04/03/2010

Collectively Conquering The Week Without Breaking A Sweat: PAX East 2010 Part 2

by Matthew Hawkins

In this post:
1. Part two of my PAX East wrap-up!

For those who might have missed it, be sure to check out part one first! Now, where were we?

Back to the show floor; you’ll need to read my Heavy report for the details, but this combination of Tetris/Smash Bros/Tower Defense from Boston based indie developer Fire Hose Games was simply the bomb, and I’m pretty confident that when Slam Bolt Scrappers finally hits, it’ll be BIG…

You’ll actually find previews for numerous (mostly high profile) games from the show, over at Heavy when the time comes. With the exception of one; here we have latest Splinter Cell, and…

… Immediately after taking that picture, one of the Frag Dolls got all up in my face. For those who don’t know who they might be, they’re a bunch of PR puppets created by Ubi Soft that represent “GGGRRRLLL gamers!” and it’s pretty much as retarded as it sounds. Anyhow, this particular one was all pissy (not sure if she really was pissed or was simply playing the part) and demanded to know what the hell I was doing. As if taking pictures of someone playing a game at the show was some capital offense, and one certainly doesn’t need to press credentials to do so, yet I still showed her mine. Her response was to chastise me, because I was apparently getting in the way and distracting the person. In reality, I’m fairly certain the person she was referring to was completely oblivious to our presence. I actually had another interaction with another one of them, which would take to long to explain, but long story short… once again, good job Ubi Soft! Nice to know where that marketing money that could have gone towards No More Heroes 2 was wasted upon instead.

Moving on, you not only had one but TWO different groups offering a more realistic take on the traditional guitar controller. Firs there was OpenChord who has created an add-on for any regular guitar to allow Guitar Hero/Rock Band functionality. Their device was demoed with Frets On Fire, the open source GH/RB clone, and it was just like using the plastic axe everyone’s so used to… except instead of buttons, you’re actually hitting the strings. Which made it awkward to say the least, since there was no easy way to figure out from touching alone where your hand was supposed to go. Plus, instead of a big strum button, you were actually using a guitar pic .

If none of that makes any sense, well, it basically doesn’t, but be sure to check out the YouTube vid that is featured on their homepage that show off all the different modes of play, some of which they claim is somewhat similar to playing a guitar for real. Here’s what the kit looks like thus far…

For those interested, they could pick up their own. The group is a big advocate of open source development and were pretty adamant about others taking their foundation to run with…

As for that other group, representing Power Gig: Rise of the SixString, were far more flashing that the two regular dudes pushing OpenChord, and their controller echoes this difference in attitude; theirs is an actual, pre-fabricated working guitar that also happens to be compatible with Guitar Hero and Rock Band…

… Or maybe not? Perhaps it has its own game? No one would answer any questions, simply responding everything with an extremely annoying and condescending “You’ll have to wait till E3 for all your answers DUDE!!!” They kinda came off as douchebags, but at least they weren’t half as rude as those Frag Dolls.

Got the chance to talk with Tom Fulp, from Newgrounds & The Behemoth. Really nice guy! Hopefully the interview will make its way onto EGM eventually. Here’s a pic of their latest game, BattleBlock Theater, which as expected was considerably enjoyable…

A look at the history of The Behemoth that was plastered across their booth…

And a custom figure they also had for sale…

Speaking of, my favorite corner of the entire show floor would have been the Fangamers booth. Such super cool folks, and such super cool gear! Hell, even though I don’t like Mother/Earthbound, I couldn’t help but pick up the PK Yomega! Though the star of the space was their assortment of custom figures on display…

… You all know the drill; apologizes for the less than stellar pics.

Oh, so day two was also when I caught my one and only panel; the “Is Print Dead?” discussion, which I basically had to attend for perhaps obvious reasons. Ended up catching it with Mathew Kumar; we both agreed that if either of us got the mic for whatever reason, not only would we pimp our own zine, but the other person’s as well (which I had no qualms about; exp. is friggin’ fantastic). My plan was to raise my voice is something ridiculous or flat-out dumb was stated by the panel, but thankfully, such as not the case. Though in all honestly, it was somewhat of a boring discussion that could have used a bit more fire. Anyway, the highlights…

- One interesting sentiment was how the print medium will never go away, no matter how fast and effective websites and technology might deliver the news, and how print publications will eventually be somewhat equal to vinyl, as it relates to the world of music these days. It’s for those who appreciate the written word and are willing to pay extra to have it in a nicer package.

- Everyone on stage had pretty much the same reaction when their work first appeared online for whatever outlet; they couldn’t believe that no one had bothered to copy edit their article. In fact, many felt that was the one thing that was sorely missed from the print world; folks whose only job was to check for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. And you need people whose only job is to check for such things, since it’s such a totally different skill-set from writing.

- Since magazines can’t hope to complete with breaking news and the such, the obvious answer to some would be to forgo such territory entirely. Furthermore, the “next big thing” would be to get rid of reviews entirely, in favor for more investigative, introspective writing. Which, as most of us in the know is well aware of, has been happening for some time now! But I have no idea if the person stating this opinion, John Davison, EIC of GamePro to be exact, was aware of this fact or simply enlightening those in the crowd who were unaware. In case of either, would have been nice to hear examples, but oh well.

- No one on-stage, which also included Russ Pitts, EIC of The Escapist, Jeff Green, a former writer who now works for EA, Julian Murdoch, some random freelance writer whose work I’m not familiar with I’m afraid, and Chris Dahlen, the managing editor of Kill Screen, seemed particularly impressed with the iPad, thank goodness. I forget who stated it, but “Sometimes, you just don’t want another screen to look at.”

- Another interesting point is how writing on the web, even at this point, is still sorely lacking in innovation. Dahlen wisely referred to Brandon Boyer’s recent Offword posts, in which he plays with layout and type, which is very print-like. Very much indeed!

- On a related note, Davison also lamented the time when they could experiment with fonts and other aspects of the typography, all of which is impossible to control online, due to browser behaviors, RSS readers, and other aspects which is out of the control of the content creators.

… So yeah, day two when both Life Meters 2 & 3 were completely sold out, but at least Kill Screen was able to pick up the slack, which Dahlen delivered to our table himself. Now, regular readers should be well aware of my opinion of that publication, mostly based upon the promotional hype, which I still find irksome and ill informed. Unfortunately, despite having easy access to the finished product (took a whole stack from Adam to sell at MoCCA), I still haven’t been able to dig in and make a final call. But despite how pretentious the whole thing might appear to be, I couldn’t be helped but be charmed by Chris, whose a super cool guy that I’m glad to have met! Plus, you know, I have such a soft spot for print in general, so that fact alone is enough to make me want it to succeed, regardless of the actual content. Hey, different strokes for different folks, and I know already that my stuff ain’t for everyone.

Moving on yet again, here we have a girl that was so happy to purchase a LSDJ cart (with Josh, aka Zen Albatross showing her the diffence between the cart he has the latest batch we were selling, which features an improved USB port, among other things) that she almost started to cry!

And for those who haven’t seen it already: Pete from Anamanaguchi interacting with a blind Mudkip.

Now, throughout the day, I had been getting messages from several folks about a quote of mine appearing upstairs and I had no idea what the hell they were talking about. So eventually, in a far corner of the uppermost floor I found this…

… On a poster for the American Classic Arcade Museum. The organization/movement is actually the brainchild of the fine folks that operate Funspot, the largest (and by far the best) classic arcade in the United States, perhaps the entire world, a fact that I had previously pointed out in my review of King of Kong, which is where the quote comes from.

They also had this sweet little retro arcade at the show. It’s amazing how a dimly lit room with some neon lights, classic early 80s music being pumped, and old school arcade games of course, can transport a person back in time…

… That there was a crowd of folks watching some person playing Dragon’s Lair, with his game being projected above. When he felled the dragon, everyone naturally gave a big round of applause! Though easily the star of the room, perhaps of the entire weekend, was this…

… An actual Crazy Otto machine, up and running and totally available for play. For those who don’t know what this game is all about, a very brief history lesson: back in the early 80s, arcade operators were feeling the pinch due to their games no longer being as profitable, due to folks becoming too good at their games. A machine that used to produce $100 a day would only make $50 once folks learned how to play and stay alive longer. So many turned to hackers who would modify pre-existing games to make them harder, or something add new features. In some cases it would become an entirely new game, which is one group from MIT, who called themselves General Computer Corporation, or GenCom for shirt, did with an old Pac Man board; they decided to give their character some legs and a new name, Crazy Otto. They also added a series of boards (the original Pac-Man had just one level that kept repeating), made the fruit move, and also made the ghosts smarter.

This is where the story differs, depending on who you speak with. One version, which is what I’ve always been led to believe is fact, has Midway hearing about GenCom as they were cracking down on hackers in general, and like all the rest, were intent on throwing him in jail and tossing aside the keys. Till they played their take on their corporate mascot and realized it was vastly superior to their own Pac-Man sequel. Ever play Super Pac-Man? Don’t bother, it sucks. So the MIT kids were spared a prison sentence and instead asked to change the character back to before, but make him a girl, plus even got a nice paycheck for their services. Another version of the story, which is the one found in Wikipedia, has GenCom actually approaching Midway with their improved Pac-Man, which the company was more than happy to purchase the rights to, due to Super Pac-Man sucking once again.

Anyhow, since 1981, the original Crazy Otto has been in a vault somewhere, or something comfortable, so for the first time in almost 20 years, it was finally playable by the public once again! Absolutely mind-blowing. Though what got me was, aside from the fact that Otto’s legs animates amazingly well, and is not awkward the least bit, is how the kids at GenCom basically created EVERYTHING. Midway hardly had to touch a thing; the levels, ghost patterns, cut scenes, it’s all here! Though the only other big difference is how instead of ghosts, the enemies look like apples or something…

I spoke to the folks running the arcade and they relayed some fascinating information. Like how, once it word got out that Crazy Otto was going to make a public appearance at long last, lost of suspicious folks came out of the woodworks. For many years, hackers have wanted to get their hands on the rom, to dump and distribute (if you look online, you won’t find it anywhere). Interestingly enough, the machine was quietly removed from the floor the very next day; perhaps something similar to what happened elsewhere at the show, with some dopey kid trying to steal source code, went down? Or perhaps it was just a preemptive measure?

The evening of day two, not surprisingly, was a tad bit more arduous when compared to the night the before. Even though sales had been strong throughout the day, for whatever reason, things somewhat ground to a halt during concert time, even though the theater was equally packed, perhaps even more so than on Friday night. Not helping was our lack of sleep from before either, which was finally taking its toll around the 10pm mark. And as also expected, we had to deal with kids, who on a Saturday night at any convention, start acting all stir crazy and make lame attempts at entertaining themselves. Thankfully there were only two wise-asses to contend with; first some 10-year-old kid that just stood there and pointed out how every item on the table sucked. Then you had the muscle head who thought one of the buttons on the table was free, and when I informed him that it wasn’t, he threw it at me. But hey, the guy has an Affliction shirt on (yes, at a video game convention; I’m guessing his girlfriend had dragged him out there), which should explain everything one needs to know.

When I found myself particularly restless, I stopped by the console gaming room to watch folks play assorted games… actually, to watch friends watch their friends play Heavy Rain, all of whom couldn’t believe the bullsh*t they were witnessing. Unfortunately, even PAX wasn’t immune to the dreaded E 74 affliction…

By the end, Adam and I found ourselves with a pair of firemen, who were there to make sure no violations were going down I’m guessing, and trying to explain to them what chiptunes was all about. Thankfully, with no breaking news to report on, we crawled into bed at only 3am this time. Onto to day three!

And the final day of PAX East, as with any convention, a bit on the slow side. Which was just as well, since Adam & I were running low on stock across the board; here’s what the table looked like on day three…

… After all was said and done, the most popular items were the Life Meters, Kill Screens, the Street Fighter themed Meat Bun shirts, the Blip Fest 2008 double live CD, the Alex Mauer album on a NES cart, and the LSDJs. We completely ran out of aforementioned comics anthology, Tetris ice cube trays, even the Space Invaders themed ones, assorted CDs, the Game Girl Attract Mode shirts, and a few other itmes I’m blanking out on. There were also two customized Game Boys that arrived early Sunday morning that literally spent five minutes on our table before being sold! And even though it’s so awesome that we did such amazing business, I?ll also have far less to sell at MoCCA next weekend than originally anticipated. At least I’ll have the newest FORT90ZINE handy, plus another surprise if all pans out!

Day three being a slow one also allowed me to interview various folks who had been too busy otherwise. Like Star, from Sony’s video game reality show The Tester…

… I’m hoping our conversation will pop up at either Heavy or EGM eventually, some fairly interesting things were revealed, including her opinions on GameCrush, and for those might not be familiar with that name, simply check this out.

And the last pic from the show features Adam, myself, and our good pal Mathew Kumar!

Thing began to wind up around 5, with the expo hall and panel rooms closing their doors for the Omegathon, which is the big contest that takes place at every PAX. Groups of two compete against each other in assorted games, but the key detail is how vast and random the selection of titles are. So to pass, you seriously have to be the jack of all trades; Halo, Mario Kart, Rock Band, Tetris, plus many more. The finals had the final two teams go head to head on stage in about four games… not sure what they all were, but I’m certain Rad Racer was included! The grand prize was an all paid two-week trip for two for a game conference there (the previous contest prize was the game, except for Tokyo, for the Tokyo Game Show). Adam and I could have stuck around for everyone to let out, but we were both spent, so after packing our gear up, we crashed in our hotel room. The rest of the evening could have easily been spent with beer, pizza, and Disney Channel sitcoms, but we eventually met up with the 2 Player Productions guys for some grub. And from there we went to a Japanese restaurant for some booze, which is where we hooked up with the fine fellows from Capybara Games. Here’s Adam with Nathan from Cappy…

… I actually first met Nathan and his crew at GDC 08, when I was a judge for the IGDA Mobile division, where the Java/J2ME version of Critter Crunch was up nomination (which I voted for across the board, naturally). The exposure they got from the show secured them a publishing deal, and the rest as they say is history! Such kick-ass people, those dudes. And I’m glad my stupid stories from my youth were such a big hit, like the time I had my nipple bitten off (which once again, has been serialized along with plenty of others in comic form, which are all for sale). Though they were all blown away by Asif, from 2 Players, and his tale from working on some crappy Cuba Gooding Jr. flick in which he has sex with some woman, blows her brains out, then continues to bang the headless corpse.

After the restaurant closed down, and most others went to their hotel rooms to crash, or to some Frag Dolls party to hopefully get some, myself, Adam, and everyone from Cappy went bar hunting, which was surprisingly difficult, given Boston’s penchant for drunkenness. Thankfully we found a watering hole and was eventually joined by Adam’s friend Arne from Naughty Dog. From there we covered all the bases: Trailer Park Boys, sh*tty NYC pizza, and Tony from Cappy’s Asian De Niro impression.

I guess that’s it? After missing out on GDC, the good times that PAX East provided was just what the doctor ordered. And once again… next stop… the MoCCA Art Fest!

  • http://www.yaytime.com dave roman

    sounds like good times!

  • http://www.fort90.com fort90

    My only regret going in was that I didn’t bring enough Life Meters! But then again, it’s not like I could have brought that much more on the Chinatown bus with me.

  • oboy

    You had a weird experience with Power Gig! I thought the two van girls were very super nice and talked my ear off about the game (yes, it has one… not compatible with other RGs though? i don’t know…). Maybe the guitar players were jerks? Didn’t talk to them.

  • http://www.fort90.com fort90

    The person who gave me grief was not a girl but some dude… he could have either been with Power Gig proper, or one of their PR goons. Something tells me the latter.

    As I’ve constantly tried to stress time and time again, I do not want to be mistaken as one of those obnoxiously entitled reporters/typical douchebag blogger that expect everyone to bow down to their mighty virtual pen, but I also have little patience with folks who do a shit job of communicating and representing a product, which is essentially what a PR person is supposed to do.

    I have all the respect in the world for PR folks, it’s not an easy job… mostly since they have to deal with writers, who once again, are quite annoying… but a douche is a douche, period.

  • Sheep_Herder

    Awesome blurb on Crazy Otto. I heard the story about it recently, but never knew it was actually playable in public many years ago and then now again.

  • http://www.dmauro.com dmauro

    About print design on the web:
    Writers just simply aren’t teaming up with the right designers. If you want to explore other typographic solutions, for example, it’s entirely possible. Cufon is compatible with all major browsers (even back to IE6 0_0 ) and uses a combination of Canvas and Javascript to render text with any font you want.

Previous post:

Next post: