Every summer, video game companies and gamers from around the world descend upon Seattle for the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX Prime). PAX Prime is the largest nerdy convention to take place in Seattle. The event not only occupies all the space at the Washington State Convention Center, it also manages to branch out to other local venues like the Paramount Theater and Benaroya Hall. Elaborate industry parties take place every night around town before, during, and after the event. The entire thing is just a massive spectacle that one has to witness firsthand to fully appreciate.
Securing passes to PAX is a clusterfuck of the highest order. In past years ticket servers have crashed leading to mass anger and confusion. Months ago, badges for PAX Prime 2013 went on sale and promptly sold out in an hour flat. As they went on sale during the middle of the day on a weekday, many people (such as myself) who happened to be at work had no chance to buy tickets directly. Scalpers start posting badges for sale on the internet for three to four times their face value almost instantly. This year I was fortunate enough to secure a Friday badge from a friend at face value the morning of the event, won another one on Ebay for face value, and actually scored another day’s badge for $5.08.
On short noticed I arrived at the Washington State Convention Center Friday morning to meet my friend and pick up my badge. My hair was still wet from a hasty shower and my coffee hadn’t kicked in yet. Slightly panicked that it was so loud she couldn’t hear me on the phone, and I in turn couldn’t hear her, we nonetheless finally managed to meet up. She had been waiting in line since an ungodly for the doors to open and be one of the first people in. To complicate matters, no banks were open yet, and I of course didn’t have correct change. She had left her purse back in the queue, so she told me to just follow her back there and we’d sort it all out. This was easier said than done. Convention Center staff would not allow her to go back in, citing new rules this year and instructing her to go to the back of the line. I felt horrible. The entire incident played out like some twisted comedy sketch. Every staff member instructed her to speak with a different staff member three feet away. After speaking to a dozen different people in about two minutes, they started telling her to talk to the original person who had set this whole chain of events in motion. The entire thing had a very “Who’s on first?” vibe to it. Finally a nice gentleman agreed to escort us to her place in line, but warned that if her bag wasn’t there he’d escort us right back out. Thankfully everything worked out in the end.
With five minutes until the doors opened (and because I’m a horrible person) I just stayed in this prime spot in line. Nervous staff members reminded everyone not to run when we were allowed inside. Camera crews jockeyed for position to capture the mayhem. The “do not cross” tape was lifted and the mad scramble began. The writhing mass of humanity surged forward like a tsunami. I heard screams from behind me and looked back just in time to see multiple people fall and be trampled. “Those poor bastards,” I thought. Nothing could be done to help them at that point. I comforted myself with the thought that they’d surely respawn in a couple of minutes.
So why the insane push and uncivilized behavior? Sure, some people were eager to get their hands on the games. Many others were more interested in making sure they got their “con swag.” Con swag loosely translates to free, first-come-first-served trinkets which are given away by the different companies. There’s usually nothing very special about these trinkets besides the fact they are “PAX Prime exclusives” and you can only get them here. Within hours these items would begin appearing on Ebay. Nearly all of the items are little more than an attempt by developers and publishers to make sure attendees remember their products once they get away from the shock-and-awe of the show floor. Most attendees will not think twice about cutting ANY motherfucker that stands between them and the opportunity to get free stuff. Consider yourself warned and exercise the proper level of caution.
The first half an hour of PAX is the most pleasant time of the entire day. You can actually get your hands on quite a few games without waiting in ridiculous lines. If you want to play any games, the majority of your time at PAX is going to be spent waiting in lines to do so. Expect to wait anywhere from 15 minutes up to 2 hours in exchange for 5 minutes of actual gaming. I’m pretty sure some of the lines even have lines. It can be confusing. I highly recommend asking someone who is working the event which line goes to what, or you could easily end up waiting in the wrong line. At least most of the lines were set up in a manner which doesn’t impede foot traffic (attendees pushing and shoving or staring blankly at their phones took care of that).
I tried to get hands-on time with as many PS4 and Xbox One games as I could. Obviously, neither system has been released yet, so PAX offered me my very first opportunity to check out the next generation of console gaming. I liked what I saw quite a bit. While higher frame rates and advanced particle physics lays the foundation for what we can expect from next gen consoles, the new games don’t completely blow current games out of the water quite yet. There’s a definite polish to the new graphics, but they aren’t as dramatically superior as one might expect. On the PS4 I played demos of: Killzone Shadow Fall, DriveClub, Blacklight: Retribution, and (I can’t believe I have to type this) Octodad: Dadliest Catch. Xbox One games I played included: Battlefield 4, Ryse: Son of Rome, Killer Instinct, and Forza Motorsport 5.
Some of the other biggest, most highly-anticipated games were also in attendance, but not for hands-on demos. The very first game I rushed to see upon entering the expo was Sucker Punch’s inFamous: Second Son. As a huge fan of this series, I’m elated that the next installment is set in a police state controlled virtual Seattle. About 14 other people and I were ushered into an enclosed booth with a large screen and metal benches. What we saw was about one minute of new footage, followed by a live play-through of the demo which looked identical to footage that came out months ago at E3. It was so close it could have been the exact same footage with someone sitting in the room with a controller pretending to play, and I would have been none the wiser. I couldn’t even inspect the tech at the front-left corner of the room to determine if this demo was actually running on a PS4 or was still running on a PC build equivalent. Nonetheless, I still remain excited to play the game. Con swag was pressed into our hands as the demo came to a close, the door opened, and we returned to the show floor. Watch Dogs and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag had similar setups (but with the opportunity to dress up like a pirate for a photo op in the case of the latter).
The PAX Prime show floor is truly awe-inspiring. Gaming is the largest entertainment industry in the world, and judging from how elaborate the presentations were, business is booming. Giant screens, massive statues, and concert quality lighting rigs lend the entire scene a surreal Vegas-like atmosphere. Explosions boom out of powerful audio setups from every direction. Even at 10:30 in the morning, the overpowering scent of gin and vodka hangs heavily on a surprising number of attendees. You get the impression that many people won’t get much sleep throughout the entire expo. Ironically, the PlayStation and Xbox areas were set up directly across from each other. I imagined all the fanboy internet flame wars coming to a bloody head right here in one giant Battle Royale. I tried to snap a couple of pictures in the Xbox section and was quickly approached by one of their reps and asked politely not to. I raised an eyebrow, looked over at multiple people with their phones out recording videos of the demos, and responded with, “Sure. No problem.” Bethesda’s set up stretched the entire length of the eastern wall of the expo. Elder Scrolls Online ran on dozens of screens. It looked amazing. Bored looking “booth babes” handed out swag and looked like they’d rather be anywhere else.
A couple of hours into the convention I had started thinking about all the germ-laden hands touching all those controllers, mice, and keyboards. The thought of all those sweaty heads putting on those headsets made me shudder. Surely it was unavoidable that I was going to contract some nasty form of SARS or ebola. I promptly went out to buy some Purell in a feeble effort to avoid “con crud.” By the first night my throat was already scratchy. By Sunday my voice was little more than a pathetic croak.
It would take me an entire novel to detail all of the awesome things I saw at PAX Prime 2013. This post was just meant to offer a general overview, and hopefully make you smile in a couple of parts. There were droves of journalists in attendance again this year. (And not just lowly people like me sitting at a computer and writing. “Real” journalists, live up on stages, wearing tons of makeup and mugging it up for the cameras). I’m not sure how much actual news is going to come out of this year’s PAX, but it was a fun and exhausting event nonetheless. My friend, Dan Morrill, has posted a bunch of great event and cosplay photos over on his Studio5Graphics site. Be sure to check them out. Got any funny PAX stories or random commentary? Feel free to share them below. As always, thank you for reading and your continued support. I’m off to drink some lemon tea and rest.