Arcade Expo: Gamers revel in what’s new

SEATTLE — Barry Rolapp was a kid in a virtual candy store.

Standing in the center of the Penny Arcade Expo commonly known as PAX, Rolapp’s eyes wandered over various booths offering the latest in video games. New games such as “Fallout 3,” “Guitar Hero: World Tour” and “World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King” beckoned to him.

“I don’t even know where to start,” Rolapp said.

For the last five years, PAX has been growing by leaps and bounds as the most eagerly anticipated video game convention in America. Created by Penny Arcade auteurs Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, PAX has become a force within the video game industry and a yearly pilgrimage for gamers of every stripe to celebrate their love of gaming.

PAX is the Woodstock of the Nintendo Generation.

Rolapp, of Lynnwood, headed to the “Warhammer: Age of Reckoning” booth. The area was decorated with banners and swords, with a red-and-gold color scheme familiar to enthusiasts. Finding an open computer, he sat down and played for a few minutes, trying to get a feel for the game.

“I like the art — graphically, this game looks impressive,” Rolapp said. “I really like the textures. The play is a little choppy, and it’s not as intuitive as I would like it to be.”

Rolapp, 27, has been playing since 1989 and has a collection of new and vintage systems in his home entertainment arsenal: a Wii, two PCs, a PS2, a PSP, a Nintendo DS, a Nintendo Entertainment System and an Atari 2600. Rolapp isn’t just a gamer; he’s an aficionado.

His girlfriend Heather Bechard is slightly less enthusiastic. She is a gamer as well, playing “World of Warcraft” as religiously as Rolapp. However, a gamer convention where people dressed up as video game characters was quite a different story.

“It was pretty crazy. I never realized how strange people really are,” Bechard said. “They are smelly and they dress up funny. It makes me worried for the human race.”

Despite those concerns, she was impressed with some of the games on display. Valve’s anticipated zombie survival game “Left 4 Dead” won her over with its four-person cooperative game play. She was noticeably less impressed with the “Hell’s Kitchen” video game.

Evidently, no one is too keen on being yelled at by the intemperate Gordon Ramsay, in the kitchen or in a video game. Ramsay is host of the Fox TV reality show “Hell’s Kitchen.”

To Rolapp, seeing what’s new is what PAX is all about.

“It’s a convention, and there is a lot to it. Concerts, discussion panels, forums, they have it all,” Rolapp said. “For me, I’m an impatient guy and I want to know what’s coming out next and if it’s any good. I don’t want to wait.”

After trying his hand, Rolapp said he was let down by “Gears of War 2,” complaining that too many game developers were too busy making sequels and not creating new original content.

It didn’t take Rolapp very long to find exactly what he was looking for.

“Demigod,” by Gas Powered Games, stood out as an innovative real-time-strategy that hooked him as soon as he played it. The game is centered around various hero units competing to become the next god within a mythical pantheon by dueling. Each hero unit has specific powers and attacks, plus items they can buy from a store located in their base.

“An original game with a fresh look and amazing graphics,” Rolapp said. “I’m getting into the beta (test version) as soon as I get home.”

Reporter Justin Arnold: 425-339-3432 or jarnold@heraldnet.com.

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