PAX: The Last Gasp of the E3 Zanzibar Build
We let real lifePenny Arcade players loose on a fun old build of Halo 2 multiplayer. Chaos fails to ensue.
Since PAX (the Penny Arcade Exposition) was taking place not five miles from these very offices, we thought it would be a very nice to go say hi to Gabe, Tycho and the guys. And to take along 12 Halo 2 Zanzibar stations for 180 lucky Halo fans (and about three total newbies who somehow got tickets, team-killed by accident and bounced grenades into their own, baffled faces) who stood patiently in line, awaiting their turn.
I can't tell you a great deal about the PAX expo since I missed most of it, guarding and emceeing the Halo 2 event, but I can tell you that if energy could be harnessed from husky shut-ins or Game Boy carrying teenagers in utilikilts, then PAX achieved a genuine, if fragrant form of fusion yesterday. Albeit far from cold.
The air conditioning seemed to be functioning correctly to me, but that didn't stop hundreds of teenagers from reeking like the contents of a Hobo's diaper. As one Penny Arcade forum poster and PAX attendee noted, "Dude, if you can master a 20 button combo, surely you can keep from smelling."
The Meydenbauer center in beautiful downtown Bellevue must have been designed by an architect who envisioned besuited businessmen ascending its vertiginous galleries and escalators, or neatly dressed executives laughing and pointing, catalog style at unseen amusements. He probably didn't envision two druids arguing with a poorly costumed MegaMan about DDR Ultramix. But argue they did.
PAX itself was a smash hit. The Penny Arcade guys literally outdid themselves, and as a result, I'm betting PAX will be a much bigger event next year and in bigger venue – although props to the PAX guys for picking the easiest free parking situation ever. The Center is surrounded by tons of businesses, like acupuncturists and print shops where you can dump your car, unmolested and pro gratis.
I took along 12 Xboxes, on my own, since Sketch is out of town making babies or something, and 12 Xboxes is no mean feat. In fact, we've calculated that it is only safe to carry three at a time. You can manage five, but you'll drop the top one and possibly tear out your toilet-parts. The PAX guys rushed to help and get the system link ready. No matter where I go, somebody smarter than me is stripping CAT 5 cables and rounding up routers.
A mysteriously hot and aerodynamic host charismatically entrances the crowd. The only sound is the soft twang of bra straps snapping with excitement.
When somebody makes a regular Ethernet cable a crossover cable, that to me seems like magic. I don't want to know how it's done. I prefer to think that spells are used to reroute magical energy. What was more impressive however, was watching the so-called Enforcers heave those giant RCA CRT TVs around. They each weigh 150 pounds and all had Vports. Remember the Vport? The Xbox specific TV connector? That was a good idea, kind of. I guess HDMI does the same thing now, and maybe some future console will support it. I hope so. I heart my HDTV. But I digress, pretty dramatically in fact.
Once the game systems were set up, and the audience sat, the mini-tournaments began. Outside the PAX console room, a massive line snaked along the hallway, past the bathrooms and round the stairwell. The lucky holder of ticket number 77 won, randomly (kind of) a bag of swag, including a Master Chief action figure, a Warthog, and a rare, limited edition empty Halo 2 metal box signed by Marty O'Donnell.
The gameplay sessions were broken into twelve players, six on six single flag CTF, Elites VS. Spartans (or America Vs. Aliens as one genius put it). Each group of twelve had ten minutes, or roughly four rounds to play. Results were mixed – we had a lot of stalemates, a couple of draws, and all the wins were pretty close (except for one, late in the day). The action was being beamed all over the convention center, but a hardcore group sat in front of the actual live play for the entire duration, clearly trying to figure out the map for the morning of November 9th.
As the line shrank, and the patient and penitent got to play, a gaggle of hotties approached me, announcing that they were the "Frag Dolls" which as far as I could tell, was some semi-professional gang of (hawt) female gamers, and more than a gimmick, were all pretty freakin' good too. As a matter of fact, one Microsoft plant playing against them said, "I'm glad this was their first game, or I'd have looked very, very bad." And he’s been playing the beta for weeks.
A completely typical, representative sample of Halo 2 players at PAX.
The Frag Dolls begged for a chance to play Halo after the day's event was over. I had to look their leader (also hawt) straight in the eye and explain that dozens of pasty-faced regular male Halo fans had been waiting patiently, hoping for a chance to play, and that it would be unfair to let them butt in, simply because they were all incredibly attractive.
And so of course, unfairness, sexism and favoritism prevailed and I let them all play against PAX staffers at the very end of the event. They kicked ass. The hottest one, who I think was their leader, demanded information about ilovebees.com, futilely.
It is truly a testament to the crowd's appreciation of Halo 2 that all eyes are watching the game, and not the girl playing it. By the way, all of these girls ruled.
It later transpired that many of the kids with tickets to play Halo 2 had actually bought them from other attendees (the tickets were originally given out for free on a first come first served basis) with one paying an absurd $50. We hear $20 was the going rate though.
So in a way, this thing was kind of sad. This was probably the last chance the public will have to play the beloved, if scrappy E3 build. After this, it's the final push towards finishing the game, with a brief stop at the Tokyo Game Show, and all those E3 builds will be deleted, to make room for newer, better versions. And then eventually, November 9th will hammer it all into legend.
So we'd just like to say congratulations and thanks to the Penny Arcade guys for inviting us, and we hope the players who did get a chance to try it had fun.