Three years ago, I put together a rather simple guide to help people who were going to the Penny Arcade Expo have the best time possible. Over the last few years, thanks to input from many members of the Giant Bomb community, we have built what I think is the best guide anyone could ever need to conquering PAX. As such, there's not really much need to change anything from the PAX Prime 2013version. So, whether you're a PAX rookie or if you just need a refresher before heading out to Boston for the fifth time, check out these pointers below.
If you're new to the guide and/or PAX, you may be asking why I do this. Well, this will be my eleventh PAX. I haven't missed one since I started going in 2008 (not counting PAX Australia). On top of that, from1997to 2006, I went to ten straight E3's. That's right...I'm old. Secondly, I've got a good bit of experience in making the most of time available at game conventions. So, help me help you by following these simple guidelines. And, if you have anything to add, let me know!
Wheaton's Law: Don't Be a Dick
I once wrote a blog about what I called The PAX Vibe. In it, I tried to describe the most indelible thing about PAX. The experience is as though you've come to some sort of reunion with tens of thousands friends you never knew you had. Whether it's an attendee, enforcer, exhibitor, panelist, or D-list Internet celebrity, virtually everyone has a permanent smile affixed to their face for three days. Wil Wheaton, said it best...
All of the things that make us weird and strange in the real world.
Those things that people tease us for loving.
Those things that we seem to care about more than anyone else at work and school.
Those things make us who we are.
And when we are at PAX, we don’t have to hide them, or explain them, or justify them to anyone.
We have come here this weekend because just playing games isn’t nearly as fun as playing them together, surrounded by thousands of people who love them just as much as we do.
Who to Follow
Twitter can be a life saver during PAX. Not just for organizing stuff with your friends, but also keeping up with what's going on throughout the show. Make sure you follow these Twitter accounts before you get there.
- @official_pax - All news, updates, changes.
- @pax_lines - Keep track of panel lines as they fill up to max capacity.
- @rkhoo - The man in charge.
- @pax_tourney - What tournaments are going on and where?
- @paxparties (unofficial) - Parties, meet-ups, tweet-ups, tabletop all-nighters, and bar crawls.
Giant Bomb @ PAX
I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that if you're here reading this, you're probably interested in going to panels involving Giant Bomb staff members. I know, crazy talk. Here's the who, what, and where that you need to know. Good luck figuring out what to do Sunday at 1:30 PM.
- 4:30 PM - Why Internet Jerks Aren't Going to Win - Patrick and Zoe Quinn - Dragonfly Theatre
- 9:30 PM - Cards Against Humanity - Max Temkin and ????? - Condor Theatre
- 9:00 PM - The Giant Bomb PAX Taipei 2016 Panel Preview Show - Albatross Theatre
- 10:30 AM - Royal Rumble on N64! 30 Players! Live! - Jeff, Alex, Aaron Trites, Abbie Heppe, Dave Lang, Eric Neustadter, Jeff Green, John T. Drake, Nick Chester, Philip Tibitoski, Rich Gallup, and many more! - Albatross Theatre
- 1:30 PM - 404ing It: Breaking (Down) the Internet - Pat Baer, Jeff, Eric Pope, Max Temkin - Albatross Theatre
- 1:30 PM - PRODUCED - Vinny and Rich Gallup - Bumblebee Theatre
Traversing the T
This will be my seventh visit to Boston. It's easily one of my favorite places I've ever been. If you've never been, and you're flying into Logan, you're actually pretty close to the convention center already. You could pay for a cab, but you might as well hop on the Silver Line which will take you right past the convention center (if you were lucky enough to get a hotel nearby) and on to South Station, from which you can get anywhere in the city. The Silver Line from the airport is free, but once you get to South Station it's just a couple bucks a trip to wherever you're going. I usually put $20 on a on a prepaid card (there are kiosks for this) for the weekend. You might not need that much depending on your plans. Even for a small-town kid like me, it's pretty easy to get around subterranean Boston. If you're from a grid-based city, be prepared to potentially get lost if you are planning on walking the streets.
We have plenty of native Bostonians on the site though, so they can probably tell you a lot more hot tips than I can.
First of all, for the sake of everyone at the show, please shower. Yes, every day. And use deoderant. It's not difficult. You're going to be doing more walking than you're probably used to doing. Aside from that, why is this so high on the list of tips? Well, after PAX Prime 2010, there was a confirmed case of H1N1 on my flight home. So, use the hand sanitizer whenever you can. There are generally dispensers set up all around the convention center and especially right outside the bathrooms. Or better yet, bring your own. You're going to be touching controllers that have been touched by people of varying degrees of sickness from all over the world. Be smart, and don't spend the week after PAX in misery.
Enforcers Are Awesome
The Enforcers are the incredible army of red shirts that volunteer their time in order to make sure that PAX is an enjoyable experience for everyone. Can't find the right panel room? Look for a red shirt. Need medical attention after experiencing the Harmonix Royal Rumble? Look for a red shirt. Can't figure out where Dave Lang is dishing outDivekick fraud stamps? Look for a red shirt. These guys and girls are stationed everywhere. If they ask you to do something, listen up. Respect them. Appreciate them. Buy them cookies.
Do Your Homework
The schedule is available right now online, but you should really download the app. It's called Guidebook, and it's the best. Either way you choose, skim through it, look at the presenters of every panel, and make a rough draft of what you'd like to see. Compare with your friends, look for overlaps, and start the excruciating process of deciding how to cut the least awesome things from your to-do list.
Planning ahead is a must. If you walk into Boston completely unprepared, you're going to either be a deer in headlights or a wandering madman. It's overwhelming. The key to planning ahead is to be flexible. Inevitably something will come up and you'll want to rearrange your plans. I'm going to tell you right now that you're simply not going to be able to do everything you want to do/see. Don't stress out about it. Stick to your plan as best you can, but have fun above all else.
The Omegathon: Final Round
The Omegathon is a three day tournament between attendees that were randomly selected weeks ahead of time by Penny Arcade's staff. If the trend continues, the PAX East version consists of two-person teams. You'll see that each round is on the schedule if you want to see a particular game they're playing, but the important one is the final round. The final round's game is always kept a closely guarded secret until just moments before the contestants are set to play it. Have you ever imagined being in the crowd for the final showdown in The Wizard? Well, this is it. Literally thousands of people cheering for a few of their peers as they battle head-to-head in Pong,Contra, Skeeball, Ikaruga, or whatever they come up with this year. It can't be weirder than Crokinole, right? Right?!
Hurry Up and Wait
As the years have gone by, attendance at PAX has only increased. You will inevitably be waiting in line for many things you intend to see and do. I've waited over an hour to see/play things like Dragon Age II,Mass Effect 3, Skate 3,The Last of Us, and others at E3. On the most popular panels (i.e. the Keynote, Giant Bomb, CAH, Mega64,Gearbox, and anything associated with Penny Arcade), you should arrive atleast an hour ahead to guarantee yourself a good seat.
So, be prepared. Bring your 3DS, Vita, Game Boy micro, or whatever it is you like. If you're a 3DS fan, you will get literally hundreds ofStreetPasses over the weekend. And regardless of your handheld gaming option of choice, you'll likely never find a better place in the world to jump into random multiplayer games. I once used Pictochaton my DS to solicit people to come play me in Hot Shots Golf on PSP...and it worked!
Do yourself a favor and avoid the line waiting for a while and check out all the indie games at the show, because that's some of the best stuff you'll find at PAX. The IndieMegaBooth has become an awesome place to just wander aimlessly and play stuff. If you see a game that has no line, PLAY IT! I don't care what it is. I played a game at PAX East 2013 about catching hamsters with a trampoline.
Backpacking Through New England
Many convention rookies make a mistake as soon as they leave their house. You simply must have a backpack of some kind. If you show up to PAX empty-handed, you'll be hurting and start to hate yourself by 2 PM. Some think you can just pick up one of those big, fold-out, paper bags from a booth, but there's no guarantee any booths are doing that. Plus, they're cumbersome, you'll be hitting people with it constantly as you squeeze through crowds, and you need to keep your hands free.
So, be smart. Bring your favorite backpack or messenger bag to throw all of your swag into. Your shoulders are going to be killing you by Monday, but it's your best option.
Expo Hall: It's a Trap!
The expo hall is where all the developers and publishers have booths set up to show off their upcoming games. You get to play stuff that's not out yet and typically talk to the people that are making them. It's awesome. But don't get stuck in there. Make sure to make your rounds through the convention center. Go out back and check out the TableTop area and learn how to play a new game. Hit up the Console Freeplay room and take your shot at some of the best fighting game players around. Think you're good enough? Enter one of the nearby tournaments (check the schedule). Need to take a break? Crash in the Handheld Lounge and rack up some StreetPasses. Head up to the Classic Console rooms for a bit and take a look at the massive library of gaming's past, pick out something you loved and play it with some people. And don't forget to hang out in the Classic Arcade for some fuckin' Pooyan. No quarters or tokens necessary, but please respect the cabinets. There's just so much more than just the expo hall that you need to see and do to get the full PAX experience.
The Dangers of SWAG: Don't Be That Guy
Free stuff is great. I know. But, just listen to me for a second. Don't spend the majority of your time trying to get inflatable swords, funny hats, and Gunnar Optiks t-shirts. You're going to get free stuff without trying. Not all of it, sure, but plenty. The vast majority of free stuff you get, you will eventually throw away or, if you're like me, going to pile into boxes in a closet. At PAX East 2010, there were people that waited well over an hour to play APB for fifteen minutes and get a t-shirt. How do you think those people feel about that decision now? Just be smart, people.
Pack Light and Carry-On a Big Bag
For those of you flying to Boston, you're likely going to pay at least $25 to check a bag on the plane, so you might as well get your money's worth. Even if you're only packing three Internet meme t-shirts and three sets of socks and underwear, bring a big suitcase. The extra space is going to be great for any swag you obtain as well as any stuff you end up buying inside or outside of PAX. At PAX Prime 2010, my friend @washa_endrya bought a fight stick from Capcom and was able to get it home easily.
Also, if you have one, bring a cardboard tube in your suitcase. You are likely to be handed posters at the show, and there's really no other way to get those home without folding or crushing them. One more tip from the experienced in packing for a con. Throw an empty trash bag in with your stuff. You can use that as a dirty laundry bag, which will allow you to quarantine your sweaty socks from all the cool stuff you accumulated at the show on your way home.
Do You Like Sleep? TOO BAD!
Sleep deprivation is a major side effect of the PAX experience. You can sleep on Monday or on your flight home. But, there are official and unofficial PAX events going on virtually 24 hours a day beginning Thursday night. The concerts typically go til at least 1 AM, and you're going to be in downtown Boston. There's plenty of stuff to do, and apparently the city is going to be extending hours on the subway. In the grand scheme of things, your time at PAX is very limited even if you can be there all three days. You may not realize this now or even during the show, but come Monday, you'll know what I'm talking about. So, if you get five hours of sleep, you're doing great. Make the most of the time you have.
BitCoins Don't Work Here Either
If you've got a debit or credit card, you're mostly okay. Any food places in the area, like the food court in the convention center, are going to take your card just fine. Most booths in the expo hall will take it as well when purchasing their wares. But, it may be a good idea to carry at least a little old-fashioned paper money. Cash can be good especially if you're going out to the bars at night. If you know you're going to need cash, there are several ATMs at the convention center, but you should hit them early because I've seen them run out of cash to dispense.
This may sound ridiculous at first, but once you're in the thick of PAX, you may forget to eat or drink. And considering that you normally don't walk around for 10-14 hours a day, you're going to need to hydrate. Many people throw a bottle in their bag that they can refill at water fountains. Stopping for 30 minutes to eat may not sound enticing depending on your schedule, but you've gotta do it. Unfortunately, the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center is kind of in the middle of nowhere if you ever could be in a major city. There's not a lot of food options in the vicinity without going back into downtown, which is going to take even more time. So, your best bet is really the food court in the convention center. Yes, it's overpriced. Yes, it's crowded. But, just bite the bullet, get in, and get out. Otherwise, you could toss a few Clif bars in your bag and just eat on the go.
Don't Let PAX Ruin Your PAX
This is something I've learned during PAX East 2011. Whether it's aHarmonix meet-up, a pre-PAX board game night, the Pokémon League, or one of the countless other unofficial PAX festivities, make an effort to do stuff after show hours. Honestly, it doesn't even have to be PAX related. Chances are, if you head out to the bars and restaurants in downtown Boston, you're going to run into other PAX goers. We generally take over the city.
What I'm getting at is that being in line at the Queue Room of the convention center at 8 AM (2 hours prior to show open) isn't worth missing out on the great stuff that's going on at night. Now, if there's a game that you HAVE to see and you know the line during the day is super long, go ahead and get to the convention center early one day and run for it when the doors open. But, just make sure you spend some time outside of the convention center and your hotel room.
It's All That You Can Do
Be yourself, but also be open to meeting new people. I know your mom told you not to talk to strangers, but I'm telling you that's a bunch of crap. It's unlikely that you're ever going to be around more people like yourself than you will at PAX. Above everything else, including all the tips I've given you here, have fun. You're about to have an experience that you'll never forget.
Hopefully, I'll run into some of y'all there (or at least your Miis). I promise I won't ban you if you say hello.