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PAX East 2010, Part Two: Musical Interludes and More

Here’s the second part of my PAX account. By the way, I’ve started that photo gallery on deviantART, but I’m still looking for pics. Thanks again!

Saturday, March 27

The Queue Room, part two: Day Two. We picked up breakfast at Le Bon Pain, then headed to the Queue Room once it opened. There’s quite a bit of line already, but we’re still in much better shape than we were the day before (the plan was to get wristbands for the evening’s concert, which we did).

On the large screens, the text messages disappear after a short while and is replaced by green text on a black background. A mystery typist was speaking to us, and as would be made clear later on, these messages were not the work of a mere machine. The typist introduced a series of games, played via text message, whose participants could win fabulous prizes. The games included trivia, Boggle, and a story generator, where one could decide the fates of Mario, Pac-Man, or Aeris (spoiler: Aeris always died). There were also polls, including ones to vote on what infamous internet video to watch; the underwhelming “Magical Trevor”, the always cracktacular “Yatta!” music video (after which, one of the queue members bemoaned, “Why would you want to watch that?”), and “It’s over 9000!” were some of those that I remember as being chosen. All this, including the message board, was put together by Get In Line Games and made this queue, as well as the ones that followed, a bit more entertaining.

Greetings From a Dead-Tree Dinosaur Cartoonist v1.1, 10-11AM, Manticore: FoxTrot‘s Bill Amend was the main feature here, and the event was crowded. Turns out that the Main Theater line in the other wing of the Queue Room was closer to the Manticore Theater than the Event Hall line, which we were in. Oh well; at least we got seats.

It was a very entertaining presentation. After a rundown of his geeky background, Amend showed several FoxTrot strips, most of them featuring Jason, the Fox family’s resident geek. Among my favorites was a single-panel Sunday strip which I think I’ve seen before: Jason and his friend are sitting outside, in the snow, playing video games on the couch, while his mom says something along the lines of, “This isn’t what I meant when I said, ‘Play outside’!” The Dungeons and Dragons-related strips were also memorable; some I remember were one that combined DnD with fantasy football, and a series where Jason plays DnD with teenage sister Paige on a rainy day.

One of the strips Amend showed toward the end was a special one created for The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade and involved Gabe, Jason, and cardboard tubes. Good stuff. Also, Amend had us wave to his camera; that pic’s now up on his site! As the talk wound down, we dipped out a tiny bit early to get in line for…

Kotaku and Croal: In Search of the Best Games Ever, 11:30-12:30PM, Manticore: Another long line, and again seated at the back. This panel featured game journalist Stephen Totilo and game journalist/consultant N’Gai Croal as they played a game to determine the ten best games of all time. Using the top ten games as listed at GameRankings, they took this list to various game industry people and said they could change the list in one of two ways: 1) by removing a game and placing a new one in the same position, or 2) by swapping the positions of two games already on the list. Joining the two journos on stage were three industry people, who commented on the changes made by the likes of Peter Molyneux and Jade Raymond.

It was an entertaining panel, with a boisterous audience. I can’t do it justice with a short writup here; fortunately, Totilo himself has. Check out the Kotaku story In Search Of History’s Best Video Games: Canon Fodder, Season One. Oh, and we missed the 13th turn, having dipped out a little early again. However, unlike the previous time, we didn’t have anywhere we had to be, so… lesson learned.

Memes, Microcultures, and 2D Chicks, 1:30-2:30PM, Wyvern: After lunch, we went to this talk, which was given by MIT researcher Alex Leavitt. It started with a basic rundown of memes and how Westerners create and apply them, with the Xzibit meme presented as an in-depth example.

Things shift to Japan. We’re told about how different the game market is over there, with visual novels being given as one major example. Discussion of the doujin game Touhou Project ensues (also, the terms “doujinshi”/”doujin” aren’t even brought up; maybe Leavitt thought it not necessary?), which is followed up by the arbiters of one of the best-known of the recent Japanese memes, Vocaloid and Miku Hatsune. Regarding the latter, I didn’t hear anything I didn’t already know, and was surprised this wasn’t treated more in-depth, particularly when it comes to fan-created additions (the leekspin being the major one) and fan characters like Black ★ Rock Shooter who have since become official merchandise. All in all, the talk could’ve easily been twice as long (with the brief look at visual novels, I would’ve liked to have seen Tsukihime brought up), but it was a concise introduction to the basics. Just wish the conclusion was a bit tighter, though I did like how we were sent off.

The Expo Hall: With not much else to do before the concert, we did more browsing in the Expo Hall. Upcoming games we had little to no interest in such as Red Dead Redemption, Mafia II, Crackdown 2, and APB had a huge presence at the event, as did a couple of games Cyrus was mildly intrigued by (Skate 3 and Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands) as well as one he’s really looking forward to (Civilization V). Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to get a look at the latter on this day, though someone working at the 2K Games booth told him how he could reserve a slot for Sunday.

We walked around and watched other people play games, mainly the aforementioned Prince of Persia and Skate sequels, as well as The Behemoth’s newest work, a neat-looking multiplayer platformer which I have just now learned is called Battle Block Theater. We also browsed a booth selling Magic: The Gathering cards (I don’t play; he does), and I thumbed through many, many cheap GameBoy carts at the Digital Press booth.

The Queue Room, part three: Another queue, another fun line. This time it was for the evening’s musical entertainment. As usual, card games and Nintendo DSes were brought out to pass the time, and again, the mystery typist entertained us and asked the crowd to answer polls and play games via text message.

When the doors opened, Queen’s classic “Bohemian Rhapsody” had just started playing in the Queue Room. We marched out into the hallway, still singing along despite the fact that we couldn’t hear the PA anymore. Just imagine an orderly crowd of hundreds of geeks, all walking to the Main Theater singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” in a large hallway, with others on the sidelines looking on, doubtless confused (or amused). Good times.

Saturday Night Concerts, 8:30PM-1:30AM, Main Theater: The opening act consisted of the remaining eight Omeganauts of PAX’s Omegathon gaming competition, as presented by Gabe and Tycho. This time around, the Omegathon was a team battle; altogether, thirty-two gamers competed for a trip to two to the Gamescom convention in Germany. The first round game was Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, the second, Geometry Wars 2, and on this night, the third, Rock Band was revealed. After pausing on a few songs in the menu, including “Eye of the Tiger” and “In Bloom”, Tycho settled on his awesome track of choice: the Kenny Rogers classic “The Gambler”. The first team performed, then the second was brought on; they failed early on and were given another chance, and ended up winning this round. The way both teams’ vocalists started, I wondered if they were at all familiar with the song, but they found their footing by the time the chorus rolled around. The five thousand of us cheered them all on, which I hope quelled at least some of the stage fright they may have had.

Next up was the Video Game Orchestra, and though they were working with a chamber arrangement, they gave one hell of a performance. Faithful renditions of “CHRONO CROSS ~Scars Left By Time~” and Super Mario Galaxy‘s “Wind Garden”, and medleys of Chrono Trigger and Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island music were among the pieces played; there were also ones from Castlevania, Silent Hill 2, and the Final Fantasy series. Their performance ended with a piece I never thought I’d hear live: Metal Gear Solid 3‘s “Snake Eater” (the vocals were iffy in places, but otherwise, it was great). For the encore, the group’s Final Fantasy VII “Fighting/Bombing Mission” combo was performed for the second time (unfortunately, this was one of their weaker arrangements, but it was still quite good).

After the VGO’s set was musical comedy duo neither of us had heard of before: Paul and Storm, who introduced themselves with the help of Wil Wheaton and a meme I didn’t know existed. Paul and Storm were very funny, and thanks to them, “Awwww!” and “Arr!” became hit catchphrases of the night. Songs performed included “Opening Band”, “If Aaron Neville Were Waiting for a Parking Spot at the Mall, But Someone Else Snagged It” (which must be heard; lyrics alone don’t do it justice), and “Frogger! The Frogger Musical”. At one point, DJ Frontalot was brought on stage as a “special guest”, although he didn’t do anything, and another, the duo prompted the audience to lift their lit DSes, iPhones, and other gadgets in the air, and we swayed them back and forth as though they were lighters.

The final act was also the biggest name of the night: Jonathan Coulton. After “Ikea”, he performed the song he’s most famous for among gamers; everyone sang along, and once again, DSes went up in the air. As the show wore on, Paul and Storm, and later, Metroid Metal came on stage at various points to join Coulton in his performance.

All in all, a fantastic concert, and great way to end our second day at PAX.

Coming in Part Three

Community managers! Civilization V! The final round of the Omegathon! And more!