If you couldn't tell from my lack of posting, life has been rough lately. But not yesterday. Yesterday was a good day.
Yesterday was the first day of the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX). I've never been before, but this year I've been plugged into more gaming blogs and the more I learned about PAX the more interested I became. What totally sealed the deal for me was this adorable story about Gabe attending a Pokemon tournament (and the warm fuzzy follow-up). These guys and their web comic are hardcore yet laid back gamers - people like me. PAX is basically a party by gamers for gamers. And I am so into that.
I'm fortunate enough to live in Seattle, so getting to PAX is cake for me. I distinguished the usually common walk downtown by grooving to some 8-bit remixes on my Zune. Upon arriving at the convention center I was immediately struck by how the place was swarming with my ilk. My heart swelled to see so many good people (albeit a bit pale) coming together to geek out over something they love so much. I guess it's a sign of how stressed I've been to say that I wanted to get all teary at the sight of a whole bunch of gaming geeks milling around.
I wasn't at the convention for more than ten minutes before I got to play Rock Band (priorities are priorities, after all). I was there early before the line got totally ridiculous plus I got bumped up to fill out a group of three that needed one more. They were sitting there, ready to go, but looking so sad because they had no lead guitarist. And I, like a true guitar hero, raised my hand as if to say "I will save you!" The song was Learning to Fly by the Foo Fighters, the difficulty was Hard (I didn't have the balls to try out Expert on a new song in front of a crowd that large), our drummer kinda sucked (props to him for trying ), but it was totally awesome.
The Rock Band guitar feels a less solid in heft than the Guitar Hero one, although it looks way cooler. The strum has a lip to it, giving it more grip than the Guitar Hero triangle of slipperiness. The fret buttons don't stick out, making them feel a little more like piano keys than buttons (which I think made them feel more substantial and a bit easier to slide over). I didn't get a chance to try out the mysterious high frets. The whammy bar feels like a real whammy bar, and the guitar has an actual effects switch. If you ignore the fact that it's way too light and seems to be made of too many pieces, it totally feels like a Fender Strat.
As that I was playing lead guitar, I didn't really get much of a chance to feel out the drums or vocals. But the guitar portion was more or less exactly what you get from Guitar Hero. It might have just been due to my virgin run on the song, but it felt like the timing was a little more critical than what I've grown used to. The fret UI indicators also don't seem to stand out as well (either in size or color) compared to Guitar Hero, but again that could just be me resisting change. All in all it felt like a solid round of Guitar Hero but with a whole band behind me.
Totally aglow from my rock experience, I wandered the show floor a bit longer until I found the Wii section… complete with playable Metroid Prime 3. I had to wait in line a bit for this one, which was made extra painful by how bad the guy was in front of me. I don't mean to be too critical, but we weren't resetting the demo after each player so I had to start off wherever he stopped - totally lost, 5 minutes in the opposite direction from where the action was. So I didn't get to sample a great deal of the combat. But I can say that the controls are really smooth. This was my first real Wii shooter, so I can't say how it compares to other games, but I can say that I never felt like I was fighting the controls. The pan regions on the edge felt a little sticky, but by the end of my run I was already compensating for that and moving around like a champ. I did spend a large time staring at a grapple point, frantically trying to figure out what button to press… until I realized that you grapple with a totally hot nunchuck gesture. Apparently I was making it waaay too complicated by thinking in terms of "buttons."
I wandered the floor for a bit longer, and on my way out I just happened to catch the keynote. I hadn't planned on attending, after all what does Wil Wheaton have to say that I need to hear? But I'm totally glad I went, because the speech was awesome. He basically just talked about his life of being a gamer, from dumping his allowance into the arcades to playing Guitar Hero with his kids. He was witty, funny, and completely relatable. And again I was strong by a great sense of camaraderie for all my fellow gamers filling out that theater.
I finished off my evening with wine, steak, and DotA. Unfortunately those people online didn't seem to have heard Wil's "Don't be a dick" message, but it was still a pleasant way to end a pretty awesome day.