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PAX 2008 on Game and Player

PAX 2008

Zach Hines  //  September 8, 2008

This year's Hajj to nerd Mecca.


he Penny Arcade Expo, PAX for short, is a veritable Mecca for nerds, geeks, and dorks of all races, religions, and creeds. Every year disciples of the nerd culture venture from all points within the country, and outside of it, to come together for a weekend of gaming in all its many forms. Whether you play console, PC, tabletop, or cards, PAX has a place for you. Started in 2004 by the creators of the popular web comic Penny Arcade, PAX is a gaming industry event unlike many of its kin. Unlike other industry events that are put on for those in the employ of various media outlets, publishers, and developers — PAX is put on by fans, for fans. Whether you flip burgers for living, are an investment banker, or work for a triple-A developer, all are welcome.

The gang on Rock Band:
Vorsprung durch Technik.
This year's PAX was no different. The only difference was the sheer scale of the event. In the wake of the changes made to E3 over the past couple of years, many people have come to view PAX as the new E3. The increase in attendees is enough to justify such a claim. What started as an event that had 4,500 people in 2004 has grown into an event that drew 58,500 people this year. As a point of comparison, PAX '07 drew 37,000 gamers. It only took standing in the switchback series of lines in a room the size of the convention hall itself waiting to get in on Friday afternoon for over an hour to impress upon everyone there that PAX was growing.

Sins of a sleek getup:
games and marketing
inspired colorful costumes.
Once inside the main convention hall, the idea that PAX was starting to resemble E3 in its scale quickly rang true. I went to E3 in 2006, the year before it became what is today, and I remember many people over the weekend saying, "doesn't this remind you of E3?" Every time I answered in the affirmative. Everywhere I looked out across the hall the booths were larger, the hall was louder, and navigation was harder. While all this may make it sound like PAX is becoming something that was never intentioned, I would counter that it is simply a testament to the growth of the industry and its fans involvement in it. Remember, PAX is for the gamer.

So when I saw giant booths for games like Fallout 3, Left 4 Dead, and Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, it impressed upon me the level to which companies are willing to go to excite their fans and not just the press. The booth for Fallout 3 was perhaps the most impressive. It contained several large statues of game characters, as well as a full-sized Streamliner camper trailer, along with several gameplay stations.

The family that frags
together, stays together.
There was so much to see and do, that at first, it was a bit overwhelming. I got to see Starcraft 2, Dragon Age: Origins, H.A.W.X, Rock Band 2, and many more.

In addition to the game booths, there were merchandising booths galore. I walked away from PAX with 2 shirts I bought, a Red vs. Blue DVD, a Penny Arcade poster, as well as a Castle Crashers figurine. That list however does not take into account all the freebies I collected over the weekend. Freebies, as you well know, are one of the best parts of a convention. Whether it's a shirt, a poster, a key chain, or whatever, if it's free — it's fun.

After wading through the ocean of people and noise that is the convention floor, one could find many other activities to take part in. There were panels to attend, autograph lines to wait it, PC and console freeplay areas, and concerts to rock out at. Nerd culture artists such as the Minibosses, Jonathon Coulton, MC Frontalot, Freezepop, and others were on hand every night of the weekend for fans to enjoy. I personally like the panels best, and have attended many over the years I've been at PAX.

The one time and place
you might not mind
getting rushed.
This year I visited the keynote speech which given by Ken Levine, best known for games such as System Shock 2 and Bioshock. I stayed after that for the first Q&A session for Penny Arcade creators Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, which is always good for a laugh. Then after that I attended the panel put on by the Red vs. Blue guys. If you have been to PAX before, and never attended one of their panels, you are completely missing out. I would dare to venture that the creators of Red vs. Blue are just as funny, if not funnier, out of character than in.

I think that perhaps the most impressive panel I visited was the panel for two of Ubisoft's upcoming new games, Prince of Persia and Far Cry 2. Both games had a speaker present the game and discuss features as well as their respective artistic styles. But the most exciting part, was watching both in action. The first modern day Prince of Persia is one of my favorite games. Since the first screens of the new game, titled simply Prince of Persia, were made public I was immediately enraptured by the art style being used for the game. Then, after seeing it in action at PAX, I can easily say it is my most anticipated game for this year. I can't wait. Then we got to see Far Cry 2.

The most impressive panel
I visited was Ubisoft's.
While I wasn't a huge fan of the first game, I really enjoyed the map editor. After watching both campaign gameplay as well as the speaker tinkering in the map editor, I can say that Far Cry 2 could be an absolutely amazing FPS. I could go into the merits of both games further, but then this article would drag on.

PAX is an amazing time for gamers of all kinds. There is something for everyone there. If you've never been to PAX, I would highly suggest you make an effort to attend. What is more, starting in 2010, there will be an east coast PAX held in Boston in addition to the one in Seattle.

Passerby had plenty of miniatures
to gawk at.
Both events will be held six months apart, so there will plenty of opportunity in a calendar year to get your nerd on. Unfortunately, like all great things, PAX this year was over just as soon as it began. After that, it was back to business as usual. But so much fun was had over the weekend with all there was to see and time spent with friends that you wish you could see more often, that the memories carry on. It was so much fun, it's hard to be bummed that it's over.

Besides, I got engaged to my amazing girlfriend who loves games as much as I do at PAX this year. How cool is that?

Articles by Zach Hines


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