Tuesday, April 13, 2010

PAX East Recap - Part 5

[Without any further adieu, I bring you the honest-to-goodness final chapter of my trip to PAX East, which so far has been covered in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4, so you really have no excuse for not knowing what's going on at this point.]

...Sorry, I forgot where I was in the story.

Oh, right. Complaining incessantly about the people behind me who were complaining incessantly about Paul and Storm not being Jonathan Coulton, who sounds pretty darn similar to Paul and Storm. Who, I might add, joined Mr. Coulton on stage after that fancy-pants Mr. Fancy Pants number I showed you at the end of the last part of this story. If I recall correctly, that is.

I will admit that I felt this little tickle of gleeful vengeance when I looked up at the hecklers who had moved into a standing position in front of me a ways and saw them recoiling in horror as Paul and Storm joined Jonathan Coulton to ruin his performance.

I'm sorry; it's out of my system now. I tend to reserve my anger for bad situations and playing Mega Man 10 on Hard Mode as Proto Man; I very rarely get angry at people themselves, and it is even more rare that I reach such angerous heights as I did with the hecklers. I can pick apart why I got so angry and psychoanalyze myself, but I think it would be more fun to talk about what happened when the special guests walked on stage.

Not just Paul and Storm. A few guys from Metroid Metal, the dudes known for their rock-awesome heavy metal Metroid remixes, as their name implies. Or else they're the next Metroid game that's taking its naming cues from Pokémon. These mighty performers came together to form COULTRON, whose name is derived not from Pokémon but from a spelling mishap on the marquee of one of Coulton's previous performances. Brilliant.

I like the name better than I liked the performance, to be honest, but that's only because Coulton's music isn't exactly my style, except for "Still Alive" from Portal, which also wasn't my style when he performed it on acoustic guitar. It sounds kind of strange out of context, played on acoustic guitar, sung by a man who is decidedly not a psychotic female computer.

At least I got to hear Metroid Metal. I had really wanted to hear them perform on Friday night, but they didn't go on stage until pretty late, and the subway back to the apartment only ran until between midnight and midnight-thirty, and taxi fare is expensive. This will be important in a moment.

Because the Saturday night concerts ran until late o'clock, we resorted to taking a taxi home; general group interest was strong enough to stay for this set of performers, but not the previous night's. With three of us working together to flag down a taxi, surely we wouldn't be standing outside in the unpleasant cold for at least half an hour.


Problem #1: Everyone else leaving the concert was trying to flag a taxi as well, not to mention all the folks who were in Boston for non-convention activities, such as coming from/going to bars on a Saturday night. Problem #2: Certain taxi drivers will not pick you up if you are in costume. Problem #3: Navigating back to an apartment is difficult when the only person who knows the way is falling asleep because it's well past his bedtime, and he usually takes the subway.

I think we were in bed by 3 AM or so, with plans of getting up somewhere in the realm of 7 AM to make it back for the only other thing at the convention that I had any intention of standing in line for ever again: ACTION CASTLE!

When you say ACTION CASTLE, you need to gently wave your hands as though they're torches on a dungeon wall.

ACTION CASTLE! [torch hands]

Like that.

PAX East really seemed to embrace interactive fiction that weekend, and ACTION CASTLE was a great follow-up to the Get Lamp viewing and panel, as it gave everyone a chance to participate in a live-action interactive fiction game.

This was great fun: We, the audience, were the player, and our host was the computer game. The audience formed a rather lengthy line, and we stepped up to the microphone one at a time to give commands. Allow me to give you a sample of how this worked:

HOST: "You are standing on a dirt path outside an old cottage. Exits are north and south.

AUDIENCE MEMBER #1: "Enter house."

HOST: "You enter the house. There is a wooden table here with a fishing pole on top of it."

AUDIENCE MEMBER #2: "Take fishing pole."

HOST: "You have a fishing pole."

AUDIENCE MEMBER #3: "Exit house."

HOST: "You exit the house. You are standing on a dirt path outside an old cottage. Exits are north and south."

ME: "Eat fishing pole."

At least, that's what I would have done, because I make it a habit of trying to eat everything in adventure games, because I can. That's what was so great about ACTION CASTLE: With a live narrator, there are no limitations on the kinds of commands you can effectively give. Whether or not they'll be of any use is another thing entirely--when it was my turn, I tried to hide the body of a felled castle guard in the bushes so as not to rouse the suspicion of any other guards who might happen through the area, but it turned out to be completely unnecessary. Still, I felt like I was participating!

The line was so long, however, that trying to stuff the guard in a hedge was the only turn I got over the course of an hour. I was pretty close to having a second turn when the thing ended, though. A big crowd is perfectly OK for this, but PAX east was TOO big. Either way, I know what I'm doing for my next birthday party.

It was funny to see the difference between gamers who had played text adventures and neophytes who really didn't get it. There was a general outcry among the seasoned gamers whenver someone went EAST when they should have gone WEST, and participants would often have to waste their turn undoing something the person in front of them did. When we discovered we could save, and that we had limited save points, things got very interesting--our host was staying true to the games on which ACTION CASTLE was based, so you there was no forgiveness about wasting your turn by trying to take an object you already have, or getting sent back to the beginning of the game when you died without saving.

We did ultimately beat ACTION CASTLE after a few deaths and some ridiculous interactions with the princess we were trying to save, and then we were returned to the DOS prompt, where we acted as though we were using DOS to find the other game in the directory. So we started playing a jungle adventure whose name I forget, but it's probably JUNGLE ADVENTURE.

This one wasn't quite as fun because getting lost and counteracting the getting-lostness of other players was at an all-time high, but one brilliant puzzle stands out, and I want to share it with you (SPOILER ALERT!): We were in a tribal village with three huts: one for a witch doctor, one for warriors, and one for the women. A few people tried to enter the women's hut, but they weren't allowed in. Also, the warriors seemed to be inconsistent in their behavior whenever we visited them. Here's the trick: The player is the same gender as whoever is giving commands at the time. In order to get into the women's hut, we had to have a girl say, "Enter women's hut." Fantastic! And really funny when we tried to look at ourselves, too.

So, two torch thumbs up for ACTION CASTLE, even taking the long line into consideration. However, after something like an hour of standing in line to stand in line for an hour, I swore off any other activity that would require standing in line at the convention. No more panels, no video games with a waiting line, no meeting special guests. This meant sacrificing my shot at being a part of X-Play LIVE, which was one of the biggest things I wanted to attend, but I was okay with that. I had missed out on the rest of the convention, and now it was time to play.

I returned to the Expo Hall to see if there was anything more to buy. Mostly, I wanted a geeky t-shirt, and aside from the official PAX East merch booth, there were no t-shirts to be found. As far as I'm concerned, this is like going to a coffee convention where they don't sell mugs. Turns out I had missed a booth on the far side of the Expo Hall for Fangamer.net, a place that sells t-shirts and assorted paraphernalia of some of my all-time favorite video games.

At long last, I own a Chrono Trigger t-shirt. A very, very subtle one that I suspect only the truest fans will recognize. Also, I have some very nice stickers, and a funny button--2300 AD: Come Hungry, Leave Hungry. It's funnier when you see it, and when you've played the game.

What really blew me away, and what of course was not for sale, was a big case filled with sculptures of characters and enemies from EarthBound and its bretheren (so, if we're talking Japanese games, Mother 1-3). I want almost everything in this case, and even the stuff I don't want, I actually want.

Note that there's a little bit of non-EB stuff in there as well. I want that, too.

Alright, alright. I'm not that greedy. But it's really something to have tangible manifestations of the intangible things you're a fan of. It's one thing to own an EarthBound game cartridge, but it's another thing entirely to have a Starman DX or a troupe of Foppys keeping you company at your desk.

I spent a fair amount of time in the Expo Hall, and when my wallet could bleed money no more (literally; I was out of bills and the ATM ate my debit card), I rejoined my friends to try out some board games and card games.

Wait; maybe I did that before going to the Expo Hall. It's hard to keep track of what happened after my con experience stopped being so linear.

Anyqueue. Tabletop games!

First game: Something of a swashbuckly nature. A card came that's a little like Munchkin, but entirely versus other players.

Second game: Summoner Wars. Tactical fantasy combat, like Magic: The Gathering: The Board Game.

Both games were fun, but both allow a player with bad luck or poor strategy to lose almost instantly and stay out of the game for however much longer it takes to finish. Not like I'm speaking from experience or anything.

Really, after the tabletop games, that was about it. Sunday kind of evaporated into the mists of Convention Experience.

Except for one more thing: I stopped by an open chiptunes panel that let people come and go as they pleased--no waiting in line, no nothin'--to hear music being made using retro game system technology. I was only there for about two-and-a-half songs, but I heard some crazy NES tune that was pure, unbridaled fun to listen to, as well as (if I recall correctly) a Commodore 64 cranking out Weezer's "Say It Ain't So" and that "Woo-hoo" song that nobody knows the title to.

If anyone can find a video or audio file of a Commodore 64 going "Woo-hoo," I will personally hand over the keys to the Internet to them.

After hearing some outrageous chiptunes, dumping the contents of my wallet out on the floor of the Expo Hall, and losing at every board game put in front of me, I was finally ready to go home. The latter half of Sunday was like watching a marathon at a friend's house of a TV show that gradually fades out of existence in an innocuous final season; the fun and frustration were over, and it was time to drive back home on two nights of four hours of sleep and nonstop conventioning in-between.

To a certain extent, PAX East felt like riding a bumper car on a roller coaster track. I love bumper cars, and I really don't do roller coasters, and combining the two sounds like an awesome idea for people who can handle both together. An all-inclusive gaming convention sounded like the perfect thing for me, but it turns out I'm not at all a social gamer. I can play D&D for hours on end because it's not so much gaming as it is storytelling and acting, two other things I greatly enjoy. Marathon board gaming is something I can only do with my close friends, because even if the game itself starts to drag, it's still just a chance to actively hang out with friends, more so than with a movie or a round of Super Smash Bros.

Needless to say, this was not, at its core, my kind of convention. The long lines and the initially poor convention planning (as far as I could tell, not actually having any behind-the-scenes involvement) kept me from enjoying the convention the way I had hoped to. I wanted Otakon with video games, and that's not what PAX is.

PAX is Game Night with 50,000 of your friends, and there's every game you've ever wanted to play. And Wil Wheaton's there for some reason. Like some strange dream where you find yourself walking around in your underwear and then being hauled off by convention security.

I might give PAX a chance, someday. An honest-to-goodness "I'm just here to have fun" kind of a chance. No plans, no promises. I'm glad I went, I had some wonderful fun both with my friends and on my own, and I have some excellent swag and memories to show for it, but I don't think PAX East is my kind of convention for right now.

And I'm so glad you've stuck with me over the course of five longwinded, meandering, highly delayed posts about a convention that ended a few weeks ago. As a reward for sticking with me this far, here's that Paul and Storm song about the fighting nuns I talked about. Enjoy!

Lastly, just because I can, I present to you once more the two coolest pictures on the Internet:

Hooray for Exfanding Your Horizons, indeed.

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