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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Penny Arcade Expo: Saturday Coverage

posted by on August 25 at 23:38 PM

11:59 p.m.:

Nerdcore rapper MC Frontalot might as well have changed the first two letters in his alias to DM. At the evening’s concert, Frontalot threw dice and talked in D&D-anese before nearly every song (“you have earned enough experience points to level up to the status of nerdcore rapper”). Still, unlike many of the other acts, who used nerd cliches and game song covers as crutches for their otherwise so-so performances, tonight’s hip-hop act held his own with a relatively solid flow and a quality backing band. Still, you gotta love the crowd’s reaction to his “wave your hands in the air” request:


Er…Hear tha Yoda get wicked? His was far from the most impressive musical performance of the night, as that title goes to the guy who blazed through a hacked copy of Guitar Hero in the gaming lounges. Somehow, a nine-minute chunk of black metal found its way onto one of the PAX Playstations, and I watched in a state of semi-shock as a teenager nearly broke his wrist with his mastery of the plastic controller. Once I recovered, I snapped a shot of him as he was leaving the convention center:


If you look closely, you can see a bead of his sweat gleaming off of the guitar controller in his backpack. Godspeed, you Hero.

9:30 p.m.: Even hot ladies can’t always lure nerds. Across the street, PAX sponsor Vivendi Games threw a relatively barren “party” to promote new war game World In Conflict, though the many elaborate props on hand, including a friggin’ tank, just about outnumbered the patrons. Models in Soviet military garb stood around holding weapons, but the only person interested in their schtick was this douchebag:


What’s with douchebags and hand gestures, anyway?

8:30 p.m.: After being dragged into a Tetris tournament—kicking and screaming, I assure you—I found myself in a pretty interesting panel about the business side of games. Granted, if you’ve been reading this coverage (I’m lookin’ at you, Frank), you may very well question my version of “interesting,” but three long-time game industry buffs had plenty to say about the rapid, behind-the-scenes evolution of the industry. First off, did you know that a lot of game companies outsource grunt work to China?

‘Tis true, and much of the conversation veered toward the Asian gaming industry, from microtransaction-based games (“Games like Maple Story are huge overseas, and in a few years, you’ll see them overrun the States.”) to Starcraft (“[In Korea], they have two cable channels showing Starcraft tournaments all of the time. With the sequel, [Bilzzard] can’t change too much, because 22 minutes plus commercials equals Starcraft.”).

In fitting business fashion, the panel’s tone was doom and gloom. “The current multi-year game development cycle is not a sustainable business model,” says Wizard of the Coast’s Randy Bueller. Risk aversion was a big sticking point, as the guys had plenty of reason to believe that big-budget, Halo-level games may fall to the wayside in place of lighter, Wii-style titles. But when asked about the struggling state of old-style games stores, the panel agreed on a pretty bright suggestion: Turn the stores into gaming cafes, and reignite the concept of the arcade. Assuming the guy at GameStopBucks doesn’t try to sell one-year warranties with every cup of coffee, I’m in.

After the jump, the rest of Saturday’s coverage:

4:33 p.m.: Penny Arcade creators Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins just finished their yearly live comic drawing session, showing fans exactly how they turn their ideas into a completed, ready-to-print strip and answering questions while in the act. As part of an apparent tradition during the doodling, Holkins asked the crowd to crack its knuckles simultaneously at his count. Turn up your speakers for the thousands-strong crack:

2:30 p.m.: I’m fresh out of the Podcasts and Blogs discussion panel, but my questions and concerns about gaming journalism remain unanswered. That world of journalism is currently composed of struggling game-only magazines and cursory mentions in the traditional press landscape--a strange situation for an $11 billion industry. Blogs have taken up the slack to some extent, and certain gaming-crazy sites have risen above the thousands o’ sites fray, but if the big blogs have an interest in expanding their reach to an audience beyond PAX’s niche, they didn’t act like it today.

Joystiq’s Christopher Grant and Slashdot’s Simon Carless were among those on the panel to stake their claim in the gaming sphere: “We’re against BS in the industry,” one panelist noted, while Grant blasted the mainstream press for its theft of blogs’ reports and tips: “They don’t give credit. We run 'via' tags, and they don’t. I guess that’s because firsthand reporting is praised at traditional publications.”

But what of the fact that gaming blogs, with their insatiable appetites for news updates at all hours, often read like a PR wet dream? What can be done to move beyond screenshots and previews for the bulk of coverage, so that their work might be taken more seriously as part of an artistic industry? Grant didn’t have an answer for it, but he appeared to recognize the problem and rationalize it--even if that required contradicting himself.

“Hype is a deadly vice and has gotten the best of us,” he says. “But our job isn’t to market other people’s products. It’s honesty. [With the new game Bioshock], we wanted to write about it over and over. Did that market it? Sure. But we were passionate about the game, as were our readers.”

Would’ve loved to ask about the narrow, uninviting nature of gaming blogs, but the Q&A session ran out. I’ll keep my eyes out for Christopher for the next day and a half.

1:25 p.m.: Rock Band is still king of the main exhibition hall, its five stations packed with four-person pseudo-bands at all times. But as a nice follow-up to my previous post, the station for gritty, guns-in-the-streets game Kane & Lynch is pulling a decent crowd, and…well…take a look at what you sit on while playing the demo:


This see-through bench is filled to the brim with guns and ammunition; the bench to its immediate right is filled with bundles of $100 bills. Target demographic: acquired.

11:30 a.m.: Is the world not ready for LRA Liberator?

An hour ago, I stood in line with a swath of PAX attendees for the “Pitch Your Game Idea” panel. Everyone in line had 45 seconds to rattle off their idea for a video game; whichever was deemed the best would garner a prize. Most of the crowd was teetering toward the goofy and bizarre--"You’re a ninja who’s been sent back in time to fight Nazis,” for serious. I decided to go with a meatier concept, a stealth/diplomacy game (think Splinter Cell with more brains, fewer guns) in which you must force your way into the real-world horror of Northern Uganda’s LRA and help turn the tide from within. The challenge would come from UN restrictions; shoot photos instead of guns, etc..

The panel was made up of an instructor at video game institution Digipen, Microsoft gaming kingpin Ken Lobb and one of the hardcore gamers in the Penny Arcade circle known as Porkfry. Their immediate reaction to my LRA Liberator idea? A simultaneous “NEXT!” As I walked away, I heard Lobb remark, “That idea is too relevant for gaming.” The winning idea was interesting--the character in the game, over time, evolves from an 8-bit bunch of pixels into a 3D character. The runners-up, however, were a voodoo cooking game and a “use potatoes to fight sour cream and chives” adventure.

While those ideas will probably never reach the actual drawing board of a developer, mine very well could. A representative from clobbered me as I walked away from the podium--"That was your idea?” Dessa Dal Porto is in town for the weekend, having actually come to town earlier in the week for the Games For Health Conference. Thursday’s private gathering of roughly 40 developers and potential funders met to discuss games that sound, at first, like the dreaded “edutainment” genre. And Dal Porto found herself at PAX to try and bridge the reputation gap, though she found herself at a place where nervous system exploration games and, er, Ugandan freedom fighting journeys aren’t exactly welcome.

“There are challenges in how to deal with the typical gamer mindset,” Dal Porto says. “[Our games are] not mainstream yet. We’re not World of Warcraft. How do we reach out to the gamers?” So far, the message she has seen at a day and a half of PAX is, “The mainstream gaming industry doesn’t want reality.” That issue was also brought up at last night’s “Girls In Games” panel, in which the all-woman panel expressed its general (though not total) disinterest in typical sci-fi/dragons/violence fare.

“It’s a risk aversion industry,” Dal Porto says, and the way she talked about the old guard sounded eerily similar to the way MP3 downloaders trash the current music industry’s ancient ways. Will growing gamers eventually turn against the old guard? Perhaps. Until then, I’ve got Dal Porto’s number.

9:40 a.m.: The expo is set to resume in about half an hour; I'm off to a "Pitch Your Video Game Idea" panel, in which I'll have 45 seconds to try and get my out-there current events game concept (using stealth and diplomacy to kabosh the LRA) made into a game. In the meantime, here's a clip of yesterday's Wil Wheaton keynote speech, a four-minute snippet about his childhood addiction to arcades.

RSS icon Comments


I just stood in line for fifteen minutes at Specialties at 5th and Union, amidst dozens of PAXers... *swoon*

Posted by Katelyn | August 25, 2007 10:15 AM

F!!! Wait there K, I'll be down at 5th/Onion by 11-- we'll do play-by-play all day, my hat says 'groot' in invisible ink, big letters, can't miss it. talk to ya soon

ps. i'm more of oldskool PAX, as in two bong hits, remote tthe changer to Xian channel, nostalgia trip to horrifying love: laura ingalls, manly, Pa, willie, nellie.... HIT THE STREETS

Posted by Garrett | August 25, 2007 10:29 AM

I have to admit that I'm the most attractive male at PAX. That ain't sayin much.

Posted by Joh | August 25, 2007 11:13 AM


We remove comments that are off topic, threatening, or commercial in nature, and we do not allow sock-puppetry (impersonating someone else)—or any kind of puppetry, for that matter. We never censor comments based on ideology.

Posted by Original Gomez | August 25, 2007 12:01 PM

Someone let me know when that nervous system exploration game is available, I'd totally play it. Or actually an endocrine system game would be even BETTER... it would be like a hormone strategy game and you could wildy affect the state of the body you're inside! Like, "woah, oxytocin hit! Now I'm lactacting!!" and there could be two players even who could battle it out inside the body. It would be like Pokemon for med students.

Posted by Katelyn | August 25, 2007 12:39 PM


Posted by Katelyn | August 25, 2007 12:41 PM

Your comparison to underground music is apt...there actually *is* a community of "underground" independent game developers. Some are doing amazing things by writing mods for existing games, others are actually starting to develop new games from scratch.

Posted by Orv | August 25, 2007 12:57 PM

I'm working at Gameworks tonight for my studio's PAX-related party, handing out prizes.

I've been suggesting game concepts for the entire 13 years I've been in the local game industry, to no avail, and I was assured almost a decade ago by one of the PAX keynote speakers (then, my boss) that "Superheroes don't sell" after pitching a superhero-themed game at our studio. What a fool I was.

Posted by Peter | August 25, 2007 2:54 PM

Wouldn't this have made more sense as "You're a Nazi who's been sent back in time to fight Ninjas" instead of the other way around?

Posted by Will in Seattle | August 25, 2007 2:58 PM
While those ideas will probably never reach the actual drawing board of a developer, mine very well could.

Please, get over yourself.

Posted by lostboy | August 25, 2007 3:22 PM

"lostboy," I forget to edit back in the sarcasm inherent in that claim. Truly, the ninja time travel game has a far greater shot than mine. Sorry to mislead.

Posted by Sam Machkovech | August 25, 2007 4:08 PM

I crack my knuckles, and the knuckle-cracking thing was excruciating anyway. *shiver*

Posted by Christin | August 25, 2007 4:58 PM

Sam @11, thanks for the response, and sorry for taking the quip seriously.  I'm glad to have been wrong.

Posted by lostboy | August 25, 2007 5:18 PM

Dear Huge Fucking Geek posting this, or the Web staff who monitors (?) him:
Hide your extremely overwrought run-on posts under a jump for those who give a rip.

Posted by Frank | August 25, 2007 5:49 PM

Oh my god, Frank, just don't read it if you're not interested... I'm digging it

Posted by Katelyn | August 25, 2007 7:03 PM


U crazy! I'm here. Plus I'm not single (as of today), which makes me hotter.

Posted by Mr. Poe | August 25, 2007 7:36 PM

What sort of losers spend an August day in doors?

Dorks on dorks.

Posted by What losers! | August 25, 2007 7:45 PM

I was one of the panelists on the games business thing (and am a former Stranger videogame reviewer, for that matter). Thanks for the great write-up. I thought the panel description was the vaguest and most banal thing imaginable ("Changes in the Industry!"), but our moderator didn't show up and when we reviewed the list of canned questions, we rejected them all and wrote new ones that we thought were better. The result was a blast with a high dynamic range and I'm glad you were there to see the fireworks.

I didn't think it was as doom and gloom as you did, but c'est la guerre.

Posted by John Scott Tynes | August 26, 2007 1:22 AM

Hear the Yoda get wicked


Posted by Whirled Peas | August 26, 2007 11:51 AM

what IS ths? why are you guys spending so much time covering this?? get on to something else already.

Posted by Judith | August 26, 2007 12:08 PM

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