Welcome to the Busy Gamer Guide to Penny Arcade Expo (PAX). Although we are completely unaffiliated with PAX, we feel that the large amounts of time and dough we've put into every single one qualifies us to share our opinions and guidance. Meydenbauer 2004 peeps – holla!
Seriously, we've been at this rodeo SEVEN times before, plus we live in Seattle. So trust us when we say... no one can give you all the info you need. But we can give you enough to help you make the most of your opportunities.
But first you have some decisions to make.
Start a mission
To enter PAX, you must possess a pass or ticket. Alas, if you waited this long, you're pretty much out of luck since all badges are SOLD OUT. There is a new hope, however. The PAX team NPCs have established an optional quest, “Sell your badge the legit way,” online. Visit the online forums to sell and/or attempt to purchase a badge. Avoid the rogue traders who lurk outside PAX – there is a healthy counterfeit business happening these days, and that is no joke.
You can also bookmark PAXSITE.com and try again next year at PAX East in Boston in the spring or PAX Prime in Seattle next fall. (You might get lucky winning a badge on Twitter but the odds are against you.)
If you pre-ordered a pass, it should have arrived in the mail by now. (If you haven't received it, contact email@example.com.) Report to the mission start point (Washington State Convention & Trade Center or the main theater at Benaroya Hall) on Aug. 26 with your badge.
Peruse the schedule and decide which quest lines interest you. There are core gamer, casual gamer, MMO gamer, tabletop gamer, game industry wannabe and geek culture quest lines. In addition, some players simply pack up their gaming PCs and spend the whole event leveling up on "Multiplayer LAN Party." The choice is yours, though it is a good idea to enter with a game plan.
Choose an alignment
PAX 2007: Wil Wheaton says,
'Don't be a dick!'
PAX is a real-time, real-world, free-will game that permits you to choose either a positive or negative alignment. Like other alignment-based games, choosing the negative alignment ("Dick") may result in visible physical changes (Quest lines: "Black Eye," "Bruises," "Broken Bones") that will remain with you for the entire game. It is also more likely to result in early resolution of the main quest (Quest line: "Thrown Out of PAX by a Burly Yet Amicable Enforcer.")
If you are determined to enhance your negative alignment, select the "Grab a Strange Woman's Ass" quest line. Yes, this actually happens but will most likely result in immediate facial enhancement (Quest line: "Boyfriend Beat Down") and abruptly end your main quest.
PAX 2008: Girls at PAX - look but don't touch!
Selecting a positive alignment offers the opportunity to acquire loot ("SWAG"), expand your guild, get invited to parties and generally enhance your overall PAX experience.
As legendary guest speaker and leveled-up PAX attendee Wil Wheaton says, "Don't be a dick." (If you don't know who Wil is, then your first quest line has already begun!. Also look up founders Jerry Holkins (aka Tycho) and Mike Krahulik (Gabe) plus bonus points for knowing musicians Jonathan Coulton and MC Frontalot - you will hear their names A LOT at PAX.
Tips for enhancing your positive alignment:
- Respect the lines: Yes, you've been waiting forever. So have we.
- If someone asks you to save their place, do so. Eventually, you will need to pee, too.
- If you want to take someone's pic (say, a bodacious cosplayer), ask – she'll probably turn around and smile and everything!
- Don't be a SWAG hog. Or if you must, wait until late on Sunday. Vendors would rather give you multiple key chains and posters than schlep them home.
- Turn your cell phone ringer off. We really don't care which song you chose just for your mom. (If you fail to do this, why not try one of our fun Busy Gamer Podcast ringtones - at least you'll be distinctive!)
- Bathe. Daily. With soap.
- If you plan to attend side-quest “Concert,” take a break mid-afternoon to bathe. Yes, again.
Manage your inventory
Inventory bags will be available during the side quest "Exhibition Hall" (see "Select a quest line" below), but we recommend bringing your own inventory bag to the main quest - ideally one that is large and heavily reinforced. Backpacks are popular. The following items should be in your inventory slots before beginning a quest:
- (I'm just sayin') Purell. At PAX Prime 2009, we geeks at PAX were introduced to infectious diseases, namely the H1N1 virus (aka "swine flu"). Bring a bottle of hand sanitizer and use it before and after every gaming session that requires you to touch something or someone - basically, everything except for Kinect games! If someone you meet doesn't want to shake hands with you, they're not being rude - just prudent. Perhaps now would be a good time to devise your own cunning salute!
- Map. You will be provided with a mission map (aka program/schedule) at the beginning of the main quest. Retain this in your inventory at all times. Some venues have been added, notably the Main Theater is now The Paramount Theater for keynotes and other big sessions and the Pegasus and Kraken theaters are at the Sheraton. Search your smartphone app store for "PAX" to find apps with maps, exhibitor info and schedule (there's one for the iPhone you can get download free right now).
- Nintendo DS, PSP, iPhone or other portable gaming device. Because you'll be standing in line. A lot. And you might find a buddy to play an ad hoc multiplayer game with. Side note: If you have an iPhone, don't count on AT&T 3G. In fact, you may want to set it to airplane mode so your battery isn't sucked down in the first hour. Make sure to bring charging cables and backup batteries. There are places you can plug in to restore your juice.
- Bottled water and snacks. Buy ahead of time and bring them with you, either at a local store or Starbucks. It will still cost less than at the Convention Center. (Tip: There is a little used Starbucks a few blocks away in Pacific Place. Enter at ground level off of 6th Avenue. It will be less crowded than the more obvious one up the street.)
- Cash. Yes, many merchants will accept your credit. Some will not. To avoid the side mission "ATM hunt," bring sufficient gold with you to cover incidentals and acquisitions. You will want to buy stuff, so set a budget and expect to bust it.
- Camera. Photo ops abound. People in outlandish costumes, Internet celebrities, games that haven't been released yet, items you can't afford to buy but want to remember longingly.
- Cell phone. If you have texting (more reliable than Twitter or any other 3G-dependent app if you have AT&T service), use it to communicate with friends. You won't be able to hear them on the floor, and you will have your quest ended if you take a call during a session. If you don't text, you can try to use Facebook, Twitter or phone messages to communicate - word is that only AT&T's 3G network is traditionally taken down (try turning of 3G to save battery and access Edge!). If you have another service provider you may be OK. Also, you will rarely be able to hear your phone during side quest "Exhibition Hall."
- Costumes (optional). While PAX isn't all about the cosplay, there is a lot of it about and you're welcome to join in the fun! GrrlGotGame attended in costume last year. If this topic interests you, you may want to take this side quest for some tips and techniques: Operation Little Sister. You can also find the Operation Little Sister audio diaries in our Best of Busy Gamer Podcast.
Select a quest line
PAX offers a variety of quest lines to meet every interest and need. Experienced players know that planning what you want to see and do is just the beginning. There are several factors to consider, including locations, timing and event popularity. Some events will require long wait times: Evaluate your situation on an ongoing basis, and adjust accordingly. A willingness to adapt and, in some cases, abandon a quest line will help you reduce frustration and increase satisfaction with your overall main quest progress.
PAX 2009: There will be lines!
Tips for new players:
- Review the panel descriptions online well in advance. Choose your must-sees and make a note of where and when they are scheduled. You may have to leave one quest (session) early to make it to another one on time!
- Certain quests are guaranteed to fill up. So if you wish to add the keynote, Penny Arcade, Wil Wheaton, Rooster Teeth (Red vs. Blue) or major developer sessions such as Bungie or Harmonix to your quest line, arrive early and get in line. This is no longer a small event where admittance to anything you might want to do is even remotely guaranteed. You will have to make sacrifices, so prioritize your quests before you arrive!
- No more wristbands for concerts. You just need to get in line early, probably 90 minutes or more before the scheduled start!
- Save a couple of hours to complete side quest "Exhibition Hall." Part sales floor, part game demo, all fun. Lots to see and buy ranging from developers you've never heard of to the Big Three – many of whom will let you play a game if you're willing to wait. This is also where you'll find the most loot. As a bonus, old school games can be found in remote corners by players willing to explore.
NEWBIE TIP: Feeling overwhelmed? Pick 3 things that you really want to do that aren't too close together on the time schedule. You'll probably get to more, but you'll have both achievable objectives and free roam time. Don't worry, you'll have fun!
Attend with a guild
PAX is a social game offering the chance for brief interactions ("Chatting in Line"), party quests ("Meeting up with Friends") and Escort missions ("Insert Own Joke Here"). Attending PAX with one or more members of your guild will enable you to cover more ground and potentially see or at least hear about more sessions. Keep in mind that there is a fine line between clever and obnoxious. To avoid accruing negative alignment points, follow these guidelines during guild quests:
- Don't wait until the last second to join your guild mates. It is acceptable to send a scout ahead of time to get in line – just don't wait until session time to appear. It artificially inflates the line and aggravates those who have been waiting longer.
- Don’t assume you can join your guild mates in the major lines. In the spirit of game leveling, Enforcers now routinely count players in the most popular lines. Once the maximum capacity number is reached, they will close off the corresponding map point (“end of line.”) Guilds are not allowed to save places in these lines. If you are in line, pay careful attention to the gatekeepers (“Enforcers.”) They will keep you apprised of your in-game status.
- Perform biological side quests before getting in line. Note that I personally witnessed a player leave to perform a side quest (“Coffee kicked in”) who was then refused reentry to the Wil Wheaton Queue room.
- When the session leader says the doors are closed, release any saved seats. This can, and will, happen. When you hear that no one else is getting in, assume your friend missed out – and move your inventory bag. (Also, see previous bullet.)
- Don't assume your cell phone will work. You won't be able to hear it ringing on the show floor, and forget about hearing anyone trying to talk to you. Use text-based messages and clearly state when/where/how you will attempt to communicate again. Again, avoid 3G if you use AT&T. (Yeah, we hate them - especially at PAX - but love our iPhones.) PRO TIP: Set a time/location to meet up and check in so you don't have to depend on technology.
- Want to know what people are buzzing about during the show? If you can get to the Internet, point your favorite Twitter client at #PAXPRime. Share your own tips and useful observations there as well! Also, be sure to follow PAX LINES and official_PAX just in case you can access Twitter during the show (or at least when walking between venues and other excursions to regenerate health).
PRO TIP: If you are a single player, you may wish to add a new member to your party during PAX. To increase the odds of a successful speech challenge with another player, we recommend completing the side mission "Shower" on a daily basis.
There are a handful of health stations located throughout the main PAX map. Choices include "Taco Del Mar," "Subway," "Tully's" and "generic exhibition hall pizza" map points. Creative players may select the add-on maps that open up new areas including "Pacific Place," "Westlake Center," "Pike Place Market," "Starbucks," "Ruth's Chris Steak House" and other nearby health restoration points.
PAX 2008: Cosplay is encouraged,
but know when to take a break!"
Cheat codes are available to help unlock map locations quickly and easily. We recommend:
- Urbanspoon for dining recommendations; available as an iPhone app.
- Open Table to make reservations at some of the classier joints; iPhone app also available.
PRO TIP: The Seattle Monorail picks up at "Westlake Center," a few blocks from the main quest area. You can take the Monorail to "Seattle Center," which opens up both a variety of new restaurant map and tourism opportunities: Fast food available in the Seattle Center or, really getting off the main quest line, look up "Belltown" in Urbanspoon. As a bonus, the Monorail ride also opens up an optional and wholly geek-worthy side quest, "EMP/SFM."
2011 ADDENDUM: They are ripping apart the Seattle Center House (where the food lives), and only a few options remain there. Expect longer lines for fewer food options. If you go on Friday or Saturday, exit the Monorail and travel toward the Space Needle. Follow the Space Needle base around until you reach the round driveway (checkpoint: “Valet drop-off.”) From here, walk straight across the street to Fisher Plaza, also known as “the hospital from Grey’s Anatomy.” (Look for the KOMO sign.) Here you will find a small coffee shop, great Greek Food, and the most wonderful cheese shop at which you can procure sandwiches, cheese, gelato and wine.
Don’t rely on old FAQs for guidance
The PAX world has grown exponentially from year one, and continues to grow year to year. Quest locations have changed from previous years. In some cases, quest locations may change during the game. Use the current game guide provided by PAX, check your twitter streams and when all else fails, arrive early to confirm your desired quest is available. Just don’t rely on past game experiences or old FAQs for guidance. There's a good chance they will be wrong.
For example: Many people are now advising questers to arrive early and acquire the “concert bracelet” loot to unlock side quest: "Concert." While this has been true of past PAX games, it is not true this year. This year, the only prerequisite for entering the concert is to get in line early enough to make it into the performance area. And taking a shower. That’s pretty much required, too.
Save your game
It is important to save your game often in order to maintain stamina for late afternoon quests. You may save your game at any time by sitting down and drinking water, vegging out on the array of provided bean bags or returning to your hotel. Stealth save points are available by ducking into sessions. You might accidentally learn something, too.
Complete the main quest
You may choose to end the main quest line at any time. Keep in mind that the game itself expires at approximately 5 p.m. Sunday, when the final session is scheduled to end. The Exhibition Hall quest is likely to end earlier, so get in last minute shopping and looting earlier in the afternoon.
We hope you have found this guide both entertaining and enlightening. There is much to see and do, and no doubt you will find a quest that was not touched upon here. Good luck, have fun and last but not least, don't be a dick.
See you at PAX! We're planning a tweetup and have some cool prizes to giveaway, so follow us if you want to say "Hi" and maybe grab a pin, shirt or maybe even a game!