Thanks to special help from a good friend my son and I had a chance to attend this year’s PAX Prime conference.   In 2004 Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, creators of the “Penny Arcade” web comic, decided the world needed a conference solely dedicated to celebrating gamer culture and the Penny Arcade eXpo (PAX) was born.  Originally hosted just in Seattle, PAX is now a global phenomenon with events in Boston (PAX East), Melbourne Australia (PAX Australia) and still in Seattle (PAX Prime).  As long-time game players my son and I had talked about attending PAX but had never managed it, so were absolutely delighted when the opportunity arose this year.

Naturally the first year at a conference is a major learning experience, especially a large and diverse one like PAX Prime.  We were only attending for just over one day out of the four days overall so had to make some compromises in what we attempted to do.  Here are some highlights of our rookie experience, which will definitely help us plan for return visits (if we’re lucky enough to get tickets) and perhaps inform others as well.

See new games – Game publishers like to use PAX to showcase games that are close to being launched. This means attendees have lots of opportunities to take a look at pre-released game content. This year we saw/played “Borderlands 2: TK Baha’s Bloody Harvest“, “XCOM: Enemy Within“, “Wolfenstein: The New Order“, and some great indie games such as “Escape Goat 2” and “Audiosurf 2“.

Try existing games – In addition to unreleased games PAX offers ample opportunity to play current games that you just haven’t had the time (or money) to try.  We checked out “Dragon’s Prophet“, “Assassin’s Creed IV“, “The Bureau: XCOM Declassified“, “Rogue Legacy“, “Portal 2“, “Left 4 Dead 2“, and “Transistor“. Often these games are used to help demo gaming gear in vendor booths.  The NVIDIA booth was a great place to play games while at the same time see new graphics cards and handhelds.

Visit the Free Play areas – When you need a break from the expo and panels go find one of the free play areas and plop down in front of a PC or console to unwind with some games.  The PC area has hundreds of high-end machines each with dozens of pre-loaded games and while we didn’t visit the console area I presume it’s equally large.   Free play is limited to 45 minutes at a time so while there may a line of folks waiting for a chance to play the line moves pretty steadily.  The area is managed by a timekeeper that can allocate groups of people to adjacent available computers, enabling co-op group free play if you like.  (We had all kinds of trouble with the voice chat set-up so being next to each other is the only way you can game together.)  Free play areas are open late into the evening so you can get in some game play after the expo closes and panels end, though lines are longer then as a result.

Check out new gamer gear – Vendors like Corsair, NVIDIA, Skullcandy, Kingston, and Logitech, are on hand to show off current and new gaming gear including graphics cards, keyboards, mice, headsets, and accessories (like the Stinky Footboard and Cooler Master Skorpion). It’s great to be able to ask in-depth questions, try everything out, and compare performance in real game situations. You may also be able to take advantage of special show prices or packages.

Go Indie – The “Indie Megabooth” is a special area of the expo set aside just for indie games, and you should definitely spend time there to talk to the developers and share in their creative energy.  Equally important is the “PAX 10“, a collection of ten indie games selected by a panel of experts for exemplary game play and fun.  The PAX 10 was not part of the Indie Megabooth so we made sure to reserve time to see both areas.

Decide how much you want to stand in line – Mobs of people will stand for hours in long lines just for a glimpse at a new game or a chance at some special give-aways.   Ask what a line is for and decide how long you’re willing to wait.

Collect & Scavenge – Acquiring and trading collectable pins and buttons has long been an aspect of PAX Prime and it has become a formal part of the conference through “Pinny Arcade”. You’ll see lots of folks wearing lots of pins and buttons, and they’re generally looking to trade to grow their collection. Also, several vendors offer scavenger hunt promotions in which you need to visit different booths, collect stamps or information (or both), then redeem the full set for some prize.  PAX Prime does this too by hiding special QR codes throughout the venue and encouraging you to collect them all and earn a special “PAX XP” prize.

Overall PAX Prime was an extraordinary experience and is well worth attending for any gamer even if you can only get there for a day.

I’ll have more to add in a separate post on my impressions of particular games and gear.