PAX is one of those events I look forward to going to each and every year. Despite the fact that I am not a huge fan of the online comic strip and I can do without large crowds, I'm drawn to this three-day video game event. With dozens of panels, a huge exhibition hall, loud concerts and video game competitions, it's hard to find anything bad to say about this event. Throw in all of the surprises and close proximity to the Defunct Games office and PAX feels like the perfect video game convention.
But not everything is as it seems. While everybody raved about how big and impressive this show is, I felt a little disappointed. I know it's unpopular to complain about an event as worthwhile as the Penny Arcade Expo, but part of me feels like I really should get some of these complaints off my chest. Don't get me wrong, I still love PAX and it's great news that almost 60,000 people showed up to this Seattle-based event. But sometimes it's important to be the contrarian, especially when we're talking about a convention this young. So in honor of the year and the month, we've decided to offer eight complaints about the 2008 Penny Arcade Expo.
Stop the Rick Rolling
Okay, we get it, Rick Astley's 1987 hit "Never Gonna Give You Up" is an inadvertently hilarious song ... but seriously, we're a year and a half into this internet meme, it's time to get over it. Apparently nobody got the memo, because at this year's Penny Arcade Expo I counted no fewer than five Rick Rolls. Hell, there
were probably three times that number; I just didn't go to every concert, every panel and every Q&A session. Doing it once or twice would have been fine, but there's no reason for it to invade every panel discussion. There are people with real pressing questions, there's no time for the damaging Rick Roll. Besides, if you were going to Rick Roll, you should have done it last year, when it was fresh. According to my top level research, the whole Rick Roll thing happened in late March of 2007, five months before last year's PAX. I thought you nerds were supposed to be up on these things, but after this year's event it just felt like everybody was late to the party. Here's hoping that next year we don't have to put up with Rick Astley ... or any other horrible musicians from the 1980s.
On the Other Hand:
Is it just me who is starting to really like this song? I'm old enough to remember this song when it first hit the MTV airwaves, so after a twenty year hiatus I'm personally happy to give it a comeback. And while we're at it, can somebody bring back El DeBarge? Oh oh, and what about The Vapors, Bow Wow Wow, Gang of Four, and Toni Basil. Actually, on second thought, you can go ahead and keep Toni Basil.
The Omegathon is easily one of the best elements of the Penny Arcade Expo. It offers two dozen gamers a chance to prove their medal at a bunch of random multiplayer games. But how random is it? This year it was hard not to be disappointed by the line-up, which included two repeats from 2007 and three other uninspired choices. The two repeats are Jenga and Rock Band, two
solid games that have a competitive streak to them. Unfortunately most of the other games seem to fit into predictable categories. For example, there's the casual game that became a surprise hit (last year it was Puzzle Quest, this year it was Boom Blox). There's also the cheap downloadable title (last year it was Calling All Cars, this year it's Peggle). In fact, outside of Pictionary, the entire Omegathon lineup was painfully predictable. Thankfully we were given something fresh when Gabe and Tycho unveiled the final round, Vs. Excitebike. But did they really have to make us wait for 30 extra minutes while listening to Chris DeBurgh music?
On the Other Hand:
I suppose the good news is that these aren't the absolute worst multiplayer games they could come up with. Would you rather watch these gaming gladiators fight it out at a friendly game of Rise 2: The Resurrection? Surely it's better to recycle Rock Band as opposed to torturing us with a hot four-player version of C + C Music Factory: Make My Video. And don't forget, they could have forced us to watch the remaining omeganauts fight that annoying 18 hour boss in Final Fantasy XI. See, it could have been a lot worse. But then again, it could have been a lot better. Why not have the just-released Soul Calibur IV be one of the rounds? Or maybe an exciting round of Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis? And that's just the start of all the potential selections, it would be nice to see them fight it out in Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2, Bionic Commando: Rearmed or Shadowrun ... it's not like anybody is playing Shadowrun these days anyway.
Extreme PAX Enforcers
Any doubts that the Penny Arcade organizers were ready for a massive turn-out were squashed the moment you met one of this year's Enforcers. In case you aren't familiar with the terminology, the "Enforcers" are a group of Penny Arcade fans who volunteer to act as the security, stage hands and agents of information. They tend to hang out around convention doors, at help desks and everywhere else that people might get into trouble or just need help. In the years past
these Enforcers have been relaxed gamers who are more than happy to assist you at every turn. However, this year there was a noticeable change in their demeanor. Instead of being nice and friendly, I found that many of them were rude and abrasive. Things went from bad to worse when this group started herding the lines of people into the panel rooms. I saw one of the Enforcers yell and demean a fellow attendee simply because he didn't sit in the chair she had pointed to. I found a few of these Enforcers to also be oddly stand-offish when it came to answer media related questions, things that in years past the same people have been more than willing to answer. I don't know if they were simply under more stress this year or what, but there was definitely a negative feeling every time I got near one of this year's Enforcers.
On the Other Hand:
I hate to bad mouth all of this year's Enforcers, however, the way some of these characters acted really put a damper on the enjoyment of the Penny Arcade Expo. Assuming that this event is only going to get bigger, the organizers are either going to have to recruit more Enforcers or they are going to need to pay for some stress management classes. Since a lot of the problems seem to be related to the panels, it would make sense for somebody to use larger rooms or pass out tickets for these various discussions. Or maybe they need more boring panels. Either way, the assigned seating thing this year was out of control ... and having to watch somebody reduced to tears over sitting in the wrong seat is ridiculous.
All of the Redundant Panels
Speaking of the panels, this year's panel discussions just weren't as exciting as they could have been. Don't get me wrong, they were all new, with brand new speakers, panels and questions. But there was something a little too familiar about each and every one of them. In a lot of ways the panels this year felt like they were just extensions to the things we saw the last few years. Worse yet, none of the panels I went to were as fun and interesting as what I saw last year or the year before. Do we really need another panel
about getting into the industry? Or how about one about game criticism. Is there a panel with Gamer Dad? Of course there is, it wouldn't be PAX without one. My point is, these panels are redundant and boring. Why not offer up a panel about what makes a bad game bad.? Or maybe one about why bad games are actually important to the games industry? And it doesn't need to be about bad games, maybe it can be something about all of the things we hate about the games industry ... and how to change them. See, that's just off the top of my head. These planners have a full year to think up new panels and the best they can come up with is something about breaking into the industry?
On the Other Hand:
While I complain about all of these redundant panels, I can't ignore that each year there are a few things that pop up that are genuinely interesting. And in truth, there are a few things that probably should come back each and every year. The problem is that most of these panels aren't as interesting as their name implies. Take "Game Criticism and Old Game Journalism" as an example, this is one panel that should have been one of the most exciting events at the show. Yet the panelist's long-winded diatribes were neither original nor fresh. The panel was full of well-known journalists, but none of them were old enough to have worked in the "old media". Where were the elder games journalists? Where was Jeff Green? I hate to pick on this one panel, but it pretty much sums up my experience with all of the panels.