This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending PAX all 3 days. I waited a bit too long to get my pass, so I had to buy 3 individual passes rather than a full weekend ticket. I almost missed Saturday completely because it sold out a week ahead of time but I lucked out Friday night and scooped one up when more passes became available at the last minute online. My wife was out of town with the baby during the week and the convention provided a much needed way to keep my mind focused on something fun.
My activities focused primarily on cruising the expo and catching a number of panels. I took a bit of time out on Friday and Saturday night to watch the concerts as well, which were fun and more varied than the last time I caught the concerts at PAX. I didn't participate in any tournaments or gaming outside of the expo this year, but I did take some time out one evening to play Magic with a friend.
The panel quality was impressive, with at least one session ranking as good or better than many panels given at GDC. It was about storytelling in games. Adam Sessler moderated a group consisting of Tim Schafer, Denis Dyack, Dr. Greg Zeshuck, and Joseph Staten. A number of thoughtful questions were asked and the QA afterwards was excellent as well. One of the other quality panels I attended was focused on issues surrounding independent games with prominent indie folks Derek Yu and James Silva in the panel. The last educational panel that stuck out to me was the Klei Games company update. One of the founders outlined the history of the small company and talked about the challenges of building a game studio. For fun, I also attended my first live viewing of the 1Up Yours podcast with some of the old staff in attendance. That was a treat.
The expo floor reminded me of a smaller scale version of the E3 booths, with the exception of ridiculously long lines for Left 4 Dead 2 and Dragon Age Origins. I was pleased to get hands on time with Diablo 3, New Super Mario Brothers Wii, Mass Effect 2, and Dante's Inferno. Outside the main expo floor I found myself hanging out with my former Nintendo colleague Nick Trahan, who was demonstrating his upcoming WiiWare title Liight in the PAX 10 Indie games spotlight. I also got to check out Klei's upcoming game Shank, which took me back to the days of arcade beat 'em ups. Klei has also added on an extra layer of awesome character design, animation, stylized effects, and modern design aesthetics that makes this a game to watch.
In addition to playing a number of games on the expo floor, I took a bit of time to observe people playing each of the games on demo from multiple angles. While there were no games on display that I worked on, I find it valuable to see how people respond to the games they play. New Super Mario Brothers Wii clearly elicited the smiles that Miyamoto is on the look out for. Diablo 3 invoked intense concentration from players as they perused the skills and loot being constantly updated in front of them. Several other demos caused players to put down the controller from boredom or mild frustration. I walked away from this "gaming people watching" with a few notes in my head about demos as well as a rough idea of how I want to see players of my own games look when I present them in the future.
Unfortunately, reports of a swine flu breakout dampened the post convention mood a bit, but I seem to have escaped unscathed. I had a great time overall and found the show to be both highly entertaining and educational. It's fun to observe what people want to play, what they talk about, and what they want to know about the industry. It's also great to have a show where there is no set agenda. Usually I am scrutinizing my time at conventions to reach important talks, networking, demoing a game, attending parties or dinner events, or a variety of other mostly work related activities. This year PAX was all about having a good time, catching up with friends, and going with the flow of whatever sounded most interesting at any given time. I look forward to another fun show next year, whether or not I am participating as an attendee or presenter.