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Video Gamers Press Play At Boston Conference

At right, former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling shakes hands with a fan at Comic-Con in July 2010 in San Diego. Schilling's 38 Studios will demo “Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning” at this weekend's PAX East in Boston. (AP/Electronic Arts)

At right, former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling shakes hands with a fan at Comic-Con in July 2010 in San Diego. Schilling's 38 Studios will demo “Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning” at this weekend's PAX East in Boston. (AP/Electronic Arts)

BOSTON — Beantown will transform into gamer heaven this weekend as the PAX East video game convention presses play at the Boston Convention Center.

Thousands of fans, designers and industry mavens will rub elbows at booths and participate in a bevy of panel discussions about the current state of affairs in the video game realm.

But there will also be plenty of shiny, new products to test drive (and fondle).

Local author Ethan Gilsdorf gave me a preview of what to expect from this year’s PAX East. He wrote the book, “Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms.”

At the beginning of our conversation he made something quite clear: “It’s not the kind of convention where you’re going to see people wandering around in costume dressed up as Luke Skywalker or Chewbacca or Frodo Baggins or anything like that.” PAX East, Gilsdorf stated, “is a convention that’s devoted to games and to gamers.”

So let’s get to the games.

Gilsdorf said curious chatter and a lot of anticipation have been swirling around 3-D games and 3-D devices. But then he brought up something close to Boston’s heart: former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s new video game, which will be demoed at the convention.

“Nobody has really seen what it looks like,” Gilsdorf said, noticeably excited. “There have been some screen shots that have floated around here and there, but no one really knows how this game is going to play.”

The fantasy, role-playing game is called “Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.” It’s been in development for a few years. Schiller founded his company, 38 Studios, in Maynard, but moved the operation to Rhode Island last year.

“Nonetheless he’s still a local boy and local hero,” Gilsdorf assured me, “and he’s been teaming up with this very famous fantasy writer R.A. Salvatore to write the plot for this elaborate game.”

“Kingdoms of Amalur” is poised to compete with the most popular (and perhaps most notorious) online role-playing game, “World of Warcraft,” “which has been the team to beat,” Gilsdorf mused. “There are something like 12 million people who play this game on a regular basis, so it’s really hard to compete with them, but Schilling is really trying to see if he can come up with a fantasy setting and a fantasy story where you get to play a character and you run around in this digital environment and kill orcs and trolls and get treasure and explore these digital realms.”

Fans will also be able to try out another hot, digital product: the Nintendo 3DS. This sleek, hand-held device debuted last month in Japan (to mixed reviews) and is scheduled to hit the U.S. market at the end of March. “I haven’t seen it myself,” Gilsdorf said, “but while you play it produces 3D effects without having to wear any kind of goofy glasses.”

The screen is “stereoscopic,” according to Nintendo’s website.

There’s a ton of stuff on deck at the convention, from concerts to lectures to competitions, but if you don’t already have a badge you’re out of luck. The West Coast-born conference — now in its second year here — is already sold out. The PAX East website warns, “We’re sold out of badges. We will not sell any at the show. There are no more available. Please do not e-mail us asking if this is a real thing. It is real. I’m serious.”

While that might be a cold truth for gamers who get shut-out, Gilsdorf sees it as a win for Boston. He said it secures the city’s position as an East Coast hub for video game culture.

“I think it’s a combination of Boston just being a super geeky town with all the universities and so much of the research that’s come out of high tech and gaming. It’s huge!”

Hundreds of game developers — big and tiny — call Massachusetts home, including Turbine (“The Lord of the Rings Online” and “Dungeons and Dragons Online”) and Harmonix (“Rock Band”). The industry brings an estimated $2 billion into the state annually.

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