PAX Australia 2014 Survival Guide: The PAXening

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Last year, I made a post about preparing for the upcoming PAX Australia convention. I drew on knowledge I’d gathered from other events I’d been to, and asked people who’d been to PAX cons in the US for advice. All my research still didn’t prepare me for just how massive those three days are! Now that I have some firsthand experience, I’m hoping that Survival Guide 2.0 helps new attendees and seasoned con veterans prepare for the event.

Hotels

With PAX Australia being just over two months away, getting any last minute accommodation sorted out would probably be a good idea. Hotels near the area would fill up fast, so look for ones near public transport (see below) for an easy commute. If you’ve already got your accommodation organised, call your hotel/motel/etc about a week before to confirm your booking and check in times. Some places have late arrival times, so knowing what time you can dump your luggage is going to be handy. Make plans if you’ve got some time to kill before you can get into your room.

Travel to/from PAX

The closest airport to the event is Melbourne International Airport. As well as having rental car and taxi options for your convenience, there’s also the Skybus which travels to the city centre from the airport every 10 minutes. The timetable and routes are available here.

This year, PAX is being help at the Melbourne Convention and Entertainment Centre (MCEC), which has five paid car parks scattered around close-by. These car parks are owned by Wilson and can get kinda pricy. ($12 an hour pricy) Carpool if you’re driving and split the cost. As the MCEC is a major convention centre, taxis ($$$), trams, trains and busses are all available and will have a stop close to the centre. Investing in a Myki and having credit loaded on to it will save you time and stress. Check (and double check) routes from where you are to where you need to be.

Getting lost sucks.

Getting lost in an unfamiliar city sucks more.

Tickets

Tickets for the event have sold like hotcakes. 3-day passes are sold out, as are Saturday day passes. International 3-day passes (for those of you flying into the country) are still available, as well as Friday and Sunday day passes.

What to wear

Enjoying yourself is key at events like this, but Melbourne is notorious for its temperamental weather. To avoid some of the PAX Plague, you’ll need to dress and pack accordingly. (Edit: A commentator on Twitter mentioned that when it rains, it pours in Melbourne. Take an umbrella or one of those $2 ponchos.)

Shirts: T-shirts are always comfortable and you’re bound to have a few favourite nerdy shirts lying around.

Pants: Jeans will keep you warm while you’re outside but aren’t going to overheat you while you’re inside. Let’s face it, you’re going to be doing lots of different activities (walking, sitting, gaming) and you’re going to need something that moves with your body. If you wanna wear skinny jeans, you might find they’re a little difficult unless they’re a day old or so.

Jumpers/Jackets: This is where things get difficult. A warm jacket is great for when you’re waiting for transport outside or outside the event, but they can be bulky. Try for something that you’re not going to be bothered carrying around with you all day and night. If you can put it in a bag (or tie it), the better. Same with any accessories like scarves and beanies. Any extra bulk is extra weight that you’re going to have with you the whole day.

Shoes: Whatever you know you can walk in for 8+ hours. It varies from person to person.

Note to Cosplayers:

Cosplayers, remember a jacket at least or layer up so you don’t fall into the same trap I did the first time I cosplayed Black Canary and end up with some kind of death plague because you didn’t dress appropriately.

PAX has some rules about what cosplay weapons you can and can’t bring into the convention. Information is available on the official website, and the Penny Arcade forums.

The organisers also say “Cosplaying attendees may be asked to alter or modify their costume if it is considered to be overtly sexual.” More information about this is available on the official PAX website, under the “Booth Babes” heading. These rules are to make sure that the event is enjoyable for everyone, since PAX is still a family event.

Planning ahead

Planning can be what makes or breaks your weekend. Last year, one of the few complaints people had with the convention was the size of some panels and how long the queues were. Deciding what, who and where you want is going to give you a fighting chance at seeing everything you want. The schedule is available here.

The Guidebook app was a miracle last year and I’m expecting the same this year. It’s available on Android, iOS, Windows and Blackberry so everyone is covered. The MCEC website also has a map of the area, which can help plan where you want to meet up with friends.

Keeping Fed/Watered

The days will be VERY long and it’s important to keep your energy up.  Keeping yourself fed and watered is going to make sure you’re going to have the energy to get through the day. Make sure you’ve got a bottle of water in your bag so you’ve got something to sip other than energy drink and Coke is going to make sure you’re always hydrated. Lunch and snacks are going to be your major issue.

Either bring food with you, or bring some money for the stuff that the cafes that the MCEC is going to have available. Having cash on hand is going to come in handy for the whole event, but having it with you to buy a quick bite is going to save you bank fees and a lot of time.

The south wharf promenade along the Yarra River has a great selection of bars and restaurants for you to grab a bite to eat during the day. Melbourne is famous for its bar scene, with some of the best places to eat and drink being in the city. PAX have organised a discount for PAX attendees with the owners and licensees of the venues!

Edit: A friend mentioned the 4-2-1 rule.

4 hours sleep (it’s a LONG weekend.)

2 square meals a day (actual meals, not snacks or something)

1 decent shower (for the sake of everyone)

Finally

Remember, have fun! That’s what is most important. There’s tonnes to do over the weekend in and around the event itself so be on the look out for cool stuff to do so enjoy the weekend.

Asus ROG G550J Laptop (Provided by Asus)

PC gamers have a love/hate relationship with gaming laptops. Some can see the use for them (it’s how I started PC gaming), especially when it comes to portability, but others see them as an expensive and underpowered. The Asus ROG G550J has some decent grunt to keep the most hardcore gamers happy, but still lightweight enough to take to LANs for those all-nighters.

Straight out of the box, the Asus G550J is pretty to look at. The Asus Republic of Gamers logo stands proudly among the brushed aluminium front. Under the lid, it’s all matte black and red. The keyboard is printed with red keys and has a matching red black light, which you can dim or brighten with function keys. The base is even lined with red. Since red is my favourite colour, I’m pleased with the colour scheme, but I can imagine it’s not for everyone.

The keyboard took a little getting used to, like all new keyboards do. But once I knew the positioning of all the keys, writing on the Asus G550J was a comfortable experience. I decided to re-write a couple of old reviews to get a real feel for how the keyboard would work in an everyday environment. The keys press nicely and are a nice size. One of the problems with 15.6” laptops with a full alphanumeric keyboard is the small size of the keys. Luckily, that’s not an issue with this keyboard.

The G550J also boasts enough ports to keep even the most intense user happy. With three 3.0 USB ports (two on the left side, one on the right), you can still plug a mouse in to the laptop, charge your phone and still have a port left over. There’s also a HDMI port (right side), an optical Blu-ray drive, a mini display port, an SD card slot (always handy) and a headphone jack. Something you won’t see on all laptops’ is the small yellow port near the charger, which is where you plug in the sub, which comes with the laptop. The sub looks like a small can and certainly boosts the low-end sounds of games, movies, and music.

I picked two games to test the limits of the Asus G550J with the help of a friend of mine. We took into consideration the graphical strain and how resource heavy the games would be and decided on The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, and The Witcher 2.

Both games can be played on their highest settings and look beautiful on the 15.6” LCD screen with the help of the Nvidia 850M 4GB graphics card.

During the initial set up, The Witcher 2 auto-detected what settings can be best played on. The surprising (or not so surprising)        result was to play in Ultra Spec. In Ultra Spec, everything is cranked to the max. Shadow details, character details and graphical details are all set to ultra.

When I started to play The Witcher, I had a few issues in the beginning with the touchpad getting in the way and trigging some menu options (an issue I have with all laptops), but once I switched the touchpad off and got back into gameplay, it was all smooth sailing.

The same can be said about The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. While I don’t run Skyrim with too many mods (just an inventory mod and a “realistic” skin mod), it can still be a difficult game for some computers to handle. The G550J automatically ran Skyrim on Ultra where all details are played in high (or ultra, where applicable.) With the battery in high powered mode, there’s plenty of power to play both The Witcher 2 and The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim in their wonderful glory.

The good thing is that I didn’t notice the laptop getting too hot during sessions of long gameplay. Having it sit straight on my desk, there was enough room for proper ventilation to keep the laptop comfortably cool.

The Asus G550J does make a lot of noise. The fan can be distractingly loud at times, even in balanced mode. While I had the laptop idling in balanced mode, it sounded as if it was playing a game in high powered mode. While it’s not a huge deal, with the noise being easily drowned out by background noise or headphones, it could be distracting while using the laptop in a quieter environment.

I could get 2-3 hours out of the battery with some general use (Wi-Fi on, brightness at max, battery on balanced). However, when playing games, I changed the battery into high power mode and made sure the laptop was plugged in. While a good habit to be in when it comes to gaming, not necessarily a great habit for reviewing.

Overall

The Asus ROG G550J could easily satisfy any PC gaming enthusiast with its looks and power. However, with the hefty price tag of AU$2,699, many gamers could find themselves resorting to cheaper options. Paying the extra isn’t without its benefits. The LCD screen performs wonderfully in all angles and all the power under the red and black colour scheme can easily play the most resource heavy games without becoming outdated too quickly.

The SSD drive size (256GB) leaves something to be desired for a gaming laptop, but it boots quickly and quietly, which could be enough for some users to load their favourite games and still have room left over for whatever else they needed to store on the drive.

If I had to pick a new laptop for gaming, the G550J would definitely catch my eye. It’s stylish, easy-to-use and powerful enough to do whatever I need it to.

tl;dr

Specifications:
• 15.6” LCD screen (1920 x 1080 resolution)
• 256GB SATA3 SSD
• 16GB DDR3 RAM (2x 8GB sticks)
• i7-4700 CPU @ 2.40GHz
• GeForce GTX 850m (4GB)
• Optical Blu-Ray drive
• 1 x HDMI ports
• 3 x USB 3.0 ports
• SD Card reader

Great for gaming, SSD is a little small, very stylish.

 

 

Meet Stacy: My GTA: Online Character

Stacy, taking bathroom selfies with her friends.

This is Stacy. She’s my GTA: Online avatar and I have a strange affection for her.

When GTA: Online first launched in October last year, it was a disaster that most users experienced. It wasn’t until Rockstar had figured out how releasing an MMO-style online experience for their wildly successful game probably needed a LOT more server support that it originally had, that everyone started to really enjoy the experience. My friends and I created a crew for our clan and rode around on the Vespa knockoffs, which we had customised in various shaded of neon colours; just to make it that much more special and it felt like our characters could actually be real; if Los Santos was a real place full of gun-toting psychopaths who rode around on hot pink scooters.

She likes selfies

Selfies with the Vinewood sign.

I wanted to give my avatar a little more life and for whatever strange reason, I fleshed her out a little bit. I named her Stacy. She looked like a Stacy to me. The story I’d picked was fairly generic; when Stacy turned 18, she got all her stuff and moved to LS to become something, not sure what that something was, but it was more than the menial job she was in at whatever small town she was leaving.

After arriving in LS and performing the first few jobs she could to raise some money, she met her friends (seen in the bathroom selfie) and despite them being the bad kids your parents warn you about, these were her people.

As someone who doesn’t really get THIS in to RPG’s, it’s funny that I’d grow so attached to Stacy. It’s like having a Barbie, but in an ultra-violent setting; I change her hair, make up and clothes regularly and make sure that she’s not too bruised up. Although, if you’ve seen the way I ride a motorbike in game, Stacy bares the brunt of it.

She’s my favourite part of GTA: Online. When it’s released on PC and my friends finally start playing again, I hope that I can transfer her across. I’d be a little upset if I couldn’t continue to play with my virtual Barbie.

 

A Random Thought About Ocarina Of Time

Water-TempleOne of the funniest things I can say to people who know I want to write about games for a living is “I’ve never played Ocarina of Time.” Apparently, that’s some kind of slight against the gaming Gods and I’m generally a bad person.

When I was growing up, I never had the opportunity to play it. I didn’t have a Nintendo 64 and none of my friends actually owned the game. In fact, the only Nintendo consoles I’ve ever owned at GameBoy handheld consoles.

It wasn’t until I was preparing to fly halfway around the world that I picked up Ocarina of Time when I was buying my 3DS. Even now, I haven’t finished it, despite being heavily encouraged by a friend of mine.

A lot of people encourage me to play it and the only reason they ever actually give me is “It’s the best game of all time!” That’s it. Nothing else matters except that it’s the best game of all time.

I guess I can’t argue since I’ve never played it the whole way through; I can’t say they’re wrong. But when you’re trying to convince someone to play something, shouldn’t you say WHY it’s the greatest great ever. What makes it great? So far, I’m failing to see it. Maybe I don’t see the appeal because I don’t have the gleam of nostalgia in my eye and remembering the gameplay fondly.

As a responsible writer who shouldn’t discount the opinions of others, I should just endure how bored I am of it and finish it. Maybe once I’ve discovered the Hell that is the Water Temple, I’ll see it in a new light, but right now, it’s just not my cup of tea.

 

My First Win

I remember when I was a kid and my Mum got us our first computer. It was a giant cream coloured beast. I was so excited because I could play the copy of “Age of Empires” that was the prize in a box of Corn Flakes.

I’m pretty sure I still have it somewhere.

After installing it and starting a new Blue civilisation, everything went downhill. I was so happy hoarding resources, I forgot I had an opponent to defeat.

Within a few ages, the Reds descended upon me. It was a massacre. Luckily, a few innocent Blues managed to escape the carnage. With all the food, wood, gold and stone I’d collected before the first downfall of my empire I rebuilt stronger and with new determination. My new purpose was to crush my foe.

This was difficult with a population cap of just 50, but my small legion of builders made me an army that made my Red opposition tremble.

With a tide of horses and archers, I rained fiery Blue vengeance on those tiny red pixel people.

“You Are Victorious” flashed on to the screen, and I had my first taste of video game victory. This innocuous silver disc, pulled from a box of cereal is what I remember as my first real video game.

It started a love affair not only with the RTS genre of gaming, but could be responsible for my drive to write about games. I have fond memories of other games, but none have the nostalgia that AoE does.

I’ve got AoE games that follow that first game, but none draw me in like Age of Empires 1. They’re still fun, but they don’t hold a candle to the woo-loo-looo of AoE 1.