PAX Prime Day 4 and a Day 3 Epilogue

Day 4 of PAX was incredibly low key for me, as I headed up to the show floor around lunch time just to take a lap around the expo floors and see the Gearbox panel. The only thing that really grabbed my attention was Escape Goat 2, a title I'd heard about before but knew almost nothing about. I finally got close enough to the Klei merchandise booth to see that they were selling Alpha access to Incognita, and I couldn't give them $17 fast enough. I also got some hands on time with an MSI G-series laptop, which was useful as I consider getting that or a Razr Blade as I've missed having a laptop for gaming on the go. My takeaway after using both: I'd be okay with either. I'm not sold on the Blade touch interface thing, and the MSI is significantly cheaper. More research is needed, but I'm leaning MSI if the performance is comparable.

The Gearbox panel was disappointing, but not for reasons of content. The main theater for PAX East is Seatle's Paramount Theater, an actual, honest to god theater, not a gussied up hotel or convention center meeting room like most of the other "theaters." I had a very difficult time hearing a lot of the panel from my position in the back of the theater and under the balcony overhang. the panelists were mic'ed, but Randy Pitchford was the only person I could hear semi-reliably. They announced some more Borderlands 2 content, including skins and heads and more packs like the forthcoming TK Baha's Headhunter pack. Borderlands 2 cosplayers were given their own diamond loot chest that had previsouly sold out on ThinkGeek, and they announced that those chests would e coming back to ThinkGeek later this month. They're also making figures based on the Borderlands 2 hero characters, and the Zer0 prototype they had on hand looked impressive. They also talked about Gearbox Community Day, which will be streamed on Twitch, complete with a special purchasable stream upgrade that includes an HD stream, exclusive Borderlands 2 skins and heads, and access to a closed beta for an unannounced project. I don't remember if the words 'New IP" were attached to that or not. Finally, they talked a little about the Homeworld franchise and the recently announced partnership with Blackbird to make Hardware: Shipbreakers - or Homeworld: Shipbreakers as it's now know. Both original and HD versions of Homeworld 1 and 2 will be coming in early 2014, and those who purchase the community day HD stream will get a free copy of Homeworld 1 Classic and HD. Those purchasers, however, won't include the panel attendees, as everyone in the theater was given a code for that package with the stream, Borderlands 2 customization items, closed beta access, and HOmeworld copies plus a code for the new Borderlands 2 content releasing tomorrow. The panel, in my expert opinion based on attending one before while in the throws of a seriously mind-altering fever, was exactly what I expected. Gearbox gives stuff away with decent value and seems to value the appreciation they receive from their fans. I know a lot of people were rightly burned by Aliens: Colonial Marines, but I don't think any studio sets out to make a bad game, and I have gotten far more enjoyment out of Borderlands and Borderlands 2 than almost any other franchise. At the very least, they appear to be being very careful with their new, beloved space-based IP.

Day Three of PAX Prime actually ended for me with the livestream of the Cards Against Humanity panel after I published my last blog. I got some rest and went to see Cards Against Humanity Live at the Triple Door Theater, which meant I wouldn't be able to see their panel in a 500 person theater. Normally, the CAH PAX panel is a chance for the crowd to pitch card ideas to the CAH team, but past panels were always moderated by Ryan Davis. This year's panel was a parade of Ryan's friends, sharing memories and clips of their time together; it was a beautiful, cathartic, hilarious, disgusting, tearful goodbye. I was able to keep my emotions in check watching at home until John Vignocchi tired to speak and got choked up. Dan Teasdale may have stolen the show with the full testimonial video Ryan and Jeff shot for the Drake Tracker app. I was fortunate enough to run into Stephen Toulouse, who was part of the panel, this afternoon, and I told him how much I enjoyed hearing him on the E3 Bombcasts. His immediate reaction was a simple "I miss my friend Ryan." He said a little later that he wasn't a spiritual person at all, but it felt like Ryan was present and, in his words, "Ryan would have loved that panel." I am, like Stepto, not spiritual and I can't speak to what it felt like in the room, but seeing a dais of Max Temkin, Jeff, Johnny V, Dan Teasdale, John Drake, Eric Pope, Brad Muir, Mikey Neumann, Stepto, e, Dave Lang, and on and on...I couldn't help but think of the impressive legacy Ryan left behind of funny, creative, interesting people being connected in their love of fun. That's a damn fine legacy in my mind.

With that, I have to pack for a 6:00 am flight to SFO, then a 9:30 back to DC. Fortunately, the only new stuff I have taking up space in my suitcase are the Cards Against Humanity Bigger, Blacker Box and a poster they signed for me after the Triple Door show. And a shitload of flyers, which I'll weed out crap from usefull stuff with codes on Wednesday, my last day of vacation.

PAX is an amazing experience. This afternoon, leaving the convention center, I felt fulfilled, excited for games that are coming, and kind of pissed I hadn't been able to take advantage of my vacation to play more games in my backlog. That last thing may not seem like much, but there have been evenings or weekends when my "What should I play now? inner monologue turned into "Whatever is in the PS3 or Xbox...eh, I'm not feeling those, maybe something downloaded...nothing grabs me - ooh, Law and Order reruns are on!" PAX is a chance to see the best of the gaming industry and community and really recharge. I also fell in love with the city, and have three things to keep in mind for next year:

1. Stay at the Sheraton or Grand Hyatt, which are closer to the Convention Center and actually host panels

OR:

2. Be in better shape so the easy walk from the Westin doesn't result in me pouring sweat out of every pore - clearly the better option.

OR

3. Find a job in Seattle. Move here. Clearly the best option.

So long, PAX. Thanks for a great, refreshing vacation.

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PAX Prime Day 4 and a Day 3 Epilogue

Day 4 of PAX was incredibly low key for me, as I headed up to the show floor around lunch time just to take a lap around the expo floors and see the Gearbox panel. The only thing that really grabbed my attention was Escape Goat 2, a title I'd heard about before but knew almost nothing about. I finally got close enough to the Klei merchandise booth to see that they were selling Alpha access to Incognita, and I couldn't give them $17 fast enough. I also got some hands on time with an MSI G-series laptop, which was useful as I consider getting that or a Razr Blade as I've missed having a laptop for gaming on the go. My takeaway after using both: I'd be okay with either. I'm not sold on the Blade touch interface thing, and the MSI is significantly cheaper. More research is needed, but I'm leaning MSI if the performance is comparable.

The Gearbox panel was disappointing, but not for reasons of content. The main theater for PAX East is Seatle's Paramount Theater, an actual, honest to god theater, not a gussied up hotel or convention center meeting room like most of the other "theaters." I had a very difficult time hearing a lot of the panel from my position in the back of the theater and under the balcony overhang. the panelists were mic'ed, but Randy Pitchford was the only person I could hear semi-reliably. They announced some more Borderlands 2 content, including skins and heads and more packs like the forthcoming TK Baha's Headhunter pack. Borderlands 2 cosplayers were given their own diamond loot chest that had previsouly sold out on ThinkGeek, and they announced that those chests would e coming back to ThinkGeek later this month. They're also making figures based on the Borderlands 2 hero characters, and the Zer0 prototype they had on hand looked impressive. They also talked about Gearbox Community Day, which will be streamed on Twitch, complete with a special purchasable stream upgrade that includes an HD stream, exclusive Borderlands 2 skins and heads, and access to a closed beta for an unannounced project. I don't remember if the words 'New IP" were attached to that or not. Finally, they talked a little about the Homeworld franchise and the recently announced partnership with Blackbird to make Hardware: Shipbreakers - or Homeworld: Shipbreakers as it's now know. Both original and HD versions of Homeworld 1 and 2 will be coming in early 2014, and those who purchase the community day HD stream will get a free copy of Homeworld 1 Classic and HD. Those purchasers, however, won't include the panel attendees, as everyone in the theater was given a code for that package with the stream, Borderlands 2 customization items, closed beta access, and HOmeworld copies plus a code for the new Borderlands 2 content releasing tomorrow. The panel, in my expert opinion based on attending one before while in the throws of a seriously mind-altering fever, was exactly what I expected. Gearbox gives stuff away with decent value and seems to value the appreciation they receive from their fans. I know a lot of people were rightly burned by Aliens: Colonial Marines, but I don't think any studio sets out to make a bad game, and I have gotten far more enjoyment out of Borderlands and Borderlands 2 than almost any other franchise. At the very least, they appear to be being very careful with their new, beloved space-based IP.

Day Three of PAX Prime actually ended for me with the livestream of the Cards Against Humanity panel after I published my last blog. I got some rest and went to see Cards Against Humanity Live at the Triple Door Theater, which meant I wouldn't be able to see their panel in a 500 person theater. Normally, the CAH PAX panel is a chance for the crowd to pitch card ideas to the CAH team, but past panels were always moderated by Ryan Davis. This year's panel was a parade of Ryan's friends, sharing memories and clips of their time together; it was a beautiful, cathartic, hilarious, disgusting, tearful goodbye. I was able to keep my emotions in check watching at home until John Vignocchi tired to speak and got choked up. Dan Teasdale may have stolen the show with the full testimonial video Ryan and Jeff shot for the Drake Tracker app. I was fortunate enough to run into Stephen Toulouse, who was part of the panel, this afternoon, and I told him how much I enjoyed hearing him on the E3 Bombcasts. His immediate reaction was a simple "I miss my friend Ryan." He said a little later that he wasn't a spiritual person at all, but it felt like Ryan was present and, in his words, "Ryan would have loved that panel." I am, like Stepto, not spiritual and I can't speak to what it felt like in the room, but seeing a dais of Max Temkin, Jeff, Johnny V, Dan Teasdale, John Drake, Eric Pope, Brad Muir, Mikey Neumann, Stepto, e, Dave Lang, and on and on...I couldn't help but think of the impressive legacy Ryan left behind of funny, creative, interesting people being connected in their love of fun. That's a damn fine legacy in my mind.

With that, I have to pack for a 6:00 am flight to SFO, then a 9:30 back to DC. Fortunately, the only new stuff I have taking up space in my suitcase are the Cards Against Humanity Bigger, Blacker Box and a poster they signed for me after the Triple Door show. And a shitload of flyers, which I'll weed out crap from usefull stuff with codes on Wednesday, my last day of vacation.

PAX is an amazing experience. This afternoon, leaving the convention center, I felt fulfilled, excited for games that are coming, and kind of pissed I hadn't been able to take advantage of my vacation to play more games in my backlog. That last thing may not seem like much, but there have been evenings or weekends when my "What should I play now? inner monologue turned into "Whatever is in the PS3 or Xbox...eh, I'm not feeling those, maybe something downloaded...nothing grabs me - ooh, Law and Order reruns are on!" PAX is a chance to see the best of the gaming industry and community and really recharge. I also fell in love with the city, and have three things to keep in mind for next year:

1. Stay at the Sheraton or Grand Hyatt, which are closer to the Convention Center and actually host panels

OR:

2. Be in better shape so the easy walk from the Westin doesn't result in me pouring sweat out of every pore - clearly the better option.

OR

3. Find a job in Seattle. Move here. Clearly the best option.

So long, PAX. Thanks for a great, refreshing vacation.

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PAX Prime Day 3 - An Early but Powerful Day

On Day 3 of PAX East 2011, I woke up feeling feverish, congested, and with a sore throat that made breathing, much less swallowing, difficult to impossible. I still (stupidly and very selfishly) toughed it out and went to the show and ended up having a great conversation with a small developer from Australia and saw the Gearbox panel, one of my reasons for going to the show. I wasn't in as bad of shape this morning, but I could feel the telltale fatigue and slight tickle in my throat that was telling me "Dude, get some rest NOW or you'll regret it." Day 3 of PAX Prime 2012 will probably go down as my shortest day at the show, but it contained the most powerful and interesting experiences.

I decided that I would head up to the Pegasus Theater for two back-to-back panels: Harmonix's presentation on the development history of Fantasia and the Take This panel on depression and anxiety in the gaming universe. The draw of the Harmonix panel was the chance to see some early demos and designs from the forthcoming Fantasia: Music Evolved since a lot of this material never makes the light of day. The panelists from Harmonix and Disney were surprisingly open about how trying and rewarding the process of turning Fantasia into a game has been. The two early demos shown illustrated different approaches to the game: storytelling via music inspired by Peter and the Wolf and forging an emotional connection with the player through the music. It's not hard to see how both concepts were lacking, but were important steps on the journey to the game as it is now. Afterwards, I hung around and got a chance to ask Matt Boch, the game's Creative Director, how he makes the decision or knows when to cut something for good vs. when to keep trying or iterating on a theme. It was great hearing him talk about his process and underlying approach to design as problem solving vs expression and reaffirming for someone who does a more boring form of corporate system design. I just wish I hadn't been so entranced by his custom Sorcerer's Apprentice hat - I'd probably have retained 20% more of what he said but I'm grateful for the time he took and the opportunity to ask the question.

My second panel of the day was "It's Dangerous to Go Alone: The Take This Panel." The Take This Project was started by Russ Pitts and Susan Arendt, veteran gaming editors, in response to the suicide last year of freelance games journalist Matt Hughes. The panel featured Pitts, Arendt, Jeff Green, Janelle Bonanno, Ashly Burch, and Mikey Neumann sharing their stories of dealing with depression and anxiety and how to get help and relate to those around you. One of the amazing and fascinating things about depression is how it can be completely and totally isolating to those experiencing it...until you hear someone else talk about it. While no two experiences with depression or anxiety (or any illness, really) are the same, I could hear bits of my own feelings in each person who spoke and their experiences. Mikey Neumann was the last panelist to speak. He makes his living as a writer, manipulating words and has a kind of confident if not brash public persona...and he broke down completely talking about how he felt dealing with symptom fatigue after a diagnosis of a stroke and MS and the aftermath that has brought into his life. It was simultaneously heartbreaking to see someone who's work I've enjoyed so much struggle with his emotions and uplifting to hear the calls of support and and applause breaks when he had to stop to compose himself. This panel, combined with last night's ovation for Giant Bomb's Ryan Davis, was a great reminder of how supportive and amazing the community can be. Afterwards, I had a chance to briefly thank Mikey, Jeff, and Russ for the panel, and also ran into Artur Gies of Polygon and told him I enjoyed the reviews section at Polygon. He either really appreciated it, or is a master at faking sincerity. Either way, I was glad for the chance to say thanks.

I was in a weird head space at this point, and decided I should take one more lap around the fringes of the Expo hall floor, mainly to see if there was anything I missed or wanted to make point of seeing tomorrow. I found myself drawn to the Indie Megabooth, and made a startling realization as I passed Vlambeer's area. I didn't want to stop and play Luftrausers - I know I want to play it when it's out, and I feel this way about just as many indie games like The Moonlighters, Incongnito, and Hotline Miami 2 as I do about big budget AAA titles like Titanfall, Battlefield 4, and Batman: Arkham Origins to name just a few each from the show floor. It made me appreciate what a cool time we're in for this industry and hobby, and made me eager to search out some new hidden experience tomorrow on Day 4.

In order to make sure I make it to Day 4, I'm taking a pass on the Cards Against Humanity panel, which is supposed to feature some Giant Bomb news per Jeff Gerstmann at last night's panel. Fortunately, it will be streamed and my hotel internet has been surprisingly good. I was disppointed to get back to my hotel and see a tweet from Matt Rorie inviting people out to Gameworks for a beer right after I had walked by...but my immune system is probably grateful for the missed connection. Next year, I'm making "Buy Matt Rorie a beer" my top PAX goal.

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PAX Prime - Day Two (including a panel from some guys on the internet)

Please note, as with yesterday's blog, I'm sharing this with non-GB friends and family, so some things that are probably familiar to this community are explained in a bit more detail.

Day 2 of PAX PRime was the Giant Bomb-iest day of the show. Between the Harmonix podcast to start the day and an amazing Giant Bomb panel to end the night, I Saw fewer games in person but felt like the day was well spent. Quality over quantity is my watchword for the remainder of the show - especially as I feel a slight tickle in the back of my throat.

My day actually started with Ohio State football's season opener at 9:00 am Seattle time. For someone considering a move to the area, getting to watch half my Buckeyes before really starting my day was pretty awesome. Fortunately, I saw some tweets reminding me of the Harmonix podcast time, because I had noted it down as starting at noon, not 11.

(That's a tip from yesterday I forgot to pass on: record your schedule somewhere besides the official app. The app went belly up for me after an update and had to be reinstalled - sans my saved personal schedule).

Harmonix talked a little bit about Fantasia: Music Evolved, but spent most of the panel highlighting indie developers. Phil Tibz of Young Horses sohwed off Octodad: Dadliest Catch; Nathan of Cappy Games had trailers from Super Time Force and Below, Darren Korb showed off a trailer and piece of music from Supergiant's Transistor, and the indefatigably positive Brad Muir took an endless line of shit from Harmonix's John drake while showing off Massive Chalice. Harmonix's stated goal was to show off the cool stuff their friends were doing, and there wasn't a game on the slate that I wasn't interested in. The highlights, for me, were two separate interruptions.

First, former Harmonix-er and current CEO and Creative Director of No Goblin, Dan Teasdale, barged in and presented Drake with a case of Diet Coke. This was a small fraction of the Diet Coke purchased for Drake via the Super Drake Tracker EX app that made its joking debut at PAX East 2011. The realty is that over 240 cans of Diet Coke have been purchased via the app, so Drake's office was inundated with cans and cases. The second interruption was Max Temkin and Jeff Gerstman delivering another round of Diet Cokes, this time in a large black tub of ice. Drake leaned into the joke and actually sat in the tub for a few minutes, drinking one of the cokes.

From here, I went to listen to 10 Questions with Supergiant Games, where Amir Rao and Greg Kasavin took ten pre-screened questions and then audience questions. Topics ranged from the importance of narrative, the role of sound and music in design, camera angles, approaches to games criticism, and avoiding a sophomore slump with Transistor. If you want to hear smart, considered answers to questions about game design, you could do a lot worse than Rao and Kasavin.

I headed over to the Washington Convention Center for the first time all day, and passed most of the Giant Bomb crew heading the other way. I didn't want to interrupt as they seemed to be heading somewhere specific, so I gave Drew Scanlon, Vinny Caravella, Alex Navarro, and Brad Shoemaker a "Hey guys!" as they passed. Drew gave a rather startled "Hey" back and we went on our separate ways.

I didn't have anything specific in mind to see except a trip past the Rome Total War II booth for a friend, so I jumped in a short line for an XCom: Enemy Within theater demo. It was a short line and a short demo showing off a new environment, two genetic modifications for your soldiers, and mech suits. For both sides. The presenter reminded us that the XCom Enemy Within panel was taking place in about 30 minutes with Adam Sessler of Rev3 games hosting, so I headed back over to the Sheraton satellite theaters since I'm a fan of both Sessler and XCom.

The panel went into a little more detail about the art design, the process for designing Enemy Within as a whole, and what we can expect when the expansion is released. The lead designer, who is not Jake Solomon, was interesting, and my hope is that Solomon's influence on the revival is so deep that this introduces new mechanics, soldiers, and enemies while keeping the balance and intangible "feel" that made Enemy Unknonwn so well received by fans of the old series. Oh, and one of the enemy types is a flying spider shark that can cloak and likes to target and strangle isolated soldiers. Good luck with that, Commander.

My last stop on the show floor for the day was the Indie Mega Booth. I wanted to tell Phil Tibz how much I enjoyed hearing him that morning and that I was looking forward to Octodad: Dadliest Catch. Right next to his area, Max Temkin as demoing Samurai Gunn. Jeff Gerstmann of Gian Bomb was there watching, and I saw them play a match before jumping into one on my own. Samurai Gunn is a four-player couch co-op game with frenetic action. I will like it more when I have more time to play and don't suck on the floor of a huge show.

My next event was the Giant Bomb panel. There's not a lot to say about this, especially since the video will be up soon. As expected, the line for the 8:30 event opened at 6:30 and was packed in literally one minute. There were loud cheers for the Giant Bomb staff as they appeared and entered the theater to set up, and almost equal cheers for a list of friends of the site who have become well known to the community: Adam Boyes, john Viggnocchi, John Drake, Dave Lang, and Brad Muir were just a few. The panel didn't fill up until right before the start, but the theater was filled with members of this fanatically devoted community. Two of the more bizarre moments came near the end of the show, when Adam Boyes, a Sony VP, gave the Giant Bomb staff copies of The Last of Us to toss into the crowd and, I think, Brad Shoemaker decapitated someone with a low, hard-flung game. Things somehow got weirder as Disney Interactive's John Vignocchi gave out Disney Infinity figures as prizes for the best display of twerking with Brad Shoemaker, while the aforementioned Boyes beatboxed. Yeah, it WAS that kind of party.

Those were the weird and wacky highlights of a panel that has specialized in weird and wacky in past years, but this year was unlike previous years in a very noticeable way. After introducing the staff panelists (Alex Navarro, Brad Shoemaker, Patrick Scoops Klepeck, Vinny Caravella) plus the night's videographer Drew Scanlon and the site's Product Manager Matthew Rorie, the site's co-founder Jeff Gerstmann asked for a round of applause for the deceased Davis. The standing ovation and thunderous applause was simply amazing. I didn't think to time it while it was happening, and I'm not sure I could have read the numbers on my phone's stopwatch anyway. That amazing outpouring of love and Gerstmann's fitting remarks immediately afterwards were a perfect public tribute to Davis.

Tomorrow: I attempt to avoid getting sick and maybe don't go to PAX but there's a Cards Against Humanity panel at 9 pm...

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PAX Prime - Day One

Note: I'm sharing this with some friends and family who aren't down with Giant Bomb, so please forgive the explanation of some familiar faces to this community.

The first day of PAX Prime is essentially over, and it was awesome. From a practical standpoint, the best part of the day was getting to hold both the Xbox One and Playstation 4 controllers and being able to verify that they both feel great. From a show perspective, I was able to see almost everything I really wanted to see in one day.

This was the one day I got there before the show started; you can queue up to enter the exhibit hall as early as 8 am while the floor doesn't open until 10. You spend a lot of time very close to other nerds, making small talk, Streetpassing with your 3DS, and alternating between sitting, crouching, and standing.

Once the doors opened, I made a beeline for the Cards Against Humanity booth. They were passing out Misfortune Cookies. While the cookie tasted great, it informed me that I am pregnant. This is unfortunate, as I'm having a hard time tracking down a no-questions-asked male abortion provider in Seattle. I also purchased The Bigger, Blacker Box for the paltry sum of $15. This is a nice card holder box with dividers for all the terrible CAH sets and those to be released. I got the box signed by some of the creative team behind the game - no Max Temkin though as he wasn't at the booth yet.

From here, I went to check out Lococycle, an Xbox One launch game from Twisted Pixel. This is a motorcycle combat game, but not like Road Rash was a motorcycle combat game. You're controlling a sentient motorcycle, who's dragging a rider along behind him. It's hard to explain it without showing it, but it's accessible enough that I did okay during the playable demo. This was my chance to hold an Xbox One controller, and it felt great. It was surprisingly light, but not cheap.

I wandered around the floor a little and found a booth run by the people who make Solforge, a digital Collectible Card Game I've been playing a little since a Giant Bomb quicklook, and Ascension, a physical CCG. I had never played Ascension, so I sat down and played a game with a company rep and another player. There are some interesting systems at play in a new expansion and, despite not having a foundation with the game, I managed to win 45-29-29. I don't think I'll pick up a copy of the game while I'm here, but I'm downloading a digital version for my iPad as I type this up.

I got my chance to use a PS4 controller at the Supergiant Games booth, during a demo of Transistor. The line was long, thanks to the buzz the game has generated and the fact that the demo was pretty lengthy for a floor demo. While waiting, there were half a dozen or more people gathered around the booth who were cosplaying as characters from Transistor or Supergiant's last game, Bastion. Greg Kasavin, the studio's creative director, had huge smile on his face and took a photos while standing next to me. I asked him how surreal that experience was and he said, "All the way surreal. 8/10 on the surreal meter." The actual demo lived up to my sky high expectations, and I'll be throwing money at this and whatever Supergiant does after this.

After wandering the floor a little more, I sought out the Iron Galaxy booth. They had three stations set up for Divekick, their two button parody fighting game. The CEO of Iron Galaxy, Dave Lang, was manning one station, so I stepped up and challenged him to a match. I selected S-Kill as my character, one of the most complicated characters to play in the game. Lang looked at me and asked if I had played S-Kill before, and I said, "A little." I got an early advantage, and he remarked/complimented me on playing an aggressive style of S-Kill, which isn't common. After I went up 4 rounds to 3 (you play to 5), he made a self-disparaging comment and I got cocky. "Have you ever played this?" I asked. I then lost two rounds and walked away humiliated, but with a hearty handshake as my consolation for leaving the Lang Zone a loser.

My last visit for the day was to see Telltale Games' The Wolf Among Us. Telltale made last year's The Walking Dead game which won a ton of awards and proved that story-driven adventure games have a place in the modern gaming landscape. While I'm not as familiar with the Fables series that this series is based on, they set up the story quickly and get you into a confrontation between your character, Bigby Wolf (Big. By. Wolf. Big. Bad. Wolf), the sheriff of Fabletown, and The Woodsman. The demo got me excited to play this when it comes out and to explore the world of Fables via the existing comic series.

Now, I'm resting my feet and preparing my schedule for tomorrow, which will probably start with the live Harmonix podcast. Between that, the Giant Bomb panel tomorrow, and Sunday's Cards Against Humanity live show and later panel, there's going to be some amazing laughs and probably poignant and touching tributes to Ryan Davis. I hope to spend some more time in the Indie Megabooth checking out smaller games, may try my hand at a Magic tournament for the first time in 15+ years, and will continue to Streetpass like a MUTHA. So far, so good PAX. So far, so good. I also think I'll head over to the Triple Door for Chainsaw Suit live. I apparently missed John Drake twerking like a pro last night.

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On Gone Home

Warning: Potential spoilers for Gone Home follow.

If there are eight million stories in the naked city, how many are there in a single home? Look through your own living space. How much does each thing, even down to scraps of paper, mean to you? To the ones close to you? What do you remember when looking at them? What would someone assume about you if these things were presented with no other context?

Gone Home is the story of a family - the Greenbriers. You play as the elder daughter, Kaitlin, who’s returned home in June of 1995 after spending a year in Europe. You came in on the red-eye and caught a shuttle home. It is dark, it is raining cats and dogs, and no one is there when you arrive. A note on the door from your younger sister, Sam, asks you not to tell your mother and father what you find.

From here, Gone Home becomes less of a game and more of a first person story. You walk through your temporarily abandoned house, finding pieces of a family life you’ve missed out on in the past year. There’s the invoice from the movers, the postcards you sent expressing astonsihment as the new familial address, and your mother’s hand-drawn map from home to work. There are the books for parents of teenagers and the book for a teenager on how to make friends, with a well-meaning note to little sister Sam signed “Dad.” For good measure, you also discover early on (depending of course on your own path through the house) that this new mansion is refered to by locals as “The pyscho house.” Did I mention it’s dark and raining really hard?

As you walk through and examine these pieces of the Greenbriers’ lives, you as the player are presented with journals from your sister Sam has left for you. She’s a high school junior struggling to fit in in a new town, struggling with her feelings for the girl she’s drawn too like a human supernova. The homosexual nature of the relationship means that not only is Sam dealing with her own inner turmoil, but there’s bound to be some tension with the family, too. That’s not the only source of conflict in this game though; you learn of your father’s professional struggles, your mother’s triumphs, and how their marriage is changing as they approach their anniversary. These secondary and tertiary stories are all told through otherwise innocuous objects in the house: a book in the master bath, a letter from an editor in the study, a bookmark under a bed, a pamphlet in a cabinet with highlighted dates.

What populates your living space? Are there ghosts of loves past? Would your music collection allow someone to guess when you started questioning authority? Does the family photo beside your bed show your loved ones as they are or how you want to remember them? Play Gone Home. Allow yourself to be Kaitlin Greenbrier, and walk through the lives of this family. It will stick with you.

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Thank You, Ryan

I can count the number of interactions I had with Ryan Davis on one hand. They were fleeting, insignificant Twitter messages between a fan and a public personality, between a subscriber to a website and someone providing customer support. he steered me towards sociaimprints.com when I had an issue with a t-shirt order. He retweeted a photo of my beagle-corgi mix when I engaged Eric Pope in a joke about Sleeping Dogs, and, in a message I've cherished even before today's tragic news, he called me a motherfucker.

It's easy to think we know the guys who make up Giant Bomb. The site stands out because each member of the staff injects so much of his personality into what they cover and how they cover it. Each week, there's a Giant Bombcast that opened with Ryan's infectiously enthusiastic "Hey everybody, it's Tuesday!" kicking off a two to three hour discussion of video games that usually, quickly, devolves into four friends sitting a room, talking about their lives. Quick Looks and the Endurance Runs are just as much about how the crew reacts to a game as the game itself. But for as much as Ryan, Jeff, Patrick, Vinny, Brad, Dave, Drew, and Matt have been willing to share with us over the years, the reality is they spend a small portion of their lives being honest with us in front of a camera or a microphone, and then go lead separate private lives. Some members of the community have struck up wonderful friendships with Ryan or other members of the staff, but the reality is I remain a fan, not a friend, and this is why I'm having so much trouble processing the news of Ryan's death.

Even though I never met him (being in the same room for a PAX East panel hardly counts as meeting someone), it's clear that the people who did know Ryan loved him. The tributes from Casey Malone, Max Tempkin, and Justin McElroy put this into words more beautifully than I ever could. But I think Ryan's honesty with the community here at Giant Bomb, the way he let us into pieces of his life make it easier for us to empathize with those who truly knew Ryan. For the rest of us, we knew him in our own one-sided way. I knew him as the host of the Bombcast and various live shows. Those podcasts and show archives meant quite a bit to me, as listening and watching helped me deal with my own stresses and anxieties.

I can't figure out why I'm taking this so hard, especially when one of our only meaningful interactions was him calling me a motherfucker. Actually, it's because of the spirit in which he called me a motherfucker. There was some discussion, either on the Bombcast or on Twitter or in Quick Look, where Ryan made a reference to The Color Purple. This was when he and Gary Whitta were regularly pulling down the e-trousers and comparing their...Klout. I sent Ryan a tweet along the lines of "Since I can't give you +K in The Color Purple or Toni Morrison, I gave you +K in Morrissey." His simple, honest, endearing response to someone he had never met was "you motherfucker." I took it in the warm and friendly spirit in which I'm sure it was offered.

I miss Ryan Davis, and I never even knew him.

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E3 Excitement and an anniversary

I can't help it: I'm excited for E3. I know there's an expectation this will be a subdued year with no hardware reveals from Sony or Microsoft, and game reveals will lack impact because studios and publishers are waiting for the next generation of tech to unleash heavy hitters. I think being in this kind of transitional period is exciting, but that's not the reason I'm excited. Last June, for reasons that completely escape me, I downloaded my first Bombcast from iTunes and spent three hours listening to Gary Whitta, Stepto, E, and Jon Blow engage in one of the most interesting conversations about user experience, technology, and games in general. The next day, I heard David Jaffe be David Jaffe in a mostly unfiltered environment. I'd been a member here for a while, but that week's wild-ass decision to listen to the long-ass E3 podcasts got me hooked.

In the past year, I've listened to the Bombcast archives from the beginning through the first 20 minutes or so of E3 2010 Day 3 (If you've listened to this day's audio, you know why I stopped) and am planning to spend this week re-listening to the 2011 audio before getting back into the archives. I'm excited for E3 because despite the technical difficulties the staff has been fighting through, I trust them to find interesting guests who are outspoken, well spoken, or both to talk passionately about an industry that's on the verge of a generational shift yet still clinging to many remnants of the past in terms of design and the business model. I'm excited to hear Patrick during his first Giant Bomb E3 experience. I'm excited to watch these live, despite being on the East coast. I'm excited to learn the names of more people in the industry I should pay attention to because they're doing new or interesting things.

I hope there are new games, products, and initiatives introduced at E3 that interest me. If not, at least I'll be entertained after each day's show.

EDIT: in relistening to the 2011 podcasts, I discovered Patrick had joined the staff last year. The lesson is, as always, I am an idiot.
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A Change is Gonna Come...but I'm not worried

I watched the live-stream of Thursday's Pancake Party, and the outrage and immediate emergence of the pessimists and doomsayers wasn't surprising. I'll even admint that I"m highly disappointed that we'll see less Whiskey cross-overs, as I've come to love Will, Rorie, Gary, Norm, Joey, and a lot of people I'd never heard of before they showed up on a TNT or a Quick Look. While that's a big bummer for me (and probably the Whiskey vrew who appeared to love working together), I'm not worried about CBSI "sucking the soul:" out of Giant Bomb or muzzling the way Jeff, Ryan, Brad, Vinny, Patrick, and Drew cover games and the gaming industry. There are a few reasons for this, but the two most important (and related) ones are these: Jeff said things won't change much, and, presumably, we're here because we trust the Giant Bomb guys. That last part, so important it needs to be bolded, is worth repeating: We're presumably here because we trust what Brad, Jeff, Ryan, Patrick, and Vinny have to say.

I've said what I'm about to say before, but it bears repeating because I imagine a lot of people have similar stories. As a gamer in 2007, I knew about GameSpot and read them occasionally, mostly when I was looking for a review of a game I was on the fence about or looking for news about something that was coming out and I was super-excited about it. I didn't pay attention to the by-lines on reviews, and I tended to just look at the numbers and use those to help inform my buy/wait/rent/avoid decision. When Gerstmann-gate broke as news on Penny Arcade, it was a kind of a wake-up call in that it made me more aware of everything that went into games coverage, for better or worse: game publisher and developer input, the outlet's editorial work and management, and individual bias and opinions on games. Believing the rumors, now confirmed, that Jeff was fired largely over a poor score given to an advertiser made me aware of who Jeff was and made me want to see what he did next, because I appreciated that kind of integrity in reviews and coverage of any medium.

I've been a reader of Giant Bomb since it's founding, and a member for some time, and a paid subscriber since they started (I think) because I've found as I read and watch and listen to Giant Bomb's content that I trust what they're telling me is an honest representation of how they feel about a game. That doesn't mean I think the same thing or agree with every opinion - how could I when you have such differences on staff like how Patrick and Jeff had such different views on Catherine, or how Vinny fell hard for Dark Souls while the rest of the team mostly saw it as a masochistic exercise in futility? Even on this past week's Bombcaast, we had a rehash of Brad vs. Everybody on the greatness of Flower. While Jeff's firing and integrity were what brought me here, I find I'm closer in my gaming tastes to Brad and Ryan, with the COD-tendencies of Vinny to try to collect everything - and that means both in-game and in ridiculous and largely unneeded peripherals.

Giant Bomb has built an incredible community that I'm fortunate to feel like a small part of. I also feel like when one of the staff members gives an opinion or passes judgement on a game or an event in the gaming world, I know where their opinion is coming from and can make my own reasonably informed decision about how that's going to differ from mine and to what degree. Jeff, Ryan, Brad, Vinny, Patrrick, and now Alex are NOT my friends, but I feel like I know them (or at least their tastes and inherit biases*) well enough to trust them when they tell me that the site's content and approach isn't going to change. I'm not going to pretend to know the business situation of Giant Bomb or Whiskey media, but I'm willing to believe that when Jeff says things aren't going to change much, he's not just blowing smoke up or collective asses, and CBSI is genuinely interested in preserving the community and content of Giant Bomb because those are valuable commodities to them.

There are going to be changes, and I might not like them all. But before grabbing the pitchforks, torches, and red nWo Wolfpack shirts (if I can even still find mine...), let's give the Giant Bomb crew the same benefit of the doubt we given them when looking for gaming news, reviews and criticism.

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Shallow Vita Impressions

I've had my Vita for just under 7 hours and have had it with me or beside me the entire time. Following my post on why I was excited for the Vita, I thought I'd give a few quick hit, from the hip impressions.

  • It's both a good size and a bit too small for my big hands. I don't feel like I have my hands cramped up playing it like I used to with a PSP, but the non-touch sensitive area on the back seems to be a little small for a big guy with big hands. If a game doesn't use rear touch, no problem. But I anticipate we'll see a LOT of launch and first party titles trying to take advantage of all the capabilities.
  • I need a soft cloth. The Vita's pretty, but it attracts fingerprints like a glossy black piece of tech tends to do. When I look for a case, maybe I'll try to find a package deal with a case, cloth, and some other trinkets I don't really need.
  • The download speeds have been pretty zippy. My major gripe with Sony is the frequency of firmware/title updates and how slowly they download on my PS3s. Granted, one if about as far from the wireless router as it can be with no line of sight, but the other is not. With the Vita so far, firmware, apps, and a Wipeout 2048 title update have downloaded pretty quickly. Not at all what I expected on launch day with a lot of people probably banging on the servers.
  • So far, I find near fascinating but confusing. I'm not really sure how to use it "right" or "best," but I love tapping around in it seeing what I can find near me. I have the manual favorited on the web browser, so I will RTFM at some point, soon, because I don't think I'm going to just pick this up like most apps. If it wasn't so damn interesting, I'd probably just bag it.
  • Netflix runs like a dream once you get past the horrible UI. Watched a full episode of Bones with no buffering or frame rate issues or hiccups. This will be a nice option until the iPad 3 hits.
  • Oh yeah, it plays games. I've only played a three or four races of Wipeout so far, but snagged that, Hot Shots, Mod Nation Racers, Little Deviants, Uncharted, and Lumines thanks to various Buy 2 Get 1 sales. Wipeout's fun, but the load times are ASS. I'm going to try some Hot Shots later tonight for sure, so hopefully that's title specific.
  • I'm really looking forward to seeing how buying a full title works out. I know it should be old hat by now, but I want to see first hand how the download process goes for a full title and how much mem card space I have to sacrifice.

My big two anticipated releases are still The Show and MK, and my experience, albeit limited, with the Vita hasn't dampened my enthusiasm yet. We'll see how I feel in a few days after trying out more of what matters: the games.

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