PAX East

By Shamus Posted Monday Feb 22, 2010

Filed under: Personal 80 comments

To answer the dozen or so people who have asked if I was going to PAX East:

I waited too long and planned too little and didn’t save enough and it’s just not going to happen for me this year. Alas. I was looking forward to meeting a lot of people. Some are professional contacts and some are just fellow game enthusiasts. In both cases, I’m sorry I’ll won’t get to meet you this year.


Next year. Next year there will be planning ahead. In fact, the planning has begun now. Looks like most of my gaming group will be going.


1) We live about eleven hours away, which is an annoying distance. If we were just a couple of hours closer or a couple of hours further away then deciding how to travel would be easy. At eleven hours, it’s kind of too close to justify the expense of flying, and yet too far to drive. Flying means an hour and a half drive to the airport, two hours at the airport, about an hour in their air, a half hour to escape the place with our belongings, and another hour to secure transport and reach the hotel. So, about six hours. If we drive we’ll save hundreds of dollars and we’ll have our vehicle available when we get there. On the other hand, it would be really difficult to leave early enough to avoid missing the opening ceremonies.

2) If we were just a couple of hours away it might make sense to do just one day, but at this distance it’s an all-or-nothing deal. (Which is why this year we’re doing nothing.)

3) The door price is preposterously low. $50 for all three days. You’ll spend more than that on food in that time. It’s a fraction of what you’ll spend on travel, and almost nothing compared to what you’ll spend on accommodations.

Just curious: How many people here are going? (Or made it to PAX West last year?)


From The Archives:

80 thoughts on “PAX East

  1. Allan says:

    Too close to fly, too far to drive. That is indeed a conundrum. Shame these things called trains haven’t spread to you guys in the colonies yet. :)

    1. Shamus says:

      There are trains, but trains scale poorly with increasing surface area / falling population density. Wiki says Great Britain has 270+ people per square km. USA has 32. The urban centers are further apart, which changes the economics of the whole thing. Last time I looked, rails were about the same price as airlines, and sometimes more expensive. You end up with the worst of all possible worlds: The expense of flying, the travel time of a car, the hassle of flying, and the fact that when you get there you have to secure transport. (Rent car, taxi.)

      I think trains are mostly used by people who happen to live in just the right area, or who hate flying.

      1. RTBones says:

        Its not just the trains, either. As you mention, you need to secure transport once you get there. The trains and transport here are set up around the commuter/car culture. In some places here in the US, transport is excellent. In general, however, not so much. I have friends in the UK who delight to no end in giving me grief about trains and my fascination with them. When I go visit, I actually try to take the train whenever I can. Why? Because I can actually get around WITHOUT driving, something hard to do here at home.

        1. lazybratsche says:

          Just so y’all know, Boston’s got a pretty solid public transit system. The convention, airport, and train stations are all right on the subway. I’d say it’s about a 45 minute ride from the convention center to the airport, and less than 20 minutes from either of the train stations. Really, having a car around here is more trouble than it’s worth (I live here without one). You won’t be able to park anywhere near PAX East unless you stay at one of the (expensive!) nearby hotels, or pay upwards of $20/day on parking.

          The corridor between Boston and New York is actually one of the only places in the country where there’s decent train service to every city center along the way. It’s a slower ride than it should be — the “high speed” train isn’t any faster than driving. Admittedly, train service to anywhere west of here is absolute shit…

      2. Tizzy says:

        One of the biggest attraction of trains over planes in Europe is that your train will take you city center to city center. From there, public transportation and you’re done.

        I have yet to take a real train ride (by real, I mean: outside of suburban trains) in the US. Even when I could have, I ended up taking a Greyhound instead. I think it’s related to your critical density argument: the offer (# of trains) is smaller, and then you miss all the advantage of a good rail system, the hassle-free connections. Missing a connection on a train is painless, only if the next one will come along in a reasonable amount of time. Missing an airplane connection is never painless, on the other hand.

      3. Meredith says:

        I live in NYC at the moment, so I’m lucky enough to have good rail service to quite a number of places and I do use it. It really is less hassle than flying (no security, get there 5 minutes before departure and board), but it takes up the entire day most of the time (this country is too big!). I’m car-less and it makes close travel of any sort a nightmare, especially if I need to leave the East Coast. I completely feel your pain on this one.

        Once you get off the coast, though, forget it for the trains. I’ve taken a train to PA that I’m pretty sure would get Shamus to NY, then transfer to Boston, but it would most likely end up with them spending the night in NYC and that’s no way to save any money. (not stalking you, just picking up on hints to your general location over the years)

      4. Nyaz says:

        Being a swede, we have a built-in hatred towards trains for those very reasons. Also, the swedish train system is late in 85% of all their travels (yes, actual numbers) and thus we avoid it like the plague.

        What I’m saying is trains are evil, don’t go by train. Like, ever.

      5. Sekundaari says:

        The train station in the middle of a city is the usual thing here in Europe, as far as I know. I guess the big problem in the US isn’t the distance between cities, you probably could make fine railways for great speeds, and keep them in good condition. The bigger problem would be the average population density of a city, the vast fields of single houses in suburbs.

        I’d bet trains are a less important method of travel in the US than in Finland, even though we have half your population density, and barely one big city.

      6. Caffiene says:

        I feel your pain…

        But cheer up… at least you dont live here in Australia where theres only 2.8 people per km. Anywhere that isnt a state capital becomes a grand adventure.

      7. Allan says:

        I see. No wonder my family only emigrated for 6 months.

      8. Ingvar M says:

        Don’t stare yourself too much on the population density. Sweden, with an over-all population density of 20 /, has something approaching a functioning network.Admittedly, I’ve mostly used rail in the southern half.

        However, I suspect train works best when you have no more than 3-or-so hours (by train) between urban centres. Although, taking transport between city centres and airports into account, you’re probably looking at somewhere between 4 and 5 hours before you’re break-even on travel-time.

      9. ehlijen says:

        I’ll never understand why train companies feel the need to compete inside the airline price ranges. Germany’s had that problem a while ago (and it probably hasn’t gone away yet). In a country where you can probably get anywhere you want faster by car than by train thanks to the Autobahns, trains should not be more expensive than cheap airlines…

        1. For serious. Munich to Berlin can cost twice the price of flying while taking about six times longer (pure travel time). On the other hand, you don’t get frisked, fingerprinted, searched and scanned.

      10. Doug Sundseth says:

        For reference, in addition to the population density issue Shamus mentions, US railroads are optimized for low-priority, high-mass cargo, not high-priority, low-mass people.

        The result of this is that (per the last information I saw) in the US, 38% of freight ton-miles go by rail. In Europe, 8% of freight ton-miles go by rail.

        Optimizing for the freight equivalent of VoIP rather than the freight equivalent of FTP would have significant negative effects.

        (FWIW, I’ve lived in Europe and ridden the DBB many times; it’s a nice experience. And it’s really inefficient compared to pushing coal, steel, and paper down those same rails.)

        1. Sekundaari says:

          This difference has a lot to do with the convenient seas and rivers in Europe. According to the European Commission (, 40% of freight between member states of the EU is transported on sea, and inland waterways play a big role too. It’s even more efficient than railways, so it has the biggest share.

          1. Doug Sundseth says:

            True enough. A substantial part of the difference is not explainable by water transport, though. For more information, see this paper.

    2. John Lopez says:

      I find people in the UK and Europe constantly underestimate the size of the United States. Quick note: Texas is bigger than most of the countries over there. I always chuckle when someone crosses the pond and asks if we can meet up as they will be in the states… here in the west just missing me by *one* state means an epic journey.

      Here is a handy superposition for those who could use some perspective:

      1. vukodlak says:

        I guess that explains why Americans always seem to think Europe is just one country ;)

        1. Mephane says:

          Technically, Europe (or at least the EU) now is one country, but talking more about that would go into the political area, for which this is not the place.

          That said, as a European I sometimes have to force myself to remember how big the USA are in terms of geographical area.

          And my initial thought to Shamus’ conundrum was exactly that “well obviously you take the train”… in Europe you would consider train first and airplane second on these distances, actually. Despite myself having a driving license, I haven’t had a car of my own so far, and got around very well anway by means of train, tram, bus etc.

          1. I know what you mean. I haven’t used my car in ages, because the alternatives always end up being cheaper and less stressful.

      2. Tizzy says:

        Dear John:

        I loved the link… until I remembered that typical mapmaking devices such as the Mercator projection are absolutely not isometries.

        This is duly on the website with the disclaimer:
        The scale of the two maps are meant to be the same. Due to the distortion in different projections and the simplifying of boundaries, they might not be exactly acurate, but good enough to give you an idea of relative size or difference in area between European countries and US states.

        Allow me to be a bit skeptical about this. Basically: don’t use it too close to the North pole.

        1. Antwon says:

          Given that the United States is generally speaking at lower levels of latitude than Europe, wouldn’t this mean that the Mercator projections are understating the case, if anything? That is, the U.S. is bigger than Europe by a fair whack, slightly moreso than even shown in these projections? (Not that I’m that fussed, really. The maps are good enough to be eyeball-it ballpark-accurate, which is sufficient for my needs.)

  2. [d20]thegrinner says:

    Myself and a friend are taking a massively convoluted route involving multiple forms of public transportation to go on Saturday only. Wish we could go longer, but seeing as its the week after spring break instead of the week of we’re screwed.

    For those wondering, we’re taking a bus to NYC, then the subway, then a train I think? My friends in charge of that bit.

  3. Drew says:

    I’m going, but unfortunately waited too long, so I just have passes for Friday and Sunday. Which is a lot better than nothing.

  4. MintSkittle says:

    Something you could do is go a day early. That way, you’re already there on day one. But then you have to pay for an extra night at the hotel. The hotel’s probably going to be your biggest expense.

    1. Shamus says:

      Yeah, I was thinking that too. I don’t like the thought of staggering right out of the car and directly into the show after it’s already started. Then again, paying for another night would actually negate the savings of driving. Er. I guess it depends on how many people, since flying is per-person and driving is per-vehicle.

      1. MintSkittle says:

        There’s another consideration: How many people are you going to share a hotel room with? I once spent three days sharing a hotel room with eleven other people. While it was really cheap splitting the cost a dozen ways, it really runs people ragged having to share space with so many. If you can get two or three people to share a room, it would really help cut costs.

        1. Shamus says:

          Looks like the wife and I will be with about four other people, give or take one. Of course, this is a year away. A lot can change in that time. These guys are in their mid-20’s. Any one of them could meet someone and be married by this time next year, and then all bets are off. :)

          1. Shamus says:

            Your optimism sickens me.

            1. Shamus says:

              Hey, YOU got married.

                1. Heron says:

                  You were joking (sort of), but my friends and I had almost this exact same conversation a little after I got married. (My wife and I had our third anniversary last week.)

                  Kind of funny… everyone thought I’d be the last of our group to get married, but not only was I first, but all of them still aren’t even close.

                2. Mephane says:

                  You just made my day. XD

                3. nilus says:

                  You guys are lucky. My wife will come with me to cons but her one rule is she won’t share a room with a bunch of guys She is okay with sharing with another couple if we get a big enough room but she much prefers to have her own little sanctuary from all the crazyness.

                4. SolkaTruesilver says:

                  Would your Cynic and Optimistic sides care to make a wager?

                  Put a reminder linking to this post that will activate in 1 year – 1 week. And at that time, remember this self-argumentation, and the winning side has the right to gloat over the other.

          2. Skeeve the Impossible says:

            For the record I vote now to just drive. It is the only thing that make true sense and yes i want to get there a day early. Hotels are pricey but if start saving now there should be no problems…..i would think.

  5. Hal says:

    Shamus, I think you’d get a heroes welcome at Fear the Con. Perhaps a closer alternative?

    (I made it to the first, but haven’t been since I left St. Louis. *sniff*)

  6. Factoid says:

    Sigh…someday maybe there’ll be a PAX Midwest…but probably not.

    If I ever get to travel for a PAX, though I’m definitely going to PAX prime in Seattle.

    1. nilus says:

      Well Factoid, we midwesterns get Gencon. Which is great for people who are tabletop nerds.

      Hey Shamus, have you ever been or thought about going to Gencon?

    2. Audacity says:

      Holy smokes, PAX Prime is in Seattle!? I always thought it was held in one of those convention cities they have in the Peoples Republic of California. I’m going to have to attend some time.

      1. Bryce says:


        That’s GLORIOUS DEMOCRATIC People’s Republic of California.

        But alack…PAX is two states away.

        1. Audacity says:

          My most sincere apologies esteemed comrade. ;)

      2. Heron says:

        Yeah, being close to PAX was one of the perks when I decided to take a job with Amazon here in Seattle. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to go last year :/ Probably a good thing, too, what with the swine flu outbreak.

        But, this year! I shall go.

  7. Rubes says:

    Wish I could go this year. There’s going to be an impressive gathering of interactive fiction folk, as well as the premiere of Jason Scott’s documentary, GET LAMP. Sigh.

  8. Jason Scott says:

    Well hey ho.

    Yes, my movie’s premiering on Friday, 9:30pm. Theater can hold 800 people and it will be followed by a panel with some IF luminaries, some surprises. I wish you guys could make it. What’s with the defeatism? I’d have never finished the movie with such sadness and doubt.

    1. Rubes says:

      Sadness only that I couldn’t be there for the premiere. I’m sure it will be a fantastic show.

  9. Chris says:

    Don’t make the mistake of assuming driving is cheaper than flying, even at that distance. It’s not necessarily the case. For 2010 the IRS standard mileage rate is 50 cents per mile (down from 55 cents in 2009). That cost is supposed to encompass all costs: fuel, vehicle maintenance, vehicle depreciation, etc. It’s the cost of merely operating a car in 2010. This is what my employer compensates me at, outside my normal pay, if I use my own car for any sort of business related traveling.

    This means a driving round trip between Pittsburgh and Boston is about $600. The more people you get in your car, the better cost per person you’ll get. For this specific trip, if just two people are traveling, flying could match that cost and without all the exhausting work of driving. I’d rather read a book at the airport/airplane for eleven hours than stare at asphalt for the same amount of time.

    But then there’s airport security theater to deal with …

    1. Antwon says:

      While I prefer generally prefer driving to flying myself – what can I say, I’m a sucker for road trips – you are absolutely correct that most people don’t take the hidden costs of driving into account. Crunch all of the numbers and yeah, depending on what the status of your car is, the cost of fuel can pale in comparison to whatever toll “I am consuming a full 1% (or whatever) of my car’s lifespan this weekend, pushing it that much closer to the next oil change / major service / eventual vehicular failure” is exacting.

      My workaround has generally been to rent a car before I do any sort of long-haul trekking about. Every major company worth its salt offers free unlimited mileage nowadays. If they’ll really let me pay $100 to put a couple thousand miles’ wear on their car instead of mine, hey, I see no reason not to take them up on it. :) The “if I have some sort of breakdown, I just call roadside assistance and they bring a new car, sparing the effort of trying to find a trustworthy mechanic in the middle of nowhere hundreds of miles from home” benefit is also something of a pleasant bonus….

  10. Slycne says:

    I drove up to NY from NC last August for a friend’s wedding. It was a 12 hour drive and I regretted not flying ever minute of it. If you hit the discount travel sites early enough you can get some really good prices on airfare. Going back and totaling it all together(gas, food, etc), it probably would have come out it pretty close to equal or close enough to justify not sitting in a car for 12 hours.

    1. Heron says:

      My wife and I drove to Salt Lake City from Seattle (and back) for Christmas last year, to save money. Sure, we saved a few hundred bucks; our car gets great highway mileage (Civic Hybrid) and we had tons of stuff to bring with us, so we would have had to pay for extra baggage on a plane, but…

      … geez, it wasn’t worth it. Never again.

  11. Yar Kramer says:

    I just want you to know, when I saw “PAX East” I thought of Black Mesa East.

  12. Drew says:

    Of course on the other side of the coin, I was scheduled to fly from Providence, RI to Philadelphia a couple of years ago. My 6PM flight was delayed until midnight, at which point they cancelled it. I absolutely had to get to Philly, so I had to rent a car at that point and drive instead. Driving can be a hassle, and certainly traffic can be an issue, but rarely is there a situation where you simply cannot get from point A to point B. Flight always carries that risk.

  13. Taellosse says:

    I’m going with two of my friends. One of them has a buddy in the area with crash space for us, so we’re saving on the hotel fee. But we all live in Western MA, so it’s only a ~2 hour drive for us.

  14. Lambach says:

    other peoples perspectives on driving always fascinate me. It’s a four hour trip one way just to visit my folks. When it’s a hundred miles to the nearest place that’s vaguely worth visiting, you don’t think much of long car trips. It’s just unfortunate we no longer have ‘safe and prudent’ as a speed limit.

    1. Tizzy says:

      Well I guess the perspective also has to do with what kind of roads you’re driving on. If it’s truly a hundred miles to the nearest place that's vaguely worth visiting, chances are you can get some fairly quiet driving most of the way. If people want to get to Boston by way of I-95, on the other hand, it’s going to get old REALLY fast.

      1. Lambach says:

        Not that much, traffic in Denver, Seattle, and Las Vegas doesn’t really bother me either. The hundred or so miles of bumper to bumper from Ogden to Provo Utah, is a little annoying, but not so bad as to make me consider flying unless I’m on a very tight schedule.

  15. Every year I go to PAX in Seattle.
    It helps that I am in Seattle, and it is a short ride from my place on the public buses.
    Even the years that I cannot afford to get in, I still cruise by in the wheelchair and hang outside with friends that were able to get tickets in time, or roll across the street to play games at Gameworks.
    Fun times.

  16. Jamie says:

    I really wanted to go to PAX Prime last year, but my organisational skills left me when I was planning my mega USA spanning trip, so while I was in Seattle on the day, it was as a stopover to go to Canada, ah, poor me.
    (poor me missing PAX, not for going to Canada, I mean!)
    On the other hand, I did get a chance to catch a train from San Francisco to Providence, (via Chicago and Washington) and something still confuses me: Why doesn’t San Francisco actually have a train station in the city?

    1. Namfoodle says:

      Depends on your definition of train station. There are three different commuter rail and/or subway lines with multiple stations in San Francisco: CalTrain, BART and SF MUNI. Plus we have Cable Cars!

      But it’s true that you can’t take a train directly from San Francisco to Chicago. The reason is geography. The city is surrounded by water on three sides. However, the train station in Oakland isn’t that far east across the bay. And you can take a BART train from SF to Oakland.

  17. Zombie Pete says:

    Lack of a car in Boston isn’t really much of a handicap — take it from someone who spent four years there as an undergrad with no car. You’ll probably be at the festival most of the time, but if you want to get out, the T will take you practically anywhere worth going. And it’s an awesome city to walk and explore in; as pretty as San Fran, but without the massive hills. But most of all, you REALLY don’t want to drive there.

  18. Irridium says:

    I want to go to PAX East, hell its only about 4 hours from where I live, but sadly life decided this was the prime moment kick me in the balls and now I’m jobless, so going is out of the question :(

  19. Mike Lemmer says:

    I enjoyed every day I spent at PAX Prime. It feels like an old-school gaming convention (ala GenCon) rather than an industry expo (ala E3). The showroom floor’s about the same, but it also has multiple rooms devoted to meetings with indie developers & talent (Telltale Games is a favorite), playing old console games (2-player Combat on the Atari), or one of the biggest LANs you’ll ever see (Bring Your Own Computer).

    There’s even a rather large section of it devoted to tabletop gaming: at PAX Prime, they rented out another building for it. It felt like a local tabletop convention right next door. I wonder what would ensue if you took the tabletop developers & video game developers out for a drink and started discussing game theory…

    1. Irridium says:

      All I know is that it would be very, very entertaining.

  20. rofltehcat says:

    Sounds a bit strange and hard to imagine, those big distances. You guys talk about “it is just 4 hours away” like it is nothing of a distance. Over here I normally consider driving less than an hour a normal distance (home -> university/dormitory; home -> relatives).
    Last year I drove to Berlin for 4 1/2 hours and this was already a long distance. Also drove back the same evening, with just a few hours there. Was kinda exhausting. I can barely imagine driving for so long (of course you’ll swap drivers). We only drove that long when we went to croatia for holidays… and I was like 3 and 7 years when we did those trips (and asleep most of the time).
    But yeah, trains are kinda ok over here, at least for short/mid distances.

  21. Joel D says:

    “There were a lot of people who was looking forward to meeting.”

    At first I was really confused by this (obviously non-grammatical) sentence, but then once I figured out you’d left out the word “I” it made a lot more sense.

  22. sporksmith says:

    I’ll be going there from Pittsburgh with my wife and another couple. I know what you mean about the annoying distance. That reminds me that I need to finish planning our travel. The other couple is renting a car and going there for the whole week. I think we might fly there and carpool back with them, just to make things complicated.

    Btw, we went to Pax prime for our honeymoon in August, and it was loads of fun. Not to rub it in or anything ;). Maybe we’ll catch you at some other con in the area, or at next year’s Pax East.

  23. kjones says:

    I go to school in Pittsburgh and live in Rhode Island – that “annoying distance” problem comes up at least twice a semester.

  24. Dan Bruno says:

    I’ll be there. Local developers represent!

  25. Amarsir says:

    What’s PAX?

    OK I mean I know literally what it is, but I really don’t get the appeal. Why does anyone go to these things, let alone plan a long trip a year in advance? (No disrespect to those who do, I just don’t get it.)

    1. Namfoodle says:

      Dude, gaming conventions are great. I often get to catch up with old friends. I also went to a convention right after moving to a new city and met some guys who I played with weekly for years. And it’s easy to try out lots of new games or get into pickup games with strangers.

      Obviously, you don’t need a convention to do any of those things, but I still think they’re a lot of concentrated gaming fun crammed into a long weekend.

      Also, the concentration of merchants in one place gives you a better selection than any local store, and better instant gratification than the internet.

  26. BlackBloc says:

    Oh man, there’s a PAX EAST?

    I guess next year…

  27. Catbunny says:

    I’ve been to the last two PAX primes. There are pluses to living 20-ish miles north of Seattle.
    Didn’t get the PAX hax, either. Admittedly, being in costume (face paint) probably helped. :)

    1. Namfoodle says:

      Do you really think face paint protected you from the flu? I guess if it forced you to avoid touching your face…

      I got vaccinated for H1N1 this year, so I wasn’t worried when I went to a convention.

  28. ehlijen says:

    Just out of curiosity: Do you do much non computer or RPG gaming? Any tabletop wargames, favourite board games that sort of thing?

  29. Yontan says:

    I’ll be saving up for next year for PAX east. And I will definitely be flying. Driving from Scotland is a bit of a stretch. I’ll be most looking forward to some dnd, magic and pc gaming. :D oh boy oh boy I wish I could go this year!

  30. Ryan says:

    Just curious – I wonder how many of us there are who live in Seattle and yet have not attended PAX?

  31. zipdrive says:

    So, no PAX East then, Shamus.
    How about GenCon?

  32. Every year, I read the blogs, watch the videos, and am green with envy as I look across the pond. One day, I always tell myself, one day I’ll go, and I’ll be there.

  33. Rawling says:

    Not too late yet, Shamus – they’re taking Enforcer applications!

    1. Namfoodle says:


      Shamus the Enforcer? There’s a scary thought.

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