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.
Respect the EnforcersThe 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.
Use the Hand SanitizerAs 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.
Plan AheadThe 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.
Go to at Least One Night of ConcertsPAX 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.
Go to the Omegathon Final RoundI 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.
Be Prepared to WaitDepending 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?
Bring a BackpackIf 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.
Don't Let SWAG Run Your LifeLook. 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?
Pack Light and Carry a Big BagHey, 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.
Prepare for Sleep DeprivationYou 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.
MoneyMost 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.
Remember to Hydrate and EatSeriously, 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.
Don't Be a DickBe 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.