The Penny Arcade Expo continued its existence with more panels, more gaming, more costumery, and an ambient cloud of nerd bliss that largely overpowered the morning mist. Dudes hacked their real guitars into Rock Band controllers. Game designers talked about monetization and the "valorization of outcomes." Wesley Crusher played D&D in front of a cheering crowd. More details after the jump.

Behold... BEHOLDER!
  • A beholder in the shadow of the D&D Bus. This is called commitment to the bit.

Life is getting weird for game designers. The raucous panel "World of Farmcraft" featured four game designers who used to work for local game tyrant Mafia Wars. Things are changing fast, and they are the vanguard of our post-Farmville future. Microsoft's Tyler Bielman moderated, and claimed that 250 new games pop up on Facebook every day. That's kind of a lot, and we hope that the ones that survive are more fun than what we've got now. Speaking of which, nobody asked about Cow Clicker.

Elsewhere, over 1200 people sat in uncomfortable hotel-ballroom chairs for over two hours to watch five dudes hunkered around a table playing D&D. It helped that the four players were Wil Wheaton (a.k.a. Wesley Crusher) and a trio of rock-star web-comic icons, Scott Kurtz (of PvP, who needled Wheaton mercilessly with Star Trek jokes) and Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins (a.k.a. Gabe and Tycho, the raison d'etre of PAX). The group records regular podcasts of their party's D&D exploits, but the live show was an unmissable, almost continuously funny novelty. This session was a reunion with Wheaton—rescuing his putatively dead character from a cigar-smoking dwarven matron in Hell—and multiple cameras broadcast the action on a ridiculously large screen. Audience members occasionally voted with text messages to direct the action, for example by choosing how the PCs would complete a teleportation ritual (by, as it turns out, choice C, revealing their PCs' darkest secrets). Much schmomedy ensued.

Music games are getting better, weirder, and (in some cases) more intimidating. Rock Band 3 brings the keytar to a frantic public that demands fresher and more impressive ways to fail out of a song. Add to that the Pro Mode and its new, 102-button guitar controller and you've got a seriously two-tiered approach to play. We prefer noodling around on Easy or Medium because we suck, but this should give real musicians something to do while the rest of us flail our way through "Freebird" on no-fail mode.

The wild success of Rock Band and Guitar Hero encouraged the rise of a secondary market to exploit the controllers so many people have purchased. Instant Jam asks you to plug your guitar controller into a Windows PC, sign in to Facebook, and rock out. It scans your hard drive for music (and nothing else), compares it all to its list of scanned tracks—around 2,500 now, with 50 more coming each week—and lets you play along with your tracks, earn fans, money, and more, and presumably rub your rockingness in your friends' faces. It's in open beta now, so go forth and try to break it.

Open Chord is so nutty and awesome that it felt like we had walked into Maker Faire. Dude hacked together a tiny bit of electro-business that you can solder to your real-life guitar or bass (possibly having sliced it open first, if you are hardcore). Once so soldered, you can hook your instrument up to any PS3, Wii, or PC and go to town with those popular guitar games that people love so much. It's all open-source, and for only $40 you can be the coolest kid in Guitar Hero-land. Open source, of course.

Only $40... plus soldering.
  • Only $40... plus soldering.

Just one more day to go! And hey, if you've strayed from the D&D flock and think that you might want to play again, give us the name of one of your old characters in the comments (and for bonus points, any associated stories or ridiculousness). The nice folks on the D&D bus gave us a copy of the new "red box"—designed for people who don't know the current edition of D&D—and we'll give it to the Slog commenter with the best character name and/or story.

The Stranger Testing Department is Rob Lightner and Paul Hughes.