So I managed to pull off something that I’d never ever get to do: fly across the country to Seattle and go to the Penny Arcade Expo. The west coast is a really nice place. I enjoyed the weather there and the cities themselves are pretty cool. Hanging around downtown Vancouver and Seattle, however short it was, was fun.
So what exactly transpired there? The first thing that you notice as you head toward the convention centre is the increasing number of people sporting gaming and nerd t-shirts. You’ll overhear things like, ‘oh look, an xkcd shirt’, or conversations about Star Wars canon, or discussions about raiding in World of Warcraft, or shooting PA jokes at each other. The next thing you notice are the immense lines that form to get to the main events and the people lounging around in the lines, doodling in Pictochat, challenging others with DSes, or keeping balloons up in the air.
On the expo floor, I had a few exciting moments as I watched people play Starcraft II. That game looks absolutely gorgeous and I can’t wait to be sending the little mans back and forth. I saw Animal Crossing: City Folk for the first time there and it expands on Animal Crossing to include a city sort of zone, which was very Sims-esque to me. I also managed to miss all the Dragon Age demos in the expo hall and had to settle for the toolset demon in the main theatre on Sunday. Other than that, I managed to pick up a Penny Arcade zip-up hoodie, a PAX 08 tee, and one of those awesome Katamari Damacy t-shirts that Panic makes.
I also attended the Fallout 3 and Spore demos. Those are two games that I really, really want to pick up. I’d only heard about the Fallout series before, but the demo of Fallout 3 really sold me on the concept and really drew me into the world and of course, the game looks stunning. I am now in the process of figuring out getting Fallout 1 and 2 working on my computer. There wasn’t much new that was demoed in Spore, since they just played through the cell and tribal phases. I was really looking forward to the civ and space phases, but I guess I’ll just have to wait for that.
But the best parts of the expo were definitely gaming culture and PA related. Ken Levine’s keynote is inevitably going to get compared to Wil Wheaton’s awesome keynote from last year. Unfortunately, I don’t think he did as well. He had a great autobiography of his own nerdery, but the end felt sort of rushed and I felt that he didn’t expand on what we were supposed to do as well as Wil did. There was no connection between his journey and our current state of nerd culture.
Following that and for the next two days, there were various Penny Arcade panels. Let’s just say that Gabe and Tycho are as entertaining and funny as they are over the Internet. The other thing that they are is that they are just as brutally honest. But these panels aren’t just for them to shine, it’s also lets the community do some really awesome things, like talk about the PAX Cookie Brigade or the Button Swap and bring up ideas and donations for Child’s Play.
Then there was the final round of the Omegathon. It wasn’t a spectacle like it was with the Minibosses doing Halo last year, but I felt that VS. Excitebike delivered the excitement of competition between the two Omeganauts. The most hilarious part of the final round happened before it started though, while everyone was waiting in the theatre and some music was playing. A bunch of people who managed to snag a Fallout puppet coordinated and had their puppets dance in a crowd together, and so for a good few minutes, the crowd was fixed on this troupe of Vault-Boys.
The last thing I need to talk about is the concerts. I was only able to make the Friday night concerts because we wanted to get up early for Sunday to make the line for the panels. This means that I saw The OneUps, Freezepop, and Jonathan Coulton, but missed Anamanaguchi, The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, MC Frontalot, and the Minibosses. I’ll begin by saying that Freezepop is not for me, but they were alright, and they really made my respect for them rise by ending off with an epic rendition of The Final Countdown.
The OneUps, however, were just as awesome as I expected them to be. They had a set that included classics, which are very nice for the nostalgia, and some more obscure music from obscure games, which I enjoy for the variety. The nostalgia hit very hard for Metroid, FF6, Link to the Past, Chrono Trigger, Street Fighter II, and Diablo. I did find it perplexing that one of my friends managed to not play any games that were featured and so, did not enjoy The OneUps at all.
Finally, we have Jonathan Coulton. Before, I thought Jonathan Coulton was a cool guy and really smart and funny. The concert changed that to be brilliant and a master performer. The way he worked the crowd was simply awesome. He had some really cool interaction with the audience, beyond just shouting stuff at us. He managed to rickroll the entire place not once, but twice. He delivered surprises to us while we cheered, like getting Felicia Day of The Guild and Dr. Horrible to do the vocals for Still Alive. Jonathan Coulton is a smart, smart, and awesomely hilarious man.
Basically, I pretty much blew one grand to fly over to Seattle for five days for this nerd party. The experience and realization that you’re but one person in this sea of the Internet community incarnate, united by its love of gaming and Penny Arcade fandom, was worth every dollar I spent. This thought was especially reinforced after it was all over, when we ran into other PAX-goers in airports and back on the forums where it all started.