Sponsored By

This Developer's Life: PAX!

Finally I catch up enough to burble out my ramblings on PAX. Mostly I cover the three panels I was on: Game Design 101, Game Culture and How to Educate a Game Designer.

Read the two Game Culture quotes, I thought they were worth thinking about...

James Portnow, Blogger

September 22, 2009

19 Min Read

This Developer’s Life: PAX!

Dear Reader:

Each conference season I tell myself that I will keep up with my blogging and each conference season I fall inexpiably behind, so we’ve got a lot of catching up to do.  This week I’ll be talking about my experiences at PAX.  Next week we’ll be discussing AGDC.  After that it might be time to answer the question “Gee Brain, what do you want to do tonight?” and reveal our next set of plans.

PAX Preamble:

PAX is madness.  This year it had over 60k attendees, and overflowing expo floor, and some swine flu (which was actually handled amazingly by the staff and coordinators).  In keeping with the PAX madness I somehow managed to end up on three panels: Game Design 101, Game Culture, and How to Educate a Game Designer.  This means I barely got time to walk the floor or see any of the exhibition, so I’ll stick to what I know… but before I go onto that I want to say something about the show in general:  PAX is a convention I can believe in.

I know that is an odd statement, but everything about it feels right: it’s not the hyper-corporatized E3 or the industry exclusive atmosphere of the GDCs, it’s the perfect, egalitarian, consumer show.  Everyone there is excited and passionate about their favorite recreation, not jaded by years of working in the industry, but more than that there seems to be an almost palpable sense of doing something great, of being part of a medium and a life about to come into its own.  It’s one of my favorite places to speak.


GDC is awesome too.  I love speaking to all you guys! 


Game Design 101:

At 10:30 am on a Friday – an inhuman hour if there ever was one – we managed to pack a 1000 person hall.  I attribute this entirely to the fact that I shanghaied Richard Garfield into coming to talk about game design.  Equally brilliant, but perhaps not as well recognized, were the other panelists:  Tom Abernathy (Writer of Destroy All Humans and other works of tower genius) and Jeff Hickman (Mythic production juggernaut [i.e. EP on Warhammer Online &c]). 

The panelists were chosen so that we could discuss how writing, production and design have to work hand in hand in order to deliver a successful product and, though this is certainly how the panel began, we actually spent most of the time talking about writing…

I had chosen to spend most of the session fielding questions, as PAX is a consumer show, and I always want to hear what interests the consumer – I find I learn a completely different spectrum of things from this experience than from talking shop with industry folk.  Interestingly enough many of the consumers who thought they wanted to be designers actually wanted to be writers.  I’ve noticed this a fair amount inside our industry too.  Writers and designers are different things!  They both should understand the other’s craft, and, at times, the same person filling both roles even works out well, but don’t think that you’re going to ninja your way into writing by applying for a game designer position, it just won’t work out well for anyone! 

Whew, sorry, rant done.  It’s good to see the consumer demanding better writing though.  Also, most of our actual discussion of game design resolved down to “Fail Faster!!!”, which was sort of Richard’s credo throughout the piece and I thought a great place to start for any beginning designer. 


Here’s my geektastic fanboy moment.  I’ve got to admit, it was a little weird being on a panel with RG and knowing full well I wouldn’t be on that panel (or even, probably in the industry) if it weren’t for his game.  I’m glad I didn’t swoon.


Game Culture

I was disappointed to see the turn out for this one was only a half filled room.  I don’t think anyone knew what “Game Culture” meant because, well, no one knows what “Game Culture” means (including those of us on the panel).  This fact though made it for one of the most provocative and lively sessions I attended at PAX.  There were plenty of excellent questions and investigations.  The idea that we might not be able to retain our “culture” (typified by PAX) if we escape the stereotype of “game” was one I thought most provoking. 

Best Quotes:

“Game Culture is like Punk Rock without the message” 

“You’re right, maybe network games will make it harder to go to war.  Your buddy in Kabul not being able to come out and raid today because we blew him the f*%k up really hammers home the point.” 

Educating a Game Designer

This one also had an overflow crowd, and we were competing with Wil Wheaton (shows you what people are into these days…).  It got off swimmingly with a discussion of how game designers need to do more than play games and read Starwars fan fic in order to be able to design.  Unfortunately much of the Q&A ended up being questions about how to get into the industry.   

Afterwards all the panelists (Darius Kazemi, Nick Fortugno, Stephen Schafer, Me) were mobbed.  The more personal Q&A I thought was more stimulating, people were really intent on exploring everything that our medium could do. 

I’m Out

Oi.  Outta words.  Gotta run.  I’ll be better about posting over the next few weeks, and if I’m not hit me up and bug me about it. [email protected] or JamesPortnow on twitter.

Read more about:

Daily news, dev blogs, and stories from Game Developer straight to your inbox

You May Also Like