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PAX 2007

At the end of August, I attended the Penny-Arcade Expo, my first visit to a videogame convention. Though the expo ran from Friday to Sunday, I was only able to attend the last two days, thus I missed Wil Wheaton's keynote speech on Friday. I also spent too much time looking for other people and not even concentrating on the expo itself. See, there were plans for members of Gamers With Jobs to get together at and after the expo, but no concrete plans were made. As a result, I spent a lot of time looking for GWJ shirts among the crowd. That didn't go too well and distracted me from paying attention on Saturday or waiting around for demos.

Sunday I got around to trying out the PC Freeplay, basically a whole room of PCs set up for free use by attendees. They came loaded with a number of games, such as Quake 4, Unreal Tournament 2003, and BF 2142. Since 2142 is my current multiplayer game of choice, I joined their local server. Jumped in and ugh! No unlocks at all. Without grenades or my favorite weapons, I can't get into the game anymore. So I switched and played with the World in Conflict demo. They've been promoting hard. The neck lanyards included in every PAX registration packet were WiC ads and they had girls dressed in Soviet uniforms (were those short skirts regulation?) passing out flyers to the Saturday night launch party. Sadly I wasn't able to attend that, but the GWJ meetup more than made up for it.

I think. I heard the launch party had an open bar.

First thing you'd see when walking into the exhibition hall was Microsoft's area and, past the row of demo PC's, a Big Daddy from Bioshock. Those PC's, by the way, were running demos of Gears of War and Hellgate: London. I did to play a bit of the former. It took me a minute to realize the server was running team deathmatch and shooting my teammates was having very little effect except annoying them. Then I had to figure out how to tell the difference between my team (Locusts) and the other (humans), both with uniforms of lovely shades of beige! The final handicap was the PC setup. Imagine standing at a desk because there's no chair, the desk is at waist level, and it's slanted down at about 20 degrees so your wrists are bent at a horrible angle. So most people ended up using the USB gamepads that were attached. Not me. I'm old skool. Plus I'm not any good aiming with a gamepad in an FPS. And because I was the only guy using the keyboard/mouse, one of the roving reporters decided to interview me. By then I'd picked up some of the finer points of the game and impressed the guy that I was able to frag while still answering his questions. This, I explained, was because I was married and I was used to talking while I played.

Mass Effect was being strongly promoted with trailers being shown on the Microsoft big screen. My interest is still pretty much nil. I didn't win the Mass Effect Xbox 360 Elite, but I did get a free Mass Effect t-shirt.

NCSoft had a big presence, pimping both Guild Wars and Lineage 2. I'm a sucker for the artwork used in Guild Wars so while the game doesn't interest me much, I had an urge to steal their posters and banners.

The guys behind Alien Hominid, The Behemoth, were showing off their upcoming game Castle Crashers. This was a cute cell-shaded cartoonish side-scrolling fighter, in the same vein as Golden Axe.

The Warhammer Online booth was showing off their game on a number of computers. I didn't pay much attention because I'm really not looking for another fantasy MMORPG already.

Telltale games was showing off Sam & Max and their CSI: Hard Evidence game. Though it will likely throw gamers everywhere into a rage, I must admit that I have never played any Sam & Max game, not even the old Sam & Max Hit the Road. So again, this was another booth I didn't spend much time around.

It was hard to miss The Spoils, a collectible card game, thanks to its, ah, attention-grabbing banners. I'm still astounded that there are still so many fantasy collectible car games coming out. Spoils was certainly not the only one here. There was even a Warcraft CCG being demoed at the expo, though I didn't bother trying it. Never had much interest in Magic: The Gathering and these games don't see all that much different. There was a Spoils card pack in my swag bag and the actual cards were much more boring than the banners suggested.

Halo ActionClix is a wargame based on HeroClix, I assume, except set in the Halo universe. The units were impressive, especially the giant scarab figures. I've never done any HeroClix gaming myself, though I'm open to the idea.

Eye of Judgement has garnered a lot of buzz, one of the few PS3 games to really interest people. It was being demoed by GWJ's own Gorgeous Rob Borges (and he really is dreamy). The game uses a camera peripheral to scan the cards played by players onto the game board and manages the turns based on what cards are laid down. It's an interesting use of tech and mixes the videogame with the card game. Nothing about it really grabs me, though, especially with it being on the PS3.

America's Army had one of the biggest booth areas there. In fact, most of it was blocked off by a tall black curtain. They had quite a line for most of the expo. Sunday morning I decided to stand in line since it looked so short. Unfortunately, their main demo was suspended while they tried to get someone to fix something suspended from the ceiling. The guys working the booth were worried it looked a bit precarious and might fall. So while we waited, the sergeant (I'm assuming he was a sergeant) decided to pass the time by having us players compete in a few physical competitions. I took part in a push up contest but only came in about 4th out of 7. After a while, they turned us loose on the latest America's Amry PC game where we did some 4 on 4 team games. Definitely slower than BF2142 and I had one match where I managed 3 kills. Finally, we got into the main demo room. The setup was a military Humvee situated in front of 3 projection screens. Mounted on the Humvee were 4 machine guns, all with electronic sensors for hit detection and components to mimic the feel of recoil. We then ran through an evac mission where our convoy drove through some hostile territory on the way to evacuate a patrol. It was fun, though I quickly discovered that my far right-mounted gun could not hit targets on the center screen. When the mission was done, I got some dogtags stamped with my name and gamertag.

Harmonix had one of the most popular booths at the expo. They had three consoles running their upcoming game Rock Band and the line to play was the longest at the convention. Being by myself, I really didn't want to stand in line alone for the hour or so it would've taken to play. A shame though, because the game looked like great fun. Guitar, bass, drums, and vocals. I did grab some Rock Band stickers though. Score!

Prolific makers of boardgames, Fantasy Flight Games also had a booth, showing off not only their huge catalog of games such as Game of Thrones and Arkham Horror, but also their new Starcraft boardgame. It was filled with oodles of figures for each unit, much like the World of Warcraft boardgame. My guess is that the rules are similar, though I didn't get a chance to read them or play the game.

Penny Arcade had a demo of sorts for their game Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness. Sadly the demo was little more than a cut scene that lasts barely longer than it takes to say the name of the game. The interactive part was creating a Mii-like avatar for your character. That character you create then took part in a cut scene that would seem to kick off the start of the game. Gameplay trailers for the game look good but the "demo" didn't give even a taste.

South Peak Games seems to have stretched their ambitions a bit and gone beyond the Dukes of Hazard and Wild Wild West videogames of their past. They were pimping their new MMO Two Worlds which, despite generating some buzz beforehand, seemed to generate very little interest at the expo itself, since its booth was mainly empty the times I went by. I've heard some pretty bad things about the demo too.

Ubisoft's Frag Dolls (all-female gaming team) were on site as part of their recruitment of 2 new members. The candidates played a lot of matches for the crowd. The Frag Dolls also held a panel discussion on Sunday, answering questions from the audience.

One of the few times I got to sit down in the exhibit hall, I played a big of Empire Earth 3. My history with the series isn't great. I got the first in the series years back, played two rounds, and just hated it. As a real-time strategy game, it was so very boring and bland. Now the whole concept behind the game was that you play from prehistory to futuristic warfare, kind of like the Civilization series but as an RTS. I don't know if Empire Earth got better as a game after you advanced from rock throwing. With all that in mind, I sat down to give the series another try. The booth worker chatted a bit and then loaded up one of the save games on the machine. In this particular scenario, my super-advanced civ owned almost the entire map and had an entire army camped out not too far from my enemy's last remaining camp. My opponent, by the way, was a feudal Japan town with only a handful of units and buildings. It was a slaughter since, not surprisingly, Japanese bowmen can do very little against tanks, artillery, and mechs. This was their demonstration of how the game played? To his credit, the booth worker offered to show me another scenario but by then what little interest I had was used up.

Wizards of the Coast was at PAX to give some tantalizing insight into their recently announced D&D 4th Edition. Solid details were not given, just a lot of talk of the way they want to incorporate more computer and internet tools into the way people play tabletop RPGs. The tools looked cool, but part of the whole draw to me of tabletop RPGs is the face-to-face social aspect of it.

The Penny-Arcade store was packed the whole time. I'd say that at least half of their t-shirt designs were sold out by Sunday.

Rockstar was pimping Manhunt 2 hard and yet had nothing to show of it. No demo, no trailer, not even screenshots. Just lots of Manhunt stickers. They had a few Wii stations set up for Table Tennis.

Speaking of the Wii, they had a number of consoles running the new Metroid Prime 3. Me, I haven't played Metroid since the original, so you can tell what my level of interest is.

Sword of the New World (Granado Espada) is a fairly recent MMORPG from Korea. It seems to have a more renaissance feel as opposed to all the straight fantasy games out there. And it seems to be pitching itself to gamers interested in dress-up because I've seen a lot of intricate costumes in the screenshots I've seen. In fact, their booth babe (they were one of very few booths with costumed booth babes) had this nice little short short thigh-high boots with red jacket ensemble. The game itself I know almost nothing about.

Playstation had a lot of demos running and one of the cutest booth babes at the expo (I'm a sucker for redheads even though she wasn't in costume). The Heavenly Sword demo was flashy but it wasn't clear if it really had rewarding gameplay.

The Witcher was running demos constantly along with a fairly long cut scene trailer. I can't say the in-game combat looked all that interesting to me. The cut scene was of a long drawn out fight between the main character and some ugly demon. It went on just way too long, demonstrating that the main character is so badass that he can beat up demons with his fists. At the end he pulls out his sword and the demon runs away.

THQ (and developers like Gas Powered Games) had a booth showing of a wide variety of games. The Frontlines: Fuel of War demos looked decent, sort of a next-gen BF 2142, complete with vehicles and player-controlled UAVs. There was a Supreme Commander expansion which, sadly, I did not get a chance to play. I did get a chance at the WWII expansion Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts. The British side I was playing was quite different from the Americans or Germans and by the time I learned its quirks, I was losing too badly to easily catch up. And their HUGE lcd monitors placed about 8 inches from the player did not make the game easier to play. THQ was also showing of their Conan videogame, not to be confused with Age of Conan, which was not in evidence at the expo. Conan, on the other hand, I got to watch for a bit. I also got to watch the Conan-themed booth babe. Rowrr.

Haze is an interesting concept. On one side of the conflict, you've got the government and their drug-using supersoldiers. On the other, rebels who've learned to use those drugs against the supersoldiers by causing them to overdose and go psychotic. I got to play a bit of this FPS on the PS3 in co-op mode and of course I had trouble with the controller. Not bad but since it's on the PS3 there's effectively no chance I'll ever play it. Haze was one of the few booths to have a booth stud rather than a booth babe and this guy was buff enough to put the soldiers at the America's Army to shame.

Kane & Lynch ran on three big widescreen, demoing a bank robbery scenario straight out of Heat. I can't tell if it was the players or the controls, but it sure looked to me like the people playing the demo just couldn't hit crap.

Assassin's Creed looks great. Some real attention to detail with fluid combat and interaction with the environment. Sadly I didn't get to see the entire demo.

I spent a little while Tycho & Gabe (Penny Arcade creators) did crowd question and answer sessions. Besides giving me a chance to rest my feet, these were also fairly entertaining, even though I'm not a huge Penny Arcade fan myself.

Though I didn't get Wil Wheaton's autograph or listen to his speech, I did manage a photo of him pointing out the scientific truth on his shirt.

(Updated Monday, October 1, 2007 1:08 PM)
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Bioshock complete
I finished Bioshock and I consider it a very good game. It had amazing atmosphere that really helped immersing into the setting. The shooting for some reason felt a bit off to me. I ended up relying more on weapons than plasmids, which probably wasn't the best strategy. Something about having trouble passing up all the ammo I'd find lying around. It had an intriguing story with plot twists, some more obvious than others. Highly recommended.
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The big thing in games right now, at least until Halo 3 comes out, is Bioshock. This was pitched as the spiritual successor to System Shock 2, a good game in its own right. (As an aside, I never did finish SS2 due to a bug at the very end of the game that prevented me from killing the boss. System Shock 1 sits atop my Pile of Shame, after I picked it up super-cheap at the flea market.)

Bioshock is good. Really good. And yet for me, it's failed to achieve the obsessive state that I get into with games which just really jive with me. The obsession that means once I get to work in the morning, all I can do is think about playing the game. Then I go home at lunch and play for an hour before pulling myself away from the computer, going back to work, and thinking about the game until it's time to return home. It may be that I'm just not capable of reaching that state with a first-person shooter any more.

It's a still a really good game and I look foward to finishing it.

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Five tons of flax
Another extended period of inactivity. Since March, I've been the senior developer at work, which comes with additional responsibilities and stresses. I think this has me feeling tired and drained, which is why my normally meager creative juices are even further dampened. It's not that nothing has happened lately, it's just that it's hard to get the energy to type it out.

A week ago my wife and I came back from Seattle, where I attended the Penny-Arcade Expo (PAX). This is kind of E3 for consumers, except more E3 than E3 is now since it got gutted (and rightfully so, I think). The highlight of PAX for me was meeting fellow Gamers With Jobs regulars. Shout-outs to johnnypolite, the Walt, Podunk, Gaald, Fed, wordsmythe, and all the others who attended. Next time, let's do it somewhere a little less noisy, deal?

This has been a hot hot summer. Very hot. Many weeks with days around 100 degrees. Way too many. Did I mention that a leak in my Jeep's A/C system has left it without any freon? It's hard to find people who work on older R12 systems anymore and even if they do, the actual freon itself is really expensive. I've been toughing it out except the sweltering days just keep on coming. So do I try to get it repaired as-is, get it converted to R134 and fixed, or sell the Jeep and find something else? Still not sure.

Oh, and the meaning of "5 tons of flax"? Nothing. It's a phrase that by definition doesn't really mean anything, which is why I picked it for this post.

Permalink   Filed under: Work, Games, Weather, Personal
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