09/09/2011

Notch Hasn’t Sold Out, He’s Just Being Swedish: PAX Prime 2011 Part 1

by Matthew Hawkins

[NOTE: Once again, there was a problem with my site which only now got fixed, hence why the following, which was originally intended for one week ago is only now being published. But because I love the look of 9/9/11, I'm keeping the original date! At the very least, all my comic book pals who were all out of town last week are no longer so.]

All right, first thing’s first?

Happy Birthday Hilary, Joe, and the Sega Dreamcast!

Yes, it’s 9/9 once again, and three of the best things ever are celebrating the anniversary of their existence! Well, in the case of the console, it was already in Japan about a year prior, so we’re just talking about its North American debut, but still!

Though twelve years later, I’m afraid to say that the plastic housing has turned a nasty shade of yellow. And no, I don’t smoke, nor has it been in direct sunlight. Major bummer. What I might do is get another DC, one that’s dirt-cheap and has a clean, pearly white exterior (obviously).

More than likely it’ll be a later model, one that can’t run software off of CD-Rs (the ones that folks on eBay are practically giving away). Or I could simply investigate those methods in which folks are able to turn their piss yellow SNES into brand new.

On a similar sad note, thepapermouse is no longer around, so instead of taking her out to Hagi, hopefully the DVDs I sent will suffice. Including the Late Bloomer, a movie that everyone needs to see, especially if one enjoys modern day Japan shot in b&w, and starring a legit handicapped person who’s also a serial killer.

At least Sweet Rot is back in town (for those who don’t know, the Wax Eye empire has been kicking all sorts of ass, and things are only getting started), so the plan is to have dinner this Sunday. Cuz, honestly, there’s no better way to spend the 10th anniversary of you know what than with loved ones. And hopefully Indian food.

? So on that note, it’s also the day before SPX and I’m not there! Decided to pass when tables became available, and now I’m really regretting the decision. Oh well, am kinda too busy anyway. BTW, for those who have been asking, yes, I have resumed work on the zine. I feel horrible that it’s taking this long, but I swear the wait will be worth it!

Speaking of shows, guess I’m overdue with my PAX report, right? Right?

PAX Prime 2011, Day 0

The weekend officially began the Thursday before, when I arrived in the city via the SoundTransit bus that connects Tacoma and Seattle. After struggling to find an internet signal to file a few final stories for GameSetWatch before fun and adventure whisked me away, and realizing that AT&T blows just as much in the Emerald City as it does in the Big Apple (not only could I not connect to 3G via the iPhone to find a Starbucks, which are not on every street corner contrary to popular belief, but when my MacBook Pro couldn’t connect to wifi when I finally found one, which is also powered by AT&T btw, I became the stereotypical hot-headed angry New Yorker), I was finally enjoying my first taste of freedom since arriving in the Pacific Northwest, the place I used to call home.

It was also the very first moment since returning that I was no longer feeling morbidly depressed. Though where I grew up, Lakewood Washington, aka the city of regrets, will do that to a person. Anyhow, I walked around with the soundtrack to Ollie King blasting in my ears, waiting for either Adam (whom I couldn’t wait to see, since he’s my broham after-all), Lamar (who funny enough, wasn’t in town for PAX but just to chill with pals), or Gerritt (one of the primary Fangamer dudes). Eventually, got the call to stop on by the convention center, where all the FG folks were busy setting up their booth…

Was hoping to lend a hand, but being the well oiled machined that they are, pretty much all the heavy lifting was done, with just a few final touches to be applied. Specifically, the incorporating of Attract Mode gear into their set-up?

? Again, I cannot emphasize enough how supremely awesome each single person in the FG camp is; Adam and I are damn lucky to be associated with such fine folk. In addition to them being the much needed dose of positively I desperately needed (after so many bad vibes on so many front; again, Lakewood had been depressing as hell, but New York as well to a certain extent), witnessing firsthand once again the degree of passion and drive they exhibit, especially among Gerrtt, Jon, and Reid, was the fire under my ass that I’ve been sorely lacking as of late.

But ultimately, simply chilling that crew was the true highpoint of the entire weekend! To be honest, I was somewhat nervous going in; a part of me almost felt I wasn’t cool enough to hang, but they made me feel very much welcome and part of the team. Though eventually, my own posse showed up; when Adam arrived, he brought along Cory, Mare, their new roommate Alex (who turned out to be yet another dude that I already knew from the internet, in awesome way), Jacob, plus Ben (technically a FG member, who was staying at Cory and Mare’s place, along with 19 other people). The band was back together!

Though, because of hunger, I ended up leaving Adam and the rest behind (besides, they were involved in stuff that I couldn’t help with). Ended up grabbing a bite with Gerritt, his wife Jen, Jon’s wife Sabrina, and Ryan at a bar in Gerritt and Jen’s old stomping grounds. The husband and wife used to live in Seattle, but are now in Portland, neighbors with the dudes in 2 Player Productions, and often have dinner plus play Xbox 360 with them. Color me jelly! Was also quietly non-plussed over the idea of pub food for dinner, since all I was having back in Lakewood was burgers, due to it being the only thing readily available (my inability to cook food myself at my dad’s place is a very long story for another time).

Yet soon I realized, it wasn’t cheeseburgers I was sick of, simply the crappy fast food variety! So they were good. Also got to enjoy some final local sprits, and share tall (but true) tales of NYC, like the absurdly long lines at Trader Joe’s here in Manhattan. Everyone also wanted to hear about the chiptune scene back home, which I had no problems discussing the entire weekend. I thusly asked a bunch of Seattle related questions, though mostly about Almost Live.

The plan to return downtown, for some Destructoid party at Gameworks was aborted when reports came in, stating how lame it was, as well as super stinky. Also got sidetracked when stopping by Jon and Sabrina’s; playing with their corgis ended is basically the best thing ever on a Friday night. My original plans was to stay at Cory and Mare’s, but the more I thought about it, the more I wasn’t into possibly sleeping in the bathtub cuz 37 others were also sleeping over, meaning even floor space would be a premium.

Besides, I mostly just wanted to share a few precious moments with Adam, who would only be around for the next day. But because intel via the internet showed that he was fast asleep, I simply couldn’t refuse the pull out sofa bed in Gerritt and Jen’s swank hotel by the Space Needle. And oh complimentary breakfast the next morning was BOSS, and I’m not even a breakfast person. And the energy provided was sure appreciated cuz it was soon time for?

PAX Prime 2011, Day 1

One major reason why this year’s PAX beat the piss out of last year’s was because it so stress free. Prime 2010 was a total nightmare; aside from the massive price tag behind the trip, the soul crushingly bad location resulted in low sales figures, plus our offerings failed to resonate with the crowd (it being such a mainstream affair and all).

Meanwhile, Fangamer’s booth was in a prime location yet again, the way they handle sales is a joy to behold (which includes a proprietary iPad application to handle both on the spot credit card sales AND mail orders in case something’s out of stock, all running on a different 3G spectrum from everyone else, ensuring zero technical issues), plus their rabid fanbase guaranteed plenty of eyeballs for Attract Mode.

True, our stuff is still an odd fit at PAX, but they make far more sense at the Fangamer booth than by themselves, since their offerings serve as a contrast to ours, and vice versa (hence why they wanted to work with us). Ultimately, we were just happy to be part of the FG machine and had zero sales expectation, yet AM merch ended up doing well! Hell, we completely sold out of Eightbit Fighters, the hardcore Japanese shmup zine, that’s a hard sell, given its extreme niche appeal. But hey, that’s Fangamer for you!

Anyhow, Adam and I were mostly there to lend support, since the FG crew was unfamiliar with our wares. And because Adam wanted to stick around the booth during his one day at the show, I went off to do my reporter thing? or at least tried to. Covering PAX as a journalist is a pain in the ass, since its focus is on the fans. Many of the luxuries that writers enjoy are null and void, which pisses off fellow writers, whereas I don’t take it personally the least bit (whereas most journalists are just a bunch of entitled crybabies).

But because I was representing two different outlets, it was therefore twice the issue. Never mind how both GSW and Guyism are as different as can be, so I also had to wear two different hats as well. But the biggest problem was how I was also burnt out and really needed a chance to blow off steam, so all I really wanted to do was hang with buds. Which is what I mostly ended up doing! Though I did try to take pictures whenever possible, but even that was more trouble than it’s worth.

Basically, the older I become, the weirder it feels to ask 14-year-old cosplaying girls to pose for pictures. But hey, I have a job to do. Thankfully this April O’Neal wasn’t too underage looking?

The first place I hit was the indie games section, since I figured all the big publishers’ offerings on the main floor would be impossible to give a spin, at least not without waiting in line for three hours. Though their spaces were just as crowed, which was a good thing really!

Though once again, didn’t get a chance to try my hand at Fez. But at least it was fun watching others play?

Am also bummed that I couldn’t give Spy Party a go (mostly because it takes like 30 minutes just to be taught how it all works)?

At least I got to give Faraway a spin! As a hardcore Eliss fan, was so psyched to get my hands on its follow-up…

? A s well meet the man responsible for both, Steph Thirion, who turned out to be yet another pal of Adam’s! Yet despite it being yet another brilliant example of the perfect iOS game, much like Eliss, am gonna miss playing it with the NES pad.

Another game that I wasn’t able to give a shot was Spelunky for the Xbox 360?

? On the plus side, I finally got to meet it’s creator, Derek Yu! Here he is posing with an inflatable blade something that EA was giving away for Mass Effect 3?

Again, it’s so funny that I know so many folks who know the guy and is pals with him, but are either comic book folk or video game folks, are one side is not aware of how much of a superstar he is on the other! BTW, another major highlight of the entire show was him telling me how awesome he thinks my Tumbling skills are. I think I blushed on the spot or something. I also took the opportunity to pick up an entire set of his ultra rad Spelunky figures! I’ll have a pic to share at the end of this report.

Speaking of rad people, got to meet Chevy Ray, yet another one of Adam’s collaborators and compadres. I swear to God, just think of any super cool person in the world of indie games, and he’s in their address book, without a doubt. Here he is showing off his fab QWOP shirt?

And doing his best QWOP impression?.

Here’s a girl at the Fangamer booth, wearing one of those Game Boy dresses from Etsy that was all the rage on the internet a while back?

Speaking, here we are, just a few hours into day one. Check out how much the scribble wall has been covered!

Met yet another person whose work I admire and that I got to shake hands with was Chris Furniss! Some might recall his 31 days of Samus that I mentioned over at GSW a while back. Well here’s another cute lil Samus he did?

Speaking of Metroid?

Mortal Kombat folks were fairly popular at show (not surprisingly, with the new game and all)?

I totally dig the Jersey Shore hair of the female Sub Zero on the left?

Persona cosplayers could be found as well, like this Chie?

And Rise?

Hey, Space Channel 5!

Dudes (and even girls) dressed like Mario is dime a dozen, so the key is finding someone that does it differently. Like this guy?

Moving on, I wrote about the Digital Game Museum over at the day job already; check it out if you haven’t done so already!

The Minecraft booth was nearby, and crowded as hell. It by far had the biggest presence at the show, which was rather remarkable for not just an indie game, but one that’s also not even finished yet! It was also something that pretty much everyone was talking about; some of the conversation was favorable, some of it not so much. The much-anticipated 1.8 update was poised to be a real game changer, literally, and diehard fans were either totally for or against it.

In some ways, one could say that PAX Prime 2011 was somewhat of a watershed moment for Minecraft, but I’ll discuss that later…

Didn’t get a chance see what?s been added to Retro City Rampage since last time, but I did take time to admire the totally sweet arcade cab they had?

Meanwhile, another title that I able to thankfully play was Joe Danger The Movie! Was a huge fan of the first game, and the second one tops it ten times over, if only due to the sheer variety of all the new vehicles. With my fave being the jet pack?

It was soon the end of day one, which meant retiring to the booth and another tearful goodbye for Adam. I also ran into Cory Lewis, and we both decided to strike a pose?

Caught this piece of valuable advice via the FG scribble wall?

? TRUTH.

A sketchbook was also being passed around, from some editor at IGN. Apparently he was asking a bunch of games related folks to contribute, and it would be reproduced somewhere. I was even asked to add something, but after seeing Derek’s sketch, I immediately became super gun-shy?

Soon, day one was officially over! Which meant dinnertime. Which also meant the special banquet that all exhibitors are treated to (something that Adam and I had no idea about last year). Said it before, and I’ll say it again: Seattle is the best place in the world for hot dogs. Sorry NYC.

This was illustrated twice over the weekend: first during the banquet, in which I accidentally got the veggie variety instead of actual beef ones; they were awesome! Not like the orange sticks of sludge that you find in these parts. It was practically like the real thing, no kidding!

Afterward, the three of us went to a party at Chris Furniss’, where I finally got the chance to see Lamar! Also met his pal that he’s staying with? whose name i forget, but he was really a nice guy! Finally chatted with Dannel Jurado as well, a guy who I’ve seen literally a hundred times in NYC at assorted chip shows, but this was the first time in which we finally got to talk. Funny how things work like that!

He was also the only fellow New Yorker at the party, so the pending hurricane that was about to reach Brooklyn and Manhattan were on both of our minds. As obnoxiously bad the news might be in the Big Apple (I like to compare to the fake telecasts seen in Robocop and other Paul Verhoeven flicks, but for real), it’s actually worse in the Pacific Northwest. I still recall them calling the east cost quake as being on par with Fukushima!

Anyhow, everyone though both DeMarko and I were nuts for, despite the great time we were having, also wanting to be back home, to be there firsthand. Another minor stress that had plagued the entire trip was how, literally the day before I few out, I got caught wind of a rash of robberies in my neighborhood in Washington Heights.

So not only was I worried about my valuables being gone by the time I arrived, I now had the possibility of everything else being flooded. Pointless, negative thinking, but again, being in Lakewood will do that. Thankfully, neither happened. And no, I still haven’t gotten renter’s insurance yet, despite the fact that if anything happens to my debug 360, I’ll have to pay a $125,000 fine (no joke). BTW, funniest email I got during my entire trip?

Back to the party: Cory, Mare, and the rest of that crew were also present, along with yet another guy I had been dying to interact with in real life, Zac Gorman! As noted before, I made literally a 100 new pals that weekend. I also, at the party, got to investigate a potential dead body that was on the lawn of the house across the street. It was just some drunken dude (one who had sh*t himself).

Afterward we went to a bar to meet up with Jake Kazdal and Kris from Capy, but it was so crowded that we ended up migrating to some French place. We couldn’t figure if the waitress found us entertaining or obnoxious. Anyway, the place had excellent Ginger Beer!

Since it was getting late, the hotel was a good while away, and my iPhone was almost out of juice (which as my main means of getting to said lodging, would have sucked), I hailed a cab. Too bad he wasn’t as cool as the heavy metal dude from last year, but he got the job done. And after a good night’s worth of sleep, plus another awesome breakfast?

PAX Prime 2011, Day 2

First, a look at the Fangamer’s guardian angel, aka a big statue of Marcus Fenix from Gears of War, that was across from the booth?

? His skin was made of some kind of latex that was supposed to be ultra life life, which wasn’t, but it was nice and creepy nonetheless.

Well, with Adam gone, that meant it was my job to assumed the responsibility of hawking Attract Mode merch. But because so many hands was on deck, and they were by this point fairly familiar with the goods, was told it was cool to continue checking out the show some more. Which I did.

Because the main expo hall was, again, too crowded, decided to check out the free-play rooms. Stopped by the PC room for a bit, but mostly concerned myself with the console side of things. There were actually two; one for contemporary systems, and one for the classics…

Seems kinda odd for folks to have gone through the trouble of getting a ticket to PAX (which sold out many months in advance, so many people wanted in, and not everyone could) to then spend time on old NES games. But to each their own. Anyhow, there were signs all over, asking folks to kindly not blow into the cartridges…

? Much fun was had watching these three guys trying to play Killer Instinct for the SNES. Sadly, I could help them when they asked if I knew any of the ultra combos.

Outside, I met a heavy metal Katamari cousin?

Easily one of the hottest cosplay trends this year was anything related to Portal?

This Travis Touchdown was just too awesome?

The one cosplayer I wish I had taken a picture of was of the insanely cute girl dressed as Lucca from Chrono Trigger, but missed my chance (though as it turns out, she wasn’t about to stick around for long, due to wardrobe difficulties). At least Rebecca Chambers, to the left of this Resident Evil group shot, was definitely up there?

As was female Beat from Jet Set Radio, whose pals with Princess Peach apparently?

Catherine cosplay could also be found here and there…

I really dug this girl’s R2-D2 dress?

? Speaking of, the one thing I missed that I’m legit upset about was seeing R2-D2 and C-3PO on the Let’s Dace 3 stage, doing some moves. Even more than the ultra cute girls dressed as Link and Dark Link (I took pics of them after their routine, but the lighting was really bad).

Back to the Star Wars droids; they looked insanely impressive, especially C-3PO. It was later explained to me that it was the actual suit from the movies! Even as someone who’s no longer a hard carrying Star Wars diehard (thanks to the sh*tfest that it’s become, thanks to Lucas in his old age), I couldn’t help be feel like a child again, with that same sense of awe and wonder, from just being a few feet away from my childhood icons.

And many I spoke to felt the same way. A few even admitted to be chocked up my the scene as well! BTW, a few weekends back, Steve Totilo, during a Saturday night filled with pizza, beer, and crappy late 90s wrestling, also tried turning me onto the Clone Wars show. Must admit, what I saw was impressive, even to this grizzled “I’m over it” SW fan, though it might take a while to actually get to the show, since my Netflix que is pretty long at this point.

Soon it was time for lunch! I joined Cory, Lamar, Jacob, Alex and a few others to check out Hot Dog Japon?

Time for me to once again to explain why Seattle has the best hot dogs, without question: the mode set-up is run by a Japanese father and son team, who offer a variety of Japanese toppings on American’s most famous delicacy. Here’s Cory (I forget what kind he got)?

And here’s Cory enjoying said hot dog?

And here’s mine, which was the yakisoba special. So, SO good?

Finally we have Lamar surveying (and approving of) all the gourmet hot dog eating that surrounded him?

Lunch was when I met yet another amazing person whose work I’m a super huge fan of: Kyle Fewell! Some might recall him being the dude who draws pics of cats and video game controllers over at the Attract Mode blog, before it imploded (thankfully, that’s where my photo dump comes in handy). Yes, that guy! And can you believe that he lives in NYC?! Had no idea!

Saturday was simply insane; I honestly can’t think of another convention that was as crowded, with the sole exception being San Diego Comic Con. The big excitement of the day was how folks were selling counterfeit passes, and thus everyone was paying close attention to everyone’s credentials. I actually saw two different folks get busted!

Furthermore, in the pressroom, I caught wind of a few trying to sneak their way in by claiming to be correspondents to IGN and Gamespot, but was ultimately caught. Rather easily might I add. Once again, don?t people realize how brain-dead easy it is to get caught in a lie these days? Especially when it?s anything related to the internet. Though one guy in particular REALLY wanted to check out Borderlands 2. lol.

Time for a few additional cosplay snapshots to round out day two, including Mega Man being interviewed by G4?

Some dude as Misty from Pokemon (whom you may have seen already; virtually every gaming blog picked up on the guy)?

And that same dude, playing some animu card battle game?

Plus some girl, dressed as someone from something, not sure, but since I kept running into her, and dug the get-up, thought to ask a picture anyway?

Eventually, day two drew to a close. Gerritt, Jen, Jon, and myself all went to some hotel suite to hang with some Canadians that do a series a game related comedy series on YouTube (unfortunately, the name escapes me). We all did dinner together, but afterwards I decided to break away from the pack, because I was interested in the Minecraft party and everyone else was not.

It was supposed to be the social engagement of the entire weekend; the idea of rubbing elbows with a veritable army of who’s who, all gathered to celebrate one of gaming’s greatest success stories, was enough for me. But I also wanted to check out the DJ that whomever had flown in from Sweden and were paying $40,000. Though the first real sign of trouble was right before, when I called Lamar to see if he was going; when he asked where it was, I gave the location. When his pal, who’s local, said the place was a hellhole, Lamar decided to pass.

In the end, his pal was right; the venue, which was fairly far away from the convention center (actually, THAT was the first warning sign) had the same vibe as one of the numerous, douchey midtown clubs that attracts Long Islanders back home. It was rather hilarious, seeing folks who clearly did not belong in the line filled with regulars. Apparently the cover was $50? not joking, FIFTY DOLLARS. Not only that, but there was also a dress code. One fellow writer told me of how one of the bouncers yelled at him: “Yo, kid, get rid of the f*cking hoodie.”

Though I knew folks who said they’d be able to get me on the VIP list, and theoretically in for free. But they hadn’t arrived yet, and once they did, no one could hardly believe the situation. Immediately they began furiously texting folks who hadn’t arrived, to warn of the situation, as did I. Unfortunately it was too late. And because it clearly wasn’t our scene, nor did we want to bother the aforementioned pal with the burden of getting 30 or so onto that list, we simply went to the bar next door. It was actually downstairs, in the basement.

On the plus side, they had $2 PBRs! On the negative side, the contents of the table right next to us, and which was not occupied, flew off the surface out of the blue, due to a ghost that haunts the place, according to the bartender. Okay? Oh, and highlight was Ben accidentally going into the women’s bathroom, and the bar back’s response: “You’re friend, he went into the pink room!” Sorry Ben, it was HILARIOUS.

Eventually, we went outside to get some fresh air, plus see who else was around, and unable (or unwilling) to partake in the Minecraft party. A drunken woman on the steps ended up vomiting all over herself, and her Android phone. Whereas Asif wanted to allow the woman a shred of dignity, myself and Dave Drusky couldn’t help but stare. Eventually a Japanese tourist came up (he had a camera around his neck and everything) offered her a bottle of water to clean herself up, and next thing you know, he had a girlfriend for the evening!

By the time Paul Owens joined the three of us, and some drunken club chicks from a bachelorette party asked what the color of our underwear was. For whatever reason, myself, Asif, and Paul all pulled up a bit of our shirts to expose the very tops of our boxers in unison, but Dave decided to totally drop his pants Which excited the women, resulting in much gasping and posing for pictures. One chick even cupped his balls! Dave also got some mardi gras beads. Eventually the ladies were whisked away by a group of dudes they later next, who looked as if they had all gotten out of jail earlier that afternoon, and acted as if they had won the lottery. They sorta did.

BTW, I didn’t even need to go inside to know how bad the music was; since it was so damn loud, we could easily hear it outside, standing a good distance away from the door. But yeah, never did go in, and from all accounts, it was a hellish spectacle inside, not becoming of a celebration of an indie gaming sensation. Which led to many folks accusing Notch, the creator of Minecraft, of selling out. Again, the 1.8 update had been a focal point of controversy, leading many to feel that the game was now headed towards the wrong path. So a party that somewhat echoed such a mindset, one that was filled with pointless noise and excess, fits quite nicely in such a belief and theory. Like one dude in the Canadian sketch comedy group I had dinner with; he made it crystal clear that he loathed the new changes coming the game’s way.

Here’s the deal: Notch hasn’t sold out. All the haters simply had no idea what Swedish people are all about. And that’s sh*tty house music, dopey club chicks, stripper poles, cheap champaign, and all the other things that are ingrained in Swedish culture. Dude was actually keeping it real, end of argument.

? All right, guess this is a good time to cut things off. Coming up, part two!

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