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Flameseeker Chronicles: PAX 2010 travel diary

Rubi Bayer, @@rubi_

It's Sunday night and PAX is over. My iPhone and laptop are screaming for mercy. It's been a wild ride, I have the Con Crud, my feet hurt so much I keep checking to make sure they're not stumps, and all I want is to turn the clock back to last Friday so I can do it again.

I had appointments and interviews with so many different game studios, and I was excited about every single one of them, but you guys know I was making Guild Wars 2 a top priority. I squeezed in time to indulge at every opportunity and have a lot to say.

When I was spending time with Guild Wars 2 this weekend, something struck me over and over. Every employee whom ArenaNet could possibly spare from the office was there in force. I asked at one point and was told that every person wearing that white shirt was an ArenaNet employee. They were out there doing everything they could to spend time with the fans, and more than one developer told me that it was a huge thrill to finally be able to share all of this with people who love it as much as they do. The inability to share all of this exciting news has been as frustrating for them as it was for us, but it was for a good cause, and I think every fan at PAX this weekend agreed it was worth the wait.

With that in mind, it was an easy decision to share my weekend experiences and photos with you guys for today's Flameseeker Chronicles. Follow along after the jump while I go find more Nyquil.

Day one

As I write this, it's 3 a.m. and all the cool things that happened yesterday are still sinking in. First on my agenda was the Guild Wars 2 rally, which was a bit confusing because it was moved to a different location. We arrived at the appointed place and started taking pics of the waiting people, but the crowd seemed a little thin. I was chatting with Justin and Larry and kept eyeing this guy nearby who was wearing a green Sylvari t-shirt. I was in love with that shirt and wanted one so badly. I was thinking about plucking up my courage to go ask him how he got it when he struck up a conversation with us first. It turns out he's a Massively fan, so it was incredibly cool to meet him. (Hi, green Sylvari shirt guy! I was so happy to talk to you!)

We chatted with him for a few more minutes then saw a couple of people in those white Guild Wars 2 t-shirts -- which I also covet for myself. Figuring they'd know what was happening, we wandered over, and they told us the rally had been moved inside to the main queue. Then the guy, who turned out to be Jon Peters, glanced at my name badge and said he really liked my work on Massively. His companion, Tirzah Bauer, agreed with him. My mind was sort of blown by that, so I spent a couple of minutes stammering all silly-like then asked for a photo with them. They were both incredibly nice -- they seemed genuinely happy to be there chatting and hanging out with the fans.

The next few hours were taken up by work in other areas of PAX, but soon enough it was time for my demo with Colin Johanson and Elijah Miller. It was the standard demo that we've all seen, but that did not make it any less exciting. This was my very first up-close and in-person view of Guild Wars 2, and my eyes were huge the whole time. It was stunning. I'll be honest and say that when I saw the Gamescom coverage, I really disliked the UI. It was jarring after seeing so much gameplay footage of a pristine, UI-free screen -- it made the UI seem really intrusive, and I hated that big yellow "NEW EVENT NEARBY" announcement across the screen. So part of me was prepared to question that and challenge the sense of immersion that the game is supposed to have.

However, once I saw it in person it all fell into place, and I felt like, "Oh. Well that's all right then." It just works. It doesn't give the sense of a huge green exclamation point flashing in your face, which is what I feared. It's more of a quick glance at a signpost to back up and clarify what the surrounding NPCs are telling you. It works beautifully, and I will say that I was very pleasantly surprised.

Colin was a delight to spend time with, but the guy is impossible to outsmart. I asked so many sneaky questions in an attempt to wrangle new information, and every time he gave me this hilarious look that said "I know exactly what you are doing, so don't even try it" and set me laughing over and over. I finally gave up trying to be tricky at the end and just said, "I want to know all about the Hall of Monuments." He wouldn't tell me anything but promised lots of information soon. And not "Soon TM," but really soon, so I'll be watching for that like a hawk.

In between appointments with other developers, I kept wandering back to the GW2 area to take photos and meet devs. I saw Emily Diehl and she seemed to be the least mobbed at the moment, so I made my way over to say hello. We chatted for a few minutes, and then she took me over to meet John Corpening. On the way we bumped into Martin Kerstein. I saw him approaching, and before I could stop myself I squealed, "Oh my gosh it's Martin Kerstein!" Emily was polite enough to pretend not to notice my lapse into crazed fandom and stopped him to introduce me. He was rushing to get to the 3-D demo at the nVidia booth, so he couldn't stay, but was really friendly. (He had much more time later in the weekend and was such fun to talk to.) I had the pleasure of meeting Regina for the first time too. I wrapped up the Guild Wars 2 part of my day with some photos of Rytlock, then spent the evening preparing for Saturday, which I knew was going to be extremely busy.

Day two

I knew this was going to be a big day. Saturday's Guild Wars 2 demo was my very first look at the game in person, and while it was wonderful, I was anxious to get in there and explore on my own. Media workers at PAX were allowed in an hour early Saturday, so I took advantage of the relative lack of crowds to bolt for a demo station. I waved at the ArenaNet staffers whom I'd met the day before as I hurried to the nearest station, and I dove into character creation.

Character creation was very limited for demo purposes, so the look of my human female noble elementalist was randomized. I spent some time reading through all ten steps of character creation, then it was on to the game. QA Manager Mike Zadorojny was the developer I mentioned yesterday who so kindly escorted me around the map and made it an absolutely thrilling experience, and he played host beautifully outside of the confines of the monitor as well. ArenaNet staffers were moving around the booth area, chatting and preparing for the influx of fans. If they happened to get too close, Mike grabbed them for an introduction.

He also kindly escorted me upstairs at about 10:01 when Justin Olivetti called to figure out why on earth I was missing the Guild Wars 2 panel of all things. I had to laugh at the situation, because it was like trying to choose between saving an orphanage or a hospital. On one hand, an ArenaNet dev was moving me all over the map, showing me places that I've been wanting to see since I speculated on the Tyria of the future way back in March. On the other hand, there was a ticket in my bag for the Guild Wars 2 panel, and it was starting right now. I had to say, "We have to stop. I have to get upstairs," and I really did not want to stop. The panel was wonderful, and what I have to say on that is another story that you will see very soon.

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