PAX, Melbourne, Going Broke and Other Ramblings


This last week I’ve escaped my town of Upper Hutt — I use escape as if its some sort of prison, which in some ways it is and it isn’t. It’s home turf, my safe place. It’s where most of my immediate family are based, where most of my friends are, where I live, sleep, eat and crap. You get the idea.
It would have to take some kind of video game convention to get me to leave my nest. Oh wait, PAX is coming to Australia? Our side of the world? My dream of finally attending a massive convention will finally come to life? Sign me up!

It was with little hesitation I bought my weekend tickets and booked my flights. Not much thought at all really. It was some gut instinct. Then I realised this would be my first trip overseas going it alone. It became a goal of mine that I put aside until the few days leading up to my departure. I began to panic. That I was underprepared. I hadn’t planned my free days, or even worked a way to get from he airport to where I was staying. And even accommodation took my younger brother’s help to narrow down my choices.

Then I arrived. Melbourne sucked me in and spun me around. I didn’t know which way was North, how one chose a tram. Without mobile data (without lack of trying) I got by with my phone’s GPS and migrated free wifi point to free wifi point. I wandered. Took some snaps. There was a lot of walking.

By the second day things were easier. It had finally sunk in I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. I did even more walking, checked out more sights, went further South until my feet could take it no more. I trammed back.

And then PAX hit. I was one of the first in queue and it was over two hours before they finally let us in. Over the course of the festival there were only two attendees I conversed with. One I initiated in the very first queue, and met a really friendly dude who had a cat, not with him of course, but we found mutual ground. The other guy bombarded me out of nowhere and we talked about the bands that evening. The PAXers were a lovely bunch and I wish I could have met more of them, but the anxiety of introducing oneself to strangers is very much present even in a gaming nirvana of like minded individuals. We had common ground. It shouldn’t be that hard. Anyway, I digress. Once let into the main theatre Ron Gilbert took the stage, the guy behind the first two Monkey Island games, some of my favourite games ever made. He talked about his journey into game development and more so the creative process. I felt I could apply his mantras to my writing:

Be so confident in your work you could dance naked on top of it.

Be uncomfortable. Make your audience uncomfortable. Making something everyone loves is the easy way out. Everyone loves cute puppies right?

Being creative is a journey in which you won’t be the same person after.

Constraint can be a blessing.

Work in fear and panic, or ‘who gives a fuck’ modes to unleash your best creativity.

And most of all, be too stupid to quit.

And then Mike and Jerry of Penny Arcade took the stage. AKA Gabe and Tycho. Throughout all their Q&A sessions at PAX I re-learned how awesome these guys are. How they put such creativity into all their projects and are so determined to make PAX a safe and fun place to hang out in. Over the course of the weekend I met them in person. I was walking to my tram and recognised the voice belonging to the bald guy in front of me. Jerry. He was with his kids and conversing with some attendees. When they were done I took my leap of courage and told him what a great show it had been. He thanked me and I asked if he was taking the tram, he said he and his family were off to get pasta for dinner. We parted ways and said goodbye. Now before this becomes some kind of twisted slash fiction shit, these guys are celebrities, so of course I’d remember every moment in otherwise stalky creeper fashion. It was a genuine moment and I felt I had the space to thank him without feeling intrusive. Onto Mike who was at all the early Omegathons– the Omegathon is a mega tournament played by randomly selected opponents across various games. The finale consisted of an epic game of isn’t Jenga with orchestral music. I hadn’t felt so ensnared in a match I was watching in years. I guess this is what sports hooligans feel! EdgeMaster, you should’ve won! I feel for you buddy. Anyway, so multiple folks got up from their seats to ask Mike for photos and the like so I quietly got up, waited my turn and asked I he could sign my PAX guide. He promptly scrawled Gabe above his cartoon form and have it back to me. So it wasn’t a genuine a moment as I had with Jerry but it was a meeting nonetheless, and I have a memento to boot!

Besides all the videoy games I had a quick moment with Joust, a game played with only PlayStation Move controllers. I always thought the videos looked kinda silly but you really do have to try it in person. It harks back to kids party games like statues. The aim is to keep your controller as steady as possible while you try to get your opponent off balance. I was on Mario and Luigi’s team — that is two youngsters dressed as Mario and Luigi. In less than a minute it was down to me and another dude. I guarded my controller like Gollum and the ring in some absurd fencing pose. The guy stopped moving and I crept to the right only to see my pink ball start flashing. He music had stopped and I was supposed to stop moving. But it was too late. I had lost my balance and the light quickly went out, and a sound blared in my defeat. It’s a pretty cool experience but with he set up and cost involved in the controllers it’s not really worth replicating in the home. Perfect for a festival environment like PAX however.

I enjoyed many a panel, played many an indie game, promised a whole heap of developers I would Steam Greenlight their works (I should probably get onto thy). And then PAX was over, a flash of brilliance and atmosphere collapsed overnight. Robert from Penny Arcade tweeted it best when he said first timers would experience a sort of post-PAX depression.

Throughout my Melbourne journey I was homesick, and for a particular person who I wished I could’ve brought with me. I had strange visions where I could see her by my side and her son playing. Seeing her over Skype after a few days absence over PAX almost broke me. It’s not only hard travelling alone, but leaving those you love behind, and realising how much you need them and how much they need you.

Melbourne has officially made me a broke man. I am in debt and that’s not just my student loan! In hindsight I should’ve invested in a travel card. The transactions for a Visa Debit in currency converting and ATM transactions is killer. Not to mention how the Ozzies kick our NZ dollar to the curb. Everything feels expensive. I tried not to let this limit my experiences however. Though like I joked about online, I did skip out on a few meals. I did as many free things as my cheap Kiwi self could. I took the City Circle tram and took my self around buildings and monuments. I indulged in the free hostel breakfasts.

That’s something I haven’t mentioned. My hostel with the tagline, ‘We’re better in bed’. Not kidding. Upon my visit I was promptly told to not come back until 2pm. It was after 8am at the time. Fortunately they let me dump my bag and that’s when I took my first stumble around the city. I came back after 2 and purchased my room for the week.
I was given a card and travelled up toy floor. I took a door which led me to this foyer bit with a large view to the outside construction site, with no actual window pane! I thought okay, that’s weird but not the end of the world.
After trying the card in the door several times it lead me into a tiny room of two bunk beds and suitcases strewn across the floor. Then I noticed the window had only half a pane. Not only would security be shot, but the room would get noise and cold from 4 floors up in central Melbourne. I picked up my bags and asked for a new room. I usually roll with the punches and am too polite to kick a fuss but for this I had to make a stand. So I got a new room and for the first few nights I only saw my roommate in bed asleep when I woke up. And more people came. The first guy I actually spoke to was a white haired gentleman who asked if I could swap beds as he said he couldn’t sleep well on top. I jokingly suggested if he turn out the light it would help but I obliged as well. An American would answer his phone early in the morning and yap away as if there weren’t others trying to sleep as well. Otherwise it’s been pretty good.

I’ve noticed that other nationalities in other languages are much louder than kiwi types. But that could also be my reserved nature. French to Chinese it was a sound storm when a group of them would talk to each other in their own language at whichever volume (the highest) disregarding others around them. I guess this is the thing that tends to happen in hostels, a clash of cultures. In the men’s bathroom one guy played a Chinese song on his phone at its loudest setting and sung to it without a care in the world. On a separate occasion two Chinese men conversed at the top of their lungs in their own dialect as one stepped into the shower next to mine. And he continued to talk at the top of his lungs to his mate halfway across the bathroom. And then he spat in the most horrifying sound. A full phleghm gathering of spit. Okay, enough with hostel gripes! Living for a week in a hostel is like flatting with over a hundred people. It’s not my ideal method of accommodation but for the price you can’t beat it. I’d take the quiet seclusion of a campsite any day, free wifi or no.

Okay, not all my gripes are over with. Did I mention how cold it is over there? I expected Australian humidity like my first trip over to the Gold coast. It is anything but. I was warned by several people it would be Wellington-like weather, but I think it’s even colder. Yesterday I took a trip to the beach optimistically taking along togs and a towel when instead I had to take out a beanie and scarf!

Although I blew all my funds, near froze to death and still can’t figure out Melbourne’s bloody trams, I enjoyed my time there. PAX was as amazing as I had dreamed (and heard about). I’ve put some photos over on Instagram but more are to come to Facebook when I grab snaps from my actual camera. I can’t wait to go home tomorrow. I thought a week would go by like that, but it has almost dragged by as I counted down the days to see my girlfriend again.

Thanks for reading my trip ramblings. It’s good to get something down to jog my memory as I get back into the swing of things back home. Although Australia is just across the ditch it often felt like another universe entirely. I don’t know how you big OE’rs can do it to be quite frank. It was quite scary to read about all the wellington quakes without being there to comfort a certain individual.

6 thoughts on “PAX, Melbourne, Going Broke and Other Ramblings

  1. Pingback: 2013: A Retrospective | Michael J. Gray

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