It's that time again. Time to update my PAX guide and hopefully give some help to those of you who are heading out to Seattle. While the information you will see below is most helpful for first-timers, I believe parts of it can still help even the most seasoned of PAX veterans. If you've read my previous guides, you won't find a ton of new info here, admittedly. Together, I think we've mostly perfected this thing over the last couple years. But, if you're new to the guide, let me share my resumé to help explain why I know what I'm talking about.
|Atlanta 1997||2008 (Seattle)|
|Atlanta 1998||2009 (Seattle)|
|Los Angeles 1999||East 2010 (Boston)|
|Los Angeles 2000||Prime 2010 (Seattle)|
|Los Angeles 2001||East 2011 (Boston)|
|Los Angeles 2002||Prime 2011 (Seattle)|
|Los Angeles 2003||East 2012 (Boston)|
|Los Angeles 2004||Prime 2012 (Seattle)|
|Los Angeles 2005||East 2013 (Boston)|
|Los Angeles 2006|
PAX Prime 2013 is the tenth annual PAX Prime, and it will also be my tenth PAX. I have quite a bit of experience in attending gaming conventions, so let me help you figure out how to make the most of your time available and how to survive on minimal sleep for a long weekend. If any other vets have tips to add, make sure post them below.
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.
- @pax_tourney - What tournaments are going on and where?
- @paxparties (unofficial) - Parties, meet-ups, tweet-ups, tabletop all-nighters, and bar crawls.
Seattle is one of my favorite cities. From downtown (near the convention center), you can walk to pretty much anything you could possibly want. If you're flying into Seattle (SeaTac) and your hotel is anywhere in the downtown area, do not rent a car. A few years ago, they finished construction of the LightRail, which will take you from the airport to the heart of Seattle. It's a little slow (45 minutes maybe), but it only costs about $3.00. Once you're downtown, it's all just walking. The convention center, most of the hotels, GameWorks, Top Pot Doughnuts, Shorty's, and everything at the famous Pike Place Market are all quite close by. Even if you want to do the tourist thing and see the Space Needle, which you totally should at least once, you can walk to the Westlake Center (a mall about four blocks from the convention center) and take a monorail straight to it. If you go out there, check out the SciFi & Music museum. It's a weird combination but it's got a bunch of cool stuff. Also, Dick's has amazing burgers. If you need help finding it, the great Ryan Davis once said "Just Google 'dicks.'" Safe search off.
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 blue 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 blue shirt. Need medical attention after experiencing the Mega64 panel? Look for a blue shirt. Can't figure out where Dave Lang is dishing out Divekick fraud stamps? Look for a blue 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 Seattle 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.
A common misconception is that PAX is just like E3 in terms of being a giant expo hall of developers and publishers demoing their games. While that is a big part of PAX, there's so much more. The expo hall closes at 6 PM each day anyway, and the party certainly doesn't shut down at six. The concerts are an excellent way to spend your evening, whether you know the artists or not.
This year's line-up includes Adam Warrock, Bit Brigade, The Doubleclicks, Hideo, MC Frontalot, Megaran, Protomen, Super Giant Bros., and Supercommuter. Aside from Frontalot and Protomen, this is an entirely new crop of talent. So, this should be an interesting year especially considering that there are three nights of music this year.
The Omegathon: Final Round
The Omegathon is a four day tournament between attendees that were randomly selected weeks ahead of time by Penny Arcade's staff. 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. To be honest, it has outgrown the Washington State Convention Center, but that's not a problem we can solve this year. 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, Mega64, Gearbox, and anything associated with Penny Arcade), you should arrive at least 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 of StreetPasses 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 Pictochat on 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 the Pacific Northwest
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 feeling like an idiot 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 upstairs and check out the PC Freeplay area. It's a massive farm of PC's unlike anything you've ever seen (unless you've been to QuakeCon). 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 and Near stuff. 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 15 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 Seattle, 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 2009, I bought a 'Splosion Man statue from Twisted Pixel's booth. It came in a block of styrofoam, and I was still able to safely fit it into my luggage on the way home. At PAX Prime 2010, my friend @washa_endrya bought a fight stick from Capcom and was able to get it home easily as well.
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 Tuesday 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 Seattle, which has countless hot spots to hit. 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.
Microsoft Space Bucks Don't Work Here
If you've got a debit or credit card, you're mostly okay. Any food places in the area are going to take your card just fine (i.e. Jimmy John's and Top Pot Doughnuts…what else is there?). 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. And there's nothing worse than knowing you can afford that one of a kind Cammy drawing by Long Vo, but being unable to retrieve the funds to buy it.
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. Luckily, downtown Seattle is a pretty great place to run out and get food. Just don't make the dumb mistake of standing in that hour-long line for the tiny Subway in the convention center. There's plenty of places within 5-10 minutes of walking distance. 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 over the last few PAX's. Whether it's a Harmonix meet-up, a Pre-PAX board game night, the Pokémon pub crawl, 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 Seattle, 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).