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Retro World Expo 2019 recap

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Now in its fifth year, Retro World Expo is slowly growing into one of the best conventions in New England. There are consistently good guests and panels. There are always plenty of things to keep you busy. And there are a lot of vendors with a variety of games, collectibles, and other stuff waiting for you if you’re out to shop.

Some of the layout concerns of previous years appeared to have been taken to heart. Checking into the show was easy. Just like last year, it was easy to follow the line to the window for people who paid ahead of time. Traffic for people paying for entry seemed straightforward as well. Going onto the show floor, everything was more condensed. There were as many vendors, guests, and events as last year, but it was less spaced out. But not so crammed that one couldn’t move.

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Getting there on time was impeded by some road work on Interstate 84 on my way in. So I missed about a half-hour of the morning festivities. This year, the convention moved all of the panels to the afternoon so that actually allowed some of the other events and attractions to shine a bit more.

 

This year Big Bucks Entertainment was back with their fantastic game show recreations. These events are great as Davira is able to get pretty good facsimiles of popular game shows going in a convention setting. This year he brought back Press Your Luck, and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? I caught the Press Your Luck show in the morning, and it featured one of the closest contests I think I’ve seen. The contestants were two guys and an older woman who didn’t really play many games. Her children did. Despite this fact, she managed to get enough questions right in the two rounds to earn a lot of spins. She went on to get a score in the tens of thousands before moving along. At the end of the second round, however, one of the other contestants had no money and only a final spin. They somehow managed to land on a streak of money and free spin combinations to nearly overtake the woman. But they couldn’t quite pull it off.

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Over the course of the contest, they had a charity tie in where audience members would be called upon some spins. If the contestant landed on a prize space the audience member would get a free prize. If they landed on a Whammy, the contestant would not only lose all of their money but the audience members’ prizes as well. Except for two of the audience members who were called up. They were kids, so even though they didn’t win they were given the free prize anyway.  Somehow there was enough time left that three other audience members were able to play a couple of Whammy rounds. This wasn’t as close as the primary round but it was still fun.

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I got in some time with a couple of Coin-ops. I played some Centipede, managing to beat the high score. Sadly, the machine didn’t save my score but Centipede is always a fun arcade game to play. This year the KRULL machine was back and it was in working order! Not only is KRULL a wonderful Sci-Fi action-adventure movie it also saw two licensed video games. One was on the Atari 2600, and the other was this cabinet. It’s a twin-stick shooter that is composed of different waves inspired by scenes from the film. You have to find the pieces to your Glave while avoiding boulders one wave. Then you have to recruit an army in another. Then you have to defend and protect your army in another. and so on and so forth. It’s also brutally difficult. But one of those brutally difficult games you keep putting quarters into because it’s just so cool.

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I browsed around the floor a bit looking to see if I could find anything on my list or any surprises. I actually found one vendor with a lot of random games and toys. While I didn’t find any games, I did see some Masters Of The Universe figures in pretty respectable shape. They were all loose, and most of them were incomplete. But they were selling everything ridiculously cheap. I found a Spikor in excellent shape. He was missing his cudgel but the figure itself had little to no paint wear. When I asked how much they wanted for it they said “Six dollars.” I bought it on the spot. I bumped into “Pixel” Dan Eardley and had a short conversation about MOTU and some gaming. PixelDan had missed last year’s show but was glad to be back out for this fifth show.

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I ran into another YouTuber shortly after that, Rewind Mike! He had come to the show scouring the floor not for games, but for albums. I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with him but it was fun checking out a few booths and talking about our lack of luck finding what we were looking for. We also saw my pal TheReNesance! He’s also known as The Gamescape Artist and he is a fantastic painter. He does phenomenal artwork based on iconic scenes from video games past and present. He also does commissions! And he also has a YouTube and Twitch channel where he has footage and live streams of games as well as his work! Be sure to check him out!

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I then hit up PixelDan’s panel. It was an interesting one because he gave us not only a sneak peek of his upcoming Toysplosion episode (a series where he goes over the history of a different toyline each episode.) but he also let everyone in on some details about his upcoming project with Dark Horse Comics! He has helmed a comprehensive guide on all of the past Masters Of The Universe toylines. Masters Of The Universe (1982-1988), Princess Of Power (1985-1987), He-Man (sometimes called New Adventures) (1989-1992), Masters Of The Universe: Commemorative Edition (1999-2001), Masters Of The Universe: Modern Series (often called 200x) (2002-2004), Masters Of The Universe Classics (2008-present) The book won’t include things on upcoming lines or the erroneous merchandise. But it’s being designed to appeal to the casual fan who may remember a few of the toys they owned as children as well as giving hardcore fans a lot of the details they’re looking for. Personally, I can’t wait to check it out because I’ve been waiting for a guide like this for some time. So I hope it does well for Dark Horse and PixelDan. Dark Horse has put out similar books in the past for other properties including Nintendo’s.

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After PixelDan’s panel, I went to the XVGM Radio Panel where Mike Levy and Justin Schneider talked a bit about the differences between the Sega Genesis and Super NES in terms of sound. The Sega Genesis had two chips. Texas Instruments’ SN76489 and a Yamaha YM2612 for backward compatibility with Sega Master System titles. The Super Nintendo Entertainment System had a custom chip; the S-SMP which was made for Nintendo by Sony. The technical differences led to very different sounds. So after going over each sound solution, they compared the same tracks on both consoles, as well as play some of the most notable songs from each. The audience got to vote of course, and the matchups were mostly evenly matched, although there were a few decisive victories too. XVGM Radio is a pretty cool, and informative podcast where they talk about game music and often even get interviews with composers. So definitely check it out.

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I went back down to the main floor after the panel and ran into some other people. Peter Lazarski and Juu Hachi of Imaginary Monsters were at the show. Unlike last year they weren’t there to show off any of their game. They were just there as regular attendees. I saw some of the Cosplay contest with them before looking around the floor some more. There were some upcoming indie games there, however.

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Jumpmen Gaming was back with Sentinel Zero. Except that the game is no longer called Sentinel Zero it’s title has been changed to Cardinal Conclave. It has also changed focus. Instead of being a traditional horizontal Shoot ’em up, it has taken a page from Studio MDHR’s Cuphead by becoming more of a boss rush game. It still utilizes a shmup feel though. You’ll be going over a map much like Cuphead, choosing a stage based on your current level, and going into a boss fight. To be fair, a few of these still have a traditional lead-in where you mow down small enemies before contending with a boss. But for the most part, it’s a boss rush shooter. The game does play much better than the early build from last year and the graphics have been sharpened up nicely. I was informed it has entered Early Access on Steam. Just remember when buying Early Access games you’re buying something that isn’t done. That said, it does look promising.

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There was also an interesting game called Cloak And Dasher by a developer called Spirit Stone Studio. It’s a puzzle-platform game that puts you in the role of a cloaked fellow who can jump and dash. You have to play in these maps that are often a single screen where the object is to escape a maze. Unfortunately for you, there is a smorgasbord of death traps and enemies to contend with. The demo at the show was timed and you had to get through 23 maps before time ran out. You had unlimited lives. And what I saw was honestly quite fun. It has a visual style that is somewhere between Broforce and Super Meat Boy. The comparison is apropos because some of these stages could become pretty difficult. It had elements of several games, Super Meat Boy, Boulder Dash, Mega Man X, and Battle Kid all came to mind as I went through the demo. It too has an Early Access release on Steam.

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Joe Granato was back with NES Maker, and it is now a full-fledged product you can buy. If you didn’t read any of my previous recaps, he has been to a few previous RetroWorldExpo shows with it as it was being made. The utility was made during the progress of an NES game he was making called Mystic Searches. A vintage Action RPG made in the mold of games like The Legend Of Zelda, and Ys. In any event, working in 6502 assembly language and HEX editing was proving exhausting. So he and his team created a GUI mapper program that would let them design their game worlds on their desktop and then the program would convert everything to 6502 (The class of CPU in the NES and a host of other consoles and microcomputers of the 1980s) language. This would vastly speed up the production of their game. But in the process, they found they could also offer the utility they built as a standalone product for budding indie game makers interested in the homebrew scene. NES Maker is that utility. With it, you can make almost anything you want on the NES within reason. Of course, there are limits based on how the team designed the tools. But after only a fairly short time on the market it’s been a success. And there are already a lot of new games being made with it. It even has the ability to flash your games to physical NES Game Paks. So if you’ve ever dreamed of making your own games you can play on an original NES, it might be something you want to look into.

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Another returning studio was Giant Evil Robot who made Mecha-Tokyo Rush. It was an on-rails, auto-scrolling Mega Man clone that took elements of endless runners along for the ride. It seemed like a decent enough game, even with it taking a free-to-play model shortly upon release. However, this new game is a Mega Man clone that could prove to be one of the better ones out there. Star Girl Proxima has none of the endless runner stuff from their previous effort. It also looks a lot nicer, with a much better color palette. The controls in the demo they provided felt somewhere between Mega Man and Mega Man X. It doesn’t have quite the weight of the classic series, but there is a heavier feeling when jumping than in the X series. Your Star Girl can also dash like X, which is good because some of the jumps will require it. That said, it’s still a work in progress and while they said they’re shooting for a 2019 release, the build they showed off still had no proper end to it.

Still, even if it doesn’t make it out this year it is clear it’s already an improvement over their previous game. The demo had several sections where one had to have pixel-perfect timing to get around projectiles as well as one where a giant octopus robot destroyed parts of the scenery as regular enemies attacked you. It was a challenge, yes, but it felt good. About the only complaint, I had with it when asked by the rep was that in the early goings it wasn’t always clear where the backgrounds and foregrounds were. I kept accidentally jumping into pits as a result. They said it was something a few people mentioned so the final product will likely make platforms more obvious. Overall, I was pretty impressed with the demo. Hopefully, it will be indicative of what we can expect from the game at launch.

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As the first day winded down and the main floor closed it was time to get some food. My friends from Imaginary Monsters are also fans of Craft Beer like me. So we ended up going to City Steam Brewery which is a short walk from the Hartford Convention Center. Last year they picked up a new brewmaster who has been making a number of new and sometimes experimental beers. The three of us each ordered a flight, and the one interesting thing we all decided to try was their new sour beer. It’s called Our Princess Is In Another Castle. It’s made with peaches and jalapenos and it’s amazing. When they brought over the flights we could smell the peppers from the glasses. The spiciness from the jalapenos balances with the sweetness of the peaches really well. And while it isn’t a particularly potent beer, it is light, crisp, and delicious. The food there has also been very good. No place is perfect. But I have yet to have a bad experience. I was a little bit disappointed to see their menu has been simplified, but the quality of the meals were as good as ever. I had a Bratwurst to go with my Oktoberfest, Sour, IPA, and Porter flight. Then I ended up getting a pint of Our Princess Is In Another Castle. Peter got the Nachos, and as you can see in the image, he got his money’s worth. I ended up getting a growler of the Sour because it was that impressive. And I’m someone who generally prefers IPAs or Stouts.

After getting food we headed back to the convention center and caught the tail end of the afterparty. There’s about an hour-long lull after the day ends and then they put on an event where you can drink, listen to live music, and more. Falconeer was finishing up a set of Neo New Wave dance tracks. I proceeded to get destroyed by my buddy Aldo at a Street Fighter II arcade cab. (It wasn’t entirely my fault. The buttons were messed up.) while it was going on. And then I competed with Imaginary Monsters for a high score on After Burner. After that, I would see Mike Levy take on Aldo in broken Street Fighter II, and also lose. But it was still fun. Davira from Big Bucks Entertainment had also been running Celebrity Press Your Luck with some of the guests as contestants but unfortunately, I didn’t get back from the brewery in time to catch that.

With that, the first night ended, and I made the hour trek home. I caught some of my pal Sirhcman’s Livestream of Jackbox Party and then went to sleep. The next day, I would return for day two.

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Day two was considerably shorter but it was still packed with some interesting things. FRAG was there this year again, and they organized the various tournaments during the show. There were the fighting game tournaments, and such that you would expect. But there was also a retro game competition where you had to play each of the old school games set up, and they would record your scores. You could replay all you wanted in order to replace your scores with higher ones until the qualifying time was over. The top six would go on to do an entirely new set of challenges with the winner of that tournament round receiving a $100 credit they could use at any of the vendors at the show! It was a pretty cool idea, so I took a stab at it. While I did alright on a couple of the challenges, some of the games on the list I was just terrible at playing. On top of this, they used the NES version of Q*Bert which while not quite as awful as some would have you believe, is still tough to master thanks to the confusing control scheme options in it. Why couldn’t Konami just go with the diamond layout Parker Bros. did on their Atari 2600 port? But I’ve begun to ramble. The game selection honestly, was pretty good. There were scoring and speed run challenges on games like Mappy, Super Hang-On, Warioware, Spelunker, Super Mario 64, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater II, and several others. Of course, what drew me into the whole thing was spying an Atari 2600 running Kaboom! I managed to get a respectable 1,255 points in the game. And while that may sound low believe me when I say that most people have a tough time getting more than 300 points. Kaboom! is quite the challenge.

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Anyway, I obviously didn’t even qualify to make the top six player bracket. But I did have fun making the attempt even if it proved feeble. But at this point, I realized I was running late to check out any of the panels. So I managed to get into Pam D’s panel. She does a YouTube show  Cannot Be Tamed. She was showing off some footage for an upcoming video that I won’t spoil here, followed by some Q & A. Some of the discussions were about giving games a second chance, finding comparable features between two very different games made by the same company, and the perception some have about video games being for males despite the fact that women and girls have been gaming since video games have existed. Definitely an insightful, and engaging panel.

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I managed to catch the last couple of minutes of Joe Granato’s panel. He was going over some of the details of NES Maker I talked about earlier. One interesting thing that came up was when someone asked about the most difficult part of making things for the NES. He talked about how the NES’ limited RAM meant that he had to code a Bank Switching routine so that information or content could be swapped into memory at just the right time. Otherwise, things would exceed the memory limits and crash. He talked about how despite the limitations of the utility, people have already done things with it he didn’t think would be possible. Graphical effects like Parallax Scrolling was one example. Another was a complete text adventure.

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After his panel ended, Mike Stulir VP of the American Classic Arcade Museum had a panel going over the history of the ACAM and an overview of what they do. A labor of love, it’s a non-profit that tries to salvage, save, and even restore vintage arcade games so that future generations can experience the history of the arcade business. One of the more fascinating aspects of this is how involved restoring some of these machines can be. He talked about how they received an incredibly rare Death Race 2000 machine. It was produced by Exidy and was one of the first games that ignited the video game violence controversy. Inspired by the Death Race movie, the internal name was called Pedestrian, and the goal of the game was to score points by running over people with your car. Even though games of the time had graphics composed of simple shapes the concept started an uproar and the game would fade into obscurity.

Unfortunately, the cabinet they received had come from a basement that had flooded and it wasn’t up on a pallet when it did. So the particleboard Exidy used had rotted, and parts of the cabinet were falling off. Moreover, the side panel was even split in half so the structural integrity was unsalvageable. But the game’s motherboard, chips, and every piece of electronics were fine. So they were able to create a template from the cabinet parts, and reproduce a proper cabinet out of plywood. But the other problem was the screen printing on the old plywood wasn’t something easily created. They had to send the old plywood to a company in Florida who would scan it into their software and then ship them new decals. They also had to fly in a specialist from the Pacific Northwest to properly apply them.

Of course, all of this stuff costs money, and being a non-profit run by volunteers they depend on donations to keep the venture going. If that sounds like something you can afford to contribute to you can go right to their website to find out how. I got to ask Mr. Stulir about how restoration may affect the value of these machines as in other collectibles and antique markets things will plummet when there aren’t all original parts there. He said that they don’t like having to restore cabinets in the manner they saved their Death Race machine. But in cases like that one, they have to decide if keeping a machine playable is more beneficial than retaining every last original part. Usually, they prefer to find new old stock or take good parts from another otherwise unsalvagable machine to fix a broken machine with. With Death Race having so few still remaining, keeping the machine alive was a better fit so that visitors can still experience the game.

But that was just the introduction. The rest of the panel was devoted to the life of Ralph Baer. Most people know he was the inventor of the Magnavox Odyssey and that pretty much everything we love about video games can be traced back to his work. But did you know his family barely escaped Germany in the lead up to World War II, emigrated to the USA, and that he’d be drafted to fight in the war effort? He thought of a lot of ideas that wouldn’t be realized until decades later by others. Like the ability to use a modem to buy things off of an infomercial or remote classes where a viewer could interact with a teacher’s lesson from home. And of course, before the Odyssey became a reality his Brown Box would lay the groundwork in 1968.

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The last panel was the Connecticut YouTuber Panel. So Mike Levy (DYHPTG), Russ Lyman, Culture Dog, and Paul of Retro Gaming Arts returned from last year. New this year were Dan and Nick of The Best Spuds. As well as Geeky Panda who I met on the floor last year. And Steven Christina Jr. of Super Retro Throwback was also featured! He interviewed me at last year’s show. Each of the guests briefly went over their channels and played their respective trailers. They also took a moment to talk about RAX The Great’s channel. He was originally slated to return to RetroWorldExpo this year but had gotten a bad head cold and was unable to attend. All of the panelists talked about their various setups involved in making their content. They also reminded the audience that like any creative endeavor, go into making internet videos out of passion. None of the panelists made much money doing YouTube if any. There were some humorous moments in the panel too with some slight references to each other’s respective shows.

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With the final panel over with it was time to leave the Hartford Convention Center and make the hour-long trek home. The show is becoming one of my favorite things to look forward to every year. I get to see people I don’t get to be around very often due to life, and work schedules. I get to geek out with fellow video game fans, and in a way, it feels like you’re going home.  And there’s a ton of stuff I didn’t even get to take part in because it’s impossible to see everything. There were the tournaments, there were a few guests I didn’t get the chance to see or see again. Game Dave was there, Adam and Shane of Rerez were there, Jay Hunter of the Game Chasers came back, Stop Skeletons From Fighting was there, there were bands like RF Switch playing sets.  I’m missing a bunch more, there is just so much going on. And it all feels very community-driven where some of the larger shows are more about seeing new games or media six to twelve months before it comes out.  I could complain about not finding much to buy, but honestly, that’s more on me for having found much of what I wanted anyway. And between the final two panels I attended I did end up going back to the vendor, I found Spikor from and it turned out he had a Fisto with the armor and sword included for $15. So two MOTU figures in great shape are still pretty good. Here’s hoping a sixth RetroWorldExpo continues the tradition.

 

ConnectiCon 2017 Recap

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Have you missed me? Well, I’m back after a packed three-day weekend. It was this year’s ConnectiCon, one of the higher profile conventions in my neck of the woods. For those who don’t know, it’s a three-day convention that aspires to be as varied as possible. The show makes an attempt to have representation from comics, anime’, film, television, books, online personalities, and gaming.

Last year’s show was a tough act to follow, as it had many more recognizable names to the casual observer. But there were plenty of good, and even great things for visitors to look forward to this year. Operationally, I can only speak as a paying visitor, but I saw improvements in terms of managing lines, addressing concerns, and trying to make things a bit easier to navigate. Getting my weekend pass was pretty seamless. The pre-registration line was easier to find. Wait times went down, and it looked like even though paying at the door was more complicated, I didn’t really see any outbursts from customers about it.

 

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Line management to get into panels was easier to follow. There were a couple of panels that probably should have been scheduled in bigger rooms though, as a number of the guests they had, were pretty big draws. If you didn’t find out about some of them early enough, you weren’t getting in. Among them being Sylvester McCoy (Dr. Who), Jeremy Shada (Adventure Time), Courtenay Taylor (Regular Show), the cast of The Nostalgia Critic, Andre Meadows (Black Nerd Comedy), and Team Four Star (Dragon Ball Z Abridged). That being said, there were still plenty of great panels in addition to these, hosted by some talent some may not have been aware of.

Friday

My first day went pretty swimmingly. After waiting in a long, but quick-moving line, I had my badge, and began walking the floor. I started out with the Opening Ceremony panel, where there were a few segments covering the general behavioral rules, reminders to stay hydrated in the heat, and a fun game of Mad Libs. They also introduced Bruce Nesmith of Bethesda, who was doing a game industry panel. Unfortunately it was one of many panels I didn’t get into. I also missed the Andre Meadows panel that day due to panel overlap.  As I mentioned earlier, while there may not have been as many big names this year, there were still a ton of great panels. I managed to get into the Art The Hypnotist panel this year. It was a very interesting one. Hypnotism isn’t something I’m very knowledgeable about. Up until this panel, I’d only had a bare-bones, stereotypical movie understanding of what exactly it entails. I’m not a sudden expert on it now either. But I did get a bit of entertainment, and education out of it.

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Art started out by explaining the process. Everyone would be tired out, and put into a sleepy state through a combination of soft music, and meditation. Then he would go around the room, find people who were in a deeper sleep state, and ask them if they were comfortable going on stage. Eventually, when there were enough volunteers the show began. Over the course of a couple of hours, Art would demonstrate that he could make them think they didn’t know the number 9, which perplexed the volunteers. There was also a point in which three volunteers were asked to go on stage in front of the hypnotized, and the subjects were made more or less attractive using the words Iced Tea, and Beer.  There were a bunch of other tricks too. But the great thing here, is that by the end all of the volunteers would remember everything, and everyone in the room was in on it. So it was funny, and exciting. But it also didn’t leave anybody feeling embarrassed or mortified. If he ever does a show near you, check it out. It’s something different from the norm. At least it was for me. My buddy Dan from The Best Spuds was also there, and he loved every minute of it.

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I spent a good amount of time after that panel checking out the gaming section, and this was greatly expanded this year. Not only were there even more arcade games than last year, they even added some pinball machines to the mix. So I spent a few times over the weekend playing the Simpson’s Pinball Party Machine, Double Dragon, and Street Fighter II. They also had a pretty cool Gundam themed fighting game I’d never seen before. So that was pretty awesome. Of course I was surprised, and overjoyed to see one of the many PS4’s they had set up was running Rogue Stormers. If you still haven’t played this one yet, you really should.

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This year the convention also coincided with Hartford Riverfest  So the Best Spuds, and I checked out some of the food trucks in attendance. We found one called Chompers, that served bacon cheeseburgers, and chicken parmesan in deep-fried ball form. They’re deceptive in that the size of them makes you think one order isn’t going to be enough. One order really is. But I’m still glad I bought one of each kind. They were awesome.

Saturday

On Saturday, I managed to get into a couple of panels. The first being the Nostalgia Critic Q&A panel. Doug Walker has said that ConnectiCon is one of his favorite conventions to attend, and so this year he returned along with his Father Barney, Brother Rob, Tamara Chambers, Jim Jarosz, and Malcom Ray. But there was also a surprise appearance from Andre Meadows who would arrive before Malcom arrived, as Malcom was feeling a little under the weather. As in previous years, fans got to ask questions to the cast about the show, which is in its tenth year. As well as any other questions. There were some you’d expect, and some you wouldn’t. But the best part of the panel was when a nervous child was reassured by a kind Doug who traded places with him. The kid sat at the desk with the other Channel Awesome players, and Doug would sit in the audience while the kid asked everyone his question. Which escapes me as of this writing. But it was a kind moment.

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One fan asked the group what their favorite guilty pleasures were, which elicited a number of answers. The first Transformers movie. Moulin Rouge. Watching a child do better at running a panel than Doug Walker. (That was Rob Walker’s answer.) But through it all, the panelists were very kind, and appreciative of the fandom.

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After the Nostalgia Critic panel I found a short panel on Hip Hop music. Basically, it was a short history of the genre, and some of its subgenres. But later in the panel it covered some newer subgenres like Nerdcore, as well as some of the experimentation going on in some of the more obscure circles of Hip Hop. Overall it was pretty decent for anybody looking to get more into the genre. Later on I would get into a content creation panel hosted by Mark “Cornshaq” Davis the 3rd. Which was a very insightful look at getting a foothold in making YouTube video content. But the really great takeaway from it, was just how much of the knowledge presented is applicable to most any creative endeavor. How to interact with readers/viewers/etc. properly. How to get the word out, and advertise without coming off as desperate. Digging deep, and having the courage to try new things. Differentiating between genuine criticism, and those who just want to be jerks. Listening to genuine criticism. Differentiation. Links to other resources. The importance of branding. How seemingly small, unimportant details can actually be a great assistance at times. As well as practices to avoid! Obviously, for the purposes of a recap, I can’t go into great length here, but there was a lot of useful information. If you like game content in video form, check out his channel too. It’s pretty good stuff, and he often mentions things you may not be aware of.

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After the panel, I got a chance to talk a bit more with Cornshaq, and the guys over at Nerdfit Network. We just had fun talking conventions, pro wrestling, and craft beer for a while. I had a really fun time talking about the events leading into WWE’s Great Balls Of Fire Pay-Per-View. Like the sometimes hilarious over-the-top levels of violence between Roman Reigns, and Braun Strowman. Like when Braun tipped an ambulance over with Roman inside. All of whom were very kind, and friendly.  If you haven’t seen any of their material, give them a shot. They were a really swell group of people.

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Speaking of swell people, when I was in the dealer area, I met some of the creators from Darby Pop. They were very cool people, and they have some interesting spins on traditional comic book themes. Writer Jeff Kline was even kind enough to sign the Indestructible trade I picked up at their booth. It’s a really cool premise, about a man who is mistakenly identified as a super hero, and is suddenly thrown into a world of celebrity. All the while wondering how he is going to last before everybody learns the truth. I haven’t gotten that far into it yet, but so far I really like what I’ve read. The artwork is pretty slick too. You can find their stuff online if it sounds like something you’d be interested in checking out for yourself.

 

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Every year that I make it out to ConnectiCon I look forward to meeting up with friends at the City Steam Brewery. They make some of my favorite beer, so when their old Brewmaster retired, his successor had a tall order to fill. Well since then, the current Brewmaster has made a bunch of new recipes. On top of that, the food in their restaurant is as awesome as ever. I tried their new IPAs, Jungle Crush, and Woo! (Which immediately made me remember The Nature Boy Ric Flair.). Both of which were excellent, though the fruity, citrus notes in Woo!, make for one of the best new things I’ve tried recently. I can only hope they start bottling, canning it, and getting distributors to pick it up. It is really good. Also really good was the Macaroni & Cheese Cheeseburger.

Sunday

Sunday was surprising because it was a much shorter day than previous years. For all intents, and purposes the day was over by 3pm even though the Convention Center was open until 6pm. But that being said, I did get some panels squeezed in. The biggest being the Team Four Star all-ages panel. These guys are hilarious online, but even funnier in person. I was unable to get into their 18+ panel the prior Friday,  but this panel was still really good. It was another Question, and Answer format. But there were a lot of varied questions this time around. Not only about their work on the long running Dragon Ball Z Abridged series, but about what is coming next. As the DBZ material begins to run dry, the group is looking to branch out into more original series. They didn’t give much in the way of details. But after getting to ask them if they had considered doing mash-ups or skits like Nicolas Cage as Robocop, Anthony Sardinha immediately did a spot on impersonation. Scott Frerichs also stated they’re steering away from doing much with Dragon Ball Super, as the show is newer, and involves a lot more red tape. Throughout the panel there were many jokes, character voice gags, and friendly banter. A lot of fun.

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After that panel, I made it into Jay Little’s panel on making gaming more accessible. Which was pretty insightful. He’s been designing both video games, and table top board games for over 20 years, as well as teaching design in Wisconsin. The experience came through in the panel.The presentation went over how creators could make steps toward making design decisions that would make things more palatable to those with a disability. Or taking balance into consideration to make things deep enough for die-hard fans, but not so difficult to turn off any potential new players. As well as making games more appealing to players of all stripes, and backgrounds. There were also some figures about how much more a game’s development costs rise when a team decides to add these features further along in development, rather than including them in the planning stages. For anybody who follows the creative or business end of video games, it was a really good panel. If he’s slated to give one of these panels at a convention in your area, you should check it out.

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My day closed out with a cool panel about creating pixel art. It was hosted by the same person who gave a tutorial on creating levels for the original DOOM at last year’s ConnectiCon. It was an interesting look at the medium, and the creative benefits of limited color palettes in retro games. Be they the JRPGs that graced the NES, the deep adventures that awaited on the Super NES, and Sega Genesis. Or even the vintage computers like the Commodore 64, or Atari ST. There were even some examples of creating sprite sheets for animation, and layering.

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After the final panel, I took a final run through the dealer’s area, and gaming area. I didn’t get into as many panels as I would have liked this year. But while there weren’t as many celebrities this year, there were still a lot of excellent guests. Steve Lavigne was there. He did a lot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stuff for Mirage, and Playmates. He still does. Guy GilChrist was there. He’s done a ton of work for Jim Henson. I didn’t get to meet either of them either. But the point being, there were still a lot of interesting people. Even if meeting creators or celebrities wasn’t your thing, there were other things to do. the RKO Army Shadowcast show came back again. The Cosplay Death match was back, and if you were over 21 you could buy beer while watching it.  The annual AMV contest, and masquerade were back too. And if all else failed, there were the karaoke, and expanded gaming areas to take part in.

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Still, there were a number of workshops, and panels from previous years that didn’t return this year. So for some attendees things might not have been as exciting as in previous years. Hopefully next year retains the pluses of this year’s event, and brings back more of the stuff that this year didn’t seem to have. I was also perplexed that the program book for this year didn’t list any of the panel descriptions or schedules. The book just directed readers to look at the times on their computers, tablets, and phones. The thing is, this isn’t always as convenient as a book, and not everyone has a modern smart phone. Those with a prepaid phone, or without a phone at all, basically had to walk to every room in the building to see what panels were going on. Some of the panel titles weren’t listed on Friday too. Which meant that if you didn’t have your phone, or if it was out of battery power, you couldn’t see what panel was happening.  It was the one big grievance I had with the show this year. Even if it hadn’t affected me, it still would have affected some.  That said, I still had a fun three-day break from every day life. So overall I can’t complain too much. 2017 wasn’t as good as 2016. But it was still worth the annual commute to Hartford.

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.