Monday, April 30, 2012

PAX East 2012 Day Two

Previously at PAX East
After getting a late start and arriving at the Boston Convention Center later than originally planned, our group quested for swag bags, badge lanyards and sustenance, ultimately missing out on our first opportunity to hit the Expo Hall Floor. The night was salvaged by the awesomeness of the Friday Night Concerts, getting to see Supercommuter, The Minibosses, Metroid Metal, and The Protomen (read about it here). And now, with sleepy eyes and happy hearts, our heroes shuttled back to the Boston Park Plaza Hotel and Towers for some much needed rest…

FIRE! PANIC! FIRE! My eyelids had just about sealed shut with the sandman’s kiss when the hotel fire alarm sounded loudly and I jumped back out of bed. “What the hell is going on?” I asked to no one in particular as the rest of my groggy group were also jolted awake by the ear piercing sound of the alarm. We were now very much awake, but confused by the situation; I’ll elaborate. When we fell asleep it was in a fit of giggles and questions about whether or not our old heater was simply making a lot of noise or did we have a gas leak. We had surmised that the giggles were a symptom of exhaustion and not our impending doom caused by a room slowly filling with gas. But now, jolted back awake by the unrelenting wail of the building fire alarms, we were not so sure.

From left to right: Zelda, Travis & Link
We joined the rest of our fellow sleep-deprived hotel patrons emptying into the quickly overcrowding hallways and began the long shuffle down several archaic corridors towards the lobby. I can only describe the scene we found there as something straight out of a Romero film: hoards of people milling around aimlessly, eyes glossed over with a thousand-yard stare, stumbling over each other as more and more flooded the lobby. I began to wonder to myself what would happen if every patron in the hotel did decide to heed the loud repeated warning and join us in the lobby. Would we all drown in a sea of pajama bottoms and bathrobes? Be smothered by the very clothes meant to keep us warm and snuggly?  I pictured fighting to keep my head above a swirling terrycloth whirlpool while clinging hands of strangers threatened to pull me back down into the depths. The nauseating smell of stale beer and the hot breath of a fellow Park Plaza survivor shattered my daydream, snapping me back into our sad reality. Our new companion came to PAX East a game designer, but now, like all of us staying at Boston Park Plaza Hotel and Towers, he was just another member of the herd. He had been up late partying, and like us had just hit the pillow when the alarm sounded. He said he had a roommate still in bed, but he wasn’t able to rouse him. It turns out our game designer’s roommate had the right idea because after standing around for what felt like an eternity we found out it was a false alarm caused by a mischievous punk pulling the alarm on the fifth floor. Very funny, guy; now do the world a favor and please go play in traffic for your next trick. Now our group plus one waited for our turn to ride the elevators back up to our rooms and try and get what little sleep we could before the following days activities. Why not take the stairs? Well, because hundreds of our closest friends had the same idea and we were now stuck in a damned-if-you-do damned-if-you-don’t situation. It was better to just stay the course and wait for an elevator than try to brave the overcrowded stairways and halls. When our elevator finally came, we parted company with our friend the game designer. I never got to ask him what game was his, but in our exhausted states it probably was for the best. I hope if you’re out there reading this you got more sleep than we did and enjoyed the rest of your time at PAX East. Yeah, that’s right, here’s where I should get to tell you that once we got the “All clear” to return to our rooms, we leapt into our beds and embraced Morpheus’ sweet embrace, but that would be a lie. Unfortunately, a second set (as in more than one) of alarms sounded letting us know it was safe to go back to our rooms. This went on for quite awhile and I managed to capture the audio - enjoy…

Dawn of the Second Day - 48 Hours Remain

Travis first enters the PAX Expo 
Due to the festivities of the previous evening, we were dragging pretty bad when the dawn of the second day of PAX East broke. Needless to say, my carefully calculated schedule I created via the guidebook app had been thrown into complete disarray. But not even the complete lack of sleep could stop us today, for today was the day that I would get to pop Joe & Desiree’s proverbial cherry and expose them to the honeypot that is the Expo Hall floor. But we are only human after all and before we could quest onto the Expo Hall we first needed provisions and they came in the form of oversized jelly-filled powdered sugar covered doughnuts. I will admit that I also had to buy myself a fruit cup (I’m just programed now to search out fruits and vegetables) and both the doughnut and the fruit cup were delicious. And now it was time to hit the Expo Hall Floor, almost… See, in a fit of excitement I managed to cut myself on my PAX East badge and was in dire need of an adhesive bandage (no, I didn’t stop to snap a picture of this gusher). Luckily I managed to maim myself directly across from the first aid station and was able to quickly snag the desired bandage. So after my brief medical episode it was now time to enter the Expo Hall, almost… I had made a promise to my future brother in-law, the very same man who told me about the magical land that is PAX East, to purchase him a 2012 t-shirt and it made sense to do this now because the entrance to the Expo Hall just happened to be where the PAX East merchandise was housed (convenient, right?). So one Large black PAX East 2012 t-shirt and two red and white PAX East 2012 scarves later (matching scarves for J and I), we were now on our way… To The Protomen table because I wanted to pick up an Act II: Father of Death t-shirt and I’m glad I did because it gave me an opportunity to talk to Turbo Lover about the show and become every inch of fanboy for a brief moment. And then, with all of our PAX East swag in hand (PAX Tip numero uno: always bring a bag) we finally stepped onto the escalator and descended into madness.

The vacant Lollipop Chainsaw bus  
The first thing I locked onto was the giant banners for Lollipop Chainsaw, the forthcoming game debut from Hollywood screenwriter/director and personal hero James Gunn. Who’s that you ask? First, stop messing around, and second, go check out his latest offering Super and then come back; don’t worry, I’ll wait. Okay, did you watch it or at least update your Netflix queue? Pretty freakin’ sweet, right (seriously watch that movie)? Okay, well before I lose you again to check out the rest of his work (and you should, you won’t be disappointed) I have to talk about my own personal disappointment. Jessica Nigri, the winner of the Juliet Cosplay contest, was there in person with game creative director Suda51 representing Lollipop Chainsaw (the only thing cooler would’ve been if James Gunn was there himself) but because of the nature of her costume (she was wearing two different costumes from the game) she was asked to change and leave the floor. Because of this, and my poorly timed PAX East entrance, I missed my opportunity to snag a picture with Juliet from Lollipop Chainsaw: total bummer. The second letdown came in the form of the line to check out the game; it wasn’t just big, it was ginormous, such so that you had to wait to even be able to form a line. For me this wasn’t a huge disappointment because I know I’m buying the game anyway, but getting my hands on one of those foam chainsaws would’ve been sweet. If the Lollipop Chainsaw booth was so popular, I can only hope that leads to game sales and James Gunn’s debut into videogames will be a smooth and profitable one. So, like I said, disappointing but in a bittersweet way.

From left to right: Joe and Travis
Instead of standing around waiting to get into line (a line for a line) we moved on to the Xbox Kinect area to check out Kinect Star Wars. The game had been released just days before PAX East and I decided to wait rather than preorder or purchasing it. I mean, I was going to have an opportunity to play it at PAX East so why jump the gun? Just because I’m an uber Star Wars fanboy wasn’t enough to get me to drop the $49.99; it hasn’t even been that long since the new Blu-ray set was released and the sting hasn’t had time to wear off (the 3D movies hitting the theater doesn’t help). And let’s be honest, the online reviews of the game have been less than favorable. So I was curious to give it a shot, but I didn’t want to have to buy it to try it (thanks PAX East). I was hoping for a battle royal against Joe, a little Jedi vs. Sith action, but instead we had the choice of a Galactic Dance Off or to test out the Rancor Rampage mode. I won’t lie, I originally bought the Kinect so Jaclyn could play Dance Central because she loves to dance. What ended up happening though were many drunken sessions of Dance Central, Joe vs. yours truly, with Jaclyn not really participating as much as coming home from work to find us busting a move. So the prospect of the Galactic Dance Off wasn’t intimidating, it was more so been there done that, what else you got. I will admit, seeing Han Solo getting down with Storm Trooper backup dancers is the right kind of hilarious. So Rancor Rampage it was, Joe and I got the quick gameplay explanation from the Kinect Star Wars worker and we were off to the races… sort of. The controls were simple enough, but it was really hard to stay in front of the Kinect sensor. I mean, we were only running in place but I could not for the life of me stay where I needed to be; the game was constantly yelling at me to move myself right or back. After we concluded our turn, I asked Joe if he had the same problem or felt as equally uncoordinated, and he indeed had the same issues. The plus of a Kinect is no controllers, but only if you can still have control over the game; this was a fail. I’m still interested in playing the Jedi Destiny: Dark Side Rising Mode and will have to play the game again before I completely make up my mind. Jaclyn played the Galactic Dance Off mode and said it was fun, but once again I have Dance Central and Dance Central 2 for that. The absolute highlight of my time at the Kinect Star Wars area was seeing a father with his two kids, one dressed as a Jedi and the other dressed as Leia, walking side by side with their working life-sized R2D2. That majorly stole the cake and made my Kinect Star Wars experience so much cooler, so thank you R2.

R2D2 steals the show
After finishing up at the Xbox booth, we decided it was almost time to grab some food again (I know, how much time was wasted on nourishment?) but before we did we navigated around the Expo Hall Floor a little bit to see what sites needed to be seen. As I previously mentioned, I had planned out a day of panels but as the time kept slipping by so did my opportunities to check them out. Because of the Kinect Star Wars demo, I missed my chance to check out the Comedy, Video Games and the Internet: A Steamy Love Triangle with College Humor & Dorkly panel. If the panel was even half as funny as the videogame videos they’ve been producing, I’m sure it was a blast. But we had just hit the Expo Hall and how could I come all the way to Boston and not check out a game or two? The next panel I wanted to check out wasn’t until 3:00 p.m. so that gave us time to eat and explore a little further.

From left to right: Jaclyn & Travis
Our meals the night we landed were nothing to write home about (run of the mill burger and fries; not bad but nothing crazy). For lunch I had a better idea and headed to the farthest reaches of Level 0 to reach it. Like last year, we had arrived late to PAX East and never had to form up in the Queue to gain entrance, but we did have to venture to the Queue area to gain our swag bags and lanyards and this was the reminder I needed to remember that some of the great food is hidden in the Level 0 Food Court (PAX Tip numero dos: Level 0 food is where it’s at). We dined on mouth-watering pulled-pork and gnawed on giant turkey legs as we planned out our game of attack. The lunch was amazing and the Mt. Dew Code Red gave me a much needed caffeine boost to continue on our quest. After our quick recharge, we were off and exploring the area that I didn’t spend too much time in the year before: the Tabletop area. Now not completely lost, I headed over to the Steve Jackson Games table to see if I could score a Zombie Dice Bag because the cardboard cup that came with my game was taking a beating and a Zombie Dice Bag is both portable and cool. But Travis, don’t you already have Zombie Dice on your iPhone and iPad 2? Yes I do, but there is something satisfying about being able to throw real dice that makes having the physical game with you worth it, and as I said, the bag is cool. I didn’t have any luck scoring a Zombie Dice Bag, but I was able to pick up the Zombie Dice 2 Double Feature that adds three more dice to the game play and makes the game more challenging with the edition of a Hunk, Hottie and Santa Claus die. I debated picking up a copy of Cthulhu Dice for myself (a Christmas present for my Secret Santa) but I think it was because the Cthulhu Dice Bag was so awesome. Don’t get me wrong, the game seems like it would be a lot of fun but the stuffed Cthulhu Dice Bag is sick. Joe & Desiree were also able to make purchases in the Tabletop area snagging themselves Magic the Gathering mystery boxes at a really good price. It was actually Magic that got Joe first interested in attending PAX East after I returned from it last year and showed him the starter deck I received in my swag bag. He then attempted to show me how to play and I think if I would’ve continued with it I would’ve been sucked in too, but the hard reality is it’s another expense. And between comics, movies and videogames, I don’t think I can take on another habit at this time.

NUIT/TV Multi-Touch Display
With our new loot we left the Tabletop area and headed back out to the main Expo Hall floor to explore a little further and get to see some more games before we headed upstairs to the Cat room for the American Classic Arcade Museum – Video Arcade Panel. Our first stop was at Mesa Mundi Inc. who caught our eye with their awesome looking NUIT/TV Multi-Touch Display set-ups. There were people drawing and others playing shuffle puck or virtual air hockey or whatever it was called and Joe and I wanted to give it a try. Now, maybe it was my tired state or maybe my coordination really was just completely lacking, but Joe destroyed me; in fact, I think I scored more points on myself than him. But the screen was awesome and it felt like playing a game on a giant iPad. It was easy to use and the guy quickly demonstrated the set-up for us. I don’t think I’ll have an extra couple thousand dollars laying around anytime soon, but if I do…

Four Swords Links and Travis
I decided that before we exited the Expo Hall I should probably swing by the Nintendo booth to see if I could spot Pit and land some exclusive AR cards for Kid Icarus: Uprising. When we made it to the Nintendo section, unfortunately there was no Pit, but I did run into three Link’s from The Legend of Zelda Four Swords wielding Minecraft Foam Pickaxes that didn’t mind snapping a picture with me, another highlight of PAX East. Their friend, dressed as Finn from Adventure Time, even gave me props on the Lon Lon Milk shirt I scored this past December from And since we were all getting along it seemed like a perfect time to ask where everyone was getting their Minecraft Foam Pickaxes from, something that both Joe and I had been wondering. The ladies were happy to point us in the right direction and our new quest had begun. Well, sort of. I mean, at this point it wasn’t really a quest. We finally received really good directions on where to find the place selling the Minecraft Foam Pickaxes and, like most obsessions, when we finally found our object of desire it left us feeling unfulfilled. I knew that since the item would be a purchase that I could just wait and get one from and I’m not sure what made Joe balk; they might’ve actually been sold out. Either way, we both walked away empty-handed.

The home of the Minecraft Foam Pickaxe
With our Minecraft Foam Pickaxes mission now complete, the only thing left to do was to leave the Expo Hall floor and head to the Cat room for the American Classic Arcade Museum – Video Arcade Panel. This wasn’t our first line wait (we had to queue for the Friday Night Concerts) but this was the first time we had to do it this tired. The lack of sleep was really starting to catch up with our party and the girls were definitely starting to drag. Sitting still for any amount of time was going to equal one thing and one thing only: someone was going to fall asleep. Determined to keep watch while the others dozed off, I decided to take out my trusty handcrafted leather bound journal and jot some notes down so I wouldn’t in a haze forget everything that we’ve experienced so far. I was psyched to get to break in my new journal and knew it would turn heads (and it did) because of how sweet it looks. My friend Lindsey of custom-made it for me to adventure with and it held up nicely being tossed around in my backpack. It’s because of my travel journal that you’re able to read this account of my experience at PAX East today.

Travis and his travel journal
The American Classic Arcade Museum – Video Arcade Panel wasn’t quite what I expected but still was interesting. I’m not sure what I pictured it to be, but it was interesting to hear Steve Gloson (Co-creator of Ms. Pacman) and Jonathan Hurd (Programmer of Food Fight) talk about their experiences dealing with and working for Atari during the initial videogame boom. Their stories reminded me of watching Code Monkeys and made me wish I could’ve been there to watch the evolution of gaming from arcade to home console first hand. Eric Pribyl, the other panelist and programmer of Cruisin’ USA, Cruisin’ World, and Cruisin’ Exotica, was directly responsible for stealing a ton of quarters out of my pockets with his games (at the very arcade my wife used to manage I might mention). It was fun to get to hear the two different generations of programmers talk about the worlds they lived in and ultimately made me jonze for some old skool arcade action. Luckily, in addition to hosting the panel The American Classic Arcade Museum had set up a Classic Arcade room so we could do exactly that. Walking into the Classic Arcade room was reminiscent of being in the Denver Barcade 1Up. There were all the classics from Ms. Pacman to Frogger, from Tron to Donkey Kong. It was awesome and I wish we could’ve hung out longer, but unfortunately the lack of sleep was starting to catch up with us again. It just meant that sooner than later I would have to make a trip to the arcade mecca that is Funspot in New Hampshire and get some more time with some old school games.

The American Classic Arcade Museum - Video Arcade Panel
We only had a little time to kill after leaving the Classic Arcade Room before the next panel and the one I had most looked forward to since the PAX East schedule was first posted. How Not to Succeed as a Freelance Game Journalist promised to be an entertaining and educational experience and really was the thing I was most excited for. But thanks to the lack of sleep I wasn’t even feeling like I was at fifty percent and I was scared I’d do something super embarrassing like fall asleep during the panel. Luckily the people from 5-Hour Energy were there and I was able to score a little pick me up before getting in the line for the panel. I spent the time waiting in the queue trying to log some game time in The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, but even a game I’ve played a million times seemed way too challenging; in the battle of sleep vs. Travis I was losing. I looked around at my party and it seemed like I wasn’t the only one. It was going to be rough. Fortunately the time seemed to pass by pretty quickly and sooner than later we were seated in front of the journalism panel hosted by Susan Arendt (The Escapist) and made up of AJ Glasser (Inside Network), Justin McElroy (Polygon), Andrew Hayward (MacLife), Kyle Orland (Ars Technica) and Rob Rath (freelance). The panel was everything I wanted it to be: highly entertaining stories from Susan Arendt, Justin McElroy and AJ Glasser were especially funny, but it was also informative and it was most interesting to hear from Rob Rath who is still currently working as a freelance writer. I wanted to hear how the pros transitioned from freelance to fulltime, but at the same time it was great to hear from someone who is still currently working freelance how he balances his daily life with the life that he wants (the life of a paid writer). Lets face it: I’m still in the baby steps phase of writing and it’s always nice to hear what some of my next steps could be and very helpful to hear what not to do. My only disappointment with the panel had nothing to do with the panel itself and more to do with my over tired condition. I had set out to PAX East with high hopes of handing out business cards and making good first impressions, but in my current state that just wasn’t going to happen. You only get one chance to make a first impression and I didn’t want to blow mine because I was running on fumes. So I didn’t stick around to mingle after the panel and instead ducked into a taxi and headed back to Boston Park Plaza Hotel and Towers, business cards still clenched in my tired hand, no leveling up and no points awarded…

How Not to Succeed as a Freelance Journalist Panel 
Much like the previous year, when it came to the final day of PAX East we didn’t make it. This year it was because a member of my group wanted to make it back for Easter Dinner, not because we were ready to go. PAX East the second time around was even more fun than the first and if I would’ve got just a couple hours of sleep I’m sure it would’ve been even better. I’m looking forward to PAX East 2013 and you better bet I’ll be wide awake and ready to go next year. See you in Boston...

Pit at the Nintendo Booth
Oh yeah one last thing, we did manage to run into Pit and score some Kid Icarus: Uprising AR cards and snag this sweat picture.