PAX East 2010 Roundup

Short form: We had a fucking fantastic time.

Long form: I am not a big fan of cons and I don’t attend gaming cons. I have never been a big enough tabletop gamer to want to dedicate my entire weekend, plus a drive, plus hotel, plus food, to tabletop gaming. But since I was about ten, I have wanted to go to a video game con — any video game con, anywhere. For years I devoured the coverage of E3 until it became so tepidly lame that it finally died. I would have gone out to Seattle to PAX if I could have swung it and the moment I heard there was a PAX East, we had tickets. I bought tickets three hours after they were announced and sat on them since September.

Video games are my primary nerd-dom, followed by (indie) comics, then indie music. PAX is awesome. Main passion is video games? PAX. Like comics? PAX. Into card and board games? PAX. Want to spend your entire weekend playing D&D 4th Ed? PAX. It is a pinnacle of nerd fury.

We drove up to Boston and stayed in the Sheraton Boston attached to the Prudential Center which also housed the convention center so we never went outside. I wasn’t a big fan of the hotel — the room was tiny, the bar sucked, everything was overpriced, and they tried to buy me out of my room the moment I arrived. (Um, no? How does NO grab you.) But we spent very little time in the hotel.

PAX East 2010 had a problem with underestimating the amount of space needed for all the panels and activities/people, so everyone got real friendly and there were problems with space and seating. Without dedication to the entire convention, it was very difficult to get into many of the main events. We already know that next year it is moving to bigger facilities for demand but once we figured out that getting into major events meant waiting in lines, we dedicated ourselves to waiting in lines.

Some of our high notes:

Wil Wheaton’s Keynote: It’s online (search YouTube for ‘wil wheaton pax east.’) It was a pitch-perfect speech that addressed getting Old and still being a Geek.

Saturday Night Concert: If we were going to do anything while we were in Boston it was see Internet Troubadour Jonathan Coulton perform live. We nearly killed ourselves getting guaranteed seating. We stood in the pre-line for the line to get the wristbands so we could get in the line. We were not disappointed.* The highest point was the performance of Mr. Fancy Pants on a Zen Drum hooked to Logic Pro. Seriously. Make with the clicky.

Also, if for some reason you don’t know or listen to Mr. Jonathan Coulton and you claim to know me, click the above and exchange money for music. Or go to the old Thing a Week and listen to some of the tracks and then buy CDs.

Eric met MC Frontalot: What else do I have to say? Eric had the MC Frontalot demos off the website and wanted to exchange money for CDs. And completely unbidden, every CD cover got signed and Eric got a signed poster. It was awesome. You should totally buy a copy of the new LP, Zero Day. It has Jhonen Vasquez cover art! A bonus XKCD comic just for MC Frontalot! A song about Kingdom of Loathing! I don’t like hip hop but even I like the CD.

Steel Battalion: I would have nothing to do with this incredibly wrong game but we had to watch a match. We had to. Steel Battalion is a game for the old XBOX that required this enormous 40 button controller and was a “complete power suit simulation.” They had 10 machines all lashed together on a LAN to play tower defense games. It was insane.

Apples to Apples: We couldn’t get into the MC Frontalot concert on Friday night, so instead we discovered we could actually check out board games and card games. We met another totally random group of guys and played three hilarious rounds of Apples to Apples for an hour and a half. It summed up the entire con for us: people were on the whole awesome, people were looking for other people to play with, and you could hook up with total strangers to play games. (I also bought a Fluxx deck finally.)

The Rock Band Lounge and the Handheld Lounges: The Rock Band Network took over a room and turned it into a faux-bar with beanbags and chairs and had people get up on stage and make total jerks of themselves playing Rock Band. If you didn’t play on Expert you were booed! Best run of the con were the guys who played Iron Maiden — total props to you guys. You know who you are.

The best part were the long hallways covered in beanbags. Anyone could just go collapse with a handheld or a laptop on a beanbag for a while. Two huge hallways had beanbags on two floors so there was always a beanbag free. This was just brilliant — if you collapsed from just tiredness you always had a place to go.

The EXPO Center: I thought the Expo was too small — and we already know it will be bigger next year — but most of the booths had playable demos. I saw Puzzle Quest 2 with the big upgraded interface, so once that comes out nice knowing you guys. I saw tons of really compelling tech from the huge upgraded video cards to the tiny portable gaming rigs with 12 hours of life to the full six-string guitar controller/trainer for the XBox 360. (They gave me a free t-shirt — there were free t-shirts everywhere.) The new Rockstar game looks fantastic. Big downer though: I couldn’t get into the Civ5 demo.

I still seriously want that gaming table/dining room table.

Awesome people: From the guys who played Apples to Apples with us to the guy who told me the horrors of trying to win a Mario Cart DS tournament (avoid the blue bombs!!!) to the guys who let me watch their Mafia card game to the guys who demo’d their insane D&D4th edition flat-screen table with minis, everyone was just awesome.

Friends! We saw Chris and Jen, and I had lunch with Mark, and then we had a great meal with Mark and Eleanor. We will see you guys at the end of May!

Despite scheduling issues and having real difficulties getting into panels and that we are so sore, I am intending to buy our PAX East 2011 tickets the moment they go on sale in September. For the first year, it was great, and it will be guaranteed to be better next year.

I do have a photo archive up. They’re not the best pictures but they’re something.

* We had a backup plan if we couldn’t get into the concert. Freezepop was playing at the Harmonix Showcase just outside the convention center.