ConnectiCon 2016 Recap

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Ah, ConnectiCon. As a resident of CT, it has become my annual mini-vacation. It isn’t too expensive as long as you buy your passes early. If you’re willing to commute, the cost of gas, and convention center parking is far less than area hotel fare. Plus it always seems to coincide with other fun events in Hartford, so there’s generally enough to do most of the time. There are usually a pretty nice list of celebrities, internet personalities, writers, and artists to meet. There are a lot of panels, cosplayers, rooms devoted to gaming, and tournaments to enter.

This year they had a few changes. First, the convention center changed its hours. In previous years, events the first two days went on to 10pm or later. This year the convention center closed up shop at 9pm. There were after hours events in the area hotels, and restaurants. But attendees used to late night panels would find themselves disappointed. It probably wasn’t the convention’s doing. But they’ll sadly get some of the blame. One thing they could have organized better were the lines during the Friday opening. In my experience, the first few staff members I talked to didn’t explain where the pre-registration line was very well. Both prepaid, and yet-to-pay lines were in the garage. I spent a confusing few moments until someone led a rallying cry that gathered those of us who pre-registered online, into the proper line.

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But beyond that, I really didn’t have too much to complain about over my three days. None of the staff came off as snippy or ornery. Even in that confusion.

I pretty much stick to panels at conventions. They’re typically the most interesting parts of a convention to me. Though I did spend some time getting photos of some of the more impressive cosplays I bumped into. There were a lot of pretty good ones this year. Sadly my camera’s motor decided to start acting up on me this year. So I didn’t get the number of photos I would have liked to.

Still, there were a few pretty good ones I managed to snap. There were also a lot of great panels I managed to get into. I didn’t get into every panel I wanted to due to conflicting schedules. But overall, I did get to see most of what I wanted to. On Friday I  made it into two main panels.

The first was the Channel Awesome panel. This was a lot of fun. Doug Walker reprised his role as the ever popular Nostalgia Critic. This year his brother Rob, and actors Malcolm Ray, and Tamara Chambers came along for a question, and answer panel. A lot of the questions were some you might expect. About their favorite episodes, favorite, and least favorite movies. But there were some unexpected ones, like personal childhood memories. Malcolm, and Tamara loved doing plays early on. While Rob enjoyed a trip where he learned his mastery of impersonating Jeff Goldblum.

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The audience also got to participate in a sight gag for an upcoming episode of The Nostalgia Critic, and the cast was there all three days feverishly meeting with fans, and signing autographs. I didn’t get a chance to speak with any of them this time around, but in previous years I have. They’ve always been appreciative of their audience, and generally very nice folks in person.

I also attended the Uncle Yo standup routine panel which did have most everyone laughing a lot. The material had a couple of funny political barbs. But a lot of the jokes ended up centering around cat ownership when the room was given an option.  He did plenty of gaming jokes too. Mighty No. 9, Pokémon, Zelda, and the Game Boy were all subjects of some funny gags. There was also a lovingly crafted tribute to his family. Really great stuff. If you have the chance to see him in your area, check it out. He has some pretty nice material. Particularly if you dig games.

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The convention also coincided with the Hartford Riverfest event this year. So I followed some friends, and acquaintances over to that event when I began to feel hungry. If you’re ever in the area when this is going on, I highly recommend you check it out. Get this, they have a smorgasbord of interesting, different food trucks. Typically, many of us hear “Food Truck”, and we just think “Carnival food.”. We think about corn dogs, burgers, and ice cream. This event had a bunch of stuff beyond that. There was one truck that was centered around making custom slush drinks. There was a truck centered around Irish themed foods. I bought a corned beef grilled cheese sandwich. It came on grilled rye bread, and it was awesome. There was one truck that served barbecue. Pulled pork, ribs, drumsticks. If it had barbecue in the title, it served it.

Aside from a bad heat headache by that point it was a pretty good day. I spent most of the rest of it mingling with fans, and wandering the dealer room. Next to that was the electronic gaming area, half was made up of console, and PC gaming stations, while the rest was composed of arcade  games, and a tabletop area. Most of the arcade games were rhythm games, though the table flipping game from last year made a return. They also had arcade versions of Pokken Tournament, and Street Fighter V set up.

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In the console area I saw Super Smash Bros Wii U, Street Fighter II HD Remix, Call Of Duty AW, Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 Ultimate, Ultra Street Fighter V, Mortal Kombat X, Killer Instinct, Mario Kart 8, and a smattering of other games. On the PC side there were huge set ups for League Of Legends, and Overwatch. There were ongoing tournaments for Super Smash Bros Wii U, and League of Legends which were being live streamed. Over in the adjacent hotel they had one main room devoted to RPGs. Pen, and Paper, and Card games.

 

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Day two started out with a bang. I went to a panel centered around the Atari 2600. It focused on game design, and how the limitations of the VCS forced early game programmers to be even more creative. Creating not only game ideas, but techniques to squeeze those ideas into a very limited amount of memory, and storage space at the time. It served as a lesson to aspiring creators that limitations can be a motivator. It also served as a reminder that one should start small, focusing on a core game play idea to build a game around. Even if you weren’t a budding programmer, it was a great showcase of just what makes the Atari 2600 such a fun console.

 

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After that I made it into two Star Trek panels. The first one was a smaller panel focusing on the future of the franchise. Star Trek is about to become 50 years old. There was a moment of silence for the late Anton Yelchin who tragically passed away in an automobile accident recently. After that discussion moved onto the upcoming film Star Trek Beyond, the new series coming to CBS’ streaming service, and the legal battles many of the fan projects are facing. One of them is in the midst of a lawsuit over the money that was raised on Kickstarter to complete it. Even though it was to pay the actors, and supplies to build sets, props, and make costumes. CBS apparently sees this as infringement. So much so that they released a set of guidelines that they want fan projects to abide by. These guidelines are so insanely restrictive, they basically disallow fans to make fan films. One high-profile fan project had to basically retitle the project, and make a laundry list of alterations to keep itself alive. Unfortunately many of the backers jumped in for a Star Trek project, that they’re no longer getting. The entire thing is a mess, but something that could see how fan projects by fandoms are going to be treated going forward.

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There was also some discussion centered around the many changes, and updates to Star Trek Online over the past couple of years. It’s also being ported to the Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. Even the newest expansion Agents Of Yesterday, which ties the game into the Temporal Cold War storyline that was prevalent in Star Trek Enterprise. Things do seem to have been improved immensely since the game originally came out back in 2010. You can grind for chests that will have crew members, resources, or star ships in them. Since the game became a F2P title, you can try to play through the game without spending money on chests, but it can prove very difficult. The storyline takes place after the events of the 2009 reboot, making the game part of the original TOS/TNG/DS9/VOY time line. You get to see how ships, and races evolved in that time line. There are ways to play classes from every era as well.

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After that panel I got to see another Star Trek panel with Nana Visitor, and Michael Dorn. This was a great panel where the two actors took questions from the room. Discussions about behind the scenes practical jokes, disagreements on the set, the shock of Terry Farrell’s departure from DS9, and other anecdotes. Nana, and Michael both reminded us that Star Trek has always been a show about morality plays. A show that made people think. Sometimes about subjects that can be uncomfortable. One can only hope the upcoming series, and film will retain that quality.

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In between panels I often returned to the dealer’s area. I got to meet artist Tom Ryan while I was there the previous day, where he had some amazing work on display. So I returned the second day when I hadn’t left my cash in my car like an idiot. You should really check out his work at Tom Ryan’s Studio. It’s really amazing stuff. I ended up buying a really cool original ThunderCats print. He does all kinds of  work. Including commercial art commissions for breweries. He’s very kind, and very talented. Definitely check out his booth if he comes to a convention near you.

I also briefly got a chance to speak with Honest Trailers’ own Jon Bailey. He was really friendly, and genuinely enjoyed interacting with people. He also does a ton of voice work for commercials, shows, and video games. Just like the case with Tom Ryan, If he shows up at a convention near you, pay him a visit. He’s pretty swell in person.

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One of the  most entertaining panels I attended was for voice actor, Jess Harnell it opened up when a young fan led the room in an introduction by singing the Animaniacs theme. Around half way through, he forgot a word or two, and faked his way through it but still did a really good job overall. Jess was pretty impressive. He talked a bit about his band Rock Sugar. Unbeknownst to many, he has a music career. He loves hard rock, so his band came up with an idea. “What if a hard rock band thought that the pop rock, and ballads were hard rock?” So their project was born. It’s pretty great stuff. The results are some very fun mash-up covers of pop songs, done in the vein of metal songs.

These mash-up covers are so good in fact, that if you put them on without telling your friends what they are, they’ll be shocked when Enter Sandman turns into Don’t Stop Believin’. He has also been able to open for a lot of hard rock bands like AC/DC. It’s really impressive, and if you have the opportunity check it out. It’s pretty great.

He also talked a bit about how William Shatner once confused him for Gene Simmons, his first time meeting Steven Spielberg, and an odd time helping Pierce Brosnan record lines in Quest For Camelot. He’s also done some roles you may not be aware of, including the voice over on America’s Funniest Home Videos. 

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Another really cool thing happened in the panel, Rob Paulsen ( most known as the voice of Pinky of Pinky, and the Brain) called into the panel to talk to the audience! He, and Tress MacNeille  were originally going to be guests at the con, but unfortunately became ill before the show. So they couldn’t make it. But he did want to thank all of the fans personally, and he hopes to make it to next year’s convention. Rob, and Tress also pre-signed a number of photos so that if you wanted Jess’ autograph, you also got theirs.

After the panel nearly all  in attendance of the panel went to Jess Harnell’s booth. He was very kind to everyone. He went above, and beyond in his interaction with the fandom. I bought a copy of his band’s Reimaginator album, and he was even kind enough to sign it with a personalization. If any of the Animaniacs cast shows up at a con near you, pay them a visit. I got to meet Maurice Lamarche last year, Rob Paulsen the year before that, and they’ve all just been wonderful people.

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After that it was time for our annual trek to City Steam Brewery in Hartford. Not only do they make some of my favorite beers, they also make some of the best pub food in Connecticut. They have a huge restaurant built into the brewery, as well as a comedy club, business meeting rooms, and a bunch of stuff. It coincides with my buddy Dan’s birthday nearly every year, so he tries to get as many friends, and acquaintances as possible to have dinner together there. Dan also helms the Best Spuds channel on YouTube, and all of the spuds were there. I can’t say enough good things about the food, or service there. So often people only want to talk about bad experiences. I can’t say I’ve had a bad experience there. The food is always good. If in a rare instance they’ve gotten an order wrong it’s been promptly fixed.

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Plus there’s nothing quite like getting your favorite beer fresh. It might taste great out of a bottle or can into a frosted glass. But getting it fresh from the brewery is even better. I had some Buffalo chicken nachos, a black bean burger, and thanks to my friends getting full, two fish tacos. All of which was very delicious. I added another City Steam glass to my beer glass collection, as well as a Naughty Nurse IPA T-shirt to my closet full of T-shirts. Speaking of the beer,  Their new Wacked Out Wheat is really good. It has elements of both an India Pale Ale, and a Hefeweizen blended with mango, and pineapple. It was spectacular. I also went with a nice glass of Naughty Nurse IPA. It’s light, bitter, yet full of citrus notes. It’s fantastic bottled. Again, it’s even better fresh.

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The final day of ConnectiCon is always shorter, and usually, they put all of the best panels in the schedule for the first two days. Last year they tried to alleviating this by having some stuff on day three. This year, they did a little bit better by once again having some of the bigger guests do panels on the final day.

The first of these was a riveting panel by John Rhys-Davies, where he  talked about some of the challenges the crew faced during the filming of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, and how they were able to overcome them. As well as how much one can benefit from optimal management skills, and the effect of scale in many topics. He also talked about some of the debates he had with writers in his time on Sliders, as well as his passion for theatre. Particularly Shakespearean plays. He even spent time talking about how Tolkien’s wartime experiences influenced the Lord of the Rings, as well as some time talking about general world history.

The second was a Q&A session with Michael Dorn. This one differed from the previous panel in that he was the only guest. A lot of similar questions were asked this time around, but he also spent some time talking about his love of tennis, and his love of aviation. He told the crowd about some experiences he had when accepting invitations from branches of the armed forces. He was humbled, and grateful for the opportunity to fly F-16’s, F/A-18 Hornets, and be a guest pilot with the Blue Angels. But he is especially appreciative of the young men, and women who work in the armed forces, doing dangerous jobs on carriers, and other means. He also talked about how seriously he takes all roles including comedic ones. He also really enjoys watching South Park, and cited how it can be edgy, without doing so just for the sake of doing so. Rather to illustrate a point.

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The final panel I got to see during the con was a panel on level design using Doom builder. This was hosted by aspiring indie developer Zodiacw who not only gave a nice tutorial on some of the basic tools, but gave an in-depth look at the importance of map design. Which also brought about conversations on how map making, and game design are intertwined. A map designer can set up game rules by setting expectations with a simple wall texture. Or easily lose players by not following the rules they’ve set up in previous stages. They also discussed how one can still impress medium, and large studios by pushing the boundaries of an older engine with a keen understanding of map design. As well as carrying the knowledge taken from making maps for Doom into newer, and more complex engines. Even if you aren’t someone who would want to make a career out of making custom content, the panel made even doing so for fun quite palatable.

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Aside from some confusion surrounding the pre-registration line on the first day, I had a pretty great time at ConnectiCon. Sure, I would have liked to have gotten into some of the other panels like Tom Kenny’s (SpongeBob Squarepants), Walter Koenig’s (Star Trek), or Sean Astin’s (Goonies, LOTR) but this is a convention that seems to get a little bit bigger every year when it comes to getting big names. So it simply isn’t possible to see every panel. But what I did get to experience was great, and as in year’s past many of the panels felt inspirational.

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For those who aren’t interested in the celebrity, and internet personality aspect, there was still plenty to do. There were a number of cosplay events, like the always popular masquerade, belly dance off, and death match. The video game area was populated the entire three days, and there were a lot of participants in the League Of Legends, and Smash tournaments. There were the aforementioned tabletop, card, and RPG game areas, and they even had an all day karaoke stage set up. I’m sure I’m forgetting a bunch of other things. The convention center closing earlier this year was a bit of a bummer for the older portion of the crowd. But that was partially made up for with area restaurants, movie theatres, and a brewery to boot. Still, having the late night events moved to one of those places, or eliminated was a little bit disappointing. But overall my complaints are fairly minor. I still had a great three-day weekend leading into a week away from working. ConnectiCon is in many ways an inexpensive vacation for me. If this year’s experience is any indication, this will continue to be.

If you’ve stumbled upon this recap, I hope you’ve enjoyed it. If you’re interested in attending the convention you can get more info at ConnectiCon’s own website.

 

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