Thursday, September 1, 2011

PAX Prime 2011 - Citizen Skywatch (XCOM)

Hello, and welcome to my new Blog! I've been thinking about putting something like this together for some time, and the arrival of PAX Prime 2011 has finally given me the motivation to get it off the ground. I plan to use this blog as my soap box for all things gaming, of which I do an inordinate amount.

To start off with, however, I want to talk about PAX Prime, the largest video game conference in North America just for us players (though we keep getting trumped by PAX East, drat them). Every year when I go to PAX, the first ten minutes I find myself wondering what I'm doing there again (the long hours of standing on your feet in line or wandering about can be a killer). Thirty minutes later, I've forgotten all my whiny comments and I'm whizzing around looking at all the amazing booths and cosplayers. At the end of the day, I'm wondering to myself why I was ever thinking of not going. It's just that amazing.

This year, there was a booth that stood out above all the rest - the booth for XCOM. I ended up having my brain twisted into a pretzel by the time they were done with me.

I'll show you what I mean, but be warned - this is a pretty long story (though there are pictures to break it up)!

While wandering across the sky bridge at PAX, you were bound to see the tableau below - a guy acquainting himself with some kind of plastic white lightning type stuff. It doesn't look terribly pleasant, does it?

XCOM guy chills with plastic lightning bolts coming out of his mouth.
A closer shot.
Time for your close up!
The initial thought is - ok, that's weird. I've played the old X-Com games, so I know the new game is going to involve an alien invasion of some kind. And I also know that the new game is going to be an FPS. But what is this all about?

You proceed to wander around the show, forgetting about the montage. It's not that important, anyway, just another advertisement for a game, you think. That's when it gets even stranger.

Citizen Skywatch booth
2K games has a few big booths at PAX, so you know they're going to have something to do with XCOM around somewhere. However, there's nothing conspicuously marked. I must have wandered past this booth three or four times before I started to wonder what it was all about. It was right next to the Borderlands 2 display, so I knew it was connected to 2K games in some fashion. However, the big logo on the side of the wall (not pictured here, unfortunately), proclaimed 'Citizen Skywatch' in big letters with a logo. I hadn't heard of a game called Citizen Skywatch, but it seemed to fit the XCOM theme, so I assumed that this whole booth must be the XCOM booth. I was a little jazzed to be able to see something about this game, as I still wasn't sure whether the FPS idea would work out for a game genre that used to be a strategic turn-based shooter. I got in line, and started taking pictures of all the cool propaganda posters.
Citizen Skywatch wants YOU!
The mysterious 'Citizen One'
Hmm, being attacked by cyclones from outer space?
It's THEM! Stop THEM! Zounds!
 It started to become clear fairly quickly while we were standing in line that it wasn't going to be a passive line wait like elsewhere in the convention. Usually, you wait anywhere from an hour to an hour and half, then get to play a 5-15 minute demo or watch a 15-20 minute presentation about the game you waited in line for. Instead, here we were being interrogated by the people who were running the booth. They seemed to be incredibly paranoid, asking people in the line whether they were communists or if they had ever associated with one.
Better dead than Red!
The CIA agent looking fellow would ask most of the questions, periodically consulting with the 'professor' who was wearing a bow tie. He would make comments like 'I like him, we could use more men like him.' The professor would nod his head, and make notes in his brown note book.

I knew they were acting, but this was confirmed for sure when I was able to get a glimpse of what was in his 'notes' - there was a doodle of one of the Pac Men ghosts, probably Blinkey (the red ghost).
We think there may be enemy infiltrators!
 By this point we decided it made more sense to play along with what was happening. The fellow in line next to me started to get into the act. When it was his turn to be questioned, he claimed that he had been born in Eastern Europe (though he didn't look or sound like an Eastern European). They asked him if he was a communist. He claimed that he had escaped at young age, and was 'prepared' to share information with them.

I've never seen a camera that small before! You must be lying!
They claimed they weren't an 'alphabet soup' agency. Instead, they were a 'concerned citizens group.'

You think this is a game? This isn't a game!
After being given the third degree, you were given the opportunity to 'sign up.' This consisted of signing into an online web site and registering (only an email address was required to sign up).
The sign up booth. This was effectively a web terminal for
After signing up at the terminal, I had the opportunity to get a close look at the other artifacts they had laying around the booth while I waited. Fortunately, at this point the 'investigators' heckled other people in line.

On a table to the side there were a bunch of books on how to avoid and deal with communism. One of the guys in line was heckled when he told the 'CIA agent' that his kindle was a 'book.' He was told in no uncertain terms that one of the anti-communist books was a 'real book,' not whatever he was holding.

Next to the books was a large pile of paper detailing various UFO encounters. It had probably been taken from some internet site.

An old teletype machine.
An old timey tape recorder.
Oodles of drinking water. If, of course, the barrel was actually full. It probably wasn't.

A sanitation kit and oxygen mask, with a geiger counter on top. The 'citizen agents' would randomly pretend to check radiation levels of the people standing in line.
Mmmm, SPORKAM, Warholl's Tomato Soup, and survival cracker rations. Everyday favorites!
An old timey radio.
Posted on the walls were two different displays. One of them had a bunch of photographs and articles that were stamped 'HOAX' and 'REMOVED FROM EVIDENCE.' They described all kinds of UFO phenomena. At first it seemed as though our friends at Citizen Skywatch weren't doing too good of a job finding out what was actually going on. They seemed to be more worried whether we were Communists than if we were aliens.

The Wall O' Hoaxes
Hmmm, not very accurate so far.
On the next wall over there were a bunch of 'incidents' captured. The stereotypical tack board was seen (who actually does this kind of thing in real life?)

The 'professor' with the Wall O' Evidence behind him.
Various 'evidence' used for the tack board.
The information linked to locations on the tack board.
I started thinking up questions to ask these fellows. If they were such a good 'agency,' how come all they seem to find are hoaxes? And why were they scanning everyone for radioactivity? Do they expect the aliens to be radioactive?

As we progressed, I was able to get a clear shot of the blackboard. I've forgotten too much about physics to be able to decipher it at all, though apparently from what it says they appear to be looking for some kind of frequency.

A curious black board. I still need to look up the morse code on it.
I'm starting to round the corner so I can see into what they're doing next. It looked almost like a doctor's lab. Were they doing a check-up to see if we were healthy enough to join Citizen Skywatch?

A citizen skywatch nurse and a doctor?
Before I was able to sit down, I was accosted by the 'CIA agent.' He proceeded to ask me what I thought this X-ray image was about, and if I knew anything about the person this had happened to.

What the?
I really had no idea. I said whatever came first to mind - "It looks like he's eaten a plasma bolt!" He proceeded to explain that 'Citizen 13' was tracking this fellow, and that they found this guy dead with crystals growing throughout his body, and that 'Citizen 13' had gone missing. I denied any knowledge of these occurrences and he moved on. I only realized later that this was supposed to be an X-ray of the XCOM statue I had seen earlier on in the day at the skybridge (see the first few photos).

I proceeded to sit down in the 'doctor's lab.'

An eye chart. Why are parts of it redacted?
The 'doctor' asking a possible recruit questions.
I soon realized although this was somewhat dressed up to look like a doctor's office, it wasn't really being treated like one. It was being treated more like a science lab. The 'scientist' would pace back and forth in front of your chair, telling you about the strange occurrences that had been happening.

'We're worried that some foreign agents have tried to infiltrate the organization. Keep an eye out for them.'
Unfortunately, by the time it was my turn the 'nurse' had gone off duty, but the 'scientist' was still there. He would randomly give a 'recruit' some rorschach blot cards and ask them what they saw. To me, he handed a test tube of 'crystals' that they found growing throughout the poor fellow whom 'Citizen 13' was chasing after before he disappeared (again, reference the first few photos). The 'crystals' in the test tube didn't look terribly crystalline to my eye, but it was a neat prop.

'We still can't figure out what these radio signals are about.'
Next to me sat a radio that was humming loudly. Every so often the scientist would hover closer to the radio and it would quiet down, then as he moved away it would become noisy again. He made some remarks about how they hadn't yet figured it out.

Finally, he wrapped up his spiel and asked me if I was willing to join Citizen Skywatch. By this point, I was super curious about what was behind the curtain, so I said yes. He shook my hand and ushered me over behind the curtain.

Instead of the game preview I was anticipating, instead I was inside a dark room. In front of me was a computer setup with a camera. There was a piece of masking tape on the floor in front of the table the computer was on.

The fellow behind the computer got up and rushed me, pumping my hand. "We're so glad you decided to join!" he said in a stereotypically high pitched geeky voice. "It's so good to meet you!" He had unbelievably high energy, the enthusiasm dripping from his mouth.

He then asked me to stand on the masking tape, and proceeded with a series of questions. "Where's your home town?" he asked. "Seattle," I answered, not willing to be more specific than that. "What's your handle?" "Dash-o-Salt," I answered. "What's your specialty?" I wasn't exactly sure what to answer. "Good reflexes?" I said in an unsure fashion. "Excellent!" he said.

In no time at all he had printed out an ID card and handed it to me, pumping my hand again. "Welcome to Citizen Skywatch, Citizen 1360!"

My new badge. Hooray for Good Reflexes!
It even has a nifty logo on the back!
"Go talk to our people at the 2K booth around the corner," he said. "Tell them Citizen 0 sent you!"

With that, he ushered me out the door and closed it behind me. I was back in the PAX environs, bewildered as to what had just happened to me. Bemused, I wandered over to the 2K booth and told them 'Citizen 0' had sent me. They gave me a card with cryptic information.

Hmm, more propaganda. What's this all about?

And the back.

The '' web site they give directs you back to Citizen Skywatch.

So there you have it. It was a crazy adventure, clearly part of an ARG (Alternate Reality Game) on 2K's part. It was definitely worth an hour in line to experience the whole thing. If you want to join up yourself you can go visit their web site. They have cleaner pictures of their posters at this link and more information about mysterious occurrences.

Thanks for reading the whole post! I'll work on posting pictures of awesome cosplayers next. That will probably take less time than writing up this entire story!


  1. As I understand, it is a tie-in with the new XCOM game. The original games were set in the present or future (dunno, didn't play them, but my brother did). The new one is a "re-imagining" set in the 50's, which explains the style of dress and decor that you saw in the exhibit, and the preoccupation with "communists." I've heard other people praising that exhibit as well, that it was very well done.

  2. Yeah, I've heard it's supposed to be 60's themed, so the Cold War paranoia, artifacts, and the way they are dressed do make sense. It was really well done. Lots of fun to go through.