Went to PAX with the wife last week. There’s more to talk about than when I first started writing this.
I spent most of the first day walking the show floor. As cool as some of the games presented were I am not of the mind to stand in line for hours on end to get a hands on experience. Demos will be soon available for a less guided and more intimate examination of how things work. This is not to suggest that I didn’t find the opportunity to check out a few choice games. The highlight of which was Civ V. 2k made it easy, allowing one to sign up for a slot at some point in the day and show up at that time. Overall I found myself very happy at the prospect of this new game. I also caught a few minutes with Torchlight 2. More of the same game, but better. There’s not much more to ask for from that series. The story stays out of my way, the graphics are good without being too real or too cartoony. It has a very satisfactory way of playing for me. I am glad to see it continue to be a going concern.
Late in the afternoon I met back up with my wife and her friends to have dinner and retire for the day. My legs and back ached with the amount of walking done. I need to get in better shape.
The next day I went to a couple of panels at the urging of my wife. The first was writing for the videogame industry. It was entertaining and interesting. The five people doing the talking seemed to be as frustrated as I am with the way story is handled in games, and for much the same reason, but stemming from a different source. This is one of their creations. Of course they want to see it better handled. They would rather see players reactions be more natural thanks to the story rather than limit them to whatever text gets stuffed into a menu choice. They’ve put out a great effort to get that story written and then cut down enough to fit on the game disk(s) with everything else that must go on. I, on the other hand, simply want to play. I could care less about the story because I’ve become used to the fact that the story will simply be whatever the producer and director has willed it to be and not what the player crafts with their effort.
It is an interesting conundrum that that gaming industry currently finds itself in because of these forces. I will be watching to see how events turn out. Who knows, maybe one of these days I’ll have the chance to experience both sorts of frustration at the same time.
The second panel was supposed to be about the cross-pollination of ideas between MMOs and Pen and Paper RPGs. It tried to go in that direction but it quickly turned into a session on bashing MMOs. Which, as it turns out, is not a very deep discussion. Pen and Paper quickly won out as the preferred sort for many reasons with MMOs being given some props for their “always on” nature. There was some noise around the idea of the simplification MMOs give players by hiding away much of their mechanics but the crowd, and I must include myself in this group, did not seem to blink at the complexity that traditional RPGs offer their players.
Before and after I wandered around the halls again. I’m guessing that it is purely the nature of PAX but the lack of organization of events started to bother me at this point. There is very little planning one can do for getting into the panels or concerts save for showing up hours early and hoping that you got in the right line. I endeavored to drop by the open play areas but found my efforts to get involved stymied by the lack of structure. Showing up and playing can be fun when all by ones self, but you don’t go to a convention like PAX to play with yourself. There wasn’t a whiteboard or poster to organize games in either the videogame or boardgame areas. I assume, however wrongly or right, that one is supposed to arrive with a group of friends or somehow rely on the better nature of their fellow gamer to include them. There were several Twitter feeds set up to facilitate forbearance of the lines but the chaotic nature of that beast strikes me as ill-suited to keeping abreast of the local patterns of play.
The same can be said when it comes to the concerts. Just having a line is not my idea of making sure that those who want to attend a given event are able to do so. Even with them giving out guaranteed spots to the first thousand or two in line, the lines remain as long and as stagnant and as unfair as ever. I never thought I’d long for a ticketing system as GenCon has, but here I am, wishing that there was something, anything better than standing in line for hours to get into events.
Despite this, I had a good time. Seattle is a beautiful place to visit and I would be happy to go again next year just for that. But I would be going to give PAX a second chance. I know that it can take some effort to understand how a convention works. After attending GenCon for the first time in 2007, I felt much the same frustration. Going again in 2009 helped me to work out exactly how to do it as well as shaping my expectations to better fit the actual happenings. And this year’s GenCon was the best ever. It may very well take me a second or third time going to PAX to get it figured out in the same way.
 I did not have a single rude experience the entire time I was at PAX. In fact, most of the time, I found myself easily conversing with fellow gamers. I had the same general feeling of people as I get when at GenCon. Easy going, friendly, happy to have so many others of the same hobby surrounding them. So it may very well be that it is as simple as walking up and asking to join and being able to do so. I did not stick around to find out.