I needed to let my brain recover before I posted anything PAX related. I’ve been home a few days now but the memories are still fresh, and they’re all good ones. When I first heard that the Penny Arcade Expo was coming to Australia I was surprised and happy. That probably sums up the feelings of a lot of Australian gamers. At the time I jumped in right away and bought a 3-day pass, many months in advance. There was no missing this one!
Held at the Melbourne showgrounds, it was absolutely packed. Knowing that lines were going to be big I hit the grounds early on Friday morning and it’s lucky I did – counter to usual geek behaviour, thousands of people were already there waiting. It’s not normal for gamers to be up at that kind of early hour on a Friday morning so I surmise that a number just hadn’t bothered to go to bed. The atmosphere was excited and you really could smell the nerd.
My top priority was to sit in on any presentations where Mike and Jerry played a roll and they were on right after the keynote speaker, the one and only Ron Gilbert. Monkey Island is one of my favourite games of all time and I was pretty darn excited to hear his talk. It was wonderful. We got his take on what “the creative process” is (the conclusion being there usually wasn’t one, at least in his case) and all the LucasArts history you could want. Right down to detailing how the Pirates of The Carribean amusement park ride and Tim Power’s book “On Stranger Tides” were inspirations for the themes in Monkey Island that made it so enchanting. His story about giving Steven Speilberg personal guidance over the phone for the tricky parts in the game was amusing. I know people who feel the same way about Maniac Mansion and Day of The Tentacle as I do towards Monkey Island. There’s magic there and I really did feel lucky having the chance to hear Gilbert speak.
Mike and Jerry are the closest thing “our people” have to rock stars. The crowd was ready for it, and since they’re fairly practiced with the stage-and-large-audience thing now, their first Q&A session was great. I’ve watched the PA TV series and listened to some podcasts so it was good to see them in the flesh. It went exactly as you’d expect. They’re funny, honest guys who dont necessarily wear their feelings on their sleeve, but fit into what I suppose you’d call the Sensitive New Age Guy category. The questions from the crowd were what you’d expect (and seen before at previous PAXes). Forcing them to eat a Vegemite sandwich was entertaining. The constant Dropbear trolling inspired some very entertaining artwork for this week’s comic. I probably liked the “Make A Strip” session the most, watching the art take form (the script had already been written) and watching it change as an unruly audience shouted out suggestions.
I also managed to get a good seat at the Killer Instinct talk, which turned out to be great. A very energetic X gave us the background on his work and then played us a bunch of powerful new tracks made for the upcoming game. I’ve always been a Mortal Kombat guy but I have time for Killer Instinct and I loved the new theme. There was some technical discussion around “how you get the drums to sound big” and how elements of the score were recorded. We then participated in some crowdsourced sound design, since mics had been set up around the room. We were different types of wind, sabrewolf howls and monks shouting battlecries. In theory some of these textures will be worked into the final product when it’s released later this year. Awesome.
Ticket To Ride, my favourite boardgame, featured on Sunday. I’ve only played the digital version and have most of the variations and expansions. I sat down with two randoms from Perth in the freeplay area and did a round of the Europe map, which was great fun. That hour and a half was a good example of the spirit of PAX. It’s not just about exhibitors handing out flyers like other trade shows that I’ve been involved with, but about community. Because everyone’s on the same page, there’s an element of insta-friend to the whole event. Lines were long but calm, everyone was resonable and courteous. The Enforcers did a good job too. Robert Khoo was out there in the thick of it, not shying away from hard work. I shook his hand (his left hand, since he’d apparently broke his pinky finger!).
Other notable parts include a 3 hour Minecraft tournament which turned into a major frustration-fest. I’ve never seen 60 people in a Minecraft server before. The idea was to run through an elaborate obsticale course and then up a large pyramid to a block that had buttons on it. Hit the button, get a point. The most points wins a motherboard. The problem was we were basically the alpha testers for this custom built map, and after everyone finally was able to log on (Mojang’s auth servers quite rightly sheilding itself from the storm of connections) it turned into chaos. Still, this kind of thing reminded me of the technical troubles we faced at LANs back in the day. I also played a fair bit of Dig Doug on an Atari which was great, since Dig Dug was one of the first games I ever played, ever. Pango is the other. In the retro area there also was some Bubble Bobble action and a Robocop 2 challenge. There were a number of pinball vendors also, which I was very happy about. This season’s thing is rock bands and the Metallica table was entertaining.
Apart from the horrible Melbourne weather and packed public transport, everything came off without a hitch. To wrap it all up, dinner with old (and new, very new..) faces happened. My flight back to Canberra was delayed but at the end of the day there wasn’t much to complain about.
I’m very glad I attended this innaugural event. I can say I did and I have the t-shirt and scarf to prove it! They seemed pretty confident that it’d be run again next year. So, yes, I’ll be going back without a doubt.