After some sleep, I was ready for the second and last day of the first-ever Penny Arcade Expo. If you haven’t done so already, read about Day 1 PAX. It will also explain what PAX is if you don’t know anything about it. PAX had been open all night for free play in the LAN room and console room. It was really a 39 hour gaming party. Although I was still tired from the yesterday, I didn’t worry too much because I knew that Bawls would be on hand. Bawls is definitely the gamers’ drink. Its main feature is its high caffeine content. Bawls representatives set up a table near the LAN/PC room and everyone could not get enough. They were selling Bawls at a better price then you can generally find in stores, and at some point, they even game some away for free.

Probably one of the harsher realities at PAX was that one could not participate in everything as many events overlapped. I don’t see that as a mistake on the part of the organizers; it’s just the only practical way of doing things. So instead of attending the Breaking into the Industry panel, I was observing the Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament. It was crazy and really big. Part way through, I split and attended another Q&A session with Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins. As before, their entertaining personalities kept the audience in a fun mood as they answered questions. After the Q&A session, I went back to watch the end of the Smash Bros. tournament. I wasn’t surprised that a crowd had gathered to watch the final contestants. Everyone would simultaneously exclaim “Ooooh!” or something similar whenever a contestant pulled off a particularly tricky move or something surprising happened. It was a lot of fun to watch. The skill of the top six or so players that I managed to watch at the end was incredible. As the tournament ended, a large crowd that had been waiting outside of the console room started to pour in.

They had come to observe what was probably PAX’s most anticipated event. It was time for Halo 2. Unfortunately, not everyone that wanted to play (which must have been 99.9% of attendees) was able to get a turn. There was no demonstration; there was just a quick explanation of the rules: turn-based Capture the Flag (like Assault). Groups of ten (or maybe it was twelve) were seated at an Xboxes and TV’s and got to play one round for a maximum of 10 minutes. Then it would be another group’s turn. This continued for nearly four hours. Video feeds from the game were projected onto a wall in the room and were also fed to a couple TV’s outside in the lobby so that if you didn’t get a chance to play, you could at least watch. There were people excited just to watch, probably because they had not seen videos from this year’s E3. The multiplayer demo at PAX was the same one shown to Press at E3. The real excitement was for those lucky attendees who got to play it.

As there was yesterday, all kinds of tournaments were being played throughout the day, from Heroclix, Call of Duty, UT2K4, to Mario Kart, there was a tournament for everybody it seemed. Of course, as I talked about yesterday, the tournament that everyone had their eyes on was the Omegathon. The tournament was now in Round 5, with the four remaining contestants playing Doom, not Doom 3, but the original Doom. It’s so old school that you couldn’t even use a mouse. Round 6, the final of the Omegathon was pretty much the last scheduled event of PAX, and the challenge was still a secret. I made a note to myself to make sure to be there for Round 6.

I decided to attend the Pitch You Game Ideas! panel. Shekhar Dhupelia from Studio Gigante, Jeff Kalles from Nintendo, and Geoff Zatkin from Monolith were the panelists. The idea was not to try to expose your idea and get your game made. The idea was to see if your game idea would be accepted by a real publisher if you were a designer trying to get a publisher to fund your project. Game pitches were not just judged on their potential gameplay value (as gamers would tend to evaluate a game idea), but also on how well the pitch was made and if a publisher would consider it. There were actually prizes for the top three pitches. The panelists emphasized that while it is okay to relate your game idea to other games already on the market, it’s important to stress what is unique about your game idea more. One creative individual came pretty prepared. He had created huge drawings and prepared a hilarious pitch that had the audience and the panelists out of control with laughter. His game pitch was for Robot vs. Ninja vs. Pirate vs. Monkey. The large drawings that he made to accompany his pitch were hilarious. He actually had several different game pitches and many drawings to go along with them. I may not be remembering the title correctly, but another one of his funnier game ideas was for EverStar Morrow Winter Fantasy Legend or something like that. The drawing showed a group of characters that resembled characters from all of the other games implied in the long title. It may sound stupid when you read it, but his pitch was hilarious. Of course, it wasn’t really a serious pitch for those games, but the panelists praised him for preparing a pitch the way he did. In the end he ended up getting third place. Second place went to a pitch for an EyeToy adventure game in which the players would have to communicate with aliens by learning and performing an alien sign language to find a lost friend and return home. The panelists liked it because the EyeToy is a hot item right now, and a publisher would likely be interested in an EyeToy game. They also liked it because it is a unique game concept and a unique use of the EyeToy. First place went to a pitch about a game in which the player plays as a large robot which can transform and sometimes becomes too large and must try to shrink down to avoid damaging his surroundings. I don’t mean to present that game idea so poorly. I just didn’t really understand and can’t fully remember the pitch. The panelists liked it because they thought that it had the best chance of be accepted by a publisher.

A panel on online gaming followed a little afterwards, but I chose to enter the Mario Kart: Double Dash!! tournament instead. There was some problem setting up the tournament because some things had been rearranged for the previous Halo 2 demos. After some delays, the tournament got underway. As I expected, I didn’t get very far, but I had fun. This allowed me to make sure that I was on time for the Omegathon Round 6, which took place in the theater. There was definitely quite a bit of excitement in the room. It was probably because of the absolutely enormous prize that was at stake for the two contestants. The prize, a collection of tons of video games and systems from several generations, was worth around $20,000. However, the 2nd place prize was certainly not bad either: a $500 gift card for Electronics Boutique. The stage had a couch facing away from the audience and something on a table covered by a cloth. It had an odd shape. It had something sticking up on the left side so that it was not any kind of nice box-like shape. This covered table was present at the first few panel discussions and had become a source of interest to a lot of attendees. Well now the table was in the center of the stage, between the couch and a large screen. So it seemed that whatever was under that cloth would be the secret challenge for Round 6 of the Omegathon.

Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins walked out on stage and the crowd erupted in cheers. Though there had been some difficulties (it was the very first PAX after all), it seemed everyone was overwhelmingly happy about PAX and excited to see the conclusion of the Omegathon. The two surviving contestants had so far competed in games of Diceland, Halo, Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, Dance Dance Revolution, and Doom. Krahulik and Holkins announced the two finalists Sean Celaya and Kevin Potter. The crowd gave them a standing ovation. Sure, one might say that they probably weren’t the best Halo killers or dancers or kart racers ever. However, the fact that they defeated 18 other gamers in so many varied gaming challenges does speak to their skill. After the two Omeganuats took their seats on the couch, it was time to unveil the final challenge. The cloth was pulled away to reveal an old Pong console from the 1970’s! The crowd again erupted in cheers. It was a really old Pong console. It was the kind that had Pong built-in and it was the only game that could be played. The controllers were the kind with just a dial. The reason that it had such an odd shape under the cloth was because the Pong console was sitting on top of a VCR (which fed the video signal to a projector) and there was a microphone angled down against the top of the console to capture the sound which came directly out of the console itself.

So the final round was a ‘best 2 out of 3’ game of Pong with each game going to 15 points. Everyone was excited. It was hilarious to hear the crowd cheer whenever Kevin and Sean would get a good rally going and the ball would bounce faster and faster. It’s funny, but I never thought that I would have found Pong so exciting. There were some rallies that got really intense because the ball was deflected many times and it would achieve a really high speed. In the end Sean ended up winning the first two games by a good margin. Kevin still played well and did score a respectable amount of points in both games, but Sean was the better Pong player. After the second game, the crowd cheered for both players. Then Holkins and Krahulik played a game of Pong. Before the match, Krahulik admitted that Holkins probably was the better player, and indeed Holkins maintained a good lead and won.

Then Holkins announced that there was one last thing to do. He introduced a young man and handed him the mic. The young man called his girlfriend on the stage. With the words that the young man had already said, she probably knew what was about to happen. She was almost crying as she walked up on stage. After a few well chosen words, the young man pulled out a ring and proposed. The crowd stood up and cheered very enthusiastically. The girlfriend nodded yes and the crowd cheered some more. After the cheering had died down Holkins and Krahulik congratulated the couple, thanked the crowd for attending PAX, and said goodnight.

My night wasn’t over though. It was only around 8:30 I think, and there would still be gaming going on all night. I headed back to the LAN room for a little Halo on the PC. Penny Arcade had chosen LanWerX to run their LAN gaming room and PC tournaments, and that turned out to be a good decision. You should read more about it here. The room was set up with around 40 high-end computers and high-speed connections. Luckily for me, there were quite a few people there playing Halo. I don’t mean to brag, but I was surprised to find out that I was the best Halo PC player there, at least for those few hours that I was there. I had a lot of fun and came in first in all but one of the games that I played. At nearly 11:00 pm, I decided to call it a night and headed home.

PAX was a fun event and I was impressed with how well everything was done especially considering that this was the first PAX ever. It could have only been more exciting for the general gamer as there were several games shown there that were shown at E3. Of course, Halo 2 drew a big crowd, but there were several other E3 games too. I enjoyed all of the panels that I attended, and of course, there was the non-stop gaming fest outside of those. There will be another PAX next year. This one drew quite a bit of attention with over 2,000 attendees the last I heard. Next year there will be more exhibitors, more industry guests, and more gaming events going on. I will definitely be going next year. The event was a lot of fun, and for the most part, Penny Arcade fans are great to hang out with.

By Andrew Thivyanathan – 08/31/04

Screenshots for PAX Day 2