PAX East 2011

PAX East 2011 was held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center on March 11th through 13th. I was only able to attend about half of it though, as I managed to schedule a ski trip with Paul starting on the 12th. I won’t make that mistake again. The PAX East sold out of all 69,500 tickets before the doors opened, which was a small attendance boost from the PAX East 2010 at the beyond capacity Hynes Convention Center. The Boston Convention center is enormous and PAX did not use all the space, so it should have some room to grow in the space. Luckily, for those of us in Boston, the only bigger convention space on this side of the country is in NYC, and the organizers don’t want to hold it in NYC, so it looks like they’ll be forced to stay in Boston for years to come. Although, next year PAX will be held on Easter weekend, so maybe they are having some scheduling issues.

I arrived a little later than I wanted to on Friday morning and proceeded to wait at least half an hour in line for the Keynote address, and it wasn’t even by Will Wheaton this year! Last year I managed to avoid all the lines, so this was a bit sad. The keynote was delivered by Jane McGonigal, who discussed three things of note:

  • How gamers increase overall utility of the population by mining happiness from the games.
  • How to turn tragedy or sickness into a game to enable you to get back on track.
  • How to simulate the expanse of history in a game.

I would argue that gamers may not be increasing overall utility, once you include the despair of overworked game developers, but there are a lot more gamers than game developers, so maybe it does balance out in the end. The simulation of the expanse of history game, is really just minecraft with some special rules: you only get one life, when you die, you must stop playing, and pass the game on to someone else, you can build anything you like except that you’re not allowed to leave signs with text. In this way the world is developed by each player who can only guess as to what the intentions of those who went before were by the artifacts that they left in the game. I thought this idea might actually get me to play minecraft! Paul came up with a nice addition on the Ski trip (post on that eventually): via modification of the game’s server and the use of unique keys (which must not be shared) everyone who went before the current player, could still log into the server in a read only mode and see what has been created. This is sort of a past generations looking down from the heaven’s mod, and it fixes the only big problem I see, which is that going first is kind of lame. See how well it emulates history!

Ok, so beyond the keynote, what else was there at PAX. Well, in the expo hall, at the Asus booth, they had a beast of a computer, case-less, running some kind of crazy graphics demo at over 1000 frames per second. They had a bunch of multimeter temperature sensors in place on the essential components, and they were cooling them by hand by dumping liquid nitrogen from thermuses into the strategic white cups. They claimed if they didn’t keep at the sweet spot of -150 Deg. F the demo would crash, and low and behold, when they screwed up it totally BSODed!

There were lots of board and card games! I did not manage to make it into the Dominion tournament, but I played some Bang and Lost Cities with some people from Long Island. The only other game I remember playing was called We Didn’t Playtest this at All. It was like flux but with even less strategy and even more swigny-ness. I was impressed that there was both an “I Loose” card, which causes the player to loose the game, but also an “iLose” card which causes anyone touching a cell/smart phone or similar device to lose.

The Nvidia booth had a lot of 3D games that were cool to look at, but that I was unable to figure out what to do to actually play or progress in, but there was no line to play Starcraft 2 on this huge screen. I spent 10 minutes beating a computer with a Void Ray rush strategy. The biggest thing I remember is the feeling that I wanted to zoom out. I still haven’t looked up if that is even possible in Starcraft 2, but I didn’t know how to do it for sure.

There were also some excellent cosplays. I suppose an MTG dress isn’t really a cosplay, but I’ll count it. There were a number of Professors Layton running around, but this group, whom I sat with for the keynote was the best; at the very least, he had the tallest hat and was handing out papers with puzzles on them.

I left right from the convention center to catch my flight to Utah to go skiing. I handed off my pass to my friend Jed, and he was immediately offered $40 for it, but he didn’t sell it, cause that would have been awkward. Some more of the best pictures I took at the event below:

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