Up at 3:30am. Showered and at the airport by 4:45. On board a plane heading from Seattle to Detroit at 6:00. Cross three time zones and home a handful of hours later.
PAX Prime 2010, for me, was over a day before the event ended, mostly thanks to the cost of an airline ticket coming back Sunday vs. Monday, but that’s okay. I had a genuinely great time and don’t regret a thing. Well, I do have a few regrets, but they’re mostly the “Why didn’t you get a Fallout New Vegas t-shirt on Friday before they were all out you moron???” variety.
I have to admit that I wasn’t really that excited to go to PAX. Logically, I should’ve been — a fun convention, a personal vacation away from the home, being part of the media, seeing cool games, etc. But I just wasn’t. I think I’ve been swimming through so much stress lately that PAX just seemed like same stuff in a different location. Happily, it turned out to be an uplifting weekend, although it wasn’t as soul-rocking as I think it was for others.
What I didn’t get to see/do
As a gaming convention, PAX is simply huge. There’s no way you can do everything, because so much overlaps. There’s the exhibition hall, the many panels, tabletop gaming, shopping, parties, contests, and so on. Because I was there to represent Massively, my main goal was to hit all of the interviews I had scheduled, which meant everything else went on the backburner. If I got to them, great; if not, that’s how it goes.
So I didn’t get to see about 60% of the games on the showroom floor — some I simply wasn’t interested in, and some had lines so long that it wasn’t worth the wait (like Dragon Age 2 or the laughably guarded Duke Nuke ‘Em Forever). I didn’t play any TERA, Aion, FFXIV or LEGO Universe (although I got a beta key for the last one). I only hit one panel, and had little time to go off and really explore.
The convention atmosphere
I wouldn’t go so far to say that PAX is gaming nirvana, but it is pretty darn close. It was clean, well-organized and everyone had a very pleasant attitude. I found that the developers were friendly to the point of insanity, especially considering how tired they were standing in the same spot for three days talking about the same thing over and over. There were gamers from all walks of life and all types of games, from the Xbox freaks to us MMO geeks.
Having a media badge was… kind cool, I guess? The print on the badge was so small that nobody knew who you represented unless you told them, and it didn’t really grant you any special privileges other than the occasional dev who would go out of their way to shower you with info and swag.
Speaking of swag, I got more at PAX than any convention I’ve ever attended. Seriously, it was crazy. Not every company was handing out stuff, but a lot were, and I ended up with eight t-shirts, tons of buttons, tons of stickers, mints, shampoo, bacon salt (!), lanyards, an inflatable sword, beta keys out the wazoo, comics, a hat, a backpack, Magic decks, other card decks, and so on. It was easy to fall victim to swag greed, indeed. My wife appreciates all of the pens I picked up, as well as the signed zombie photo from Plants vs. Zombies.
There were quite a few great costumes, although not as many as I saw at GenCon. Booth babes were present but not omnipresent — I generally felt embarrassed when I saw how others reacted when they came inside their sphere of influence.
Guild Wars 2 and The Old Republic
I told myself that if I got to play Guild Wars 2 and The Old Republic at PAX, I’d go home a happy man. I am a happy man today, my friends.
ArenaNet — possibly because they’re already based in Seattle — had the largest presence at the show, bar none. They had dozens and dozens of their staff roaming the place, a billboard truck circling the block, free (awesome) t-shirts and bandanas to hand out, several panels, and one of the most popular demos on the floor. They were a very gracious company as well: I was able to get into a nifty designing dynamic events panel (where the smallish audience helped to design an event that will go into the live game) and their Saturday night party.
The one downside of it all was that they had probably 12 or so demo machines on the floor and gave everyone a whopping 40 minutes to play. Now, you can’t complain about that when you’re playing it, but it created huge, huuuuge lines and not just a few people were irked how long it took to get your hands on GW2. I myself stood in line three times — the first two times I had to leave before getting to play it due to appointments — spending a couple hours waiting.
That aside, what I saw in GW2 met my expectations, and I have to say that if that little piece of the game is representative of the whole, we’re in for a great ride. It played smoothly, it was beautiful, and I loved swapping weapons and environmental objects to see how my skill bar would change. I played a human necromancer and went through the beginning area. Lots of fun.
TOR’s booth wasn’t as big as some of BioWare’s other convention booths, but it was decent and quite popular. That demo had a 15-minute limit, and I only got to play once, experiencing the trooper. As with GW2, TOR just “feels” right, and that’s probably the most important thing to me. The animation and movement wasn’t quite on spec, but everything else — the sound, weapon effects, combat flow, quest system, conversations, cinematics — clicked together. It’s not WoW — I’m tired of that comparison — but it is a MMO, and a really well-done one at that. I could fire grenades at robots all day long.
Surprise of the convention: Rift
When we were handed out assignments for interviews, I didn’t think anything about doing the Rift one. I feared — and still do — that the game is somewhat generic-sounding in a huge field of generic-sounding fantasy MMOs, and I had no strong preconceptions about it. But after spending time with the devs and playing an hour or so, I pledged my allegiance to Rift. Well, at least I gave it a couple enthusiastic thumbs-up.
I’m still not so sure that the rift events themselves will be as dynamic and world-changing as the devs claim — I got the feeling that it will degenerate into a meaningless back-and-forth tug of war like Warhammer’s RvR zones — the idea is intriguing. Top that with a visually sumptuous art style and a seriously awesome character building system, and I might actually have to play this when it goes live.
Although nothing at the Turbine booth was new, it was terrific chatting with the devs and CMs, and I’m glad that both DDO and LOTRO had a nice slice of floor space. Turbine also rocked the swag — they were handing out buttons (for all of the games’ classes), autographed posters, free Turbine point cards, the LOTRO soundtrack, and even the One Ring on a necklace that I gave to my wife.
Gazillion had a cool booth, showing off both LEGO Universe and Super Hero Squad Online. SHSO isn’t anything deep — it’s very kiddyish in play — but I suspect that us older folks might warm up to the CCG aspect of the title. They also had a physical card tournament there, and were handing out packs left and right.
Torchlight II looks nice, although I still wish it was the MMO (multiplayer is a nice step in that direction). Lots of Rock Band/Guitar Hero spinoffs were present. People went nuts over the Red vs. Blue exhibit, although I never got into all that (or Halo for that matter), so I just avoided that general area.
Not all booths were equal in terms of design, and a few were just really impressive:
- Bethesda had an awesome post-apocalyptic vibe going on for theirs, with a dinosaur statue promoting New Vegas
- At the center of Rift’s booth dangled a huge greed pod-thing that looked utterly alien
- TRON’s booth looked futuristically cool
All in all, it was an enjoyable convention, and I’ll definitely be returning next year!