At PAX you are surrounded by thousands and thousands of gamers. Computer gamers, console gamers, card gamers, role playing gamers, dice gamers and so on. It really does not matter what kind of a gamer you are. You could even just be the casual gamer and still find a place at this convention. You can easily talk to anyone at PAX about any aspect of gaming you want too. It’s such a friendly and fun atmosphere. This is why I have gone for the last three years.
While at the convention I picked up the following items.
Cards Against Humanity which is an adult card game much like Apples to Apples. Just for adults. The tag line is “A Card Game For Horrible People”. So many people were playing this all throughout PAX and laughing hard while playing it that I had to pick up my own copy of the game. Cards Against Humanity started off as a free game and still is free. You can download the free PDF and print off your own cards. After a while they started a Kickstarter project to have official cards made. Now you can buy your own like I did thanks to the people who helped fund their kickstarter project.
Smallworld – Be Not Afraid… Expansion. Smallworld is a great board game I have been playing with friends for a while now. I was stoked to find this expansion for the game and can’t wait to play a game using it.
Pathfinder: Ultimate Equipment is a new Pathfinder Roleplaying Game book with all kinds of Weapons, magic items, armor and much more. This is going to be such a useful tool for me when planning out adventures in my own Pathfinder game.
I was disappointed that TECMO/Team Ninja’s Dead or Alive 5 did not have a booth. This is one of my all time favorite video games and I have been looking forward to part fives release for over a year now. The last edition of the game was not available for the PS3. This version is and I am stoked to get back into it.
I was pretty impressed with Nintendo’s Wii U showing on the convention floor. The graphics are way improved and the controls were pretty neat. Now they just need games that support the new hardware in unique ways.
NBA JAM: On Fire Edition, is a return to the video game franchise’s roots. Drawing from the things that made the original games so great and what EA should have done from the start with last years release.
I was so excited last year when EA released an updated version of one of my favorite games of all time. NBA JAM was released for the current generation on consoles about this time last year. Like an eager gamer, I rushed out to the store to pick up my own copy on release day and jammed it into my Playstation 3 (PS3) so fast that I barely realized that I was missing work to play it.
As you can tell I was pretty excited to play this game. I have owned a PS3 for some time and have a dozen or so games, but there are only two I play on a regular basis. ‘Top Gun‘, and the latest ‘Mortal Kombat‘, which is a remake of the same game with the same title from the 90s, that focused a lot of bringing back all the elements of the original ‘Mortal Komabat’ game that fans like. So, you might say I am picky about the games I play.
I played NBA JAM for all of two hours after I got it. Since than it has sat quietly in the plastic box I bought in on the shelf next to my TV with my other video games. This new NBA JAM wonderfully maintained the arcade look the game has always had since it was released in the 90s, but that is the only good thing I can say about that game. The rest of my hopes and dreams for this game came crashing down like a bricked shot at the NBA finals.
NBA JAM lacked just about everything that made the original games so much fun to play. Things like the ability to control whoever on your team has the ball, fouling people in mid air just so you can steal the ball from them and an ‘On Fire’ mode that made you next to invincible on the court.
The programmers at EA made the mistake of spending their time creating “Half Court” games. Building an A.I. to play against that would leave Deep Blue scratching his brain, and mother fucking boss battles.
Really? Boss Battles, EA? What the hell are you thinking? This is a basketball game you morons, not fucking ‘Super Mario Brothers’. And to think I played fifty bucks for this damn “game”.
For the next few weeks while the game sat back on my shelf I was checking the message boards of EA, filing my complaints along with those others who also were outraged that the game missed its mark by so damn much. I found myself hoping that EA would provide a beacon of hope to all the thousands of fans by releasing an apology. Then release updates to the game so that it would be playable. But soon those weeks turned into months, which turned into, well fuck, this thing is never going to get played again.
Than this year while I was at PAX Prime, hope shined down on me when I saw the smallest booth on the show floor displaying ‘NBA JAM On Fire Edition’. It would be released on October 4th 2011. I eagerly went up to the kid manning the booth and asked “So did EA fix all the fuck ups of last years release”. The kid, having memorized the appropriate response to this question earlier in the day, responded with “I was not aware of any things needed to be fixed from last year’s game sir, but this on fire edition coming out in October will have over one thousand gameplay improvements.”
I didn’t get a chance to grill the kid manning the booth any longer because PAX being what PAX is, I was late for a PAX talk. I had to hurry away and did not get a chance to revisit the booth before PAX ended. I did find myself thinking a lot about if I should get this updated NBA JAM game or not.
Well like a gullible child taking free candy from a guy in a windowless van, I picked up NBA JAM On Fire Edition as a digital download for fifteen bucks. So, this time if I get screwed over by the same gaming company it wont hurt as much. I hope.
NBA JAM On Fire Edition clames among its one thousand game play improvements:
Stripped out all boss battles
Removed Half-court games
Swap or tag play that allows the player to swap control of who they are controlling on their team during game play
To me, all of these “gameplay improvements” could have been addressed with a simple update to the original game of last year. Then at least I would not have felt like I just handed fifty bucks to EA supporting a shitty game. But no. This whole video and AE’s stance has been ‘implementing game improvements” and not “oh we fucked up, we are so sorry. We are going to make this better, we promise”. I don’t know why they have such a hard time admitting they screwed this up. There is nothing wrong with admitting you screwed up. It shows the fans that you care and that you can learn from your mistakes. But no. That is not what is happening here. They are playing it off like the game was perfect and now they are making it better.
Well, I have now had some time to actually play NBA JAM: On Fire Edition and here is what I think.
This game is pretty damn good. Once you get used to the controls the game play feels a lot like how it used to be back when I had it on the SNES. Complete with full control of both players (albeit, it can be sluggish switching players on defense), fouling people in mid air, and a strong ‘On Fire’ mode.
I see myself playing this game solid for a few months and inviting friends over to play it with me even though there is an online component to the game. I am not disappointed in this release, but if EA ever wants to apologies for the last one I bought, I will be waiting.
Waking up on the last day of PAX was slow and painful for not only myself, but for Hannah as well. I pulled myself out of bed and lazily stood up. That’s when I realized it was the damn hotel bed that had been sucking the life out of me each morning. The bed was to soft that you just melted into it. When you tried to get up in the morning it was like trying to pull yourself out of a quick sand pit. We took a shower and tried to wash away the groggy and stiffness we felt.
Today Hannah, Lyle and myself planned to meet up and spend most of the day in the Expo Hall checking out all the games we didn’t have a chance to check out before. The highlight for me was playing the new Mortal Kombat. Granted, I did not get a chance to see every game in the hall or play every game in the hall but out of the ones I did, Mortal Kombat stuck out as a favorite for me. This game feels more like MK 1 and MK 2 in it’s play and brutality. I understand it is also going to have a mature rating which will make fans of the game think that the game developers are finally starting to listen after 10 years.
Another game I was excited to see was Portal 2. The game was closed off behind walls and the only way to play it was to wait in an hour and a half. So though I did not get to play it I was excited to see that the game had a presence their.
I was so excited to try the demo for Duke Nukem forever. I quickly learned however, that the line for the demo was 2 hours long. I had waited in lines the last two days and I was done with it. So I did not wait to play the Duke Nukem Demo. I texted my friend Alex about this when I learned how long the line was.
Youseph: The line for Duke Nukem is 2 hours long.
Alex: It could be argued that, that line is 15 years long ;)
Youseph: Haha, to true!
Hannah found ‘Kirby’s Epic Yarn’ and played the demo for a while. Lyle enjoyed several Lord of the Rings game demos going on and all of us played a hand full of indie games. Hannah really enjoyed one that will be coming out soon called Swarm.
Not to think we where all about computer and console games on our last day at PAX we spent some time at the Chessex booth buying dice (where the frack where you GAME SCIENCE!) and visiting the hand full of venders that had RPG merchandise to offer.
We ended the day and PAX by attending Omegathon at Benaroya Hall. Omegathong is a weekend long tournament of randomly selected attendees competing for a grand prize. The final round makes up the show’s closing ceremony, past games for the final round have included Tetris, Pong, Halo 3, and Skee ball. This years final round was the OmegaClaw. You should have heard the audience explode when this thing was reveled on stage.
At the end of the Omegathon the three of us had dinner one last time. We said our guy byes to Lyle suggested we do this again next year.
Waking up and pulling myself out of bed I was feeling like I had been at PAX a week already. I could not figure out why I was feeling like this. Maybe it was all the walking around and standing in lines the day before. Maybe eating out so much was catching up to me. Regardless Hannah was smiling and ready to start her day and I was hardly going to disappoint.
Hannah and I grabbed a quick bite to eat as we made our way back to Benaroya Hall to attend the “Penny Arcade Make a Strip” panel. Lyle joined us in line shortly after we arrived. When the doors to Benaroya Hall finally opened that morning everyone in line poured into the great hall and made their way to the seating area. Once everyone was seated The song “Hustling” by Rick Ross started blasting from speakers all around us as Gabe and Tycho entered the stage to a roaring applause. The two proceeded to create a comic strip for their website right before us all while they worked they also took questions from the audience. It was really funny and very entertaining and something we will do again for sure if we are lucky enough to attend PAX Prime in 2011.
After the “Make a Strip” panel finished we headed over to the Sheraton and got inline for “Acquisitions Incorporated: D&D Live”. This was a longer wait for us but the PAX Enforces did a decent job keeping everyone in line entertained as we waited to take our seats. Everyone in line seemed really nice. People in line where again either talking, Playing on their Nintendo DS’s or playing Zombie Dice. The three of us grabbed some carpet and talked about life, the universe and everything.
The doors eventually did open and we made our way inside and found good seating up close to the action. A large projector screen was center stage so even the people in the back of the room would be able to see the Dungeons & Dragons action going on. Chris Perkins from Wizards of the Coast and the DM of this game was already on stage making the final adjustments to his to props and miniatures.
Eventually everyone did get seated and cameras that would be projecting on to the screen in front of us where correctly setup. Then the players were introduced to great applause. Scott Kurtz as Binwin Bronzebottom, Wil Wheaton as Aeofel (Al), Gabe as Jim DarkMagic of the New Hampshire Darkmagics, and Tycho Omin Dran CEO of Acquisitions Incorporated. The object of this Acquisitions Incorporated Dungeons & Dragons game was to bring Wil Wheaton’s Character Aeofel, back from the dead if possible. It was an awesome game and I laughed pretty hard throughout the whole thing. I am sure that Wizards of the Coast will eventually post an official video/podcast of the game. When they do I will update this post with the link.
After the good time we had at the Acquisitions Incorporated game we all got right back in line for Wil Wheaton’s Awesome Hour that was also taking place in the Sheraton. Wil talk a bit about his life and then left the rest of the hour open to a Q and A session.
Day 2 at PAX was pretty much lines and panels. After Wil Wheaton’s talk the three of us got dinner. Again Lyle headed back home and Hannah and myself proceeded to walk around the open game rooms and look over the shoulders of other gamers till we where ready to head back to the hotel.
Hannah and I woke up early and eager on Friday so we could attend the PAX keynote address and meet up with our good friend Lyle. The Keynote was taking place at Benaroya Hall and featured Warren Spector as the keynote speaker. His speech was filled with his insight on games and the gaming culture. He stressed that we should welcome new gamers into our community and help them discover this wonderful art form. That the only way gaming and the gaming culture can survive and thrive is by welcoming the masses into our “tribe” and to allow the mainstream to embrace gaming rather than fear it.
When Warren Spector finished with his entertaining keynote presentation, Gabe and Tycho of Penny Arcade took the stage of the great hall for a Question and Answer period. It was a funny and informative Q&A session as the two answer questions about Penny Arcade, PAX, and games in general. At one point an older gentleman came up to the Q&A mic and politely asked if either Gabe or Tycho had any bubblegum. Gabe and Tycho kind of looked at each other funny and then finally said “no”. Then in the iconic Duke Nukem voice the man said “Well, I am here to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and I am all out of bubble gum”. I remember the reaction to everyone in Benaroya Hall just being “That was really cool”. It would not be till later in the day that I would realize why that gentleman was even there.
At the end of Gabe and Tycho’s Q&A we made our way back out to the streets of Seattle and to the convention center where we went right to the exhibit hall. The first time you walk into the main exhibit hall you’re flooded with flashing lights and random sounds that are quite overwhelming at first. It takes a moment to process what is going on and where it’s happening. There was just so much at first it was almost like sensory overload, but in a good way.
Walking through the convention center’s main gaming exhibit hall you find yourself surrounded by games. Mostly computer or condole games, but the occasional and refreshing table top game is on display as well. Some of the game titles that jump out at you when you’re walking around are ‘Little Big Planet 2’, ‘Portal 2’ ‘Mortal Kombat’, ‘Swarm’, ‘Halo Reach’, ‘Infamous 2’, and ‘Duke Nukem Forever’. When I saw the Duke Nukem Forever sign I understood that the guy at Gabe and Tycho’s Q&A panel was the voice actor for the new Duke Nukem Forever video game.
Feeling somewhat overwhelmed, Hannah, Lyle and I slowly walked through the entire exhibit hall and gravitated to the Wizards of the Coast Booth. The booth was awesome with a little more than half dedicated to Magic the Gathering and the rest dedicated to Dungeons & Dragons. A wall was setup to show off unreleased products like Magic cards and new D&D miniatures. On the Magic side of the booth two tables where setup to teach people who to play Magic and two computer/gaming stations where setup to show of the Magic The Gathering video game. The other side of the booth was setup with an area for live action D&D to teach people how to play.
I was supposed to meet with some people with Wizards of the Coast on this day for some interviews and a demo of the Red Box. With some time to kill before I was to meet Hannah, Lyle, and myself decided to try out the live action D&D training. We got in line and quickly made our way to the front where a Gentleman presented us with pre generated character options. The character options were laid out on a table before us in the form of two-sided laminated cards that would hang around your neck from a lanyard. The characters were simplified for the purposes of training, but that did not mean you where going to win the demo. The two groups that went before Hannah, Lyle and myself where both slain by the dragon!
When the three of us walked onto the life-sized battlemat to fight the dragon we didn’t know what would happen. We each took our turn and we each managed to deal a blow to the beast. Some of us got really lucky and rolled some critical hits. In my case I rolled two crits in a row for my Rouge and we where able to vanquish the dragon. The three of us got a button to pin on to ourselves that said “Monster Slyer”. For our critical hits we also got tokens that allowed us to claim other prizes.
From the Wizards of the Coast booth we made our way down stairs to an area called the Hidden Level which housed the a large area for Magic the gathering and Dungeons & Dragons play. D&D players where able to join a random dungeon delves or partake in A dark sun arena battle. Magic the Gathering players where able to just play or partake in a “buy-in” game. Hannah found this useful for learning how to play magic for the first time.
After exploring the hidden level we made our way back upstairs to meet with some people from Wizards of the Coast. I had the chance to speak with a D&D game designer and play a game out of the Red Box with one of the game developers by the Dungeons & Dragons bus! I will be writing more on this experience in a future post.
As morning turned to afternoon, and afternoon turned to evening Lyle, Hannah and myself found a place to eat dinner. It gave us a chance to talk about the days events and do a little planning about for the next day.
After finishing dinner we headed back to the expo hall to attend the play “Of Dice and Men”. We where lucky to even be able to attend this play. We gave ourselves a good hour, hour and a half to get in line. When we got in line however, we learned their where only 40 spots left in line. We waited in line while Hannah played Pokémon Silver on her Nintendo DS and traded Pokémon items with other poke ball wearers in line.
The doors finally opened for the play and the long line of people waiting to attended made their way in through the doors and found their seats. The play was really good and put on by some really great actors. You would be cheering one moment and gripping the edge of our seat just waiting to see what happens next.
When the play was finished we headed outside. Lyle caught the bus to go home for the night and we made plans to meet the next day. Hannah and I dropped some stuff off at our hotel room and then headed right back to the convention center. By this time the expo hall was closed, but that did not mean people where still not having fun and playing games. As we walked back to the convention center we found people in line to play Rock Band 2. I have to admit that some of the performances were rather good. The two floors of the expo hall that still had activity were dedicated to board gaming and make shift stores selling everything from board games to t-shirts. One room would be filled with people playing games like Carcassonne and Axis & Allis, while another room would be filled with people playing Magic the Gathering, Zombie Dice and Munchkin. They even had a room to check out games to play. Pretty much anything you could think of was available for check out.
Still another room was filled with bean bag chairs where people could talk, play games, check their e-mail, etc. It was a very relaxed and fun feeling everyone had. It was at this point however that I wish I had brought some of my Dungeons & Dragons material to run a game with. Hannah had some pre made characters all ready to go and I was in a mood to observe other Dungeons Masters, but no one was really playing Dungeons & Dragons in these rooms. It was a this point that O made a mental note that If I attend PAX next year I was going be prepared to run my own D&D game.
Hannah and I spent the next few hours walking around and just taking in all the gaming awesomeness that was around us before we headed back to our hotel to call it a night.
My Fiancé Hannah, and I were woken up at 5AM on Thursday, September 2nd to the theme of Top Gun blaring from my iPhone that rested on the night stand. The night before I set my iPhone to wake us up to the Top Gun theme because this day needed to start off with an awesome song. This was the first day of our vacation and the day we would be traveling from Juneau, Alaska to Seattle, Washington for the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX). It was the start of what I knew would be a legendary adventure for the both of us!
We where both checked in at the airport by 6:45AM and seated on the plane by 7:40AM. We where no sooner seated when we heard the announcement made that we would have to de-bored the plane because it was discovered that the brakes on the plane needed to be replaced. With a collective sign from everyone on board we all grabbed our language and made our way back to the gate seating area. Every 30 minutes for the next 2 hours we were updated by the overhead speaker system saying that maintenance was still working on the plane and they hope to bored everyone in the next 30 minutes. Even though it was frustrating to hear this statement every 30 minutes I am glad that the airline took the time to notice this braking issue with the plane and fixed it before trying to send us on our way.
The non-stop flight from Juneau to Seattle was just under 2 hours long. The weather in Juneau when we took off was overcast and rainy. Hannah kept herself entertained on the flight by playing games on her Nintendo DS and I switched from reading a book to trying to nap. We landed with Seattle welcoming us with 72 degree sunny weather.
We made our way from the airport to our hotel in downtown Seattle via the new Link Light Rail system. The $2.50 ride from the airport to downtown was worth every penny. Through the windows of the rail car we watched as we were carried through traffic, weaving under and above ground at times till we made it to our University Street stop. From there it was a short 3 block walk with our bags to our hotel.
We spent the rest of the day exploring Seattle on foot. We walked around and made sure we could find the PAX convention center. We checked out a few shops while trying to get the lay of the land. We had dinner at the HardRock Café and dessert at the Cheese Cake Factory. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at little convenient store and picked up a few bottles of water and hand sanitizer to take with us the next day. With everything ready for PAX the next day we went to sleep.