As you’ve doubtlessly gathered from my last few posts, I attended PAX East in Boston earlier this month. It was an incredible experience—I interviewed several movers and shakers in the gaming industry, as well as chatted with several others in the gaming press. My time spent at the event was unimpeachable, and I learned a great deal from my travels on the east coast.
Now that said, the only way to learn is by doing, and sometimes I did things, well, incorrectly. Fortunately, I was able to push past my flubs, and I would like to pass my newly-gained knowledge onto my devoted readers.
Ten Things I Learned At PAX East
- Test the equipment. Then test it again.
- Regularly maintenance your equipment
- Stay in a hotel
- Public transit is not some magical fast-travel system
- Remember to eat and drink
- Your icons are people, too
- Wheel-less suitcases suck
- Take only what you want to carry for the entire day
- Life will go on even if your footage is less than optimal
- You’re at a gaming convention. Have fun with it!
Hell, test it after that, too. Several times during the weekend, I found to my utter horror that my interview equipment was not meeting the standards of quality I was hoping for. My colleague and I dealt with everything from poor lighting to bad audio and we had to soldier on with the footage we collected, much to my chagrin sometimes.
It’s not just making sure the equipment doesn’t look crappy, though; it’s also about making sure the “good” quality material can be turned into “great” quality. Things like testing out different microphone positions for interviewing, or fiddling with camera functions until the lighting is just right. Running experiments beforehand can produce better results when time absolutely matters, which will produce better product and make everyone look really damn competent overall.
Okay, this one was a total scrub mistake, and one I didn’t think would actually bite me in the ass until its teeth were firmly sunk in. Things like charging the camera overnight, regardless of how full the battery “looks,” or emptying out the memory card regardless of how much free space you think might be on there. Every piece of equipment should be fresh and rearing to go for every day of shooting.
During my time in Boston, I was staying with a few friends from college who moved to the area recently. I adored seeing them after so many years, and I appreciated them taking the trouble to house me under their roof for the five days I was on the East Coast.
I soon came to realize that paying for a hotel doesn’t just grant you a place to sleep—it also grants you a temporary work space, as well as convenient access to the area you’re covering. I wanted to be far more productive on my trip than I was, but couldn’t be because my friends live in a studio apartment, and burning the midnight oil would have meant keeping everyone up. Not only that, my friends live about seven miles away from the convention center, and made the use of public transportation paramount to surviving the weekend. This wouldn’t have been such a hassle except…
Forgive me. I come from Montana, a land where regular buses and trains are about as common as gold-plated unicorns to operate them, and the prospect of traveling to a city with an actual transit system filled me with thoughts of regular, easy transportation to wherever I needed to be. Sometimes, I was right. Others, I was waiting twenty minutes or more for a train. The worst part came on Friday night, when I was trying to catch a bus home from a bar that was closing. Little did I know that Boston all but shuts down after midnight, and that no buses or trains would come to my aid. I felt like Moses in The Ten Commandments, with Edward G. Robinson chastising me, “Where’s your public transportation now?”
I ended up catching a cab back to my friends’ place, to the tune of thirty dollars. Public transit is fine for tourists, but when on assignment for work, I need reliability.
Like, literally remember. I was so caught up in gathering footage and darting around from appointment to appointment that I would have skipped on food if my colleague constantly didn’t remind me to eat lunch. This is particularly handicapping for me, as my performance in strenuous situations decreases when my blood sugar is low. In the future, I’ll remember to respect my lunch time, and by “respect” I mean “acknowledge.”
I’m a video game blogger from Montana who works in a small office booking movies. I don’t interact with famous people on a regular basis. Heck, I don’t interact with so much as a KFC Famous Bowl on a regular basis. So when it came to finally meeting writers and game-makers that I idolize, I was unprepared for the fanboyish rush that I would get from being in the proximity of dudes and dudettes whose work I admire greatly. I looked like a right prat when I introduced myself to Jason Schreier and Stephen Tolito of Kotaku in a manner that sounded like Rhino from Bolt, and I repeated this performance several times during the weekend.
The best piece of advice I received actually came from Kim Swift, creative director of Portal and the upcoming Quantum Conundrum. While I was meeting with her up in the Square Enix suite, I mumbled something about getting to meet some of my favorite game designers and how I felt overwhelmed about it. “Don’t,” she simply said. It helped impart the idea that the people I’m talking to aren’t “different” from me in any sort of superior sense of the word; they’re just regular guys who happen to do really cool things. It helped me keep my head a bit, but I’ll be even better on this next trip.
During one of my last bouts of travel, one of the wheels on my suitcases snapped off. It was sad, but didn’t deter me from bringing it along on my PAX trip anyway. Oh, what a fun mistake that was. You see, it wasn’t as though I went straight from the airport to some hotel via taxi or family member-driven mini-van, like it usually happens. No, like I discussed further up in the essay, I stayed with a few friends seven or so miles out of town, requiring me to lug my bloody filled-to-the-brim suitcase on two trains, four buses, and hundreds of meters in walking-distance until I got where I needed to be.
It got old. Quick.
At any rate, I can safely re-invest in new luggage now, and the prospect of finally getting a new suitcase sits reasonably well with me. Still, lacking wheels showed me how much of a pain in the ass travel used to be without them.
This is like the above list item, except much more annoying in a niggling sort of way. Basically, I wanted to be all Boy Scout and bring a crap ton of extra things with us—extra mics and their cables, change of clothes (I’m serious), my satchel full of extra goodies, etc. I basically became a pack mule on the floor, lugging about 20 lbs. of miscellaneous junk around from interview to interview (to interview) as we sprinted between appointments.
Now, this isn’t to say I shouldn’t bring additional just-in-case equipment. Far from it—extra batteries and those sorts of things are great for storing in the press room. Hauling around large, cumbersome headphones for sound check purposes, though, probably wasn’t such a hot idea, especially since I ended up taking them off in clutter-based frustration and then forgetting them.
Like most things in life, it’s a bit of a balancing act to figure out my “needs” from my “it would be nice”s, and one I’ll nail in the future. I just need to be cognizant of it going forward.
Friday and Saturday were spent largely learning how to use our equipment, and by the end of the second day, I was in a right state at not having G4-quality footage for the site back home. I got myself nice and worked up, too, until a fellow journalist attending a panel with me helped talk me down from the mental ledge I was climbing out onto. This is more of a general life lesson, but the best thing to do when faced with work you’re dissatisfied with is to make it better next time, full stop. No use in dwelling on how you Could have made things better or Should have done it a different way—it’s over and done with, so move on and kill it next time.
For the record, I’m of the opinion that we did, indeed, kill it on Sunday.
Anyway, thank you again to Morgan of Translabyrinth for helping me through a rough patch. Next time will be awesome, and I won’t let myself get down next time I’m at an event because, in the end…
With all of the stress of collecting footage and meeting appointments, it was easy to lose sight of what was all around me—literally. I was surrounded by video games! Video games and people who love video games like I do! I was playing games that won’t come out for months! Fortunately, I snapped out of my reverie reasonably quickly, and I was able to bathe in the glory of everything PAX had to offer while still doing my best to create content for Gamer’s Guide to Life.
Events like PAX are why I want to get into gaming journalism; they’re why I’m sitting here writing in my walk-in closet with pie-in-the-sky dreams of someday seeing my name in print. They’re not the whole reason, mind, but PAX sure as hell went a long way to getting me excited for the future, and if I can’t appreciate what a lucky dog I am to be attending events like PAX and writing about them, I’m doing myself a disservice.
Ten mistakes, ten lessons learned. Thanks again for tuning in to my PAX content, and I look forward to further events, early impressions, and learning experiences in the near future.