By Danielle Riendeau
PAX East is nearly upon us, and every gamer, journalist and geek culture fan in the Northeast is getting ready to unleash a blizzard of nerdy goodness on Boston. This is my town; so let me be your guide to the festivities. From getting around to the best places to eat, drink and party, here’s how to enjoy the show like a local. May you never eat overpriced convention food or become lost on the subway (it’s called the “T”) again. So get ready, write this stuff down, print it out, or burn it into your brain. You're about to get PAXed.
Bring whatever you’d bring with you to any gaming convention: portable game systems, comfortable clothes, a little tube of hand sanitizer, some cash, etc. Definitely wear sneakers, since you’ll be walking plenty, and unless you’re cosplaying as Bayonetta (which a few ladies did, to great effect, last year) there’s no need to dress up.
If you really want to blend in, ahat or sweatshirt certainly wouldn’t hurt. The same goes for Bruins and Celtics gear – we take our sports pretty seriously up here. If you try to board a crowded bus wearing an LA Lakers jersey in March, you may start a riot. You’ve been warned.
The most important thing you can do is check out the PAX schedule ahead of time and identify the panels, concerts, parties and tournaments you most want to see. Aside from the fact that there are monster lines everywhere, it’s humanly impossible to see everything, since there are anywhere between 5 and 7 things going on at any given moment. Write it all down, circle things, and stick to your guns. If you’re averse to the old-fashioned method there’s always the Conventionist app for iPhone and Android.
Unlike most large cities, Boston’s airport (Logan) is located pretty close to the downtown area, and accessible by public transportation, via the silver line of the “T”. You could get a cab from Logan to your hotel, but if you are staying anywhere close to a T stop, you can get from the airport to your destination for $2 (just be sure to have exact change).
If you’re coming in by bus or train, you’ll likely pass through South Station (a short hop from the convention center), which ranks as New England’s second largest transportation center after Logan Airport. South Station is also conveniently on both the red and silver lines of the “T.”
The silver line is how you can get to the convention center itself via public transit. You’ll take either the SL1, SL2 or SL3 to the World Trade Center stop, take the elevator up to level 2, hang a left on World Trade Center Ave. and the place is right in front of you.
Since there’s no such thing as “exit fare” on our subway system, you can make any connections you need to under the single charge. Head over to the MBTA website and plot your course ahead of time.
If you’re driving, good luck. Boston is notoriously hellish to drive around, with our narrow roads (designed largely in the slightly-less auto friendly 1700s), plethora of confusing one-way streets, and aggressive drivers (affectionately known as “massholes”). On the bright side, there is parking at the convention center, so if you’re brave, go ahead and check this page out for directions.
At The Show
PAX is a pretty amazing experience, but requires plenty of planning and an attack strategy plotted well in advance. Check out the schedule and maps ahead of time, pick the things you’ll die if you don’t see, and plan to invest some time in line. Want to see the concerts? Line up three hours ahead of time, and pack your DS. Interested in panels? Gauge the popularity and make a beeline as soon as the preceding panel in the room is starting. If it’s a really popular lineup, think about camping out two events ahead of time.
The timing can be tricky, and exact line-up locations vary from room to room, so be sure to ask one of the “Enforcers” for advice. Clad in brightly marked shirts and friendly to the last drop, these show volunteers will steer you in the right direction. They also tend to be awesome people and hardcore gamers, so feel free to chat them up while you brave the queues.
One of the most important things to keep in mind is that certain thematically similar panels will be held in the same room. The IGDA dev center will play host to almost all of the career-related programming, for example, so if you’re packing a resume and some professional ambition, you can pretty much park yourself there for the conference. Meanwhile, almost all of the Omegathon action will happen in the Merman theatre, aside from round three and the closing ceremony. Check the theatre schedule for the full, color-coded layout.
If this is your first PAX, there’s a very handy panel on day one called “Winning the PAX East Game”. The Metagame Theory podcast guys will go over everything from line-up strategies to tourney tips. Of course, you might be wanting to overload on G4 and X-Play at this PAX, in which case, here's your handy guide:
- G4 and X-Play have a booth! Swing by Booth #961 at PAX East for swag, signings, and other surprises.
- Feedback LIVE! will have Irrational Games' Creative Director Ken Levine as a special guest from 3:30 PM to 4:30 PM on Saturday in the Manticore Theater.
- X-Play will have a live show taping at PAX on Sunday from 12:30 PM to 1:30 PM in the Main Theater, so come by to see Adam Sessler, Morgan Webb, Blair Herter, and more!
Boston is a very tech-friendly city, with several big-name studios in town or close by (like Harmonix, Irrational and Turbine), tons of smaller developers and a bustling indie scene, not to mention the awesome (and frequently open to the public) things coming from MIT’s Gambit Gamelab. So, of course the whole city is in frenzy about the second coming of PAX.
If you’re getting in early and want to start the party in true Boston fashion, you should check out Rock Band Night at the Brattle Theater, taking place on Thursday March 10. Co-sponsored by local comedy group ImprovBoston, Harmonix themselves and Narragansett beer, it’s being billed as a live Rock Band competition, complete with the guys from Giant Bomb as judges. It’s only $6, so it won’t break your merch fund.
Also going on Thursday is the PAX East Made in MA Party, at Microsoft’s ever-so-aptly named NERD center, and a pre-PAX game swap at the nearby Middlesex Lounge. Turbine is hosting a party at Jillian’s on Friday night, so you can still get your developer-elbow-rubbing partying in even if you can’t get to town early.
You’ll be able to get a nice sampling of the indie scene during the show at the Boston Indie Showcase, where several local games (which need to be made by 15 or fewer people) will get to step out into the limelight. One of the featured games, “Smuggle Truck” has already stirred up some controversy – so you know you have to get a look at it for yourself.
Of course, many local developers will be showing their wares or participating in panels, so you can get a heavy dose of Boston-brewed gaming just by sampling the whole show. Harmonix has a comprehensive listing of events they’re participating in on their site, Irrational Games is putting on a fascinating-sounding panel on Friday titled “From Background To Center Stage: Building Game Worlds As Main Characters” and Turbine is giving a keynote on Saturday.
Eating, Drinking, Being Merry
One of the very best places for a post-show meal with your new friends is Lucky’s Lounge, a throwback bar with a classy 40’s feel. The food is amazing, with a good mix of classic “bar food” and other tasty favorites, and the drinks are fantastic. The best part – they serve up a tasty brunch, complete with “Sinatra’s Omelet”. Expect it to be busy on PAX Sunday. There’s a Legal Seafoods nearby, for New England-specific delights, and Atlantic Beer Garden is a solid sports bar and restaurant right on the waterfront.
If you’re more interested in South of the Border delights, PapaGayo is close by and serves up fantastic food with a full tequila bar on hand. They have brunch as well, with a featured “Make Your Own Bloody Maria” bar. Slightly more upscale, but also awesome is Sportello, which has an incredible bakery. If you’re looking for chic libations, you need to try out the aptly named Drink, where every ingredient has a story and the bartenders aren’t so much “bartenders” as “masters of the alcohol universe” and will mix you something according to your taste preferences.
With all the walking, waiting in line, and massive adrenaline rush that comes naturally with a giant videogame-centric orgy, you’re bound to get tired. The organizers know this, which is why a giant collection of beanbag chairs and other hangout areas are set up for you to chill out, take a nap, or trade Pokémon with your fellow PAX-goers. This show is all about being a participant in game culture – and whatever that means to you, the best thing you can do here is make a few like-minded friends. Many gamers like to talk about PAX in terms of “coming home”, so treat it just like your own living room (well, maybe keep your shoes on), and you’ll fit right in.