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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.

 

 

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 Review of the Otakon 2013 Maid Cafe

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When I heard about the maid cafe at Otakon 2012, I was pretty disappointed that I wasn’t able to attend. This year, Cat, my husband, and I made it a point to wait in line for the maid cafe’s second year at Otakon. I have to admit that it was certainly worth the wait!

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Upon entry into the maid cafe, we were greeted by the maids, who said “Welcome home, Master and Mistress!” in Japanese! This was definitely a delightful surprise. After paying only $10 (maid cafes in Japan are typically more expensive), we were shown to our seats by one of the cute maids. The area only consisted of about five or six tables, which seated eight. This created a more intimate environment for patrons, which I consider important mission of any maid cafe.


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After everyone was seated, the maids and butlers (male version of the maid) all gathered in the front to give their introductions. I really enjoyed hearing them give their name and random facts about themselves, each in turn causing the crowd to laugh. Every cast member performed amazingly while taking on a new persona for the benefit of the maid cafe customers.


Next, the maid that was assigned to our table, Umi, took our drink and food orders. While the drink was on the house, we could make a $5 donation to receive a dessert. Honestly, I expected more filling items on the menu. From my experience visiting maid cafes in Japan, the menu was short but more filling. Popular items included omurice, tonkatsu, and one-of-a-kind sundae creations. Instead, I had instant hot chocolate and strawberry shortcake. I would have graciously paid more for a small portion of omurice with a drawing in ketchup on it! Imagine an incredibly cute maid asking what you’d like her to drawn on your meal!

 

The maids and butlers also created such a comfortable setting that allowed for interaction with the entire table. We were introduced to a game where we could write anything on a sticky note and then paste it on the forehead of the person sitting in the next chair. Each individual then had to guess what that mystery item on their forehead was. Every now and then, a maid or butler would join us to help with the guessing. Unfortunately, our game was interrupted. Well, not too unfortunate, as the suspension was caused by the maids’ captivating performance.Otakon13MaidCafe DSC01934



Not only were they dressed perfectly from head to toe, but these maids had energy that went beyond expectations! I loved watching them perform to the songs. Everyone was in perfect sync while dancing. I could tell that they were well practiced and truly enjoyed performing for their masters and mistresses. This was the second showing of the day, but I suspect that the girls kept up this intensity throughout the day.

 

With the addition of a more cafe-ish menu and cutesy decorations, the maid cafe could truly emulate the maid cafes of Japan. In the originating country, the environment of these cafes creates an illusion of an otaku’s personal tearoom. The feeling one gets stepping into a Japanese maid cafe is almost as if walking into an entirely new dimension where pink frills and anime loving is the norm. In contrast, the Otakon’s walls were, to say the least, bland. My opinion is that even without the maids present, I should have felt as though I was in a maid cafe. I hope that this is taken into consideration for future presentations.Otakon13MaidCafe DSC01936


Even with lack of decor and menu items, I’m really ecstatic that I went to the maid cafe at Otakon 2013. The incredibly spirited performances by the maids, fully clad in their skirts, petticoats, and stockings, were definitely worth the wait in line! I sincerely urge a visit to the maid cafe if you plan to attend Otakon 2014.

 

 

 

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