Friday, September 17, 2010

Super Massive Awesome Stupid PAX Round-Up

Aah, PAX. The Penny Arcade Expo. We came, we saw, we... got a bit overwhelmed by it all. After talking a good game about how much we'd be writing and posting about the event, we wound up spending the weekend in a state of excited, exhausted, occasionally inebriated geek overload.

Annie spent the weekend taking pictures, so do check those out. Kirk talked a bit about his own take on PAX during Michael Abbot's recent Brainy Gamer podcast, which you should check out, as well as in a lengthy piece for Paste that should be online soon.

We learned so many things - that Annie is better than Kirk at Street Fighter IV but Kirk is way better than both Annie and Dan at Halo. Also, that victory in Halo kind of requires being a dick to your friends. We learned that Annie's dog Gretsch is both a samurai master and can probably read. We learned that despite all of the music that was playing that weekend, Cee Lo Green's "Fuck You" was still earwiggy enough to get stuck in all of our heads for three days straight.

But beyond that, we learned that PAX is an event too large to be summarized in a single post, no matter the number of contributors. But we figured we'd give it our best shot, even if it meant leaving out a ton of things we saw and did. So without further ado: Gamer Melodico's Super Massive Awesome Stupid PAX Round-Up.

Above: Onward to the Expo
Kirk: Okay, so, PAX. Eff me. Here we go.

Dan: Should we do a "By the Numbers" kind of presentation? Because the amount of beer we needed to get us through three days of PAX was nothing short of staggering.

Kirk: I think we just write this thing and try not to spill on my computer. Let me just start by saying: it has been one hell of a weekend. At the moment, Annie's dog probably has more energy than the three of us combined. And yet… I feel ready to write.

Annie: Beer? What about the whiskey?

Kirk: That's also on the agenda. And was on the agenda. But okay. Each of you guys, let's do some word-association.

Annie: I think we should blow up our Dragon Age swords at some point in the evening.

Kirk: Hee, that's what she said.

Annie: Quite literally.

Kirk: We are going to have to edit the shit out of this later. Okay though, seriously, word-association: five words about PAX:

Dan: Packed. Geeky. Drunken. Be-costumed. Exhausted. I mean those all in the BEST possible way.

Annie: Street, Fighter, Camaraderie, Raffle, Farmville. I mean those all in the best possible way except for "Farmville".

Kirk: Lines, Beards, Screens, Coffee, Friends, Escalators.

Annie: That was six words.

Kirk: Okay, I'm not really sure how useful that was. So, Dan, talk about one thing you saw that you really dug.

Dan: Actually, I think just those fifteen (sixteen) words would give a non-attendee a pretty good idea of what the weekend was like. The most intriguing thing I saw was the OnLive booth. And not because it gave me the opportunity to play five minutes of Borderlands. No idea if it actually works, but the whole cloud-gaming thing is definitely something worth keeping an eye on.

Above: BYOC 2010
Kirk: Yeah, it seemed like it worked great. Though yeah, of course it worked great in the huge OnLive booth.

Annie: I think it's going to be interesting to see if this becomes an equalizer for Mac users. I mean, I know many folks think of Mac people as shallow asshole hipsters, and part of that is probably because of the slick packaging, but let's face it—there is some pretty decent hardware there. However, not that many games get ported to OS X. My solution to this was to play all Windows games through Wine in a Linux VM, which can be dicey as hell. According to the OnLive guy though, any and all installations are on the server end, so all the player needs to worry about is the 500 MB client. If this actually works, it would sort of kick ass.

Kirk: For the longest time, OnLive has seemed like one of those magical too-good-to-be-true things to me. If it works, it'll change the world, but... does it work? I know it worked on the expo floor, but of COURSE it worked on the expo floor. When I run it into my house, it'll be another story altogether. That said, once they can get 1080p running and license some good PC games (I'm thinking Crysis here), it could very well become the ultimate console killer. Pricing is going to be an issue, though.

Above: Warren Spector's Keynote was cool
Dan: Anything that reliably lets me play great games in 1080p and sounds less like a vacuum cleaner than my 360 sure sounds like a console killer to me. And yes, Annie, to play games that are more advanced than Chessmaster and Civilization on my Mac would be divine. Pricing was a little outrageous, though, it's true. They need to give incentive beyond just the "games on demand" thing—and charging more for a several-months-old title than what one could pay for a new copy in a big box store ain't the way to do it.

Annie: Yeah, the pricing of most of the titles didn't excite me that much. However, the idea of the Virtual Console Device (or whatever they're calling it) was pretty intriguing. It's basically just a controller adapter, so you don't have to do the mouse/keyboard, or janky pc controller. Because it takes a variety of existing controllers, I'm kind of wondering if multiple people playing from the same machine could use different controllers. Like, say Gretsch and I sit down in my living room to play some Portal 2 co-op via OnLive, and I hand Gretsch a PS3 controller, and she's like, "This is bullshit, I need a 360 controller, or I can't play."

Kirk: Yeah, Gretschersson has the big hands, she doesn't like the dinky PS3 controller. Yet another reason she and I are soulmates.

Gretsch: slkmvaþlmkæfÆKþ.jkzgsmþö0özþxlvzþvkðpsökpsa

Above: Gretscherson
Annie: See, it's hard for her even to type.

Kirk: Though still has the wherewithal to use some Icelandic characters.

Annie: Duh, she's an Icelandic Trollhound. She was probably in the middle of posting on or something. She says she really prefers the offset joysticks of the 360 and likes to know that her controller can take a little bit more abuse. Could I just snag one from my neighbor and hook it up in tandem?

Kirk: I believe that's what they're saying!

So, one thing that I was not particularly impressed by were the offerings at the Microsoft booth. Gears 3 looks fine, but also just like Gears 2, save for the ability to play as the horde in horde mode. That's cool, but it ain't Left 4 Dead. We'll see if the story on that game can actually become something I care about.

Annie: Yes, I was also a bit underwhelmed by most of the Microsoft stuff, especially considering that they had a giant chunk of floor which basically amounted to an exclusive Kinect showroom. Though, if we hadn't braved the masses that were crammed in like sardines back there, we'd have never discovered Drumskulls, an indie game developed by Andrew Laing and his team, who are so indie that they don't even have a name for their company yet. One of the fine fellows at their booth told me that in order to get here, they actually packed everything onto a Greyhound in order to get to Seattle.

Above: But are they ert?
Kirk: Oh man, I loved Drumskulls. I wonder if that's what they're really going to be calling the game? I remember at GDC I got to demo this game called "Rock of the Dead," which was the same concept applied to a guitar hero controller. It was a much more polished game, but there's something about just wailing on your drums to kill zombies.

Annie: Yeah, the thing that I love most about this game is not just that it involves killing zombies, but it completely reuses an otherwise single-purpose peripheral, the Rock Band drumset, which we all know can be a bit awkward to store if you don't keep your living room in Rock Band mode permanently.

Dan: ...Which my wife let me get away with for precisely 48 hours after acquiring the original Rock Band—those were the days. Am I stepping on a kitten if I propose that Drumskulls was kind of a half-baked idea with non-impressive execution? Giving the drum kit another purpose is a worthy undertaking, but was anyone really impressed by what they saw there? A for effort.

Annie: A Greyhound bus, dude! Not even Amtrak! Points for the underdog (geddit? Greyhound? Underdog? - ed.), and maybe when they flesh the game out some, it will have more to it. It was only a low level demo, so not that impressive, but it could be.

Above: Tom Cruise-alike
Kirk: It wasn't like, super-impressive, but it was fun. I enjoyed the scrappiness. Back to MS, I was underwhelmed by Fable III, though maybe it's just because it looks so much like Fable II. I didn't get a chance to find out whether it will answer my ultimate, deal-breaker question: will the world finally stream, or are there going to be loading screens?

Dan: Those effing loading screens. I didn't get any hands on time with Fable III, but what I saw looked like an RTS.

Kirk: Yeah, that was all the kingdom management stuff, which looks neat. Also, the pause screen is cool—you go into this virtual boudoir where you can change all aspects of your character and manage your kingdom without having to return to a central hub.

Annie: That's actually kind of a rad idea for a pause screen. When I think about avatar customization in most games, it is either something where you return to town or have to back out of the game entirely, depending on the system that's in place for dealing with it, which is why my Rock Band avatar hasn't changed clothes in like 7 months.

Above: (Not Dan)
Kirk: Dance Central looked pretty cool, though also wasn't quite as sweet as I was imagining. Some of the ways they use the camera are kinda funny, especially when it projects a psychedelic silhouette of the dancer during the "free dance" segments, but it was still kinda silly. Dan, you got to play it—how was it?

Dan: Yep, I flailed in front of the camera for about 20 seconds, to the tune of Bel Biv Devoe's "Poison." It was, like, the whitest nightmare you ever had.

Annie At least you were brave enough to try.

Dan: In all honesty, it felt extremely difficult, in a way not completely owing to my European ancestry. I later came to understand that I had jumped in on a harder tune.

Kirk: I saw a dude dance to "Hella Good" and he looked... hella bad. (rimshot). But he didn't fail. Also, his girl-dancer avatar was hot, and looked okay even though he was totally eating it.

Annie: I was informed after that "Poison" is a fairly esoteric number, dancewise. I guess you have to warm yourself up with some No Doubt first.

Kirk: Another game that looks really cool is Hothead's Swarm—I had a chance to talk with Joel DeYoung, that game's producer, and it sounds pretty sweet. Basically, the big question is, "How do we make this stylized game super, duper violent without getting too dark?" Anytime you're asking those kinds of questions about your game, I'm probably interested in playing it.

Annie: Speaking of "super, duper violent" minus the "without getting too dark" part, how about Mortal Kombat 9?

Kirk: Ohfuckyes.

Above: Just enough detail for you to get the picture.
Annie: I haven't been that excited about an MK game for a while, because the more recent incarnations have been almost comical. When I saw that iconic sign floating above their booth on Saturday morning, I figured I'd give it a glance at some point, but just for old time's sake. However, when Kirk and I attempted to stroll past, it was rad as hell. There was blood flying everywhere, the graphics were kickass, and then... The Fatality happened. The background went black and the music became really somber, and even though this isn't a huge conceptual change, it just seemed much more foreboding than usual. Like, all the finishing moves were brutal, but Kung Lao's... Kirk, would you care to describe this one? I need to verify that I wasn't hallucinating. It was that insane.

Kirk: I feel like I should put a warning here. Warning: I'm about to discuss the brutal evisceration of a woman by dragging her legs-first through a spinning saw-blade. Fuck, that warning pretty much gave away the whole thing. Uh... it was totally fucked up. And I don't know what's wrong with me, but... it was also pretty awesome.

Annie: I was simultaneously shocked and enthralled. And then I was immediately meta-shocked and enthralled by my own reaction—how weird! In all fairness, this move is applied to any of Kung Lao's opponents... At least they're egalitarian about it?

Above: MC Frontalot got upstaged by Rock Band 2
Kirk: Sure, sure. That's what I'm telling myself. So, the concerts. I gotta say that the best part of the Saturday concert was seeing Gabe and Tycho rock the thunder on "War Machine." I don't know who that was playing drums, but the dude was killing it! Mondo impressive. More impressive, I thought, than MC Frontalot, who... yeah. I'm just not familiar enough with nerdcore to go there, so I'll leave it be.

Annie: The shows certainly boasted an impressive lineup. Although I have enjoyed these a lot in the past, I was much more inclined towards chilling with a small group in the evenings. We met such awesome folks, and it was nice to sort of reflect on the panels/demos/etc and discuss our reactions with each other.

Kirk: By "reflect" I'm assuming you mean "get crunk with."

Annie: Yeah, that too. I think I spent more time in the Cheesecake Factory across from the Convention Center last weekend than I have in the entire 3 years (as of Tuesday!) I've lived in Seattle. I found it amusing that the three of us together couldn't finish one piece of cheesecake, but we probably consumed our combined weight in cocktails. Perhaps there is a separate stomach for this.

Kirk: Yeah, I definitely kept my booze in a separate stomach from my desert food.

Dan: Ugh, no more cheesecake. Dollar for dollar, I bet our beer budget outpaced our food budget by like a 7:1 ratio.

Above: The Constant: Huge line for Portal 2
Kirk: At least beer has some calories, so it's kinda food. Two games I'm sorry I missed out on: first, Duke Nukem Forever (just had to prioritize waiting to see Portal 2, which, as neat as the T-shirt I got was, was an error. Would've way rather played Duke than watched the admittedly awesome Portal 2 co-op). But after the press hour on Saturday morning ended, the line was simply waaaay too long.

Dan: Man, those lines. Having not registered for a press pass, I actually passed up several games I would loved to have seen. Dragon Age 2, for instance—I only got close enough to get big inflatable sword things for Annie and me.

Annie: Which got left behind and subsequently used in a photo shoot the next weekend. Now that it's done, I can deflate and mail them if you guys want!

Kirk: I managed to get in to that one during the media-only hour. Was on the top of my list, and yep; it's going to be a huge leap over its predecessor. I know lots of folks love Dragon Age: Origins warts and all, but the switch really is going to be similar to Mass Effect to Mass Effect 2. I would imagine there will be many who will wind up liking the story from the Origins better (pure conjecture, not based on anything I saw in the demo), but the gameplay in the sequel is so superior and it'll look and run so much better that it'll be tough to go back.

Annie: Backing up for a moment, Duke Nukem Forever! Definitely a big surprise.

Kirk: I would go so far as to say it was THE surprise.

Annie: It was one of the first things I really noticed walking around Expo Hall, and I thought it was a joke until I saw the line. While I didn't play it myself, I got a look at the gameplay, and it's pretty much what you'd expect. I wasn't blown away by the graphics, but there's still very much the feeling of blowing off some macho steam (and I mean that in a good, cathartic way) and general smartassery, with a healthy side of guns and blowing shit up. I mean, I'll probably play it. Gearbox is releasing it on PS3, and this will be the first Nukem title on Playstation since Time to Kill back in the late 90s.

Kirk: The other game I'm sorry I missed: Jonathan Blow's new one, The Witness. Damned crafty artiste, setting up his game with no sign and watching the audience from a corner. I'm half sorry I missed it just because it would've felt pretty cool to have played it. But also, it sounds like a neat game, so it would've been nice to give it a look.

Dan: Can we talk for just one second about the fried cheese curds we ordered at the Night Kitchen? It was a good half-mile walk from PAX, but—hey, Kirk, a little drool won't hurt your computer, will it?

God, can we ever! I can't quite tell whether real cheese curd-eaters in Wisconsin would scoff or enjoy them, but at two in the morning, who cares? As the waiter there said, "People say it's like God cumming in your mouth."
Above: Mmm. Fried.
Dan: Ugh, that line prompted a heavenly loss of appetite. Sorry god, I just don't like you that way.

Kirk: I know, right? The dude said it and I was like man, your service has been great, but... gross.

Annie: I completely forgot that he said that.

Kirk: Evidently I didn't.

Annie: I think the Night Kitchen experience is very heavily dependent upon the waitstaff for the evening. Also, IPA.

Kirk: Mmmm, reliant on IPA. Anyway, closing thoughts?

Annie: Even though PAX has gotten so massive that a good chunk of your time is spent in lines (often times even if you do possess the magic wristband/media badge/know the exhibitor/etc), it still has an intangibly jubilant vibe. Clearly my modus operandi usually involves a healthy amount of snark, but I found that even with the sleep deprivation, I was running on sheer enthusiasm. Or maybe the sleep deprivation was due to sheer enthusiasm. We also managed to avoid hangovers each day, somehow. Which was a plus.

Above: Brainsss
Dan: Preferring not to wait in line, I think I spent most of PAX just marveling at the unbridled geekiness of the entire thing—I don't mean that as a put down, more like a statement of fact. For a weekend, downtown Seattle was just completely overrun with geek culture, and it was somehow... comforting? I told a friend earlier today that it was probably a little like a nudist convention, where all these people who have this quirky thing in common get together and feel free to, you know, let their freak flag fly. Only without all the naked.

Annie: Thank fuck.

Kirk: Word. I'd say you guys have pretty much covered it. I would like to give a shout to all the awesome internet-friends I/we met and got to chat with that weekend: GameCritics's Brad Gallaway, Hothead Games programmer & Above 49 blogger Nels Anderson, Semionaut & generally brilliant gentleman Corvus Elrod, the whole Idle Thumbs crew, and the understated and hilarious game designer and critical writer Matthew Wasteland. Beyond that, I'll just say: Can't wait 'till 2011!

Anything to add, Gretschers?

Gretsch: özvkþxlpsökvzþðp!

Kirk: Yeah, pretty much.

Dan: Mm-hmm.

Annie: Good girl.

See ya next year, PAX!
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