This past weekend I was able to attend the amazing inaugural PAX East in Boston, MA, my first PAX, and it was an incredible experience. Here’s what it was all about.

For those that don’t know what this is all about, PAX stands for Penny Arcade Expo and it’s a convention centered around the gaming community, established by Jerry and Mike (Tycho and Gabe) over at the webcomic/blog Penny Arcade. Gathering at this PAX were the creators of the webcomic, Wil Wheaton as the keynote speaker, dozens of game developers from all over the place, companies showcasing all sorts of awesome hardware, and some really great, super nerdy, musical acts performing concerts over the course of two nights. There were panel discussions on current topics in gaming, tech demos for new horizons in hardware and software, presentations by some of the biggest names in the industry, competitions in everything from Mario Kart to Steel Battalion to Magic: The Gathering to Tetris, free play areas to try out the latest and greatest in console and computer games, merchandise booths for just about every kind of geek product applicable, and a Rock Band lounge replete with a certain Mr. Teasdale to keep it real.

TL;DR: It’s one of the coolest places to be if you have any interest in games, technology, and geek culture.

On Friday, Wil Wheaton delivered the keynote to kick things off, giving a great speech about the importance of gaming, the evolution of gaming in regards to social perceptions and its place in the world, and the inspiring ability of gaming to kick start the budding imaginations of kids, teenagers, and adults alike. There are many things to say about Mr. Wheaton, but I can say this one for sure: Wil delivers.

Following the great keynote and the opening of the exhibit hall was a main theater Q&A session with Tycho and Gabe that I went to, my first exposure in the flesh to the creators of the Penny Arcade web comic. I have to say, they were pretty entertaining in person, like some version of intelligent stand-up comedy and Q&A blended into gooey, mixed goodness.

The conclusion of Friday night was the first of two concerts, this one featuring The Protomen, Anamanaguchi, Metroid Metal, and MC Frontalot, all of which were pretty excellent. I was lucky enough to be in the absolute front in the corner formed by the deck and the stage and rocking out next to the man himself, Tycho. It was pretty surreal. For me, Metroid Metal stole the show, unleashing sonically mighty versions of Metroid tunes that pretty much melted my face off.

After my face congealed, Saturday was mostly filled with game playing for me where I hunted down the playable versions of the GTX 480 graphics card that Nvidia unveiled the day before in their tech demo. While the technology demo was middlingly cool, as many tech demos can be, I realized quickly that there is a gigantic difference between watching a tech demo in a giant several-thousand person theater and playing the same thing up close and personally. Of all of the games that I got to play at PAX East, I was most blown away by a GTX 480, immersive 3D graphics-infused version of Lost Planet 2. Transporting oneself to an alien jungle to blast massive creatures with heavy space-age weaponry was never so excellent as it was with the mind-blowingly powerful GTX 480 rig and a set of 60 fps dynamically refreshing 3D glasses. This, my friends, is what gaming is going to be like in the very near future.

Sunday was the final day of PAX, during which I went to a number of panel discussions on the gaming industry and gaming journalism, the second Q&A session with Gabe and Tycho, and the closing ceremony that included the Omegathon final round, a 2v2 competition involving the original Mario Bros., Out Run, Tetris, and Contra. It was an epic finale to an amazing convention with the winning team decided by possibly fractions of a moment as they were both blasting at the first boss of Contra.

How long until March of 2011 again?