Seattle: Pax 2009

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Before I dive back into work, here’s a recap of my first Penny Arcade Expo.

Cowabunga! Strategic Game Design The Prince "Felicia Day is here with us... in spirit"

I got to PAX late, and missed Ron Gilbert‘s keynote (which I heard was good). I attended Geoffrey Zatkin‘s talk on Strategic Game Design; what his company does is gather data on all published game titles (including sucky ones) and study trends. It was very interesting to see what actually sold and why. (Did you know, for instance, that games with _just_ trailers sold incredibly more than games with demos, or games with trailers and demos?)

I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the Expo Hall (where all the indie / big-ass games were, of course), and capped the night with the Guild Season 2 screening and panel. (I’d never seen the Guild before this – and those guys are hilarious, even in real life!)


Star Wars: The Old Republic Gabe and Tycho Make a Strip: Part 7 Smuggler class Freezepop

My first Saturday panel was about Women in Gaming; it got me thinking about my role as a female Filipino game developer and why I need to keep doing what I’m doing. (I wrote a pretty long entry in my journal about it, but it’s self-serving, so I won’t post it up ;). (It must be noted that I was late for the panel because I had to stop and do a photo-op with a couple of Jedi.)

I played a demo round of the board game Last Night On Earth, which I enjoyed! Then I lined up in the Queue Room, which is a snake-like line of hundreds of gamers, to watch Gabe and Tycho make a strip. (If you’ve never read Penny Arcade, please take a minute to do so now.) Gabe and Tycho are as hilarious and obnoxious as their 2D counterparts ;D And watching them draw/write a comic in real time was really cool.

To my dismay, I had to queue up _again_ to attend the real highlight of my PAX, which is the Star Wars: The Old Republic live demo. But the long wait was worth it. Sith. Lords. Are. Love. And even the bounty hunter and smuggler classes are love, too. Actually, I loved it all.

My last panel was an academic talk by Daniel Gronsky, Ph. D, on “The Aesthetics of Play Control: The Role of User Interfaces in the Ongoing Discussion of Video Games as Art”. It was a very interesting talk that spawned a lot of smart questions; I spent 30 minutes afterward discussing the differences in control and interface design with a couple of developers. I was the only one from the casual games industry (of course) so I was a bit of the odd one out. (“Oh, well, for us it’s quite different, because our users only like to use the left mouse button…”)

I capped the night with Round 4 of the Omegathon, which was (awesomely) Rock Band: The Beatles. The game eliminated four Omeganauts instantly. Then I watched Freezepop, and they are surprisingly tight, and expectedly geeky. (It should be noted that a male gamer, who pretended to be a raffle winner, got up onstage during the concert to propose to his girlfriend in front of all of us. Naturally, she said yes! Ah, love.)

I didn’t really attend the third day of PAX (save for a photo op with Master Chief – photo to follow) because I went to the Bumbershoot festival instead; I’ll cover that in a separate post.

All in all, a good weekend, and I don’t think I will ever see that big a number of gamers gathered under one roof again. Because I like lists, and I only found one previous blog post that had useful advice for me, here’s what I learned from my first PAX:

Tips For PAX First-Timers

  1. Get your pass mailed to you in advance. If not, you have to line up in this rumored four-hour line. Since I wasn’t from the US, I had the pass mailed to my sister’s address.
  2. Bring a sweater and an umbrella, all the time. It rained.
  3. Prepare for boredom. The lines are really long – 20-30 minutes for a regular panel, depending on how popular it is, and easily more for the big ones. They close the doors when all seats are taken, so it’s better to be early just in case. Everyone was using their DS’es and netbooks – I should’ve brought a book!
  4. Reserve your place. The shitty thing about going alone is if you’re in line in the Queue Room, and you need to go to the bathroom, you need to figure out where you were again. This isn’t a problem if you’re lining up with friends, but since I was alone, I had to ask strangers to hold my place, and then pick them out later in a sea of unfamiliar faces. (By the way. people will grumble at you when you try to get back in, because they think you’re cutting the line. Ignore them. Calls of nature are more important.)
  5. Bring a bag for swag. They’ll give you paper bags just in case you don’t have one, but they’re enormous and everyone hated carrying them.
  6. Get a place nearby. Something I learned from GDC is to find the nearest little rentable place – mine was a small apartment that I found on, a 15-minute walk from the convention center. It was extremely useful, because I could go home, drop off swag, grab a jacket, and go back to PAX without missing anything. Plus, no fees for transportation!
  7. Grab the photo op. If you want a photo of/with something, do it immediately. Cosplayers disappear; mascots move; and the truth is, everyone in PAX has no shame. Just go and do it. (This applies also to wearing funny hats / grabbing swag / doing crazy things for contests.)
  8. Make friends. This was easier said than done, for me; while I had no problem talking with people @ GDC, here people just looked at me funny! But a few were pretty nice. The guy in front of me in the Freezepop line, Ross, went out of his way to chat me up, and we ended up keeping each other company during the entire gig. It was much more fun than watching alone.

Would I ever go th PAX again? Maybe. I’m still not entirely sure that the expo is my kind of thing – I may be the wrong target market. But, I am very glad I went. It’s something every gamer should experience at least once. (In my case, once might be enough πŸ˜‰

P.S. All my PAX/Seattle photos are here. Enjoy!


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