PAX, the Flu, and Delays

I had a fantastic time at PAX (the Penny Arcade Expo) last weekend. Unfortunately, since then I’ve been laid up with some evil con crud, and that’s substantially changed a few things in my schedule.

Allow me to explain.

On the way out to Seattle last Thursday, I wrote 3,600 words on the plane. As soon as I was allowed to break out my laptop, I did, and I kept writing until its battery ran out. It’s amazing what you can do when there are so few distractions.

The wonderful Will McDermott picked me up at the Seattle airport and drove me to ArenaNet‘s secret headquarters, built on a set of stilts nestled into the wilds of beautiful Bellevue. There he took me on a tour of the place, during which I met enough people to overwhelm my poor brain with swirling names and faces even before the convention started. In the writers’ room, I was happy to find that I’d already known many of them for years, including Will, Angel McCoy, and Bryan Campbell.

I had the chance to actually play a build of Guild Wars 2 that afternoon, and this is going to improve my Guild Wars 2 novel by leaps and bounds of miles. It’s one thing to read a design doc and see loads of fantastic concept art. It’s another entirely to walk around inside a world and watch it breathe.

I also had a story chat with some of the company’s principal creatives—including Jeff Grubb, Bobby Stein, Will, and James Phinney—during which we thrashed out some of the trickier elements in the story. More importantly, I now have a rock solid, firm grounding in not only the game but the creators’ aims for it. We’re not just on the same page. We’re using the same words and speaking in the same metaphors.

Afterward, Will took me out to dinner with the entire writing team, then off to my hotel in downtown in Seattle. Once I got there, I was restless, so I walked downstairs to see if I could find anyone I knew. I immediately bumped into Paul Chapman of Steve Jackson Games and had a beer with him and Randy, the man who wears the Munchkin mascot suit!

After that, I wandered over to the Taphouse Grill, which has 160 different beers on tap. Those who know me know what a lure that can be, and I wound up there every night. On the first evening, I immediately bumped into Wil Wheaton, who was kind enough to not only recognize me but also to have a beer and introduce me around to the people he was chatting with. This included Sean Gailey, Jason Kraus, and other fine folks from the awesome T-shirt shop

I’d only met Wil once before, but we have lots of mutual friends, including Will Hindmarch, who’s been designing Wil’s books for him. He’s just as kind and personable over a beer as he is in his writing. Maybe more so, if you can believe that.

I also bumped into Jonathan Coulton and managed to blurt how much I love his work. Is it wrong that my kids know how to sing along with “Skullcrusher Mountain” and “Re: Your Brains”?

The next day, I met Will McDermott at the show, and we wandered the floor for a while. It’s possible to see just about everything in the exhibit hall at PAX in an hour if you hustle, and we did. Then we had our first Q&A panel in the booth, alongside Jeff Grubb. People lobbed us a lot of great questions, many of which went to Jeff as a noted keeper of Guild Wars lore.

With that over, Will and I grabbed a quick lunch at a nearby sandwich shop, then made it back in plenty of time for our second panel of the day. That was more of the excellent same stuff, including a few requests to autograph the gorgeous, free-at-the-show The Art of Guild Wars 2 book, despite me pointing out I had absolutely nothing to do with it.

After the second panel, Luke Crane grabbed me, and we went for a coffee and a quick chat about freelancing, game design, and making a living at it. I went back to my room after that and tried to squeeze in some quick words on Amortals.

That evening, I had a group dinner at a sushi and seafood buffet called Todai, which Anthony Gallela (of Bucephalus Games) set up. Lots of people joined us, including Dan Tibbles, Martin Stever, Eric Lang, Mike Elliot, Helene Bergeot, Wolfgang Baur, Jeff Grubb, Justin Achilli, Shane DeFreest, Mike Selinker, Rob Stewart, Doug Ferguson, Bruce Harlick, Ryan Dancey, and others I know I’m forgetting.

Next, many of us rolled out to the Taphouse Grill for drinks. At a certain point in the evening, Chris Pramas and Nicole Lindroos of Green Ronin Publishing fame showed up and lured many of us out to the Skyy Lounge for more fun.

The next morning, I felt a little off, but I just attributed that to the long night. Looking back, I can see now that this was about when I started coming down with the illness that my wife Ann had battled earlier in the week. I also realized I’d left my credit card in the bar to keep the tab running. I had to put off solving that until later though.

My college pal Brad Bernatek came to the hotel to pick me up and run me out to the pretty city of Edmonds, so I could see his new house and meet his lovely fiancee Laura Lindal. They showed me around town and grabbed breakfast with me, then Brad got me back to town in time to get to my next panel, this time with Will McDermott and Eric Flannum.

After the panel, Allan Sugarbaker of grabbed me for an audio interview that I can only assume will make it into a podcast someday soon. When we wrapped up, we ran into Jim Miles, formerly of Andon (the convention company that used to run Origins and Gen Con) and now with Mayfair Games. I told them that I needed to retrieve my credit card from a bar, and they gamely offered to join me. I’d been supposed to meet my longtime pal Ray Winninger for a drink, but he had a plumbing emergency and had to (literally) bail.

We left in plenty of time for me to make it to the Guild Wars Meet & Greet event, which brought me back to the Taphouse Grill once more. I joined a whole crew of enthusiastic fans and ArenaNet employees to chat about the game, the novel, PAX, and life in general. Plus, I scored one of the Guild Wars 2 T-shirts that ArenaNet was giving out to the fans.

I cut out of the party just a bit early to grab dinner at Il Fornaio with Matt Wilson and Sherry Yeary of Privateer Press, which makes (among other things) the awesome Monsterpocalypse game my kids are infatuated with. Matt and Sherry are fantastic fun, and we’ve been threatening to have a meal like this for years. We finally pulled it off, and it was great.

After dinner, I dropped some things at my room then cabbed it over to the CCP party. Justin did his now-traditionally excellent job spinning the tunes, and the girls showering each other with sparks from a steel grinder were fun. The adrenaline of the day was starting to wear off though, so I left before the party ended. I couldn’t find a cab, though, and had to hike the dozen or so blocks back to my hotel in the post-midnight rain.

The next morning, I felt worse than I had on Saturday morning, but I soldiered back to the con for my next panel at 10 AM. Since that was when the hall opened and we’d already had the same panel three times before, everyone who was near the booth was in line for the free art book, not the panel. We called its time of death at about 10:15, and I wandered off to get a closer look at the exhibit hall and pick up things for my kids, plus hunt down friends like David Noonan and Zeke Sparkes.

Anthony Gallela and I grabbed lunch at Ipanema Brazilian Grill, otherwise known as “neverending meat on swords.” The excellent food fortified me well, and we managed to get back to the hall in time for me to rendezvous with Will McDermott, who kindly brought me back out to the airport.

I got home late that night, and the next morning, my illness was in full swing. Apparently there’s been a confirmed case of Swine Flu at PAX, but I think it’s clear that I picked up whatever I have from Ann before I got there. I barely managed to get out of bed on Monday or Tuesday. This shot my very tight writing schedule all to hell.

I contacted my esteemed editor Marc Gascoigne at Angry Robot last night to explain. He informed me that due to this and other issues complicating the matter, we’d have to push the UK release of Amortals off a couple months. It turns out that the US launch of the entire line isn’t going to happen until the spring of 2010, so that won’t be affected at all.

I’m disappointed by this, mostly because I’m frustrated at myself for letting things get so close that going down sick for a few days threw everything off. It’s not entirely my fault, but if I’d been more on top of the schedule, it might not have been an issue.

On the other hand, it’s not a terrible delay. Also, I plan to use the extra time to make the book as excellent as it can be—just as soon as my joints don’t ache, my lungs aren’t trying to escape through my throat, and my stomach isn’t flipping about like a landed trout.