My vacation was about to start. I left work on Wednesday and on the walk home, I lost my balance in the dark, slipped on the uneven pavement and fell. My ankle bent in the wrong direction. My knee got all scraped up.
It took a bit to pick myself up but I managed to walk home. No blood. That’s a good sign. Took off my shoes and socks and… wow, my ankle is quite large and since taking the shoe off, it was quite painful to walk, too.
I managed to make an ice pack and elevate it until my wife got home from work. We worked together and somehow got socks and shoes back on my feet. We went to CVS and I hobbled to the aisle with the braces and wraps and got a pretty firm brace for my ankle. We put it on in the store and I instantly felt a bit better. The support from the brace was enough to get me to dinner at Boston Market and home.
Luckily, I had already packed for the trip. We’d be leaving early the next morning for San Francisco International Airport and a flight to Austin, Texas.
My next fear was TSA. Thankfully the TSA at SFO were willing to allow me through the milliwave machine with my shoe on. They screened me and I didn’t have to remove it or the ankle brace.
We got to Austin and of course having been on a long flight, my ankle was very swollen and unhappy.
We got our rental car and drove along a very fast toll road to Lockhart Texas and Black’s Barbecue, the oldest and best Texas barbecue establishment continuously owned and operated by the same family since 1932.
The food we got, beef brisket, a pork rib, some spicy jalapeno cheddar sausage, cornbread, beans, potato salad and banana pudding with Nilla wafers, was quite good. The sweet tea was a great way to wash it down and the prices were reasonable. The sausage was my favorite standout food among the rest of our meal. But I have to say, we have adequate but not quite as good barbecue from Dickey’s locally, and Black’s wouldn’t necessarily be worth a return trip.
We drove the remainder of the way to San Antonio and checked in at our hotel, which was around a quarter of a mile away from the convention center. It would have been super convenient without an ankle injury.
After a brief rest at the hotel, we headed back out and went to H-E-B plus and got some snacks and necessities. We had a small refrigerator and microwave in our hotel room, so storing food for the injured wasn’t that bad.
After another rest, we headed out exploring by car, and I had a Whataburger and we picked up Whataburger chicken honey biscuits for the next morning’s breakfast. We swung by The Alamo and were disappointed with its tiny size. We have much better missions and historically relevant locations out here in California. After an Alamo selfie and some quick Ingressing for souvenir keys (which I failed), we headed home.
It was hard to rest with my ankle injury but eventually we got some sleep.
Friday morning, we headed to PAX Day One and the convention center was massive. It definitely was big enough to host an awesome PAX. Sadly, there were very few exhibitors for the Expo and that really made the entire thing underwhelming. My wife went to park the car and I got in the exhibit hall line. We met near the Nintendo booth and were handed paper versions of Majora’s Mask.
Next we headed to the Tabletop area, which was just as big, if not bigger than the exhibit hall. It was also mostly empty. I went straight for Steve Jackson Games’ booth and grabbed up as much free Munchkin promo junk as I could. I bought Munchkin Kobolds Ate My Baby and Munchkin Love Shark Baby booster packs and was trying to decide which Munchkin Love Letter version to buy, either the boxed version or the bagged version. I didn’t know what was different about them and Andrew Hackard, current Munchkin Czar walked up behind me and said they were the same except for the packaging. I reintroduced myself to him and finalized my purchases.
Next, we visited the Q Workshop booth, where they had the Ingress dice sets available for purchase, ten dollars less and no shipping versus an online order. I bought the D6 and RPG versions of the Resistance sets and eventually picked up another set of each for another local Ingress player later in the weekend.
We spent the rest of our time in the Tabletop area at the AdMagic booth. They gave us free interactive calendars, which use an augmented reality app to show demos, videos and give more information for the games featured on each month of the calendar. It is a very innovative design, which is par for the course for a great company like AdMagic. We also got AdMagic buttons, stylus/ink pens and microfiber cloths. They had lots of games that they were demonstrating. We tried one out called Billionaire Banshee, which was a bit like Love Letter, before we headed upstairs to our first panel of PAX South.
The theaters were pretty well set up and had plenty of room for the panels we attended.
Our first panel of the weekend was “Good Games: Why the Industry is Still Good” and we walked in just as Samantha Kalman was describing how she got into the industry and talking a bit about her game Sentris. I was very happy with the positivity coming from panelists Eric “E” Neustadter, Aaron Linde, Alexa Ray Corriea, Will Powers and Samantha Kalman. They talked about how they work together as indie developers to support each other and how great it is to come to events like PAX and drink and have fellowship with one another. They lightly addressed current events by saying the internet has improved a lot over the past year and they feel a lot more comfortable playing games online against strangers again. I needed that positive reinforcement as I am still jaded about the internet and I thoroughly enjoyed this panel.
I captured the WeLoveFine PAX booth and we returned to the AdMagic booth where we demoed Poop, a card game that is very similar to Uno but involves players trying to get through the entire process of taking a big poop without overflowing a toilet. The demo was great and the concept was one that just about anyone can relate to, so I bought a copy complete with toilet paper gift wrap and packaged in a brown paper bag adorned with a Poop: The Game sticker.
A couple of other games at AdMagic interested us but there weren’t any demos going on at that point so we headed out and explored the (lack of) exhibit hall floor for a bit and then just rested on the third floor in comfy seating across from the Falcon Theater while we waited for our next panel.
The crowd at PAX South was about 90% Texan, and a lot of them were pretty friendly. I’m not all that good in unfamiliar people social situations, so I sat back and rested my ailing ankle and Streetpassed until it was time to form a line for our next panel, 404ing It Breaking (Down) The Internet.
404ing It is a Tumblr blog that has caught on and lead to an Upright Citizens Brigade theatre comedy series. Pat Baer, from UCB, brought in a panel of Tumblr experts: Trin Garritano from Cards Against Humanity, Trin’s PAX Rumble rival Samantha Kalman and Giant Bomb editor Jeff Gerstmann. They shared cool and hilarious things they found on the internet. Samantha’s stuff was all about science and music. Trin’s stuff was about kissing and passion and stuff she likes on Tumblr. Pat brought in clips of his favorite Vine teenage celebrity and Dogs playing Fruit Ninja. Jeff brought a collection of Grocery Hauls from YouTube. Somehow that all turned into a really cool panel which you can check out as well as the extended versions of all of the clips on 404ingit.tumblr.com.
After the panel, we made one more trip across the Exhibit Hall floor where I made note of the few cool things that were on display.
One section had a game called Just Shapes and Beats that had gameplay very similar to Geometry Wars. Pat Baer had recommended Bring Your Own Book, which I playtested and won the round with a pickup line stolen from the pages of a Tom Clancy novel. He also recommended Super Slam Dunk Touchdown, a sports game that combined elements of Football (American and Soccer), Basketball, Hockey, Roller Derby, baseball, lacrosse and ping pong. It had a cool nostalgia factor but I’m not huge on sports games and this one I was just not into at all. I can see its appeal to folks that loved Tecmo Bowl, NBA Jam, Blades of Steel, etc but I wasn’t one of those people growing up.
Grey Goo and Dreadnaught, two MMO space games that debuted had a huge booth but the games didn’t look like something I would be into. Motiga had Gigantic on display, a combination of League of Legends and World of Warcraft, two games I didn’t like, doesn’t make for a game that I would like. Nintendo’s demo of Codename STEAM, a game I was very interested in checking out, was just a non-interactive video clip on the New 3DS XL screen. Twitch had ongoing demos being broadcast live as well as contests for awesome prizes that I couldn’t see myself standing in line for. Demos with Trin and the folks behind Vlambeer’s Nuclear Throne interest me and I’ll hopefully be able to watch archived streams some day when I have time. Otherwise, the booth that had me most curious about its content that turned out to be nothing was the Kleev booth, which ended up being a DDR memory manufacturer.
Intel and Oculus had small booths with long lines. WeLoveFine, LootCrate and another fanwear manufacturer had booths full of stuff to buy. But really, nothing that blew me away.
We stopped by Bandland on the way out and bought all three of The Minibosses’ CDs debating whether we could last the wait time for their show in the main theater. I debated buying Freezepop’s discography and “rarities” USB stick but decided against it as I’m not a big fan of their more recent material and we already owned all of MC Frontalot’s CDs. We didn’t have anything to buy from Paul and Storm or the LoadingReadyRun folks, so that was the end of our brief time in Bandland.
We retreated to the confines of the cold streets of San Antonio and walked up Commerce Street to Schilo’s Deli, a German New York style delicatessen. We ordered a wiener schnitzel, which we had never tried before, some potato pancakes and some cheddarwurst. Again, the sausage was the highlight of the meal. The wiener schnitzel was basically just a very thinly cut pork chop. The potato pancakes were good but nothing special. We washed it down with tasty house root beer and had an excellent slice of cherry cheesecake for dessert that made the experience more worthwhile. Again, the amount of food for the price was a great value but the food wasn’t anything super special.
After dinner, we headed back to our hotel and watched the Friday Night Concerts from PAX South from the confines of our bedroom via the live Twitch broadcast. Freezepop, MC Frontalot and The Minibosses put on great performances sometimes plagued by sound problems, which is normal for PAX performances at any venue.
We could barely keep our eyes open for the shows, so I definitely feel like we made the right choice in staying in the hotel room for the night.
Saturday, PAX Day Two, began with a trip to the Tabletop area and swag grabs from Steve Jackson Games (more Munchkin promos) and AdMagic (my wife got an AdMagic tee shirt) and watching Trin from Cards Against Humanity as a commentator for the Sentinels (of the Multiverse) Tactics tournament. We headed upstairs to the handheld lounge for a bit and then got in line our first panel of the day, the Omegathon Round 3: Beautiful Katamari panel. It was surprising to see how many of the Omeganauts were unfamiliar with the game. It was a fun hour of gameplay watching though.
Up next was a panel co-branded by Gameloft and Twitch titled Mobile Streaming: Broadcasting Without Limitations which was basically an ad for Twitch’s mobile SDK which is only available for iOS devices. There was no real discussion about mobile broadcast techniques which is why I was interested, but it was cool to see that folks are having some success with the Twitch SDK and mobile games.
Post-panel, we did a bit of exploring and visted the Gearbox area, which included a small video game museum with artifacts like a Nintendo World Championship cartridge, a gold plated Playstation that was only available to those on the Playstation design team and random swag you could send away for with photos of your high score on Atari or NES games among plenty of other cool things. They also had a board game area where you could play games chosen from the developers’ personal library against Gearbox developers. They had panel discussions and a coffee dispenser and demos of a few of their titles going as well. It was a cool section of the convention but we didn’t spend a large amount of time there.
We visited the Diversity Lounge and were given some swag outside of the Polaris Lounge before we retreated once again to the streets of San Antonio.
This time we headed down South Alamo Street and fought to find parking near Rosario’s Mexican Cafe y Cantina. Rosario’s is a San Antonio authentic Mexican restaurant. We shared enchiladas and flautas and had some churros for dessert. I really enjoyed the spinach, cheese and chicken mixture in the flautas and they were my favorite standout dish from the restaurant.
We headed back to the hotel and rested a bit but got anxious and ended up braving the short walk to the convention center for the first time. We sampled a bunch of Tabletop games in the freeplay area which was a bit challenging to get to via escalators and pathways since the exhibit hall was closed and blocked the most direct path.
First we tried Dungeon Roll. I had wanted to try the game for a couple of years since I saw it launch on Kickstarter. It was a disappointing and almost pointless dice game that may have benefited from having someone knowledgable about the rules to demo it for us. Watching a bit of gameplay on Youtube it really isn’t the game for us either way. We tried Cogs in a Machine, a gnome themed machine building or cog hoarding game that was part of the PAX South Indie Showcase and it was also kind of disappointing. It was slightly better than Dungeon Roll and would probably be a more fun game with more than two players, but it didn’t work very well with just my wife and I. Super Showdown ended up being the best game we played in the Tabletop freeplay section of our day. It is a two player dice/card battle between a hero and a villain and everything is contained in a small box. It was the only really enjoyable play experience in our brief experimentation with a handful of new games and I’d be happy to check it out again in the future if we ever see it available.
My wife said hello to Trin who was working as an evening Enforcer in the Tabletop area and we headed out to wander the second floor areas that were open on the way back to the main exit. We made a pitstop in the retro arcade area and my wife found a Cards Against Humanity Sloth card like the ones that were placed in Fort Sloth on Hawaii 2 as the prize for this year’s Holiday Bullshit randomly hidden in plain sight on a Neo29 Candy Arcade Machine. We aren’t sure if it was Trin, AdMagic staff, Mike Selinker or random CAH fans that placed them but there were several sloth cards discovered throughout the convention center during the weekend.
We got to the main theater entrance and decided to pop inside and caught 2/3 of the Paul and Storm headlining set live. The Lila Cockrell Theatre is a beautiful venue and again fits PAX very well. The show was fun and incorporated Paul and Storm classics and a demo of their RPG soundboard program, SoundBard.
After the show, we took the short walk back to the hotel triumphant in our discovery of a sloth card and satisfied with our post-expo extracurricular activities.
Sunday was the final day of PAX South and we again started in the Tabletop area. We played a couple more games, What the Food and Letter Tycoon, both designed by Peter Vaughn (Squirmy Beast), at the AdMagic booth. What the Food is a card game food fight in a school cafeteria. The concept is cool but I wasn’t super engaged in it being something fun for us. Letter Tycoon, which is yet to be released, seemed much more appealing and combines concepts from Monopoly and Scrabble into a card game where you can buy parts of sentences or letters like you would properties in Monopoly and try to maximize your word score like you would in Scrabble. Both games seemed well designed and I’ll definitely check out more from Squirmy Beast when I have the chance in the future.
We got another stack of Munchkin promos from Steve Jackson Games and I bought my Ingress playing friend their Q Workshop dice sets. I checked out the Sentinels of the Multiverse video game on the exhibit hall floor and the only other standout game that I saw was Guild of Dungeoneering, which had a lot of the charm that Card Hunter did a few years back. It also had a long line so I didn’t get any gameplay time in. We discovered that Microsoft’s space was donated to a Texas Indie Game developer organization, which was a cool gesture. Otherwise, we were honestly done with the Exhibit Hall shortly after getting those Majora’s Masks on Friday morning.
We headed upstairs and visited the Motiga Lounge, which was more of a place for press and employment inquiries from the team behind Gigantic, the Bioware Base and the Handheld Lounge before getting in line for our first panel of the day, Inside the Mind of a FAQ Writer.
Robert Allen Rusk, a man who made it very clear that his medium of FAQ writing extends exclusively to text, did a presentation that was essentially a walk through one of his most famous FAQs, one he wrote for Grand Theft Auto Vice City. We had used that FAQ to help us find the 100 hidden packages in the game. Where Rusk went wrong was he said he had an hour’s worth of content when his “Inside the Mind” portion would only really take up 20 minutes. The rest of the hour was him reading and scrolling through his Vice City FAQ and telling us about the content as opposed to why the content was there and a mix of him shutting down any recommendation of him possibly making a video FAQ or changing to a different medium and him fanboying over Twin Peaks. The panel itself really didn’t work. We were only interested in the end, when he finally showed us how he actually makes a FAQ, and some Q&A let us connect to him with common nerdery. Perhaps Rusk could join forces with a video walkthrough producer for next year so he can still get in for free.
Up next was my favorite panel of the weekend, Loading Ready Run: We Make Funny Things, which featured Graham Stark, James Turner and Kathleen De Vere from Loading Ready Run discussing a myriad of topics related to and sometimes not related to the myriad of content they produce. From Crapshots to Twitch live broadcasts to Tabletop Deathmatch to Desert Bus, they covered it all, and made some digs at the major panel from Gearbox happening in the main theater that kept the crowd at their panel small as well. I even exchanged Mii data via StreetPass with Kathleen while she was on the panel.
We left the Loading Ready Run panel and headed back into the theater line for our next and final panel of PAX South, Virtual Reality: A Paradigm Shift for Gaming. Alex Schwartz from Owlchemy Labs, Aaron Lemke from Unello Design, Dawn Rivers from Harmonix, Patrick Curry and Pete Moss from Unity and Robert Brakenridge from Omni took the stage and described their opinions of the future of virtual reality. I was very impressed by Aaron Lemke’s thoughts and viewpoints. He described a future where VR could be used to help with PTSD, helping to calm nerves, helping to bring people into a meditative state and potentially rid the world of pain reliever medications by substituting in Virtual Reality experiences in their place. His tree hugging hippie type attitude was a refreshing change from the “how do we profit and which horror/shooter experience should we port first” I’ve seen a lot of in VR trends.
After the VR panel, our PAX South was done. We took the long way out and watched as the Tabletop area, Exhibit Hall, Handheld Lounge and Bandland were being packed away to haul out.
The San Antonio Convention Center was an awesome space for Penny Arcade Expo. The future looks bright for the space. They just need to get more vendors to make it more of an exposition and less of a “South Texas board game meetup with a few video game demos.” I was disappointed that they didn’t even have a strong Tabletop presence as Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Looney Labs, etc weren’t present in either the Expo Hall or the Tabletop area. I hope next year will be better for those that attend PAX South and it becomes home for some people. I won’t be revisiting.
After our PAX concluded, we headed to Pearl Brewery, which has a ton of restaurants and an amphitheater in the “northern expansion” of the San Antonio Riverwalk. We decided on a restaurant when we got there and settled on La Gloria, a Tex Mex eatery that specialized in Mexican style street food. I got a Mexican Pizza and my wife got a tostada and we really could have split the pizza as it was enormous! We split a slice of Tres Leche cake for first dessert and then headed across the street to Lick for ice cream. We had a scoop of Texas Sheet Cake ice cream and a scoop of Hill Country Honey and Vanilla Bean ice cream. It was a tasty experience and the first that felt like a different experience than what we’d get today in San Francisco. That said, it was definitely a hipster area, and I could see La Gloria or Lick style restaurants popping up locally in The Mission at any time.
We made another trip to H-E-B and one to CVS in search of a less restrictive ankle brace as my ankle was healing and I needed something a bit more flexible to support it and then headed back to our hotel.
We ended up taking another walk into San Antonio later in the evening and had some Blue Bell Banana Split Ice Cream after I purchased an authentic made in Mexico lucha libre mask of my favorite luchadore, La Parka near The Alamo. We visited the lobby of the historic Menger Hotel, where Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders convened before heading back to the hotel one last time.
On Monday, after checking out of the hotel, we went north a bit to Taco Taco Cafe for San Antonio style breakfast tacos. I had a chorizo and egg taco and my wife had a bean and cheese and an egg and cheese taco. I also got a beef puffy taco which was a greasy tasty mess of a taco which is best described by this article on the internet.
We still had some time left before we had to head to the airport, so we went back into downtown San Antonio and ended up doing a Riverwalk Cruise from Rio San Antonio River Cruises. It was a fun way to spend an hour seeing things from a different angle than we would have when walking or driving. There were plenty of photo worthy sections of the tour and it was worth the small amount of money we paid for it.
After the river cruise we headed back toward Austin and our flight home. We made one last stop at the Stevie Ray Vaughn Statue, an important portal in Ingress and a cool spot most tourists to Austin would probably never know about. It is one of the coolest statues I’ve ever seen and also overlooks a picturesque view of downtown Austin.
We headed back to the airport and after a few circular turns after refueling got our rental car back and through security fairly quickly.
We still had over an hour to kill before boarding, so we hung out one of the terminal bars and listened to Rob Mahoney cover lots of American standards live on piano in front of us. I enjoyed a soft pretzel and my wife got yet another taco at the bar before we headed for our flight home.
We boarded pretty quickly and early and ended up touching down in San Francisco around 45 minutes before scheduled.
It was a fun trip full of culinary delights and a small smattering of fun gameplay but I definitely don’t see the need to visit San Antonio again in the future and certainly not for the underwhelming PAX South.