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PAX 2016 – Day 4

Today is not Day 4 of PAX West 2016. I’m a bunch of days late in posting this. I didn’t write it on Day 4, for reasons that will become obvious shortly, and then it kept slipping my mind.

Day 4 started similarly to the previous days. My brother and I were up and out nice and early. Since it was Labor Day, there was neither traffic nor notable contention for parking. The day took its main nose-dive after I got out of the car. I was putting my parking ticket in my wallet when I noticed that both my driver’s license and my ORCA card were missing. I looked around on the ground and did a cursory sweep of my car. Nothing. It’s safe to say that this put me off of my game, quite a bit. Still, there’s no use crying over lost identification (and potentially imminent identity theft). Coffee at Starbucks, a stroll down Pike, and we were once again near the front of the line at Benaroya for the first show of the day, another Q&A with Gabe and Tycho. The line seemed to go quickly, owing largely to my 3DS and the now-nearly-overwhelming number of mini-games in the street pass plaza.

The Q&A was funny, as usual. The Monday Q&As have a very different feel from the Friday Q&As. Everyone is tired. The room isn’t very full. Things are a little looser.

After the Q&A we stopped by the Convention Center to see if anyone had turned in my ID. They hadn’t. So we hoofed it to Pacific Place (again) and grabbed lunch at Mexico Cantina y Cocina. I also checked at Gordon Biersch to see if they found my ID. They said they’d have the manager call back in a bit. The manager never did call, now that I’m thinking about it.

The rest of the afternoon was a bit of a blur. We stood in line to play ReCore at the Microsoft booth. We just happened to be walking by when some room opened up. The line took us about 1hr45min. The game was fun and definitely exhibits its Metroid Prime roots. Lots of toggling weapons for different enemies and quick movements. The real bummer for me during the demo was the jumping puzzle that they threw in. A finicky jump off of a robot, two relatively simple jumps, and then a complex jump requiring a dash, a double-jump, and an air dash. I saw what I needed to do, but I couldn’t get my tired, dumb hands to do it. And any miss meant doing it all again. After I’d missed the last jump a few times, watching my time tick down, with people in line watching me fail, I suddenly didn’t want to play the game as much anymore. Shortly after I finally made the jump, the demo was over and we were back on our way.

We circled a bit more and made our way out and that was pretty much it for PAX for us! The rest of the day, and the following day, were dedicated to chilling out and not standing. Oh, and the following morning I found my ID and ORCA card. They were hiding in a narrow space between my car’s seat and center console.

Until next year!

PAX 2016 – Day 3: Addendum

Another incredibly strong live D&D session from the Acquisitions, Inc. folks, filled with dragons, giants, and a serious inflammation of the urinary tract. There were also rhymes.

PAX 2016 – Day 3

Day 3 is done! At least the in-person part! My brother and I got there early again and lined up in Freeway Park. Throughout the hour and a half that we were in line, a Japanese film crew was working the crowd, getting footage for a Final Fantasy XV commercial. I hope I get to see it, because I was RIGHT up front!

At 10 the doors opened and we walked at a leisurely pace to the Microsoft booth and got in line for Halo Wars 2. When it was our turn we got onto one side of a table with another guy, and three other people got onto the other side. And we played 3-on-3 Strongholds. Strongholds is like many other King-of-the-Hill/Capture-and-Hold gameplay types, except that each location you hold is basically a microcosm of the rest of your base. You can build all sorts of units from it. So it’s really a game type that distills the typical RTS base expansion and conflict conceit.

Each player starts with a base–3 on each side of the map, in our case–and you battle over the 7 bases in the middle of the map. The team to hold all 7 for a minute, or the team holding the most when time runs out, is the winner. The action was frantic, with several of the locations being traded back and forth multiple times during our game. All the while we had a Microsoft representative in our team’s headset giving us suggestions and answering our questions. In the end, our team triumphed, but everyone walked away with a t-shirt and pin.

Then we grabbed lunch at Gordon Biersch and headed back into the Expo Hall. I really wanted to play ReCore, but every time that we walked by the Microsoft booth, the lines were capped. In fact, that seemed to be a common theme after the initial lull in the morning. After walking through pretty much the entire Expo Hall twice, taking a look at the tabletop area in the Annex, and perusing the indie stuff (omg Battletech; omg) we called it a day. Hopefully tomorrow the crowds will be more sedate and we’ll be able to play ReCore and a few other things.

But Day 3 is not completely over! Tonight is the yearly live Dungeons & Dragons game and it’ll be live on Twitch again tonight at 6:00p. I know what we’ll be doing at 6.

PAX 2016 – Day 2

Day 2 complete!

Today’s festivities were brought to you by Blizzard Entertainment. Specifically, World of Warcraft. Even more specifically, the recently-released Legion expansion.

Out of the house by 7:10a, we dropped off Benny at a pet-sitter for the rest of the PAX weekend. He’s happy to go there and we’re happy to be able to be away from the house for hours at a time, potentially late into the evening if something interesting comes up. The rest of the drive into Seattle was smooth and parking was easy. We hit the Starbucks again and got in line in The Queue. This year, and maybe last year, PAX has foregone the old Queue Room construct in favor of a long, meandering queue out into Freeway Park and back. Despite the slight drizzle and some overly-friendly squirrels, I really like the change to an outdoor setting. It’s not as nice to sit down and wait, but the setting is much more soothing. Additionally, it gives all of that space to the Expo Hall to add more goodness.

At 10:00a they let us into the Expo Hall and our party made a beeline to the Blizzard booth where we got in line to play World of Warcraft: Legion. You might be asking, “Erik, haven’t you already been playing Legion for the last several days?” Yes, I’d reply. Then you might continue, pressing the matter, “But Erik, don’t you think that’s odd?” No, I’d reply. Two things make this not-odd. For one, I got to play some Legion intro content with a class/race combination that I’ll probably never play in the game. For two, by completing the demo, I got a neat pin:


I don’t really understand pin collecting and trading. But I appreciate the form factor for pins that are personally relevant.

Because we got done with the Legion demo so quickly, we had time to grab lunch before our next scheduled event. So we headed out to the Seattle Westin and grabbed lunch at the Relish Burger Bistro. This set us up for an easy transfer upstairs to wait for the 1:00p Legion Panel by a number of the Blizzard Game Designers. The panel was really cool for a fan. A little bit of the background and thought process that went into the expansion, some looks forward, and, critically, the announcement of something new.

By the time the Legion panel was done, we were all buzzing with WoW goodness. Rather than risk getting (any more) worn out, we took the positivity and headed home to play some more Legion. Back tomorrow for more time actually playing video games (Microsoft booth, perhaps?) and maybe some tabletop? Who knows! Two more days of PAX have an awful lot of possibilities.

PAX 2016 – Day 1

We just got back from Day 1 of PAX West 2016. Let’s break it down!

First, as background, this is the first PAX in several years that we’ve had passes for all of the days of PAX. Indeed, last year we only had passes for 1 day. When I say that today was probably the most fun day that I’ve had at PAX for a while, it’s due in no small part to this. PAX takes time to digest. Going for one day feels rushed and no matter how optimized your path through it, you’re going to leave feeling like you’ve missed things.

Today we woke up nice and early, since traditionally the Fridays of PAX have the worst traffic and the most difficult parking. Out of the house by 7ish, we had no problem getting across the swanky new 520 bridge and into a parking spot in the main Convention Center lot. When I’m driving to PAX, I always have that lot, the ‘Freeway Park’ lot, and several other lots at shopping centers in mind. They all cost about the same–$30 for a day, or more like $18 for the time that we generally spend at PAX in a day–and they’re all plenty close to the action.

Car parked, we did the same thing that we do every year: we got coffee at the Starbucks outside the convention center on 7th. As usual, they had themed Frappuccinos. And Julie had already guessed the theme: Pokémon! Given the choice between the Eevee and the Jigglypuff, I went with the Eevee, a Pumpkin Spice Latte with Oprah Chai, cinnamon, and caramel. The Jigglypuff sounded good, too–Strawberries and Crème, and some extra add-ins–but I needed caffeine.

Then we made our way to the main attraction of the day (for us): the ‘storytime’ and the first Gabe and Tycho Q&A. Given the chance, we always prefer to start PAX this way. The first is a talk–previously called a keynote–by a gaming luminary. This year it was Amy Hennig, of Uncharted, Jak and Daxter, and, soon, Star Wars fame. The format of the talk was a conversation between Jerry Holkins and her about her career, her approach to narrative, and a bunch of random curveballs. I enjoyed the entire talk immensely, but one moment really stuck out for me. Jerry trolled with a question about whether emergent storytelling has all but obviated the role of author. Hennig’s response didn’t mince words. She went straight for the definition of storytelling, maintaining that what we see with emergent storytelling in games like Minecraft, isn’t storytelling. She likened it to telling someone about your dream: self-satisfying, but ultimately dull for everyone else. I gave a little fist-pump at that response. It’s refreshing to hear someone give an opinion against what might be considered the current gaming norm.

After storytime was the first Gabe and Tycho Q&A. From first few beats of Hustlin’, you knew it was going to be classic Q&A. Lots of weird, random questions in the (blessedly) improved format where the questions are asked ahead of time and placed in envelopes. They also dropped the bomb that Thornwatch–Mike’s board game based on their Eyrewood universe–was being Kickstarted. NOW! They made a great show of bringing out the tabletop heavy-hitters who had been working with them on the game, and they brought up a web browser and clicked Submit. Then they remembered to Accept the Terms and clicked Submit again. Then Kickstarter failed to start the project and they moved on to other things. Even with the hiccup, the Kickstarter was launched and by the end of the Q&A it had already made nearly 70% of its target.

Lunch was at Johnny Rockets. Again, and I can’t stress this enough, eating lunch at the Convention Center is for suckers. Go literally a block in any direction for more options with less wait and better food. Julie met us there and after lunch we went into the Convention Center. Did I mention that this was Julie’s first day of PAX EVER? I’d say that I remember my first day of PAX, but it was 8 years ago and I really don’t. We wandered around the Expo Hall, collecting loot and looking at things, before calling it a day for Day 1. We have three more of these ahead of us. No need to overdo it on Day 1!

Now, after a full day of a gaming convention, what do I want to do at home? Oh right. Pizza and more games!

unintended consequences in New Vegas

I finished Fallout: New Vegas recently. For whatever reason, when it first came out, I couldn’t get into it. This was exceptionally odd given how much I like Westerns and how many hours I spent in the Capital Wasteland. Perhaps the significant time that I spent in Fallout 3 made it harder to love a post-apocalyptic RPG again. At any rate, my character (‘Ace’; ugh) just sat there, collecting dust. Then a few weeks ago I had a sudden urge to play a Fallout game. Read more…

PAX 2015 – Day 4

It’s Day 4 of PAX and we just got home from a frankly exhausting day. Guess I’m just not as young as I used to be.

We started out earlier than usual. Typically PAX is on Labor Day weekend, so the Monday is a holiday. That means less traffic and more parking. But today isn’t Labor Day. It’s just like any other Monday and that means traffic galore! We got out of the house by 7:45a, and the drive still took a solid 45 minutes, but there was plenty of parking left at the convention center when we got there.

The Vader FrappuccinoCar stowed, the first order of business was the Traditional Starbucks Trip. The Starbucks next to the convention center always gets into the spirit of the convention and sells themed drinks. This year’s were a pair of drinks advertising… er… celebrating Star Wars Battlefront: The Yoda and the Darth Vader. I opted for the Darth Vader, which proved to be more pink than I was anticipating. It wasn’t the pinkest Frappuccino that I’ve ever had–I had the Kirby a few years ago, after all–but it didn’t exactly scream Sith. Still, it was a sugary way to start the day.

Once we were sufficiently juiced-up, we headed down Pike, took a left at Third, and arrived at our next destination: Benaroya Hall. PAX has grown over the eight years that we’ve been attending, from a part of the convention center, to all of the convention center, to all of the convention center and some nearby hotels, to its current state: all of the convention center, several hotels, the Paramount, AND Benaroya Hall. Benaroya Hall serves as the ‘Main Stage’ for the largest events at the show, and this morning that meant a Q&A with Gabe and Tycho. We were surprised to find a tiny line for the 11:00a show. Typically those main theater shows have some of the longest lines in the convention, but we were within 20 people of the front of the line. AND there were chairs. I’m not complaining. We sat in relative comfort playing video games until they let us into the theater. The actual Q&A was smooth and funny, but relatively subdued. No doubt this was due to the relatively early hour and the fact that it was the fourth day that they had been doing Q&As and other appearances around the convention. This was also the first time that we’d seen the new format for the Q&As. It used to be Gabe and Tycho would walk out on stage and people from the audience would like up behind mics and ask their questions. This led to a variance in the quality of the questions. Some would be interesting, some would be rambling, and sometimes they would be horrifyingly awkward. Nowadays, they collect the questions in advance. People still get their questions asked, and some of the questions are still a little weird, but the flow of the show isn’t broken up by people too nervous or odd to ask their question succinctly. I’m a fan of the new format.

After the Q&A we grabbed lunch and then headed into the Expo Hall. A few things quickly became apparent:

  1. Great. Plenty of Doom pins. Thanks.There weren’t any games being exhibited that we especially wanted to stand in line to play. This is fine, since there’s plenty to see without playing anything, but it’s still a little sad. Also weird, since big names like Bethesda didn’t even bring any games to the show (although Bethesda still had an enormous booth teasing their upcoming games: Doom, Dishonored 2, Fallout 4).
  2. The last day of PAX is not the day to go hoping to buy some hot merch item. Booth after booth looked cleaned-out, from a merch standpoint. All of the limited edition PAX stuff at the Penny Arcade booth was gone, t-shirts were only available in limited quantities, and the Fallout pin was, as the photo on the right illustrates, sold out. I’m sure the Doom pins were solace, though.
  3. I’m not as ‘over’ my cold as I thought that I was. A day on your feet at one of these conventions is hard on a healthy person. After eating lunch and walking a few times around the Expo hall, up and down stairs, down to Benaroya and back, I’m feeling fairly #rekt. Glad to have a couple of days before going back to work to recover.

That’s not to say that the post-lunch experience was bad! The Expo Hall was quite a bit bigger this year, with the stated goal of increasing the size of the walkways between booths and increasing traffic flow. This seemed to work, mostly. There were a few places where people managed to looky-loo their way to gnarly back-ups, but I didn’t feel like I was a part of a herd of cattle the entire time. A plus! I found a good spot to stand and watch folks play Halo 5 and it looks absolutely amazing. There’s also a lot of VR on display. I don’t think that I could care less about VR games at the moment, but one game in particular looked really clever.

One thing has become apparent with two single-day years at PAX. It’s good to go for more than one day. Unless you can get a really robust plan of things to see and games to play, it takes a day of wandering around the Expo Hall just to get a sense of what’s available. In the past, it’s the second or third day where we really seemed to hit our stride and figure out what we were doing. The first day is always such a sensory overload that it’s nearly impossible to efficiently tackle the entire show. It’s probably just the way that my brain is wired that I’d prefer to know a few things that I plan on doing, rather than finding them organically while wandering the halls, but there it is.

So PAX is over, but our Week of Games is not! My brother doesn’t fly back until Wednesday, so we still have a lot of hours to devote. If you will excuse me…