Marino's PAX Guide to PAX

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Posted by Marino (4749 posts) -

Are you going to the Penny Arcade Expo? Probably not. Then why are you reading this? But if you are going to PAX, then this is my guide to help you have the best time possible. I've been to the last five Penny Arcade Expos (2008, 2009, East '10, Prime '10, East '11) and I also went to ten consecutive E3's (1997-2006). So, I know a little bit about how to survive a gaming convention. Whether you've been to PAX previously or not, hopefully I can give you some tips into making the most of three days that will fly right by you if you don't have a plan.

Shower. Every Day. Please.

First things first. Do your fellow gamers a favor and don't smell like you live in a latrine and ran a marathon to get to the show this morning. Failing to complete this task is a violation of Wheaton's Law.
PAX Prime 2010

Respect the Enforcers

The Enforcers are a legion of volunteers (often wearing utilikilts) that keep PAX running like a well oiled machine. For PAX Prime, they will be the folks in blue shirts patrolling the expo hall and stationed at every possible venue. These people give up six hours or more of their day at PAX to help you have the best time you possibly can. Respect them. Appreciate them. Buy them cookies.
Blue Shirts & Kilts

Use the Hand Sanitizer

As someone who flew home from PAX 09 on a plane that had confirmed cases of H1N1, I cannot stress this enough. Whether or not people follow tip #1 above, people are dirty. There are typically hand sanitizer dispensers all over the place. Use them. Especially after you've played some demos.
PAX 09 Exhibit Hall

Plan Ahead

The schedule is available right now. You will get a swag bag on arrival with a program, but you should start planning your route today. The expo hall should be your default location. It's open from 10 AM to 6 PM. But, like I said in the concert section, PAX is not all about the expo hall. Skim through the list of panels that are available and pick out a few that you'd like to see. But stay flexible. Invariably something will come up and cancel your plans. Don't stress out about it. You're probably not going to be able to do everything you want to do. So, try to stick to your plan, but have fun above all else.
Poor Planning

Go to at Least One Night of Concerts

PAX is so much more than just an expo hall. And besides, the expo hall closes at 6 PM anyway. Make an effort to go to the concerts Friday or Saturday night. Considering Giant Bomb's panel is Friday night, I would assume anyone reading this would prefer not to skip that in favor of MC Frontalot and Metroid Metal. But the concerts due go quite late, so you may want to stop by the main theatre after Giant Bomb just to catch part of it. Personally, I generally go on Saturday night. At my first PAX, I knew of Jonathan Coulton vaguely. All I knew was that he wrote "Still Alive." But after his show, I became a fan instantly. I can say the same for Freezepop's performance that year too.

This year at PAX Prime we have the some new additions to the line-up and one returning after a few years off. If you go Saturday night, you'll have round 4 of the Omegathon tournament, which is typically a Rock Band-related game. Then you'll get The Video Game Orchestra doing renditions of classic game soundtracks. Next you'll have PAX rookies, Supercommuter. Next you'll get the comedy music stylings of Paul & Storm including a 15-minute song about pirates that you'll never forget. And to close out the night you'll see Jonathan Coulton performing not only "Still Alive" and "Code Monkey," but other songs about monkeys,robots, and giant squids. This will probably go til around 1AM or later.
PAX 08 Jonathan Coulton

Go to the Omegathon Final Round

I cannot recommend this enough. Sure, you'll have to say goodbye to the expo hall before it actually closes, but by the end of the third day you probably have already seen everything in there that you truly want to see. The Omegathon Finals is an experience you cannot get anywhere else. Have you seen The Wizard? You know the final scene where three people battle by playing Super Mario Bros. 3 in front of thousands of people? It's like that. Except it's real, and you're there. Previous years have featured games such as Pong, Tetris, Contra, Excitebike Vs., Combat, and even games like Skeeball and a stuffed animal crane game. This is the perfect closing ceremony for PAX, and you should most definitely be a part of it.
PAX East '10 Omegathon

Be Prepared to Wait

Depending on what you decided to see and do, you could end up doing a lot of waiting in line. I waited over an hour to see Dragon Age II. I also waited over an hour to playSkate 3 and win a real skateboard deck. On some panels (i.e. Giant Bomb, Mega64, G4/X-Play, and anything related to Penny Arcade), you'll want to show up at least an hour early to get a good seat. So, bring a DS or PSP. This should be a no brainer, but it has to be said. Not only will you be able to entertain yourself as you wait, but there is no better place in the world to share your personal skill in drawing dicks in Pictochat. You think I'm joking, but I'm not. I once used Pictochat to solicit people to come play Hot Shots Golf on PSP... and it worked! Where else would you ever be able to do that?
PAX East '10 Queue Room

Bring a Backpack

If you show up completely empty-handed in the morning, you'll hate yourself by 2 PM. Don't count on picking up a bag from a booth at the expo hall. Even if there are any, they're cumbersome. Just bring a trusty backpack or messenger bag to throw all your junk in. Your shoulders may hate you by Sunday afternoon, but it's really your best option.
PAX Prime 2010 SWAG

Don't Let SWAG Run Your Life

Look. Swag is cool. I know. It's near irrestistable. But don't let it rule your experience. You'll get free stuff. But don't spend 45 minutes standing around the APB booth for a chance at a flying free t-shirt. You know what I mean?
PAX East '10 Skate Deck

Pack Light and Carry a Big Bag

Hey, you're probably going to have to pay $25-35 to check a bag on the airplane, so get your money's worth. Even if you're luggage consists of three t-shirts and three pairs of socks and underwear, bring a big suitcase. You're going to want the extra space for not just the free swag you pick up, but also for the merch that you buy. At PAX 2009, I bought a 'Splosion Man statue from Twisted Pixel and was able to fit it in my checked bag even in it's big styrofoam box. Also, if you have one, put a cardboard tube in your suitcase. Not to impersonate the Cardboard Tube Samurai, but so that you can transport posters home without completely wrecking them. And one last tip from a veteran of these trips, throw an empty trash bag in with your clothes. You can put your dirty clothes in the bag at the hotel, and that keeps your cool swag quarantined from your sweaty, disgusting laundry.
Statue #85 of 150

Prepare for Sleep Deprivation

You can sleep on Monday. Seriously. There's stuff going on at PAX officially or unofficially for 24 hours a day. If you can get four or five hours a night, you're doing great. You have a limited amount time at PAX, so make the most of it. We're also going to be losing an hour Saturday night / Sunday morning due to Daylight Saving Time.
PAX 2008 Night Life


Most places will accept debit/credit cards now, but you may want to carry at least a little cash just in case. If you think you need to get some cash, visit a local ATM as early in the day as possible. Nothing's worse than an empty ATM when you simply must have a t-shirt with bacon high-fiving a shotgun shell.
PAX 2010 Bought Stuff

Remember to Hydrate and Eat

Seriously, it's easy to forget. But I'm willing to bet that most of us here aren't normally walking and/or standing for 10 hours a day. And, if you're like me, you're going to want to squeeze every moment of time you have out of PAX, so stopping for 30 minutes or more to eat seems like a waste of time. Do yourself a favor and at least throw some Clif Bars in your bag or something. You can eat while you wait in line for something.
Sumo Lounge

Don't Be a Dick

Be yourself. Be open to talking to and meeting people. Hang out in the handheld lounge for a bit. Go play some GoldenEye in the console freeplay area or something. Just try to take in as much as you can. Very rarely will be around so many other people that are so much like you.
Wheaton's Law

Videos and Other Stuff to Help to Prepare You

#2 Posted by Guided_By_Tigers (8061 posts) -

Nice work.

#3 Posted by Matt (967 posts) -

Great guide dude!

#5 Posted by natetodamax (19217 posts) -

Ah, so I can buy merchandise with my debit card? Good to know. Unfortunately, I won't be able to attend the Omegathon finale because I need to leave on Sunday (missing school on Thursday and Friday so I can't miss Monday). 
Also, what is the Queue room? Is it just a waiting room for panels or something? 
Thanks for posting this!

#6 Posted by Marino (4749 posts) -
Yes, the official PA merch booth definitely takes cards. Some of the booths in the expo hall do as well, but there's no way to know for sure til you're there. 
The Queue Room is where you line up each morning before the event begins. It is also where you would line up for any events in the main theater (major panels, concerts, Penny Arcade Q&A, etc.).  Especially each morning you're going to be in there with thousands of other people. Since 2009, they've had this great company called Get In Line Games that have big projection screens set up doing all sorts of games where you can participate via texting on your phone.  So even if you don't have a handheld system with you, there is at least some entertainment in there.
#7 Edited by Trace (3576 posts) -

Everything this guide true. Granted, I probably won't attend a concert this year, but that's more because my plans involve other stuff going on around those times.
Definitely glad you brought up the Enforcers, though. I had forgotten they wear red instead of black on the east coast. I plan on bugging a few of them about wait times/line plans around certain theatres, since a few panels I want to attend are in a pretty tight timespan.

#8 Posted by Marino (4749 posts) -
@PsEG: Starting last year, the Enforcers at PAX Prime wear blue now by the way. I always thought it was strange to put them in black when so many people are already wearing black t-shirts. Last year in Boston, the lines for panels seemed worse than in Seattle. I credit part of that to the fact that for many of the panels, it was the first time the people in the panels had done anything on the east coast (i.e. Mega64, X-Play). Maybe now that we're in a bigger venue and now that some people won't go to the same panels again this year, it will thin out a little. I just know that I got in line for Mega64 over an hour ahead of time at PAX East and that only got me to the middle area of the theater.
#9 Edited by buft (3321 posts) -

I live in northern ireland so travelling to game shows is something that is not only expensive but usually requires a flight of some description, its  my dream to make it to 1 big game show and the likely candidate is the Eurogamer events in london or europe. but man most of all i really want to go to a single E3, its on my bucket list... 
have fun at pax and dont forget booth bunnies operate on a no touch system :P even the DS booth bunnies,even if you use a stylus.

#10 Posted by Marino (4749 posts) -
@buft: PAX has a rule against booth babes actually. It's not strictly enforced, as the Need for Speed booth from PAX 2010 would show. 
I can fully understand the bucket list desire to go to E3, but speaking as someone whose been to E3 ten times and to PAX four times, you will have more fun at PAX.
#11 Posted by buft (3321 posts) -
@Marino: yeh that certainky seems to be the consensus but just once i'd like to be there and feel the rush of brand new console announcements first hand, it never feels quite as special watching the live stream or reading an article, though do you think that PAX is better than the older style E3 from say 10 years ago?
#12 Posted by Marino (4749 posts) -
@buft: As a fan of games, PAX is better experience overall. E3, despite the way it's presented online and on G4, is much more business oriented. Also, keep in mind that having a general "Exhibition Pass" to E3 does not get you into the press conferences.  You have to have a media badge and/or an invitation to those.  The basic E3 badge just gets you into the show floor.  For the first several years that I went to E3, I had a VIP guest pass from Sony.  There wasn't really anything VIP about it other than it waived the registration fee, which at the time was several hundred dollars.  Having the basic badge at E3 means you don't get into behind closed doors stuff (for the most part) and anyone with a media badge can cut in front of you or even bump you off a demo. 
At PAX you get an expo hall, not as big, but still quite large. You have access to everything at the show; the expo hall, the panels, the concerts, the card games, the board games, the console freeplay area, the PC freeplay area, the handheld lounge, the Rock Band freeplay stage, the keynote, and the tournaments.
#13 Posted by buft (3321 posts) -
@Marino: maybe i need to change my bucket list, this old one has holes in it :P
#14 Posted by Marino (4749 posts) -
@buft: If you can do both, do it. Although I'd recommend PAX over E3 to the average fan of games, I fully enjoyed my times at E3 and it was an amazing privilege to be there.
#15 Posted by MooseyMcMan (11435 posts) -

I should go to PAX East some year. Where is it usually? Boston? 'Cause I live in Massachusetts. 

#16 Posted by Marino (4749 posts) -
@MooseyMcMan: This is the second annual PAX East coming up. So far it has been in Boston, so yes, you should definitely go.  They still have Friday and Sunday passes right now and they're only $35.
#17 Posted by rentfn (1283 posts) -

Great guide. Paul and Storm and JoCo make an amazing one two punch for concerts. I pack Peanut Butter sandwiches to carry with me to snack on in line. We should have a Board meet up aka the two hour long wait for the Giant Bomb Panel.

#18 Posted by bretthancock (778 posts) -

Been to PAX in 08 and 09, unfortunately had to miss 10.  You nailed it though.   I never cared for the concerts, but going to panels was my favorite part.  The show floor can be overwhelming and the best stuff always has a 2-3 hour line.  It's just fun to be in downtown Seattle for 3 straight days surrounded by friendly people.

#19 Posted by MyaSharona (67 posts) -

Great tips. 
 I think as long as everyone abides by your first two and last two rules this, my first Pax experience, will undoubtedly be great.   
Let the fun commence. 

#20 Posted by melcene (3056 posts) -

Having been to PAX Prime 2008 and 2010, I also concur with this list.  Heck, there are a couple rules there that I haven't done before (like the Omegathon Final Round) that perhaps I'll partake in at Prime this year.

#21 Posted by Keegs (108 posts) -

Nice write-up. All good advice. We went to pax east last year and it's a lot of fun. 
- Don't over-booze on Friday night (as one of our party learned) 
- You won't make it to everything you plan on making it to! There's always something else going on, or the line is too long, or something shiny will distract you. Just prioritize the shit you want to see the most. 

#22 Posted by Marino (4749 posts) -
@melcene: I always felt weird when E3 ended each year. They just turn on all the lights in the building and everyone just shuffles out into the street. But with PAX, the Omegathon Finals serve as a closing ceremony where everyone (well, several thousand) from the show comes together for one last event. I'll never forget the first year I went in 2008 when, as we snaked through the long line in the queue room, everyone was high fiving each other across the barriers as we passed by. I probably high fived some of the same people 5 or 6 times. After the H1N1 scare of '09, I don't think people will do that anymore, but it was still something I remember alot about my first PAX.
#23 Posted by Marino (4749 posts) -
@natetodamax: Also, I remembered another reason to carry cash. I slightly referenced it in the Enforcers tip, but you'll want some $1's for the cookie brigade. These incredible people bake hundreds upon hundreds of homemade cookies and sell them for whatever amount you want to give. And at the end of Sunday, they turn over all the money to Child's Play.
#24 Posted by natetodamax (19217 posts) -
@Marino: Sweet, I'll be sure to bring my wallet and grab a bunch!
#25 Posted by Matt (967 posts) -
@Marino said:
" @natetodamax: Also, I remembered another reason to carry cash. I slightly referenced it in the Enforcers tip, but you'll want some $1's for the cookie brigade. These incredible people bake hundreds upon hundreds of homemade cookies and sell them for whatever amount you want to give. And at the end of Sunday, they turn over all the money to Child's Play. "
I must say they are damn fine cookies!
#26 Posted by afrokola (547 posts) -

Really spot on in so many ways!! The que line can get pretty nasty by Sunday, don't be one of the people that adds to the stench for the love of god!! Also, going off your point to bring some snacks for waiting in line, typically at these conventions it's wise to grab your lunch before waiting in line and then eating it while you wait. It doesn't seem like the most traditional idea in the world, but people are not going to bother you about it! Just don't drop it.

#27 Posted by rentfn (1283 posts) -

A shower in the morning gets you ready to stand in those lines all day :)

#28 Posted by Matt (967 posts) -

If you have a iPhone or Android device I can't recommend The Conventionist enough. It's great app that has the full schedule, lets you set alarms for specific panels, maps and other stuff. Get it!   

#29 Posted by Mahonay (829 posts) -

Those of you that have attended PAX or PAX East before, what is usually your ideal Panel to Floor Time ratio?  Trying to choose what panels I want to see and how many.

#30 Posted by Marino (4749 posts) -
@Mahonay: I typically go to four or five tops.  I've got some that I do every time and then I usually try to throw in a random one.
PAX Prime 2010 - Mega 64, Giant Bomb, Weekend Confirmed 
PAX East 2010 - Wil Wheaton Keynote, Mega64, The Death of Print, X-Play Live 
PAX 2009 - Mega64, Assassin's Creed II/Splinter Cell Conviction Presentation, Listen Up Live, Hiring Managers, Giant Bomb 
#31 Posted by Mahonay (829 posts) -

Thanks, that will really help me whittle it down.  Right now I've picked out the "Giant Bombcast" (naturally) and "Whose Banhammer is it Anyway?" as the two I am sure I want to hit up.  Also of course I've been told the Saturday night concert is a must.
I've been thinking about going to a Rage demonstration but I don't know if my interest for that game matches what the massive lines will likely be for that.

#32 Posted by Marino (4749 posts) -
@Mahonay: If it's something in the main theatre, it's not so much about getting in, it's about getting a good seat. In all of the other theaters, you run the risk of simply not getting in at all if you don't show up early. I'd recommend at least going by the theater you want to get in about an hour ahead of time and scope out the line that probably already started.  Generally there will be an enforcer standing at the end of the line who is keeping track of when to cut off the line.
#33 Posted by Zidd (1857 posts) -

East '10 was amazing and hopefully East '11 will be even better because of the GB presence and far larger venue.

#34 Posted by Mahonay (829 posts) -
Awesome.  I think those were my main concerns.  I figured as much about having to show up an hour early for most of the panels.  Nice to know that the main theater events are more flexible.  I think more than anything now I just have to memorize some of the convention center layout. 
I'm imagining a lot of good after parties at the end of the night.  Any that you'd recommend or is it generally pretty fluid every year as far as what goes on?
#35 Posted by Mahonay (829 posts) -
@StealthRaptor said:
" Any idea if it's going to be less crazy this year? Last year you had to get in line at least an hour early for some of the panels or you wouldn't even get a seat. "
Sounds like it's going to be similar this year.
#36 Posted by StealthRaptor (530 posts) -
@Mahonay: Even with the new venue? Grrr....
#37 Posted by Marino (4749 posts) -
@Mahonay said:
" @Marino:  I'm imagining a lot of good after parties at the end of the night.  Any that you'd recommend or is it generally pretty fluid every year as far as what goes on? "
Hard for me to say since it's a different venue this year. Last year it was in an area that had a ton of options within walking distance. The new venue is much larger, but seems more isolated in terms of places to go.
#38 Posted by Marino (4749 posts) -
@StealthRaptor said:
" @Mahonay: Even with the new venue? Grrr.... "
It's a bigger venue, but I don't know if the theater rooms are actually any bigger. It's hard to tell from the map. I'd still recommend showing up an hour early to stuff like Giant Bomb.
#39 Posted by Trace (3576 posts) -
@Marino: I figure I'll ask while we're on the topic. How were the Enforcers in regards to lining up way early or starting lines for a specific panel, from your view? It looks like most of the lesser theatres are operating on a 90 minute cycle, with sixty minutes of panel and a thirty minute break, and I've heard rumblings that the Enforcers generally only let the line for a panel start once the panel right before it's running in the theater.
Not to start a dangerous trend of encouraging lining up too early here, but knowing how much earlier in advance someone could line up will certain help plan my panel attendance out.
#40 Posted by Marino (4749 posts) -
@PsEG: Generally they let you start lining up once the previous panel's line has entered the theater. On some occasions, I've seen them set up a makeshift waiting area for people showing up early for the panel after the one the line is currently for, but they'll usually tell you to come back later. Most panels tend to go over time a little as well, so that 30 minute buffer tends to be more like 15 minutes once you get everyone cleared out.
#41 Posted by rentfn (1283 posts) -

The theaters are bigger at the new venue but I think the waits will be the same time because they are letting more people in because of the larger venue. I would show up an hour early to the panels just in cases. If you go to a few panels on Friday you might be able to gage how long the waits will be the rest of the weekend...well maybe not Saturday, Saturday is always insane. 
@PsEG From what I noticed last year the Enforcers were trying their best but when people started lining up for the next panel and they were getting mixed up with the line for the panel about to start it got a little hectic. After awhile they will just make a sign that says "the line for so and so starts back here" but a few times when the lines were getting out of control they asked people to come back to line up for the next panel, there isn't enough room right now. That last problem should be addressed with a bigger venue, from what i remember the halls are bigger then the last one.

#42 Posted by Marino (4749 posts) -
@rentfn: Always best to play it safe and be early for something that you're really wanting to see. Friday seems to be panel heavy for me this year, so there won't be much opportunity to get a feel for how to judge when to show up.
#43 Posted by andyboy (37 posts) -

This will be my first PAX ever as well as my first for covering it as Media. Any quick advice besides the ones you have said in this guide already?

#44 Posted by Marino (4749 posts) -
@andyboy: I think I got most of the basics on there. Not much else I can recommend.
#45 Posted by andyboy (37 posts) -

@Marino Thanks :) Can't wait to see Giant Bomb at PAX East

#46 Posted by UnsolvedParadox (1866 posts) -

Your guide was awesome, thanks dude! I broke one of the cardinal rules and slept a huge chunk of Saturday, but it gave me the gas to make all of the concerts that day. 

#47 Posted by Valwryn (50 posts) -

Good post man. I won the 2009 Omegathon - Skeeball finals (and subsequently got Pax Pox) and you did the descriptions well :). Very good PAX guide. 

#48 Posted by Marino (4749 posts) -
@UnsolvedParadox: That's okay. I broke my own rule by not going to concerts this year in favor of the Giant Bomb related activities Friday and Saturday night. I'm glad the guide worked for you. 
@Valwryn: Awesome. How was it going to TGS? After so many E3's and PAX's, I hope to make it there one day.
#49 Posted by natetodamax (19217 posts) -

I couldn't find anyone selling cookies. Were they there?

#50 Posted by Marino (4749 posts) -
@natetodamax: Yeah, I saw them a few times. At the Omegathon finals they announced that the cookie brigade made over $9000.

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