Thursday 13 September 2012

From Inside the PAX10 - Part 1/2

A bouncer outside a sitting-room-only Seattle cocktail bar tells me politely that he's going to tell me what he thinks of my country. He shows me the letters 'SW17 9BB' tattooed on the inside of his index and middle fingers. He raises both fingers at me and says, "That's what I think of your country."

It turns out the bouncer has had some bad experiences at a certain London Art college and likes the idea of permanently swearing at its postcode. This has nothing to do with PAX, except to say that the exhibition was as much about learning about the culture that keeps all of us in business as it was showing off The Swapper.

PAX is long, so I will do my best to be brief.

Tuesday - Arrival
On arriving at airport I learn 2 things: check-in now closes 60 minutes before departure, and English people need a visa waiver to go to America. The flight leaves in 65 minutes, and I don't have a waiver. I ask the attendant if I'm going to make it. He says it's 50:50. I do the form on my iPhone, get bundled through customs, then wait 45 minutes to board the plane.

16 hours later I arrive at our team's lodgings. We have a three bed room in a hostel in Chinatown. We are doing this thing indie. I go to bed.

Wednesday - PAXDev Day 1
My first face-to-face meeting with Olli (Team Lead, Art, Code) and Otto (Level Design) is when they wake me up at 1am, just off their flight. I mutter something and go back to sleep.

8:30am we get up, get breakfast, do some work, then head to PAXDev. We see much what you'd expect, on a smaller scale than we expect, and I'm almost thrown out for not wearing my badge. We do some food and drinks and head to bed.

Thursday - PAXDev Day 2
We wake up and discuss what sessions we fancy today. We pick a few out, and then spend the entirety of the rest of the day working. We make a few fixes to the text for the PAX build, then the guys set about getting it stable for the show tomorrow. On the other side of the table, I'm frantically working on integrating art into the Greenlight build of Ir/rational Investigator for its announcement the same day.

By 7pm I've got the page live, and the boys are still ironing out bugs. After this they have to go to Target to buy a PC case (it's too much hassle to bring the PC from Finland - and the guys are too hardcore - so they've brought the components and are building onsite), and get to the convention centre to check out the setup for tomorrow.

I head to Indie Drinks at the Ray Gun Lounge - what looks like it will be a nice little bar attached to a game store once it's finished. The night's hosted by the excellent Bootsnake Games, who will go on to look after me / get me into parties / light my cigarettes for the rest of the show.

Here I also meet Zach Bath of SpaceChem fame. He is louder than you might expect, and a very decent chap indeed. His new real-time card game, Ironclad, looks like a great core concept and has a charming civil war style. More importantly, he later gets me in to a huge Popcap party in a Mercedes garage.

Friday - PAX Day 1
PAX begins. We sit in the hostel breakfast room, Olli still finishing bits and bobs, my eye on the clock. It's a 25 minute walk to the convention centre, and the show opens in half an hour. We resolve to get a cab, then walk the best part of halfway just looking for one. We arrive (it's HUGE), dash through the crowds, and are messed around on the door for five minutes trying to get our passes. It turns out Enforcers (volunteers here are called Enforcers) are all-powerful, and of varying competencies.

The PAX10 have a rectangular booth of ten widescreen TVs, right at the front of the indie staging area, and at the heart of the expo floor. It's awesome. 9am ticks by, marking the start of the press hour, when the journos can play the games in peace and quiet. No one shows up.

10am marks the incoming tsunami. At first the gamers trickle in. It looks manageable. You wonder if that's it. Then, before you even realise, there are 30,000 people in the room and a queue's forming. I drag myself off to the HAWP panel - one of the few I absolutely have to see - and queue half an hour to sit in a half full theatre. It's worth it.

The rest of the day is a blur of demoing the game, working on our spiel, getting to know the guys, giving interviews and attending talks. I expect to have my eyes opened somewhat, and I'm not disappointed. Some of the things that surprised me:

- People queue up 3 hours to play things like Halo 4. I get why people like Halo 4 - but I really don't understand why they'd be so excited to play the new one. Aside from Fireaxis' Xcom (which I never did play) all the exciting stuff for me was in the Indie Megabooth.

- In America, jaywalking is a real thing, there are a lot of stupid rules, and no one rolls their own cigarettes.

- Competitive gaming is quite big in America, it turns out.  There one massive room at PAX that's just full of thousands of people watching a handful of people play League of Legends, while a couple of commentators go at it. I am finally out of sync with what's cool with the kids.

- I am not as good at Smash Bros as I used to be.

- I have never seen so many so fat people in all my life.

The day goes well. We give a bunch of interviews, the game is never without punters in line, and almost everyone says it looks beautiful, which makes my job rather easier. We're also getting some useful criticism. At 6pm there is one free drink and two massive turkeys for exhibitors, followed by extortionate hotel prices. I'm lucky enough to bump into a couple of Sega US marketing types - let's be honest, probably the same guys who were shooting down any risky ideas on my ill-fated Sega project - but they were very friendly and gave me free drinks tokens, so any ill-will was wholly repaired.

Olli gives a PAX10-themed talk at 7pm, and then we hit the pub with the Bootsnake guys. We go to the Elephant & Castle, which amuses me because not only is it an English-themed pub named after the part of London I teach in, but because that part of London is something even the university tries to distance itself from (despite obvious geographical limitations). I also get told off, for the first time, for smoking my e-cig inside, which surely spells the beginning of the end. After the pub we hit a magazine party upstairs, it is horrible, but somehow we score VIP passes, skip the half hour queue at the bar, down our bottles of beer, and leave. Tomorrow is the busiest day of the show.

Watch this space for part 2, coming soon.


  1. You got one activity-filled day. Good luck for tomorrow's activities.

  2. Interesting choice for the dinner there.

    Best of luck with the games! Now for some MASSIVE TURKEYS!

    I hope the pub was playing Jim Davidson's sitcom on constant loop*.

    *A lie.