Penny Arcade Expo 2009 – Friday

Seattle’s annual Penny Arcade Expo, one of the country’s biggest public gaming festivals, ran from September 4th through the 6th at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center. As a regular attendee for the past few years, I’ve always enjoyed my time at the expo. This year was no exception! I now submit the first part of my photo-filled PAX summary to the Mob.



On Friday morning, I drove my friend Nolan to Seattle’s recently opened light rail station and met up with my longtime convention accomplice Jon. After I bought our passes, I placed mine in my pocket as we boarded. A somewhat frightening moment happened when my pass disappeared during a police ticket check, but luckily Jon found it right when I was asked to step off at the next stop. The officer even seemed relieved and said that this was a close one! Anyway, we reached the expo and got in line, which was outside this year.

We thought that we’d scored decent spots in the seemingly endless queue. That is, until we stepped inside after our long wait and were greeted by the sight of ANOTHER line! The usual beach ball hijinx started up while we were waiting, though I always avoid participating in that silly stuff.

We eventually entered the exhibitor hall. The outer area no longer hosted the Bring Your Own Computer section, and now contained vendors like Pink Gorilla and the anime store Sweet Kitty, along with booths for some of the more independent companies. Since I’d already charted my course during the wait, I jetted past all these exhibits for the time being.

Before entering the inner hall, we passed through the skybridge. Special guests of PAX were no longer housed in this section. The place was now filled with exhibits, including 1UP’s booth. As important as 1UP is to me, they weren’t where I was headed at the start of the day.

I soon reached my target… Capcom’s store! My friend Charles asked me to pick up one of the special PAX-exclusive FightStick Tournament Editions for the 360, and I needed one for the PS3. The employees let me know that if I spent $500, they’d throw in a free Marvel VS Capcom 2 vinyl record that was going for quite a bit on eBay. I passed.

I soon lined up for the other reason why I needed to rush to Capcom’s booth. It was to play Resident Evil 5. No, I’m stupid! If you were one of the first 250 people to try the upcoming PC port, you would get an invite from Excella Gionne to attend the launch party on Saturday evening. There would be special swag at the event, so I had to get in! As for the PC version, it looked amazing running at 60 frames per second. However, the new 3D mode looked terrible and blurry even when I was wearing the special glasses.

With my invite secured, I called up Charles so that he could pick up our sticks. I’d been carrying one in the RE5 line, and my bag ripped due to the weight. I replaced it with a sturdier bag from the Nexon booth and retrieved the other stick from Nolan, who had volunteered to carry it. Let me just say that lugging around two of these things sucked, mainly since I couldn’t easily adjust to grab or put away swag.

I needed to relax my arms, so I went outside to wait for Charles. The streets were already filled with attendees, including many that were already hungry for lunch. After about a 30 minute wait, Charles arrived and relieved me of my TE stick burden. Thank goodness!

Running back upstairs, I made sure to take the time to finally visit the 1UP booth. I was greeted by 1UP’s Tina Sanchez, who was kind enough to pose for a photo. She also gave me a swell Gears of War novel and information on the 1UP GameWorks meet-up. I said I’d see her there, and returned to the interior of the exhibitor hall.

Blizzard’s large exhibit came into view when I headed to the left of the entrance. World of Warcraft: Cataclysm was available to demo for all those who were still interested in the popular MMORPG. I am not one of those people. I’ll admit that some of the features sound impressive, but I won’t return to Azeroth just yet.

WHOA. Diablo 3 was here! I joined the rather tame line, but still had to deal with an agonizing wait. Since I planned on going for a Barbarian in the full version, I decided to use my demo time to sample the Monk. Maybe he’d be good enough to convince me to use him as a main.

I wandered through a desert without any particular goal, battling various monsters with my staff and gathering loot. Fallen and Fallen Shamans were present, along with a few new creatures. From the skills I used and his lack of heavy defense, the Monk seemed to be more of a one-on-one fighter. That’s not really my style, so I’m still going to stick with a Barb. As for the other gameplay elements, I didn’t mind the health orb system, and the cooldown timer on potions didn’t really bug me since I never needed to use one. The inventory system seemed the same as before, which I’m glad to see since I’d heard that Blizzard was changing it. Overall, I was satisfied with Diablo 3 and look forward to hearing the release date and the identity of the fifth class.

Jon and I signed up for the 1:30 Tekken 6 tournament. We were hoping to score cool faceplates and skins like at E3. Unfortunately, they weren’t giving away those items as prizes, but people in the top 16 received strange Heihachi headbands as rewards. The winner of the tournament would have their choice of an Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3.

Sadly, Jon’s King was eliminated in the first round. I faired a bit better and actually made the top 16. Thanks to several of my opponents not showing up, I automatically flew through a few levels of the tournament. My first actual fight was against a female PAX attendee who used Lili. She told me that this was her first tournament, so I made sure to give her a respectful handshake when I won. My next foe bested me in our first match. I soon looked at the clock, and even though I wanted to try to advance further, I had to leave for the Bitmob meet-up that I’d organized. Apologizing for my somewhat rude departure, I shook my opponent’s hand, told him he could have the victory, and hurried out of the convention center.

There’s nothing like being late to your own social gathering! I scurried into the Tap House Grill, looking for any Bitmob members that may have shown up for the meeting. Seeing nobody I recognized, I thought for a second that no one came or people left after waiting for too long. As one of the hostesses soon pointed out, quite a few Bitmob users decided to participate and had their own row of tables near the back of the restaurant! It was certainly a pleasure to meet everybody at the luncheon. While a few people slipped out of the restaurant, I got as many people together as I could for a group photo. We’ll have to do this again next year, guys and gals!

After saying sayonara to my Bitmob colleagues, I returned to the expo. Wandering back to the exhibitor hall, I noticed a crowd around the mighty mechanical steed shown above. At this exhibit, the brave could attempt to ride on a bucking bronco from Darksiders. The line was quite long at the time, but I vowed to try my luck before PAX came to a close!

I figured now was as good a time as any to stop by Pink Gorilla’s booth, so I went back to the outer exhibition room. As usual, the booth was quite busy! Even after the name change, quite a few of the old Pink Godzilla plushies were proudly on display. I was looking to buy a copy of Tales of VS for the PSP, but unfortunately, they didn’t have any copies of the video game.

The rare case continued to house a few pricey and hard-to-find gems. While I was tempted by Segagaga and the green DSi, I did not see anything that made me whip out my wallet. Don’t worry, guys, you’ll get my money EVENTUALLY!

Regrouping with Jon, he informed me that one of the sellers from the Jet City Retro classic gaming convention was near the back of the exhibitor hall. Turns out the dealer was Y-Bot, who brought a nice selection of classic games and toys. After rummaging through a few boxes, I found some 3DO and Game Gear games that I’ve been seeking, including Strahl and Ax Battler: A Legend of Golden Axe. I brought out my cash and moved on to the next exhibit.

Going solo once again, I walked by the booth for the driving game Split Second and was asked if I’d like to get my picture taken. I agreed, stepping inside the booth and getting in front of the special screen. They gave me some props to put on and took the picture. Boy, do I look ridiculously stupid in this photo! I wonder why my shirt sleeves turned green since I was actually wearing a brown shirt.

I soon ran into Nolan once again, so we headed over to one of the many stages showcasing The Beatles: Rock Band. I wasn’t dying to play the game, but the mercenary within me was willing to play on stage in order to get a free shirt. Nolan and I were going to perform along with a random fellow who didn’t have a group, but soon replaced him with my coworker Alisa and one of her friends. Don’t worry, we made sure that the other guy found a group to play with! Our band performed the classic I Want to Hold Your Hand, and received applause from the crowd.

The exhibitor hall was getting ready to close, so Nolan and I made one last rush for swag. We stopped by the Dragon Age: Origins booth since they were handing out shirts to people who tried the demo. Luck was not with us, as we arrived too late to join the last group of players.

Once the hall closed down for the day, Nolan and I looked around the rest of PAX and bumped into our old friend Chris and his girlfriend Liasa. We all took a break to relax by the Rock Band 2 stage and catch up. Several interesting stories were shared during this interlude, giving me another reason why PAX is a cool place to catch up with old colleagues.

Chris and Liasa were going to join a bunch of other PAX attendees in attempting to shatter the world record for the most players simultaneously playing the Nintendo DS. Nolan also wanted in on the action. As fate would have it, I didn’t bring any of my eight DS systems to PAX, so I couldn’t help out. I ended up being forced to wait behind a barrier, but did manage to get a shot of the united group of over 900 gamers going for the gold. They totally smashed the old record set by 381 Australian kids! Nolan and I said bye to Liasa and Chris, and I dropped off Nolan at his car before heading home to rest up for Saturday at PAX.

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