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Thursday, August 23, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Penny Arcade: from spoofer to a top dog in video-game world

Seattle Times staff reporter

There's some kind of karmic circularity to this:

The makers of Penny Arcade, the Web comic strip spoofing the video-game industry, will host their annual video-game convention Friday through Sunday ... at which they'll preview their own new video game.

The fourth annual Penny Arcade Expo — PAX for short — moves from Bellevue's Meydenbauer Center to the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, where organizers expect 30,000 sun-deprived attendees with refined and highly specialized reflexes confined mostly to their thumbs — up from 19,000 last year.

The zippily-titled new game from artist Mike Krahulik and writer Jerry Holkins (aka Gabe and Tycho): "Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode One." Robert Khoo, their director of business development, says the adventure title set in an alternate "steam-punk" reality is currently in development.

"You are trying to solve a mystery in the game of what giant robot destroyed your home while at the same time finding affordable housing."

About 3.5 million readers devour the Seattle duo's Web comic at www.penny-arcade.com (which features language a little salty for kids). But Khoo says the festival "has grown into something much more than the comic itself. Some people don't even know about Gabe and Tycho."

One reason for the growth is that the industry's monster event, E3 (the Electronic Entertainment Expo), scaled down to professionals only this year, leaving fans out in the cold. So, because E3 imploded under its own weight, the two upstarts who began their careers by mocking the industry in 1999 are now hosts to its largest consumer-level show in America. More circularity.

Khoo says they didn't intend to take up E3's mantle, but they took its flaws to heart. The result is less Felliniesque: no scantily-clad booth babes, no double-decker booths from exhibitors trying to outdo each other with spectacle. "We're all about the consumer," he says. In addition to the first look at the Penny Arcade game, the 55 exhibitors will preview numerous hotly anticipated titles due for release in the fall or early 2008.

A few of them: Bungie confirms a look at "Halo 3." "Mass Effect," Microsoft's science-fiction action RPG for the Xbox 360. "Project Gotham Racing 4" from Microsoft. Nintendo's latest "Metroid" and "Zelda" titles. The PlayStation 3 action-adventure "Uncharted: Drake's Fortune."

Other PAX highlights:

• A keynote speech from Wil Wheaton, also known as Wesley Crusher on "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

• Live music at night in the "PAX Nerdcore Concert Series."

• Panel discussions on topics from breaking into the industry to the role of women in it.

• "Pitch Your Game Idea!" You get 45 seconds to pitch a concept to industry evaluators, and the top three get prizes.

• Game-themed "Geek Movies," such as "Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children."

• "Omegathon." A three-day elimination tournament with 20 "Omeganauts" selected from those who preordered event passes. The championship takes place onstage during closing ceremonies, and last year's prize was a pimped-out new car — which included LCD screens and an Xbox 360.

Is it circular to play a driving game like "Project Gotham 4" in a car — or just hazardous?

Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or mrahner@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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