I’ve been a big fan of Penny Arcade for years, but I didn’t fall in love with it until my first PAX in 2011. Penny Arcade creators Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins (Gabe and Tycho in the comics, respectively) created the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) in 2004 to be a gaming convention for gamers, by gamers. It’s grown from 3,300 attendees to well over 60,0000. It’s a utopia for every type of gamer. With a convention the size of PAX, the cities need to be able to handle an influx of thousands of people at once. PAX takes place in four different cities: Boston, Seattle, Melbourne (AUS) and the recently announced San Antonio. Four PAXs a year gives everyone a chance to check one out.
The exhibition hall is where most people lose themselves for three days. There are so many games to play and so many lines to stand in that it’s hard to take it all in over something as short as a weekend. It’s overwhelming the amount of games you can play, and a good chunk of it resides in the Indie Megabooth. Out of the 113 games in the megabooth, the Penny Arcade staff chooses a few to showcase. This year, Crowman and Wolfboy, Duet, The Spookening, Tiny Dice Dungeon, Framed and Wayward Souls were the lucky games to get the spotlight. Tiny Dice Dungeon was my favorite out of the bunch—you collect dice and monsters to help you through dungeons. It’s got a great, old-school feel to it with some spiced up mechanics.
Most of the major studios and developers made an appearance, with the exception of Nintendo, Sega and Sony. Nintendo bailing on a PAX is a bit irritating—they have Super Smash Bros. for 3DS coming out in summer and Mario Kart 8 that they could have easily brought for attendees to demo. I love Nintendo, but this doesn’t look good to the fans. Renegade Kid brought a few games to check out on the 3DS though—Treasurenauts is the most fun I’ve had collecting treasure and beating baddies in a while.
The developers who did show up, though, brought the good stuff. 2K games brought my new favorite monster to the party—Evolve’s Goliath looks phenomenal, in game and out, and the game has got a great multiplayer. Four hunters against one enormous, bad-ass monster is a damn good time, whether you’re playing or watching. Ubisoft was my other favorite booth. They brought several games to check out and set up a small skate park to entertain the lines while they waited to check out the new Trials Fusion game. Professional BMX riders pulled some pretty cool stunts to earn some cheers from the lines—even the surrounding booths joined in.
PAX is also a chance to get to know some successful developers and learn their secrets. PAX panels are centered around gaming, and cover everything from landing your dream job to parenting. A good chunk of the panels are run by people who are actually in the industry, so they’re worth checking out. The Make a Strip panel is no exception, and it’s one of the most attended panels in PAX—it’s always full of interesting questions for the creators to answer. It also lent them the public forum to announce the new PAX in San Antonio. This January, the Riverwalk is going to be full of PAX attendees, sporting the burnt orange colors of PAX South.
The biggest event at PAX is the Omegathon. It’s a convention-long tournament that involves 24 randomly picked attendees, and pits them against each other in games ranging from Pong to Jenga. The prize, along with the games, differ from PAX to PAX and the prize this time around was a trip to Germany. This Omegathon started out with Perfection—the “POP! Goes Perfection” board game. The next round was Starwhal—an epic battle game using narwhals with very bright colors. Round three was Towerfall—an arena combat game where everyone’s an archer and tries to snipe the other players. The final round of the omegathon is considered the closing ceremony of PAX, and the game for that round is kept secret until it’s announced by Krahulik and Holkins. This year, they went low-tech with good ‘ole Cornhole. One of my favorite things about the final round is the creators “demo” the game first. Holkins and Krahulik teamed up against two other PAX staff members, and whipped them eleven to one. The four remaining Omeganauts are split into two teams—red and white. The red team ended up winning the trip by scoring a nearly perfect round and decimating the white team.
One of the unique things about PAX is there are numerous “Freeplay” areas where you can hang out—there’s tabletop, which includes CCG games, console, classic console, handheld and lastly PC. I’m not a PC gamer, but the PC freeplay area is nothing short of beautiful. My favorite hangout is the Handheld Lounge. You can Streetpass for hours or try out some new games from PAX’s library. Giant bean bags litter the hall for you to relax on as you take a break from the lines and the craziness of the expo hall. The greatest thing about PAX isn’t that you get to play some games before they come out—it’s the feeling of being home.
I can’t express my love for PAX enough—it’s one of the best experiences in my life. PAX isn’t utopia because of all the games you can play—that just insures you against boredom. The community is absolutely fantastic – everyone’s friendly and genuinely nice. They’re all there for the same reason—their passion. PAX is a great show—it’s run well and there’s so much to do. If you’re bored, you’re doing it wrong. The energy is amazing, and I’ve never regretted a single weekend with my PAX peeps.