Pre-Travel Post

The Night Before

I am going to warn you ahead of time…  I took some Benadryl earlier and am fading extremely quickly.  I take no credit for this post making a damned bit of sense tomorrow when you fine folks will actually read it.  Tonight did not go exactly as planned.  The goal was to get home, change the ferret cage and start packing technology.  At least on one level that worked, and I have at the very least everything laid out and ready to pack…. but will get into that more later.  The first obstacle was pulling my laptop case out of the closet….  which was inexplicably covered in a few tiny tiny spiders.  I am pretty sure a few of them bit me, either that or the paranoia just makes it seem like everything is crawling on me.  The original thought was to burn the laptop bag and call it good…  but then I remembered that I actually rather liked this laptop backpack… and also I needed it to travel.  So I did my best to de-spider the thing and get my laptop packed.  However in the process I kicked up an inordinate amount of dust…. which is where the Benadryl comes in as a desperate attempt to stave off triggering my asthma.

After that the plan was to start packing my messenger bag.  So I got together my power bank, and tested it.  It for some reason shipped 100% charged, which shocked the hell out of me.  It also seems to have a flashlight built into it…. that I managed to turn on and it took a good ten minutes of pressing buttons to get it to turn back off.  I also managed to test my digital recorder, and it seems like it is going to do a damned good job of recording any impromptu interviews that I get to do from the convention floor.  It is also going to hopefully be the basis of a “LunchCast” concept I am kicking around where I record little solo podcasts on my lunch break while sitting in the car.  So back to the bag… I was walking over to the bar where I had it laying… when Kenzie our kitten was pawing at it like she was trying to cover something up.  Turns out she had just pissed right in the middle of the bag, which leaves me pretty much zero options.  The bag itself was canvas with leather straps….  and at this point it is ruined unless I can somehow wash it.  With nothing much to lose, I threw it in the washing machine with a big fully blanket hoping to cushion the insanity that is the clasps clanging around in there.  For the most part it seems to have worked, and while it needs a little bit more time to dry…  it seems to be mostly in one piece.

The Backup Plan

In theory that should work, and if it doesn’t I guess we will find something else that will work on the drive down.  Right now the plan is to get up crazy early, pack our clothing, pick up our passenger and get on the road hopefully by 6 am.  From there we meander our way from Tulsa to Austin, where we are meeting some friends of my wife for dinner.  Right now I am just hoping that in my pre-coffee state I can remember to pack everything correctly.  Originally I had planned on bringing my chromebook, but since PAX does not actually have public internet…  it kinda makes a chromebook mostly useless.  Instead my idea is to talk to myself… and by talk to myself I mean record voice notes if there is anything I need to jot down quickly.  Last year I spent most of the first day of PAX alone, and it was not until Saturday that Rae and Ashgar actually arrived.  This year however I should have one or two people to hang out with on Friday, meaning I will have less time to sit in a quite place and bang out post ideas.

It feels like I am actually packing fairly light this year.  I did manage to get my 3DS all patched up and Final Fantasy Explorers downloaded and installed, so that at least is done.  That is pretty much going to be my go to for standing in line diversion.  Past that I will have my phone and will probably be tweeting throughout the day on twitter.  I think I am in a pretty good state as far as anxiety goes, because if tonight didn’t break my will…. I don’t figure anything can.  I am hearing reports that construction was pretty horrible between Dallas and Austin today as folks drove it, so I am definitely not looking forward to that.  The big positive however is I am driving down in a newer vehicle, that is way more comfortable to long trips.  Additionally in theory if I get tired of driving, I can probably convince either my wife or our passenger to trade off and take the wheel for awhile.   The greatest irony of going to a gaming convention is that it means until I finally get home Sunday night… I am going to be playing far fewer games than at any other point of the year.  If all goes as intended, I will get to meet a bunch of folks that I have gamed with for years and Pax South will be yet another amazing experience.

 

Pax South: Lessons Learned

Wizarding School

I am in fact apparently a wizard.  Last night we recorded a double episode of AggroChat, and even though I purposely took an hour and a half nap… by the time we wrapped up and I go into bed at one in the morning I was completely toast.  Generally speaking when we record AggroChat I tend to do what I call the “rough edit” that night, which mostly means putting all the pieces together in the right order and then head on to bed rather than wrapping up all of the small details like I used to.  Then Sunday morning I get up, have breakfast, have coffee and by the time I can actually form words…  I do all of the bits that end up posting the episode in various places.  This morning I did apparently everything related to two separate podcast episodes, and pre-staged it all so that in theory everything will publish next weekend while I am at Pax other than the anook thread since there is no way that I know of to schedule one of those.  I absolutely positively feel like a wizard… and the only downer is that all of this work… and I still need to make interesting words on Aggronaut.

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As I am writing this blog post I am realizing that I have roughly four days left to plan all of the shit I need to do before Pax South.  This is the point where my anxiety kicks into overdrive.  I think of the most part I have everything ready that I need to have ready for the show.  Once again I am doing the “unofficial media” thing as MMOGames.com has me booked for a few media appointments.  This time around I think I am far more mentally prepared for this reality than I was last year.  I also feel like I know more things about Pax in general and especially the Pax South setup than I did last year.  This time around I am also going to have a bunch more friends to hang out with, so while I am overall less interested in the panels this time around…  I am far more interested in the people.  The only bummer is that a bunch of people that I failed to connect with during the inaugural year…  are not going this year.  So this morning, largely for my own benefit to get my shit in order… and partially for the benefit of people who didn’t attend last year…  I am going to run down some of the things I learned.

Things Learned at Pax South 2014

Internet Sucks

The biggest takeaway from last year is the fact that the internet is going to suck.  I guess part of me expected that a major convention center to have open wifi access, since I just assume that is as integral a part of anyone’s life as it is mine.  They don’t… in fact several of the media appointments last year we had sidebars about how frustrating it was to get their own network up and running so they could run their own games.  There will be of course cellular internet through your phone provider… but I would not expect it to work.  I tried to live tweet the Guild Wars 2 Heart of Thorns announcement…. and two hours later those tweets were still slowly filtering their way to the internet.  If you need to meet up with people… trade cell phone numbers.  For the most part while text messaging was a little sluggish, they were still going through because non-media texts really do not require much of a connection to go through.  As a result our master plan for keeping connected is to start a group text message thread that hopefully everyone can keep running throughout the weekend.

Pax Pizza Sounds Better than It Is

Now I am not picking on Pax Pizza in general, because they are trying their best to feed the masses.  However if you have ever had one of those small round microwave pizzas that Sams Club and CostCo sell by the case, you’ve had Pax Pizza.  The food options inside of PAX were pretty limited, but do include standard fare like hamburgers, hotdogs, chips, pop and water.  There is a food court just down the Riverwalk that includes a lot of things… but this was pure madness the night we tried to go there.  My big suggestion is to bring some food with you, for the most part I survived in Cliff Bars and Beef Jerky and brought my own water bottle that was relatively easy to refill.

Messenger Bag not Backpack

This suggestion might seem a little counter intuitive at first, since backpacks are FAR easier to carry than a messenger bag… but hear me out.  Everywhere you go at PAX you are going to get crammed into very tight spaces with a bunch of strangers.  You know what you cannot really do when you are stacked front to butt with a bunch of people?  Guard your valuables…  and you are getting jostled so much that you really honestly could not tell if someone was getting into your backpack.  So sure you can group up in a way so that your buddy is on watch, but it is just easier to be wearing something that you can sling over your shoulder so that your hands can rest on the bag in front of you.  Thankfully I thought this though last year, and took with me a new canvas messenger bag…. but my reasoning was that it seemed like it would be easier to get into it at a moments notice.  However after seeing the queue room…  I was super glad I didn’t have a backpack for sheer paranoia and anxiety reasons.

You are Constantly Walking

It is hard to fully appreciate just how much walking you are going to do at PAX.  The convention center is pretty large just by itself, and things are spread out all over… and in addition to that if I am remembering correctly there are three distinct floors…. with something happening on pretty much all of them.  The amount of time I spent sitting was pretty non-existent, with “Statue Hall” and the tables near the concession stand being the only real areas for hanging out while seated.  So absolutely wear comfortable shoes…  but even then… it won’t really matter.  The biggest complaint I had was by the time I hit the hotel room I was just dead to the world… and still had to somehow knock out a blog post and do any of the other things I need to do to check into the world.  The lack of internet during the day meant that there was pretty much no way I could do this during bits of downtime.  I am honestly concerned about this one, because I am not walking nearly as much as I was before Pax last year…  I will survive.

Nowhere to Charge Devices

You ever seen people huddled around a single power jack at an airport?  That is absolutely going to happen at PAX.  There were a handful of places where you could sit down near an outlet, and they were essentially the most heavily guarded spots available.  As a result… bring a power bank.  These devices are pretty ubiquitous and since it is inevitable you are going to be on your phone for much of the show…  I highly suggest having one and plugging in while you attend panels.  I ended up getting a pretty cheap one for this year from Amazon that in theory will charge my phone three times, but if I can get one good charge I will be relatively happy.

Patch Your 3DS Streetpass Now

One of the traditions I was indoctrinated into by Ashgar last year was collecting StreetPasses on my 3DS XL.  For whatever reason… every single person walking around seems to be carrying their 3DS almost entirely for this purpose.  A single pass through the main room and I would need to find someplace to stop and clear out my streetpass queue to allow new people in.  Why this is awesome is that when you get a game like Bravely Default… that has a minigame based on the number of street pass users you have available… it is absolutely amazing to bring an army.  That said in order to get the full benefit… you need to make sure that all of your games and apps that can collect streetpasses are all patched up and running the latest revision.  Since you won’t have internet access… do it either now before you leave, or from your hotel room.

Ask an Enforcer

If you have any questions or need help with anything…  your friends in orange are there to help.  The enforcers are a great part of the PAX experience, and they will quite literally be directing you to where you need to be.  If you have any questions about what a given line is for, or where you need to be to attend a specific panel, these fine folks are going to be able to point you in the right direction.

Daily Carry Bag

As I said before last year I carried with me a canvas messenger bag, and it worked out excellent.  The biggest thing I liked about it was just how easy it was for me to fiddle with it while waiting in line.  I could fish out my power bank, 3DS, or chomebook quickly based on whatever I needed to deal with at the moment.  It also serves as a handy way to keep any swag you happen to pick up along the way.  There will be booths on the main floor that have really nice shopping bags… but these are awkward to juggle while standing in line.  Bring a good bag, it will be your best friend.  Right now here is what I am looking at carrying with me, just as a way of helping you think through what you might need.

  • Water Bottle – seriously this is key. Stay hydrated by making sure you have something easy to refill.
  • Cliff/Quest/Whatever Bars – these are easy ways to get some food in you when you are hangry.
  • Beef Jerky – easy portable protein, I can live off this stuff.
  • Dried Fruit – going to add this one to the list this year, thinking some dried fruit might help mix things up.
  • Chromebook – lightweight, easy to carry device for taking notes.
  • Small Physical Notebook – because sometimes you need to actually write something down.
  • Digital Recorder – this is new this year, instead of trying to record audio on my phone I got a small digital stereo recorder.
  • Nintendo 3DS – because streetpasses are awesome.
  • Business Cards – last year was shocked at the number of times I was asked for one… this time I came prepared.
  • Power Bank – for recharging your phone or anything else that will recharge off of a USB port.
  • Tiny Bottle of Advil – the floor is loud, and without a doubt it is going to give me a headache, so the scout in me wants to “be prepared”.
  • Hand Sanitizer – because humanity is a messy huddled mass… and you want to stave off the PAX Pox.

This is essentially what I carried last year and it worked out well.  The only two things that I am really adding new this year are the Dried Fruit, because I think it might be beneficial for me to be able to snack on.  I am also adding a dedicated Digital Recorder, because trying to record audio on my phone was complete bullshit last year.  I contemplated trying to add a proper camera, but I didn’t want to add another device to my bag.  I am once again going to make do with my phone camera, but I will just need to take into account that I cannot simply snap a quick photo, do to the horrible lighting conditions on the floor.  I am really hoping the whole text message network thing is going to make meeting up with people easier.  If you too are going to be on the floor, let me know… because I would love to catch as many people as I can.  It is my hope that this is going to be an amazing year, and the goal this time now that I feel like I have my feet under me… is to see as many people and games as I can.  One last quick note is… that if you find yourself getting overwhelmed there are actually lots of relatively quiet places you can go hide out.  There is always the AFK room that PAX runs specifically for this purpose, but even then I found lots of other places on the third floor of the convention center where I could get away for a bit.  The further from the main floor you get, the more sane and rational the crowds become.

 

 

Shamen and Pax South

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Prepping for Pax South

Tis the beginning of the year, and we are now roughly three weeks away from Pax South, and I have to say…. I am a bit concerned.  It is going to be an awesome time no matter what because right now I know of like a dozen friends that are going to be there… so going to have plenty of people to hang out with.  What concerns me though is it seems like Pax South as a whole is a much less hopping place.  By this time last year, all three days of the show were down to “low” rating, and Saturday and the Three Day Passes had been sold out for a very long time.  Additionally they had already posted a picture of the convention floor and who was going to be inhabiting what booth space.  As far as the passes, Saturday was still available on Friday… and just looking at the schedule there don’t seem to be as many “big name” presentations as there were last year.  Last year after all we had the world announcement of Guild Wars 2 Heart of Thorns happening, as well as I believe the first real information about Sid Meier’s Starships.  Now…  what I see instead is very light on the game content and very heavy on the youtube and stream celebrities.

All of this said I am going to have the best time this year…. because what made last year so much fun was running around with Ashgar and Rae.  This time around I will be running around with Ashgar, Rae, Thalen, Dallian, Damai, Lonrem, Helkim, Paragon, Tick, Rylacus, and hell probably several others that I am failing to rattle off on the top of my head.  It is the people that make the place awesome, and it is my hope to meet up with as many people as I can over the two days I am going to be there.  So if you are planning on going to Pax South please let me know.  I did a poor job of actually connecting with people last year and I hope to fix that.  The other thing that is going to make this year awesome is that I am no longer going to have to worry about somehow abandoning my wife.  Last year she went running around during the day, utilizing the hotels shuttle service, and by all accounts had a lot of fun, or at least enough fun to want to come back again this year.

The problem being that I always felt guilty for leaving her at the hotel and felt the strong pull to rush home at night so we could go out to dinner and such.  This time around we are also bringing one of her friends so she now also has someone to run around with and wander San Antonio.  What is hilarious is… she feels like I am being awesome, and I think its awesome because I will feel less guilty all the time.  This also means I will probably experience a lot of the nighttime content of Pax and go to the concerts and such, and maybe some of the after parties.  Granted on Saturday night I don’t want to be out too late… given that I will be driving the eight or nine hours home on Sunday.  In any case…. if you read the blog or you listen to AggroChat, drop me a line and it is my hope to catch up with as many people during that weekend as I can.  I will be getting into the hotel room late Thursday night, and I am staying about six miles away from the convention center out by the airport… in part because we had a great experience there last year…. and the whole free shuttle service to various destinations thing was awesome for my wife.  So yesterday we did a bit of juggling to change our arrangements, and now have a double suite so it should be awesome.  There was talk last night about maybe trying to get in together and see Force Awakens as a group while down there… since supposedly there is a theater a few blocks away.

Shamanism

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One of the things I am really enjoying about World of Warcraft right now is the ability to fly.  I realize that I was heavily in the “no flight in draenor” camp, and for the most part I still am.  That said… having it makes everything so damned much easier, and questing through the zones is greatly improved.  I feel like WoW content however desperately needs the grounding of players at the beginning of an expansion to keep folks from just blowing through everything instantly.  In the past once you had a single character at the new level cap you could purchase flight for your other characters, and that was a great option….  but an extremely expensive one.  I think personally I like the Draenor Pathfinder option because even though it was a pain in the butt to complete…  now that I have done it the benefit can be used by every single character on my account.  As a whole I am a huge fan of account wide unlocks and they actually make it far more likely for me to play other characters.  In Final Fantasy XIV everything that I have exists on a single character, and as a result I am completely disincentive from trying any more characters.  Same goes for games like Rift that while I have alts…  I always tend to play the same main character because he has the best toys.

I feel like playing an Enhancement Shaman is a little broken…. in a good way.  After having leveled several other characters, this one seems to be the easiest.  I can just straight up shred most mobs without my totems, or heroism….  but then I always have those things waiting in reserve for big mobs and elites.  The speed of killing things is just so damned fast, and since I have crafters that can feed me gear….  walking around with a pair of level 630 blue weapons really makes a huge difference.  I still don’t fully understand why the crafted blacksmith weapons start at 630 unlike the 640 that all of the other gear seems to start at, but in any case I am fine with it…. it is a huge dps boost over the weapons I am getting in the zones.  The thing that I cannot wait for in WoW however is the new transmogging system.  WoWhead, being the awesome folks they always are has put up a preview system to show you all of the transmog gear your characters are going to get granted from quest completion.  I am really really hoping that the new system is account wide like Diablo 3, because there are certain characters like this shaman that simply don’t have a lot of cool gear to work with yet.  I guess I should farm more old world content to get him a decent set to run around in.

Pax South Excitement

Excitement Grows

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Last year Pax South was quite literally the first gaming convention I had ever been too.  Granted I have been to comic conventions and scifi fan conventions over the years…  but never a gaming one.  I didn’t really know what to expect but Liore gave me some advice…  that as soon as you get in the doors the anxiety fades away because you realize that these are “your people”.  I didn’t really believe her until the convention was actually underway… and absolutely I had this overwhelming feeling that everything was going to be just fine.  I never strike up conversations with strangers, yet I found myself idling chatting with people while standing in the queue room like a pro.  There was just this aura of acceptance that I felt, when quite literally anything anyone was into was awesome.  The only problem was that it was quite literally an overload on my senses and while I technically knew a bunch of people at the convention, I only actually managed to meet up with the AggroChat folks that I had planned on meeting up with… and Lonrem from Anook.  Well I guess that is not entirely true because that Friday I had a bunch of press meetups scheduled to talk with various game devs.  At the end of the two days I attended, I was worn out beyond belief… but I was pretty damned happy with my experience.  I had originally decided to try and attend as many local conventions as I could… but ultimately that fell through for one reason or another.

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After having done a Pax I realized that the highlight for me was not necessarily the show, but getting to hang out with people that I do not normally get to hang out with.  It felt like this giant summer camp for gamers and geeks… and it was fairly magical.  With this in mind I set my sights on Pax Prime…  but nothing really went as I had hoped there.  Firstly I missed out on getting tickets, and second we were not accepted for press passes.  Then thirdly…  August is a really bad time for me.  My wife is a school teacher and Pax Prime happens exactly at the beginning of our School year here in Oklahoma.  It would have been extremely rough on my wife for me to have been away during those first weeks of school, when she ends up having to rely on me the most because she is simply stressed beyond the point of coping.  So while I was sad that I didn’t get to attend, I still had hopes that I could con more people into joining me at Pax South this year.  Since I know what is important to me now…  I know what to focus on, and that is planning on meeting up with people.  The problem we ran into was that on the convention floor the cell service was complete crap.  So my theory is that we will need to figure out meet up points ahead of time this year, rather than trying to rely on some sort of impromptu thing.

More People More Fun

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The above picture was hands down the highlight of my Pax experience, not because I we were playing Gigantic really, but more than the three of us were playing together.  The gravy on top is just the fact that we happened to be beating a YouTube celebrity in the process.  Now we zoom forward to yesterday…  they opened the flood gates and started taking sales for the 2016 Pax South in San Antonio Texas.  This time I managed to get in on the three day passes, which there are actually still a few left.  As of right now I know that myself, Rae, her brother, Ashgar, Thalen, Dallian, Lonrem, and Helkim are confirmed going… or at the very least have their tickets in hand.  I am sure in the coming weeks I am going to start hearing of more people going, and I plan on starting up something to keep track of who is going and on what days so that maybe we can meet up and hang out.  I need to start doing some research into what eating options are there in the Riverwalk area, because I absolutely do not want to try and go to that Chillis again out of desperation and hunger.  I am also hoping we can maybe coordinate hotels, because I really liked the one I stayed in last year… but it was out by the airport.  However if there are many of us it would not be an issue at all to carpool into the convention each day.  I feel like I have the whole parking situation under control after having done it last year.  I have to say I am extremely excited, and hoping this one is going to be bigger and better than last year.  I mean this is the only Pax that does not sell out in a matter of minutes…  so honestly I am fine with that.  The concept of trying to get tickets to any other Pax seems like a stressful situation.  I realize it is still months away, but I want to try and make the best of this coming years show.

 

 

In Mourning

So It Happened

statesman_dead A couple of days ago I talked about the present rumor that AOL would be shutting down all of its enthusiast press websites… as far as we are concerned that was Joystiq, Massively and WoW Insider.  Yesterday I first saw that it was officially in reading Brianna Royce’s touching announcement on Massively.  I have to saw that as well written as it was… it was breaking my heart to be reading it.  At this point I am not really sure how much of meaning I have to say about it.  It just flat sucks, and seems to follow the model that everything AOL lays its hands on goes to shit.  The most frustrating part is that it seems so senseless considering that from what I could tell all of the publications were doing swimmingly, in spite of draconic and ham-handed budget cuts.  I feel bad because I really did not follow Joystiq at all, but I did however read Massively and WoW Insider on a near daily basis.

While I didn’t always agree with every article, I felt like the site needed to exist.  There is a blogger that I am not even going to dignify by naming, that seems to be dancing on their grave with their “I Hope Massively Shuts Down” post.  I am done with that site and anything associated with it, and I think it was the last straw for a lot of people who had long only half heartedly followed it.  In fact I am officially done with rant blogs in any fashion.  But all of this is side tracking me from the purpose of today’s post.  I feel strongly that all of these writers will find homes either in community work or on another gaming website.  Today I compiled the list of twitter accounts for the writers that had them, for Massively and WoW Insider.  I figure this is the best way to follow people and see what they end up doing over the coming months.  February third will be the final day of all of the Joystiq connected sites.

Massively Cast

WoW Insider Cast

Pax South Panel Rundown

I had happy things to talk about in Final Fantasy XIV… but quite honestly after writing the first part of today’s post I am really not amped up and prepared to write them.  Instead I am going to close out today’s post with something I have been working on over the last few weeks.  One of the cool things about the age we live in is that sooner or later most things end up on Youtube.  For those that did not have the benefit of travelling to San Antonio for the inaugural Pax South show… or if you are like me and missed a bunch of the panels because you were doing other things…  I thought I would compile a list of everything that I could find online.  I did not record any of these and as such I do not take any responsibility for the quality… but this is the best of what I could find.

Game Panels

Conversation Panels

I am still missing a LOT of panels, but as I find them I will try and update the list to include them.  One of the big problems that I saw was that Gearbox and Bioware were pretty much doing their own things… and NONE of their panels were listed on the official Pax South registry, making it really hard to catch them.  I am really hoping I can find recordings of some of the ones by Bioware, but for those I don’t even know the name of said presentations to go off of.  If you know of any obvious ones that I am missing, I would appreciate a comment below to let me know.  In any case, I hope you have an awesome weekend and that you go out and do awesome things…  to help us forget that our gaming ecosystem is suffering a loss.

Highlights of Pax South

The Day After

sleepybelondrivehome This mornings post is coming out super late because…  I slept in.  After feeling like I had worked the last few days, I was super thankful to have taken Monday off.  The positive is that since I had gotten up every morning at 5:30 it should not be too hard to shift back into work mode tomorrow.  To the left is a photo I took yesterday when we were gassing up at the altar of excess… the New Braunfels Buc-ee’s.  We decided since it was a short distance from San Antonio that we would stop there for breakfast and gas up for the trip.  So here you have a very sleepy Bel who had not slept terribly well the night before.  When I came back to my hotel room I was kind of riding an adrenaline high from day two.  This meant that nothing that I did seemed to be able to calm my mind down enough to sleep.  Normally this is the point when I get up and play some game, but our hotel internet connection was fairly slow, and I did not really want to go through the process of having to verify to WoW or FFXIV that I was connecting from a foreign IP…  also I had already packed up all of my gear in preparation for getting up early the next morning.

Because all the pre-packing we managed to get on the road about 6:30 am and drove through to Waco before taking our first stop (other than Buc-ee’s) which bought us quite a bit of time.  One of the things I want to ask my Texan friends…  what the fuck is with the lean beef sausage?  I thought maybe the BBQ joint in Austin was an aberration, but upon stopping at Buc-ee’s I got two Kolaches and both were this super lean, super dense beef sausage.  Firstly sausage should be pork, but even that aside it should be a FATTY meat… because otherwise it is just like eating this dry meat log.  That said compared to my beloved QuikTrip I was not terribly impressed with either my or my wife’s breakfast choices.  They got a massive strike from my wife in that they did not have any donuts…  they had EVERYTHING you could imagine, but no donuts.  Anyways lackluster breakfast and fairly insane prices aside…  we had a pretty chill trip back.  I think in part it was the desire to get home that kept me going.  So we stopped in Waco, Allen, Durant to hit a Gas Station, Atoka to hit an old school non-supercenter style Wal-mart and then pushed straight through to home.   So we were on the road from 6:30 am until somewhere between 4:30 and 5 pm.  Considerably better time than the trip out.

Highlights of Pax South

ashgarandpip I have to say hands down the best thing to come out of Pax South was getting to meet my long time friend, guildie, and podcasting compatriot Ashgar in person.  There are always those awkward moments when you see someone in the flesh that you already know their vocal mannerisms as your mind adjusts to seeing a body attached to them… but that faded extremely  quickly.  I snapped a photo of him dominating a cool indie game, and I believe it was snapped without him really knowing I took it… but considering he didn’t seem to mind the picture from yesterday going ahead and posting it anyways.  For the last several years this man has been one of my closest friends, and I cannot wrap up the magic that was meeting him in person and realizing that yup he is in fact exactly like how I expected him to be in the flesh.  I am of course sad that we only got to hang out that one day… but it was a pretty awesome day.

oldgregWhile I didn’t stop and take pictures of many of them… I have to say seeing all the people dressed up as things they loved was another huge plus of the experience.  The entire convention has this entire vibe of “everything is awesome”.  The past year has been a rough spot for gamers as a whole, and I was pleasantly surprised that I did not witness any creepy or reprehensible behavior.  I did witness a socially awkward kid addressing a woman dressed as Teemo as “hot teemo” but a random guy from the crowd stepped up to say “man you are being a little creepy” and the socially awkward kid apologized and walked away.  The thing that made me the happiest were the pairs of fathers and daughters roaming around the convention… when you could tell the daughter was the one who was really excited to be there.  Pax South gave me a lot of hope for the future, and I am sure there were bad things that came out of the con, like there are anywhere…  but it did not at least seem to be super prevalent.  The photo to the side was so spectacular that I stopped and asked the guy if he minded me taking it.  For those who are not familiar… this is a spot on “Old Gregg” from The Mighty Boosh.  To make things even better… he pretty much nailed the Old Gregg voice and mannerisms as well.  Was kinda bummed that he did not offer me warm baileys from a shoe.

Another moment that was absolute magic was sitting in the crowd waiting for the Guild Wars 2 Heart of Thorns announcement.  I am not even a fan of Guild Wars 2 really… and I even felt pumped to see what was going on.  They had left these inflatable “thunder sticks” with the Guild Wars 2 logo on them.. and folks were using them to great benefit.  The noise was deafening so I attempted to take a video to give folks an example.  Moments before Jennifer Hale took the stage the crowd had started a slower rhythmic thump which was awesome.  I’ve seen a number of expansion announcements before but it is difficult to grasp the hype of the moment while watching a twitch stream from the comfort of your home.  I was roughly six to eight rows back in the dead center of the auditorium and the excitement was just infectious.  I have no clue if I will play Guild Wars 2 Heart of Thorns at launch, but having Jennifer Hale come out to work up the crowd was an awesome choice.  She as always is a badass.  Even if I don’t play the game, I am happy I got to participate in its announcement.

Belle of the Ball

I have to break this photo out again, because it makes me so happy to have a picture of Rae, Ash and Me playing Gigantic.  This game was really my own personal “best in show”, in part because it was not something I expected to like at all.  They really did an outstanding job both in the staging of the product, their booth, and building buzz around the convention.  They also had what looked to be a pretty awesome party Saturday night.  I swung by for a bit to say hi, but knowing I had a long drive ahead of me I simply did not stay for long.  That party honestly was the only time during the entire weekend that crowds got to me… but that was in part due to the fact that it was quite literally standing room only.  Finding enough free space to move around between the various areas of the room was a bit of a challenge and folks had spilled out onto the nearby balcony as well. giganticbooth Everyone I dealt with from Motiga the company behind Gigantic was simply awesome and welcoming.  It was so many things that made them my pick of the show, for starters it is a game I had no real interest in but only sat down to play it due to my personal connection to Lonrem who was helping them out that weekend.  The booth downstairs was impressive, and really dominated the floor which is saying something considering both Twitch and Intel had some pretty intense booths as well.  On top of that… the lines to play this game were insane.  At one point Saturday the line almost wrapped around twice.  I’ve never been one to watch other people play games… I don’t watch a lot of twitch unless the caster is a friend of mine.  While my circle of friends are big into watching the LCS play in League… I get bored within a few minutes of a match starting.  However at various points during the weekend I found myself hanging out upstairs in the scrimmage room just watching the various teams playing.  I found myself drawn to this game in ways I can’t quite grasp.

gigantic_scrimroom2 Largely I think this is in part because the game is visually exciting to watch.  There is constant action and the characters are animated beautifully.  Every attack you perform feels important, because there is weight to the animations that make them feel epic.  Another huge thing for me was just how “at home” I felt with the controls.  During the first match I picked up the controls of The Margrave within a few seconds and landed the first kill of the game.  It felt and controlled exactly like I thought that character should.  In my second game I wanted to try a champion, only to find it was already taken… so picked Roland on a whim.  I don’t normally like ranged characters, but I felt Roland’s mid to short range game play compelling with the hookshot escape mechanism to get away when things went bad.  So there I was playing a ranged character and loving it, in spite of it going against everything I traditionally like in games.  I have a feeling I could probably pick up ANY character and find something I liked about it.  The skill sets just seem to have a lot of depth to them, and the various specializations give players way to tweak them and make them their own.  I am really looking forward to seeing more of this game as it moves forward towards the planned late 2015 release.

AggroChat 41 and Pax Day Two

A Tale of Two Days

PaxPlaysPokemonIt was not until today that I realized that yesterday at Pax was a bit of a downer.  I had a lot of fun playing around with various games that I had media appointments with, and I am so happy I caught moments like “Pax South Plays Pokemon” where a guy in a costume was accepting and mimicking commands just like Twitch Plays Pokemon.  The problem is I mostly focused on the four appointments I had, and treated the day like I was working the convention.  In theory I guess I was but the biggest thing that lead to this feeling was the fact that more or less I was completely alone.  Sure there were people at the convention that knew but since I was so focused on making sure I was on time for the four meetings I didn’t really focus on mingling much other than with the random strangers I stood in line with.  That was one of the things I found most interesting is just how comfortable I felt around strangers.  I think part of it is that I knew if conversation did happen… it would at least be about something I was probably knowledgeable.  It was like the entire weekend was this safe little bubble of geeks and dorks… and we all inherently sense we were among our own kind, and somehow safe.

gigantic_aggrochat_trio Today however was a completely different experience.  Upon arriving there I got into the line for the Guild Wars 2 expansion reveal, and immediately after that I met up with Ashgar who was also watching the panel but had arrived late.  Shortly after that we met up with Rae and her brother and from that point on at least two of us were together at all times.  This completely changed the entire dynamic of the show for me.  Instead of being about milling around looking for something interesting… it became about having this grand adventure with friends.  I of course had to sho them everything I thought was cool from day one, which involved trying to get them a play session of Gigantic.  Sure enough the folks were amiable to the idea of having two more members of the podcast playing.  While I wasn’t really expecting to play along as well we all ended up on a team opposite Angry Joe of the Angry Joe Show.  It seems like the Gigantic Live twitter feed caught us playing, and while it was an extremely hard fought match our team pulled ahead in the end and seized the day.  For those playing at home… faces right to left at the machines are Myself, Ashgar, and Rae…  with the every awesome Lonrem beside Rae offering words of advice.

Heart of Thorns

This morning of course was the big announcement of the Guild Wars 2 expansion pack.  The fact that it was happening was of no real surprise because apparently the ending of this most recently living story episode concluded with some heavy hints about the expansion.  What was a surprise to me at least is that Arena Net seems to be shoving aside the MMO tradition of releasing an expansion and raising the level cap.  Instead they are introducing an alternate progression path called Masteries.  This system will apparently be account based so once something is unlocked it is available to all of your characters.  Some of the unlocks will be quality of life things like a new hang gliding skill, and others will be as game changing as brand new specializations.  The only one that they gave examples of is that the Ranger will apparently be able to specialize into a Druid giving them access to staff weapon type and brand new druid abilities.

gw2boomstickhype The other big announcement for me at least is that they are adding a third heavy armor class to the game.  It seems their flagship character Rytlock has gone through a transformation turning him a warrior to the brand new revenant class.  It seems the revenant focuses on channeling the mist and gives access to retelling certain legends that give it special abilities.  In the video above it shows him summoning a giant dragon spirit, or dashing around the battlefield striking all targets.  I have to say both the trailer and the expansion content sounded cool, but at the same time I know my history with Guild Wars 2 in general.  I am not sure if the revenant is enough to make me care about the game, but it is at least a step in the right direction since I love me some “shadowknight” style classes.  They plan on trickling out information between now and the expansion about what will await players in Maguuma.  I had to share the above photo because people were pumped for the show… they gave us these boom stick things and folks were putting them to good use.

AggroChat 41 – AggroChat Game Club

Since we will be on the road super early in the morning I am writing this post after coming home from my last day at Pax South.  I had a phenomenal time and spent the day hanging out with some of my favorite people on the planet.  However since myself, Ashgar and Rae were all at Pax this weekend… we were unable to do our normal aggrochat recording thing.  We actually got our shit together and planned ahead for this eventuality and recorded double episodes last saturday night releasing the first as AggroChat 40, and then I have just published the second episode tonight through the magic of “publish on date” functionality.  With the second part we are announcing a new idea we had.  The idea is relatively simple… we have a book club but with games.  We will pick a game, play it through a given month and then record a show where we spoil everything allowing us to tear into the game completely.  We did this some time ago for Transistor, where we recorded a very non-spoiler show first… and later recorded a deep dive show about the plotline.

Leading up to this show we each compiled a list of games we wanted to nominate for the inaugural game club game.  During the course of this show I made the folks who posted each game defend their title, explaining why they thought it would be a good pick.  At the end of the show we arrive at title, but I am not going to spoil what our pick is just quite yet.  You can of course skip to the tail end of the show and find out for yourself really quickly, but where would the fun be in that?  In any case whatever game we chose… on Saturday February 28th we will record a game descending into the title and picking it clean.  From this point on we will figure out a more equitable scheme for picking games, to make sure we also get some “non-consensus” titles but I figured for the first pick it was probably good to grab a game we were all wanting to play.  As we play the game I encourage our listeners to play along and then share your comments about the game, but I will give more details on that later.  In any case… I am going to close down this evenings post and start packing up.  It was a great weekend at pax, but I am amped for life to return to normal, so see you all soon in the regularly scheduled social channels!

Day One

The First Day

paxline It was pretty early on in the day when I had my first realization that I had no clue what I was getting myself in for.  I got up yesterday morning at 5:30, showered, blogged, ate the free complimentary hot breakfast (sausage and eggs) and started roaming towards the convention center around 8 am.  When I got there I noticed there was absolutely nothing for parking, and the garage across the street from the convention center had a massive line of cars backed up in both directions.  After not find any real alternatives I got in that line and waited, hoping the “Open” side on the side of the garage would not change.  I was quite literally in that line for an hour before I finally got in and parked on the roof of the parking lot.

I have to say I have never been quite so happy to be parking on a rain drenched roof in my life.  I made my way into the convention hall where I entered a line of people…  quite honestly not really knowing why I was lining up.  It turns out I was doing mostly okay since this was the line for the opening of the expo hall at 10 am, the area that I had planned on spending most of my day.  I mingled with folks standing in line waiting on things to happen.   They had us line up five across and the entire length of the hall.  When I got there I was towards the front of line three, so people had been there in theory since at least 7 am.  By the time the halls actually opened up there were I believe eight of these lines all waiting to stream into the convention hall like an invading army.  Most were in search of the illusive swag…  me I was mostly trying to get my bearings and figure out where my media appointments would be.

Go Gigantic

gigantic_scrimroom Gigantic is one of those titles that I have known about for some time.  The art style and character designs appealed to me, but when I had a friend describe it as a “MOBA” my brain closed down shop.  Right now I am engaged in both League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm for various reasons…  and I just did not feel like I had enough room for “yet another moba” in my life.  Gigantic however is only a moba in character and skill designs, but the rest of the game play borrow elements from many genres the biggest is that of the first person shooter.  A match feels like a fast paced objective based deathmatch.  The gameplay starts with two teams of champions defending their teams “Guardian” which are these insanely huge monsters at either end of the arena.  The goal of the game is to score three wounds on the opposing teams Guardian.  You can either do this by dealing damage directly, or sending summoned creatures in to fight for you.  The challenge is that when you are summoning a creature you can be interrupted by taking damage from the other team.

Where the game play gets interesting is when “The Clash” happens, which is an end game condition that keeps matches from going too long.  When this happens the game arena shrinks in size as your guardian moves up to actually start fighting directly with the enemy guardian.  At this same time it funnels the players into much tighter quarters.  There are a lot of nuance to the mechanics, and since I have only gotten to play a single match it is hard for me to guess at much of it.  My background is that of an MMO tank… and having played mostly that…  I have to say picking up The Margrave the “tanky”champion felt right at home.  He has a kit with a big ground slam, frontal cleave attack, channeled defensive, and a charge that  can be used to hit other players or simply cover ground.  I actually landed the first kill of the match because the controls felt so natural.  The biggest highlight of my trip through Gigantic land is that I got to meet and hang out with Lonrem, better known for his community role with Anook.  Apparently he has been in the Gigantic community for some time, and when they made a call for experienced players to help act as “coaches” for the convention he jumped.

Decay and Moonrise

Undead-Labs_1Color_KO_onDark After hanging out with the Gigantic folks it was time for me to go to the floor and talk to Undead Labs the first of my press appointments for the show.  I have to give huge credit to Sanya Weathers for being so awesome in setting this up.  I’ve long been a fan of the stuff Undead Labs is doing and I was a day one buyer of State of Decay on XBLA and then later re-bought the game when it came out on steam.  Since then each time it has gone on sale I have picked up copies for various people to keep spreading the game.  I describe it to my friends as “Fallout with zombies and base building”, and I was pleased to find out that the folks at Undead Labs are completely happy with that description.  What is coming out in April is what they were showing off at the show, the Year One Survival edition.  Since it is targeting the PC and XBox One they have gone back and re-mastered the entire game so that it looks glorious at 1080p.  Additionally as Breakdown and Lifeline were released a number of improvements were made to the gameplay in each expansion.  All of those quality of life changes have been applied to the entire game as a whole and you can also play all of the characters from Breakdown and Lifeline in the original game as well.  For folks who own the previous release of the game there is going to be a special veteran only character with a sword and a suppressed rifle.  I asked the million dollar question of what the future plans were for the franchise and if it would include multiplayer.  As expected they could not commit to anything concrete, but did say that multiplayer was their original goal and still something they very much want to happen.  They said that when they did it, they wanted to build a game from the ground up with multiplayer, not try and tack it on as an afterthought… and that much I definitely agree with.

combat_10 Also while in Undead Labs land I got to get my hands on Moonrise their new mobile targeted pet battle rpg.  The idea behind the game is that every so often a condition happens that cause the animals of the planet to get infected with a sickness and become “Lunari”.  You play the role as a Warden, a public servant of sorts that does battle with the enraged Lunari, curing them and turning them back into the peaceful Solari.  If you have ever played the game Jade Coccoon, it feels very similiar… and in talking to Richard Foge it seems like the team had not actually played that game until after folks like me started comparing Moonrise to it.  The game is highly influenced by Pokemon, but the game plays out in a much more realtime fashion.  Not only do you have to have the right combos at the ready..  you have to be able to play them in rapid succession without your opponent somehow throwing a monkey wrench in your plans.  When we got around to playing PVP I happened to have one of those monkey wrenches and I kept throwing it often.  The game plans on being free to play with its monetization focusing on speeding up actions.  However they did not want to build a game where the player spent all of their time waiting on something to free up to be able to continue.  The goal was to create a game where there was always something to do, and from the sounds of it keep the player from going into maintenance mode.  I definitely look forward to seeing the game launch which is started at “sometime 2015” on consoles, iOS, Android and supporting both phone and tablet form factors.

Uncanny Valley

elitedangerous The last media appointment of the day was with the folks at Frontier to show off Elite Dangerous.  I cannot explain how phenomenally bad I am at star ship flight simulator type games.  I can do relatively well when I am constrained by gravity…  but when you throw in that element of being able to fly upside down in the mix I get completely lost.  To make matters even more difficult, they opted to show me the game using the Occulus Rift, hardware I had as of yet not been able to play with.  To say it was disorienting is a bit of an understatement.  That said after sitting in this virtual cockpit for a bit I noticed myself doing things instinctively like looking up through the top of the canopy to follow smoke trails or looking down at the dashboard indicators.  The only thing that I found really disturbing was the render hands that took actions similar to mine but not quite mine.  When you fire your weapons, the hand in game would fire your weapons… when you raised the shield the hand in game would raise the shield.  The problem is the rest of the time the hand largely sat there lifeless.  It was a really cool experience and I quizzed them about their future plans.  They said they would not be happy until you could do everything you would want to do in the setting including planetary exploration.  That however will take a long time, and they are prepping the 1.1 patch to becoming soon and adding new content.

The first day was a whole for me was almost as disorienting as playing Elite Dangerous with the Occulus Rift.  I am not entirely certain what I was expecting, but the reality turned out to be all the more strange.  I wish I could catch and bottle some of the enthusiasm of some of the other participants.  The whole place has this “summer camp for dorks” feel to it that is magical, and please don’t misunderstand…  I am absolutely a dork, just a deeply jaded one at this point.  Maybe it is because I have friends on the other side of the looking glass, that makes me able to see that there really isn’t magic at work… just a lot of clever programming and determination.  I also am not in a rabid search for free stuff mode, that it seems most of the conventioneers are so there is that.  I think if I were going to do this again I would try and schedule my entire day with nothing but press appointments.  That is what I found interesting, talking face to face with the folks behind the games.  I guess after writing about games for so long my interests have become far more nuanced.  At this point its time to hit publish and get ready to go do day two where I am hopefully met by Ashgar and Rae.

Twas Morning of Pax South

Grey Misty Way

hbp_books It is 6 am on the morning of Pax and here I sit in my hotel room dressed and ready for the con and trying to knock out my routine early morning blog post.  Right now my plan is to try and be at the convention center around 9 am because I assume at least on the first day there will be lines to get in.  This also gives me time to iron out where I will park and such, and to find some serious caffeine on the way there.  The hotel I am staying in offers a free hot breakfast each morning, so I am most definitely going to partake of that.  Yesterday was a pretty trippy day as far as travel days go.  We left the house around 7 am and ended up pulling into our hotel shortly after 8 pm.  So while the actual drive time was only around 8 hours of that… we meandered our way, had dinner with friends and wound up here about thirteen hours after we began our journey.

hbp_boardgames As far as travel days go yesterday was a dreary one.  From the moment we left the Tulsa Metro area we were hounded by light precipitation and walls of grey clouds.  When we entered into Texas this shifted over into a wall of mesmerizing rain and a constant struggle to keep the windows defogged.  At this point I am simply older than I used to be, and can only really drive for about two hours at a time before needing to stretch my legs.  Our first stop was on the far side of the Tulsa metro area in Okmulgee, the second at a tiny casino gas station near Atoka, and the third was in McKinney Texas at their Half Priced Books.  My wife and I have a love affair with that store and it is like a siren calling to us whenever we see one.  We opted to take a break, eat some lunch and maybe just maybe we would miss the noon traffic in the Dallas metro area.  It was shortly after lunch that I had the surreal experience of being retweeted by the Texas Tourism bureau along with Half Priced Books based on a comment I had made.  Note the photos are actually from the Austin store… not the McKinney store.  It had probably the best selection of games I have seen in a HBP be they video, board or pen and paper.

The Power of Google Navigation

For the most part our plan worked and we did not encounter significant traffic until a stretch of road between Waco and Temple Texas.  After making another pit stop in Waco to stretch our legs, we noticed google maps was trying to route us down a different path on the outskirts of temple.  Sure enough the traffic had ground to an absolute halt, and the navigation showed our current route in a deep red color indicating slowdown.  It directed us off to a shoulder… and other than the fact that Texas construction is completely confusing we would have cut around the entire accident.  For the longest time I have complained that Oklahoma is in a constant state of construction…  but at least ours looks like active construction.  When there are five foot tall weeds growing among the concrete elements and the sandbags holding up your temporary signs are covered in grass…  something tells me it has been like that for far too long.

styles_switch This was the story of Central Texas…  constant construction with little rhyme or reason as to why.  I would hate to live in that area because it seemed like every other bridge was “out” with two vehicles stacked on top of it.  Now I swear by Google Navigation however because in each case of a wreck or slowdown it provided us an alternate route that pretty much cut us directly around what was going on.  We got into Austin around 6pm which was just about perfect considering we were meeting friends for dinner.  The place they suggested was Stiles Switch a BBQ joint on North Lamar.  The one standout from traditional BBQ fare was the fact that they served their chopped brisket in an almost meaty gravy, ladling it out into bowls instead of onto the plate directly.  They also had something that they called a Frito Texas Pie, where they essentially made the standard Frito Chilli Pie but with this chopped brisket instead.  The food was amazing and the corn caserole and mac and cheese that I had as sides were to die for.  The only slight disappointment was the “spicy sausage” mostly because I didn’t consider it all that spicy… and it was a beef sausage which I have never been a huge fan of.  I would most definitely stop there again if we were going through Austin for some reason.

Monument to Excess

bucees During our trip we kept seeing these billboards with a cute animal character on them saying “Buc-ee’s” was only X number of miles away with a slogan of some sort attached to each.  After about the fifth of these we hit the phone and Wikipedia and looked the place up.  According to wikipedia… “The New Braunfels travel center is the largest convenience store in the world at 68,000 square feet. The store features 120 fuel pumps (60 at construction, 60 more added in late 2013), 83 toilets, 31 cash registers, 4 Icee machines, 80 fountain dispensers”.  After reading the description we checked our route to see if we would in fact be going through New Braunfels… and it turned out that it was roughly the halfway point between Austin and San Antonio…  so last night as we passed it we stopped.  The description cannot do justice to the insanity of this place, and I attempted to take photos to show off the scale…  but it is just unimaginable in person.

The convenience store is larger than most grocery stores, and has this “Bass Pro Shops of Convenience Stores” feel too it.  Inside they have everything you could imagine from what looked to be over twenty flavors of beef jerky, to an entire wall of every candy you could imagine, to many freshly prepared foods like brisket sandwiches sliced in front of you.  All the while I am roaming around this place I am thinking to myself..    how much money are they losing on this building.  There is no way they can ever have even half of the bays full of cars gasing up, not to mention the size of the storage tanks… or the cost to fill them.  This is easily the least practical store I have ever seen in my life, and while it is awesome that something this insane exists…  it also seems like the sort of place that could bankrupt your entire company.  There what felt like a couple dozen employees working there, most of which sitting idle waiting on customers.   I am guessing the novelty has worn off.

Awesome Accommodations

hotelroom_full I was extremely slow getting our hotel reservations for Pax South.  Early on when I looked I noticed that everything around the riverwalk area was pure madness.  There was no way I was going to pay $150-200 a night especially if I had access to a vehicle.  So in early January I spent an afternoon looking at various hotels and their ratings and finally settled on a Country Inn and Suites out by the airport.  For normal folks the airport noise might bother them… but since we live in the approach path for Tulsa International…  we are used to it… in fact I find it a slight bit comforting.  Everything I had seen online made it seem like the place was going to be awesome… free wifi, breakfast, seperate sitting room, shuttle bus that my wife could abuse during the day…  but man it has turned out to be so much nicer than I expected.  The photos just do not do it justice, because essentially we have two rooms one with a couch, desk, television, chair, and bar with a fridge and microwave.  Then we have a second room that is our bed, dresser and closet, giving a kind of neat division of space and allowed me to get up and shower this morning without waking up my wife.

hotelroom_doorwayshot So while I am about six miles from the convention center… I feel like it is well worth it.  When we got checked in last night we dropped off our stuff and went roaming around looking for a grocery store or something like a Wal-mart.  At the front desk… they had cookies…  warm gooey doubletree style cookies.  Granted we have only stayed one night but I think we knocked it out of the park on the accommodations.  I am just about to wrap up this post and check out the hot breakfast, and hopefully it will live up to being just as good as the other aspects have been.  Last night we managed to find an HEB which is a chain we do not have in Oklahoma.  If the customers were any indication I am guessing we are near a fairly high rent area… which is strange to me… considering in Tulsa our airport is essentially nestled in the slums.  Being from Oklahoma I still cannot get used to seeing Wine in a grocery store… but for the rest of the country that is likely a pretty standard sight.  I will admit right now I am delaying wrapping things up because I am more than a bit nervous.  Hoping this convention goes extremely well and I meet a lot of cool people.  Stay tuned for some convention news tonight!

Reaping What We Sow

Pax Packing

Tonight is my last night at home before heading towards PAX.  As such our world pretty much revolves around packing up the things that need packing and cleaning the house some more to make it nice for the house sitter.  I think at this point I have everything that I am going to need to both enjoy and “work” pax.  This is going to be an odd experience for me, because in theory I am the eyes and ears of MMOGames.com during the course of this trip.  In addition to that I am going to try my best not to let my streak of daily postings slip either.  As such I am writing this and planning on posting it in the morning… which while cheating is something I have accepted in the past.  In truth most of my posts during this trip will be along these lines as I intend to write up what I saw during that day from my hotel room.

The oddest experience for me is that I am going to have some actual media appointments, as in sit on the couch and talk to devs about their games.  I have a ton of questions, but at the same time I am feeling extremely self conscious.  Its like I am expecting them to immediately realize that I am not really a professional writer, and get kicked off the couch or something.  Sure I blog each and every day, and that has been one hell of a marathon, but for whatever reason this suddenly seems that much more real.  I would love to be doing stuff like this for a living, but I learned long ago that writing simply does not pay enough to even come close to offsetting the salary of a programmer.  So instead I will just pretend to be a “legitimate writer”, and simply be thankful that someone is letting me indulge that fantasy.

Buy To Play

eso 2014-05-09 18-41-57-458 For the several quarters it has seemed to me that Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar were like two kids sitting waiting on the bottom of a pool.  Each of them trying to hold their breath as long as humanly possible before admitting defeat and swimming to the surface.  Today Elder Scrolls Online swam to the surface and admitted defeat, announcing that they would be abandoning the subscription model in favor of a new “buy to play” strategy with an optional premium subscription.  That said I absolutely expect Wildstar to swim to the surface themselves rather quickly confident that they won this game of chicken… but no less battered for the challenge.  This was the year that the subscription model gave its last hurrah, and ultimately proved that the buying public simply was not willing to pay on a month my month basis.

I say this but it is not entirely true, given that World of Warcraft, EVE Online, and Final Fantasy XIV are each doing better than they have in years.  The subscription model is still very much alive and kicking, but unfortunately the folks willing to pay a monthly fee… seem to already be committed leaving only the game hoppers and nomads shifting from  title to title.  Awhile back I wrote an article calling Elder Scrolls Online my disappointment of the year… and in many ways it still very much is.  That said I hate to see them having to shift payment models like this.  I still like the idea of a subscription, but a game has to earn the right to see my monthly payment.  Final Fantasy XIV does this by providing a constant stream of new content.  World of Warcraft earns my dollar by simply being the first breakout hit to claim the market share and thus addict swarms of my friends who refuse to leave it.  Elder Scrolls Online just lacked the glue to keep me playing, and after my initial six months worth of subscription time I let my account go dormant expecting to play again when it hit the consoles.

Reaping What We Sow

Today I made a tweet, and as luck would have it my fingers got faster than my brain…  and it of course has a typo.  That said I pretty much stand by the statement… once corrected for spelling of course.  Game Companies are after all companies.  Developers, Designers, Artists and Writers all have to get paid for their work, and at the end of the day no one can afford to work for free.  Hell I couldn’t do half of the stuff I did with my blog, podcasts and the sort without a really nice paying job to back me up and fund my hobbies.  At the end of the day these companies have to make money, so they can turn around and invest in those resources that support their games., and that’s not even taking into account the serious costs associated with keeping up a server farm.  Sure single servers are relatively simple and cheap to operate… but when you are talking an online game you are literally talking about thousands of servers working together to maintain the structure that we demand be not only up 24/7 but also be relatively lag free.

So if we complain about blatant money grabs like the air drop scandal in H1Z1, or the constant limited edition loot box bonanzas in Star Wars the Old Republic and Rift.  We have to realize that all of it is entirely our faults.  The subscription model was nice and honestly and for the most part was a contract between the players and a company.  We pay them to keep rolling out new content, and keep the lights on… and we would get to play their games.  However at some point during the line that contract was broken, and we the players started wanting more for free.  I have gotten so tired of seeing comments like “I like the game, but I will play it when it goes free to play”.  If you like the game, and want to play it… you should be willing to support it.  I’ve subscribed to games for months after I stopped playing them, just because I believed in the mission of the company or the game.  If we don’t help the companies… they are going to keep  taking progressively more desperate measures to try and stay afloat and keep making salary.

Players Are Now Investors

I will be the first to admit that steam early access or paid alpha and beta programs are frustrating riddled with problems.  Ultimately I feel like that extra transparency bogs down the process and ultimately produces a confused product designed by committee.  The problem is…  we are quickly becoming the investors in the games we are playing.  Why are we now investors you might ask yourself?  Essentially the repeat failure of AAA MMOs means that a lot of the institutional funding is simply not available.  Would you want to fund an MMO after the state of Rhode Island was stuck holding a multi-million dollar bill for the failure of Copernicus?  Kickstarter has been an interesting catalyst for games development.  It has placed a power in our hands that we have never had before…  and it is not entirely a good thing.  As investors… we feel entitled to have our say in the way the process works.

I honestly miss the days when I could look at the games industry like it was some magical engine of creation.  When I could view it as being something that simply turned out the games I wanted to play without any real consequences attached to it.  The problem is… I know the consequences in the faces of friends that have been effected by the closure of studios, and the “cutbacks” in staffing as subscriptions faltered.  How do you build a family when you aren’t sure where you will be living in six months?  Maybe I shouldn’t care about the human costs behind these things, but unfortunately that isn’t really a luxury I have.  I write my blog and I make my quips, but at the end of the day I have nothing but the utmost respect for the folks that make the games I care about.  I can be petulant just as much as the next person, but sometimes I lose sight on the truth behind it all.  They make the games that we are supposed to have fun playing… and in doing so it is up to us the players to uphold our end of that bargain.  I am not addressing the people that didn’t enjoy a game, because that is the way it works…. I am talking about the folks that loved a game… but were unwilling to subscribe.