Flameseeker Chronicles: PAX 2011 travel diary

Is it time for PAX 2012 yet?
Welcome to my own version of post-holiday letdown. Just like last year, PAX is over and I'm a little sad. I'm dead tired, my feet are killing me, and I'm dreading trying to organize and pack the chaos of my hotel room, but I wish it were last Friday morning again. I had meetings that took me all over the show floor during the three days of PAX, but of course my downtime was all about Guild Wars 2: standing in line for demo time, checking out what panels I could, and chatting with the development team. Today's Flameseeker Chronicles is what I can now call my annual PAX travel diary, so hit the jump and I'll catch you all up on PAX, ArenaNet style!

Friday was the designated day for media to enter the show floor an hour early. Last year I took advantage of that to bolt for a Guild Wars 2 demo station, but this year my schedule didn't allow that. I contented myself with dropping by to say hello to the developers on my way past the booth.

As I proceeded through the show floor, I noticed a huge Guild Wars 2 presence. Maybe not quite as big as Firefall's (Geez Red 5, even in the bathrooms?), but it seemed like there were demo stations everywhere. The Alienware booth dominated its area of the show floor, with everything contained in a giant cage complete with bleachers inside so attendees could watch Guild Wars 2 PvP matches. Various players took on the ArenaNet team, with varying results. Before some of you even ask, yes, I did play Guild Wars 2 PvP this weekend. More on that debacle later.

In between PvP matches at the Alienware booth, players could hit up some of the gameplay stations for some GW2 PvE demo time. There were also 10 more demo stations back at the Logitech booth, and of course, the main GW2 booth on the show floor. Those wanting to play the demo had plenty of options, and I enjoyed seeing how spread out the game was -- hopefully the various locations gained the interest of those who weren't really aware before.

The ArenaNet crew had some awesome swag again this year: the red and white bandanas as well as the t-shirt tokens, both of which were introduced last year. I was happy to note that the token system was starting to catch on elsewhere because it's really a great method. BioWare adopted it this year, handing out cards that allowed fans to pick up a SWTOR shirt in their size. Last year's system of punching a hole in attendees' badges to make sure nobody got greedy had been abandoned, and I wish I'd had a chance to ask why that was. It seemed like a pretty good method of even loot distribution.

While the t-shirts and bandanas seemed a little scarcer, there were two more swag items that were even more scarce, more coveted, and more exciting. The ArenaNet crew introduced Charr plushies at Gamescom, and the squee was heard 'round the world. The devs handed out a very few of those at a panel and during trivia contests at the booth. The other item was the hardest to get. ArenaNet handed out 10 of the black A.R.E.N.A. jerseys that were introduced when the Commando class was announced. I heard that the winners got their last names put on the back, but I wasn't able to track down one of those lucky people to confirm. Congratulations to each of you, though!

Those of you who remember my extreme excitement over the Commando class won't be surprised to hear that I was begging ANet team members to sell me a jersey at the ArenaNet party Saturday night. The official word on that, by the way, seems to be "I don't know if we're going to have a swag shop yet." If and when there is, I'll be first in line with a credit card.

Oh yes, the party. ArenaNet hosted a fan party at its office Saturday night. There were a limited number of invitations for fans who arrived at the booth with the code word "Kyhlo." The Gaming World Entertainment Network group took the prize for originality by presenting the code word written on a giant inflatable sheep. No, seriously. It was even wearing a garter belt and stockings. Sheila the sheep, by the way, was with the GWEN folks when they picked me up at the airport Thursday night, easily the most surreal moment of my trip. Big thanks to that group for the hospitality! Sheila, of course, was worthy of invitations all around for the GWEN teammates, but they weren't the only ones. There were so many guests invited that it took several chartered buses to bring them all over to the studio from PAX.

The ArenaNet community team members proved to be stellar hosts for the party. The food was delicious, and the GW2 developers were out in force to mingle, chat, and play with the many guests. There were plenty of demo stations for guests to play some Guild Wars 2, with the focus being on PvP. I had promised to give PvP at least one shot, so I found a station and joined in. Our team lost 500-81, and I really really apologize to my teammates. I did warn you, though! I managed to take out a single trebuchet, but only because a developer was standing behind me literally guiding me every step of the way to the thing. I was extremely grateful to her for helping me accomplish at least one thing. Most of the rest of my time was spent either lying on the ground dead or running around trying to figure out what was happening. After that humbling experience, I slunk back over to my comfort zone and enjoyed a PvE demo.

So many people were waiting to play that I finished up a demo and left to enjoy the rest of the party so as not to hog a spot in line. It was a lot of fun to see people enjoying themselves in every accessible part of the building: sitting around chatting with developers in the common area, mingling in the kitchen enjoying snacks and drinks, and playing in the game room. At one point a few dozen people were enjoying a mildly beer-fueled singalong as four people played Rock Band. The crown jewel of the festivities was the photo booth. ArenaNet had a small room with a green screen, and that room was opened for the evening and outfitted with all sorts of silly props, a photographer, and a printer. Guests were encouraged to grab other guests or developers and hit the photo booth for some pictures. We were given five Guild Wars 2-style backgrounds to choose from, and I had the pleasure of participating in a photo session with Elixabeth from Talk Tyria.

The party was definitely a high point of the event for the hardcore fans, but the action on the show floor and NCsoft presentation room was a thrill for all the fans. I had the privilege of chatting with so many fans over the weekend, and everyone was having such fun. ArenaNet and NCsoft worked to make sure that longtime fans had plenty of new things to see, but those who were new to the game had tons of information available. The ArenaNet staff was, of course, out in force, so anyone with a question had a nearby developer willing and able to give knowledgeable answers.

These were just some of the highlights of PAX, but I'm only one person. I'd love to hear from those of you who attended. Hit the comment button and share your favorite parts of the event -- ready, set, go!

Rubi is a longtime Guild Wars player and the writer of Flameseeker Chronicles here at Massively. The column keeps a close eye on all the events in Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2, and anything bridging the two. It's also the home of a weekly summary of the travels of [MVOP], Massively's Guild Wars guild. Email Rubi at rubi@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.