With a little luck on your side, you've finally done it. After making it through the ticket queue/buying them from a third party/making a dark pact with the underworld, you are now holding your 2014 PAX Prime badge(s) in your hands. The hard part is over, and in a little over a week you'll be in Seattle at one of the biggest gaming conventions in the world! You'll be exploring the expo hall, participating in tournaments, and sitting in on a panel or two. Or three. Or ten.
Wow, that's a lot of panels. Where do you start? That's where I come in.
As an eight year veteran of the show, I've seen just about everything this convention has to offer. Every panel has something to offer, but I've found that the following five panels are the cream of the crop. Read on to see what's worth clearing your PAX schedule for.
(All panels are in the Main Theater unless specified otherwise.)
Everyone has been pretty hard on Assassin's Creed and Ubisoft lately (including me), but they really do love their fiercely loyal fanbase. Nowhere is that more evident than with their PAX panels. You can always count on some sort of reveal for the latest AC title and other cool stuff, like a live parkour demonstration or a surprise guest. During their PAX 2013 panel, they surprised everyone by giving away a free copy of Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag to anyone who was cosplaying an AC character. I don't care who you are, that's awesome.
If you have even a passing interest in the Assassin's Creed franchise, you cannot afford to miss this panel.
There's a special place in my heart for the YouTube show Extra Credits. The show, written by James Portnow and voiced by Dan Floyd, focuses on game design concepts and issues with the industry in general. Even if you're not looking to craft the next great indie game, the episodes tend to be fun and entertaining to anyone curious about why games are made the way they are.
I cannot recommend their PAX panel enough to people who believe video games can be art. Whether it's James discussing the relationship between game narrative and mechanics, Dan discussing his new favorite OCRemix track, or Elisa "LeeLee" Scaldaferri/Scott Dewitt discussing animating the episodes, any creatively inclined person will find something to like.
On a side note, if you get an opportunity to talk to James Portnow at PAX, do so. He's basically the coolest college professor ever.
Ah, Dungeons and Dragons. Anyone who has played this tabletop gaming staple has a few stories of tragedy, triumph, and treachery. I myself could fill an evening telling tales of possessed dice and evil GMs. The best stories, though, come from games when there's at least one person at the table with a quick wit. What happens when you fill an entire table with quick witted people? You get Acquisitions Inc.
Originally started as a Wizards of the Coast podcast, Acquisitions Inc. follows the D&D campaign played by Mike "Gabe" Krahulik, Jerry "Tycho" Holkins, Scott Kurtz, and Wil Wheaton (since replaced by Morgan Webb). The podcast was successful enough that they had a live session played on the PAX stage and it has been a mainstay ever since.
The panel is always hilarious, even if you've never rolled a twenty-sided die in your life. Attending this panel would be a critical success!
... I'm so sorry.
The Penny Arcade Expo was originally started in 2004 to celebrate the webcomic Penny Arcade. Back then, the convention centered around the strips drawn by Mike Krahulik and written by Jerry Holkins. I distinctly remember one year where the convention was covered with banners of blown up comics taken straight from the Penny Arcade archives.
These days, however, the convention has little to do with the webcomic that birthed it, leaving Mike and Jerry in more of a figurehead position. One relic from those webcomic-centric days still remains, however, and continues to be one of the best highlights of the show. That relic is the Make a Strip panel.
The Make a Strip panel is pretty self-explanatory. The audience gets to watch Mike and Jerry make a comic live on stage with the panel opening up to Q&A while Mike draws the comic. Mike and Jerry have a natural chemistry with each other and a great stage presence honed through years of PAX appearances.
The best part, however, is definitely the Q&A period. Many PAX legends have been created here, such as the hot dog fairy and "the sound of a 1000 knuckles cracking." It's also incredible to hear stories from people about how Penny Arcade affected their lives.
If you can only go to one panel during the entirety of PAX, go to this one. I haven't missed this panel once in the eight years I've been attending the show. You shouldn't miss it either.
The Omegathon is a weekend-long tournament between specially selected badge holders. The competition is designed to have a wide range of game types, including video games, tabletop, and everything in-between. The competitors, referred to as "Omeganauts," are eliminated every round until only two Omeganauts remain. That's when the final round can begin.
The Omegathon Final Round is the last event held at PAX every year. The game that will be played during this final round is a secret more closely guarded than the presidential bunker locations. Once the game is revealed, the two Omegathon finalists play in front of a roaring capacity crowd. It's the most tense experience you'll have during the entire convention.
After the winner is crowned and the celebration is over, Mike and Jerry traditionally sit down and play the game against each other. Once one of them wins and humbly gloats over the other, PAX is officially over for the year.
The panel is a bittersweet one since it signifies the end of PAX, but at least it helps the convention go out with a bang. It's always worth attending, especially since there isn't much else going on at the time anyway.
There are plenty of great panels at PAX every year. If you have a favorite, let everyone know in the comments! If you weren't lucky enough to get a pass to PAX Prime this year, GameSkinny has you covered. I'll be reporting throughout the weekend every night with news from the show floor.