Approximately 60,000 gamers from across the country converged in Boston over the weekend for the first PAX East video game expo. I made the trip all the way from Seattle just to be a part of that number. Now that I'm back home and have had a little rest, I'll share my impressions and pictures with any Bitmob reader who wants a closer look at PAX East.
After grabbing breakfast, I took the T train over to Microsoft's NERD (New England R&D) building to attend Major Nelson's Twitter meet-up. I scored a PAX East Xbox Live Avatar hoodie for dropping by, plus a Halo calendar and Beatles: Rock Band Avatar shirt since I asked a question during the Q&A session. I won't look a gift horse in the mouth, but will mention that I'm quite envious of the other participants since quite a few of them received copies of Halo 3: ODST and Forza Motorsport 3 or Turtle Beach headsets.
I did get a chance to finally get a bad photo with Major Nelson. In case you're wondering, no, this was taken BEFORE I received my prizes! Once the meet-up ended, I passed on a free continental breakfast that Microsoft provided since I'd already ate. Boarding the T once again, I returned to my hotel, which was the Sheraton.
After prepping my convention gear, I took the short walk over to the Hynes Convention Center, which was in close proximity to the hotel. The line for the expo started at 10 AM, while the event actually began at 2 PM. My arrival was about an hour prior to opening, and things looked busy, but not too bad.
I grabbed my swag bag, which contained a Magic card deck and several promotional flyers. Even though I wore my usual Pink Godzilla lanyard, I grabbed one of the Behemoth lanyards as a souvenir. I then stuffed the official PAX East convention program into my bag before walking to the next room. I didn't intend on using the program since I saved a link to the PAX East mobile web app on my iPhone, but it's still a nice keepsake.
Damn, that's a lot of people! The noise and crowds even made the activities displayed from a projector very hard to hear and see. I whipped out my trusty Pokemon DSi to pass the time. Unlike just about everybody else at PAX East, I was playing Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey instead of HeartGold or SoulSilver. The clock eventually struck 2 PM, and it was time to move in!
Rockstar Games was one of the first booths that passed the eyes of attendees as they entered the exhibit hall. They also provided large paper swag bags, posters, and stickers to anyone who wanted them. Over the course of the show, Red Dead Redemption attracted one of the largest lines. While I did enjoy the presentation at PAX Prime, my interest in trying the demo was low enough for me to wait until May 18th for the full version.
I was soon drawn to the Skate 3 exhibit when I saw several people walking away with Skate 3 skateboard decks. I don't skate or play many games in the genre, but I had to have one! To win one of the 2 board designs, I'd have to hurl my character off a cliff and score at least 50,000 points. It took several attempts and a few tips from other participants, but I finally got the board and actually breached the 64,000 point mark!
Turbine was showing off some older titles like Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online. I wasn't interested in playing any of those titles at the moment, but did join the line for freebies. I got a replica of the One Ring and a copy of the Lord of the Rings Online Collector's Edition.
Moving on, I saw Nintendo's exhibit. Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver were a prominent focus. I played SoulSilver for a brief moment and felt that it was just as good as any other mainstream Pokemon title on the DS. That's a good thing, but I'm still not ready plunk down a huge chunk of time on training and capturing a whole new crew of monsters. As I left, the Nintendo rep handed me a neat drawstring bag sporting the game logos, Lugia, and Ho-Oh.
Hudson was also at the expo. As much as I enjoy their bee mascot, I was disappointed to see that they were showcasing a bunch of games that have been out for quite a while. In regards to swag, they had a mixture of old and new stuff.
For example, to the left and right of the DS Lite are Deca Sports 2 handkerchiefs. I ended up picking up the system and stylus so I could give the game a quick try. I chose arm wrestling as my activity, which was played by basically rubbing the screen to overpower your opponent. You'd then watch a gauge gradually fill up, tapping the screen as soon as it got close to maximum capacity. That would make you pin your opponent's arm. I'll just say that my team, the Disco Knights, lost twice and I quickly moved on to something else.
That something else happened to be the Aksys Games booth! They had several upcoming games on display that I was interested in purchasing, namely BlazBlue: Continuum Shift and the US port of DeathSmiles. In fact, they were running a DeathSmiles high score competition on the game's insane Level 999 difficulty. Since I spent a few hours on the Japanese version, I thought that would give me a bit of an edge. NOPE! My score wasn't even near the top. At the time I played, the best player had over 2 million points. Whoever ended up winning received a DeathSmiles faceplate, which I unfortunately didn't get a chance to photograph.
Relocating myself a bit further, I spotted the online shooter APB. The executive producer stood on stage, using his mic to explain the principle concepts of the game. He mentioned a few interesting features, like certain players in the test version who are finding work as clothing designers more profitable than going around and doing the actual missions. I gave the game a try as both the cops and criminals. The graphics were sharp and the animation ran at 60 FPS. The overall feel felt like a mixture of Left 4 Dead, Grand Theft Auto, and an MMORPG. Missions were primarily quick and easy tasks like defending a particular area for a set time or delivering items to specific locations. The person playing before me used up all of my main weapon's ammo, and I was kind of disappointed to hear the rep tell me that I couldn't get more during the course of the mission. I still managed to dispatch a few players with my sidearm. It will be interesting to see how well APB succeeds, especially since the game is only coming to PCs.
Further away was a couple of tables run by two indie game stores. They were Game Underground and Game Universe. These dealers had quite a few sealed Dreamcast and original PlayStation games for sale, along with dozens of retro titles and accessories. They even had a few cheap imports, which generally ran around the $10 price point. I ended up grabbing a couple of those, which you will see later.
While I was eyeballing their adorable refridgerator magnets at the Pangea Online display, a worker asked if I'd like to demo the game. I said sure, figuring I'd play a quick game of online golf. Wrong game… that's Pangya! Pangea Online was actually a very simple MMORPG that is aimed at teaching players Chinese. It also includes a translator. There wasn't really much to do in the demo, as the presenter noted, except talk to the NPC standing around in town. I don't think I'd play the game, but I do find the concept slightly interesting and wish the dev team good luck!
The good folks over at Digital Press had their own booth at PAX East. They were selling various classic video games and several magazines aimed at video game collectors like myself. They had a whole bunch of original Game Boy and Game Boy Color games, which made me smile with glee as I flipped through them. I'd say I spent the most money here out of any booth at the show, and did score a few titles that I've been hunting for quite some time, like Serpent and Trax.
The exhibit hall was getting ready to close for the evening, so I stepped out. In the outer passageways, I spotted the Magic: The Gathering digital photo setup shown above. It was unfortunately closed for the day, but I made a mental note to come back the next day. I always love getting strange novelty photos!
Bitmob had their official member meet-up across the street from the expo at a place called the Pour House. I made my way there, trying to use Jeff Grubb's trademark hair as a landmark. I apparently wasn't the only one who did that! As always, it was nice to finally meet a few people face-to-face, like Derek Lavigne and Brett Bates. Catching up with some old friends that I met back at the PAX Prime gathering, namely Mr. Grubb and Evan Killham. This time around, they even raffled off a whole bunch of random swag, which included Muscle March briefs, a Hudson book bag, and a Goku costume. Several horrible video games were also handed out to random "winners", like Scooby Doo: First Frights. I'll be honest… I would have LOVED to walk out of there with that entire bag of loot! The very nice Punch-Out shirt that I won managed to keep that urge at bay. As the evening went on, I eventually said adios to my Bitmob comrades and retired to my hotel room.
Quite a few cosplayers started to show up on Saturday, so my day at PAX East began with me chasing them down for photographs. You'll see all those in the second installment of my recap! I eventually wandered back into the exhibit hall, and gave Calling a try when I was near the Hudson booth. It was basically a point-and-click adventure game using the Wii remote and nunchuck. The game did a decent job of making me feel like I was interacting with a Japanese horror film, complete with creepy looking dolls. Everything also ran at a smooth 60 FPS.
I'm among the small minority that really enjoyed Two Worlds. Was I excited to see a sign mentioning the highly delayed sequel? Verily! Sadly, the game was concealed behind the door on the left, which beared a sign on the front stating that it was only for the press. Damn you… this ain't E3! PAX East is supposed to be all about the fans!
When I ventured into the console freeplay room, I spotted that huge crowd packed around two TVs. Once I saw the players holding arcade sticks in their hands, I was pretty sure that I knew what game they were playing.
Yep, Super Street Fighter 4 was here! Everyone was playable, including Hakan. Unfortunately, the crowd was too long and I didn't get a chance to try him out. To me, one month is an agonizing wait when it comes to something like this.
Heading down the escalator, I noticed that the Magic photobooth was up and running. I rushed over and took the silly photo shown above, which I had to pick up about an hour later.
Once I returned to the hall, I headed over to the Fangamer exhibit. These guys had a bunch of cool video game shirts and buttons for sale. They also played a major part in creating the great fan-made Mother 3 guide.
I was very impressed by these cool figures and toys. You can spot characters from the Mother series, as well as a couple from Chrono Trigger, Kirby, and Katamari Damacy. As I photographed the figures, one of the workers came up to me and mentioned that he recognized me from my previous online blogging. Cool! He also noted that their merchandise will soon be available at Pink Gorilla's store in Seattle's University District.
Before I left, I was asked to contribute to the vandalism of their booth's walls. I couldn't think of anything profound to write, so a simple "DTJAAAAM was here!" would have to suffice. Yes, my handwriting is horrible.
Another day at the exhibit hall came to an end, so I checked my iPhone for the next thing on my itinerary. SFX 360 was hosting a party at a place called the Lir, which was across the street from the convention center. The first 50 people in line received a free copy of Risen for the Xbox 360. I got there a couple hours early so that I could guarantee my spot. We were eventually forced to stand outside in the chilly weather, which really sucked. I started to get a really bad headache around this point, too.
After some technical issues with registration for the party and more time in the cold, we were eventually granted access. I picked up my free game and stuffed it in my pocket. Going downstairs, my camera snatched a quick shot of the party. I have no idea about what exactly happened here since I left immediately after this, but I did hear that they were having raffles and tournaments for Street Fighter 4 and Rock Band. The reason why I left was because I needed to get to the Retronauts panel ASAP!
I know I said that I wasn't going to any panels in a previous blog, but I changed my mind once I heard that the topic at Retronauts was going to be collecting. Since the party delayed my arrival, I was stuck near the back of the line. Luckily for me, 1UP's community manager Tina Sanchez saw me in line as she was handing out flyers for the 1UP meet-up. She told me to follow her, bumping me up towards the front of the line, and even gave up her seat in the second row for me. Thank you once again, Tina, I really do appreciate it! The panel itself was very entertaining, especially hearing about the great finds that they've stumbled upon. I've apparently spent more on a single game than every member of the panel, but still have some work to do if I want my collection to be comparable to Kurt Kalata and Shane Bettenhausen's mighty hoards.
After a short but nice conversation with Chris Kohler at the end of the panel, I attempted to attend the 1UP meet-up. Keyword being attempted since I got in, but didn't really get to do much meeting since the venue was jammed with people! I said hello to a few folks I recognized, lurked around for a while since I couldn't even walk around, and then dismissed myself for the night since the headache I had from earlier in the day started to really hurt.
After waking up and still experiencing pain in my head, I took a few pills to make the agony go away. I then jetted back to the convention center for the final day of PAX East. I generally devote the last day of a convention to playing games, and did the same at this event. To get a Turbine shirt, I played around with Dungeons & Dragons Online for a several minutes. The melee attack system felt a lot more like Diablo than World of Warcraft, which is something that I really like. I'm still not a fan of the Eberron campaign setting, but if I'm ever in the mood for a free MMORPG, this would probably be at the top of my list.
I soon went from virtual D&D to live D&D. If I participated in a simplified live action game and managed to slay a white dragon with my party, I'd get a special medal! Joining a random group, I picked a barbarian since the only fighter was a dwarf. Luck wasn't with us on the battlefield, as our entire party of six only managed to score a single hit on the beast before it flew away. No prizes for us, bah!
I then joined the line to play one of the bigger games at the show, Crackdown 2. The demo only showcased the competitive online modes, which kind of disappointed me since I was looking forward to trying the new campaign. To make matters worse, the camera controls were inverted, making the aim mechanics harder on me. I still managed to kill a few players during the moments when my camera wasn't swinging around wildly. I honestly was not impressed by the team deathmatch mode, but I'll still pick up the game upon release, sticking with single player mode and staying away from Xbox Live.
Taking the walk over to Aksys Games, I decided to try out one of the new characters in BlazBlue: Continuum Shift. The demo they had setup wasn't using a true versus mode, so whoever won was forced to stick with the winning character. As the players left, I darted towards the loser's controller and selected Hazama, who you may remember as an evil mastermind in BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger. He uses basic unarmed combat techniques in battle, as well as a grappling hook. I didn't know any of his special moves or Distortion Drive attacks, and ended up receiving a thorough beating from my opponent.
Several feet away was the upcoming brawler Charlie Murder. I joined a young couple playing the game and selected the vocalist as my character. Overall, my time with Charlie Murder was decent. It plays a lot like Castle Crashers, but without the depth of the experience system or massive amount of unlockables. Since it's also an Xbox Live Indie Game, the lack of achievements will also keep me from spending my Microsoft Points on the final product.
The upcoming summer Xbox Live Arcade and PSN title Shank was available for play at PAX East, and I really enjoyed it! Picture Dishwasher: Dead Samurai with better visuals and you pretty much have Shank. I had fun trying out the hero's arsenal of moves and attempting to chain together long combos with weapons ranging from knives to chainsaws. I'm pretty sure that this will end up in my download queue once it hits the Marketplace.
I soon returned to the Aksys since they were going to auction off the DeathSmiles and Record of Agarest War banners that were displayed at the booth. While waiting for the bidding to commense, I sampled Bit.Trip RUNNER for WiiWare. The pixelated protagonist constantly runs toward the right, so you must use the buttons and directional pad to keep him safe from obstacles. I found the game to be a neat little distraction, and would say that it is something I'd definitely buy if it was available for a portable system.
Auction time! I'm not a huge fan of either game franchise, but I was willing to go up to $60 on each since I figured the banners would make great eBay investments. My top bid was much too low, as the Agarest War banner sold for $200 and DeathSmiles went all the way up to $350. Enjoy your banners, guys!
Before the expo hall closed for the final time, I attempted a few last minute swag runs. I figured those poor exhibitors wouldn't want to carry home all that excess baggage with them, while I on the other hand did! After that, I soon departed the convention center for my hotel room, saying farewell to PAX East. Overall, I'd say that PAX East was a fun time, but it didn't live up to all of my expectations. The swag was generally decent, but the small number of playable upcoming releases and lack of cosplayers knocked the show down a few pegs on the David Ngo convention grading scale. I know that next year's venue will be even bigger and will never rule out another visit, but I don't currently see myself returning to Boston unless I get a really great deal on travel expenses.
Back at the hotel, this is what my room's second bed looked like at the end of the weekend. Not bad, but the bandit in my soul says I could have used more. If you want to take a closer look at the free stuff, plus the cosplayers and various sights of PAX East, be sure to look at the final page.
Rydia used a summoning spell to conjure up a poster
The Behemoth's booth is always a PAX staple
Two of the models promoting the upcoming music game Power Gig: Rise of the SixString
Pokemon ears always make super effective cosplay
This Faust cosplayer gets props for sporting his alternate colors
Frobot, a WiiWare title by Fugazo, a group of game developers based in Seattle
This Bayonetta cosplayer certainly met the height requirement
One of the Tritton ladies models a pair of Gunnar's computer glasses
Haven't I seen you at PAX Prime?
Mafia 2 was one of the bigger titles at 2K Games
A Tale of Two Tingles
Lady and Trish from that series featuring a famous white-haired swordsman in red named Nero
Alicia used her remaining AP to salute
A cool timeline of the Behemoth's career
Lucca frantically pressed LB, A, RB, A on the Xbox 360 controller
I was hoping that Sega would host a trivia challenge like at PAX Prime, but they did not
A trio of Resident Evil heroes
PAX East had an entire room dedicated to Steel Battalion: Line of Contact
The exterior of EA's Rock Band lounge
Frank West truly knows how to accessorize
Varian Wrynn and Jaina Proudmoore took a griffon from Azeroth to Boston
D3 showed off Puzzle Quest 2 and handed out pins to the game's Facebook fans
OpenChord.org offered kits to make real guitars compatible with Guitar Hero and Rock Band
Anyone who saw Elec Man felt shock and awe
Medlii and Link
Tritton models who were handing out stickers for a contest
Kefka needed to hire Shadow and a stuffed Interceptor for protection
Momohime and her katana
Hands off the panda
Gabe signed and posed for photos with the fans
One of Altair and Ezio's other descendents
Three of the Gothic Lolitas from DeathSmiles
Looks like Faye Valentine and Spike Spiegel ended up getting together in the end
Sack Boy and one of his many admirers
Chuck Greene shows off Dead Rising 2's weapon modification system
Splicers have escaped from Rapture
Black Widow must be spying on PAX East for SHIELD
Carl Swangee from the Automata comic strip
Ragna strikes an action pose
A couple that wears penis shirts together, stays together
Another Bayonetta who wasn't as tall
I bet Olmec has been wondering where that thing went after all these years
Carmine takes a break and makes himself vulnerable to Locust snipers
Konami VS Square Enix VS 2K Games VS Capcom
Louis is happy to be alive
Neku needed a break from Shibuya
Another citizen of the World of Warcraft
Raziel pleaded with developers to put him in another sequel
Agrias hanging out with a Time Mage and Ninja
The handheld lounge seemed quite barren compared to most parts of the expo
Nick's luck at gambling helped him win a D&D medal
The retro gaming room
Two men dueling in a Mega Man 2 speed run competition
Sumo bean bags are always popular with PAX attendees
I don't recognize the character, but the jetpack was nice
Morrigan ditched Demitri for Sephiroth
This suit of Power Armor must have been extremely heavy since the wearer was walking slowly
The Music Meister was free to hypnotize the citizens of Boston
That is, until the goddamn Batman showed up to save the day
I felt bad for some of these lonely booth workers
A green man hands me a sticker
Loved the bag
Temari from Naruto
A wife and husband cosplaying as Lara Croft and Princess Peach
Prosecutors stick together
A woman handing out temporary tattoos at the Breach booth
Instead of playing a major part in Final Fantasy X-2, Auron opted to go to PAX East
I'm not a fan of G4, but I figured I'd indulge in the photo op
Umbrella still gets more brand recognition than Tricell
Quick, kidnap them and force them to be in a third Chrono game
Sweetums from the Muppets
I can see Activision hiring these fellow to star in annual Ghostbusters sequels
This Cloud gets props for wielding something besides the Buster Sword
Storm Shadow doesn't want you to associate him with the live action movie
The fancy interior of the Rock Band lounge
There's nobody here, so why did I photograph this box?
Games and magazines I purchased
One free copy of Risen
My Skate 3 deck
Papers, flyers, and business cards
A few more that I accidentally missed
A Red Dead Redemption poster
Card and puzzle games
Most of the APB clothing line
Other shirts to make it obvious that I'm a gamer
Keychains of all shapes and sizes
My precio- I mean, Lord of the Rings Online paraphernalia
Stickers, tattoos, and magnets
Digital downloads codes
Calendars and publications