PAX After Action Report

This last weekend I went to the Penny Arcade Expo, so I thought I’d do a quick summary of stuff I saw and did.

There wasn’t a whole lot of advance planning on our part. The girlfriend looked at panels and didn’t see anything that jazzed her. I didn’t get around to looking at the panels. So we mostly went to show up and take in the sights. We had a couple time obligations for things we specifically wanted to do, but that was it.

Friday we headed up there after work. Grabbed a bit of dinner at the mall, far from the throbbing hordes of geeks. It was a hot day and I was lugging around my laptop bag with a few extra items I hadn’t planned on. That sort of colored my evening a bit, since it was also pretty hot out and I was wearing the jeans I had on at work. By the time we got up to the convention it was probably somewhere around 5:45 to 6. We had somehow missed the part about the Expo Hall closing at 7. Still, in that hour or so that we wandered around most of the Expo Hall. We found ourselves standing in close proximity to Wil Wheaton without realizing it a couple times (squee!) and got a chance to play a demo of the Jam City Rollgirls game from Frozen Codebase. It was pretty fun, and I think it’s awesome that derby is getting a game based off of it. Even MORE awesmoe was that I spotted at least one Rat City lady working the booth over the weekend, and some of them might have been players I just didn’t know. Cassassin’s name was pretty clear across her back, the other two women had their back to the wall and I didn’t get a chance to ask their names.

Another neat feature is that it actually involves WFTDA teams, which is probably why Rat City had someone there. I remember Gotham City and Rat City were both in the game. Dawn thinks one of my blockers was even Anya Heels.

The big downside to the derby game for us is that it’s only being developed for the Wii, specifically through Wii Ware. Which I guess is the downloadable games for the Wii. The game didn’t seem like it used a lot of the Wii’s functionality. It could totally have played well, if not better, on the X-Box 360 or PS3. But the game has a Mario Kart sort of whacky vibe to it and we’re thinking they’re wanting to tap into the more non-standard gamers who go for the Wii instead of the hard core nerds who are jonesing for more Halo or Gears of War.

Saturday was the heavy haul. We had a few objectives to try and accomplish on Saturday. We had to make the Wil Wheaton signing at 10 AM. The girlfriend was running a table top game at 1 PM. And we had to check out some games so the girlfriend could write about them through Associated Content.

Saturday morning we saw a late-night tweet from Wil Wheaton saying that he had been up to late and had to reschedule his signing to noon. When we got to PAX I made a point of seeking out the information desk to find out a few things, including a confirmation from PAX staff that Wil Wheaton was actually delaying his signing to noon. They assured me it was at 10, but it would start as soon as people start showing up (instead of having people line up in advance) since we couldn’t actually get there until 10. The Band Land area where Wil was at was not accessible until after the Expo Room opened. And the only way to get there was to get through the Queue Room.

They had a giant room for forming lines. We’d sat in there last year when waiting for Wil’s Hour of Awesome, but now you had hundreds (if not thousands) of the convention chomping at the bit to be the first through the door to check out the stuff in the Expo Halls. So we stand in line there. And wait. Finally at 10 they let people in, we hurry through the convention hall towards Band Land, and are told by one of the door attendants that if we go through the door we can’t get back into the Expo Hall until after 10:30. Which makes sense, but was frustrating. But we bit the bullet and went forward.

And there was a sign on his table saying it was delayed until noon. Just like he’d tweeted.

After that we sought out the "Secret Level" where they had put most of the table top gamers into exile. The girlfriend wanted to know where she was running her game at later that day. After that we killed enough time to get back into the Expo Hall again. We went around and checked out a bunch of stuff, mostly things the girlfriend was interested in. I mean, I’m jazzed as all hell about the new Assassin’s Creed or Dragon Age 2 or Portal 2. But I’m not interested in standing in long lines to try out a game I already know I’m going to buy.

So it was a funny reverse of gender roles where I was tagging along while she checked out all the video games she wanted to try out. We looked at:

Rock Band 3: I tried out the keyboard, which I was pretty underwhelmed with. I used the "normal play" mode rather than the "pro keyboard" mode, which allowed me to play with just five keys. Which really sucked. The friend with us who plays Rock Band drums pretty well thought the addition of cymbals was neat. The girlfriend sang and discovered that the game only tracks four people. If you have more than four people, it starts ignoring singers. Really? They couldn’t tweak the UI to accommodate that?

Power Gig: Fun Rock Band style game that tries to fix a lot of the control problems that you get with RB. Realistic guitar (much like RB3), a sensor-based "air drum" set that reduced the noise you get from RB drums, different mojo powers (equivalent to RB’s Overdrive) and it has an actual adventure story that you played through that wasn’t just "We go from gig to gig to play music." A lot of really neat concepts, but I must say the characters you played were a little underwhelming. No character customization, the characters didn’t move a whole lot compared to RB and the character designs were just "okay." On the other hand, the stages evolved as you used mojo, so that was neat. And there was a Buddha. Yay, Buddha!

– We looked for Instant Jam but didn’t try playing it. It looked like it was just Guitar Hero designed to be played through Facebook. Meh.

Just Dance 2 was a dancing game for the Wii. The biggest criticism I think we had for it was that you didn’t really need to do much more than move your hand. Still, you could have a bunch of people play at once and compete.

Dance Central for the X-Box 360, one of the new offerings for the Kinect, was also pretty neat. It mapped all of your motions and was visually much more appealing that Just Dance 2. But regardless of the number of players, only the primary dancer was the one being rated.

At 11 we got in line for Wil Wheaton, and by 12:10 we got to see him. I am continually impressed by him. He is just an amazing guy. The girlfriend mainly came to give him a crocheted d20 she had made for him. He liked it so much he took a picture and tweeted it right away. He signed one of the books I brought that he had written. Stood up, even though it looked like he was stiff and sore for some reason, so we could get our picture taken with him.

As an illustration of the sort of guy he is: One of the current jokes I’ve been re-using is to ask people at signings what some other person they know is *REALLY* like. It started with a couple of my workshop teachers doing signings at the Campbell Conference, and I decided to resurrect it at PAX. So, when we got to see Jonathan Coulton this weekend, I asked him: “What’s Molly Lewis *REALLY* like?” I’m a huge fan of Molly Lewis, and we missed our chance to have her sign our CD for us. But, unlike JoCo, she was booted off of Wikipedia for not being famous enough. So I figured it would be a little incongruous to ask someone like JoCo what she was like. JoCo laughed and made a joking response to my question.

When I got a chance to talk to Wil Wheaton, I said, “When I was 12, Wesley Crusher was totally my hero. And as an author I find you very inspirational. So, in light of that, I was wondering: What’s Molly Lewis *really* like?”

First off, he seemed genuinely flattered at my praise. I’m sure he hears crap like that all the time, and yet he treated it as though he genuinely appreciated it. And I was sincere in what I said. Though my hero worship of young Mr. Crusher has faded, I was blown away by Mr. Wheaton at PAX last year at just what an awesome person he was and the great thoughts he has on writing.

Secondly, he made it abundantly clear how awesome he thought she was. He talked about how he’s very protective of her because she’s the same age as his son, but yet he also spoke highly about the quality of her character.

I felt like kind of a shit for making a joke out of this. And the sincerity with which he spoke on this made me feel like having his praise is hard won and worth having.

After that the girl ran her game. Dreaming Comics and Games had some gaming tables set up in the Hidden Level, and Geek Girls Rule had organized and sponsored a day of games run by female GMs. My girlfriend was on the 1-4 shift where she was going to run a roller derby game using Best Friends.

I’ve only had one similar experience at a big convention running games, and the only thing I demoed was a CCG. Otherwise all the games I’ve run at conventions have been at AmberCons, where people sign up months in advance to play.

We sat there, ate lunch for about an hour before we got a nibble. And we weren’t the only ones. We had Scott Glancy running Call of Cthulhu next to us, followed by (if I’m correct) Mike Pondsmith running Mekton Zeta. I didn’t see anyone playing with Scott while I was there. He might have had players earlier in the morning, but I can’t vouch for that. Mike had one person express interest in talking about Mekton Zeta. Other games being run, including Cyberpunk and Torg, managed to have only one player at any given time.

At our table was my girlfriend, me (who had no real intention of playing), and a friend of ours who was just hanging out with us. We managed to drag a passing innocent from Canada into playing our game. The idea of the game system broke his head a bit. (“You’re best friends but you all hate each other?”) And he wasn’t very familiar with roller derby. Since we had only four players, we tried to go GM free. Which works well if you have a bunch of people used to indy style games. It’s another thing where most of the players don’t know what they’re doing so they don’t respond to requests of, “What sort of complications can we try and insert into the plot?” the way indy game players might.

The whole thing lasted about an hour. Any hope at gravitas we might have had was lost when we decided that giant spiders were attacking Seattle and only the badassness of roller derby could stop them! Oh, and we had to get Ziggy Stardust to help fight them off, but then it turned out that he was a spy for the spiders from Mars! It was fun but I don’t think it showed Best Friends at its, er, best.

As it got close to 6, we were basically done. We were tired, headachey, stiff from all the walking, dehydrated and hungry. So we left and got sushi. I had plans to go back on Sunday, but I was so exhausted Saturday and felt like I’d seen everything I wanted that I just stayed home. As it was I stayed in bed late and wasn’t really functional until well after noon. Blergh.

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