A Look at the Penny Arcade Expo 2006

Posted: Mon, 28 Aug 2006 12:02:35 PDT
Penny Arcade Expo 2006

Site of PAX: The Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue, Wa

The Penny Arcade Expo, organized by the authors of the popular Penny Arcade webcomic, Gabe (Jerry Holkins) and Tycho (Mike Krahulik) has been taking place each year since 2004. With over 19,000 attendees to date and a full exhibitor list it is becoming the place to be at the end of summer. ‘PAX’ as the fans like to call it, offers gamers a chance to join tournaments, attend panel discussions, and see the latest games from top developers like Microsoft, Nintendo and Ubisoft. For $45 pre-registration rate (or $50 at the door), gamers from all walks of life are treated to three days of non-stop entertainment, where it’s all about friendly competition and socializing in a community of like-minded ‘geeks’. Being a first-time attendee to this event, I had to see what all the fuss was about.

Opening day of the event included some lengthy line-ups. Wireless gaming was a huge part of PAX, and a Wireless gaming lounge covered most of the first floor. The Nintendo DS and DS Lite along with Sony’s Playstation Portable were the handheld consoles of choice and multi-player games were going on everywhere. It wasn’t hard to see that the Nintendo DS outnumbered Sony’s PSP but the Wireless Tournaments featured at the expo had a good mix of competitions on both consoles.

A Friday night highlight from the show was the concert featuring the amazing video game pianist Martin Leung. Also known as ‘VGP’, Leung is one of the first pianists to be known for playing video game music, and was invited to join the Video Games Live concert in 2005. His amazing piano performance featuring arrangements from Zelda, Mario, and Sonic among others was a delight to all who attended.

The Exhibit Hall was open to all on Day Two of the expo which featured over 10 exhibitors and their latest games on demo for the PAX attendee. Some booths offered small competitions and prize giveaways to garner attention to their booths but the larger booths didn’t have any trouble reeling in people resulting in a few more line-ups to conquer before the day was up.

The Nintendo booth included new demos on display for the Nintendo DS. From games like Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis, Yoshi’s Island 2, and Final Fantasy V, the booth also functioned as a download station for the DS.

With the majority of the attendees sporting this handheld console, downloading the game demos took longer than usual. Each download request was placed in a queue which meant waiting for 9 other people ahead of you to complete their download. Connection problems, forced anyone interested in downloading to stay in the booth’s surrounding area.

Not sure if holding the DS high helped alleviate the connection problems, but that’s what many resorted to doing.

For those interested in buying some video game merchandise, a local import store — Pink Godzilla was conveniently located in the back of the hall and was practically always crowded. Just asking for the prices for certain items took a while but this store definitely had a good sales weekend. Video game plush toys, Video game music CDs, Candy and games were disappearing off the shelves fast.
My sole purchase was a game featured on the recent 1up show — Rhythm Tengoku for the Game Boy Advance.

Industry personalities could also be seen throughout the expo. Other than Penny Arcade creators Gabe and Tycho, Video Game Live’s Tommy Tallarico and Ubisoft’s Fragdolls offered autographs and photos for the excited PAX attendee. If you found yourself feeling overwhelmed by the crowds in the exhibit hall and/or the lineups, it was likely that a rest in the Wireless lounge was the logical choice. Tournaments took place throughout the day, facilitated by Penny Arcade volunteers or “Enforcers” and included Nintendo DS games like Tetris, and Mario kart and the Sony PSP game Lumines. These tournaments proved very popular and due to the high volume of participants many were waitlisted.

I decided to play in the Tetris DS tournament and was surprised at making it to round 4 out of 6 rounds. The competition at PAX is fierce, and there is no room for error. Unfortunately, the games taking place in the Wireless lounge also experienced connection failures and lag during game play which resulted in longer rounds and very unsatisfied people. Saying this, however, there was only one incident of poor sportsmanship during a round when someone disconnected from the multi-player game, causing the whole game to be disrupted before it was over.

Panel discussions took place in the theatre upstairs or the hall right next to the Exhibit hall. PAX attendees were able to learn a little about the industry through panels like “Breaking into the Industry” and “What’s wrong with the Industry and how to fix it”. The Penny Arcade authors Gabe and Tycho also hosted a unique panel where they drew next week’s webcomic and took suggestions from the audience.

Also situated upstairs was the Console and PC Freeplay area where one could easily spend hours playing. There were a number of different games from various game systems, like Guitar Hero on the Playstation 2, or Supersmash Bros. on the Gamecube and even older systems like the Sega Dreamcast. HDTVs were found at each station which consisted of a table and a few surrounding chairs. All you had to do was borrow the game from the front and any peripherals that were needed; a gamer’s perfect set-up. The PC Freeplay area featured an impressive number of PCs and First person shooter games to choose from. And to keep it fair, both areas featured a time limit. This area seemed to have more people than the Wireless lounge but that may be because it was smaller.

1up.com organized a small gathering with others from the 1up community where I was able to meet a few members and contributors in person. SuperJenn and Jeremy were also in attendance at PAX. 1up’s booth was in a great location next to the Exhibit hall entrance doors and received a lot of interest from the crowds.

(from left to right) That_Jon_guy, Cdngrrl & Jen

I’m happy to say that the Penny Arcade Expo proved to be an incredible experience. With so much to see and do, it’s no surprise that it just keeps growing in popularity each year. This expo is truly focused on the gamer and gives them a chance to meet and compete with their fellow gamers. Now that I’ve experienced all PAX has to offer, I join the more than 19,000 fans that look forward to attending PAX 2007.

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