask them via Twitter or some other way, but I feel like one good way is to create a game that stealthily introduces fighting game techniques and mechanics. Not sure how I can do this, but it might be inspiration for my next indie title.
After the panel, I went home to get ready for a party. I printed a ticket for the CURSE party. After some experience with parties at GDC, I knew that you have to show up at least an hour early to get in right at the start and there were several others who knew this as well. So after a boring wait, I finally got in. I got a swag bag with some junkie advertisement stuff and a shirt with a scantily-clad, female warrior. I also got a drink ticket, which as I put my jacket into the swag bag for easy handling, immediately lost. The party, at least when I was there, was rather lame. I ate two sliders and some mediocre fries. The vibe was similar to the convention; I could have tried to talk to strangers but I knew that if I had just one person there to hang with, I would had had a much better time. So after downing a nearly $9.00 Jack & Coke, I left to hang out with Dave and some other people, talking about programming, feminism in games, Heavy Rain, and other subjects, a culmination of conversations much more reminiscent of GDC. All in all, I had a much better time here. I also left my CURSE swag bag at the bar, but I had such a good time, I didn't care or bother trying to recover it. Earlier that day I also lost a pair of Adventure Time sunglasses. I was more distraught over this.

Banner for the the party I went to and left in the blink of a Jack & Coke.

Day 3:  An Early Ending

An unfortunately appropriate name.
Day 3 was short. I did one last time around the expo floor. I could have waited in line to play DuckTales or DiveKick for almost an hour, but watching it felt like enough for me. I'll just play said games when they come out. I don't get the appeal of waiting over and hour to play a game you've never played and will probably be terrible at in front of tons of people. Again, I was so exhausted, I went to my new favorite burrito place, Boloco, and had lunch.  Afterwards I went to my final panel about running tournaments. The talk was given by some members of a group of Disorganization XIII, which seemed like an appropriate name sadly. Said group helps people get started with doing panels at conferences such as PAX actually, which seemed interesting.  Regardless, the panelists all seemed tired as they discussed the trials and tribulations of holding a tourney, a tiredness I don't solely blame on them. Overall, I don't think I'll ever attempt to hold a tourney, especially not alone; maybe I'll help someone else, but never hold one myself.
After this, I stayed at a friend's. Hilariously, him, his roommate, and I played more video games that weekend than I did the entire time at PAX, and I have to add, Donkey Kong Country Returns is a bastard of a game.

Takeaways

Despite a rather disastrous first day, I had a pretty good, but tiring, time. Would I go again? Maybe. These are things I would do differently or would want to have my second time around.
  • Bring a wired 360 controller. The freeplay room had MVC3 setup in an arcade, winner stays style manner, but it was only for fightsticks or your own controller, which I did not have.
  • Bring a friend or a reliable meet up. Thankfully Dave was there otherwise I would have had an awful time, but next time I would want someone to go with, even if I have to buy their damn pass. Good for getting lunch, a wingman of sorts, and someone talk to talk to if I'm falling short elsewhere.
  • Bring some damn balls. This is silly, but I was too afraid to talk to people and for no real good reason. Yea, being rejected or blown off by some asshole would have sucked, but there were tons of people there I cold have moved onto. The Ricky Ortiz challenge too is another example; I saw him perfect a few of people, why would it have been any different if it were me? 
Got to bring these next year, except maybe ones not made of brass.

Anyway, if I were to go to PAX next year, these are three changes I would try to make for a better time. I can't think about my PAX experience now though, for I am going to GDC, a conference which I know what to expect and have people there to meet with. I just hope I remembered to bring my balls.

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