Musings on PAX 2009

Having recently moved to Seattle, this year was the first time I was able to attend the Penny Arcade Expo, despite having heard quite a bit about it during my frequent trips to Unfortunately I only managed to secure tickets for Friday and Sunday, because the 3-day and Saturday passes sold out before I finally got around to buying tickets.

Panels – Friday

Game Design 101: I attended this panel thinking it might have some insight on some basics on how to design a game that would be interesting and fun. But the panel focused more on giving advice to aspiring game designers, some discussion on the difference between game writers and designers, and anecdotes from the game designers’ careers. I was a bit disappointed with this one.

Breaking into the Game Industry the Educated Way: I really enjoyed this panel; several panelists from gaming universities and businesses offered their opinions on the value of pursuing a degree in a games program, such as the ones offered by Digipen and Guildhall SMU. For one, attending a multi-year game development program shows that the student is willing and able to make a commitment to making games, and offers the opportunity to make lots of games and develop lots of contacts. But of course you have to weigh that against the tuition and opportunity cost as well. Ultimately, the consensus opinion was that a successful applicant to the highly competitive games industry needs to demonstrate their experience with game programming with as many high-quality game projects as possible, whether created in an academic setting or on your off-hours.

Penny Arcade Q&A #1: I don’t remember too much from this Q&A panel where Gabe and Tycho fielded questions from the audience, but I do remember that I was laughing almost the entire time.

Panels – Sunday

Penny Arcade Q&A #2: Also hilarious. This was the first panel I attended on Sunday.

Retronauts – The Secret Best History of Gaming: This was a humorous and interesting panel where the members of 1Up’s Retronauts Podcast showed their favorite old-school Penny Arcade comics and how they demonstrate a historical perspective of gamer sentiment over the years, including topics such as Dreamcast and Daikatana. Very amusing.

I also missed several panels that I would have liked to see, including Wil Wheaton’s Awesome Hour, The Guild Season 2 Screening, and of course all of the panels on Saturday.

Expo Hall

It took me a while to find the expo hall, because it was so far away and hidden from the rest of PAX. However, this was definitely the most interesting way to waste time between panels and events. I got to play 20 minutes of Starcraft 2 and 10 minutes of the new WoW: Cataclysm starting zones, played a quick team battle of Global Agenda, and got lots of swag. I also watched some other players play Diablo3, and saw a demo / Q&A of the new DotA “killer”, League of Legends.

PC Freeplay

This was the other main way that I wasted time inbetween panels and events. It was strangely fun playing Team Fortress 2 and Counter-Strike: Source with some other random PAX attendees on the LAN. I also had enough time to check out the game that Tycho and Gabe produced, On The Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness. It was actually pretty fun. The free play area was sectioned off from the Bring Your Own Computer area, and during all three days there were game contests going on for various games.

Game Rooms and Console Freeplay

I was blown away by what was going on in the Console Freeplay room, where basically you get assigned a TV and a console, and can borrow games to play as if it was a library. They also had high score contests on some classic games like Mike Tyson’s Punch Out and Mega Man 2, but unfortunately I didn’t get to spend much time in there. They also had a number of game rooms for Magic the Gathering and various board games, such as Settlers of Catan, which I also missed out on.


I missed the Friday night concert because I had some friends who were hanging out in the bar at GameWorks. I heard it was pretty good, but so is grabbing a pint with some friends.


I waited in a strangely short line to get Jeff Lewis and Sandeep Parikh’s autographs. You know, those hilarious guys from The Guild? I also spotted a short line of people standing in front of Tycho as I was finishing up my Taco del Mar, and got him to sign my Instruction Book. He seemed like a real nice guy and I only had to wait like ten minutes.


All in all, it was a very fun event, and I only wish I had had more time and more friends who had come. Next year I will probably get my ticket much earlier and convince my friends to come with me.

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Seattleite. Climber. Snowboarder. Traveler. Party rocker. Technologist. Spanish enthusiast. Fun-seeker.

2 thoughts on “Musings on PAX 2009”

  1. Man, I would love to check out PAX next year, especially if it means getting to play advance copies of games. (I'm extremely jealous that you got to try Starcraft 2!)

    Hope you avoided the massive swine flu outbreak that apparrently hit Gabe and Tycho pretty hard!


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