Gamers talk about the great times that they have at PAX year in and year out. It is a memorable event to be sure, but even more so for the one out of the 60,000 attendees who becomes the Omegathon champion. After five rounds of gaming goodness this year at PAX Prime, KWolff mastered the Omegaclaw to claim a trip to Tokyo and an experience he'll remember forever. A couple of weeks later, Kellyn reflects on the event, the competition, and gaming itself in this interview.
Joel: We'll start simple – tell us a little about yourself.
Kellyn: Well, I'm originally from Fargo, North Dakota and lived in ND for my whole life. I recently moved out to Seattle because I'm very interested in the culture and technology aspect of this part of the country. The people that live in this area are more my kind of people. They tend to have the same kind of interests and thoughts that I do. An added bonus was that I'd be close and able to attend PAX for the first time this year.
Joel: So what sort of things do 'your kind of people' do? What are some of your hobbies?
Kellyn: I've been gaming for basically as long as I remember. My family had an Atari and an original NES: basically whenever a new Nintendo system came out, that is what I wanted for Christmas that year. All I wanted to do was play video games all the time. My mom had this deal with me where every Friday I could go to Premeire Video and do a 5 for 5 for 5 rental (games/days/dollars), so that was kind of where it all started.
Other than video games, I've also always been interested in board games, puzzles, word games, and stuff like that. I like being challenged and needing to think instead of needing to time a jump perfectly or anything like that. I like stuff that is thought intensive.
Joel: Any top games that you've loved, or maybe games that you've hated?
Kellyn: First there's Link to the Past, which totally changed the way I thought about video games – ya know, not having levels, not being a platformer, having an open-ended game. I remember picking up the three pendants and fighting the Wizard where he makes Zelda disappear. I thought that was the end of the game, but then you go into the whole Dark World and realize you're pretty much just getting started. It was the first game that made me think differently about games. So definitely Link to the Past, but I could just as easily mention almost any other game in the Zelda series, like Ocarina of Time.
Secret of Monkey Island was another big one, which opened the door to text adventure and puzzle games for me. Metroid kind of falls into that category too.
But then there are Rock Band and Guitar Hero, which are like a whole different aspect of it. It has nothing to do with the whole puzzle thing, but I've spent countless hours playing those games. Between the awesome songs and the challenges like Jordan and Dragonforce, which were put in there because they're pretty much impossible, that made me sort of set goals when I was playing the game so I could see everything. I set crazy goals, like beating everything on the first day on expert, then 5 starring everything on expert. That series has sort of become my achievement chasing games.
As for hating games, it takes a lot for me to dislike a game. Some people play a game and are looking for amazing graphics or an engaging story or the chance to become a super powerful entity, but I don't really care about that. I just want a game that's going to keep me occupied and make me have fun. As long as the controls work and I don't get frustrated because something doesn't work right, then I'll be ok with it.
I have been known to say that I don't like World of Warcraft, but it's mostly just that I take a strong moral stance against it. That's just because I want to play many different types of games, and I'm kind of afraid I'd end up playing just that in order to fully appreciate it and make the monthly fee worthwhile.
Joel: I hear ya. You want to have time to sample everything.
Joel: So what was your first thought when you were asked to be an Omeganaut?
Kellyn: I was just sitting there at work and my cell phone started going off. The caller ID said "Unavailable," so I figured it must be a telemarketer and almost didn't answer it. I picked it up anyway and the person said they were from Penny Arcade, but I kind of had a messed up reaction.
I was just about to move from Fargo to Seattle, so I was all worried at the time about making sure my badge and registration stuff was going to show up at the right place. Naturally I thought they were calling about that. Of course, that's all going on in my head, but they don't know any of this – I haven't told them about it.
They started asking me about being an Omeganaut and I'm like, "Right on, that's kind of sweet, but how much of a time commitment is it?" See, I was going to PAX with a couple friends and I wanted to make sure I could hang out with them. We talked through it a little bit and, in the end, I figured it would be fun and my friends have a good time with it.
I accepted, but I still thought I was talking to a customer service rep or something. So I said, "As long as I have you on the phone," and then I started going into this rant about moving and stuff and asked them if they could help me make sure my address and all that got changed. Looking back, I now realize that I was talking to either Mike or Jerry at the time, which is super embarrassing in retrospect.
Joel: Yeah, that's probably not how most of those calls went.
Kellyn: Exactly. I'm sure most of the other contestants were a little more familiar with what was going on, but whatever. *Laughs*
Joel: Did you think you had a shot at winning from the beginning, or when did you start thinking that might happen?
Kellyn: Well, my initial goal was just to not lose in the first round. Of course, I originally thought we'd be playing different games that more people would spend a lot of time on – stuff like Halo or Street Fighter or whatever, and I thought I would be in trouble with that. I mean, I don't think I'm a terrible gamer, but I do think I'm terrible at multiplayer games.
So I kept thinking I'd lose in the next round, but after the Rock Band round I started thinking I had a shot. Most of that is because the guys in the band that got knocked out were the guys that I was most worried about going head-to-head with, which was true of Noah in particular. He had been the runner-up two years in a row, and I knew anything against him would be super tough. Then in the finals a lot of the pressure was off because even if I lost I would get to come back and be an Omeganaut the next year.
Joel: So what was your favorite moment in the entire Omegathon?
Kellyn: That would be, by far, the Heartless pull. Basically there was this Heartless character from Kingdom Hearts in the Omegaclaw (the final round of the Omegathon was a claw machine) that I had gone after a couple of times. It was hard to grasp because it was sort of this awkwardly shaped thing that was hard to get a decent grip on. I mean, it's a lot easier to pick up symmetrical objects, but this thing had a big bulbous head and then a long body.
Both of us had gone after it a couple of times and failed, and the crowd was into it because they really wanted us to get that. Getting toward the end of the event I decided I wanted to get the Heartless. A couple of people in the crowd started yelling stuff like "Get the Heartless!" So I was sitting there hovering over it and was pretty sure I was going to go for it when the crowd started chanting "Heartless, Heartless, Heartless."
I still didn't expect to pull it up, but I hit the button anyway. Then the claw starts bringing it back up and the crowd just went frickin' bananas. At that moment I put my hands in the air and just… I dunno, felt all powerful or something. It was like that moment in Majora's Mask when you turn into Fierce Diety Link and you're like "nothing can touch me right now."
Kwolff after pulling the Heartless
Joel: Do you think there was any particular advantage you had that allowed you to come out on top?
Kellyn: Part of it is probably living in Seattle. It gave me the chance to practice some of the games that I was less familiar with. Otherwise I likely would have lost a couple of the rounds, like Katamari. I had never even played that game until one random night in Fargo. When I did first try it, I couldn't even pass a single round. Then I found out it was in the competition, so I went out and bought the game to practice.
The same thing also happened with Bubble Bobble – I played through the entire campaign on Saturday night before the Sunday competition.
Joel: So what was the coolest thing you saw at PAX other than Omegathon stuff?
Kellyn: I hit up the OC Remix panel, which was a lot of fun. It was super entertaining and the people there from the site were really cool. The first thing I saw on the floor was the Portal 2 demo. I got to see the demo of the coop campaign, and all the new elements look really great. The best part is that the humor is still there with GLADos, who I'm psyched to see is back. Just hearing her talk made me want to play the game more.
I also got to play Dead Space 2, and I'm pretty happy that they fixed some of the issues I had with it. For example, there's this quick-heal option, as well as a jetpack that will hopefully make the zero gravity parts less iffy.
I also really liked what I saw about the new Rock Band because it is sort of teaching you to play the instruments for real, which is what everyone wanted to do when they started playing Guitar Hero originally. It's like "yeah, I'm awesome at Guitar Hero, now I'm gonna learn a real instrument," but you can't because it doesn't translate. A strum bar and five buttons does not make 30 frets and six strings on a guitar.
Joel: Well, that's all I had. Thanks for your time, Kellyn. You have anything else you wanted to say?
Kellyn: Hah, yeah. I was talking to Robert (Khoo, of Penny Arcade) when I was getting my prize and told him it was my first PAX. He made the point that it wasn't fair because it's never going to be that cool again, which is probably true. But it still reenergized me about gaming – it's not just a nerdy hobby anymore.
Every kid from our generation played games and wanted to have it be their job, but we were always told it was a bad hobby and a waste of time. They were all wrong. It's a great hobby, a great way to talk and meet people, it can make a great career. PAX helped me realize who I was a little bit more and be proud of that part of me, so I'm never going to miss another one.