Sunday, September 06, 2009

Convention Report - PAX

Usually when this site goes dark for a while, it is a sign that I am on the road. But the past week has been heavy in workload, and I have just been dodging this particular responsibility in order to address other matters.

But I have passed through 2/3rds of PAX and lived to tell the tale. Well, mostly lived. I've talked so much that I've got a bad case of ConVoice, which is where my dulcet tones deepen and I can do a passable Sean Connery imitation. And my right wrist hurts from glad-handing and signing autographs, but more of that later.

PAX, then, or as it is more fully known, the Penny Arcade eXpo. Its origins come out of this web comic that sits over on my blogroll to the right, but has grown by leaps and bounds into an amazing creation that yearly tests the foundations of the Washington State Convention Center, and turns downtown Seattle into this fantasy world of wonkdom. It is Nerdstock. It is the Burrning Geek Festival. It is a Most Amazing Thing.

The official attendance is 60,000 people, and tickets were sold out (though a few last ones have now been made available). That number is hard to roll over the mind, so here's another data point to consider - the AT&T networks crashed in the area from the number of iPhones collected in one spot. All of them live-streaming the panels.

Despite the huge numbers, the con was incredibly manageable and navigable. I was in the exhibition hall for most of it, and generally could get around without hitting Soylent Green levels of ground traffic. There were fanclots, of course, Left 4 Dead's zombiefest captured huge lines, as did Diablo III. As did our booth, when we were giving away the books.

Ah, the books. So two weeks ago ArenaNet finally let the world in on what we've been doing for Guild Wars 2 with the insanely great trailer. For PAX, we had a small booth, and were just showing the trailer, having a few panels, hanging with the fans, and giving away an artbook.

An artbook. An 128-page glossy hardbound artbook that contains the incredible concept art we've been generating for the past two years. And we created our own fanclot as the lines ringed the booth on three sides, then jumped across the hallway to a far wall, ran down the wall past the foodstands and almost to the exit itself.

So I've been told. For two of the giveaways I had my head down, doing signing, and I signed an awful lot of books this weekend. And the raw enthusiasm of the fans was extremely exciting. Mind you, we've been under radio silence for two years, and to finally be able to say even a little about the game was a relief. And the response, so positive, so enthusiastic, created this weird feedback loop. The fans got excited, and that made us excited, which made the fans even MORE excited. It was a contact high that Bumbershoot (also this weekend) would be pressed to match.

My other main task was Media Duty, talking to various websites mighty and modest, about what we were doing. It was delightful, since we didn't have to lay of lot of groundwork this time (most of them had seen the trailer already), we got questions about philosophy and definitions and intentions and mechanics (which we aren't at the point of revealing yet) and the upcoming novels.

Ah, the novels. We had author and Alliterate Matt Forbeck out from his Wisconsin home to visit the company, meet with our staff about the story, to hang out in the game world (note to other companies - YES, it is a good thing to let your writers play the game, even if it is not complete), and to appear at PAX at a few panels. And again, the excitement about the coming book is rising (It IS canon, and it WILL be a bridge between GW1 and GW2 and most importantly, it WILL be out before the game).

I did get a chance to wander about, seeing the other booths. Most of the usual suspects were present - NCSoft with a nice Aion setup, of course. EVE and WoW and CoH and all of our other three-letter MMOs. Cryptic is already pushing Star Trek Online (STO), and Bioware had a separte room for The Old Republic (TOR). But there also were miniatures and gaming tables and RPGs and boardgames. There was a strong non-electronic component to PAX, and this year I was impressed by the size of the board/RPG contingent, spread out through numerous open gaming rooms and into the central courts as well. PAX is more than just a computer game show (which is pretty much what the media celebrates) but is dominating gaming as a whole.

So my ears are ringing and by voice is shot and it is raining heavily in Seattle (finally), and I intend to spend the day in full recovery. I have been threatening to rest my signature-sore hand in ice this afternoon. Ice surrounded by alcohol.

Still sounds like a plan. More later,