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When you've been at something for two decades and only keep getting bigger and better, you know you're doing something right. Otakon has come a long way from its humble beginnings in a Days Inn in Pennsylvania, exploding from a humble gathering of 300 or so to a horde of nearly 35,000 otaku taking over its current home in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. In fact, the convention has gotten so large that Otakorp has already announced a move to Washington, D.C.'s more spacious convention center for 2017's edition, despite some sentimental reluctance.
Otakon celebrated its 20th anniversary in style, for sure. They brought in a smorgasbord of huge guests like Cowboy Bebop director Shinichiro Watanabe, world famous composer Yoko Kanno, and various animators and directors from recent blockbuster hits like Sword Art Online and Oreimo. Along with these guests came announcements of new titles like Watanabe's Space Dandy, and the world premieres of Oreimo's final episodes of the 2nd season as well as the English dubbed version of critically acclaimed film, Wolf Children.
Having only been to one previous edition of Otakon the year before, I don't have a lot to compare to, but this year's absolutely topped the last both in numbers, events, and sheer enthusiasm. It felt like there was even more cosplay than ever, particularly from fans of shows like Attack on Titan, which allow you to participate in army uniform without necessarily representing a specific character. Despite the larger crowd, I did not feel any real degradation of foot traffic, especially once they organized the unfortunately narrow sky bridges into one way lanes. Speaking of which, organization is Otakon's strong suit. While there will always be some hiccups and confusion in herding so many cats, I was still impressed with how most lines were handled, both for registration and panels. My only annoyance was discovering the huge rush for 18+ bracelets for Frday night's more racier affairs. I feel like that could have been addressed at the same time as registration (where you have to present your ID anyway) to alleviate those lines, especially when that was only a prelude to waiting in yet another line to get into the event. Besides that though, everything started on time for the most part and all of the staff was very courteous and helpful, always willing to take questions and find the answer for you.
When you arrive at Otakon, I highly suggest you take a look at the schedule (and download Guidebook if you have a smartphone) and plan your attack. There's way more things to do than there is ever enough time to see (which is not a complaint, but a sign of a great convention!). At any moment there's at least 4 anime showing in video rooms and multiple panels, Q&A's, and workshops to boot. You also have to account for how popular an event is going to be and factor in getting early to secure your spot, so there's going to be a lot of concessions made. Personally I was happy catching some of the smaller fare and avoiding some of the world premieres with their 2 hour long waits. I started off my schedule on Friday with a viewing of Otaku No Video, a comedic anime from 1991 that inspired Otakon according to its members' lore. It wasn't hard to see the connection as it traces a similar meteoric rise for a small band of otaku who take the world by storm and eventually construct their equivalent of Disneyland. I also caught showings of stuff like Hunter X Hunter and New Hurricane Polymar. Panels wise I found a lot of variety as I attended ones about Lolita fashion, sports anime, and the real of a manga artist. My favorites though involved reminiscing about the early days of anime in America with I Love the 80s: Anime Edition hosted by Mike Toole and the Anime Industry Before Times panel hosted by special guests who were founding members of such greats as AnimEigo, Animerica, ADV, and more.
Needless to say, there's no excuse to be bored at Otakon! Even if none of the anime or panels happens to be your thing at a given time, just wandering the halls and seeing all the cosplay is entertaining enough. Of course there's also a huge gaming room open all day long with a wide selection of arcade and console machines and software both old and new. I checked out Hatsune Miku Project Diva F with a real arcade controller among other rare Japanese imports, and tons of other rhythm music games like DDR, Rock Band, and Dance Central. And then there's the shopping, with both Artist's Alley and Dealer's Hall jam packed of goodies. My only complaint about the latter is that many dealers seemed to be working from the exact same stock, so there weren't many rare finds to be had, but that could also have been the fact that I didn't get in the first day. The good side of that is it made it easy to comparison shop and find the best deal if you were willing to put in the leg work.
And for those moments where you absolutely have to step out of the convention and get a breath of fresh air, the Inner Harbor is there for you with entertainment options like the many display ships in port, from submarines to tallships like the U.S.S. Constellation. You can even take a water taxi and get out on the water. There's of course plenty of food options in the area that run the gamut of low cost chains and food trucks to fancier fare like the great Spanish tapas restaurant I ate at on my last day. Hotels are a bit tricky and can be expensive for the weekend but they are mostly clustered around the convention center for easy access to and from Otakon. If you're looking to save though it might be cheaper to stay near the airport and take the light rail in, but I'm not as familiar with the viability of that option. I was skeptical about Baltimore at first, but it's found a place in my heart after two years there. A fondness has grown between the convention and the city and you can see many of the locals actually enjoy having us around. It's a shame it will be moving on in a few years and I have no doubt it was a difficult decision for Otakorp.
Otakorp has also created a spinoff convention in Las Vegas that starts this January 2014, so if that's closer to you it may be worth a look as well. Just keep in mind it'll be going through some first con pains, but I have confidence in this crew considering how well they've done with their first baby. Anyway, I had an amazing time at my second Otakon and look forward to doing it all again next year. There's a reason why this con has been so successful and made to the 20 year mark, and I hope you will join us out there next time, because despite everything else I mentioned, it's the people and the friends you meet that really make it great!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Unsurprising, Hawkgirl won in the female comic book cosplay area along with other cosplay winners in other categories.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Four 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.
Watchdogs 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.
I 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.
That'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.
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.
If 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.
The 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.
How 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.
I have to hand it to Anime Mid-Atlantic. They really know how to throw a party!
Whether you attended the Anime Mid-Atlantic for the cosplay, costumes, dances, video games, guests, contests, workshops , videos, card games or for the other fun activities – you could most likely enjoy doing it at Anime Mid-Atlantic.
Background of Anime Mid-Atlantic
Now in its thirteenth year, the Anime Mid-Atlantic is an annual event where fans of anime and video games come together sometimes to just hang out with new and old friends and have fun. You can dress up as your favorite anime or video game character in any form or fashion you like, of course, in adherence to the rules of the event.
Anime Mid-Atlantic was held on a beautiful weekend, June 14-16, 2013 at 725 Woodlake Dr., in Chesapeake, Virginia at the Marriott Hotel and the Chesapeake Convention Center. Yes, the fun is spread between two buildings including the walking areas between the two.
The Marriott Hotel and the Chesapeake Convention Center are conveniently located adjacent to other hotels – so if you were from out of town, you could stay either at the Marriott Hotel or at the other nearby hotels that were in walking distance.
Arrival at Anime Mid-Atlantic
I arrived at the Anime Mid-Atlantic event towards the end of Friday night, and activities were still in full swing. As I walked to the registration area in the hotel, I was met by one of the event’s security. Still remembering and stinging from the coldness I felt when I attended the Civil War V video game tournament that I covered a few months earlier, I had my guard up and immediately asked him why did he come up to me. He responded that he wanted to know if I had any questions, and decided to approach me. He seemed sincere, so I pushed my reservations about the atmosphere of the event aside and asked him where I could pick up my press badge .
On my way to pick up my badge, I met a young man who was dressed up in a costume that included a feminine looking tank top and shorts. He smiled and literally apologized to me for the costume that he was wearing, stating that he usually does not dress that way. I laughed and told him he was “looking good.”
From that moment on, I knew I would enjoy covering this event for Allgames.com. Not only because of all the interesting events scheduled, but also and more importantly, everyone appeared to be very friendly and out to just have a good time.
Video Game Room at Anime Mid-Atlantic
My plan was to focus mostly on video games the first day of the event. So after receiving my participant badge, I walked the short distance from the Marriott Hotel to the Chesapeake Convention Center where the video game room was located.
On the way to the convention center, I enjoyed watching a dance contest where the participants were dressed up in costumes. I also enjoyed the performance of a hoola hoop dancer, who was dancing with a neon lighted hoop for a small group of admirers who had gathered around him. It was dark outside, so the bright colors of the hoola hoop shone brightly against the night. At one point during his performance, he jokingly said that he was getting tired, but he received a burst of energy and continued to perform when the cameras started flashing – including my own.
When I reached the convention center, I showed my badge to the two ladies seated at the entrance, and I was happy I had registered as a participant, because I was able to show my badge and get in. At that time, I had not picked up my press badge. I also like the fact that there was control as to who went where. I, along with other attendees had to show our badges to gain admittance to several events, which in my opinion was an effective security measure.
When I reached the video game room, the moderator was writing on a white board, changing the closing time for the video game room from 2:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. Whew! I was glad that I made it there before they closed.
Once in the room, there were about 14 monitors on tables lining the walls with a Just Dance video game going on in full swing. Just about every type video game system was there, including the WII U.
A couple was dancing to the game, while two fully uniformed male and female police officers watched. Yes – in addition to having staff security personnel, the event also had uniformed policemen there as well. It’s possible that the policemen were there for the convention center security, instead of just for the event. The police officers were smiling as they watched the Just Dance video game couple perform – so it looks like in addition to their security duties, they were having fun as well..
In the far corner of the small video game room was a guitar hero type set up with a standing microphone and large monitor. After one group finished playing the game, a young lady who had just sung, asked if I wanted to play. I complimented her on her singing and declined the offer. If her personna was any indication of the type people attending this event, not only were they overtly friendly, but they were polite and cordial as well.
In addition to the newer games, there were also retro video games to be played. The retro game was centipede/space invaders, which I got the chance to play . I witnessed a high score obtained by a video game player. Interesting enough, within the next few minutes, I also witnessed the high score of the retro video game being broken by a much younger video game player.
Unfortunately, the video game room closed at about 1:00 a.m., and we all had to leave. But not to worry. There was still a crowd of people out in the convention areas as well as back at the Marriott Hotel.
Saturday at Anime Mid-Atlantic
Technically I was at the Anime Mid-Atlantic on Saturday, since it was about 1:30 a.m. when I left. I was prepared to make a late night appearance at the event Saturday night, but looking at the schedule, most of the events I wanted to cover had already happened.
The neat feature about the Anime Mid-Atlantic is that there was a schedule of events to cover just about every hour or so of the three days. You could either wander around and catch some of the happenings in an impromptu manner, or you could follow the schedule and pick and choose which events you wanted to attend.
Interview with Doug Smith, Graphic Artist/Voice Actor
My first order of business on Sunday was to pick up my press badge, which I’m happy to report was ready and waiting for me at the registration desk. When the volunteer staff handed my press badge he suffixed it with “Have fun! – which I’m glad to say -- I did.
Located next to the registration room where I picked up my press badge was another conference room where a group of people seemed enthralled at listening to the presenter. I decided to attend this workshop that was headed by Doug Smith, a graphic artist as well as a guest at the event.
He gave training on graphic art drawing using the software, photoshop. In addition to demonstrating graphic design techniques, he also took interesting questions from the audience. Some of the questions asked and answered included how to show perspectives when drawing figures and objects, as well as how to show texture of items such as brushed metal, etc.
At the end of the workshop, I got the opportunity to interview Doug Smith, and in so doing, I found out that he was not only a graphic artist, but was also a voice actor. He told me the story of how he got into voice acting by accident when a company was looking for someone to play a part in voice acting, and he just happened to be seemingly there, at the right place and at the right time.
Other Anime Events
After leaving the workshop, I got the chance to see part of an anime movie in the video room, which was located next to the rooms where board games were being played.
I perused some of the tables that were located outside the conference rooms in the hallways. Some people were promoting other upcoming Anime events. In fact, I discovered there are several other Anime events that are happening in the near future.
As I continued to walk down the hallways that were bustling with people, most of whom were dressed up in costumes, I met a young lady who was dressed in a cute victorian type outfit and she had black and red ringlets for hair. I asked her if I could touch her hair, as well as take her picture – of which she replied yes to both.
Yaaaa!! I had taken my first of many pictures of creatively dressed anime costumed participants at the Anime Mid-Atlantic.
I decided to leave the Marriott and take a short walk over to the Chesapeake Convention Center to see what was happening over there.
When I reached the convention center, a group of people dressed up as their favorite anime characters were just outside the center playing a game similar to vogue – where you struck a pose when the music stopped and was eventually eliminated from the game. Everyone seemed to be having fun. This is where I took my second picture of an Anime costumed attendee who was dressed in a black suit and tie – which appeared ordinary enough; however there was one big difference. His face and head were completely covered in white cloth. Someone who was also taking a picture of him told me his name was “Slender” when I asked who he was portraying.
Anime Mid-Atlantic Territory
Two nights before, I did not realize the full extent of the Anime event that was going on in the convention center. At the time, I had only visited the video game room.
On Sunday, I found out there was a whole lot more at the convention center than the video game room. Apparently the Anime Mid-Atlantic covered a lot more territory than I thought.
The hallways were crowded with people, as well as vendors and it looked as if each conference room was also filled with people.
There was a large conference room set aside for autograph signing. I decided to stand in line to get my Anime Mid-Atlantic book signed. As I waited in line, I had an interesting conversation with a woman behind the desk leading up to the autograph signing about a topic I would not have correlated with anime. She told me about a website where there is an Anime cookbook. With the increase of cooking reality television shows, I should not have been surprised that cooking had made its way to anime!
I asked the guest who was signing my event book if he did any voice acting for video games. He said he would if he was asked; however, right now he did voice acting mostly for anime characters. I liked the fact that when he autographed my event book, he addressed it to me, Ms. H! – with an exclamation point after my name – very fitting to show just how much fun I was having at the event.
In fact, I was not the only one having fun there. In the autograph conference room, there was a large group of people sitting in the audience who were in amidst of friendly conversations, when I noticed a beach ball being hit back and forth over the crowd. Of course, I could not let this get by me without taking a picture.
A Real Live Anime Character at the Anime Mid-Atlantic
I next walked to the large vendor selling area. If you were in a buying mood, you could purchase items from any of the vendors set up in the hallways and some of the rooms.
In fact, the hallways were filled with tables where people were selling any and everything related to Anime.
Additionally, there was a large room set aside strictly for vendors which appeared to be filled to capacity. As I walked around the vendor area, I came across a booth where there was a young lady where I had to do a double take because she looked so much like a real life anime character. She was Japanese and had very long blue hair styled with bangs and two very long ponytails. I was getting ready to ask her if I could take her picture when her attention was drawn to someone else who was talking to her.
I found out later that she was Yunmao Ayakawa, one of the guests when she appeared at the closing ceremony of the event with an interpreter. I got the chance to take a picture of her at that time.
Art Auction at the Anime Mid-Atlantic
I checked the schedule and decided to make my way back to the Marriott Hotel to cover the art auction. While waiting for the art auction to start, I found a comfortable and convenient sitting area at a table located right next to the front window that faced the front of the hotel. It was here where I took lots of pictures of attendees dressed up in costumes.
In fact, I noticed a young man dressed up in an Assassin’s Creed outfit, which I took a picture of from a distance then, and closer pictures later when he made an appearance at the closing ceremonies.
By this time, it was about 2:30 p.m. on Sunday – almost time for the art auction! I went to the information desk and asked her where was Restaurant A which is where the art auction was held. She checked the schedule and told me the art auction ended at 12:30 p.m. Unfortunately, the schedule I had was not the very latest, or had been changed. Even though the art auction was over, I still had time to take more pictures of all the interesting anime costumed attendees – so all was not lost.
Anime Mid-Atlantic Closing Ceremonies
The closing ceremonies were scheduled to be held at 3:30 p.m. at the Chesapeake Convention Center on Sunday, June 16, 2013. To make sure there were no schedule changes, I verified the place and time – which had not changed.
I made the short trek from the Marriott Hotel back to the convention center. The weather was absolutely beautiful outside, with sunny, blue skies – so the walk was an enjoyable one for me, in and of itself. Plus I met interesting costumed characters along the way.
After reaching the convention center and before going to the closing ceremony, I quickly checked the video game room to see if any changes had been made in the set up, etc.. The video game room was a little crowded than before; however, the set up was the same.
After leaving the video game room, I went to the closing ceremonies.
Everyone entering had to show their badge – which I again thought was a good security measure.
The closing ceremony consisted of the MC, Daniel Taraschke , thanking every body – jokingly, for not tearing the “place” down. He then thanked everyone for coming and hoped that everyone had fun. Next the guests were introduced and took the stage to additionally offer their thanks as well. Most of the guests were there with the exception of a few who had to leave early. The guest who I had interviewed earlier, Doug Smith, was introduced by the MC as their very own Tarzan -- took the stage and thanked every one. Some guests actually ran up to and jumped up on the stage as a way to show their enthusiasm for the event.
After presenting fan favorites awards, the MC ended the show requesting a group picture of the audience, with everyone posed with one arm outstretched with a finger pointing. I moved over to the center audience section to be sure I would be pictured and joined in the fun.
In the midst of taking the group picture, someone asked if there was a beach ball around. Sadly, there was no beach ball to be thrown; however, the audience made up for it afterwards, by some posing for pictures and others doing impromptu dances.
After waiting in line, I was able to interview Daniel Taraschke and obtained his assessment of the overall event. In his words, he dubbed the event, “a success.”
Pros of the Anime Mid-Atlantic
Cons of the Anime Mid-Atlantic
Recommendations for the Anime Mid-Atlantic
Closing Remarks -- Anime Mid-Atlantic
All in all, the Anime Mid-Atlantic looked to be not only a success but a great one at that. It was an event that you can go to and conversate with and be around others who share your interests in anime, and video games and all that goes with these fun venues. You can dress up as your favorite character and in a way, bring to life anime characters who you have probably admired virtually, and can now give them the breath of real life, so to speak, at an event such as the Anime Mid-Atlantic. If you have a competitive spirit, you can participate in the many contests to see how you measure up – or you can enter just to have fun. If you want to learn more about the different facets Anime, there were many workshops available as well.
The saying that would wrap up my personal assessment of the Anime Mid-Atlantic event would be –“ And fun was had by all!” Well done.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
The 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).