Monday, September 6, 2010

PAX Prime Reflections!


Pax Prime is officially over and several strenuous flights, long drives, and timezones later I've arrived home with a wealth of knowledge and pictures to share.

The convention itself was an amazing experience. The magnitude of the event is hard to imagine until you actually see it for yourself. Massive displays, rooms full of gamers playing console and computer games against each other, and tons of giveaways and swag- are just a few of the defining features of the event.


Before I get into the rundown of my trip, some words of advice imparted to us by the airline... Despite picking our seats online for the flights, we weren't seated next to each other. This was explained to us by an airline representative who let us know that when ordering tickets at a site like Expedia, Priceline etc. the airlines pretty much ignore their seat requests. So if you actually want decent seats, after you order online, call the next day and confirm seats directly with the airline. So that is some free advice for anyone reading this- advice I wish someone had shared with me (you'll see why in the next paragraph...).


I left Thursday afternoon from Philadelphia with Izari from GuildMag and we made our way to Houston, TX where we had a brief layover. I had the pleasure of being seated directly next to a crying, kicking, annoying child for the entire flight- so I can confirm that sitting next to a child on a plane is exactly as horrific as everyone always jokes about it being.


From Houston we shot northwest to Seattle. The flight was devoid of crying children, but I was fortunate enough to sit next to someone who lacked basic hygiene.

Upon arriving in Seattle and meeting a friend, we grabbed a taxi to our hotel. The ride was pretty quick, but ended up costing over forty dollars. So my second piece of free advice- research ahead for methods of travel, since the two dollar light rail that goes from the airport to a few blocks away from your hotel is way more affordable than that taxi.


We arrived at the Hyatt and were sufficiently impressed by our room. It was a very comfortable, and modern space with beautiful decoration and it was extremely close to the convention center (one block away!). An interesting feature in the room was the inclusion of seemingly Asian influences. For example our bathroom had a sliding door with no handle or lock. It was an interesting experience using a bathroom with no lock on it, and while there were no unfortunate incursions during our stay, if you value privacy the room may not have been for you.


For our first night in the city, we decided to go for drinks. However after wandering around for upwards of an hour looking for a bar, we settled for a Chinese restaurant, which happened to be practically the only place that was open.


When Friday rolled around, we were all excited to get a jump on the convention. We rushed over to the Washington State Convention and Trade Center to get our hands dirty. My first impression was "Wow, this place is massive." Around every corner droves of gamers, nerds, and geeks were experiencing the sites and sounds of hundreds of booths showing off the latest games, equipment, and merchandise. The size of the event was truly awe-inspiring.


Our first goal was to check out the Guild Wars 2 exhibit for GuildMag, the community magazine. The group of fans surrounding the GW2 display was intense. We arrived in time to see them showing off one of their much anticipated dynamic events. For those unaware, in GW2 traditional quest text is gone, replaced by dynamic events that you will witness and participate in (or ignore) altering the game world based upon your action (or inaction). The throng of people were glued to the monitors as an ArenaNet representative battled centaurs that were attacking a village. One of the most interesting things for me, the players lucky enough to be using one of the test screens were actually part of the demonstration, fighting alongside the ANet rep. on the giant screen.


The culmination of the battle involved one of the centaurs summoning a massive earth elemental. To say the scene was beautiful would be an understatement. Debris including rocks, dirt, and even wagons begun spinning in a vortex, slowly taking the shape of two massive hands pulling themselves up from the ground. The players immediately sprung into action, unleashing all of their abilities to bring down the creature before it could fully materialize. The scene was truly impressive and certainly inspired some drooling among the fans in attendance.

After the display Izari hung out to wait in one of the lines for a shot to play the game, while I wandered aimlessly just taking in the sights of the event. I grabbed my swag bag and picked up some various pins and lanyards while traversing the crowds of people.


I found out about a chance to get Warcraft loot cards, and I immediately jumped at the opportunity to spin the free wheel. Mt first spin netted me a pinata card, after purchasing some starter decks I earned a second spin and won a Lando's Lootbox card... which I subsequently dropped and lost (/depressed). Interestingly the girl in line after me didn't play WoW and won the turtle mount loot card. So needless to say I bludgeoned her to death with a chair.


We also took a few minutes to check out Two Words II and Battle vs. Chess for Xbox 360. The chess game was actually pretty interesting and it had a ton of mini games to teach new players how to play chess. Two Worlds was a typical hack and slash RPG, but I was impressed with how dense the environment was- loaded with plants, trees, bridges, and fog- definitely a lot to see. Unfortunately the graphics looked like they were from the PS2 generation. After playing we got two of the best looking free shirts at Pax, with the assurance if we wore one we would be able to get two more shirts over the course of the weekend.


Later in the evening we decided to hit up the PC freeplay room (picture a room stuffed with computers and gamers all playing some of their favorite multi-player games across a LAN network). We played some Starcraft 2 and I got destroyed as usual. Eventually we had to leave because they were starting a tournament, so we headed out for food. Outside we got to check out a Dungeons and Dragons display and grab some free D&D themed Jones soda.



Saturday morning Izari headed off to the Guild Wars 2 dynamic events panel where she and the other fans lucky enough to attend got to speak with developers and even potentially help design one of the dynamic events (see photo below, courtesy of Izari).


After I woke up I went back to the convention center and went on a swag crusade. All told I ended up with roughly fifteen shirts. I played The Gig, another game in the Guitar Hero/Rock Band genre, the selling point of this game was that it used a controller that was much more similar to an actual guitar, with strings you needed to hold down and actually strum with a pick. Overall it was actually very enjoyable to play, and felt very rewarding to be playing with something that didn't feel quite so much like a plastic Fisher-Price toy. The selection of music was actually right up my alley too, with a lot of alternative selections.


I also gave a few MMOs a look, playing Lord of the Rings Online and Rift. LOTR was fun to play, although it was pretty typical of the genre so I didn't spend much time on it. As a reward for playing their game, I was awarded some autographed maps and things, as well as the One Ring! I immediately nerdgasmed, fainted and awoke several hours later in a PokeCenter.


Rift was an interesting game mainly for its graphics. As with LOTR it was pretty typical as far as the content, but was a lot of fun to look at. The sky was especially beautiful- it featured what appeared to be shooting stars or comets and a massive burning object in the distance. I walked away with two rift shirts for playing hehe.

I also played the real time strategy game End of Nations. As a fan of RTS games EoN looked right up my alley, but after giving it a shot It was pretty bland.

After gaming a bit we headed back to the room to dump swag, and Izari had to check in for GuildMag on her computer. Plus, we had to get ready for the exclusive ArenaNet party we had received tickets for earlier after we introduced ourselves to the ArenaNet team as members of GuildMag.


We walked down to the Hard Rock Cafe and headed up to a private area where the ANet party was being held. We had some drinks, some free food, and hung out a bit. The party was a great opportunity to mingle and rub elbows with members of the ArenaNet team that are working on GW2. Everyone was extremely personable and obliging of the fans. They signed autographs, chatted about numerous topics, and enjoyed a few drinks.


Eventually Izari and myself struck up a conversation with one of the level designers on the ArenaNet team- Stephen Hwang. We had a great discussion covering various topics. The only topic that was really off limits was the release date. I tried my best techniques to try to pry any kind of inkling about when they intend to release the game, but he was stalwart and unmoving- not even willing to offer a year they hope to have the game done by.

Topics jumped around a bit, he was fun to chat with very interested in hearing about GuildMag. We talked a little bit about the fan mag, gave him our cards, and moved onto talking about where we were from. When we told him we flew across the country to be here, he was sympathetic (being from Boston himself) and went so far as to say he felt we deserved a tour of their headquarters. I think my eyes must have lit up like the sun when he said that, because he added that unfortunately he doesn't have the power to invite people there (damn!).


The conversation switched direction and we talked about how great the game is looking and how he felt the reception had been overwhelming. He was very grateful for the fans they have, stressing that for some reason they have been extremely lucky to have fans that are helpful and compassionate amongst themselves and with the developers. Izari asked if he felt like that vibe would change with the assured influx of new fans based on the buzz about the game. He mentioned that he felt the free to play format also contributed to the quality of the fan base, and that he was very optimistic about the new players.

"Your other MMO doesn't have to be jealous of us."
-Stephen Hwang, Level Designer, ANet

It's well known that the team is comprised of gamers, several that play other MMOs, so we talked briefly about this. His view was very interesting and didn't show any competitiveness towards the other companies. He seemingly embraced their position alongside the other MMOs as essentially an underdog at this point, while still alluding to the complimentary relationship between the games saying, "Your other MMO doesn't have to be jealous of us."

I also took the opportunity to ask him about his impact on the game, and where fans could see his personal touch. He said that as a level designer you really don't get to see your work in the game, but did mention that he had a lot to do with the Ruins of Surmia, (although he was quick to point out that he had nothing to do with Prince Rurik, lol).


Being from Boston, we probed to see if they were going to be at Pax East, (now confirmed by but we didn't get a confirmation. Steve called over another ANet employee to give us a chance to hard-sell them about going to Boston, he couldn't tell us whether they would be there or not, but he was able to confirm they will be attending the New York ComicCon!

After chatting, Steve took us around the room and introduced us to several more members of the ArenaNet team. It was truly a great experience and it felt very cool to be getting such great treatment as fans. ArenaNet truly won points in my book after experiencing the fan friendly atmosphere of their party. And for people wondering, the release date for GW2, in the words of the team, "When it's ready!"

After hanging out awhile, we headed up to the console freeplay room for the remainder of the night, where I tried teaching Izari some Halo 3. I taught her the finer points of being run over by a mongoose, sniped from a ledge, kicked off of a ghost, and teabagged (hehe).


Sunday was our last day at Pax, so we headed back to pick up some swag we had missed, and some shirts we could only get on Sunday. We also grabbed Collector's edition copies of the Rain Slicked Precipice Penny Arcade item that were being handed out at one of the booths. In addition I finished my Pax scavenger hunt to get another shirt.


We used the day to go take a look at the space needle, which I had to see while I was in Seattle. It was definitely worth seeing and taking pictures with, although we decided not to pay the ridiculous prices to eat there.

Izari had a friend from across the Canadian border visit, so I let her use my badge to see Pax for herself, and while the two of them explored I crashed in the hotel room- completely worn out from the trip.

Our last act in Seattle was to go for some drinks and food and say goodbye. We packed our now bulging bags and hopped on the light rail towards the airport. We stopped for a beer at an airport restaurant, but after seeing their prices thought better of it.

From Seattle we headed to Chicago on a miserable, long flight.


We arrived in Chicago Monday morning after skipping several timezones, and from chi-town we flew into Philly and began the drive home. Practically delerious from jet lag I somehow managed to drive us home where I immediatly passed out.

So my Pax adventure has come to a close. It was an amazing experience, and something every true gamer should experience at least once in their lives.


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