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PAX East: They Might Be Giants

Brasse -- 2010-03-30 08:07:17

I just got home from PAX East. This trip has helped me determine that Boston is, in fact, on the other side of the planet. I am pretty sure that I could have flown to Pakistan in the same amount of time.

Pax East is all about Penny Arcade... and a buncha other people, and games, and music. But let's focus on Penny Arcade for a sec.

Things most normally maladjusted comic artists have in common are: fear of failure, an overabundance of angst and a quivering bowlful of green jealousy jelly that we wallow in when some other strip makes good.

You can't make much gooder than what Mike and Jerry (a.k.a. Gabe and Tycho) have achieved with Penny Arcade, and so I am all set to instinctively hate their guts. Only they make that damn hard by being genuinely nice, terrifically funny, supportive of charities, helping grandmothers, being kind to small animals... and to top it off, they throw a giant party for the games industry and invite everyone in the quadrant. Bastards.

This was year one for PAX East, and it was my first experience at any PAX Show. I was kindly invited to sit on the Community Relations panel by Meghan Rodberg (Turbine), after she ran out of people on her A-list. Ok, so I volunteered; given Boston's proximity to Pakistan as mentioned above and in conjunction with the recent economic downturn, folks can't afford to travel to the other side of the globe these days. So, C-list standing notwithstanding, I said hell yes, count me in... and I couldn't wait!

The panel was on Sunday, giving me time to peruse the exhibition halls and catch a few of the sessions. I have done a great many trade shows and conferences over the years, so for me, going to a new show is probably akin to Gabe and Tycho loading up a new console game. All eager anticipation, wrapped in stiff jaded coating. We wanna love, but we're ready to hate.

The exhibition floor was very good. Small, but with plenty of top notch exhibits. Crowded as hell. I assume hell is crowded, based on my immediate group of acquaintances, most of whom are heading that way.

I tried taking some pictures of the exhibits, but mostly what you can see is a wall of geeky humanity with a few corporate signs desperately gasping for air above them. Whomever invested a booth was sure to get their money's worth in exposure, because the gamers were out in full force. Rock Band took over an entire bar downstairs, which was a fantastic idea, allowing them to crank it up LOUD without disturbing other exhibitors.

There were a lot of opportunities for gamers to partake in organized bouts on consoles, MTG, D&D or even to haul their own computer systems in to play... whatever it is they have on their own systems.

There were several bands on site, and while unknown to me, they sounded pretty darn good. I caught parts of concerts on my way to and from other events. By the way, sessions went on till 2:00am on Friday and Saturday.

I am too tired to look up numbers, but I am sure that PAX East will happily publish them, as a way of saying, "Dude, look what you missed by not bringing your stuff to display!" Heck, I was half tempted to break out the laptop, scrawl a sign in marker and set up Pox Nora demos on one of the lounge area tables for SOE, but I'd hate to run afoul of the Enforcers.

Oh yes, the Enforcers: the best organized volunteer crew of all time. I talked to one Enforcer while waiting for the Future of MMOGs panel, and she explained that they are in constant contact by texts, and that their organization and training is built around year-round forum interaction. The "uniform" is the official red t-shirt. They must ensure that the PAX East logo is visible on the front, and that "ENFORCER" is fully visible on the back... the rest is up to them. This resulted in some very funky outfits and even some roleplay: a dozen different kilts, partial sets of armor, mafia hats, Cthulu accessories and more. When I start up my own private city-state in the hills above San Diego, I will hire these people to be my militia. If they can stop rabid gamers from cutting in line at PAX, they can stem the outflow of starved city-zombies after the Apocalypse hits.

Speaking of lines, these were the perennial downside of every... single... aspect of PAX East. Not just lines, massive, hours-long lines modeled after waits in the DMV, and the same reason I no longer attend sessions at ComicCon. I despise giving up TWO FREAKING HOURS or more to take in ONE hour-long session. PAX has one-up over ComicCon in that they clear rooms between sessions, so that bugger with the cooler of food that also houses a porta-potty can't camp the room all day. Still, lines suck and I was only able to attend six sessions as a result.

These same lines were also the reason I could not get my boss his coveted Will Wheaton autograph. I was either in a line already, or the Will Wheaton signing line had been closed by the time I got to it. I'll have to explain my failure to my Master tomorrow when I am back at work.

I may be channeling Simon Cowell here, but I am sorry to say that three of the six sessions I attended were boring, self-indulgent, unfocused, largely off topic and a complete waste of my time. I am quite sure that this has to do with my routine luck with the Random Number Generator, which works the same way on my in-game loot rolls, but still... please ye gods, give us evaluation sheets like we get at GDC so that I can provide ratings and 2,300 words of polite, constructive criticism.

I actually left one session well before it ended, because the topic, "Traversing the Twitterverse," after a very brief introduction by the panelists, was turned over to questions from the floor. As fate would have it, Fourzerotwo of Infinity Ward was on the panel, and most of the "questions" revolved around the various ways in which the studio completely ruined Modern Warfare 2, in great, forum-troll-worthy ranty detail, complete with unreasonable demands and dissertations on how they could've/should've done it better. This without even pretending that the query had anything to do with Twitter.

One idiot posing this sort of question is par for the course, but even though he was thoroughly booed by the audience, by the time I left, half of the questions followed the same tack. A moderator or even an Enforcer should have been politely deflecting those questions to another time and place as soon as they were uttered, perhaps accompanied by a solid thwap upside the head. Instead, these rants were allowed and even answered at some length. To be fair, the catalog description for the session did end with, "All this and whatever else you come with: itís all FAIR GAME!" But it wasn't about Traversing the Twitterverse, so I traversed the floor to the exit.

I certainly won't rate the panel that I served on, "Community Managers: More Than Just Forum Monkeys," except to say that Meghan, long a respected Senior Community Manager at Turbine, is also a good moderator, which is a joy for any panelist. She had sent a series of questions and discussion points well in advance, so we were able to stay pretty focused. She also ensured that we met early that morning and had coffee. Again, that helps focus and ensured that we were on site well in advance of the panel itself... and less hungover than if we'd showed up just five minutes before the doors opened.*

In that Community session, I was really part audience as well, and enjoyed hearing the viewpoints offered by Morgan Romine (FragDolls), Aaron Trites (Harmonix) and Jess Folsom (Bioware) as well as Meghan's own comments. I was quite proud to represent the Community Team for Sony Online Entertainment; we are among the largest Community Teams in the industry and therefore have a unique perspective on the field. I know that the panel talked and answered questions for a good 45 minutes, but it seemed like ten at most. I had reams of notes still to cover! REAMS!

I heard that due to the overwhelming success of its first year, PAX East may move to the much larger convention center in south Boston for next year. Dare I hope for shorter lines?

If change is in the air, I'd also like to humbly suggest that they move it to April, because trying to hail a cab at 2:30am in March is a sure way to catch your death of icy wet cold in that city. Yes, I must give up my Canadian citizenship - I just can't handle that sort of weather any more.

In the meantime I'll make sure my passport is up to date so that I can once again travel to that far off, distant land known as Massachusetts. It even sounds foreign.

Well done, Penny Arcade! You earn all your kudos.

;-)#
Brasse
Opinionated Travelin' Dwarf

*I blame Dave and the rest of the Fallen Earth crew for the previous night's imbibing.

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Re: PAX East: They Might Be Giants

Devan -- 2010-03-30 12:51:26

Don't worry Brasse. I like reading PA, but your content is more personal and usually more meaningful. Just keep doing what you do :)

Also, that's a good read about the convention. I've never been to such a large conference of that sort, but will be attending GDC Canada this year, so have to get prepared.

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Re: PAX East: They Might Be Giants

Tyraenna -- 2010-03-30 17:39:34

Nice comic. Glad you enjoyed the convention ... I enjoyed PAX 07 when I went. My most memorable moment was attending a big event where Jerry and Mike were answering questions, and Tycho sang his song, "My Belruel" at the request of someone in the crowd. Think he wrote it with the Jam Sessions game on his DS or something. The song has stuck in my head all this time since.

I think Quin and I do intend to go to PAX again someday (though we will make the long trek to Seattle and hassle Tor and Norjia at the same time). We talked about going this year, but alas the Seattle PAX is the same weekend as DragonCon ... hard to NOT attend one that is local to Atlanta. ;)

I LOL'd at your comment about most of your immediate aquaintances being destined for a certain realm located at least 6 feet under ...

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Re: PAX East: They Might Be Giants

Erebethor -- 2010-04-28 12:12:07

Ach weel, at least you can warn us of the coming Apocalypse's date so we can run to the hills :D Penny Arcade is decent, but on the whole you get more laughs from me and my mates. Fact is, people with good taste are only fashionably in the majority (along the same lines as fashionably punctual)
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