PAX East 2017

Originally published on Trevor Trove on March 10-13, 2017

Day Zero

The morning started out a bit lethargic. My roommates for this trip and I were a bit slow to wake up, having stayed up late into the night visiting with each other Wednesday night. Reconnecting with friends is always one of the best aspects of these trips and so far, this one has been no different.

But eventually, we finally got up and moving (and by we I mean, myself, Ally Mushka, Frank Bozzani, Kaylie Woomer, and Jonathan “Xyger” Landeros). Ally had plans to go  visit her potential future law school Harvard so we all wished her well as she went on her own adventure. Another friend – Michael Choueiri – showed up to film a quick interview segment with Kaylie for a documentary he’s working on about gaming. Kaylie, embarrassed to “perform” in front of everyone else, was bashfully adamant that we leave. Xyger and Frank went off to meet up with some other friends. I taunted her and continued catching up on Twitter and whatnot, but I was quiet. The two filmed their segment and then we got our stuff together to go join our friends across town.

A short Lyft ride later and we met up with Danny Juarez, Tony Horvath, and Griffin Guccione (whom I recently hung out with in Las Vegas). The had hopped on a red-eye flight and were dismayed to learn that most hotels outside of the Vegas area don’t allow check-in at any time. So they had wandered the city for a few hours that morning before ultimately stopping at the Starbucks where we met them. But Griffin had returned to their hotel to plead with the concierge for a room so they might finally get some sleep. He was successful so the rest of us walked over to meet him.

But now hunger was overwhelming the desire for sleep so Michael (a local) took us on an adventure to the food court at M.I.T. We split up to get our desired food options and sat down together. Again, catching up and reminiscing is just delightful. After lunch we headed back to their hotel, where they were able to get the second of two rooms they had all booked together. And we went upstairs to the room to hang out for a bit, turning on Now You See Me 2…because it wouldn’t be PAX without a crappy movie I guess…

“Unfortunately,” my phone was nearly dead and I had left my charger back in my hotel room so I excused myself and caught a ride back (with the phone indeed dying en route). While it charged up back in the room, I did some writing, and chatted with a couple friends in the digital space. Eventually, my phone had enough juice that I headed over to the Convention Center to pick up my badge, meeting all of the Irrational Passions guys and other friends who had independently made their way over from the hotel. New to the party were my dear friend Alex O’Neill and Logan Wilkinson. We all took a quick picture in front of the PAX East sign and started to head back. With most of them needing to hop a train back to their hotel, Frank and I returned back to our hotel room (with Kaylie and Xyger returning with the IP crew). We would all be meeting back up in a couple hours for a small dinner Alex had put together.

Back at the hotel, Ally had returned so Frank and I got to hear about her time visiting a Constitutional Law class. This is also Ally’s first PAX so we tried to give her a bit of a heads up for what to expect outside of the usual “hanging out with friends.” Eventually, the time came for us to walk back over to dinner and meet up with everyone else.

The three of us arrived first so we went inside and claimed the reserved table, with everyone else joining us a little bit later. Rock Bottom is a nice little pub that many of us visited last year so it was on our list of places to return to and I was delighted Alex had selected it for the dinner. He had spent quite a bit of time gushing about their Mac ‘N Chicken dish while I had fond memories of my Cuban Cristo. We all ordered our food and, again, delighted in each other’s company.

A little ways into our food, Greg Miller showed up and joined us, adding his usual boisterous energy to our proceedings. But given the week Kinda Funny has been having, I think he was also grateful to be around our energy as well. Regardless of our individual stances and opinions on all the drama surrounding the community this week, we represent a faction of the community that goes out of our way to support one another and hang out, traveling across the country to do so. And we wouldn’t have the friendships we’ve formed without Kinda Funny. So I think that was a good thing for Greg to enjoy tonight.

We continued to laugh, joke, and share stories together. I was admittedly a bit quiet, slipping into my observation/listening mode: which was not lost on Greg as he tried to engage me with some lighthearted banter. But I was enjoying watching my friends have these conversations. Alex has clearly been looking for somebody to share the Zelda experiences that he’s been bottling up and Greg was that person so I sat there, enraptured as they discussed their adventures, still trying to respect those around them and avoiding getting too detailed (though I don’t particularly care about spoilers and will have likely forgotten a lot of the details discussed by the time I start playing the game next week).

Eventually, the Irrational Passions guys had to make their way back before the trains stopped running, leaving only a few of us left with Greg. And we briefly touched on the elephant in the room: all of the drama caused by and in response to Colin’s tweets. Greg echoed the sentiments he laid out in the formal response but mostly, I appreciated that he genuinely listened as I expressed my own concerns. There are conversations too big to have in 140 characters and this was one of them. I might eventually try and outline my thoughts on the matter but for the time being, I will say this: Greg Miller is fiercely loyal and I am continually grateful for the kindness, support, and friendship he has bestowed upon me.

Eventually, we all made our way back to our hotel room and I spent the last hour or two writing this up as my roommates visited, caught up on social media, and started drifting off to sleep.

PAX East begins tomorrow.

Day One

Much like PAX South this year, PAX East started off with a busy bang for me. I woke up early, took a quick shower, and slipped out of the room around 8AM while the rest of my room slept.

As a Phoenix native, snow definitely has not been a routine feature in my life. I’ve certainly seen it, though, with memories of my parents taking me up to Flagstaff around the holidays for trips to play in the snow or even a vacation home they had outside Payson that would occasionally get a few inches. But in all of those cases, we were pretty much just arriving to snow already fallen. Today was one of the very view instances I can actually recall walking through snowfall.

I was actually fine with the “cold,” it was just the wind that sucked. The walk was nice though. I really enjoyed the light snowfall we had trickling down over Boston and finding amusement in the tiny piles of snow gathering on my coat and bag. After getting through the security check-in, I headed upstairs to the Media room to meet the guys from Irrational Passions before we all headed down to the show floor for the extra media hour. As the doors opens we did a quick pass around the floor to get a quick sense of our surroundings. The Irrational Passions boys started splitting up and going their separate ways and I broke off to do my own thing.

Up first, I sat down and played Episode Gladiolus, the next bit of Final Fantasy XV DLC. Full impressions on that have already been published on the site if you’re interested. Then I wandered back to see Alex O’Neill and Tony Horvath about to play ARMS. So I stood by and watched them play a couple rounds. With the show floor about to open up, I headed over to the Adult Swim Booth for my first appointment: for the newly announced Kingsway. I’ll do a more thorough write-up on that game later but it’s an early frontrunner for my game of the show, cleverly combining a classic RPG with all the intricacies of a windows-95 era operating system.

After the demo, I walked across the aisle to play Semblance, a small indie puzzle platformer made by a small team out of South Africa. I’ll ultimately throw together a preview for that game and YIIK: A Postmodern RPG, the Earthbound-like game I’ve had my eye on since PSX 2015.

After those, I went up to the media room to crank out the Final Fantasy impressions before heading over to the line for the IGN panel. While waiting in line, I caught up with Michael Martin (former IGN freelancer and current Yahoo eSports Fighting Game Extraordinaire). We visited and shared stories with another IGN fan (I think named Evan) until the panel started letting people in. The Kinda Funny guys were also attending the panel so we sat down right next to them and I got to finally meet Seth Macy, the guy who trained me on IGN’s system as a freelancer. He also has a Patreon devoted to creating pins and brought me one, so I handed off one of mine in exchange.

The IGN panel featured Marty Sliva, Alanah Pearce, Peer Schneider, and Kiersten Slader answering whatever questions the audience laid out for them. Peer playfully threw a couple references Greg’s way, leading him to chime in from the audience. Afterwards, I said some hello’s and gave some hugs or handshakes. I got to see and visit with Paul Grzymkowski (aka Paulogy), who I first met at last year’s PAX East. Always a pleasure catching up with him and his positivity.

From there, I headed over to a panel hosted by Alexa Ray Corriea focusing on the healing power of video games. Brittney Brombacher (aka Blondenerd), Andrea Rene, and Becky Taylor. These four women began the panel by sharing some ways in which gaming has helped them through tough times before opening it up to the other attendees to share their stories. I mostly attended this panel to support some friends but was very quickly emotionally wrought after hearing some of the tragic stories shared. A lot of brave people shared some stories from the darkest days of their lives with a lot of complete strangers. One more reason for me to love video games. Following the panel, I met Harold Price: one of Irrational Passions super fans and visited a bit with Brittney and Alexa.

Then, I made a long and winding trek back to the media room, met up with the Irrational Passions guys, and convinced them to come grab dinner with me. We then walked to a nearby Shake Shack and sat down, discussing the day and enjoying some burgers (or hot dogs) and fries. Despite a couple locations having opened in Phoenix recently, this was my first experience. It was pretty good and much needed sustenance. Bellies full, we headed back to the convention center to get in line for the Kinda Funny panel.

The Kinda Funny panel can be viewed in the Twitch archive. But here’s a brief rundown of the show:

  • Greg opened the panel to shed more light on the drama this week and encouraged the community to also strive to be better.
  • Alex O’Neill was invited onstage for a sort of impromptu Love and Sex Stuff.
  • Greg wore a small, pink Boston shirt.
  • Made a video with the whole audience sharing their love of Joey Noelle.
  • Xyger chugged a Smirnoff Ice.
  • Nick, against all odds, defended the Kinda Funny Nintendo Championship in a challenge of soon-to-be-released game Snake Pass.
  • Everyone in attendance who wanted it, was given the opportunity to sign up for a free copy of the game when it releases on Steam in a couple weeks.

After the panel, Enforcers were able to move us down into one of the queue rooms and we mostly end up mingling for an impromptu meet-and-greet for another hour or so. I had a great conversation with a young video editor Dustin, briefly caught up with Genevieve St. Onge, and hugged the Kinda Funny guys to close out the night.

At this point, some people headed off to a party where Grimecraft was performing, others went out for some food and drinks, and I headed back to the hotel, hoping to get some writing done. Moises Taveras came down to the show just to attend the show today on an impulse so I offered him spot in our hotel room for the night. We watched a bit of Hot Tub Time Machine and then Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episodes. Unfortunately, this kept me distracted and led this very write-up to take a few extra hours to write. On the plus side though, when the rest of the roommates started returning we wound up singing the theme together.

A fun little closing note for a very busy day. Now off to bed for a few hours before starting again tomorrow.

Day Two

After staying up late last night with the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, this morning started off a bit slow. I didn’t have any appointments. Nobody in the room was overly eager to get to the show floor or attend any panels so we all just kind of slept for a bit. I woke up early enough to check Twitter before the show and see if people were heading over. Learning that it was absurdly cold at around 13 degrees Fahrenheit just added to the allure of staying in bed a bit longer.

Eventually, we all started to wake up. People took their showers and got ready. But we ultimately decided to try grabbing food before heading over to the convention (since some of us weren’t exactly great about eating enough food yesterday). So after a lot of hemming and hawing, we just walked to an Irish pub across the street from the hotel (except Kaylie, who stayed in the room under the weather). We were also joined by Jasmine Townsel and her fiance Brian. It being an Irish pub, a few of us tweeted at Amy Gilroy in her honor. Then, we called our rides in order to get out to the convention center (because nobody felt like making that 20-30-minute walk).

At the convention, we first met up with Joe Ruffler working the Superfight booth. He had been cosplaying as Wilfred while working and we were going to try and get a picture. But he had already changed out of it by the time we arrived. From there, we walked around to check out a couple of booths. Amy Gilroy has been insisting some of us check out Super Rude Bear Ressurection. She played it at EGX last year and was swearing by it. So I finally figured out where it was and talked with the developer a bit while playing. I’ll put together full impressions later but the short version is “Super Meat Boy with a bear player-character and a great soundtrack.”

After that, Frank and I headed up to today’s IGN panel about dumb games (but I grabbed some Dippin’ Dots in honor of Joey Noelle on the way. Fellow Kinda Funny friend Dave Martinson caught up with us as we got in line so we visited until we got in to the panel. The panel was a fairly slapdash affair, with Marty Sliva and Alanah Pearce having invited a few guest panelists to join them (including Sean Vanaman from Campo Santo as people were entering the room for the panel). Everyone managed to pull a few stories together but they felt very hit or miss in terms of audience reaction. After the panel, we headed back downstairs in search of the Irrational Passions team. I wanted to give Alex a little something to celebrate him reaching his two-year anniversary of writing about games every day. But I wasn’t able to find them so I just headed back up to the Media room instead to do some writing.

I was putting together my Semblance preview and eventually, the IP guys did indeed show up. So I handed off a couple of Harry Potter pins I had picked up for Alex when I was in Harry Potter land a few weeks back. The guys all did a bit more work as I finished up and the show floor closed. When the Media room itself closed around 7 PM, we decided to head back to our hotels to tide ourselves over until a bunch of us would reconvene at Rock Bottom for some drinks. Everyone else went to the IP hotel while I returned to mine. After dropping off my stuff, I met up with Kaylie, Xyger, Jasmine, and Brian down in the hotel lobby for a bit of pre-game drinking. They’d been there a little while and were already a couple drinks in. I had a couple myself before it was time to head to Rock Bottom.

As often happens with these kinds of meet-ups. There were far more people than anticipated (and than the venue is prepared to accommodate). But they did as best they could, adding tables to our group when the occupied ones nearby vacated. At its peak, I think we were up over 25 people this time out. Many conversations were happening all around the table as, once again, friends from around the country who don’t get to see each other with any regularity get to connect and new people met and shared their PAX stories.

Eventually, the night wound down and we all started going our separate ways before this stupid Daylight Saving was going to rob us of our extra hour. As an Arizona native, I’ve never had to deal with the clocks changing – our time stays the same while the world changes around us. But here we are around 3:30AM and I’m going to call it a night, to prepare for the final day of PAX.

Day Three

The third and final day of PAX.

For me, this morning started off meeting up with my friend Amanda and heading over to the convention center (in an admittedly crappy Uber, where the driver’s license plate didn’t match the app???). But we at least were able to take a bit of the time to catch up and visit on our way to the convention center. Once we arrived, I snapped a quick picture of us and we went our separate ways.

I headed off to the No Clip panel, hosted by Danny O’Dwyer and Jeremy Jayne. They kicked things off by giving everybody silly little party hats to celebrate their 6-month-iversary as a company. They also teased a few of their upcoming documentaries, some of the ideas they’ve got their hearts set on, and even showed a preview of their upcoming series of interviews they held at GDC. Danny’s passion for these projects is undeniable so I would definitely recommend anyone to consider supporting his Patreon for these projects. After the panel, I even stuck around for a bit just to watch Danny interact with his audience. Some of them suggested potential future projects, while others were looking for pictures or the opportunity to thank him for his work and inspiration. I didn’t beg a question myself but it was still quite worthwhile to follow along and witness how he responded to his fan base.

Following this panel, I headed back downstairs to the Expo Hall for the last of my scheduled appointments: with Flipping Death, an indie game coming first to the Switch. I’ll put together a more thorough preview later in the week but I tweeted out that the game has a (surprisingly) dark humor to it (for a Nintendo-esque game) and struck me as sharing traits of a Double Fine adventure game with platforming replacing the normal point-and-click mechanics.

After Flipping Death, I found my way to Emily is Away Too. I’ve heard great things about the original title (without having seen or played it myself) and I saw it here all weekend but didn’t bother sitting down with it until today. Expect more impressions in a future preview, but it was a whole bundle of nostalgia rolled up in a single AIM-infused package.

I received a text from friend and Irrational Passions contributor Danny Juarez inviting me to a nearby Jimmy John’s for lunch, so I headed over and joined him and Alex O’Neill. While I grabbed my soda, a nice person complimented the pin on my sports coat (of 16-bit Trevor) so I dug into my bag and handed him a copy of the pin as a thank you. The three of us talked about some of our PAX highlights while I ate (they had finished before I arrived). Then we headed back to the convention so I could attend my last panel.

“+1 to Journalism: Becoming a Better Writer” featured Ken Gagne, Susan Arendt, Alexander Sliwinski, and Jonathan Holmes. The four provided insight into their process, their favorite types of content and why they continue writing in an industry increasingly focused on video. I took a lot of notes on the panel, so I might put together a formal write-up detailing it later this week as well. But suffice it to say, it was another quality panel about how to work on finding potential work in the industry.

I met up with an internet friend I met following PAX South in Melissa Dingmon following the panel. We formally introduced ourselves (outside of our online personas that served as the link between us) and I briefly shared a bit of conversation with Susan Arendt. Once again, she left me awestruck in her presence, humor, and insight into the industry. It’d be amazing to try and work for her someday because I think she’d have a lot to teach me and she’s drive me to always strive for a better quality of content.

With the show floor nearly closed, I made my way to the Tiny Build booth for one last game: Mr. Shifty. Another title I’ll write more about later, Mr. Shifty (as I mentioned from PAX South) is unabashedly inspired by Hotline Miami. After a few levels, the show floor closed and I headed to the Media room under the (correct) assumption that the Irrational Passions team would be there. We all talked about some of our highlights and lowlights from the show.

Shout out to the whole team at Irrational Passions for working their asses off this week, by the way. They’ve already put up a ton of content and still have a lot more on the way throughout the coming week or so. As the Media room hours came to a close, we decided to go grab one last dinner together at Chipotle (continuing a tradition Alex has had going over multiple years, including our trip there last year). After dinner, a bunch of us went out to a hotel bar to wind down from the weekend and share a lot of our impressions and just enjoy a bit of our last hours together for awhile.

This has probably been my busiest PAX to date. I set up more appointments than ever before. I played more games on the floor than any previous PAX. And I probably even attended more panels than any event before. This was very much a “working” show for me. Unfortunately, that coincided with not being able to spend as much time with other friends during the event itself but all in all, I’m really proud of the work I did this weekend and the work still to come in the coming days.

Thanks to everyone who I spent time with (big or small) this weekend. It is always a pleasure. And thank you for reading.

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