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Is This Schwag Bag Worth It? Part 2
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on September 07, 2007   |   Episode 133 (Show Archive)  

   

Unfortunately most people don't get a portable game system in their schwag bag!
Last year we decided to do something a bit unorthodox, we devoted a full article to the bag of goodies we received at the Penny Arcade Expo. Unlike most events, this bag of schwag was not something we had to work for, it was the stuff that everybody was handed at the door as they entered the convention center. We wondered if it was worth the time to pick it up and spent more than 1,500 words answering the question Is This Schwag Bag Worth It? Well this year we plan on doing the same thing, we're going to look at the best and worst items the companies associated with Penny Arcade came up with. Since this year's PAX was so much bigger we knew that we had to do the same thing with this sequel, so expect this episode to be almost twice the length of our first schwag bag article.

Below you will find pictures of everything that was tossed into the official PAX 07 bag, including a lot of advertising, guides and postcards. To make this feature even more interested we have decided to talk about each item and tell you what works and what doesn't. We intend to look at all of these items and decide whether this schwag bag is actually worth it. So grab yourself a drink and get ready, because Defunct Games is about to tear open this PAX bag of goodies and figure out the highs and the lows. We are going to find out once and for all if this schwag bag is worth it!

Guides/Booklets: Although the schwag bag features more than a dozen interesting items, the best reason to take it is for the useful PAX 07 guide. The official Penny Arcade Expo guide comes with everything you could possibly want to know, from the rules of the show (which include: Drugs are bad! Don't steal! Don't spray paint on stuff!) to the map of the event to the descriptions of the panel discussions. Better yet, this year's event guide has been beefed up with a lot of really cool extra pages, such as a person by person list of the twenty competitors playing in the Omegathon (PAX's six-part game tournament) and a guide to the public parties (also known as the lame parties). Given the increase in the size of PAX it only makes sense that the official guide would be larger, too. This year's PAX guide is a whopping 50 pages, that's up 16 from the 34 found in last year's guide. Of course, the 2007 guide is also cluttered with more advertising; I counted a staggering 29 different adverts in the guide, featuring commercials for Assassin's Creed, Dark Sector, Intel, America's Army and a very cool pull-out poster for the upcoming God of War PSP game. Even with all of the advertising, this year's PAX guide is far and away better than what we had last year. There's a lot more artwork in the guide, the descriptions are more useful and the map actually helps you navigate where the different theater rooms are (which sounds easy, but was probably the most confusing part of PAX this year. I do find it a bit odd that the first Seattle-based Penny Arcade Expo doesn't actually feature Gabe and Tycho on the front, but at least the cover is nice and the whole magazine is competently put together.

Believe it or not, the Penny Arcade Expo guide was not the only booklet found in the schwag bag. Those digging through the bag looking for something else to read were in luck, because Udon Comics gave everybody a sample of their Darkstalkers comic book. Wait, Darkstalkers? As in the Capcom fighting game that hasn't had a new installment in ten years? Don't get me wrong, of all the 2D Capcom fighting games to base your comic book around, Darkstalkers makes the most sense (I would hate to see a Red Earth comic book). But it just seems odd that of all the comic books they could have tossed in the schwag bag Darkstalkers was the one. Maybe they just have too many issues and needed to get rid of them. Or perhaps Udon Comics and Capcom are testing the waters to see if there's interest in continuing this franchise. I certainly hope so; I would love to see a brand new 2D Darkstalkers game featured on the Xbox Live Arcade, especially if it uses the graphic style of the upcoming Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix. For what it is the Darkstalkers comic is fine, the artwork is pretty good and the stories are quick and somewhat interesting. My only real complaint is that neither of the stories featured in this issue focused on Felicia, the one character I would have liked to have seen more of (if you know what I mean).

The Postcards: Apparently somebody at PAX read that I was horribly disappointed by the postcards offered at last year's Penny Arcade Expo. Last year all we got was some stupid Warhammer Online card, a terribly unattractive Fury card, something about a Paid to Play book, and a card talking about how game testing is the "dream career." This year was different, because it seemed like just about everybody had a postcard they wanted to get included in the schwag bag. In fact, this year there's almost too many cards! Let's start with all of the offers, since half of the cards are set up to get you to buy something after you leave the convention hall. Up first we have a postcard for Electronic Gaming Monthly, who has decided to reduce the price of their magazine by $8 a year. But don't get too excited, because not everybody is going to be able to take part in this "exclusive" offer. In fact, only the first 10,000 people (1/4th of the people actually attending PAX) will get the magazine at that price, the rest will have to pay regular price for EGM's wildly uninformative three-person reviews. On the other side of the EGM offer is a chance for PAX goers to win a Nintendo Wii autographed by Koji Kondo (the composer of such Nintendo tunes as Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda).

The Schwag Bag also features a coupon for Turtle Beach accessories (including headsets for the PC, Xbox 360 and Nintendo DS). This coupon is worth 25% off, which is a pretty good deal if you're looking to buy a large headset for one of your systems (their headphones tend to run around $100 if you buy them on the Turtle Beach website). BFG Tech and New Egg also want you to buy something, namely video cards and power supplies. On sale are three computer products, the BFG NVIDIO GeForce 8800 GTS OC 320 MB PCI Express Graphic Card, the BFG NVIDIA GeForce 8600 GT OC 256 MB PCI Express Graphics Card and the BFG 800W SLI-Ready Power Supply with PCIe Support. What you can't see right now is my eyes glazing over and my interest in this postcard dipping into dangerous new lows. Maybe it's best we just move on.

As always there are a couple of postcards that just want you to run out and buy something, even if it is at full price. The DEFCON: Everybody Dies postcard has some cool artwork and a bunch of glowing reviews, so why not rush on over to their website and pick this game up? And then there's the Sierra postcard, which features two games they think you should be excited about. The first one is TimeShift, the game that Sierra had to delay for a full year in order to completely retool. The other game is World in Conflict, which looks and sounds really cool, but shows New York City landmarks under attack and comes out one week after September 11th (subtle guys, subtle).

The final set of postcards promise that you could be part of the game industry. The biggest of the three comes from Strategy Computers, a company that promises that in as little as four to six months you could be making $45,000 and up. Unfortunately you'll probably just be some lowly game tester for minimum wage playing the same five levels over and over and over and over until you suicide feels like the only option. Monolith, on the other hand, doesn't pretend that you are going to earn $45,000 a year; they just want you to beta test their upcoming games for free. Their postcard has that creepy girl from The Ring ... oh wait, that's not from The Ring? Oh right, that's from F.E.A.R., I guess all these creepy little girls are just starting to blend together. Last but not least is a postcard for Excell, a company that is hiring dozens of game testers every month. At this point I have nothing left to say about game testers, but at least these guys are willing to pay you for your trouble (listen up Monolith), and they'll even give you a referral bonus.

The Cards: Next up are the cards ... no, not the postcards, we just did those. These are the actual cards, as in small playing cards that have something to do with some RPG card game (like Magic the Gathering). Actually, what's funny about this section is that none of these cards actually come from an RPG card game, all of the cards in this schwag bag are for actual video games (confusing, I know). Each schwag bag gets three cards for Culdcept SAGA, the upcoming Xbox 360 strategy game. Look, I won't kid you, Culdcept SAGA is one of those games I can't wait to own, I adored the first game and could not be any more excited about Bandai Namco's Xbox Live enabled sequel. Unfortunately these cards aren't as cool as I would like them to be, the artwork is a little underwhelming and they don't really say anything interesting on the back. Moving on we have a giant card of Leeroy Jenkins, who we all know from World of Warcraft. The first thing you'll notice about this card is that it's gigantic; it's more than four times the size of those Culdcept SAGA cards. You should also notice that it's drawn by Gabe from Penny Arcade, which makes a lot of sense at the Penny Arcade Expo. Unfortunately this World of Warcraft card feels more like a giant advertisement; otherwise you might able to get away with putting it on your wall or featuring it in your game room.

The final card comes to us from Technomancer Press, it's a PAX-only ARG (Alternate Reality Game) where you have a card and play other PAX attendees for their cards. The game is called TerraDrive Live and it was being played by just about everybody at the Penny Arcade Expo. Everybody but me, that is. I'm here to do a job, I'm covering this event for Defunct Games, do you really think I have time to run around and play what amounts to an alternative version of Paper-Rock-Scissors? I think not. But everybody else did, so let them walk around and look like fools as they try to win prizes and take everybody else's cards.

The Demos: It wouldn't be a Penny Arcade Expo without somebody giving away a free game demo and America's Army has stepped up to the plate to deliver their newest game, America's Army Special Forces: Overmatch. That's right, this version is called "Overmatch" and shows a couple of enthusiastic soldiers on the cover firing some truly artillery at tanks, buildings, etc. The one thing you don't see on the cover is that these soldiers have been waging this war through three different tours without more than a two week break, they are worn out and need you to play this game and want to join the Army (so they can come home). And while I'm carping on all of this stuff, is there really a reason to have this game on CD? At this point can't most people just download the game on the web and save America's Army from having to waste the materials making and packaging this demo?

The problem is that this America's Army game was waging a war against bad timing. Just days before the Penny Arcade Expo a group of Iraq veterans came out against the America's Army game, suggesting that "war is not a game" and that this kind of propaganda from the U.S. government should not be tolerated. And then there was the reports out of the Middle East that the Taliban were making a game, which got every media voice in the country to ask if the U.S. government should really be making their own war-related video games. And then there's the fact that the War in Iraq isn't going very well, a majority of the nation has turned away from the bloodshed in that region and just want to bring out soldiers home. Yet there the Army stood; they had one of the largest booths at this year's PAX and the only demo in the schwag bag. I would be interested to see how many PAX goers the army was able to enlist due to their involvement with the convention (with their booth and this demo). If only somebody could find some actual numbers for something like that ...

Everything Else: The final two items found in the schwag bag don't fit nicely in all of the other categories, so we're going to go ahead and give them their own section called "Everything Else." Oddly enough this section consists of the two most extreme items in the schwag bag; the biggest and the smallest items. The biggest item is definitely the fold-out poster, which is about three times larger than the bag itself. Unfortunately the poster is for Warhammer Online: Age of the Reckoning, so I doubt all that many PAX goers will actually want to hang it on their wall (sorry EA Mythic). The artwork is nice and I'm sure the game will end up being worthwhile (even if it is just another fantasy-based MMO). But I personally don't care much for the poster; it's definitely not the kind of thing I would hang up in my game room.

In sharp contrast is the smallest item, which is a Star Wars figurine. I'm not sure if everybody received a different two-inch figure, but mine was Quarren the Bounty Hunter. My little character is made out of plastic and sits on a circle mount that he's connected to. Apparently this character is part of a Star Wars board game, I can tell because he comes with a special card that states his attributes (Hit Points: 20, Defense: 14, Attack: +5, etc.). Not being a Star Wars fan I wasn't all that excited about this tiny toy, but I'm sure there are people out there that were excited to see a Star Wars figure in their schwag bag. It is the 30th anniversary of Star Wars this year, so why not celebrate it with the smallest figure you have ever seen? Sadly neither of these two items are things I would want to have around the house, but then again you can't complain about free stuff.

Is This Bag Worth It? This bag is free, so of course it's worth it. If you had to pay $5 to get all this crap then I suspect it wouldn't be worth it, but who is going to turn down 15 free game-related items? I'm a little disappointed that some of the better items from last year didn't show up this year, where is the Xbox 360 tattoo or the Foundation IX sucker? And while I'm complaining, is there a reason they decided to not package in a set of Magic the Gathering cards? There was some great schwag on the show floor, so maybe the companies wanted people to actually come to their booth for the free stuff instead of just handing it to them at the front door. Either way, this year's schwag bag is no better or worse than last year, it's still a bunch of free items that you will probably never think about again after coming home from PAX. Like I said last year, as a free bag this isn't a bad deal, but this is certainly not something you would want to buy off of eBay for twenty or thirty bucks.
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