I think it was in Uwajimaya in Seattle’s International District the day before PAX West that I heard, for the first time ever, the original Village People version of “Go West”. It was pretty ironic, considering that earlier this year, we had finished Going West and moved back east, and this Seattle trip was our first return to PST Land since then. We were there, as we had been during the past several Labor Day Weekends, for PAX West (formerly PAX Prime), this time with the added bonus of jetlag.
Panic’s upcoming experimental handheld, the Playdate, was one of the few wholly new things at the show.
This was our eighth West Coast PAX, and our ninth overall, and as usual, it was interesting to see the current state of video gaming reflected in convention form. In the Expo Hall, there was the usual spread of booths from companies both big and small, albeit with two notable absences. Bethesda is one of the more reliable presences at PAX West, but they weren’t on the show floor this year; as if to make up for it, their big fall release, DOOM Eternal, was present at the Google Stadia booth. More startling, however, was the lack of a booth for Microsoft, headquartered in nearby Redmond. While in past years, they could typically be found adjacent to Sony’s plush PlayStation booth, there was no official presence from either Xbox or Microsoft Game Studios.
We had skipped PAX West (formerly PAX Prime) last year, and missed it terribly, so deciding how to spend our 2018 Labor Day weekend was a no-brainer. As usual, the whole process of obtaining the tickets was a white-knuckle affair—most especially and unexpectedly a few days before the show, when one of our PAX friends’ passes got lost in the mail. Fortunately, he was able to get things sorted out, and after a week of preparations on our end (including taking care of our own little emergency involving a pet sitting cancellation), we all met up in Seattle. This even included one of our group who had decided to skip PAX, but wanted to be in town nonetheless. PAX was here!
The following four days were packed with panels, games, and some delicious food, including some from longtime favorites Juicy Cafe and MOD Pizza. Downtown Seattle’s Rock Bottom Grill, our regular post-show spot, had since closed, but the Gordon Biersch in a nearby mall was a decent substitute; it was also the location of the first post-PAX Cheap Ass Gamer meetup that I organized seven years ago.
This past Saturday, we drove down to Santa Clara for this year’s California Extreme, a celebration of classic arcade gaming featuring dozens of video game cabinets, pinball tables, and other amusements brought in by private collectors. There’s an entry fee—we paid $40 a head at the door—but afterward, all of the games are free to play. In addition, CA Extreme features a few panels, evening concerts, and a handful of vendors selling everything from old console games to pinball machine parts.
The range of arcade games, spread across two conference rooms in a hotel adjacent to a convention center, was truly impressive, spanning many decades. There were pinball tables from at least as far back as the late 1950’s up through Stern showing off their newest heavy metal-themed machine, Iron Maiden. Some shooting gallery and other mechanical machines looked even older, and would’ve been right at home in the Musée Mécanique. The newest, and oddest, non-video game at the show was a fully playable Pong-themed coffee table.
On that note, as far as video games went, most eras and genres were represented in one form or another, though the heaviest focus was on 80s titles. Amongst others, there were sections devoted to vector games, Pac-Man and its spinoffs, Japanese rhythm games (including a handful of recent titles), and cocktail cabinets. Throughout the afternoon, with the odd break every so often, we bounced between these rooms and a small console freeplay area upstairs.
One of my biggest regrets of PAX East 2010 was not taking very many pictures, especially of the cosplayers. Fortunately, and with the help of a few people at deviantART, I managed to find photos of many of my favorites. This time around, I did not want to repeat this mistake.
To start things out, here’s my favorite cosplay of the show, which I had teased in earlier posts: Gordon Freeman from Half-Life. Despite its simplicity (not to mention the somewhat slapdash application of the Black Mesa patch), it succeeds in two important areas: the cosplayer’s resemblance to the original character, and their creative approach. This Gordon went around PAX all weekend carrying a large display that humorously promoted Black Mesa; titled “Black Mesa Community Outreach and Hiring”, it included a special message from Dr. Breen, a list of civilian projects that involved upstanding partners such as Umbrella Corporation and Abstergo, a partially redacted hiring notice, and a section about famed curtain manufacturer Aperture Science. Overall, an inspired and funny cosplay.
Other cosplayers I saw over the weekend included Princess Zelda and Link, whom I sat next to during the marketing panel; a four-person Mortal Kombat II team consisting of Smoke, Scorpion, Reptile, and Sub-Zero; a White Mage, a Black Mage, and Aeris; two of Quote from Cave Story (the second of which is pictured here); and a Draenei from World of WarCraft.
Aside from the expected video game cosplays, there were a few distintively non-game ones. For example, over the weekend I saw The Tick and Arthur, as well as the Bimbettes from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (pictured). Crossplay, or cross-dressing cosplay, was also present at the show. There was a female Quote (the first Quote I had seen), a male Chell, and most memorably, a male Misty, shown here.
Of course, there were a few people dressed in costume who were not cosplayers, but actually on the job. Aside from the Halo: Reach characters at Halo Fest (see Part Three), there was a female Shepard at the Mass Effect 3 booth and a Plants vs. Zombies group made up of Disco Zombie and his backup dancers.
Still, even though I had managed to take many more photos this time around, there were some cosplays that I missed out on. Aside from those I’ve already shown and/or mentioned, I also saw Cirno (Touhou series); Bayonetta; an Enforcer dressed as Chun-Li; a yellow and black Heartless and other Kingdom Hearts series characters; Vanille (FFXIII); Frank West (Dead Rising) in boxers and a Servbot head; Catherine and one or two Vincents (Catherine); Princess Peach; at least a couple of Marios, another Link, and a Dark Link; and what I believe may have been an Alchemist from Torchlight. There were others besides, but I can’t think of them all right now.
Cosplay aside, there are several other, smaller things to mention about the weekend. As at PAX East, the longer lines were made more interesting by the Cookie Brigade and what entertainment the Enforcers had on hand. Across the street from the Paramount Theater (aka the “Main Theater”), a tank was parked in a vacant lot as a part of the promotion for World of Tanks. The Paramount itself is gorgeous inside, with high ceilings, fancy gilded detailing, and an overall feeling of grandeur.
We didn’t spend any time in the Queue Room this go round—save for a brief trip in and out to get the official swag bags, we didn’t have to. At this PAX, they experimented with letting people queue up wherever they wanted before the doors opened; this approach, while not perfect, worked out okay.
While in line, we would sometimes chat with people; at the Friday concert, it was with a couple who we had been in line with earlier that day. I also managed to meet up with some fellow Cheap Ass Gamers during PAX, and we all went out to dinner at a nearby Gordon Biersch on the Sunday night after the final round of the Omegathon (and a brief Child of Eden session in the Console Freeplay room), where the topics of discussion included cars and corpses, import figures, multiplayer gaming, and CAG itself.
What else is left to mention? We hit up the Gameworks across the street the night before PAX started and checked out (but didn’t play) the wide variety of arcade machines there, including some recent Japanese imports, such as a motion-activated rhythm game by Konami (not sure if it’s a Bemani game, technically) and a ride-on version of Initial D Version 3. On the first day of the show, I noticed a shrinkwrapped Jim Darkmagic portrait prominently displayed at the official PAX/Penny Arcade store. One of the stores in the Expo Hall (which I wish I could remember the name of) had these cool Portal 2 rubber keychains that I have not seen since. Another store sold anime merchandise, many of which were bootlegs. In the Tabletop areas, one of the card games really stood out from the rest: the anime-styled, maid-heavy Tanto Cuore. And, as you may have heard elsewhere, PAX scalping was taken to a whole new level with the presence of counterfeit passes.
So, in conclusion, it was an incredibly fun weekend, and we’re looking forward to doing it again next year. To all the people who made this event so awesome: thank you. Finally, if your cosplay is posted here, please let me know! I’d love to give you credit.
ETA (09/10/11): Cosplay credits! Please help me add to the list if possible.
– “Community Outreach” Gordon Freeman: Peter Jung
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Running concurrently (and adjacent to) PAX Prime was Halo Fest, a tenth anniversary celebration of all things Halo, and admission was free to PAX attendees. Although I had initially intended to avoid Halo Fest since I’m still new to the franchise, my curiosity got the better of me, and we found ourselves lining up by its entrance on Sunday morning. It was a longer line than I had expected, and though there were a couple of inconsiderate smokers upwind, the wait wasn’t bad. A guy in a Halo: Reach costume walked down the line shortly before the doors opened; at first, I thought he was a cosplayer, but soon realized that his presence here was official.
Acting on a tip from a PAX East exhibitor (some of the tabletop gaming companies were in the same wing of the convention center), upon entering Halo Fest, we circled around and picked up swag bags, each with a limited-edition Warthog Mega Bloks set included. From there, a quick trip to the Halo merchandise store was made for a couple of the things in the Part Zero pic. After I got all the goodies I wanted, it was now time to take in the event itself.
There were several little areas set up, each devoted to something different. Many of them were devoted to specific multiplayer modes, and there was also a small stage set up for Halo-related panels and presentations.
Near the entrance was a wall filled with images of fan-made tenth anniversary maps made in the map editor Forge. Some of these maps were really neat; my favorite is probably the one which contains an outline portrait of Master Chief made entirely of weapons.
Around the corner from the Forge screenshots were two pieces of artwork, a Van Gogh parody painted for the annual Child’s Play auction, and a wooden mashup of Mega Man and Master Chief. The same area held a glass case with recent and upcoming Halo action figures from Square Enix Products. Two of these Play Arts Kai were red and blue Halo: Reach figures originally released as San Diego Comic Con exclusives, and available for purchase at this event as well. The other two items on display were the upcoming Halo Anniversary Play Arts Kai, one of which—the silver Spartan Mark V—is slated to be a New York Comic Con exclusive. If you’d like to see these figures in more detail, I’ve posted additional pics of them on Tsuki Board (a shot of the Deus Ex: Human Revolution Play Arts that were shown, but not sold, in the Expo Hall is also in that set).
Scattered throughout the area were several sculptures and other displays: there were 1/1 scale statues of Halo: Reach characters, Mega Bloks versions of Master Chief and robotic flake 343 Guilty Spark (which, unfortunately, I had forgotten to get a picture of), a diorama of a battle scene, a photo area where you could get a picture of yourself gunning down a Covenant Elite, and a life-size, working Warthog built by Weta. It’s pretty much impossible to make out in the picture shown here, but on the front window by the driver’s side are little silhouette stickers marking units killed; in a bit of black humor, the top row included a couple of children and an old lady pushing a walker.
There isn’t much left to say about Halo Fest. Like the costumed guy outside, others milled about in Spartan gear, posing for pictures, and there was also an information booth of sorts, at which was an old Halo 2 promotional statue. Available at this booth were Halo Fest schedules, an issue of Official Xbox Magazine with articles about the series’ anniversary, and a couple of exclusive Halo-themed 360 avatar items (a Cortana Chip and an Energy Sword), among other things. Once we were done taking in all things Halo, a brief escalator ride brought us back to PAX’s Expo Hall.
In our next and final installment: remember that awesome Gordon Freeman cosplay I mentioned in Part Zero? Well, there will be that, and more!
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Actually, there aren’t too many pix for this installment, since many of them came out blurry. Besides, although the panels we went to were great, there isn’t anything really exciting about a photo of group of people sitting along a draped table—”you had to be there” really applies in such cases. Anyway, here’s a rundown of the panels and other scheduled events we attended (unless otherwise noted, each event lasted for an hour).
What They’re Saying About You: How Marketing Segments and Targets Gamers (10:30 AM, Raven Theater) – The title pretty much says what it was about. Marketing ideas, trends in research gathering, the peculiarities of marketing to the PAX crowd, and so forth were discussed for an hour in front of a small but interested audience. The stories and insight from Pete Hines, the don’t-call-him-a-marketer from Bethesda, was the highlight of the panel.
Omegathon Round 1 (2:00 PM, Wolfman Theater) – The first round of PAX’s ultimate gamer competition consisted of some madcap rounds of Mario Kart: Double Dash! An extra bit of chaos was added when it was revealed that the players wouldn’t know which of the five screens they would be playing from, and even this was switched up on each new track. At the end, four Omeganauts were eliminated, but for two of them, their fate was only determined after a tie for last place and a sudden death round. The PAX crew stuck to random maps for this round, though the audience really wanted to see them duke it out on the game’s version of the infamous Rainbow Road.
Retrogame Roadshow: Are Your Old Games Buried Treasure? (5:00 PM, Unicorn Theater) – A panel tailor-made for collectors, with the audience bringing up various rarities to show off while the panelists debated their value. Among the highlights were an NES obscurity titled Panic Restaurant and an extraordinarily rare port of M.U.L.E. (I believe it was the IBM PCjr version).
Friday Night Concerts (8:30 PM ~ 1:00 AM, Main Theater) – This was our biggest must-see of PAX, mainly due to favorites the Video Game Orchestra (see PAX East 2010, Part Two) and the Minibosses (who we had never seen live before). Sandwiched in between were MC Frontalot and Metroid Metal. The entire concert was awesome, and a lot of fun. I especially liked the inflatable metroids that Metroid Metal tossed out to the crowd for them to bounce around in the air (though said metroids wound up on stage more than a few times). Most unexpected moment: the VGO playing tunes from Plants vs. Zombies and Angry Birds!
Infinite Respawn: How Gaming Can Keep & Save Your Relationship (10:30 AM, Serpent Theater) – Now here was a topic very near and dear to our hearts: love and gaming. Though many of the panelists’ experiences didn’t quite match up with ours—in part since neither of us are inclined toward multiplayer or co-op—there was a lot else that was the same, and it was comforting to know that our experiences aren’t unique.
Discover the Forgotten Masters (12:00 PM, Serpent Theater) – This panel, which opened with two very amusing Fist of the North Star clips, was presented by the two guys behind GeekNights. Although some of the info presented wasn’t as obscure as they had perhaps thought it was (such as who David Crane is, or what the NES game Spy vs. Spy is like), I still learned a few things and was introduced to some fascinating retrogames, ranging from a gunslinger game (Outlaw for the 2600) to a multiplayer airline management sim (Aerobiz Supersonic for the SNES). I also agree with the point of the panel: that there’s a lot of old ideas in gaming that are ripe for revisiting.
Game Development Secrets Exposed: Everything You Wanted To Know But PR Won (3:00 PM, Raven Theater) – I have no idea what this panel was like… or rather, what it would’ve been like, since it was cancelled at the last minute! Moving on…
You Call That Fun?! (6:30 PM, Wolfman Theater) – This was a lively panel where four friends and game industry colleagues came together to discuss that most intangible of game qualities, “fun”. One of the most interesting parts of this panel was the discussion of difficulty and how it needs to be optimized for the player’s needs; for instance, a bunch of developers who have become experts at the game they’re making are hardly the best judges of difficulty.
King of Chinatown (10:00 PM – 11:30 PM, Serpent Theater) – Thanks to some technical difficulties, this screening was delayed for over half an hour. Anyway, King of Chinatown follows Street Fighter IV player Justin Wong and his rise as a pro-gamer, but that’s only half the story. The other concerns the group Justin was a part of, Empire Arcadia, and its founder, Isaiah Triforce Johnson. Triforce was already known to me as a fixture in the NYC gaming scene—I first became aware of him at the Wii launch, where he was at the head of the line, several feet away from our group—but I had no idea of his role in the pro gaming scene. Without giving too much away, this film is fairly even-handed, but does not paint Triforce in a favorable light. Despite some muddy sound, it’s a good indie documentary, and worth checking out.
Making Art from Art (12:00 PM, Raven Theater) – A panel by a bunch of nerdcore rappers and one fanfic writer about all fan-made derivative works might seem somewhat imbalanced, but despite the lack of discussion about the (admittedly enormous) realm of ROM hacking, fan mods, and fan/doujin games, they handled the topic well enough. During the Q&A, an audience member brought up the topic of female fanworks makers twice. The first time, the all-male panel addressed it well enough, I thought; the second time was redundancy defined, though it was clear then where her tastes lay (mentioning Pixiv but not deviantART was a sure sign), and I could swear she referenced Vocaloid fandom without saying the word once. There’s one at every con, I guess.
Insider Insight: Awesome Video Game Data (2:30 PM, Kraken Theater) – This was probably my favorite panel of the show. Presented by EEDAR President Geoffrey Zatkin, it served as a brief glimpse into the world of video game research and data. Lots of statistics were presented, ranging from trends in the music game genre to the likelihood of games with ninjas showing up on the Wii, painting a fascinating picture of what the video game marketplace is really like. If this talk is repeated in some form for a future PAX, I highly recommend it.
Omegathon Final Round (5:30 PM, Main Theater) – And at last, as “The Final Countdown” came over the sound system, the remaining two Omeganauts took to the stage. Each finalist chose a “spirit animal” from the group of disqualified Omeganauts, and Tycho and Gabe teased the game as one having space marines, racecars, and gazelles. Of course, it was no such game. Instead, much to everyone’s surprise, it was The Legend of Zelda! The goal was to be the first to obtain the first Triforce piece, and their helpers’ role would be to guide them along with the help of an FAQ. It was a really exciting match to watch, and once a winner was declared, the show was wrapped up and officially ended, and we headed out to the Console Freeplay area for some last-minute Child of Eden and eventually dinner.
And now that I’m back at home, guess what I started recently. Yep, The Legend of Zelda. This is the first time I’ve ever played a Zelda game, by the way; as of this writing, I’m up to three Triforce pieces and am currently after the fourth.
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