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  PAX Day 1 11:41 PM -- Tue September 2, 2008  

(Wait, some day 0 first)

We arrived very late on Thursday night, to discover that the Sheraton, big fancy hotel that it is, lacks a shuttle service from the airport. Not classy. We eventually managed to get a cab shared with another couple heading to PAX! It was crazy going into that hotel. All these people who work there, all prim and proper in their suits, and every patron there was clearly a PAX geek. It was just overrun with people in shorts and black t-shirts adorned with random slogans. It was surreal. But we slept, and awoke the next morning to PAX Day 1.

Day 1 didn't begin until 3pm, so this was our one day where we actually had some time to do something else. On the other hand, we had a scheduled event of our own. We were to meet Mark of Laughing Dragon for lunch. We also found Phil of Galcon fame and added him to the roster.

But first, we had to have breakfast! We ventured a few blocks down to reach the Pike Street Market, which is where they throw fish. We saw them throw a fish, and it was exactly as exciting as it sounds. We grabbed some pastries and peaches there, and took them back to the room for a relaxing breakfast. Of course, Sol had to tune into the Law & Order marathon while we did. We saw a few more of those as we waited for lunch time.

And off to lunch! We ate at a Greek and/or Italian place and chatted about the tribulations of trying to get people to buy games. It was good. That was the last of Mark because he lives near Seattle, but was not a PAX attendee for some perverse reason. Phil, on the other hand, we got to hang with several more times through our three days as he assisted the Brawndo people at their booth and did whatever other ridiculous things he does around PAX.

Then we donned our yerfhats for the first time, and headed out into the wilds of the convention. We had little idea of what to expect, but we proceeded bravely nonetheless. The first step was to stand in line for the opening of the show. People who lined up early got wristbands for the night's concert (a wristband means you get in first, while non-wristbanders have to take their chances and line up for the concert itself). We of course had our lunch date, so no chance of lining up early. We got there about half an hour before opening time, got way in the back of a long long line, got our swag bag, and after a little while, wandered off into the show. And yes, there's a wizard in this picture (A Black Mage for those in the know. We saw a better one with light-up eyes later, though).

Our first stop was intended to be the exhibit halls, but we got sidetracked because Bandland preceded them. Bandland was a short, wide hallway with the various bands that were going to perform were available for signing stuff and selling stuff. Wil Wheaton was also in that location. We quickly hopped into the Jonathan Coulton line, which was actually really short at that point (and was never again remotely short the rest of the weekend, lucky us!). We got up to him in no time, and gave him a copy of Free Dumb Games! Lucky him! Without a doubt, he rushed home and began playing. We also asked him to sign my Yerfhat. He wanted to know why Yerfdog was the mascot of Hamumu, and that made me realize there is no reason. He's just a character I drew that I thought was really befitting of the Hamumu style. I think he works as an icon for Hamumu - seeing him, you hopefully get what we're all about right there. We did not take a picture with Jonathan Coulton, sorry (but wait for day 3 for celebrity madness! Or day 2 for surprising celebrity that you didn't think was celebrity).

Then we did actually enter the exhibit halls. We have no pictures of those, so here's a word-picture:

darkness, we're sardines
games i can't play due to lines
seems pretty pointless

That gives you the idea. But seriously, sardines. That hall was not big enough for what all was in it!

So, we got nothing out of that, then proceeded on to our first panel: Video Games, Politics & Policy. It was rather dry, but I wouldn't say uninteresting. Not really relevant to my life in general. We ducked out after half an hour, not out of disappointment, but rather because we had something very important to do!

The first Penny Arcade Q&A Panel! Yep, this is actually the best picture I have of it. You can also see the blurry Tycho-traveling-through-a-wormhole picture in the previous day's post. That one's cool, actually, but only by chance. This panel was great. We got there late and only caught about the last half of it, but it consisted of people going up to the microphone and asking whatever question (though "who would win in a fight" was expressly forbidden), then being gently ridiculed by Gabe & Tycho. It was very funny throughout.

Next up was a dinner break. We walked halfway back down to the market, in order to avoid the insane crowds of PAX visitors. Everything near the convention was utterly swamped the entire weekend. But we found a little Thai place that was busy, but no waiting or anything, and sat down and had a really good meal. It pays to be adventurous.

We came back to the expo at night with two options in mind: there was the screening and Q&A for The Guild (created by and starring Dr. Horrible's Felicia Day), and there were the Friday night concerts. We opted for the screening, only to discover that we were too late. We stood in line for about 30 seconds before someone came back to tell us the line was being dispersed because they had just closed the doors. The unwritten rule we found with PAX was: be at everything half an hour early. That first day, we were always at everything 'on time', which meant 'too late'. So, defeated, we figured why not try the concerts after all?

We won! There was an Enforcer (those who don the black to become volunteer security at PAX) standing outside the room, giving away dozens of wristbands as we walked up. So we hopped right on in. As you might expect of a concert, it was all standing and jumping up and down, but we found a section over to one side where people were laid out on the floor like it was a concert on the green, only the green was concrete. So we joined them, set up our little foodless picnic, and enjoyed.

First up were the One-Ups, conveniently. They do covers of video game songs, but with real instruments (and lots of them - I recall violin, saxophone, piano, guitar, drums, and possibly a tambourine). It was kinda fun, because they'd start up the song, then after about ten seconds, play footage of the game in question. So you had a moment there to try to guess. I guessed none, but many of them were things I had never played anyway.

The second band was Freezepop. They're not so much related to video games as in them - their music is in lots of Harmonix games, and I think some others. It's very 80s synth-pop. They were okay, had a couple songs that were really good, others that weren't so special. I would also like to point out, with regard to all the acts on both nights, that the sound was really bad. I think the sound crew was not good (secondary evidence: most of the bands yelled for changes to their settings more than once, like "could you turn up this guitar?"), which also impacted some of the panels that were in that main hall too. Anyway, all the bands were too loud so that their sound was really distorted (okay, it's too loud, so therefore I am in fact too old, I totally acknowledge it... but it's not like the music was too evil for me, I wanted to hear it clearly is all! Wow, speaking of me being old, at one point I accidentally called them "The Freezepops", a real 'internets' moment).

And last but opposite of least, was the musical act we came to PAX for! Jonathan Coulton performed live, and thanks to being on an acoustic guitar, he was not loud and distorted and was just awesome. He rick-rolled the audience at one point, which went over very well (and we heard about 1/3 of the Rick Astley song as he refused to relent), and for Still Alive, he brought out Felicia Day to perform with him! That's what is pictured, and besides being a really bad picture to begin with, it's also a picture of a video monitor. A direct picture of the stars from where we were sitting would've made them 3 pixels tall. He came out for two encores, one of which was of course Re: Your Brains, with the entire audience acting as zombies. One of the cooler things he did was to play Flickr, which is a song that just describes a random series of pictures he found on Flickr, while showing the pictures it describes on screen. It was cool to see them at last and see how they differed from the mental image. When he was going to play Mandelbrot Set, he yelled out "So who likes math?" and got an overwhelming cheer that was just... yikes.

So, that was our first day of PAX. We got out of that concert at around 1:30AM, which is infinitely past our usual bedtime, stumbled off to bed with our ears ringing, and woke up bright and early for Day 2. Tiredness was a major theme of the whole convention, in fact. Stay tuned to see how *I* am a rock star myself!
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  PAX Day 0 10:20 PM -- Mon September 1, 2008  

It's going to take quite some length to recount all the intricacies of PAX, so prepare for it over multiple days. Right now, I'm just going to give you the basics of how PAX works (it's pretty awesome!), and tomorrow I'll cover Day 1, then 2, then 3.

There are, to my mind, five main elements to PAX:

The Exhibits
This is your standard expo-type area, where different vendors have booths set up and give out swag and want you to check out their products. You could go in there whenever and just see what was around. There was also a spot in front of the exhibit hall where the performing bands would sign things, and Wil Wheaton too, despite him not being a band.
The Panels
There were a whole bunch of different panels, talks, and events scheduled at certain times, and you could go to those. You mostly didn't have to wait in line for these, you just show up a little bit before they start and have a seat. These ranged from technical talks about advertising and politics (as they apply to games), to fun stuff like watching people compete in Jenga.
The Big Events
These are really the same as the panels, but they are monster events in the main theater, and you definitely do need to line up for them in advance. These include the Penny Arcade Q&As, and a couple other big things, like the Family Feud game which was quite entertaining.
There were game tournaments of many different popular things. We completely ignored this element, although one time we saw a massive line that stretched all the way through the building, probably 500 people, and were afraid it was for whatever panel we were going to. It turned out to be for the Smash Brothers Brawl tournament, which is just weird to me. These people were missing the entire day (or more?) of PAX just to play a little Brawl! I suppose there were probably prizes involved. But crazy.
On Friday and Saturday night, there were a series of concerts by geeky bands. You definitely needed to do serious lining up for these if you didn't have a wristband. I almost lumped them into The Big Events, but I couldn't do it. They are separate.

We had made up a chart of the things we wanted to attend (which always overlapped other things we wanted), and had it mapped out to where there was literally a half hour of free time on Friday, another half hour on Saturday, and one hour on Sunday. The rest was booked solid. As you will see, we were not remotely able to stick to this schedule, and in fact went to very few things at all. We just didn't count on needing to be at things half an hour early, and some things just having huge lines and all of that. Next year, we will be a lot less ambitious in our planning.

Whenever we did have to line up, it was pretty nice. The lines were about 10 feet wide, roped off, so there was lots of room to sit down, or sometimes lay down, and just hang out. And there were always interesting things to look at. One constant throughout the weekend is that about 80% of the attendees have Nintendo DSes, and so there is tons of Pictochat going (a built-in chatting/drawing program on the DS, which connects wirelessly to all nearby DSes). It couldn't handle the huge numbers of people, though, and it would lag and have all kinds of weird problems. But it was fun to see. And by the way - PAX is not remotely family-friendly. It's extremely friendly, I should point out, extremely, but about as vulgar as a drunken sailor who hammered his thumb on accident. Pictochat was the epitome of that vulgarity, and that's about all the details I'll give on that. I enjoy vulgarity, so it was fun. Anyway, I was talking about lines, and we'd often have to be in line for an hour or more for various things, but it was not bad. It still felt pretty fun even then.

And by the way, you all lose the betting pool. Except for important occasions like not blocking people behind us at panels (and sleeping), the hats stayed on the whole weekend!
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