A week ago right now I was walking through the snow and trying to keep my hat from flying off as we walked down the street to the Hynes Convention Center for PAX. Today I'm back in Georgia where it's going to be 90°F today. What an f'n downer, right?
The story of the show for me was Downloadable Games (XBLA / PSN). Yeah, I had a blast (no pun intended) playing Crackdown 2's "Rocket Tag" and yeah, winning a skateboard deck playing Skate 3 was awesome as well. But the smaller games were much more memorable. Gabe himself, during the Q&A session after the keynote, personally recommended that everyone check out Uber Entertainment's upcoming game called Monday Night Combat. I'll have to second that recommendation. Although it takes every fiber of my being not to spell it "Kombat." Another title worth mentioning is Atomic Games' Breach, which is now infamous due to the attempted theft of it at the show. Microsoft had several XBLA games on display including Hydrophobia and Limbo, but the one that caught our eyes was the return of Hydro Thunder. We played it twice. Sure, it's not the most in-depth racing game out there, but did I mention it's fucking HYDRO THUNDER?! Then there was Shank, which I had played in Seattle last year, and it was looking sharper than before. Off in the corner was Twisted Pixel who was showing Comic Jumper every couple hours. The melee combat in the game looked kinda janky, but the gunplay and platforming looks top-notch. They've also seemingly found the elusive secret to making a funny game. Seriously, all Twisted Pixel had to say was that they were making a new game and I was on board. And then there was Puzzle Quest 2. When the executive producer says "Hey, how's it going? This is Puzzle Quest 2. We've combined Puzzle Quest with DIablo." What the fuck man? Are you trying to kill me?
One of the great things about PAX is that it goes well into the night thanks to the Friday and Saturday night concerts. The Saturday night set was a blast as usual. After waiting for about an hour in the queue room, we were near the front of the line led by Robert Khoo marching up the escalators to the main theater. After a spontaneous singing of "Still Alive" by the crowd and successfully producing a wave that spanned both tiers of the theater, Gabe & Tycho came out and introduced the Omegathon contestants to Rock Band 2. They were forced to compete by playing Kenny Rogers, which was hilarious. After that, the Video Game Orchestra took the stage and tore the house down with renditions of well-known themes from Final Fantasy, Silent Hill, Castlevania, Metal Gear Solid, and Chrono Trigger. After a lengthy clearing of the orchestra equipment, Paul & Storm took the stage with Wil Wheaton impersonating Christoph Waltz' skit from Jimmy Kimmel. It was cool to see newbies' reactions to the hilarity of Paul & Storm's songs and after an hour of "awwwws" and "ARRRRRs," they left the stage to make way for JoCo. Coulton got into the hits quickly with "Still Alive" and "Skullcrusher Mountain." He then brought Paul & Storm back out for a few songs. The surprise later was when he brought out most of Metroid Metal for a rare live, full band performance of Coulton's songs. Around 1:30am his set ended and we were kicked out of the convention center.
Sunday afternoon at the closing ceremony was the Omegathon Finale, which was ridiculously insane. The final game is always a closely guarded secret. At PAX 09 it was Skeeball and the year before that it was Vs. Excitebike. This year though, the Omegathon was a team competition. So the final two teams of two were subjected to a gauntlet of games. We were told that each game would have a specific task that had to be completed before a player could tag his partner in for the next mystery game. Each game would only be revealed once the previous was completed. Watching all of this from the balcony, I couldn't help but draw comparisons to The Wizard. An obvious similarity that had evaded me in years prior. Thousands of gamers, nerds, geeks, or whatever you want to call us cheering like crazy people for each revelation of a classic game. The first sheet pulled back revealed Super Mario Bros. to the combatants, and the goal was simply collect 50 coins. About halfway into World 1-2, the 50th coin was obtained and the second sheet was pulled to reveal Rad Racer. RAD F'N RACER people! After evading enough VW Bugs to earn 1800 points, the third sheet was removed and it was none other than Tetris. Tetris proved to be the downfall of the team on the left as they tried to clear 10 lines. The final game was to be played co-op. And when you think co-op NES, you probably won't get far before thinking of Contra. Yes, Contra in head-to-head co-op with the goal of beating the first boss. It was intense to say the least. The winner won a trip to Germany for Gamescom and then Gabe & Tycho thanked everyone for coming. Tycho confirmed PAX East 2011 but said it would take place in a bigger venue.
Overall, PAX East was a huge success. Yeah, the lines were long and it felt a bit crowded in the smaller venue, but if you can't have a good time at PAX, then you should probably find a new hobby. I can't wait to get to Seattle in September. And if you have not yet watched Wil Wheaton's keynote address from PAX East, you should go do that right now.