Our PAX Schedule

With the Penny Arcade Expo a mere 18 days away, it’s high time we began strategizing. We’ve fairly divided the labor of planning – I’ve been combing through the event schedule to select the panels and concerts I’m most interested in seeing, while Fyre has been constructing a 1:1 replica of the Washington State Trade and Seattle Convention Center for us to practice our speed-runs through.

How’s that coming, BTW? (will you settle for 1:32 scale? -FH)

At any rate, this is the list of events I’m at least somewhat curious to see, as culled from the list of dozens of possible distractions and entertainments that the good folk of PAX are waving, plattered and fragrant, beneath our noses.

Fyre, questions for you:

  1. Natch, are there any of these panels you want to skip, or did I miss any you want to scope? We’re allowed to split up, of course. I think you covered everything I would want to see.
  2. Are you interested in entering any PC gaming tourneys? We might need to purchase our own copies of the game in question if you are, more research is needed. Playing Left 4 Dead from 7PM to 1 AM sounds fun, but would likely leave me a gibbering wreck.  The only tournament I am interested in was the Omegathon, as I am not in it then I am content with freeplay and BYOC.
  3. Are you interested in spectating the Omegathon? This year we will observe, record, and learn from our future prey’s mistakes… It is important in order to create our training schedule for next year! Later rounds will be better: less flailing, more battle.

Sonic’s Schedule (annotated[doubly so]):

Friday, 10:30am – 11:30am, Unicorn Theatre

Game Design 101

Whether you’re starting out or have years of experience in the industry, every once in a while you have to return to the fundamentals. Game Design 101 will re-examine the basics of game design, exploring what it means to design in today’s industry. We will be looking at the relation between mechanics and narrative, enquiring into the difference between something that is challenging and something that is punishing, and exploring the different types of “fun”.

Panelists Include: James Portnow (Divide by Zero Games), Tom Abernathy (Microsoft), Richard Garfield (Game Designer, Three Donkeys), Jeff Skalski (Executive Producer, Mythic Entertainment, EA)

Sonic: Not super-excited about this, to be honest, as it sounds kinda dry and wonky from this description. I just feel obligated to go to the “how to make games, n00b” panel, based on my stated goals. I’d just as soon get Winona loaded into the BYOC area and get in a few rounds of WaaaGH.

Fyre: I could kind of care less. I will still be sucking down caffeine in a vain attempt to feign concisouness. If this happens while playing DOW II, so much the better.

Friday, 12:00pm – 1:00pm, Unicorn Theatre

Hey Ash, Whatcha Filmin: How to make a moderately successful viral video series that confuses the hell out of people.

“Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin,” while it hasn’t reached the lofty success of Zero Punctuation or the AVGN, still reliably pulls in at least 50,000 viewers every two weeks. Considering viewer feedback varies between total adoration and furious confusion, how does this viral video series stay afloat, and what can it teach aspiring gamer filmmakers? Anthony and Ashly Burch will analyze HAWP’s successes and failures while providing advice that may or may not consist of tidbits like “dress your sister up like Andrew Ryan and film yourself slapping her in the face.”

Panelists Include: Anthony Burch (Features Editor, HAWP co-creator/star Destructoid.com), Ashly Burch (HAWP Co-Creator and Star, Destructoid.com)

Sonic: I like HAWP a lot, and I like listening to Rev Anthony on Podtoid, so I’m keen on this.

Fyre: I want to go to this as I would like to emulate their modest success. Also I want to slap someone in the face!

Friday, 1:00pm-2:00pm, Main Theatre

PAX 2009 Keynote Ron Gilbert

Because PAX is about culture, our keynote speakers are always tough to pick. We don’t have that laser-like focus for the show, so it’s not like some guy with a powerpoint deck that rattles off charts and numbers for an hour is going to cut it. We’ve wanted to get Ron to do our keynote for a while, and even though his resume alone qualifies him in regard to how he has shaped our pastime, it’s who he is today that tells us this keynote will be one to remember.

Sonic: Keynotes are important, right? So we ought to attend, especially if we are pretending to cover the event in any sort of fashion. To be fair, this is the guy that invented Secret of Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion. However, before we get too excited, let us also recall that he also invented the Backyard Sports franchise. Fun fact: the first project I ever worked on in the gaming industry was Backyard Football 2005. This man and I have a score to settle.

Also, if we’re lucky they won’t kick everyone out after the keynote and we’ll have seats for

Fyre: They have a break between all of these, we will need to check if they clear the theatres between talks. I would rather see Gabe and Tycho, no offence to Mr. Keynote up there. If you wanna go I might skip it and you can save me a seat for G&T. Plus getting here after the HAWP talk will be tough.

Friday 2:00pm – 3:00pm, Main Theatre

Penny Arcade Q&A #1

Make sure to get there early for this one, as its one of the most well attended panels of the show. Two mics on stage, two mics in the crowd. Line up for your questions and Gabe and Tycho will do their best to accommodate! And god, please no “who would win in a fight” questions. If you can’t make this particular Q&A, be sure to catch the second Penny Arcade Panel.

Sonic: As far as I’m concerned this is The PAX Panel (yes!!!), and along with the nighttime concerts one of only 2 must-sees for us while we’re there. With any luck, one of us will be brought up on stage and fed to the giant animatronic Antarctic worm thing that they bring out. (Wait, like GWAR?!?!?) If for some unholy reason we can’t get into the Gabe and Tycho show, we can have another go on Sat and console ourselves by visiting the Destructoid jerks:

Friday, 2:30pm – 3:30pm, Raven Theatre

How can we make online gaming communities suck less?

Blogs divided. Fanboy forums. IRC Cliques. Vent Trolls. Twitter jabbing. Ban hammers! Why are we awesome in person and bastards online? Destructoid founders break down the online gamers’ nasty giga-phallus and talk best practices, world peace through technology, and more in an open panel discussion.

Panelists Include: Nick Chester [Moderator] – (Editor in Chief, Destructoid.com), Jim Sterling (Reviews Editor, Destructoid.com), Anthony Burch (Features Editor, Destructoid.com), Chad Concelmo (Associate Editor, Destructoid.com), Niero Gonzalez (Founder, Destructoid.com)

Fyre: Ummm this seems topical but really like preaching to the choir. I envision this more as a tools for dealing with douches, rather than making them suck less. Could be good though.

Friday, 3:30pm – 4:30pm, Serpent Theatre

Prepare to Drop

Join members of the Bungie team for an in-depth look at the soon to be released Halo 3: ODST and discussions around the game’s development. Project leads will guide you through a demo showing off the game’s key features and what makes playing as an ODST different from prior Halo games. Learn how the game went from conception to completion with a small team and a very short development cycle.

Panelists Include: Joseph Staten (Creative Director, Halo 3 : ODST, Bungie), Paul Bertone (Design Director, Halo 3 : ODST, Bungie), Curtis Creamer (Bungie), Brian Jarrard (Community & PR Director, Bungie)

Sonic: This will be utterly swarmed with fanboys, so if we can’t get in I’ll be happy to just eat supper and settle down for a few hours’ gaming and/or shopping. If there’s any reason to make an effort to attend, it’s the infinitesimal hope that ODST voice cast member Nathan “Mal” Fillion might make a surprise appearance.

Fyre: I could give a crap about Halo. If Nathan Fillion is there it’s on like Donkey Kong.

Friday, 7:00pm-8:00pm, Raven Theatre

Designing for Failure: Why Winning Sucks

When Monte Cook came to speak to Bioware in 2008, an interesting discussion ensued. While pondering the weaknesses of both CRPGs and MMOs, I observed that those games don’t do the one thing that makes table-top RPGs so endearing, they don’t allow for failure. In this presentation, I’ll discuss the benefits of failure from both a behavioral and game play perspective. I’ll cover past games that have, in some form or other, allowed the player to fail without resorting to a reboot of the game, then point out why failing but later succeeding is a far better reward mechanic than just allowing the player to win.

Presented by Jason Booth (Senior Technical Designer, BioWare)

Sonic: Whee, BioWare. It sounds like this is more of a story/dramatic theory panel than a gameplay panel, i.e. it’s more dramatic when you have Empire Strikes Back in the middle of the trilogy to make things seem dangerous and hopeless before the good guys win. It’s been said before that in the post-arcade era quarter-munching concept such as lives and even Game Over screens are relics that should be done away with in search of a more holistic game experience. I think this could be an interesting contrast with the later panel by the GeekNights people on Saturday with a similar theme. (Fyre: I am very interested in this hearing what they mean by winning and losing and what suggestions for other categorizations of experience they can come up with) Sadly, it butts right up against

Friday, 7:30pm-8:30pm, Main Theatre

LIVE ON-STAGE DEMO – Assassins Creed®II and Splinter Cell Conviction

Exclusive footage and insights behind two of this year’s most highly anticipated titles, LIVE on stage at PAX. Don’t miss out on two special guest speakers from the acclaimed Ubisoft Montreal Studios here to share insider secrets into these blockbuster titles. You won’t be disappointed!

Sonic: Something tells me this is where Fyre will be, at least between 7:30 and 8 PM. Oh, right, my brain. My brain is telling me this.

Fyre: Your brain and my fist! Seriously I don’t know how much I want to see this. I am sold, I will be getting the game no one has to convince me. So what’s the point of seeing content that may or may not be in the game only to be disappointed later? But yeah, if we can’t get into the other one or it sucks we can try to hit this.

Friday, 7:30pm – 8:30pm, Wolfman Theatre

Fanboy Stigmata

Fangirls and boys, unite! Then suck it up and stop acting like fanboys — there’s work to do. Listen as we relay the decade-long sorrows and triumphs of a scrappy fanbase. Cackle at the futility of petitions, boycotts, and nerd rage; bask in the warming glow of community and the zen doctrine of “screw this we’ll do it ourselves”. Enter as a fan; leave as a warrior trapped in the doughy and misshapen body of a fan.

Panelists include: Reid Young (Owner, Fangamer), Brian Jaworski (Staffer, Starmen.Net), Jon Kay (Designer, Fangamer), Kevin Williams (Administrator, Starmen.Net Forums)

Sonic: Interesting. Tell me more of this DIY ethic. I’m curious to see what exactly these people want fans to do. Make our own games? Build our own communities? Buy stock in Activision? It’s a weird call to action that doesn’t describe the action being called for, but I guess that’s how they get you to attend the panel. Might be an interesting late pop-in if the Ubi panel turns out to suck.

Fyre: Ummm, the answer is to stop being a fanboy and get a life? This just seems like a circlejerk for Firefly fans to tell everyone else how they were this close to saving the series. What it really is is producers telling their base if they want content to make it for themselves (and in the meantime increase the value of the product at no cost and with no liability to themselves for the fan-created content). This is for the people spending years of their lives trying to fix LucasArts games to be how they should have been.  Here’s a tip, don’t buy shit, no matter how much you loved product X as a kid. Reward companies who put out good product to begin with and maintain it and treat you with respect rather than as a guileless piggybank who will suck down any old swill as long as it has the right branding. Gah!

Also: Serpent? Raven? Wolfman? Are these the official names of the theater space in the convention center, or some manner of macho-nerd call signs selected by the PAX folks?

Friday, 9:30pm – 1:30am, Main Theatre

Friday Night Concerts!

Break out your cell phone and handheld gaming screens to welcome Anamanaguchi, Metroid Metal, and MCfrontalot for one night of our Nerdcore Concert Series. The first 4,000 attendees at PAX Friday afternoon will receive wristbands for guaranteed entry, with the remaining seats being distributed on a first-come. first-served basis.

Sonic: Nuff said. This is the only reason I’d consider arriving early to stand in line for the front doors of the con.

Fyre: Hells to the Yes.

Saturday, 10:30am – 11:30am, Wolfman Theatre

Losing Should be Fun

Winning is good, and losing is bad. We strive to win, and this is the basis for most of the games we play. Challenges are binary: we either overcome them, advancing the story, or fail, and must try again. But, what if we were to toss this conventional wisdom aside? What kinds of games would arise if we strove to make losing, instead of winning, the point?

Panelists include: Brandon “Rym” DeCoster (Host, GeekNights), Scott Rubin (Co-Host, GeekNights)

Sonic: Um, if losing is winning, aren’t you still trying to win? I’ll go, again, just to find out WTF these people are talking about.

Fyre: Same theme as one of the Friday talks. If I am awake and done with training I will come with you, me and my triple Mocha, non-fat, no whip.

Saturday, 1:00pm – 2:30pm, Main Theatre

Penny Arcade Makes a Strip!

Ever wonder what goes into making a Penny Arcade comic? Join Gabe and Tycho in the main theatre, and take part in creating Monday’s hilarious comic.

Sonic: More time with our dark lords. If we can’t get in, I’d be willing to consider seeing

Fyre: We hail you! our half illustrated dark lords!

Saturday, 1:00pm – 2:00pm, Serpent Theatre

Medium is the Massage: Story Matters

This panel will discuss how storytelling can affect and improve upon game design and gameplay. The audience will come away understanding how important story is to gameplay and how technology and interactivity can be leverage to effectively, or ineffectively, tell a story in a way that propels the gameplay and game forward in an interesting way.

Panelists Include: Denis Dyack (President, Silicon Knights), Joseph Staten (Bungie, Creative Director), Tim Schaefer (Founder, Double Fine) Adam Sessler, (editor-in-chief, G4)

Sonic: With any luck Dyack will have some sort of Too-Human-related meltdown on stage.

Fyre: That’s all you, I’ll be whupping ass and taking names in BYOC.

Saturday, 3:30pm – 4:30pm, Main Theatre

Star Wars: The Old Republic live demonstration

On Saturday at 3pm in the Main Theatre BioWare and LucasArts will present the first-ever live public demo of The Old Republic in the United States. Make sure to get in line early because there will be exclusives galore for attendees only.

Sonic: I like Star Wars, MMOs, and exclusives. Gimme!

Fyre: Lucas in all its incarnations can suck it (can you get me swag?)

Saturday, 6:00pm – 7:00pm, Main Theatre


You, us, Saturday evening at 6pm. Let’s be honest, you don’t have a date so just come to our panel and we can all be sad together. Just replace the word sad with the word drunk.

Sonic: What could be better than taking a group of very silly, nerdy people and giving them microphones, booze and a like-minded audience? Short of the Gabe + Tycho panels, probably the closest in my mind to “what PAX is about”.

Fyre: can we get our drank on? and you are my date, kind of, strangely, only in  a platonic sense…….

Saturday, 6:00pm – 7:00pm, Unicorn Theatre

Sex in Videogames: A comparative Study

Sex. It’s everywhere in American pop culture. Music? Since the 50’s. Film? Since 1908. Television? There’s a reason its called the boob tube. So why is sex in videogames considered so scandalous in America? Meanwhile, in Japan consoles such as the PC-FX, Dreamcast and 3DO owed much of their success to sex. Even the Super Famicom garnered a series of S&M games. Pink Gorilla and its panel of experts (including the return of President Kondou from Japan!) explore the the cultural differences between the United States and Japan when it comes to sex in videogames. This sexploration will include a comparative survey of the history of sex in videogames and its influence on the industry over the last 25 years. Sex…videogames…Pink Gorilla….and PAX! Does it get any better than that? Seriously.

Presented by: Nathan Paine [Owner, Pink Gorilla]

Sonic: Sex in videogames is scandalous because 1) videogames are seen as a product meant for children and childlike people and 2) because it’s usually done in a really puerile and childish fashion. Also, sex in other media is either hidden in metaphor and insinuation or it also becomes the target of controversy and complaint (*cough2LiveCrewcough*), so your premise is flawed. Easy. Panel over. I will still go, in hopes that they give out dirty Japanese comic books to attendees.

Fyre: This could be awesome. I’m sure my feminist brain will have a short circuit at something, my head will explode and everyone will be entertained as I twitch on the floor in a hentai-game-insipired grand mal.

Saturday, 8:30pm – 9:30pm, Raven Theatre

The Brodeo Reunion “LIVE!” at PAX ’09

The first weekly podcast of CGW/GFW Radio (or The Brodeo, as fans came to call the podcast) debuted on February 16, 2006 as part of the 1UP Radio Network on 1UP.com. Over the course of its two-and-a-half year run, the weekly podcast’s format changed from a concise 30-minute roundtable focusing solely on PC games to a meandering bull session about the magazine business, griefing, Internet culture, comics, and PC games. The cast frequently took every opportunity to follow tangents far away from proposed topics – a trend that afforded followers a great number of laughs as well as a look at the preferences and personalities of each cast member. Today, people from around the world still listen to and enjoy the podcast, even though a new episode has not been released since September 17, 2008.”

Panelists Include: Jeff Green (EA), Shawn Elliot (2K Boston), Sean Molloy (Former CCG/GFW Editor), Ryan Scott (GameSpy and Geekbox.net), Robert Ashley (alifewellwasted.com)

Sonic: I actually used to listen to this podcast; listening to its long slow decline from house podcast of Computer Gaming World, a magazine so venerable that my Dad read it when he was my age, to bitter gripe-fest featuring an ever-shrinking cast of left-behinders was the closest I’ve come to following a regular soap opera. I’m really curious to see if any of them will physically kill any of the others.

Fyre: I have no idea who these people are.

Saturday, 9:30pm – 1:00am, Main Theatre

Saturday Night Concerts!

We offer not one, but TWO nerdcore-filled nights for your auditory pleasure. Rock out with Freezepop, Paul and Storm, and Jonathan Coulton for our second night of geek concerts. The first 4,000 attendees at PAX on Saturday morning will receive a wristband for guaranteed entry, with the remaining seats being given away on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Sonic: And while I’m pretty excited to see MC Frontalot, I will explode if I don’t see Jonathon Coulton. So we are trying for both concerts.

Fyre: Again, we are in accord.

Sunday, 10:30am – 11:30am, Unicorn Theatre

The Future of Gaming: You Don’t Know What You’re Going to Get

The success of the Wii, the iPhone, and the rise of social gaming are already turning the entire video game industry on its head. Are you ready? Following up on last year’s standing-room-only talk on how developers really see their gamer audience, Andrew Mayer will explain to you why the next five years in gaming are going to bring massive changes to the industry, including what games we play, where we play them, and how we play. He’ll also take a look at the big issues: Is this really the last console generation? Why are your favorite developers already making games for Facebook and the iPhone? And he’ll show you how you’ll end up paying more to play your favorite games once everything is free. In this fast and furious look at the near future, Andrew will cover where things are going, how we’re going to get there, and what that’s going to mean to you as a gamer, whether you like it or not.

Presented By: Andrew Mayer (Social Gaming and User Experience Consultant, MediaShifter)

Sonic: At first I thought this was the “Don’t’ Taze Me Bro” guy, and got excited. Sadly, it’s just the designer of Petz. Still, an interesting topic to attend if his past presentations are any indication.

Fyre: As long as there are PC games, I will be a PC gamer. That being said, could be interesting.

Sunday, 11:30am – 12:30pm, Raven Theatre

Dawn of War II: Last Stand – Discover a game mode where it’s fun to lose.

To date, Dawn of War II’s core offerings have been its epic progression-based Campaign and fast-paced multiplayer that let you get straight to the action. In this panel, Relic developers will unveil a brand new game mode called The Last Stand that will expand the game to include co-operative based arcade gameplay. We will discuss the design intent and some of the obstacles we overcame while developing The Last Stand as well as the gameplay mechanics we used to ensure no one ever feels like a loser.

Sonic: Duh. I’ll have more to say on Last Stand later.

Fyre: Does the Pope shit in the woods?

Sunday, 12:30pm – 1:30pm, Main Theatre

The Second Penny Arcade Panel!

For their return tour of PAX 2009 they’re back for another Q&A! Live! On stage! Like never before! Except for that time on Friday! Line up for your questions and they’ll do their best to answer them. Anyone who starts with “who would win in a fight…” will be escorted out of the main theatre.

Sonic: Yeah. So there’s like 10,000 people going; how many can fit into one of these Main Theatre panels, exactly?

Fyre: Even if we make the previsou PA panel, we will try to make this one as well.

Sunday, 1:00pm – 2:00pm, Serpent Theatre

Murder, Sex & Drugs

Do video games have a cultural imperative to present serious topics seriously? That is the question the panelists will explore as they invite the audience to a discussion of video games, their focus on violent interaction, and their handling of sex, gender identity, and drug use.

Panelists Include: Corvus Elrod [Moderator] – (Narrative Design Consultant, Zakelro Story Studio), N’Gai Croal (Videogame Design Consultant, Hit Detection), Nels Anderson (Programmer, Hothead Games), Deirdra Kiai (Programmer, Hothead Games), Max Battcher (Indie Developer, Worldmaker), Damon Brown (Journalist and Author, Playboy and New York Post), Bonnie Ruberg (Freelance Journalist)

Sonic: I’m hoping to see N’Gai Croal literally climb up into his own ass and disappear. I’m sure he’s a thoughtful game guy and all, and we can use those, but the whole “RE5 is racist” flap was bad enough without him then using his Edge column to turn it into a flap about himself.

Fyre:  I can’t see this being that fun because everyone will be in a hurry to cover their ass. It has the potential to deal with some really good issues of media vs. consumer vs. cultural touchstones, but it won’t unless someone mans up and says “Let’s make fun of this!” That’s why GTA San Andreas was so fun, cuz you just didn’t give a damn.

Sunday, 2:30pm – 3:30pm, Raven Theatre

So you want to be a game designer?

Looking to become a game designer? Or maybe just hone your skills, but don’t know where to turn? Join James Portnow (Divide by Zero Games), Nick Fortugno (Rebel Monkey Studios), Darius Kazemi (Orbus Gameworks) and Stephen Schafer (Digipen) as they debate the education required for a modern game designer. Individual questions will be answered! Mechanics and narrative will be discussed! The virtues of game schools will be debated! The myth of “tightening the graphics on level three” will be debunked! … … … There will be BADGERS!!!!

Panelists Include: James Portnow (CEO, Divide by Zero Games), Nick Fortugno (Rebel Monkey Studios), Darius Kazemi (Orbus Gameworks), Stephen Schafer (Digipen)

Sonic: I do! Sadly, this panel is up against the chance to listen to a real nerd titan, and I’m still unsure of which way I’m going to swing…

Fyre: Wil Wheaton!!!!!!! FTW!

Sunday, 2:30pm – 3:30pm, Serpent Theatre

Wil Wheaton presents: THE AWESOME HOUR!!

Wil Wheaton first came to PAX in 2007, when he gave the keynote address that your parents won’t stop making you listen to in the car. In 2008, he returned for a panel that asked and answered the burning question, “Can Wil Wheaton really be a panel all by himself?” This year, Commodore Wil Wheaton welcomes you aboard the USS AWESOME for 60 minutes of story-telling, lingerie-dodging, mirth-making, myth-making, iconoclasting, and the obligatory burning-questioning … ing.

Presented by Wil Wheaton

Sonic: Holy shit, this sounds so cool. Wil Wheaton has come a long long way from the mole-faced little beanpole who was going to ruin Star Trek; he seems like one of those guys who’s been through the fire and come out tempered instead of burnt.

Fyre: we will witness the Wheaton. No doubt about it.

Sunday, 4:00pm – 5:00pm, Raven Theatre

WTF is the matter with game reviews?

A panel of experienced game reviewers from across the web (Nick Chester from Destructoid, Nick Puleo from Co-Optimus, Phil Kollar from Current Gaming, and Chuck Husemann from GamingNexus) talk about what makes a good review and how to best communicate that opinion. The panel will discuss what goes into a review, how games should be considered in the context of their release, and the value (or lack thereof) of review scores.

Panelists Include: Charles Husemann [Moderator] – (Editor in Chief, GamingNexus), Phillip Kollar (Online Producer, Current Gaming), Nick Chester (Editor in Chief, Destructoid), Nick Puleo (Owner and Managing Editor, Co-optimus)

Sonic: As a game-y person with pretentions to writing and criticism, this seems like a really interesting topic to me.

Fyre: I am very interested in alternate methods of review quantification besides a numerical value and the actual review process. Is there payola involved? and how do publishing deadlines effect how much play can be acheived and what quality of play?
Also, which round of the Omegathon do we want to catch and while I’m not too interested in playing, are there any tourneys we would like to watch the final rounds of?

When do we eat and sleep?

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