PAX East 2011: Is it Worth it?

Gamers from all over the US united in one convention center this past weekend. You didn’t find any hard core gamers putting down the noobtards here. In fact, the number one rule at PAX East was “Don’t be a dick.” A great rule that seemed to work out. So now I will go through a few of the things you’d need to know if you want to go to next year’s convention and if it’ll be worth it.

Prepping for PAX
The easiest thing that you can do for yourself is get your passes online and early. This event is known for the ridiculously long lines everywhere. That would be one less line for you to stand on. If you’re smart enough to do that, the next thing that you want to do get yourself a map of the area because you WILL get lost. If you plan to sit in on demos and panels, you want to know where everything is and how to get there. You also might want to bring your own food. Don't get me wrong, PAX does provide food and there are plenty vending machines full of snacks and energy drinks, but I personally don't plan to pay $5 dollars for a soda I can get from the local pharmacy for $1.50. There were plenty of stores near my hotel to buy food from, and it was decently priced. I either stocked up the night before, or headed to the store before getting on the shuttle to the center. This is important for those of you that plan to be gaming all day. Go to the local pharmacy\ store and stock up on snacks that can last you the whole day or at least until your next meal.

Choosing your lines
As I’ve said before, the lines can get pretty ridiculous, so you want to be smart about what lines you want to wait on. Once you get your booklet with your map, figure out what panels you want to go to and what time they start. It was recommended to me to arrive at least an hour and a half in advance, and with good reason. If you show up only a half hour early there's a good chance you won't be going to the panel that you want to see. On top of that, the staff does not clear the rooms out, so there will most likely already be people seated in there from previous panels waiting for the next one to start. An hour could still get you a seat, but if it's something really popular like a live taping of a show, I wouldn't take any chances. You'll know if you're not going to make it into a show when the staff come around and let you know that your chances are slim, or that they have to cut the line down.

I know an hour and a half seems like a great deal of time, but it doesn’t mean that it has to be a boring experience. There were quite a few people who played with their handheld games or their cell phones. Some even had card games. Usually on the longer lines, the staff gives you pipe cleaners to play with, and award people with free stuff if they make something really cool.
If you’re going to be in the expo area there will also be lines to sample the games, and a lot of them will be long. However, some of those long lines go remarkably quick. Some first person shooters will be run in co-op mode and last the duration of the mission, then the next group comes in. Usually seats 16 or so people at a time. Dance Central and Rockband 3 allowed each person one performance. When the crowd disperses, you're allowed to play for as long as you want. There are also a few places in this area that will show demos of upcoming games. For example, I was on the line for Portal 2, and I asked someone how long the wait was because the line was ridiculous (literally wrapped around itself). I was told about 45 minutes. I got to the front of the line in about 30 minutes time, because the inside seated about 60 people or so. Once you get to the front, you get a free Portal 2 t-shirt, an awesome reward for your wait.

If you just want to avoid those things altogether, there are several rooms full of consoles and games that you can play. Some rooms are set up for free play all day long, which would be until about 2:30am or so. You could also cozy up on a beanbag chair in an open area called the handheld lounge. Now since I’m mentioning alternatives, I have to give some love to the table top gamers. Their area was nice and full and there were many people playing the classics like D&D. That obviously wasn’t the only table-top game going on, but there were way too many to count.

The Demos

The two demos that I saw were Portal 2 and Rage. Portal 2 is looking very promising. It has new and funny characters, and has a co-op mode this time around. The puzzles are unlike anything we’ve seen in the previous game. There are traps laced with spikes and acid, and you acquire gels that allow you to create slippery surfaces as well as rubbery ones. This game is a must have.

With Rage, you have a collaboration of Bethesda (Fallout) and id Software (Quake). These two companies do not disappoint. They deliver an eyegasm of graphics and well done design. Unlike Fallout, Rage is a first-person shooter with car combat as well. With each level, you meet new and unique characters and can take on side missions. You also have an inventory system similar to that of Diablo, or any other RPG for that matter. I was completely blown away by this demo. I’m definitely going to buy it.
Portal 2 is scheduled to be released on April 19th of this year, and Rage is scheduled for a September 13th release date. Both games are multiplatform.
Other noteworthy games are Crisis 2 and Bulletstorm.

The Panels
The panels are awesome because you get a chance to ask questions and get advice from some of your favorite game developers, or web comic authors. Mike and Jerry from Penny Arcade (the comic that the expo is named after) were very cool in person and funny as hell. Students studying game design were able to ask questions to some of the most well known developers in gaming. There were also panels that discussed what kind of resume that you need to have to get into the gaming industry. Very valuable information.

The Free Stuff
Also called Swag at PAX. You can get swag just about everywhere, and for doing very little. For waiting on line for demos and panels, you can get free t-shirts. Down at the expo, you can get t-shirts, computer accessories, and even free games, just for participating in a survey, raffle, or campaign. There were also people giving away free tote bags.

Is it worth it?
Yeah. Absolutely. You should have this experience at least once in your life. Apart from that, it’s affordable. For Friday-Sunday, the event costs $55 dollars. You can also get a relatively cheap hotel if you book early. Most hotels in that area are aware of the event and offer discounts. If you’re coming in from New York, you can take the Chinatown bus to Boston for $15 dollars.
If you want to go into a gaming career, being able to pick the brains of game developers is a most invaluable experience. And let’s not forget the swag. I walked away with 6 t-shirts, two mouse pads, a flash drive, a free game, and some Magic the Gathering decks. The t-shirts alone would probably cost $15 to $20 dollars each. Totally worth it!