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Sarah's SXSW Blog: Sunday Mar. 9

KSAT's Sarah Loyd shares her South by Southwest experience

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Today was all about the fun, as I took a day off from sessions and hit up the Gaming Expo, Trade Show and a couple of parties to get an idea of the other side of SXSW.

Since almost all of my time for the past two and a half days has been spent at the Austin Convention Center, I hadn't been able to see some of the things going on south of Lady Bird Lake. At the SXSW Gaming Expo, thousands of gaming enthusiasts gather at the Palmer Events Center to celebrate all the things they love. From cosplayers to tabletoppers, FPS fans and people who just love vintage Nintendo games, there's something for just about everyone. The best part? It's free!

Out front, before you even walk in, there is a huge racetrack set up this year with live Mario Kart races. Four players at a time get suited up to take their turn on an augmented-reality course. They're really driving the carts, and RFID units on the carts pick up when they "touch" an item, just like in the game. The live races were to promote the upcoming release of Mario Kart 8 this spring, and players who didn't want to hit the track got the chance to play the game at the Gaming Expo before it hits shelves.

Once I got inside the expo, there were thousands of people - kids and their parents, people dressed up in costumes, vendors, and of course the gamers. A huge tabletop tournament was set up, as well as a live video game tournament on-stage, complete with a play-by-play announcer. All sorts of vendors were set up, including app developers, memorabilia merchants and even some colleges offering video game and app development degrees.

I was most excited to see Nintendo's Video Game Museum, which featured gaming systems from back when I was a kid. The Famicom from Japan, the NES, the Game Boy and Game Boy Color - all on display. Many of them were even set up to play. I saw a dad showing his son how to play Mike Tyson's Punch-Out! on the SNES, and it almost made me a little misty. It's nice to see traditions carrying on.

I caught the bus back across the lake and went to a party hosted in part by a TV station where I used to work before coming to San Antonio. It was great to catch up with my former co-workers and talk about how things have changed for all of us in the past few years. Despite being crowded, it was a relaxed party in a big venue, so it didn't seem as jam-packed as the party I went to Saturday evening.

After the party, I hoofed it to the Convention Center, where the SXSW Trade Show was finally open. And it was huge. Hundreds of booths filled the exhibit hall, featuring companies large and small, state economic development offices and even tech development offices from many other countries. Japan, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, France, Spain, Chile, Brazil, Canada... it was amazing. I even spotted some schnitzel up for grabs in Germany's booth (but didn't sample it).

There was, of course, plenty of swag and giveaways - you can't swing a USB cable at SXSW without hitting someone giving away something. There were a few "booth babes," but most of the people staffing the booths were really knowledgeable about their product. But some companies made a point to make their setups more interactive. One booth featured a giant baseball sort of setup involving a fan, inflatable beach balls, a bat and a target. There was also a sort of Guitar Hero game (at the US Postal Service booth) that used real guitars to play. NASA had a photo booth where you could put your face into an astronaut helmet (virtually, anyway). And the Price is Right was even set up with their big wheel.

I took a break after the trade show and caught the bus (after a long wait) back to my car, then drove away from downtown to have some dinner at an Italian restaurant and market that was one of my favorites when I lived in Austin. It felt a little bit like having a secret, getting away from all of the hustle and bustle of the Convention Center and the throngs of people downtown.

I had intended to go to the legendary MashBash put on by Mashable, but when I returned downtown the line was around the block. So I made my way to the Driskill Hotel on 6th Street, where the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) was putting on their Technology for Humanity party. Now, a party hosted by an engineering trade group may not sound like the most fun time ever, but let me tell you - those engineers know how to party. Several bars were set up on the mezzanine of the Driskill, and guests were making good use of them. There were also a lot of games set up, which was a change from some of the other parties I've gone to. The others have been more mix-and-mingle, networking events. But this party was just a lot of fun. People were lined up to try to get through a laser grid. There was a tabletop trackball game that I tried out with five other people, plus a giant version of the same game set up with a projector a few feet away. A photo booth and interactive jukebox kept things really lively. When I left, things were still in full swing.

It was a late night and Monday will be a long day, but I'm ready. After all - on Monday, Jimmy Kimmel comes to town!

Images: SXSW Day 3


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