The Penny Arcade Expo started up for reals this morning. It's tempting to contrast it with Bumbershoot, but Burning Man is closer to the mark. The focus may be nothing more than corporate death-culture (depends who you ask), but the masterminds behind PAX take great pains to ensure that their attendees can choose their own adventures. If you want to wait in line for a Fallout: New Vegas T-shirt, turn to page 13. If you want to create a scavenger hunt, turn to page 101.

There's a lot to take in this year. The crowd seems hotter and more biologically female than last year, which is saying quite a lot. The shiny, flashy, noisy exhibition space is 20% larger (and somewhat more E3-like—booth babes? really?), and attendance is expected to match that, likely breaking 70,000. Panels covered the booming indie game scene, how to make the switch from gamer to game designer, and (sadly, of course, every single year we have to ask again) what's up with women and gaming?

Hundreds of huge, comfy beanbag chairs spread out over the floor of the convention center like the world's biggest basement bedroom. Thousands play D&D, card games, board games, and network games side by side in room after room. We swear to god we saw a larger-than-life pink fairy princess grab a stranger's toddler, whirl him around while he squealed in delight, then set him down and march off to meet her destiny. More after the jump (and don't miss Kelly O's earlier pictures of costumed wonders):


  • The yellow-clad faux protesters—fauxtesters?—that Kelly O. caught this morning are actually promoting (of course, because there is no absurdist art, only commerce)* Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. Still, they get massive praise for '90s-era "under construction" graphics, funny web copy (e.g., "IMPORTANT! There will be only one update. Us telling you when the site is done."), and ridiculous postcards ("I may kill you from behind. But I love you from the front."). Marketing is inevitable, so let it be nonshitty.

  • Portal 2, sequel to the super-popular, super-witty physics puzzle game, looks like it's going to be worth the wait. It's due out next February from local megacorp Valve, promises a hell of a lot more gameplay than its somewhat skimpy (if still awesome) predecessor, and offers cooperative play that features robot hugs. Stephen Merchant of The Office (UK) and Extras voices Wheatley the friendly AI in single-player, which should dull the pain of your hundredth gruesome death.

  • Our excitable young companion Jonathon flagged us down on the escalator to the hidden level (yes, PAX has a hidden level), exclaiming "Hey, get down here! Do you want free money?" As usual, he had our number, so we hurried down to play this hot new game that promised so much. As it happened, the publisher of the World of Warcraft card game was giving away cards to those willing to spin a Wheel of Warcraft, and J. had lucked into a rare card worth (his estimate) several hundred dollars. We couldn't bear to come in second, so we backed away and waited in line for a Fallout: New Vegas T-shirt.

  • Aren't going to PAX? The cool uncle that you never had in the '70s has pulled his extremely long fantasy space van into the parking lot across from the Paramount. You don't need a PAX pass to check out the official D&D Bus, fully festooned in old-school D&D line drawings—by Larry Elmore, David C. Sutherland III, and other classic TSR illustrators—of trolls, kobolds, myconids (A4!), a green dragon, and at least one Paladin in Hell. It is also filled with small bags of Doritos and the broken, infinitely looped dreams of the ill-fated D&D cartoon. We saw (no lie) a D&D improv troupe performing in front of the bus this morning. One of the audience-suggested locations was a bathroom. Was it a magical bathroom? From an anthropological standpoint—we mean, if David C. Sutherland III, doesn't do it for you like he does it for us—you can't miss this.


  • If you have a PAX pass and you're still reading Slog tonight, come join us down at See Sound Lounge and see inarguably awesome DJ duo NASA and nerdcore sensation MC Frontalot for free. (You may remember MC Frontalot from such songs about Achewood as Livin' at the Corner of Dude & Catastrophe.)

    *There is no escape from Mudedism.

    The Stranger Testing Department is Rob Lightner and Paul Hughes.