PAX East, Night 1: Jamspace jams, Packed panels, the Protomen, and MC Frontalot

Read my recap of the first half of Day 1 of PAX East here.

After writing about my morning gaming in the expo hall and rocking out to chiptune DJs, I headed back to the jam space again around 3:00 to see some non-chiptune music. I don't know whether I'd recommend visiting the jam space as a listener rather than a musician waiting to play, since the music quality is unpredictable. You've got the MAGFest guys, who brought the instruments on stage and who will occasionally hop up to play a few bars and stun the entire room with their awesomeness. Then you've got civilians like you and me who get up and aren't nearly so good (or as familiar with all the complex settings on the super fancy keyboards available). The result is a mash-up of good musicianship and less-good-but-still-fun musicianship. Sometimes, everybody will get into a groove for a few bars and sound like a "real" band. Sometimes, one person or other will fuck up the whole thing with an awful, dissonant chord or riff. It's hit or miss.

Mostly, the music played at the jam space is video game music, although there's also some standard blues progressions as well. If you want to play at the jam space next year, I'd recommend learning a few video game tunes at home beforehand. Chances are, your fellow musicians will have done so as well. While I was there, I heard some Zelda and some Castlevania, and everybody on stage seemed pretty prepared, even though they'd never met each other or played together before. It didn't sound that professional. But it was definitely dance-able, and everybody knew how the songs were supposed to sound, at least.

I haven't managed to attend a single panel yet at this con. The one panel I really wanted to attend -- "Press B to Laugh," on humor in games -- was packed by the time I arrived, which makes me wonder why PAX East bothered to move to a bigger convention hall. I still see huge lines for every panel, and people getting turned away at the door even after they've waited a long time to get in. If you still have to show up for every panel an hour early and sit on a rug doing nothing in order to attend, what's the point?

The point of moving to this bigger venue is, presumably, that more people can attend PAX East. And yet, even though more people got in to the con this year, there are still lurkers without passes waiting around the reg hall and praying for a miracle -- or being proactive instead of praying (read: doing something illegal like forging or stealing a pass). I've never seen anything like that happen at any other convention. And here's another thing that I've never seen happen: a friend of mine had his PAX East three-day festival pass stolen right off his lanyard by an enterprising would-be attendee. People are absolutely desperate to get in to this con, and they're willing to break the law to do it.

As fun as this con is, I can't help but wonder why anyone thinks it's worth it to steal a badge from someone else. Sure, you get to play a video game for a minute or two, months before it comes out, if you're willing to wait in line for an hour. That's pretty cool, I guess, but not worth screwing over someone else who paid $50.

Speaking of waiting in line for an hour, I also got my hands on the new Nintendo 3DS yesterday. The demonstration began with a short mini-game of shooting targets, so that the guys at the booth could show you how far away and at what angle to hold the thing in order to see the 3D effects. Then, we were allowed to roam the booth and play a variety of 3D games, including Lego Star Wars III and Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The problem was the booth workers were too quick to let in the people waiting in the line outside the booth, so even after you got in, you were met with terrible overcrowding and more lines. It felt twenty degrees hotter in that booth than it did in the rest of the already hot, already crowded expo hall. I waited another ten minutes (felt like half an hour in the heat) to play some Zelda in 3D, and I had a fantastic time somersaulting around the Deku Tree and shooting spiders with my sling shot. The DSs were programmed to go black after you'd played a game for about a minute, but after about twenty seconds of playing, I already couldn't wait for the thing to turn off. I had three guys right behind my head, looking over my shoulder and just waiting to get their hands on the game, and sweat was pouring down my back because of the heat. As fun as the 3DS was, I couldn't imagine a more intolerable environment for playing a video game. I hope next year, Nintendo springs for a bigger booth -- or at least that they don't let quite as many people cram into it.

Overcrowding is the least of the expo hall's problems this year. I wasn't the only person who immediately noticed the presence of booth babes, in spite of PAX's "no booth babes" policy. Here's a blog post with a picture of the Gearbox booth babes (not the only ones here, by the way), as well as Robert Khoo and Jerry Holkins's original statements about how PAX wouldn't have booth babes. The Gearbox ladies are probably the most gratuitous, but other booths also have paid models in cosplay or other skimpy outfits. I'll reiterate that I don't personally care about this, except insofar as it reinforces the narrative that all gamers are straight and male. I have yet to see any sexy booth dudes, and considering how many women are here, that's a mistake. Maybe everybody thinks all of us are just weary girlfriends tagging along, or that we're all casual gamers who are not really interested in the hardcore stuff, but a cursory glance will prove you wrong on that. There are women waiting in line to test every kind of game, even the dudebro-tastic titles like Gears 3. We're here to game. And we want sexy booth dudes. (Okay, maybe that's just me.)

Last night, I went to the concert and saw the Protomen and MC Frontalot perform live for the first time. (Unfortunately, I had to miss Metroid Metal closing out the show, since public transit doesn't keep running after midnight. Sigh.) Although I've heard MC Frontalot's music before, I'd never even heard the Protomen, and with that band, seeing them is as important as hearing them anyway. For those who don't know, the Protomen perform songs about Mega Man while wearing helmets, masks, Bowie-esque face paint, and/or other bizarre costumery. Their set also has a rock-opera plot arc based on Mega Man, apparently, although it's pretty hard to tell what that plot is, because the Protomen are too fucking epic to enunciate. Each of their songs involves three or more keyboardists, bizarre posturing on the part of their silver-masked hype man (yes, they have a hype man, and no, he doesn't do anything except make speeches about warriors and dance), and the guitarist collapsing on the stage dramatically during solos or other climaxes. This is all pretty great, if you've willing to go along for the ride on the over-the-top corniness. I rocked out during the first half, but I left in the middle to get a drink of water, and when I came back, I admit I had trouble getting back on board. It probably didn't help that the lead singer's voice isn't even close to as good as the three other people who also sing for the band (two female back-up singers, and a third guy who -- I think? -- played the villain in the plot arc). My favorite parts of the show, as a result, were the villain's ska-meets-metal number, and the one verse in one song that one of the female back-up singers sang by herself. Please, Protomen, make either one of those people your lead vocalist. Or at least give them more to do.

MC Frontalot kicked off his show with the world premiere of his new video for "Zero Day." In it, all of his personal electronics came to life, shuffled around his apartment, and assembled themselves into a robot that attacked him. I'm not sure what that was supposed to signify, but the video was hilarious (and kind of terrifying). Frontalot came out immediately afterwards with the rest of his band. It's not so typical for a rapper to perform with a full band, but Frontalot has a drummer, two keyboardists, and a bassist, with the latter three also doing back-up singing. Although his music isn't as much in my wheelhouse as the Protomen's rock tunes, I ended out enjoying his show more because of his charisma and endearing sashaying around the stage. Also, his bassist was considerably more hyperactive than any other bassist I've ever seen. Overall, he's a fantastic live act even if you prefer rock to rap, since his live band makes him sound more like rock anyway. I hoped Frontalot would play his Kingdom of Loathing theme, but no dice, unless he played it after I left -- hopefully not.

Tomorrow: I will try to actually get in to at least one panel, maybe play Gears 3 again (and some other games) depending on lines, and will attend the con's Saturday night concert.

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