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Tidewater Comic Con: A Blast From Any View

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Tidewater Comic Con held its second annual convention on May 16 - 17, 2015 at the Virginia Beach Convention Center in Virginia Beach, VA at 10:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. on Saturday and 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m on Sunday. The convention center was selected as Tidewater Comic Con’s location to accommodate the large crowd expected to attend.

And a large crowd, in deed, attended this event. Tidewater Comic Con on Sunday May 17, 2015, the second day of the event seemed just as crowded as if it was the first day.

These highlights of Tidewater Comic Con is from Sunday’s showing which I attended, even though I’m sure the events on Saturday were just as newsworthy as well.

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First Impressions

There’s a saying that you have only one chance to make a good impression. Well, Tidewater Comic Con did itself justice in presenting an overall fun impression at first glance. Before even entering the actual exhibit hall, there were cosplay participants smiling and seemingly happy to have their pictures taken, sometimes, taking the time to pose with their props in full costume.

Set Up

When one first enters the Convention Center, there were of course uniformed law enforcement officers throughout, possibly due to the large crowd. Additionally, signs were prominently displayed for all props to be inspected. In keeping with the look of some cosplay characters, sometimes the participants used fabricated weapons or other objects that went with their costume.

The multi-level layout of the Virginia Beach Convention Center provided the opportunity to take pictures or view the cosplay participants from a different vantage point. I even took pictures of cosplay characters as they ascended or descending the escalators.

After noticing the wide array of cosplay participants in the large lobby area of the convention center, some may think they are already at the heart of Tidewater Comic Con. In other words, to be a part of Tidewater Comic Con, one could have just as much fun, in my opinion, merely walking around and being among the crowd if one did not want to pay to get into the exhibit hall. This way, one can experience some parts of the convention free including attending events set up in meeting rooms involving comic book topics as well as view live videos being taken.

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The negative is one would be missing out on other parts of the convention that required an admittance fee. The center or pulse of Tidewater Comic con is the exhibit areas which required a blue band on one’s wrist to enter -- showing that admission has been paid. VIP attendees wore orange bands. In my opinion, the admittance fee is worth the price to experience all that Tidewater Comic Con had to offer.

Exhibit Areas

Once inside the large exhibit areas, there were rows of tables and displays set up with vendors hawking their wares, including comic books, action figures, and other comic book related items and services. Batman’s batmobile was roped off at the back of the exhibit area, and some special guests were seated for photo-ops or an autograph sessions for a fee.

Some guests were easily accessible, including graphic artists, writers and others. For example, I interviewed one of the special guests, Witchblade writer, Ron Marz as well as received an autographed copy of one of his works, Shinku, a graphic novel of a female monster hunter.

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If you wanted to spend some of your hard-earned cash, there were lots of deals to be had regarding not only comic books and action figures but other items as well. In fact, some items sold at Tidewater Comic Con were literally a collector’s delight. For instance, I witnessed a RoboCop fan obtaining a collection of RoboCop figures, with the dealer throwing in an accompanying RoboCop vehicle for free.

Regarding eating areas, there were a limited number at Tidewater Comic Con; however, the eating facilities appeared to be adequate and provided sufficient seating areas.

Cosplay Contest

The highlight of Sunday’s Tidewater Comic Con, in my opinion, was the myriad of cosplay participants, some simply wearing a plain suit of their favorite character’s costume, others having their face immersed in red plastic and other wearing face masks while some went the extra mile to rival the actual characters they were dressed as.

The two cosplay characters who stood out in my opinion during Sunday’s event was Hawkgirl who wore a magnificent spread of wings and the 9 - 10 feet tall Guardians of the Galaxy Groot where people practically stood in line to take a photo with. Groot came in as a runner up in the comic book character cosplay contest, with Iron Man winning; however given the extensive detail and artistry of Groot’s cosplay tree costume -- it is likely he would have won, if Iron Man was not a first-time cosplay contestant. This reason was given by the judges for Iron Man winning over Groot, who in my opinion, was the clear winner.

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Unsurprising, Hawkgirl won in the female comic book cosplay area along with other cosplay winners in other categories.

Pros

Not only was Tidewater Comic Con a fun event to attend, but it was well organized as well. Sunday’s event was scheduled to end at 5:00 p.m. and it ended promptly at 4:57 p.m.

Relative to the long lines -- sure, there were a long line going into the auditorium for the cosplay contest; however, this is to be expected with such a large crowd. Once the line started moving, it took only a few minutes to get into the auditorium and find a seat. While waiting in line, I used the time to take more pictures of cosplay attendees as they walked past, including, believe it or not, a human green plant who came complete with a black flower pot that he or she obliged by sitting in for pictures.

Additionally, Tidewater Comic Con is geared to all ages ranging from the very mature to the very young. Two of the youngest cosplay participants I saw included a little girl dressed as Wonder Woman, one dressed as a princess, and a toddler dressed as Hans Solo. Included in the older category was a character dressed as Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story, who won in the cosplay contest as the best male non-comic book character.

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A negative, in my opinion was the display of weapons, including guns and rifles, used as props with the costumes, some that not only looked realistic but were held in such a way that would cause one to take a second look, if one was not at a comic con convention.

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Wrap-up

I believe the positives of Tidewater Comic Con far outweighed any negatives. Sunday, May 17, 2015 was an excellent day to be out and about to enjoy the beautiful sunny weather and if you like -- as I did -- attend Tidewater Comic Con. Attending both days of the event would probably have been an even more enjoyable comic con experience.

Given the enthusiasm as well as the friendliness of those attending, Tidewater Comic Con can be described as nothing short of being a blast from any view.

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View Images in the Tidewater Comicon Gallery

Fox's Otakon 2014 Maid Cafe Review

 Since last year’s Otakon maid cafe was an enjoyable and unforgettable experience, Cat and I made a point to attend again. We braved the long wait in line (about one and a half hours) to see what was new this time around. I was looking forward to any improvements or changes the cafe might have introduced this year.

When we were allowed in, the maids gave their greeting of “Okaerinasaimase, goshujinsama!” (This phrase, which translates to “Welcome home, Master!”, is definitely authentic to the traditional Japanese maid cafe.) The fee again this year for entry was $10, with a $5 charge for a dessert choice.

Table at the Maid CafeTable at the Maid Cafe

Honestly, not much changed this year with the maid cafe as far as decor. There were a few adornments added, such as ribbons on the chairs and balloons above the tables. Cards were placed on each table. The table at the door, where we paid to get in, was the most decorated space. Overall, the atmosphere was a bit of an improvement from the previous year, but seemed to be lacking compared to maid cafes in Akihibara, Tokyo.

Upon being seated, we waited a while for our server to take drink and refreshment orders. I did notice a huge decrease in staff, as seen in the pictures of the maids and butlers. This could definitely explain the wait. I will admit, though, that it was a bit awkward waiting, wondering what to do in the meantime.

Dessert , Maid Cafe Style Dessert , Maid Cafe Style

The food items this year were an improvement. I ordered caramel coffee with a parfait, and Cat ordered a lemonade with red velvet mini cupcakes. His main complaint were the portion sizes, which actually would have been bigger at a Japanese maid cafe. Being a press representative for Allgames.com, I was able to peek behind the elusive black current in the back of the room and see… that the refreshments were all provided by the hotel! I loved that the hotel supported the maid cafe in this way. One nice touch would be that when the maid or butler brings out the dessert, she or he draws a picture on the food or plates with some chocolate or strawberry syrup, a norm in the country of origin.

All the maids and butlers performed a dance for us in the front of the room. I want to say I was impressed, but our table’s maid seemed to be the only one in practice. I cringe to say this, because I want to be fully supportive of the maid cafe and what they do, but the dance needed a lot of work. This could have been due to scheduling conflicts with getting the staff together, but I would have skipped the performance altogether in that case.

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I truly hope that the maid cafe continues, even though it seemed lackluster for Okakon 2014. In my humble opinion, a few changes could be made to bring the cafe further and ensure it’s success. For instance, some sort of ticket system so that patrons aren’t waiting on the floor for such a long time would be a huge improvement. Another suggestion would be to go all out on the decorations, not holding back. I believe the goal would be to make the environment look as great as the maids and butlers! I know I complained about this the previous year, and realize that nothing can be hung from the walls, but I would have loved to see some shelves with some Gundam mobile suits, anime figures, and plushies around the tables.

I highly suggest Otakon goers attempt a visit to the maid cafe at Otakon 2015! It’s definitely a great entry into the world of maid cafes. Interacting with the maids and butlers are worth the visit.

Interested in becoming a maid or butler? Head over to http://otakon.com/events_maid_cafe.asp for a link to the application!

 Otakon 2014 Maid Cafe StaffOtakon 2014 Maid Cafe Staff

 

2016 Digital Media Wire L.A. Games Conference

On April 19th, the most important videogame conference you’ve never heard of was held. While the masses were preparing the descend on Boston’s PAX East later in the week, a few hundred game industry executives gathered in the W Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard to discuss exactly how the next few years in gaming will play out at Digital Media Wire’s L.A. Game Conference.

lagc 0164 bannerThe DMW L.A. Games conference isn’t your typical gaming convention. You won’t find cosplayers or boothbabes. There are no special game reveals or console announcements. Instead you'll find a series of panel discussions by giants in the industry speaking candidly about very specific topics. This year there were eighteen panels total, with titles ranging from the broad ‘Virtual and Augmented Reality for Games and Entertainment’ to the niche ‘Finding Success in the Chinese Market’. You could listen to the VP of Walt Disney’s game division discuss the best way to manage intellectual properties in one room, or how eSports can be integrated into brand marketing in another. If all of this sounds slightly boring, well, it is at first glance. On it's surface, sitting in a room listening to people break down games and players into metrics and graphs is not as compelling as even the most mundane display at E3 or PAX. 

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There were no WW2 tanks or dancing animals to be found. But it quickly becomes apparent just how important these panels are. These discussions are a roadmap to how gaming will develop in the near future with no time wasted on pomp and circumstance. For example, it was made clear during the panels that as much as virtual reality is dominating the news, blogs and youtube, it’s not a big concern for major game companies. Large publishing and development houses aren’t planning on spending any significant amount of money on VR Game development. The market simply isn’t big enough and the cost of developing a AAA title could never be recovered. Instead most are happy to simply publish whichever indie titles that seem promising. So if you’re expecting a VR Call of Duty or Final Fantasy anytime soon. It’s not going to happen. It’s information like this which makes the L.A. Games Conference so fascinating. You can see the wide difference between the perception of the game industry and the reality behind it.

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A few years ago eSports wasn’t even a topic on the conference agenda but this year there were two separate panels dedicated to it. It’s interesting to note that the people on stage who are be helping to shape competitive gaming weren’t full time gamers or even game developers. They were former bankers and lawyers who are now owners of their own eSport companies or franchises. eSports is a segment of gaming that is growing quickly in the number of both players and spectators and also in the amount of money it’s responsible for. As big as it is now, Bill Mooney (Skillz) expects it to grow 20x over the next decade where it will quickly begin to rival traditional sports in terms or marketshare and marketing revenue. As the audience for traditional sports ‘ages out’, or gets older, they aren’t being replaced by new fans. Instead that new audience is joining the eSports fanbase. So as Soccer, Football and Baseball are seeing their popularity shrink each year, eSports are growing tremendously. This hasn’t been missed by the owners of those traditional sports teams. Many NFL and NBA team owners are in talks to buy, or have already purchased, eSport franchises. There is a looming issue, though. Clinton Foy, from CrossCut Ventures, an investment group and owner of the ‘Immortals’ eSports team addressed the lack of maturity in the behavior of the players in a very matter of fact way. ‘It’s a shit show’ he said. Explaining that the problem lies in a player base that is filled with young kids who grew up playing online on the internet where there are no consequences to bad behaviour. And now that poor behavior has filtered into the professional side of gaming. The solution, according to Mr Foy, lies with the owners of the teams. As owners pour more money into the franchises, they will be the ones to demand that the players adhere to a higher standard to protect the team’s image. He says that as the money grows, players will be forced to ‘Level up’ in their maturity.

lagc 0219 vrloungeThe panels are a large part of what makes the LA Games conference special, but no less important is the downtime between the panels. Scheduled networking breaks give attendees times to meet and discuss topics among themselves. While some attendees took test drives of VR apps in the VR lounge, I listened as a former development exec outlined how social media talent can be better utilized in game content. Even though social media has invaded all parts of life, there’s still no substitute in business for meeting and speaking to someone face to face. And that's an opportunity that the LA Games Conference excels at.

The 2016 DMW L.A. Games Conference was again a eye opening experience and a clear look into the behind the scenes machinations of the video game industry. When you’re ready to move beyond simply playing games and aspire to being a part of creating them, then there’s no better way to spend a day (and $500 for a ticket).

 

Safe Spaces, Inclusion, and PAX

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I've been on the fence numerous times about attending Penny Arcade Expo. I attended this year, thrilled at how many panels were discussing issues of inclusion and diversity in gaming. I had a wonderful time becoming involved in these discussions, networking with enthusiastic panelists, and basically carving my own safe space out of the massively populated convention center. There were small things that kept creeping in, though.


A few panels maybe underestimated their audience, sticking to the very basics, framing arguments for those not impacted by these issues, even going so far as to seem apologetic for our actions as pop and game culture critics. There were the people who attended the Political Correctness Panel who were there to start arguments calling "cis" a slur and defending their right as white men to say the n-word (which they did, more than once.) There was the time my friend heard a guy yell at a woman on the escalator, "SHOW ME YOUR BOOBS!" and then run off before she could grab an enforcer. There was the time one female enforcer was made to feel uncomfortable by a fellow male enforcer. Even though there were ways to anonymously report these things (which is wonderful), there was still that overhanging guilt of "creating a big deal" out of behavior that is widely commonplace and accepted still.


And the nail in the coffin, as it were, was the statement given at closing ceremonies this year. I did not attend, so my friend linked me to this tweet made by Patrick Klepek of Giant Bomb. Mike states he wishes they had never pulled the Dickwolves shirt from their store, followed by loud cheers in the audience. The basic message here being, no, they didn't learn anything from the exchange, and yes, their audience continues to support every action they make even when it involves behavior that goes completely against their proclaimed mission at PAX.

 

tumblr lg2k65ve3q1qfjiioIf you're not familiar with the Dickwolves discussion, here is a very extensive history, and here is a post on why many people feel boycotting PAX is the only way to curb this behavior. And in a way, I agree. But I also realize that PAX has a certain sway that is not going to be undone by those of us who understand how harmful their actions are. GaymerX is brand new, Geek Girl Con is much less reported on, as well as other conventions. So I definitely understand when people who disagree with the actions of the PA owners continue to host panels at PAX which focus on addressing this behavior. We still need a voice. But this year had the highest number of panels focusing on diversity and inclusion and women within gaming. So how could a closing ceremony make such a statement and be PRAISED for it? Because PAX, as much as they claim wanting to be inclusive, does not understand that they are still promoting segregation. You're fine going in this corner and talking about your issues. Sure, have this panel. But if you try to tell US that we are doing something wrong? No, we are telling you that we will ignore you and your concerns. Flat out ignore.


Here is the part where I explain to fellow Americans the difference between censorship and criticism. Bear with me, people who already understand this, I'll keep it brief. First, threats and personal attacks are never okay. You're protected under Freedom of Speech from the government forcing you to stay silent. You are not immune to criticism, as the PA owners seem to believe. In both the case of Dickwolves and of transphobic statements, it would be much easier to dismiss these things as ignorance or being sheltered by privilege. I'd accept this if the response to the criticisms was not to increase disrespect of not only the stance of those who dissented, but those who dared question them, as well. You make art, and that's great, and you're allowed to make statements within that medium. But you are NOT immune to criticism, and you're still expected to realize what sort of social impact you are creating as an artist. You don't get to turn in your social awareness card for an artist card, and if someone has an issue with what you have created, listen to them first maybe before deciding they are only trying to limit you. As a public figure or artist, you're still held to the same standards of respecting others, which includes people who may not agree with your actions or stand to receive harm from what your actions support. People who use the "but it's art" argument remain inconsistent. If they encounter artwork that depicts, say, violence of a sexual nature against men by women, or women debasing men, they certainly will not insist that it shouldn't be criticized due to it being art. They exist within a society that caters to them and their comfort zones, and if you breach those, prepare for everything they've previously told you to be thrown out the window.

 

Image from HyperAllergic.comThe panels I attended discussing inclusivity all mentioned Gone Home, a game that was not at the convention due to the actions of the PA owners making The Fullbright Company feel PAX was not a safe space.  These panels elaborated on why these actions are harmful but did not delve into the recent reason many of us nearly followed The Fullbright Company's example.  Transphobic statements, made of either ignorance, malice, or both, help contribute to a society where misunderstanding trans* people furthers their endangerment. And yet, only two panels briefly mentioned the recent actions, touching on why they almost did not attend, but still wanted to have a voice. And I agree, having a voice is important. But why can't we discuss the impact of what PA does? They certainly feel that they can, why can't we? Everything PA does impacts gaming and game culture in some fashion, so why is it off limits? I feel that as much as we are saying amazing things to help encourage better representation of everyone in gaming, we are still not hitting with everything we have. We are told to hold our tongues when what we do risks to make those in the socially reinforced position uncomfortable. This is regardless of how many things they do that go even further than infringing on our comfort but also serve to contribute to beliefs which cause us harm. When do we stop saying the stuff everyone already knows, framing it for people who don't care to listen to us in the first place?  When do we actually address the silencing tactics of those who claim to want to help us?
Mike went on to say that he has learned things, but only in respect to how he is creating trouble for his employees, not in relation to the toxicity of his statements toward marginalized groups. He even continues to excuse this behavior by saying he "hopes" it doesn't happen again, but it's just "how he is." This is proof that he only cares about the people involved in PA, not the people he might be impacting outside of this by negating their importance. Even in clarifying the statement with Kotaku in the article here, they still try to make the issue about censorship, which it NEVER was. By reframing the issue as "Penny Arcade was being censored" as opposed to, "Penny Arcade unwittingly created triggering content, failed to listen to criticism, and instead generated even more harmful environments by silencing those who respectfully disagreed with them" you are erasing the statements of those who had the courage to speak up against their actions.

 

feedbackHow do we let people know this erasure of entire segments of the community needs to stop? As far as I can tell, we need to start letting the media and game companies know how we feel. They only thing that PA responds to is the threat of vendors and exhibitors not attending, so this is the best place to be heard. Let the game companies know what they are supporting and representing by attending. Tell them how it harms us, and we don't agree with it. Let media know that there is another aspect to game culture that impacts a very large portion of the gaming population.  Tell them we are marginalized due to bullying and a lack of voice and coverage. And let Penny Arcade know, as well. Tell them that just saying they want to create a safe space for inclusion doesn't DO anything if what they are promoting as artists works to undermine that very cause.


I'm not saying everyone should boycott.  We all have varying positions of ability to do so.  I'm telling everyone to speak up! SPEAK. UP. Really. Even if you're an ally and not directly impacted by these things. DO IT. Because the more we call out this behavior and refuse to accept it, the less acceptable it becomes on a much larger scale. My goal, along with many others who feel this way, is not to bankrupt PA for a few mistakes or even for those at the top who consistently disregard the safety of others. The goal is for people to LEARN from this and to move past the allowance of these detrimental behaviors by not accepting them. PA is not the perfect model for inclusive communities, but they can be made an example.  They can show how refusing to understand those impacted by damaging beliefs has consequences, is not acceptable, and can be addressed without creating further harm. We can make PAX a safe space, but only if everyone, including those at the top, is consistent with this cause.

Games, Panels, and Parties - My PAX Prime 2013

 

Since the latest PAX Prime sprawled out over an extensive four day span, I'll do my best to condense my experience. A couple of years ago I exchanged words with a BioWare employee who compared the convention experience to summer camp. In many ways, we look forward to it, it's a great chance to catch up with some of our friends we don't see the rest of the year. But conventions are also exhausting, and as much as we don't want them to end, we also want to go home. I think the latter part cannot be stressed enough as we rolled into our fourth day.

celeste pax badgeFour days was good in a lot of ways, though. As a person expected to fit in seeing as many games as possible while also enjoying the other amenities of a convention, four days meant I had way more time and less stress when planning what games I would see. Unfortunately, the convention still only allows one hour of early access for media on only the first day, which is just not enough time to see everything. I unfortunately missed Titanfall during the media hour by about ten minutes. I won't be able to tell you guys about that game, because the wait was four hours long, and they weren't making media appointments or allowing media a chance to get hands on without waiting the four hours. I just had too many other appointments and games to see to wait that long, sorry! I was disappointed at no presence for Rockstar, but given the fast approaching release date for GTA V and the fact that the first three days of release broke entertainment sales records, I'm sure they were more focused on making sure the launch was smooth sailing. One of the biggest draws this year was getting to see the Xbox One and PS4 in person. I guess that was neat, but really, they just looked like consoles. I used to work in a bank, and I'd have tens of thousands of dollars in my drawer every day. It never phased me, though, because I didn't think of it as money. I knew it wasn't mine, so it didn't excite me the way someone handing me ten grand in my home would make me feel. I guess that's how I feel about previewing consoles as opposed to owning one, especially given that the demonstrations and libraries at this point are limited.

pax bethesdaWatchdogs also had one of the longest lines there, but playable demos were not available. Instead, we filed in to a theater to see a live presentation of gameplay as two presenters played competitively using a console and mobile device. The goal of the mobile device player was to obstruct and distract the console player from reaching their goal. She did this by sending out helicopters, utilizing police, and even changing parts of the city to create new road blocks. This presentation allowed Ubisoft to not only stress the importance of dynamic gameplay, but also show us how it could be manipulated. One of the features of the game that they mentioned but could not fully demonstrate was the ability of the player to make game affecting choices. The player can choose to escalate or downsize their role in conflicts throughout the game. Each decision and its impact on the citizens within the game influences the perception of the main character, which in turn changes gameplay. I'd really like to see how these consequences play out.

The next booth I managed to hit up was Bethesda. They were showing Wolfenstein: The New Order, which boasts the same brutality and well-aimed aggression of the original, just this time with way more heavy machinery. The Evil Within was not on display, but the trailer was broadcast frequently, and the swag included a pin for it. The main attraction at their booth was the playable demo for Elder Scrolls Online. I have to say I'm really impressed by how much Bethesda promoted the game at many conventions this year. While we didn't get a beer garden at PAX Prime, we did get a free food truck (if you wanted to stand in the line) and free Ben and Jerry pints of ice cream. All of the offerings were done in Nirn style, such as Sweet Cream with Khajiit Sweet Bites and Nirnroot Pickles.

As far as getting my hands on the game, I did! And it helped ease a lot of the fears I previously had, such as the game feeling more like a generic MMO clone. I can state as a fan of the series and also a person who has played way too many MMORPGs, this is not the case. I was fortunate to get a full hour of play time, and this allowed me to get quite far in the quests available to me. First, character customization is brilliant with great attention to detail and allowance for many body sizes and types. No matter what class you are, you can use any type of weapon and armor. Aside from needing to scroll back a bit in how the environment responds to players (meaning you can't knock all the stuff on a table across the room anymore) the scenes are intricately detailed and have all the same feel of playing Elder Scrolls games. Even the way quests pan out feels much like the quests picked up in earlier ES games. Even the beginning area quests were varied and extended beyond simple fetch or kill quests. Another thing that has me excited is the fact that PVP is confined to Cyrodiil. This is probably necessary due to the fact that there are no separate servers for things like RP and PVP.

All Games PAX-13I also had a chance to play the new Pikmin 3, which reminded me of my advancing age. Given that it has been a good nine years since the release of Pikmin 2 on GameCube, my attempts at playing the game using Wii controls was sobering at best. The preview showed gameplay very similar to previous games, with a seemingly greater focus on developing and implementing some solid Pikmin-corralling strategy. Getting my hands on the 2DS helped break previous conceptions on how huge the contraption appeared online.  The system has quite a good feel in the hands, and seems much more ergonomically sound than the previous clamshell bodies.  Also, it's much sturdier for the rough and tumble little ones.  A playable demo of Pokemon X/Y was right next door, which is still something that can excite me despite my towering height and age over the rest of the players.  Enhanced care for Pokemon is a great new feature, allowing the player to interact using treats, petting Pokemon, and even using facial expressions to respond to the game.  The Indie Megabooth was filled with exciting and varied games. One of my favorites was the game Foul Play, which showed a lot of creativity and humor. The gameplay is a basic side-scrolling brawler with unlockable combos, but the story pulls in a new type of audience. As in, a real audience. Life in this game is monitored not in hit points, but in audience excitement. You play as a retired adventurer on stage, reenacting some of your most daring feats along with a cast of actors. The better your combos, the happier your audience, and the more points you get to unlock cool bonuses. I even had a chance to attend the Indie After Party and meet the creators of Foul Play and Hotline Miami. And that's really one of the best parts of the convention experience. PAX allows not only media and industry, but regular gamers a chance to meet game creators and hear the enthusiasm and story driving these titles.

I saw a lot of panels, which was hard on my tailbone due to the chairs there being so darn rigid. I'm honestly not sure which was more sore by the end of the convention, my ass or my feet. But there were so many panels dedicated to social issues this year. I didn't even manage to catch all of them, but from what I did see, there is a growing community of people involved in bringing social awareness to game culture. This is fantastic. In previous years at cons, I have given my contact info to people, expressing my desire to delve into these topics. This has always been met with a cautious acceptance. I think we all had this notion that nothing would ever change because people kept reverting to the age-old "but this is just the way gamers are" excuse. This year, however, despite hecklers at the Political Correctness in Gaming panel, and despite Mike from PA still not "getting it" in many ways, I was so fortunate to meet and have a few small jam sessions with some of the most brilliant and innovative gamers I've met. I was also fortunate enough to cry for an hour at the Take This Panel, which focused on the hardships of dealing with mental health issues as gamers. The panelists were all people who worked within the game industry and were brave and open about their histories with anxiety and depression. The Take This Project is all about providing support for gamers who may struggle with these same issues, though it is important to note that this group cannot replace seeking professional assistance. This was one of the best panels I have ever attended, hands down.

pax panelsThat's not to say the other panels were not also excellent and hard-hitting. Panelists for the other panels ranged from military women, tabletop gamers, trans* gamers, gamers of color, and much more. These are people who are not only finally getting to speak about their experiences, but they get to do so in front of an audience that is attending these panels and actually listening. And when I handed my card to these panelists and told them how I want to help advance geek culture, I was met with palpable enthusiasm, acceptance, and encouragement. I feel that the end result of these panels was creating more allies, and at the very least causing some of the audience to reevaluate how they previously viewed these issues. And that is really saying something. That is the true power of a convention like PAX. It's terrible that so many of these amazing people will not be attending next year due to the inability of PA to provide any meaningful understanding of their tenet of inclusion and safe spaces.

I don't want to end this on a down note, so I want to stress again how fun and fulfilling most of my PAX experience was this year. I'll be back at PAX next year, running a panel on these very topics if I'm lucky. I'll be gearing up even more excitement about fun games, an ever-evolving industry, and amazing people who have too long spent the majority of their time on the sidelines. Be sure to check out the gallery below to see some of my amazing action shots.

 

 

Otakon 2014 Event Report

Even though the basic concept is the same, every iteration of a convention has a different feel to it. If you read my review last year, Otakon went bigger in celebrating its 20th anniversary, pulling out all the stops in terms of special guests and exclusives, as well as taking stock of its history in inviting old friends. This year was a bit more subdued, partly because 2013 was such a hard act to follow, but also because of a major snafu to kick things off.

First, let's go with what went right on Thursday, which is technically the day before Otakon officially begins. The outdoor matsuri in a nearby park by the Inner Harbor of Baltimore was a bigger success this time around, with more acts and booths set up. It's still lacking that traditional Japanese feel to it however with the lack of true festival games and street food, but there was a much bigger crowd this time to see the multiple bands performing live (I caught the Ricecookers in action as well as Peelander-Z) and a highly entertaining sumo wrestling demonstration by the largest Japanese wrestler ever, Yama, his American counterpart Kelly Gneiting, and volunteers from the crowd to boot!

otakon sumo

Sadly, part of the reason for the crowd at the matsuri may have been the ridiculously long pre-registration line at the convention center, which wrapped around the building at least a couple times. I tried standing in it with a friend (despite having already obtained my press pass) and it was just too much after a half hour of barely getting anywhere. It turns out that their new registration system was getting gummed up by the convention center's network issues, but attendees really had no idea what was going on, finding the end of the line was hard enough. While Otakorp eventually got the word out on Twitter and in a press release, I feel like a lot of grief could have been avoided if the troubles had been directly communicated to the line sooner, and people turned away earlier so that when things shut down close to midnight there wouldn't been people denied just outside of the door. LineCon 2014 soon became the meme afterwards and you could see some of the enthusiasm subside the next day, though fortunately so did the technical issues.

With the con proper underway, it was time to break out the cameras and catch some cosplay on the way to wherever you're headed! This year did not disappoint, particularly if you were a fan of this year's breakout series: Kill la Kill, but there was plenty for fans of all stripes, including games like Final Fantasy XIV and Borderlands to classics like Dragonball Z . This time around, the Guidebook app on a smartphone was not only recommended, but practically required as the printed schedule of events was immediately out of date and only provided at information booths by request. Attending panels this year was a blast as I couldn't think of one that disappointed, including two panels put on by a friend of ours, TheRobD: Anime Openings Around the World and The Other Way Around: American Comics Localized in Japan, both of which featured other countries' humorous takes on source material we were quite familiar with. New Anime for Older Fans was back this year and fully updated with great suggestions for veterans, A Brief History of Anime: 100 Years in 50 Minutes did an admirable job of identifying the major trends of the medium while planting some seeds for thought. And for all those Kill la Kill fans in attendance, there was even a panel dedicated to piecing together all the references in the show, which gave me an even greater respect for it.

otakon cosplay

Those are just the events I was able to make, from the reaction online there were several other ones I could regret missing, but that's just the nature of a good con, there's just never enough time to do everything! The key is that when most stuff is worth your time anyway, you can't complain, and this year's Otakon still delivered, at least in my book. I also caught showings of anime like Psycho Pass and Dog & Scissors that were a welcome respite from the crowds, which were thankfully tamed for the most part thanks to the expansion of the one way lanes to the Hilton skybridge. From what I understand, while I wasn't able to attend, the Yoshiki concert also went well thanks to an organized lottery for seating unlike the line of past years. The only real disappointment was the Game Room this year, which was lacking the arcade cabinets of past years and felt considerably bare as a result. Another common complaint was also the laggy TV's used, particularly for fighting games. Hopefully that can be turned around for next year, as while games obviously aren't a focus of Otakon, they can be a great way to pass time between things on your schedule.

All in all, after some early hiccups, Otakon 2014 closed out as another successful chapter in the books. Everyone I knew and attended the con with left happy and we were all only disappointed that it was over so soon. While there is always room for improvement (particularly in getting folks their badges, though in fairness, Anime Expo in LA suffered its registration disaster earlier this year), I feel confident in the direction Otakorp is charting overall. Here's looking forward to next year's edition!

 

Check out Cat and Fox's Pictures from Otakon 2014!

otakon 2014 gallery title

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