How does a massive video game convention happen in your backyard without you realizing it? Probably when you are completely blind to commercials. This is what happened to me. I don’t do commercials. No radio. No TV. I don’t look at billboards. I don’t do ads. So when I heard about PAX South happening right here in the city I live in, I almost lost my stuff. It was Wednesday. I bought my ticket that night for Friday and took the day off work. I would’ve loved to do the whole weekend, but with kids and money being an issue, I’ll take what I can get. This was my first gaming convention on this scale. I’ve never been lucky enough to have one happen so close to home. Unfortunately, I don’t have any friends quite as into the gaming scene as I am, so I was flying solo. Not a big deal to me. When I’m alone, I’m in the best company. So this is the story of my day at PAX and the single greatest gaming moment in my life.
The drive out was quick. I found a parking garage, grabbed my bag, and made my way to the convention center. I had underestimated how cold and wet it was outside and quickly found myself shivering. I passed through a mall, across a street, through a hotel, across another street, and there it was. There were hundreds of people outside strolling past the ticket scalpers (is that even legal?). This was nothing compared to the thousands who were already gathered inside waiting for the expo hall to open. My first stop was will-call. The line was long, and I hate lines, but it went very quickly. With my badge in hand, I moved into the next line for the expo hall.
As I waited, I perused the even schedule pamphlet, unsure where to start. There were so many things to see, I had to be picky. I only had one day after all. With a few things I wanted to do in mind, I made my way into the expo hall. Alienware was represented right up front with a large black truck slapped with a logo and some display computers. I’m no computer gamer, but I know well enough to skip Alienware and build your own, so I pressed on. Twitch was alive and well, broadcasting on a huge screen. I’m no Twitch fan either. What really caught my eye was the enormous Majora’s Mask banner above the Nintendo booth. I made my way over to that, pushing past the personal-space oblivious patrons of the event.
I was able to snag a couple of Majora’s Mask cardboard masks (one is hanging on my game room wall now), then I noticed the 3DS shirts a young lady was handing out. I love handhelds, so I had to have one. Unfortunately, in order to get one you had to test play three new 3DS games. On display were Majora’s Mask, Monster Hunter 4, and Codename Steam. There may have been a fourth I don’t recall. Test them, get a ticket, three tickets get you a shirt. This was super tempting and I even hung out for a few minutes to play the games, but the booth was packed. There was barely any standing room. I didn’t come to PAX to stand around, so I moved on.
I browsed through the booths and saw many, many indie games on tablets. I even tried a couple, but they weren’t really memorable. In most cases, there were some confusing tutorials that I didn’t feel like playing through to understand the game. Is the immersive tutorial a lost art now? What happened to picking up the controller and just playing to learn? My favorite thing I saw on the floor was Gamer Church. I don’t know anything about it except that there was a large image of Jesus holding an XBOX controller with a blue tooth mic on his ear. All he needed was a bag of Doritos and a Mountain Dew.
Around this time, I stepped aside and opened my 3DS to check the street passes. As you can imagine, they were coming in non-stop. I toyed with that for a bit, then made my way across the convention center to a panel I was interested in. The place was massive. It took me a while to understand the buildings layout, but I found my way to the third floor for a session called “Good Games: Why the Industry is Still Good.” Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect.
As I sat there waiting for the session to start, I saw people pulling out notepads. I wondered if they were writers or what other professions they had that would call for notes from a game convention. The panelist introduces themselves. Each had a fairly impressive resume and I was sure I would learn something from them, but I can’t recall any of their names (maybe I should have brought a notepad). The panel discussed why getting into the game industry is still a good thing to do despite some recent bad lighting. They all seemed really happy with their jobs and what they do, but the thing I took away from this is when they opened for Q and A. I don’t recall the question, but one of the women on the panel, a writer, responded with the advice “If you have something to say, f***ing say it.” In essence, if you want to be a part of the gaming industry, just do it. I particularly liked that.
I left the panel before the Q and A ended because I got what I wanted out of it and made my way down a corridor to something I had seen on my way up, an arcade room. I love classic arcade games. Pac-Man, Galaga, and Donkey Kong come to mind. The room was, of course, packed, but I managed to get my hands on a crappy Pac-Man arcade clone. The joystick barely worked. Despite that, there were a number of classic fighting and racing titles, all things I’ve played before. That’s when I saw something unfamiliar. There was an XBOX controller with an unfamiliar platformer on the screen above it. I picked it up and, low-and-behold, I was playing Angry Video Game Nerd: The Game. If you don’t know about the AVGN, he reviews bad retro games on YouTube with a child-like anger and humor. He’s great to watch if you are interested in game design, though, as he points out the real flaws in video games.
There were a lot of great rooms set up for people with particular interested. I saw something about a game called Mean Girls. There was a room about comic books. A large portion of the expo hall was dedicated to table-top and card games. At this point, I was mostly interested in lunch. There was a nice set up in one of the larger hallways and I found a massive turkey leg to nom on. It was amazing! In fact, all of the food looked pretty good. After that, I made my way to the Handheld Lounge which was a corner filled with bean bags. I took a seat and broke out the 3DS to catch up on my street pass hits. It was a never ending stream of visitors at my front gate. When I grew bored of collecting puzzle pieces and beating ghosts, I opened up Smash Bros. and quickly found a room to play in.
I won’t bore you with my Smash prowess, but I will say that I had a blast and even got to meet the anonymous faces I was playing with. We had played several matches together and had each won at least one game. We complemented each other’s play style, and then went on our own ways. By then, I figured, the expo hall wouldn’t be quite as packed, so I made my way back there.
I was right! I went straight to the Nintendo booth and picked up a Majora’s Mask 3DS. The face tracking technology in the new 3DS XL was epic. No matter the angle, the 3D was perfect. The game was beautiful. It was everything I could’ve wanted in a handheld. I was lucky enough to get the Majora’s Mask collector’s 3DS before it sole out and after handling the thing in person; I lost any and all post purchase regret. I left the 3DS blown away and met with the skull-kid cosplayer who had become a staple at the booth. By far the best cosplay there.
Wandering around the expo hall again, I found a booth for a game called Life is Feudal. If you haven’t seen this game, check out some footage on YouTube. I had seen a couple of LPs on it and it looks really cool. It’s like a way more detailed Minecraft, sort of. Seriously, check it out. One of the guys in the booth, I assume it was one of the developers, started telling me about the game. I told him I was really impressed with how far it had come. He then pointed out a guy playing the game on one of their setups. He said the guy was unaffiliated with them, that he just wandered in, started playing, and was telling people all about the game! Interesting way to break into the industry, I thought. That guy could work sales for them at the very least. I moved on from there. I passed by an Elite Dangerous booth and saw some people using an Oculus Rift headset, but the line to try the game was long and I’d seen some LPs on it before. I didn’t linger.
The next panel I wanted to attend was The Gamer Parenting Strategy. I noticed the wait-line for this was pretty big, so I grabbed a place in line and broke out the 3DS again. At one point, a convention worker came by and offered me some pipe cleaners. He said if I made something, he’d give me a prize, so I took him up on the challenge. I put together a rather sturdy triforce and he gave me a pack of Magic cards, a started deck I think. I haven’t played CCGs in many, many years. Its sitting on a dresser in my bedroom now, collecting dust. The panel was awesome and featured some great information about raising little gamers, particularly in regards to shielding their fragile minds to the wanton violence in today’s games.
The next thing I checked out was the console room. There were tons of consoles set up and lots of players going at it. At this point, I felt particularly alone in the event. I wanted to plop down and play, but without friends there wasn’t much point. I can play consoles at home, anyway. Most players were on Smash Bros. Melee. If I’m going to Smash, it’ll be on my 3DS. I left that room and turned off into another room that looked like a museum. This is what I’d come for!
Retro gaming merch and memorabilia is my thing and this place delivered. If you’ve been following my Twitter or Facebook feed, you’d have seen the Nintendo Cereal System boxes, the Dreamcast branded CD player and handheld TV, the competition carts, and NES World Championship cart! There were so many amazing collector’s items, but I particularly liked Mountain Dew XBOX and the gold PlayStation.
It was getting later and throngs of people were breaking off to go eat out. This meant more time for me to browse. I made my way back to the expo hall to find it much emptier than before. Another lap around and I found myself back at Elite Dangerous staring at the Oculus Rift headset. There was no line. This was my chance!
So I’m waiting to play and the booth workers try to take me in to get me playing, but I said no. I told them I wanted to try the headset, so I waited for a moment. As soon as the guy playing was done, they sat me down and showed me the headset and the game. There was a throttle and joystick controller in front of me and I was shown how to put on the headset. Once it was on, I was floored. In all my time gaming, I have never experienced anything like it. The cockpit of this ship lay before me. I could see the controls in game. Naturally, I was staring straight ahead. This is how we traditionally play games. I heard a voice saying “look around.” When I did, my jaw dropped. Every direction I looked I could see space. It was like literally sitting in a space ship. The next step, I punched it! The ship blasted through space into a asteroid field as I chased an enemy firing at him relentlessly. We had an all-out dogfight in the heavens. After several minutes of chasing one another, I grew bored of it and decided to just fly through the asteroids. I was bringing the ship within inches of the massive hunks of rock, boosting as close as possible, then wrapping around them. This moment was literally the most amazing, most game defining moment of my life. I was ABSOLUTELY, UNEQUIVOCABLY IN LOVE! If this is the future of gaming, shut up and take my money!
The voice told me I had to shut it down. The expo hall was closing. I was riding high on this wave and sat for a while in the handheld lounge streetpassing, killing time, trying to calm down from the adrenaline of FLYING IN FREAKING SPACE! If you ever have a chance to try the Oculus Rift, do it. Do not pass it up. Elite Dangerous was pretty impressive as well. Maybe give that a try or, at the very least, watch some LPs.
My day at PAX ended shortly after. I had a great time, even flying solo (literally in Elite Dangerous, haha). If I had more time to plan my trip, I’d have invited my brother. He lives in the next state over, but it would have been great to have him there. That’s my best advice; bring a fellow gaming enthusiast with you. It’ll be so much more fun! I plan to attend again next year, but I will be better prepared and I’ll remember to bring a notepad, too!