Check out Saly's
post which is a great add on to this thread.
Is this your first time at PAX? If so, you may want to read on...
I'm no PAX expert. My only experience comes from investing a considerable amount of time planning for PAX East 2010... And most of that effort turned out to be pointless. It does not mean I did not have the time of my life (I say this with little exaggeration), nor does it mean that the event itself is poorly organized. Au contraire. PAX is huge. It does not need a manual, it needs a bible.
I write this knowing it's a risky thread. PAX East 2010 itself was a first in many ways and people could not really predict how it would turn out. A such, I'm sure the follow up also comes with some level of unknowns.
My point is that as a new comer to PAX last year, I could have definitely used a guide that went beyond what was available the FAQ section. I hope these notes I took from last year's event may help new comers in some form or another. Even more so, I hope they apply for this year as well, else I'll have to go back to the drawing board yet again!
Feel free to correct anything I say or add your own suggestions! But most importantly, check out the official FAQ section.
Boston in March is freezing! Bring a REAL coat and a scarf, however there was no snow to be found and the city streets where mostly clean. This may have been a fluke, but we did not need winter boots. We also knew by experience that Boston was not the easiest city for driving and public parking is rated somewhere between outrageous and insulting. Some places will charge you more than 60$ for a working day (weekends are expensive but cheaper). Those that we found ourselves often worked with automatic tellers that accepted credit cards. Practical, especially for those from Canada who don't carry US currency.
How you travel to and from the convention is up to you, but if you do not have a car, you have the option of using public transportation and Taxis. And yes, after hours is something you must think about if you go to PAX. It's not just the concerts which last up to around 2 am, many other events such as free board game rooms may take up your time as well. And then there are the other events, be them official or not, that will be organized around the city. Many events and meetups were organized around the city, including a surprise Freezepop concert that was held at some point.
This is a good time to talk about the biggest flaw in my whole planning, and it surprised me considering it was seldom talked about during my weeks/months of planning ahead through the PAX forums. Get yourself some form of mobile data access!!! In fact, I will not attend another PAX event without such a thing. Many events and meetings will be discussed on the forums, but good deal of new, secret and last minute stuff will be added as well and will only be available to you if you have a readily available connection to the internet. I cannot stress this point enough - there is much more to PAX than just the official schedule! This is how you will get to know about the Twitter Meetups, the special events held by companies, last minute city concerts, special contests, you name it. Expect extra swag (Free games even), free food and cheap booze if you're of age.
The forum was receiving surprise last minute threads on such matters and Twitter was in heavy use. There was also a special hub web page made just for the event that held up to date information, and that also contained a twitter hub of some kind. There you could also find last minute schedule changes official events. Last but not least, there where large projection screens that displayed tweets of all kinds in the waiting line/room which helped entertain the masses.
I did not attend to any meetings myself. Gathering from post PAX comments and some podcasts that were recorded during such moments, I will judge such events to be icing on the cake and nothing more. The bulk of your interest should still be focused on whatever is going on within the walls of the convention center. However, optional icing is still nice to have.
If you're not a resident of the US, getting a data plan may or may not be a complicated thing, however there was a free Wi-Fi connection available at the Hynes. It was sluggish and did its job, but it was not advertised and I only figured it out late in the game. My only hope is that there will be a readily available signal at the new location this year, else I will seriously consider paying the roaming charges.
Another thing - I missed a call from Harmonix for a draw I won because I did not dare keep my cell phone opened. I will also make sure not to repeat the same mistake again and at the very least, check my voice mail messages from time to time.
This being said, I seriously plan on arriving one day early for two reasons. The pre-Pax / extra-Pax events which seemed to be plentiful, and doing the tourist thing. Truth is, I had planned on taking some time to stroll around Boston for the sights and some shopping, but PAX was a beast. Either we were too busy or too tired to visit anything else. I am still undecided about staying another night after but I would not be surprised if it was worth it. There is also a logical factor to consider. PAX is a once in a year (at the very least) event that is held of a limited time. Unless you get bored with the convention, which I seriously doubt, your time may be better spent going to the convention itself instead of touring the city.
Here are my notes concerning the official events:
PAX opening speech
: A must if you want to get truly inspired for the following days to come. East 2010 had space issues and I could not attend it myself, I was in fact stopped from entering the room with about 10 people in front of me. I should have stayed around just to hear the speech through the walls. Either arrive early or hope there really will be enough space for everyone this time around.
: Well worth going too, however I had put too much stress on aquiring wrist bands that would guarantee your attendance. Both shows for East 2010 had standing room and about anyone who wanted to go could do just that, and apparently it was the case from Prime 2010. In fact, I got to meet MC Frontalot on the evening of his own show, and he told me there should not be any problems if I did not have a wristband. I hear the whole wristband thing is going to be a thing of the past for 2011. I will probably show up a bit early just in case, but I will definitely not stress about making it.
Penny-Arcade live drawing
: This is one of many panels that will be available throughout the event, but if you are a Penny-Arcade fan you have to go. I don't care if you saw it before. It's a must, period. It's not only funny, will get to know a little more about the people behind the comic. Plenty of questions and answers to be heard here. I also got a kick out seeing one of their strips come to life, which now doubles as a nice souvenir for PAX.
Tournaments and scheduled games of any kind: Show up early, sign up early. Even Mike Krahulik got turned out for a D&D game. You have to insure that you will be there up to the end though. In other words, don't join up if you will be leaving the contest early.
: All of them where free, all of them for me! We did have to wait a while for Will Wheaton however, in fact his line was closed from time to time to prevent overcrowding. If you want to get an autograph from Mike, Jerry or Rob, you will have to look for them throughout the event. They actually mingle around just like any other fans. I bumped in a few other personalities along the way who where nice enough to sign my commemorative book too, such as Adam Sessler.
: There was a serious max attendance problem going on for the Hynes and apparently this is going to be resolved with the new location, but I can't comment on that for obvious reasons. People who wanted to attend panels had to show up a good deal in advance. This also went for the late time movie presentations - an excellent plan B in case you miss out on any other event IMO.
Main exhibition hall / Sales booth
: Plenty of free swag to be found and interesting stuff to buy. However you I did not find there was much emphasis on the buying part. Some of the companies had items that where usually available through their website - my girlfriend bought a hoodie from Behemoth and someone was brave enough to HighFive me. Other booths which sold rare items had to be sought out and though. I looked around myself and did not find any, however I learned that they did exist while lurking around the internet after the event. Speaking of which, there were also a few booths that represented your basic hobby shop, ripe with board games and books that you would expect them to have. Though repetitive, I figured people would still welcome their presence as they could supply attendees with anything they might have forgotten on the trip. You COULD not miss the official Penny-Arcade merch both. Big, BIG. And filled up with goodies. Pretty much anything you could want from the web site was there to be found. Expect to find combo deals of all kinds for some savings.
Free console game room
: There are free game rooms where you can play about any game on any console. Take this to heart. If you want to try the latest game on the latest console, you can. If you want to play Bomberman on a Dreamcast, you can too. This place did not have a lot of fanfare, but we found a lot of people cheering, screaming and having fun during the whole event. It was a great time killer for me and my girlfriend too, as we played some rounds of SF2 on an old SNES.
All other game stuff
: Unfortunately I cannot say much here. There were all kinds of tournaments, all kinds of free play rooms, console rooms, BYOC rooms, open tabletop rooms, you name it, and I barely played any of it. I was just too busy running around trying to make the most of it. I have a lingering feeling that this is where the potential lies for new friendships. I plan on investing some time at some board game this time around. However, I expected I would be able to find some open games with strangers in the Hand Held halls where everybody went to take a break and relax. That never occurred, even though I came in equipped with games that could also transfer clients. I probably did something wrong here and will be doing some research on that aspect.
: It's fun to have but you should not stress too much about making sure you get every little piece there is (like some people seemed to do). Truth is, there are some jewels to be found out there and you usually would need to attend special panels or Twitter meetings (I recall one guy getting Forza 3 for free and other people getting exclusive PAX avatar item codes), but there is still plenty of nice things to be found all around. I got back home with a lot of CDs, free trials and betas, t-shirts, stickers, and the stuff you get in your bag as you come in ain't that bad either. It included a free deck of Magic - The Gathering!
: There were PLENTY of them and I would not be surprised if they changed forms a bit, but my experience with last year's event was that sponsors had a dynamic exchange with the attendees. You would usually have to wear free items they would pass around so that you could recognized by their staff who would hand out codes or prizes on the spot. I liked the idea, simply because sponsors had to be smart about their approach and insure they would not be felt as a nuisance. Anything else would have gotten them disrespect and attendees would have stopped wearing their logos around them.
: Again, can't comment here, but it's worth mentioning that my hotel was only a few minutes walking distance and had a kitchenette - and even that did not cut it. The event was packed and constantly had something to offer. We never wanted to miss out on anything and usually opted to eat in nearby outlets, which were plenty full in and around the locationé At the very least, pack yourself a snack. Boston is a nice city with nice restaurants too, so of course, feel free to treating yourself nicely.
: Since the H1N1 outbreak, aka Pax Pox, the organizers implemented a few new rules. One of which - avoid bodily contact as much as possible, clean your hands often and a shower here and there would not hurt. A lot of people love to use hand sanitizers as well. PAX East had a made up salute and an elbow touching thing going on to replace hand shakes.
- Contributed by Sary
Vistaprint (and many similar places) will give you 250 business cards, just pay for shipping. GET SOME. Stick your email address, gamertag, forum name, whatever on them. Hand them out to all the awesome people you will most certainly meet. No need to fumble around with a pen or scraps of paper that will most likely be thrown out accidentally, and no worries about crappy handwriting.
Carrying Your Stuff
- Contributed by Sary
Come Friday night, your one shoulder will be KILLING you. Trust me, you want to evenly distribute the weight. Go for a backpack, not a messenger bag. Last year I rocked http://www.thinkgeek.com/computing/bags/c616/]this
leg holster for quick access to my cell phone, ds, ipod, and those aforementioned business cards. And speaking of ds's, and ipods - LABEL YOUR STUFF. either get a label maker, or some sharpies - I highly recommend putting your phone number on them. Your Hello Kitty sticker or whatever might differentiate it, but it does nothing in terms of helping it get back to you.
Recharging your devices
: This part I do not remember clearly because I was not in need of this, but I remember seeing a kiosk or desk where people could recharge their handheld gaming devices. They also seemed to have plenty of recharge cable adapters and extension sockets to help the masses. This is obviously something that's setup to help people in need. We did see a few electrical outlets here and there and seemed available for use.
Hacks, Wares and Certain Other Things
: It should go without saying that cheating and hacking your way through anything at PAX is a big no no. Last year I happened to land in a conversation on the subject with experienced PAXers who mentioned that unlocked devices where also on the watch list. Now I should say that I did not see anyone have their gear inspected, but I think what this really meant was that you should not bring something equivalent to an action replay memory cards filled with hundreds of games. If the game was supposed to be on a disc or on a cartridge, bring the said disc or cartridge. Is this an official rule? No clue. Did not even check. It just makes commen sense to me anyway.
: Everyone I met was nice. Everyone. I did not feel judged for my looks or tastes, everyone I bumped into kind of liked the same things I did, and I left with some great memories. People where friendly left and right, which was great for all waiting lines. Even though I felt completely unprepared, I still left with some great memories. This time around I plan on thinking less about "the plan" and more about "what can I discover". I think anyone that goes there, new or old, should arrive with the same mindset if they want to maximise their experience.
Extra Final Thoughts
: Be this news to you or not, you have to understand one thing about this convention - it is not like other conventions. Well, of course all conventions are somewhat different, but their themes tend to be the same: Get a bunch of things people like and put that in one room. PAX however is about getting all the people that love the same stuff in one room, the rest will naturally follow. In a certain way, Penny-Arcade and everyone that's behind it represent the glue that holds all our common interests together, so if you get a bunch of people who like there stuff together... well you can see where I'm going. This is why there are so many community driven events that work amazingly well. This is why the attending corporations don't get in your face too much. This why people have so much fun and leave with such a great experience.
This being said, I wish you good luck and hope you will have a great time.