PAX East 2013 Part 2/2
A show floor is a collection of structures, sights, sounds and people. Games to excite attendees. Tables, hardware and stages to play them on. Panels for discussion and thought. Giant signs, lights, speakers and structures to draw show-goers in.
Insofar as it contains all these ingredients, the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) is like any other show. But PAX is special: more than the sum of these parts. The ‘feeling’ is unique, the ‘vibe’ is particular. From the volunteer Enforcers, the ban on booth babes, to the friendly atmosphere between exhibitors.
Taking a game to PAX is an exercise in knitting multiple threads together. In this post, I take a look at what some of those threads are, and who helped get Natural Selection 2 to PAX East 2013.
The most important thread in the PAX tapestry is the team that takes the game to the show. The people that make up your show team define the PAX experience for you and those that encounter your game. Picking the right people is crucial, and forming a cohesive team essential.
Shows throw up stressful situations. They involve constant interaction between varied people. When the server craps out, you have slept three hours and have not eaten, part of the booth structure breaks, a show goer starts messing with one of your machines, and a major press outlet arrives for an unscheduled interview: Who do you have at your back?
For PAX East 2013, the team was Lilly ‘Mistress of Darkness’ Baker, Chris ‘Ironhorse’ Gates, and Dillon ‘WasabiOne’ Savage. Lilly is a UWE developer. Dillon and Chris volunteered to go to PAX, and do so much work for UWE as volunteers that they may as well be developers too.
Each of them is a confident, effective, and creative individual. They show initiative to solve problems, and keep their cool in the face of stress. They are resilient even after accumulated sleep deprivation, and remain motivated, friendly and confident despite the best efforts of the most ‘challenging’ booth visitors.
Lilly is particularly effective at sourcing material and services, and looking after crew welfare. Dillon is a fountain of creative ideas, tireless in his explanation of the game to visitors, and his skills proved invaluable whenever tech problems needed solving. Chris is a highly energetic, cool-headed and clear thinking unit. His tutelage of every single new commander was fundamental to the quality of the gaming experience for every booth visitor.
The physical and mental strain of exhibiting at PAX is a test of character for anyone. The team that took NS2 to PAX East 2013 is one that passed that test with flying colours.
PAX East 2012 was UWE’s first game show: And we did it the hard way, on our own. Convention centers are complex places. They feature entrenched labour practices, detailed rules and restrictions, and the ability to generate consistent bill shock.
By PAX East 2013, we had learned our lesson. Successful navigation of a show requires a person on the ground between you and the convention center. Building the booth, dealing with shipping, and sorting out minor catastrophes in real time.
The Trade Group fills that role for Unknown Worlds – materials, construction, dismantling and on-site support throughout the show. They are a reliable and trustworthy crew, and since beginning our relationship they have consistently delivered high quality service that translates into a great experience for booth visitors.
Despite looking after some of the biggest exhibitors on the show floor, TTG always have time for us, with no request being to small (and certainly not too big!). For that we are greatly appreciative.
Showing off a game means graphics on high and no tolerance for low frame-rates. Having the game drop below ~35 frames a second is a fast way to turn people off the experience. The tolerance of show goers for poor performance is much lower than users at home: They are at a big booth, and expect the game they are seeing to be running buttery smooth on the highest settings.
Unknown Worlds is, therefore, immensely grateful to Alienware. They provide us monitors and PCs free of charge, and support us on the show floor. The X51’s they delivered ran the game brilliantly on maximum graphical settings at 1920 x 1080 resolution.
Even better, the X51 is a very small form factor unit, and highly energy efficient. With only a 300 watt passive power brick, they don’t require the purchase of as much power as full-towers. Their small size and low weight significantly improves airflow inside the stand cases, eases setup and dismantling, and greatly reduces return shipping costs at the end of the show.
Of course, PC gaming is no fun without keyboard, mouse and headset. That’s where Logitech stepped in. Logitech were extremely generous to us at PAX, providing G710+ keyboards, G35 headsets and G500 mice to pair with all the Alienware PCs, all free of charge.
Having nice gear is crucial to showgoers having a good experience, and Logitech even gave us extra gear to give away as prizes! A few clever commanders walked away with some very sweet PC accessories.
Finally, showing a game requires a game. You can spend all the money in the world, have the biggest booth and the loudest sound system. You can have the fanciest costumes, the brightest lights, the best position. Without a game, all of that money will fly up in smoke.
The Unknown Worlds team worked themselves to the bone to build Gorgeous into the best NS2 yet. They backed up and fired again for Build 242, bringing big performance improvements. The combination proved glorious on the PAX show floor. The game flew, never crashed, never hitched, and suffered no noticeable bugs.
Being at a show also means maintaining consistent contact with home base, even at awkward hours. Brian didn’t miss a beat at 0530 on a Friday when I had to call him about a server config issue before the show opened. The game is everything. When it works, and when the team is available, you cannot go far wrong.
Until Next Time
Consistently, endlessly, people walked up to Booth 232 and told me that they were amazed. The stunned and intrigued faces of groups as they made the link between RTS and FPS gave me chills. Visits from fans filled me with joy. What a brilliant PAX, what a thrill to be part of it, and how exciting the future of NS2 is.