Highlights from PAX 2009

Thu, September 17, 2009 -- 15:57 UTC
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A rockin' good time

The time has come to talk about the awesome things I experienced at PAX 2009. The convention has been over for more than a week now and I have been back east for about half of that time; owing to the stellar performance of United Airlines, my all-day flight transformed into an overnight red-eyed odyssey with a stopover in SFO*. I have finally recovered. Let me share with you some of the wonders I beheld. Note: this post is all pleasure – in future we may put together a Business Time post talking about the connections etc. that PAX yielded but for now, it’s all about fun.

Geek Chic: Classy Gaming Furniture

As I’ve mentioned before,  I really enjoy pen and paper roleplaying games. I also enjoy board games, card games, … really almost all tabletop games. As I may not have mentioned, I have a fiancée who also sometimes enjoys these things.  She also, however, appreciates a nice-looking home.

Enter Geek Chic. I had the great opportunity to sit down and have a few beers with the folks behind Geek Chic. Robert Gifford, the founder of the company, has a real passion for his work. His angle is that we should treat gaming like we treat more mainstream hobbies. You can play golf with really nice clubs. You should be able to play Pandemic on a really nice table. As soon as we move into an apartment that actually has some space, I hope to give these guys my business.

The only way to play Arkham Horror

The only way to play Arkham Horror

Steel Battalion

Not a lot of people have heard of Steel Battalion. Even fewer have played it. Until PAX, I fell into the latter category. Now, all my dreams have been fulfilled.

Steel Battalion was a mech combat game for the Xbox in the early aughts. What made it truly special was its controller. Unlike other mech games that use mouse and keyboard (and might even support a fancy joystick for the hardcore), Steel Battalion came with its own cockpit setup including (but not limited to):

  • two (2) joysticks, one with a thumbstick on it
  • three (3) pedals (gas, brake, dodge)
  • gear shift
  • windshield wiper control
  • various startup switches
  • eject button complete with plastic shield to prevent accidental use

Note: Failing to press the eject button when your mech is destroyed WILL result in the deletion of your saved game. That’s how Steel Battalion rolls.

It was my dream to play it in college. Sadly, I lacked both the Xbox and the several hundred dollars to buy one and the steel battalion setup.

I am here to report that it was officially worth the wait and would like to thank the kind gentleman who taught me how to destroy everyone else by shooting them with with my railgun from a mile away.

The windshield wiper control is on the lower section of the center panel

The windshield wiper control is one of the wide green buttons on the middle panel. Eject button: sadly obscured by this dude's right forearm.

The TMNT Bus

Here’s a lesson in marketing. First, find something that the members of your target demographic loved as children with a white hot passion. Second, spend thousands of dollars to transform a bus into a shrine to that childhood memory. Third, sit back while the adoring public does your marketing for you.

When I saw the bus pictured below on the PAX exhibition floor, I had to go in. You may not remember the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or their associated merch; some of you are probably too young. As for me, I spent weekends forcing my parents to drive me from store to store, anxiously searching through every rack for the two action figures I didn’t have yet.

This bus was full of those action figures. The ones I slaved over, the ones I spent my hard earned cash on, and the ones my mother secretly stole the weapons from when I wasn’t paying attention. It was a direct line to my childhood. And here I am, now, talking about it. Playing into the marketing trap.

The downside? At the time I had no real clue what product this bus was selling. In fact, until about five minutes ago while researching this post, I thought that it was to publicize the new XBLA remake of Turtles in Time. I am almost reluctant to play into their hands but I suppose it is only right that I tell you the actual marketing target was the new TMNT Smash Up, a Smash Brothers style game due out later this month for Wii. You win this round, Ubisoft.

Cool, but rude

Cool, but rude

Mechaton: The Lego Mech Game

Steel Batallion was not the only awesome mech game I played at PAX. I also played Mechaton, a tabletop mech combat game made by D. Vincent Baker. D. Vincent (a.k.a lumpley), for those who do not know, is the maker of such fine other games as Dogs in the Vineyard which I have mentioned briefly before here, and have discussed at greater length elsewhere.

I will admit that I only played Mechaton for about two turns; I had to leave early in order to make it to the PAX 10 panel. What I played of it, however, was awesome. I controlled three mechs, two of which were pretty, pretty ponies (one with a laser lance, one with artillery), and the third was a small dog I used as a spotter. The rules were fun and surprisingly tight for such a whimsical game. I hope to play it again in the near future.

Crush them now, robo-pony!

Crush them now, robo-pony!

This was not the only awesome stuff from PAX. I got a chance to play StarCraft 2 (zerg v. protoss comp), watch God and Cthulhu duke it out in Scribblenauts, and test drive at least 5 of the PAX 10 (as well as meet many of their creators, who were an awesome bunch). I met a lot of awesome people (see above) and caught up with old friends. I have, however, already gone on for too long and, more importantly, I do not have awesome pictures of these other things.

Final verdict: PAX 2009 was largely completely awesome.

* As it turned out this was not all bad. Because of the layover, I was afforded a rare chance to have dinner with Chris Cornell (of Paper Dino, not Soundgarden). I got a chance to play his upcoming game, which is shaping up to be a lot of fun, and to get his first reactions to FallGuy