Category: Travelogues, Conventions and Events

PAX Prime 2013: Gaming invades Seattle!

Another year, and another PAX has passed by. I played a bunch of games, met with some people I know, and got to see some of the sights and sounds of Seattle. Thankfully this year I’m not recovering from some nasty post-convention flu, just sleeping a bit more.

Alas, unlike last year, when I went to the Final Fantasy 25th Anniversary event — you can see that blog entry I made of it here — there wasn’t any big outside-of-PAX events that I was aware of.  What I did notice around the Seattle area was a flood of gaming-related entities. From seeing ads for games, to seeing retail stores show their slight understanding of video game culture. So I took a few pictures of them while I was around Seattle.

Most people who were walking to or from the convention center saw this one from the nearest Starbucks. I have to give credit to the sign-maker for making a Ms. Pac-Man reference.

I don’t drink coffee that much, so I didn’t go in and try it. It was probably alright, but when it’s from a Starbucks and there’s about 50 of them within walking distance, it kinda loses the appeal.

A quest… with Mario? I doubt they were referencing Paper Mario or Mario & Luigi

About a block or two down near Pine St had a Timbuk2 clothing store with this Super Mario Bros. reference. Chalk drawings of Mario and Bowser, plus something that resembles the castles of the old game. The other side, which I regrettably didn’t take a picture, had a Question Block on the other side, also talking about quests.

I like how they were trying to shoehorn in RPG references, but since they thought something like Final Fantasy would be too obscure, they went with Mario. Must’ve been a manager’s call. Gotta give the guys credit, even if they got confused which games they wanted to refer to.

Pac-Man here! Pac-Man there! Pac-Man’s EVERYWHERE.

Saw another games-related related thing at a bar a few blocks away from where a Karaoke event sponsored by Destructoid was happening. Surprise, it’s more Pac-Man! Since this was several blocks away from the main convention center, I’m surprised they even bothered to throw a video game reference in, not many people were gonna be heading up this way.

I actually prefer the Strife that’s an FPS, thank you very much.

Even by the Convention Center, video games were all over the place. The Daily Grill, the restaurant next door to the convention, had banners and ads for the MOBA game/DOTA clone Strife. PAX 2013 seemed to be the year of the MOBA as there were about a dozen different kinds of MOBAs being shown off. I bet most of these never took off, especially this one. I’m more a fan of the shooter that’s also called Strife, but that’s just me.

Update 7/15/2020: It turns out the MOBA Strife shut down in late 2018 with no announcement. Meanwhile, the classic FPS Strife eventually got an updated version and seems to be what Google searches lead you to now compared to the old MOBA. I wrote about the FPS Strife in early 2020, which you can check out here.

I also saw ads for Total War: Rome II and Project Diva F: Hatsune Miku on taxis and buses, but sadly I could not get good quality pictures of either. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I missed a few other games-related things in the city to take advantage of PAX happening, but this is what I saw while I was out and about.

I like PAX, it’s a cool convention. It’s too bad it’s being partially ran by two guys who have constant foot-in-mouth syndrome. Hopefully we’ll start seeing other conventions show up in response, I want to make sure my money’s going towards people who aren’t complete dicks.


2020 Update:

This would end up being my final PAX to date. Since I don’t have a lot of money, traveling to Seattle was a rather costly endeavor for me, especially in the last few years I went.

In the years since, both Penny Arcade creators Mike “Gabe” Krahulik and Jerry “Tycho” Holkins would turn out to be massive jerks, with Krahulik saying he felt immense regret for backing down on making T-shirts about Dickwolves, which some people took umbrage to because the original comic was a thinly veiled rape joke.

I bet the convention is still alright in spite of the Penny Arcade involvement, but I honestly can’t say I really miss it. The process to register was rather nerve-wracking for me in the past, and I wasn’t really up for going through the stress-inducing process every year, combined with me having the lack of funds needed.

I wouldn’t mind going back to Seattle again someday, but probably would be for a smaller gaming event, or to just visit friends. Maybe visit Pink Gorilla again, or some of the other mom’n’pop game shops in Seattle.

Alternatively, I’d love to do the common Tourist Garbage and just see all the popular sights and sounds of the city. I feel that’s a necessity if you’re visiting a city. While I did that one day towards the end of one PAX, one day isn’t enough. I figure a week-long excursion of that would be more fun than being around hundreds of sweaty nerds who want to play Dishonored early for a whole weekend.

Experiencing Curiosity and What’s Really Inside the Cube.

I’m gonna be honest, I’ve never played a game by Peter Molyneux. Populous, Black & White, Fable, I’ve never really played any of his work. While I have not played the works of Peter Molyneux, I am familiar with Peter Molyneux, the man with ambitious ideas. The Peter Molyneux filled with lofty expectations for games like Fable, the Peter Molyneux who greenlit a demo for Kinect where people talked to a digital character named Milo. So I’m familiar with the infamy of Peter Molyneux even if I’ve never played a Peter Molyneux game. Until now.

Peter Molyneux, a fascinating man with overly ambitious goals.

Back in November, his newly formed studio 22Cans released an iOS/Android game titled Curiosity – What’s Inside the Cube?. The game was rather simple: it was a giant cube with hundreds of tiny “cubelets.” The goal was to clear these cubelets by touching blocks to reveal the next layer. Tapping the cubelets gave you gold, continuously tapping would give you a gold multiplier, which you could then use to buy things like picks and firecrackers to tap more cubes faster. You got bonuses for clearing cubes on screen, and a bigger bonus for cracking an entire layer.

If this sounds ridiculously simple, it’s because it is. This is what the game looks like, and it’s clearly not a powerful game.

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A random visit to the Wunderland arcade.

Happy Holidays, everyone. Hope your Christmas was full of joy in some form, and that you got whatever you wanted for Christmas. For me, that was a new desk chair, an ION Drum Rocker for Rock Band, and a bunch of games varying from Assassin’s Creed II to Dishonored to Homefront. Oh well, not everything’s a winner. A few of these things I got will come useful in the New Year, I hope.

After posting the Spike TV Video Game Awards article, I really didn’t have much planned for the rest of the year. The Atari Hot Wheels article was a spur-of-the-moment thing I found out from a friend, and I was out yesterday hoping to find some gaming stuff. I found some at an antique shop, but it was pretty overpriced — Super Mario Bros. 3 for $12.50, a complete in box model 2 Sega Genesis for $65, etc — and the thrift stores had nothing that appealed to me that much.

On a bus ride back, I noticed there was an arcade in Milwaukie, not too far from the main offices of Dark Horse Comics that I mentioned in a previous post about video game comic books. So I thought, hey, let’s have a little fun today.

It looks bland outside, but it’s pretty cool inside.

Arcades in the United States are a sad state of affairs these days. Most of the arcades here are more ticket redemption arcades where you push coins down a slot and hope a bunch of coins fall and get loads of tickets. This one here was no exception, I’d say this arcade was 80% coin prizes, 15% arcade stuff imported from Japan and 5% skee-ball. Honestly, I’m not expecting much, this arcade’s been here a long, long time and I’m amazed it’s still around, really. Plus if I really wanted a pure arcade experience with pinball as a bonus, I could just head to Ground Kontrol in downtown Portland, so you take what you get.

My apologies for some of the blurry images here, my phone is not the best quality, that combined with a dimly-lit arcade exacerbates it considerably.

There was a good selection of imported games, which surprised me. No Dance Dance Revolution I’m afraid, but they did have stuff like SEGA Golden Gun.

The name holds true: Your lightgun is a tacky golden pistol. It really sells the game.

This game was nuts, it’s a campy light gun game involving zombies, ballerina monsters, and zombie ninjas. It’s like a successor to House of the Dead, and it was amazing for the small time I played it.

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Checking out the 2012 Portland Retro Gaming Expo.

Last year, after PAX Prime 2011 ended, I found out there was a local retro games convention around Portland called the Portland Retro Gaming Expo. Apparently it had been running for several years, and I was unaware of its existence, so I decided to head over to the event. Despite the small venue – it was at a DoubleTree convention hall not too far from the Lloyd Center mall – I had a blast buying a few games to fulfill my ever-increasing collection.

Cut to 2012, and the Portland Retro Gaming Expo came back for its seventh year. This time, they kicked things into overdrive as they moved facilities to the much larger Oregon Convention Center just off downtown Portland. Though the ticket prices jumped due to the venue change – $20 for a day, $25 for both days – I still expected to have a lot of fun.

The Computer Space cabinet is pretty cool only because it hits that perfect style of the 1960s: round yet angular.

On Saturday, I grabbed a friend along for the ride. He hasn’t played much video games, but did remember messing around with the old Kaypro, Macintoshes and Commodore 64s that some of the vendors had, while occasionally talking about the classic Atari 2600 and NES eras. I’m honestly amazed he was willing to put up with me being an obnoxious nerd about some of the things.

Naturally like any retro games convention, the place had many different vendors selling off all sorts of things: Old computers, Nintendo Power magazines — likely will increase in value since they’re shutting down — NES and SNES game reproductions, Tiger Electronics handhelds, various toys and figures, comic books and other assorted nerdy things. There was an absolute breadth of stuff there. My wallet took a hit during the whole event, which I talk about in another blog post.

The Retrogames Roadshow in action. Pictured from left to right: John Hancock, Steve Lin, “Gamemaster” Howard Phillips, and Chris Kohler.

After me and my friend roamed around the main hall and played a few arcade classics like Galaga, Robotron 2084 and that pinball/arcade hybrid Baby Pac-Man, I walked into the small auditoriums they had for the convention’s events. Chris Kohler (of Wired at the time of this article, now at Kotaku) was doing his Retrogaming Roadshow event. It’s a fairly simple thing: people bring up interesting gaming things and basically seeing if they’re worth anything.

Later during the panel, there was a surprise guest: Howard Phillips, formerly of Nintendo during the NES glory days, now advertising himself under the “Gamemaster Howard” brand. He’s lately been posting stuff on Facebook and other social media sites, showing off most of the old stuff he had from his Nintendo days, such as a promo booklet for the Nintendo AVS — the original name for the NES — back from the 1985 Consumer Electronics Show. Honestly I was not expecting these people to make the trek to Portland, but hey, anything to talk to Chris — and have him recognize me! — and ask him how much my Japanese copy of Hot Shots Golf 2 is. (Turns out it’s worth nothing. Oh well, I only spent $5 on it.)

I still bought a couple of things on Saturday, and bumped into Howard Phillips at the show. I asked him about why we never got the original Super Mario Bros. 2, since it was one of those apocryphal stories that he was the impetus for why the original Super Mario Bros. 2 never made it to the US until years later, and why Nintendo reskinned Doki Doki Panic into the US Super Mario Bros 2. Turns out it wasn’t nearly as clear cut as that. He gave these reasons: “It was too similar to the original, and I hated the poison mushrooms and the wind sections!” It was still neat to talk and hear stories from him about those days, as those aren’t as documented nearly as well.

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PAX Prime 2012: Experiencing the Final Fantasy 25th Anniversary Event.

As I sit here in a Seattle hotel room writing this, day one of PAX Prime 2012 is over. While I met some people, got some swag to shove into my suitcase after the con, and got to enjoy a few panels like the PAX Game Show Night, there was another video game event happening around the same time. Square Enix decided to celebrate Final Fantasy‘s 25th anniversary with a small event about a block or two away away from the Washington State Trade and Convention Center, which is the central PAX Hub. Unlike PAX which required a badge, attendance was available to everyone. I met with a few friends local to the area and hightailed it to the ACT Theatre.

I should post a disclaimer here: My experience with Final Fantasy is pretty much little to nil. Platformers and first-person shooters have always been my preferred genres, and my JRPG experience is pretty limited to about a few games such as Chrono TriggerKingdom Hearts and a few Pokemon games. I did play part of Final Fantasy VI on an emulator a long time ago, but I don’t think that really counts. Despite my inexperience with the famous franchise, I was curious what this little shindig would be about.

It’s like a little fan-gathering of FF nerds meets a club atmosphere. It’s pretty nice.

It was a celebration of Final Fantasy alright, as all the mainline titles were playable on the main stage. None of the Final Fantasy spinoff games were there, just the main 13 games plus Final Fantasy XIII-2 which came out recently as of this post. No spinoff games, so no chances of seeing Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles recreated with four Gamecubes and Game Boy Advances hooked together.

Now, you’re probably asking, “Wait, we didn’t officially get Final Fantasy II, III and V until they came out much later, are they being represented by their American rereleases?” Actually, no. They were the original Famicom and Super Famicom releases of these games.

Hats off to Square Enix for going the extra mile even with this.

I am not at all fluent in Japanese language, so I didn’t attempt to play them. Despite the language barrier, this was an absolute treat to see, as it feels like a combination between both American and Japanese households. Also because I hadn’t really seen a Famicom up this close until now.

At one point some of the TVs were glitching out and some of the older NES and Famicom games weren’t completely working, resulting in one of my friends to yell out “Blow the cartridge!” Even despite how that’s been debunked in the years since, it’s still suggested as a way to fix busted NES games. I seriously hope no one tried that.

While the whole ordeal was more a dedication to the classics, the more recent stuff was being featured, such as a tech demo for the upcoming Final Fantasy XIV. While I was skeptical of the trailer being real time footage — this is Square-Enix after all, once the king of full motion video — it looked pretty nice. I’m not big on MMOs these days, but I bet there will be some people interested.

One last observation: Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2 were feature on the Xbox 360 as opposed to the PlayStation 3, which is weird considering Square-Enix’s dedication to Sony’s platform for so long. Granted, the 360 is more popular over here in the States, so it probably made more sense. there.

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