Penny Arcade Expo 2006

After my solo adventure to PAX a couple years back, I was ready for another trip to the nation’s largest video/board-game convention. This year I brought along Matt “I can roll sixes on command” and Matt “I can kill you with my brain” to share the fun. And lo, there was fun.

Image(576).jpg Image(577).jpg Image(578).jpg Image(580).jpg Image(584).jpg Image(585).jpg Image(587).jpg Image(588).jpg

I spent a good bit of time in the Tabletop area trying new games and hanging out. By far the highlight of the weekend for me was playing Clay-O-Rama (click for rules) for the first time. Each player is given a tub of Play Doh to craft a fearsome monster which then battles the other monsters. The radioactive bear-shark was people’s choice but the fearsome elephant-octopus-thing won the day. Lunch Money was another new game experience that I’ll have to play more (albeit minus the creepy guy who taught it to us). Herocard is another new game that I’ll have to add to my collection soon.

I can’t stand MC Frontalot live so I bailed on the concerts this year. The Penny Arcade guys were hilarious as usual; unfortunately the gamers asking questions this year were subpar. The “would a bear or shark win in a fair fight?”, “pirate or ninja?”, and “would Wolverine beat a Jedi?” guys are giving all of us reasonably well-adjusted members of the gaming community a bad name. Speaking of lame gamers, the funniest shirt I saw at the convention was “real gamers take showers;” sadly a number of convention-goers didn’t take the shirt’s advice.

The coolest video-game I saw in the exhibition hall was a demo for the DS game “Elite Beat Agents.” The basic premise is that you are a member of a clandestine government cheerleading squad. Seriously. Your mission is to cheer on people at critical junctions in their lives, helping them to accomplish some crucial goal (i.e. ask somebody out, help a dog get home.) It’s a wildly addictive Japanese rhythm game with a toe-tapping soundtrack, genuine Engrish, wacky graphics, and an incoherent plot. Check it out when it’s released later this year.

I’ve been playing various Unreal games since the franchise launched almost 10 years ago. So when I saw the Unreal Tournament tournament, I figured I should take a shot. Since Matt and I hadn’t played in a few months, we sat down in the PC free-play area to brush up our skills. In my collegiate days I had stood in the winner’s circle in a couple of organized FPS tournaments, so I figured I could run with the young bucks. I was wrong. It was a bloodbath. After an hour we were both thoroughly humiliated. By the end of the weekend I’d managed to claw back some of my self-esteem by fighting my way to the top in the Half Life 2 deathmatch, but the damage had been done. I’m not a 1337 gamer anymore.

Other games worth mentioning: Prey looks awesome. Running up the walls and strafing someone on the ceiling is an experience of awesomeness that defies description. Guitar Hero looks like a lot of fun–now to scrounge up $70 for the bundle. Final Fantasy III for the DS looks very pretty (albeit surprisingly similar to Golden Sun in a lot of ways…)

If the 19,000 people who attended PAX are representative of the gaming population, Sony’s PSP has officially lost to the Nintendo DS. Badly. Every other human was cradled over their DS–I saw literally hundreds of DSs. I saw three PSPs. Three. The whole time I was there. Other media outlets have picked up on the massive disparity as well; if Sony is serious in trying to stay in the handheld arena, they need to try something new very quickly because they have very obviously lost the core gamer contingent.

Image(594).jpg Image(597).jpg

In conclusion: PAX was great. Mark your calendars for PAX 07!