PAX East 2013 (convention review).

(Boston, MA March 22-24, 2013)

For the uninitiated, this is what generally occurs at gaming conventions:-

* Arrive two hours early to get in the queue for the exhibition. Bring breakfast and an activity. A smart phone works, your gaggle of geeky friends will also suffice. If you don’t like the idea of sitting on cold concrete for about an hour and a half, bring something to sit on.

* When the gathering crowd makes a sound, echo it. You’re all excited, right?

* Consult your plan, edit it if necessary. Map the route to what you need to see first. If it’s a panel, you’re in the wrong queue. Track down a staff member and repeat the above steps until you’re in the right pile of people.

* When the doors open, surge forward…politely. You’re amongst your brethren, remember?

* As soon as the way ahead opens up, walk quickly and jerkily to the vendor display you’re most excited about.

* Pause, gape at the bright lights, flashing screens and glowing displays.

* Breathe.

* Resume course to THE GAME.

* Get in the queue to play the demo.

* Repeat the first three steps.

The crowd one hour before the doors open.

I could continue compiling point delineated lists but as you can already see, the process for every part of the convention is somewhat the same. After the first demo, you’ll line up for another one, wait for up to two hours for ten to fifteen minutes of gaming glory, then look for the next queue. In between you’ll line up outside a theatre to attend a panel led by Gods of Game and cheer as one of them meows into the microphone (looking at you, Ben Gelinas) and then it’s time to line up for a ten dollar sandwich while you revise the plan.

I forgot to mention the queue for autographs and swag. Raffles, giveaways and announcements, all of it permeated by the fervour of excited gamers and underscored by the flash of monitors and constant roar of GAME. It’s exciting. It’s exhausting.

There are queues for merchandise, game flavoured, and a long line snaking toward the tabletop area. Yeah, people still play D&D, board games, card games and dice games. A con is the perfect place to display their homemade game, a tabletop world developed by them and their friends. Oh, there was a panel about that. I sat in that queue for a while before defecting to the shorter line next door, a panel on how to incorporate games into our lives…because obviously we don’t spend every waking hour glued to our monitors, only approximately 95% of them. During the off hours, we go out wearing our gaming shirts (I AM Commander Shepard) and drink cocktails inspired by the worlds we live in.


One half of the exhibition floor.

I did not play any demos. I’m forty-four years old. I am not going to stand in line for two hours to play fifteen minutes of anything. Nope! Folks older than me did and trust me, there were plenty of grey heads at the convention, my husband’s included. (He never reads my rambles :-D) The patience of the young as they shuffle forward like zombies…wait, that’s another article.

The other half of the exhibition floor.

I did look at a lot of demos, though, those easily viewable by the public. ‘The Elder Scrolls Online’ demo was hidden from view, though the largest screen EVER hovered above the mass of queuing humanity offering clues to what it was all about. Between worrying the screen would drop from the ceiling and crush unsuspecting gawkers (another article, another bloody story), I stood mesmerised by slick CGI and thought, yeah, I’d play that…despite promising myself I would not get sucked into another MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game).

The D&D Neverwinter MMORPG looks like fun. I watched people play the demo for about 45 minutes while I waited in a queue to meet R.A. Salvatore, who is a really, really nice guy! I’m a huge fan of his books and have faithfully followed the adventures of Drizzt for years. After I gushed about how well he writes combat (the man continued to smile and look incredibly patient), I asked for a photo which my grey-haired husband took and posted for me.

Ah, the Internet. One of the best things about the modern convention – oh, yeah, I’ve been doing this for years and years – is the constant stream of information related to, well, everything. There was even a twitter feed for the queues. ‘Elder Scrolls’ queue has been capped, those at the end of the line will see their fifteen minutes of glory in September 2014. The line for the PC free play has shrunk like an irradiated tumour. The queue for the ‘Mass Effect: Retrospective’ panel is at 25% capacity.

That last tweet sent my friend and I scurrying upstairs. We then circumnavigated the Boston Convention & Exhibition Centre about twice looking for the third level and quaked with horror as we followed the line back around half the centre again to the end.

The main theatre accommodates a stunning number of people and all of them were there to pay homage to my favourite game franchise: BioWare’s ‘Mass Effect’. There is a something indefinably awesome about sitting with hundreds of people who have played the same game, laughing at the same inside jokes, sniffling at the memory of the same tragic moments and standing together to cheer the team who captured our imaginations and hearts and dollars for eight years. It’s why we attend conventions.

The friend I went with is from another country. Jenn Burke and I met on a forum, bonded over our broken hearts (yeah, I know, Alistair never loved us) and have been gaming, role-playing and writing together for over three years. We visit one another in the summer and do pretty much the same thing. This year we decided to attend PAX together and one of the first things Jenn did was thank Mike Laidlaw (creative director of BioWare’s ‘Dragon Age’) for his role in sparking our friendship. Neat, huh? He looked pretty pleased and why not? On the whole, the game developers were happy to meet and connect with their fans. That’s half the joy of convention going, from both aspects.

Which brings me to the cosplay. Wow! There’s a secret Kelly inside that would like to dress up. Then there is the practical Kelly that ponders sitting on a concrete floor for two hours in N7 armour. Thankfully, I can delight in the creativity of others. Those in costume were hailed and cheered by all, particularly by the game developers who encouraged them to pose for photos and staged contests. I saw so many amazing costumes, two of which I’m going to mention here. Both are BioWare related (I’m a fan!). Rana, the face model for Mass Effect’s ‘Samara’ is in the habit of attending cons dressed as her character. I barely have the words to express how awesome this is. She’s not alone in her dedication to craft. Many of the other voice actors and face models have joined the fun. Raphael Sbarge, the voice of Kaidan Alenko, was also there dressed in the Kaidan hoodie—much to the delight of his fans.

Find peace in the embrace of the Goddess.

The other cosplay that just rocked was the Reaper. Someone came dressed as a REAPER and their costume made sound. Yeah!

I am the Vanguard of your destruction.

Right, so other demos I watched by being a creepy over the shoulder lurker:-

Tomb Raider’. Looks really fun. I’ve heard mixed reviews about what they did to Lara Croft and her story but, honestly, if they made it look better and it’s fun to play, I could care less about the lore. Part of my attitude extends from the fact I played the first game over a decade ago. Probably closer to two. I barely remember it. From what I saw, gameplay is fairly close to the original concept, though. Lots of adventuring in between the killing. The new, more open world, allows for some autonomy in between.

The Last Of Us’. Over the shoulder shooter that looks like…an over the shoulder shooter. I watched this one for a while and didn’t see much more than shooting. My unwilling demo-ee seemed to be lost inside a dark building. He didn’t meet anything he could shoot. Later in the weekend I watched someone shoot stuff. It’s all about the shooting. (I don’t play a lot of shooters, games like ‘Fallout’ and ‘Mass Effect’ aside.)

Hex Hex. This is a card/dice game that could form a small table top adventure or devolve into a rowdy dinking contest. Fun!

I would have liked to have seen the demo for ‘Assassin’s Creed IV’, but it was another hidden area with a seething line of humanity wrapped twice around it.

Blizzard was also there to announce ‘HearthStone: Heroes Of Warcraft’.

There were also a stunning number of independent publishers and games. I glimpsed a lot, but like the myriad of colour and sound of the convention itself, they’re pretty blurred in my mind. Luckily, I have a convention guide I can flip through for reference if I’m inspired to look up something I saw or could trawl through convention related twitter feeds or could play one of the games still shrink-wrapped on my shelf or unpacked in ‘Steam’ instead of putting myself through the wringer with one last playthrough of ‘Mass Effect 3’. Either way, I’ll be in a similar state of disorganised fervour when I arrive outside the BCEC next year, two hours early for PAX East 2014.

PAX East is the younger sibling of PAX Prime, which is held yearly in Seattle. Four years on, it’s still less than half the size of Prime, but has already outgrown one convention centre in Boston and looks set to take over the entire BCEC from here on out. Three day passes sold out in October last year and the entire convention was sold out before it opened. On the whole, it’s a well organised event with ample coat checks and plenty of space for people to take some time out from the crowds. I was really impressed with the size of the space set aside for tabletop gaming and even more astounded by how quickly that space filled. A single day pass to PAX East will set you back $35 (US). Three day passes are $70. Many area hotels catered to the convention, offering discounted rates ($200/night and less) and shuttle bus services to and from the convention centre.

Next up on the convention schedule is PAX Aus. All future dates and information are on the interlinked sites.

(c) Kelly Jensen 2013

also includes the photos

Kelly Jensen

Writer of love stories. Bibliophile. Gamer. Cat herder.

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