Had a great time at the Penny Arcade Expo over the weekend. It was my first time, as I wrote the other day, at any type of videogame convention, so I wasn’t real sure what to expect when my friend Curt and I left Chicago on Thursday afternoon for Bellevue, WA and PAX. Here’s a few highlights from the show.

-Thursday night we checked into the Red Lion hotel, had a bite to eat at Denny’s, and then just hung the hotel room and played World of Warcraft on my laptop. I have to say the hotel was great, and (as the concierge pointed out to us) we got an insanely amazing deal on the room because of the convention– something like 70% off of the normal price.

-Saturday morning we jumped on the bus to downtown Seattle and Pike Place Market. I’d been there before (two weeks ago was the last time, when I was in Seattle for my familiy reunion), but Curt had never seen it, so we met up with his friend Mike and Mike’s girlfriend for a quick tour of the market and some thai food. At one, we headed back to the Meydenbauer Convention Center and PAX ’06.

-Friday we saw the Alex St. John keynote, and the Q&A panel with the two guys who draw Penny Arcade. I have to say I wasn’t really impressed with St. John– he seemed a little rushed, and he didn’t really talk much about DirectX (which he created). He really just told stories of crazy Microsoft parties that he and his team threw. Call me a nerd (you will before you are done reading this), but I’d rather hear about how he developed the architecture than about how he got Bill Gates to dress up in a black trenchcoat with a shotgun. But I did enjoy the Q&A panel a lot– Gabe and Tycho are totally plugged into the gaming culture, and I was there to see them announce their first game (thought it was funny that right away they acknowledged game critics, who they mercilessly attack, would probably not like their game very much).

-After dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, where I could swear the waiter kept calling us his “amigas” (I assume he was referring to the fact we were gamers and not calling us girls), we headed back over to the convention center to try and see the Friday night concert. But after a full hour and half of waiting in line (the show started at least 45 minutes late), we gave up and left without seeing the show. That’s the only really big problem with PAX– as cool as the events were, nothing was very well organized. There was lots of line-waiting, but the lines weren’t well kept, and events never started when (or even where, sometimes) they were supposed to. I’m surprised we saw as much as we did, considering how badly organized it was.

-Saturday morning, we got up early to go see videogame speedrun videos (I told you you’d call me a nerd). We watched someone beat Legend of Zelda in about 20 minutes (and yes, that is as amazing as it sounds– VERY), and SMB1 in about two and a half. There was also a showing of a Metroid speedrun, but that guy used some kind of exploity cheat, so it wasn’t as cool.

-Then we hit the trivia game panel, hosted by the guy from Chatterbox. He was giving away all sorts of sweet stuff (a bunch of DS Lites, with copies of the Starfox game that didn’t come out until today), but who knows where he got his contestants from, because they were pretty much clueless. I’ll just say that they missed a Final Fantasy question. I made one valiant effort by trying to give the name of a developer who sponsored a gaming scholarship, but my guess of American McGee was way wrong. Oh well.

-Also got to see the Ubisoft demo panel of Assassin’s Creed, except that they didn’t actually show Assassin’s Creed (whoops for them). Instead, I saw 20 boring minutes of the new Splinter Cell multiplayer, and 10 more boring minutes of Dark Messiah (more on that in a second).

-After Saturday lunch at Subway, we really lucked out, because the line for the main Exhibition Hall had pretty much died, so we strolled right in. The hall itself was definitely the best part of the whole thing: lots of companies were there showing off all kinds of stuff. I played:

  • Guitar Hero 2 (I rocked STP – Tripping on a Hole…, even though the opening three note chord threw me for a sec)
  • The aforementioned Dark Messiah (Ubisoft’s swords and sorcery FPS– even though the actual demo was boring, I’m going to say it was the Game of the Show. I played through the single player demo at the Nvidia booth and was blown away by how well the Source engine worked for hand to hand combat. You could actually throw barrels at the bad guys, and even kick them down after parrying a blow)
  • D&D Online (didn’t play much, but Turbine gave me a free copy of it, so I’m going to try it out some more)
  • Auto Assault (I asked the guy why his game was being shut down, and he walked away from me)
  • Guild Wars (got a free copy of this too, but didn’t like it as much as WoW)
  • Warhammer Online (reminded me a lot of DAoC, not a surprise because it’s being made by Mythic. Didn’t think it matched up to WoW in graphics or gameplay, but then again, I played a really early version)
  • Table Tennis (Plays like Virtua Tennis, but is not Virtua Tennis)
  • Company of Heroes (I lost, as I always do with RTSes)
  • Elite Beat Agents (this game was sweet fun, but I was terrible at it. I’m going to buy it, just to get better)

And I probably played a few more that I can’t think of right now. Also, got two t-shirts, a bunch of keys to NCSoft games, and two or three free copies of games. Schwag = awesome.

-Saturday evening Curt and I went to CPK with Chris Grant (editor of Joystiq), and a few other bloggers who work at WIN (basically my coworkers). All great guys, and we had some great discussion going about videogame journalism over pizza and spring rolls.

-Afterwards, we went to the concert, and this time they did start more or less on time. I saw MC Frontalot, who I was not impressed with at all– I kind of think that since MC Chris exists, nerdcore doesn’t really need any more rappers. Also saw the Minibosses, who play videogame songs with rock guitars and are awesome. Unfortunately, sleep beckoned, and we did leave a little early.

-Sunday morning we got up early (at 9), because I had to make it to the Guitar Hero tournament. Now, I’ve really only been in one videogame tournament in my entire life, and I won it, so I had high hopes for this one. But it was a rollercoaster ride– when we started practicing, I got walked all over, so then I figured I didn’t have a chance. When the tournament actually started, not only did I get to pick the song (so I chose one I really liked– “Even Rats,” if you’re a fan), but I started out winning big, so I figured things would be good. Unfortunately by the end of the song, I got overconfident, and it turned out I didn’t really have a chance– dropped out in the first round. Oh well. So I went over to the PC freeplay area, sat down at a Counterstrike computer, and spent about half an hour fragging noobs. That got me in a better mood.

-Sunday evening, after the “Closing Ceremonies” (which were a complete disappointment– 45 mins in line to watch two guys suck at Tetris for 5 minutes), we met up with Curt’s friend Mike again, and hit up the Bellevue Cheesecake Factory. I’d never been– that Strawberry cheesecake is good, terrible stuff.

-Finally, Monday we headed back downtown to take the bus to the Space Needle. Curt, however, was not impressed by the Space Needle, so we went instead to the Sci Fi Museum with a guy that we’d met from Canada (whose name escapes me– sorry Canadian guy with good taste in Sci Fi). That place was actually really awesome. I think it was the first museum I’ve ever been to where I didn’t have to read all the little cards– I more or less knew what movie that prop was from, what that sci fi book was about, and what television show that alien came from. I recognized the Star Trek set and the Fifth Element gun. We had a blast quizzing each other on all the different ships and alien worlds and what media they came from. We only spent about an hour there, but I was very impressed (even if they didn’t have Douglas Adams in the Hall of Fame).

-And Monday evening we jumped back on the plane and came home (with a nice round of Battle for Wesnoth on the way).

It was an incredible weekend. Even now I’m still pretty much overloaded on nerdiness and gaming culture– I have yet to go through all my demos and check out all the crap I nabbed from show vendors. But it was a heck of a time, and I’m so glad I got to do it. We’re supposed to do a podcast tonight, but I should have pictures up soon after that. PAX ’06 may have been extremely nerdy, it may have been smelly, and it may have been extremely unorganized, but darnitall, it was amazingly, extremely, super fun.

Posted on Tuesday, August 29th, 2006 at 6:30 pm. Filed under general.
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