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PAX East 2010, Part One: Of Panels and Pokewalkers

One quick note before I begin: I’m looking for PAX East cosplay pics on deviantART. If you see (or have added) any over there, please post a reply with a link or links; thanks.

Now, on with the post, which is rather long, even though it’s just the first part. Co-starring my partner in crime; some of you may know him by his old FFVII Citadel handle, Cyrus Dogstar.

Thursday, March 25

Good ol’ Amtrak: It was around rush hour when we left NYC, but at least Penn Station wasn’t nearly as crowded as it gets during the holidays. Our train was late, but fortunately, the delay wasn’t horrible. Settled in once on board in a nearly empty car and started Pokemon Platinum Version. Went with a girl trainer this time, and Piplup as my starter.

Boston: We get in rather late, but the Sheraton’s lobby is packed with geeks chatting and/or playing card games. We check in, and hit the sack not long after arriving in our room. It’s snowing outside. I didn’t bring my heavy coat for this trip—just my scarf—but that was okay, since it turned out that we would not need to set foot outside again until it was time to leave.

Friday, March 26

Before the show opened: After having the most expensive breakfast ever at the Sheraton’s hotel—a breakfast that was tasty, but left me nauseous—we head out toward the convention center, which is attached to the hotel, as well as a shopping mall. There were some restaurants around, a few of which were quite close to the convention center’s entrance, so we keep that well in mind for future meals. Inside the convention center, there’s a lot of people; not just expo goers, but Enforcers with red shirts and black badges, vendors (green badges), press (yellow), exhibitors (pink), and so on.

Picking up our swag bags, programs, and lanyards for our red, three-day passes in the Queue Room, it looked like there weren’t a whole lot of people in line, so we just noodled around for a bit. While flipping through the program and finalizing the day’s schedule, I have a brief chat with a guest from Kill Screen, telling him that I’m looking forward to the first issue, which I had on order. He thanked me and said I should check out Bandland, where said zine, along with others, will be sold. At some point, we checked out the Rock Band Lounge, but not much was going on there. We also got some misinformation from the Enforcers’ HQ about whether we could skip the queue; other than this, the Enforcers did a great job overall.

The Queue Room, part one: Every time we took a look in the Queue Room, the line was roughly the same size. Turns out there was a reason for this. The bulk of the line was behind the wall, in a separate room. D’oh!

Anyway, sometime after lunch, we get in line with hundreds of others. Large screens had a texting whiteboard of sorts projected on them; sending a text message to a certain number would cause said message to display on the board. Neat idea. The doors opened at two.

Journalists vs. Developers: The Ultimate Grudge Match, 2-3PM, Manticore Theater: Being in the back of the line meant a late arrival to this panel, which we chose over the keynote. Still, it was an interesting discussion, with the panelists going over the many frustrations in dealing with—and being—the press. I went up to meet one of the panelists (and one of my favorite game writers) Chris Kohler at the end; I was somewhat nervous, but he was quite gracious.

The Not-So Invisible Hands of Video Game PR, 3:30-4:30PM, Naga Theater: This panel was about, of course, public relations in the video game industry. Another interesting panel, and rather revealing; being a PR person sounds like a tough job. I saw this panel on my own, while Cyrus attended the “Design an RPG in an Hour” one.

Oh, and <i>Pong</i>, too!
Oh, and Pong, too!
Classic Arcade Games: While I waited for the RPG panel to wrap up, I browsed the room dedicated to arcade classics, which was sponsored by the American Classic Arcade Museum. Among the old coin-ops present were four pinball machines, including Buck Rogers and Spy Hunter. Although I was a pinball nut for a long time, I didn’t get to play any of these machines, but that’s okay, as my tastes lean toward newer solid-state machines than the ones present. If there was a Theatre of Magic machine, I would’ve been all over that—always wanted to play that one.

Oh yeah, video games. There were cabinets for Dragon’s Lair, Asteroids, Food Fight, Ms. Pac-Man (of course), and many others. On my first visit, I had a quick go at Frogger. It had been years since I last played it, and it was tough, especially the goal at the far left of the screen, which was always a pain to get to. During my later return trip, with Cyrus in tow, we played a match of Pong, which, unlike the other machines, required a token to operate (it was free, though, as everything else was). My rusty old Atari paddle controller skills helped me there, and I won our match, 15-10.

Storytelling in the World of Interactive Fiction, 5:30-6:30PM, Wyvern Theater: I don’t have much interest in text adventures and interactive fiction, but some of it was interesting, and it was neat to hear about the storylines of the games that the IF creators on the panel make, many of which would be considered unusual for most other genres.

Evening Wanderings: After a quick browse in the Expo Hall before it closed, and no other panels/events that we wanted to attend, we walked around to see what was going on elsewhere at PAX. We saw the row of booths dedicated to tabletop, board, and card games. We checked out Bandland, and I flipped through some zines that weren’t Kill Screen, but didn’t buy anything (yet). The rows upon rows of Sumo beanbag chairs were filled with people playing handhelds, most of them DS Lites, and most of them, undoubtedly, playing Pokemon HeartGold/SoulSiver. Yes, as hinted by my title, there were a lot of Pokewalkers at PAX, and scenes of connections via Pokewalker were a common sight the entire weekend.

One of the places we stopped at was the Console Freeplay room, which served as a sort of lending library for Wii, GameCube(!), 360, and PS3 games. Strolling around, we saw people playing God of War III and Final Fantasy XIII among others, a young boy playing Assassin’s Creed II (which was weird, but at least there was an adult with him), and so on. During our wait, I had a go at Forza Motorsport 3, with the game split between three monitors, and the 360 Racing Wheel in lieu of a controller. Having not driven an actual motor vehicle in over ten years, I was lousy; that the transmission type was initially set to Manual didn’t help either.

Anyway, our turn was up, and we had settled on a game. Instead of checking out separate titles, we went with a single copy of New Super Mario Bros. Wii. With Cyrus as Mario and me as Luigi, we had a good time, with little frustration, but we also weren’t very impressed. Instead of being a special experience on its own, it mainly just felt like Super Mario Bros. 3 with multiplayer. Final consensus: we’ll wait for Super Mario Galaxy 2 instead.

Afterward, peeking in the Steel Battalion room proved impossible, so we walked around the Classic Console Freeplay room instead, which was filled with NESes; a couple Dreamcasts (including a black Sega Sports model); at least one each of the Saturn, SNES, Genesis, PlayStation, and 2600; and even a Vectrex! Very cool.

Coming in Part Two

Queue Room entertainments; fun panels with Bill Amend, Stephen Totilo, and N’Gai Croal; the Expo Hall in depth; the Saturday Night Concert; and more! Stay tuned…