The convention in question is the Penny Arcade Expo, started by those two hooligans who make Penny Arcade, a webcomic that is even more popular than my own “Sprite Flicker” webcomic. Commonly abbreviated as “PAX” by people who can’t spell “Expo,” the Penny Arcade Expo is a convention that invites gamers of all kinds to line up for events they’ll never get into. Whether you’re into videogames, tabletop roleplaying games, board games, or card games, there is a place in line for you at PAX.
PAX is normally held in Washington state, but I had the privilege of attending the very first PAX spinoff convention, PAX East, which was held in the historic city of Boston, Massachusetts, where the Pilgrims accidentally landed in search of India. According to legend, PAX East was formed when a group of people waiting at the end of the Seattle convention line got separated from the group as they broke the line to get an autograph from actor Edward Norton before he could enter nearby Faneuil Hall.
Of course, you’re surely not interested in all that factual stuff. You came here for news! From concerts to cosplaying, from panels to playtesting, from shopping to showering, I’ve experienced everything a good con-goer should, and I’ve got news from every corner of the con to share with you. Except the corner with all those bean bags on the floor. I hate bean bags.
Much of my news comes in the form of observations. For example, judging from their appearance and feel, I’ll be able to review 75% of all new and upcoming commercial videogames in my next “Flash Flood” column. I couldn’t see the other 25% because of the crowds around them, but I’ve gathered that the new Prince of Persia game is really the old Prince of Persia game with a different crowd of people standing around it. Also, it appears that a gorgeous-looking game named Red Dead Redemption will feature cowboys, who have not been seen in a videogame since and because of that embarrassing time in Karaoke Revolution Party when a barely dressed Vegas showgirl walked into the Wagon Wheel cowboy bar, sang “Headstrong” by Trapt, and the cowboys just stood there, swaying.
Despite the incredible crowds preventing me from trying out most of the games on display in the Expo Hall, I did skillfully manage to commandeer a few games, thanks to my puma-like reflexes, devious cunning, careful planning, expert timing, kung-fu fighting, and the fact that nobody was standing in front of the machine at the time. I can only vaguely recall the names of the three games I tried out, but I’m fairly confident that all of them contained vowels.
This is news reporting at its finest, folks.
The first game I tried fell into that 75% category I was talking about, and it had some verbular name like Push or Bounce or Smoosh, something that seemed to only loosely relate to the actual gameplay. The premise of Why Can’t I Remember the Name of This Game that Had a Title that Was One Word Long, for Cryin’ Out Loud is that you are a ball. Like many of the Flash games that have emerged in the wake of thinky games like Portal and Braid, it’s a standard puzzle-platformer that revolves around a single mind-bending gimmick that is almost impossible to comprehend—in this case, physics. Something about creating platforms you can roll over that are shaped in accordance with the speed and direction of your movement. It’s an interesting concept, but—Woosh! That was the name of the game. Woosh.
The next game I tried was playtested solely for the sake of staff writer Zach Rich, who threatened to quit the staff if I did not play the new Hydro Thingy game. Now, I was under the impression that Zach had already quit the staff, because we haven’t seen him around these parts since and because of that embarrassing time in Karaoke Revolution Party where he showed up as a barely dressed Vegas showgirl and…well, anyhow, I thought I’d humor him by playing Hydro Thimble Turrican. OK, OK—Hydro Thunder Hurricane. Sheesh.
Having never played the original Hydro Thunder (or, from the perspective of an onlooker, any videogames at all), it took me a little while to get adjusted to controlling my avatar, which handled like a boat. Because it was a boat. Powerboat racing! Pretty water!
…And that’s my review of Hydro Thunder Hurricane. The last game I playtested was a WiiWare game called Gravitronix, in which you twist the Wiimote side-to-side to slide your character around the circumference of a circle and bounce blunt objects at your opponents in an attempt to wear down both their protective barrier and their wrists. Gravitronix seems like a modestly entertaining way to spend five bucks, but if you get more than your money’s worth out of this title, you’ll make up for it in wrist surgery costs.
I would have stuck around to playtest more upcoming games, but the truth is that I’m much more of a retro gamer, and not enough people threatened to quit the staff for me to stay any longer. It’s a good thing I went on to do other things, as I otherwise might have missed out on the biggest news to come out of the convention: Games with graphics will soon be made obsolete by text adventures like Zork.
That’s right! A black screen with white text and a line to type in commands is the most sophisticated our graphics will ever look. No, really; this is what I gleaned from a panel consisting of six of the biggest names in interactive fiction: Steve Meretzky (Leather Goddesses of Phobos), Nick Montfort (Twisty Little Passages), Andrew Plotkin (Spider and Web), Brian Moriarty (Trinity), Dave Lebling (Zork), and Don Woods (You uncultured types really don’t know what I’m talking about, do you? Bumpkins, go home!). Unfortunately, other text adventure icons such as the lurking grue and Floyd the robot turned down the invitation to join the panel, and due to scheduling conflicts, PAX East was also unable to get Ye Flask.
…But I digress. As it turns out, interactive fiction is—just as musician Jonathan Coulton would sing at a later point in the convention—still alive. And, unlike an acoustic guitar rendition of “Still Alive” sung by a man during a concert instead of a psychotic female computer at the end of a videogame, interactive fiction still makes sense out of context. Think about it: people still read fiction books, and interactive fiction is just like…fiction…that’s interactive. Top-of-the-line graphics might be hyper-realistic, but there are still limitations on the technology; with interactive fiction, all the pictures come from your imagination, so the only visual limitations are those imposed by your puny Earthling brain.
This sounded a lot better when they said it. Actually, come to think of it, they might not have said this at all; I could just be extrapolating from what I heard. I’m so good at journalism.
There was a lot more breaking news at PAX East, and the next important thing that broke was Pong. The screen worked, but turning the knob didn’t do anything, and the machine just spat my quarters back out at me. Guess that’s to be expected from a decades-old arcade game.
The last important tidbit of news I unearthed is that CollegeHumor.com hates GameCola and wants to put us out of business. Even though no one at CollegeHumor has ever heard of GameCola, they have sworn vengeance and vowed to destroy us with a website they’re currently developing which will feature funny and videogame-centric news, articles, comics, videos, and more than five readers. Sorry; the whole “GameCola doesn’t have any readers” joke is getting old, which is another reason CollegeHumor will be a tough competitor, because they’ll actually be funny.
And that’s absolutely everything that happened at PAX East.