Pax South: I Didn’t Get Shot
Let’s start this off by saying I am typing this article on a plane with my convention partner and friend-of-the-show Ed, and this flight may literally be the last flight to get the hell out of Dodge before a blizzard hits the east coast. I am currently heading from 70 degree, 0 humidity weather into New York’s (maybe the worlds) shittiest airport during what they are calling a “historic” blizzard. I put historic in quotes because it has not happened yet and maybe we should reserve that term for things after they are historic.
I say all this not because I am a daring conversationalist who has the courage to start a conversation about a gaming convention with the weather, but because it helps to paint a mental picture for you, the reader, about how I wish PAX South was not over and I didn’t have to go home and go back to work.
The con was rather dense with things to see and do, and no one person or even group of people could hope to see even a fraction of it, so I would like to share some of the highlights and lowlights of my trip with you. I think some personal stories will help you really understand what the con was like more than just giving star ratings to events like some people like to do. Let’s start on an up note.
THE GOOD STUFF
People who know me may have just spit up whatever they were drinking when they read this. Fred and Texas have traditionally not been on good terms. I tread on Texas, with gusto. I hate their politics, I hate the braggadocios nature of most of the conversation around Texas, I hate a state with more pride than my own, and that is very important to know because I really have to say I liked San Antonio.
San Antonio was clean, the people were friendly, the food was good and reasonably priced, and they did not have a homeless population problem like some of the cities I have conventioned at, like Indianapolis. A lot of people were concerned when they announced that the event would be in San Antonio and not a city famous for events like Austin, but I think the city turned out to be fairly ideal. There was not one KKK rally and minimal gunshots while I was there, so that is a positive as well. At least it defied my east coast expectations.
I also ventured a bit out of the convention zone while I was there to explore the city a bit. There seems to be a lot to do around town, though not enough public transport options to get there for a city boy like me. Having a friend in the neighborhood with a car, we hit up a few late night punk rock joins to get some drinks Saturday night. Both “The Mix” and “Hi-Tones” had live music, with the star of the night being a band called Big Wood (I think) that did Lounge covers of punk songs and punk covers of lounge songs. I had thought hipster New York had killed punk rock but it turns out it just moved.
The one knock against this place, and it is a knock, is that somewhere in this city, and for all we could tell it could be everywhere in this city, is a constant train whistle. Factories that test train whistles blow them less than we heard around the city. Are people just constantly running in front of trains in San Antonio? Most of the natives did not notice the noise so we just assume they were dead to it but it did get to the point where ever time a train whistle blew in the city it was like another line in a very long “The Aristocrats” joke.
Food around the convention center was good and plentiful, so unless you really could not step out of the hall for whatever reason you did not have to eat the poison they serve at convention hall catering stations, and the stuff in the center was literally poison from what people who ate the mini pizza were telling me. Just outside the convection center you have the river walk, which was nice enough for people who don’t have convention events to get to, but it also lead to the mall food court, several steak houses, and a few Italian places.
We were staying south of the event, about a mile away, and along the walk there were several great looking places to eat including a Belgium frites restaurant that was opened late, Alamo Eat Street which was a small outdoor beer garden (they call it an ice house there) with several food truck options, and a small tea house called Mad Hatters that we went to almost every day for breakfast.
In keeping with show tradition, we also had a steak night at Ruth’s Chris which is basically attached to the convention hall. Had a fantastic steak which I did not expect for a chain restaurant. Our waiter turned out to be a gamer and started talking to us about Hearthstone and Magic near the end of the meal, only for me to run into him on day three at a Magic draft. Turns out Ed and I convinced him to go for Sundays events, so that felt really good.
I mean what the hell? How did it come to this? I don’t wear pins, nor do I think I would even want to wear 99% of the Penny Arcade ones. I also don’t like the idea of dedicating time out of my con to try and scavenger hunt for things, so why would I pin trade?
I got involved with trading because of Ed. He has been doing it for a few events now and really likes it, so I said what the hell and gave it a shot, I was going to help him out with his collection in any event. Add to that the fact that this year I happened to make my own pin that I wanted to give away as a promotional item for the site, and what better way to get it into the hands of not only pin traders but the Penny Arcade staff than to hit up the pin trading event.
What I thought about pin trading prior to going into it is that people are really in it to try and up-trade pins for value, so they could resell them on eBay later on, and to some extent that is true because no one can ignore the price tag some of these pins carry. What I didn’t expect to find was that the pins were a complete McGuffin, and in reality is just a common interest for a small sub-sect of an already niche community to rally around.
The pin trading group is not about the pins so much as it is about the act of collecting together and going to the trading events. They know each other from the forums or from independent pin trading sites. Some know each other by name, some only by screen name. It was nice to see a communal event like this happening at a gaming con, where so much of the interactions are locked away behind a screen, and while I do not think I will ever be a true collector, I can tell you that I will attempt to attend more pin events in the future.
I had never heard of this company before, but from the second you walked up to the booth you just knew it was going to be awesome. They had something to the tune of nine games on display, most of them fast paced pixel art co-op games. Think Tower Fall or Nidhogg. Everyone of them was a fantastic fun time and great for couch coop, but the stand outs to me were certainly “No Time To Explain” and “SpeedRunners.” I will be getting them and I recommend you do so as well.
If you did not see their booth in person or play any of their titles, I would totally recommend checking them out at http://tinybuild.com/
THE BAD STUFF
I have written about this before and still it does not change. The concerts suck now, I didn’t even think about going this year. Can we stop pigeon holding our self to “nerd music” and limiting our listening palette and actually expand what we bring in to the show? The bands don’t have to all play covers of the theme to Double Dragon for them to be of interest to the audience, we are a more diverse group than that. That part of Texas is home to a ton of local artists, how bout we bring them in? I’ll straight up tell you the silly cover band we saw at the local dive bar Saturday night was not only a better show than whatever PAX had, they would have done great if they played at the show. I think PAX needs to hire a new music booking agent and I have held that belief for a few years now.
Also, the big hall was huge and absolutely great for presentations but stadium seating can fuck right off for a live music event. Anamanaguchi showed us at PAX East ’14 that the concerts could get new life and that people will move if you let them.
It breaks my heart to admit it but Magic was an absolute shit show this year. Events fired late if at all. Prize payouts were bad. The prize wall had a ton of stuff “for sale” that not even a group of people were going to be able to get, let alone a rando like me, and the computer seemed to be consistently down which did not help.
Worst of all though was the only way to get the limited edition Ugin Pinny-Arcade Pin was to actually participate in events to win tickets. Most of the pin collectors had no interest in playing Magic, so what you had were a ton of events where people would sign up and collect their winnings and then just drop out in the first round once they got participation tickets, which screws up the event for people who actually want to play and learn the game, or even worse join an event without participation prizes and screw the whole thing up because they didn’t know how to play and then receive no tickets at all towards the pin and feel like an ass who just wasted time and money.
Wizards of the Coast needs to up their game for these events. I am hoping this one is just a fluke as they normally have a good track record.
This convention is about six weeks removed from PAX East. That is too god damn close. I believe it has closer calendar proximity to east than any of the other PAXes have to any other, fucking fix it.
Also, and this is not something I knew going into this, but the convention was also at the same time as Magfest over in Maryland. I have never been to a Magfest, I don’t think I had ever even heard about it before this week, and it does not look like the kind of convention I would want to go to. That being said, I don’t think it would be inaccurate to say it looks like the kind of event that would have some cross-over with the PAX South crowd. Penny Arcade has in the past been very good about this, and even when they overlap other cons they admit it and try to help those cons out, like Anime East in Boston, but this one seemed somehow worse because of this post.
The Guild Wars 2 “Panel”
We were somehow lured into this presentation with a flyer and the promise of “awesome” new news from ArenaNet, that we were assured would be of interest to us even though we don’t pay Guild Wars. That was a lie. A dirty, dirty lie.
What we did see at this presentation was the equivalent of a very insular video game pep rally cross bred with what I imagine a Scientology convention to be like. There were noise makers, self-aggrandizing congratulatory marketing speak, and a lot of old nonsense they were trying to make new again.
“Guild Wars 2 is like no other MMO out there, we have a policy against grinding. Here is all the new stuff you’ll have to earn to keep up with people” – Almost a verbatim quote.
We have gotten to the point where the metagame of the convention is actually trying to figure out ways to game the lines and figure out how to shove everything into your schedule and not die from starvation at the same time.
The lines are now as long a wait as the panels your waiting for. The narrative of the con is what happened to you on the line, what the guy next to you smelled like on the line, who tried to sell you cookies on the line. It’s a lot like Disney, except that at the end of the line you get a 50/50 shot at a disappointing panel instead of Mr. Toads Wild Ride, and you probably get measles from patient zero who you were uncomfortably close to as the enforcers shoved you together. Ok, maybe that is a bit like Disney.
So that is my PAX South experience. I know that the bad elements seem really bad, but honestly I had a ball and would absolutely do it again. For me it’s not a must attend like PAX East is, if only because of East’s proximity to where I live, but I can say without question it should be a must attend for people who live in that part of the world. My flight has been rerouted to Newark so I am going to stop writing now and bang my head against the plane window until one of them gives.