Blog - Penny Arcade Expo 2008 experience lacking, but worthwhile in places

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PAX 2008: The Penny Arcade unofficial mascot takes a break from juicing fruit
The Penny Arcade unofficial mascot
takes a break from juicing fruit
Penny Arcade 2008 was probably our least favorite PAX yet (and we've been to all of 'em), but there were a few really cool things that we enjoyed. Overall, the show was not busy gamer friendly - if you couldn't camp out for popular sessions or demo stations, you missed out. Even the swag wasn't forthcoming without a significant time commitment - for instance, EA would give you a T-shirt only if you visited every one of their demo stations and got a "passport" stamped to prove it. We've been spoiled by past shows where the swag was free flowing and you could walk right into keynotes and other popular sessions even after they'd started.

Due to work and childcare scheduling, we had limited time on Friday to attend - which was when most of the panels of interest for me were happening. We arrived late afternoon around 4:30p and immediately checked on the Ken Levine (BioShock creator) keynote line, which wrapped around forever and didn't seem to be starting on time. We bailed, which was a good thing since we later learned it started over an hour late and we wouldn't have gotten in anyway.

PAX 2008: Midnight Club LA sures looks perty
Midnight Club LA sures looks perty
We darted to the Exhibition Hall, where we couldn't get near much of anything except for Midnight Club: Los Angeles. As a fan of the past games in the series, I had high hopes and found that I liked the vast, open and graphically stunning race environments but found the controls a bit too arcade-y for my taste. Probably a rental for me, or maybe one to buy used. We did some shopping, glanced at some people playing at the many demo stations, picked up a little bit of swag (there wasn't as much this year unless you were prepared to earn it!) and ran for the babysitter to get our 5-year-old son and celebrate the last dose of his post-surgery antiobiotics (he broke his arm in mid-July and now it's all healed).

Saturday, with a weekend babysitter secured, we headed downtown and dropped our bags and car at the Hyatt, where we were staying overnight. As hotels go, this is a great choice if you can afford it (and with the PAX discounted rate, it's not much more costly than the other options). You're only a block away from the show, so you can stow stuff at your room, take a break and go back as much as you need. Of course, we couldn't check in until mid-afternoon, which meant we couldn't get in our room until about 5 - after we finally got a break in the sessions we wanted to attend.

PAX 2008: Fallout 3 demo stations are worth the wait
Fallout 3 demo stations are worth the wait
We arrived at the show a little late and went straight to the Exhibition Hall for some demo play. I got in a good line for Fallout 3 and managed to score some playtime after about 30 minutes of waiting. The people ahead of me mostly died in their first 5 minutes (one guy fell after only a minute to a mutant scorpion), so the line moved fast. I found my way to a ramshackle elementary school full of raiders and other semi-mutated humans and had a field day taking them down. The VATS aiming system lets you stop time, get a bead on your foe and stack up some attacks on a vulnerable body section. There were times when running and gunning worked, but if I got in a bind this would help me out. I also read some funny computer terminal logs and picked a lock, which is a lot more challenging that in Oblivion. You have to maneuver a very breakable bobby pin and feel for the right angles to open the lock. After 10 minutes, I volunteered to stop playing - I got a nice taste of the gameplay, succeeded in some awe-inspirng slo-mo kills and whetted my appetite for the full game in October.

In the afternoon, I attended the History of Harmonix panel, and in doing so sealed my fate for the Fallout 3 demo that followed. (The Fallout 3 demo sold out, which meant that people in the overflow/line up room couldn't see or hear it. Piping in at least audio and ideally video to this room would have doubled their potential capacity, but apparently the PAX guys have never thought of this - which is common at some of the tradeshows I've attended in the past. This also meant I did not get a Fallout plushie of Vault Boy, which were only offered to the people who managed to get into the demo. But I digress.)

The Harmonix panel was largely focused on their early games and evolution to the point where they created Rock Band and now Rock Band 2. At the end, I got up and asked whether they truly intended to punish the fans who would be forced to wait a month or buy the game twice (game only in September and game bundle with instruments in October), or whether there would be some sort of rebate or trade-in program. The question was received with blank stares - they clearly hadn't thought of this, which surprised me considering how community/consumer-centric they've been in the past. The standard response is that "you can buy the instruments separately" but I noted that availability and convenience is an issue and that buying hardware without a preorder has been problematic in the past. At least I planted the seed - we'll see if anything sprouts. Harmonix also announced the Bladder of Steel achievement I reported yesterday, and revealed the songs in the week's PAX pack which also benefits the Child's Play charity.

After failing to get into the Fallout 3 talk, I went and stood in line with GrrlGotGame at the Fallout 3 demo station but she can't stand for long periods of time due to an ancient athletic injury so we gave up (the first of many failed attempts to get her some gameplay; I've promised her dibs on the full game when it arrives!).

PAX 2008: Larry Hryb demos the New Xbox Experience
Larry Hryb demos the New Xbox 360 Experience
I went to the Xbox 360 theater, where they demo'd the "New Xbox 360 Experience." Larry Hryb (aka Major Nelson) commented on how the new Xbox Guide popup replicates the current blades features 100% except for one: ads. He then pointed to a contextual message trying to sell you the Halo 3 Legendary Map Pack. Hate to say it, but that would be an ad, Larry. Nice try though. The demo was limited to prescribed sections of the UI, so there wasn't much to see beyond what was shown at E3 (if anything). Still, it looks promising. I took the opportunity afterwards to ask Larry if he had any insights into my DRM license transfer problems. As any good community person would, he said he would look into it for me without acknowledging whether it was a known issue or if I'm the only person on the planet who's encountered this.

Saturday evening we went to the panel for Code Monkeys, the videogame-themed show on G4. It was a blast! We met Black Steve (Tony Strickland) who really does run the business side of things, Larrity/Dean (Andrew Sipes) who had the original idea that morphed into the show and Jerry (Matt Mariska). Dave (Adam de la Pena) wasn't there; he couldn't get on the plane because apparently his California ID card expired (he doesn't drive) and TSA wasn't having any of it. They got him on the phone though. They showed the unaired original pilot (which was funny but too sick for TV). A couple of scenes made the final cut, but otherwise it was a very different show. We got them to sign our Season 1 DVD. Definitely one of the highlights of PAX, at least for us.

PAX 2008: Rock Band guitarist playing the solo
Rock Band guitarist playing the solo
Sunday we went straight for the Exhibition Hall and were in the front of the line to get in. GrrlGotGame sacrificed her best chance to try Fallout 3 to sing a song in Rock Band 2 with me. She chose Man in the Box, which was a big hit with the Harmonix folks, who were getting tired of everyone playing Boston or Livin' on a Prayer. I played guitar, and noticed that the game seemed a little more forgiving when I was late on notes - which surprised me since Rock Band is so exacting. It was a prerelease build, or it's possible they are making it a touch more mainstream so that people like me might have a chance with harder songs. Even on Medium, Man in a Box was a little challenging in places.

PAX 2008: Judy Nails demos Guitar Hero: World Tour
Judy Nails demos Guitar Hero: World Tour
We then went to the Guitar Hero: World Tour booth, which was not nearly as mobbed (nor was it any of the dozen or so times we went by). After a very short wait, we jumped on stage. Our drummer insisted he was up to Dave Grohl level playing expert on Everlong, but he bombed out after only a minute or so. Fortunately they gave us a second chance (the line being almost non-existent), so we tried Float On by Modest Mouse. I took bass and noticed there were some new purple horizontal lines in place of notes in places (simlar to the drummer's bass cue) and asked about it during the break. It's something new for bass only called the open strum - you don't hold down any notes, just strum. The hardest part is that the purple is a lot harder to see than the orange bars in Rock Band. We sufficiently rocked, but our new bandmates admitted afterwards that they were more than likely buying Rock Band 2 instead.

PAX 2008: Puzzle Quest Galatrix is worth a try
Puzzle Quest: Galatrix is worth a try
I also played a little Puzzle Quest: Galatrix, the space-based sequel to the popular gem-matching RPG. It took a few minutes to get used to, and I'm not sure how much I liked it. The new Hexic-shaped board adds a new dynamic as pieces move in from all directions to make it much harder to set up your next move. In place of spells are weapons and defenses for your spacecraft. You no longer get an extra move for making four of a kind (and I didn't get any match-5s). It's very shiny. I'm sure I'll buy it, probably for both DS (for portability) and Xbox Live Arcade (for the achievements and online play).

One other game I tried was a downloadable demo of Lock's Quest, which I zapped onto my DS. The game is a RTS where you build up defenses and then defend against hordes of robot enemies. There are some DS mini-games (well, actually, more like gestures with random patterns) that let you interact during the defense sequences, letting you repair damaged structures or attack and weaken enemies faster. I played for nearly an hour before getting bored and dumping it from memory. It's really not my thing. Butt it was fun, if not a mixed bag.

Much like PAX this year.

-=Gamewatcher

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This page contains a single entry by Gamewatcher published on September 2, 2008 10:50 PM.

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