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ConnectiCon 2018 Recap

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Another summer has come, and with it another ConnectiCon. I generally look forward to attending every year. There’s almost always something to look forward to. A certain guest, or a certain panel. There are workshops, contests, and a lot of other things going on. Even if none of that appeals to you any given year, there are still plenty of people to meet, video games to play, and board games to play. You can also bet on a lot of vendors showing up, and chances are you’ll end up going home with something.

Unfortunately this year, my work schedule, and health issues kept me from being able to attend the entire duration of the show this year. The convention really runs three days, although if you count the ability to pick up your badge a day early you can technically say four. But in any case, I usually go for the whole weekend, and try to get into as many panels as possible. This year I could only attend Saturday, but I still tried to get in as much as I could into the day.

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When you attend the show, there are three lines upon arrival. One for weekend guests to get a discounted parking pass, a second for those who pre-ordered their tickets, and a third for those who did not. This was the first year I would be in the third line, but aside from a long wait time (a lot of other people were apparently last-minute) it really wasn’t that bad. Things moved along pretty smoothly in general, and while I was waiting I chatted up a few of the others in line. This is one of the things about the show I like, and that is for the most part everyone gets along. There are exceptions of course, but most of the time people get along. So often people forget just how much hobbies can bring people together. You might not see eye to eye on any given topic, but you can both agree that F-Zero GX is pretty cool.

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One of the cosplayers in line was a kind gentleman whose selection would impress one of my fellow bloggers. He did a terrific job on short notice making a Red Mage costume inspired by the class from the original Final Fantasy. This is also where I have to inform you of some bad news. Like an idiot I had left my memory card at home, so I was forced to take pictures with my sub par cell phone. So unfortunately most of these will be fairly small. Still, I wanted to make sure I had *something* to represent the weekend.

I also have to give a major thanks to the Best Spuds, and a congratulation to them for cracking a major milestone on YouTube. They hung out with me a lot of the day, and were kind enough to check on me as they know I’m not at one-hundred percent. If you haven’t gotten around to watching their stuff on YouTube you really ought to. They blend traditional Let’s Play conventions with sight gags, and comedy in their own way. Some of the bigger names on the platform have even challenged them to take on some difficult games. Some of them because they’re genuinely good, but challenging titles. Others because they’re broken, and notorious for being almost impossible. But in either case the results are entertaining. One small anecdote from that morning happened on my way down a hall. One of the ConnectiCon staff members saw my CGR 2085 shirt, and shouted “TRUXTON!”. So we spent a few moments talking about Mark Bussler’s show, and some of the other regional cons the staff member worked on. He got to see Machinae Supremacy play at MAGFest one year, which sounded like quite the experience. If you haven’t heard them, check out some of their stuff on YouTube sometime. They’re great.

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Speaking of YouTube, I was able to get into one panel that morning.  Helmed by Random Encounters, the panel centered around ways to improve your content, and drive. Rob Walker, and Doug Walker of Nostalgia Critic fame joined in shortly thereafter. Random Encounters is a channel that does their own musicals based upon video game characters, and storylines. It was a pretty good panel overall. Some of the things they brought up in the panel could be applied to other creative endeavors as well.  Things like making content first, and foremost because it’s something one is passionate about doing. If one tries entering the arena as a get rich quick scheme, it probably isn’t going to happen. The odds of posting one video, and having it become a phenomenon is similar to the odds of winning the lottery. All of the panelists also drove home the point of consistency on YouTube, constantly giving potential fans something new. But the team of Random Encounters also reminded the audience that if one project does well it doesn’t guarantee that every project will. There will be ups, and downs for every creator of every size.

Throughout the Q&A there were plenty of good discussions, and anecdotes. There was a point where the idea of diversification came up. With all of the rules YouTube changes frequently, there are no guarantees things will always be good or bad. Some YouTube names like Classic Game Room have moved their shows to other platforms like Amazon Prime in addition to or in lieu of YouTube with better success. But even names that have better success on YouTube have followed that show’s lead by offering other merchandise to help fund their projects. As well as services like Patreon that allow fans to directly contribute to the projects if they wish.

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All of the panelists also were asked about how they were able to get some of their guests, and collaborators to do crossovers. Many of these came down to already having a project ready to go to present to them, and simply asking without expecting to get a “Yes.” for an answer. When they did, they were grateful for it, but acknowledged there were far many more times when that answer was a respectful “No.”.

There were even some moments with fan interactions, like the M.Bison cosplayer who projected a very good impression of the late Raul Julia’s classic performance of the character. He had a back, and forth with Doug Walker who had reviewed the Street Fighter Movie as The Nostalgia Critic years ago. Everyone on the panel really adored one cosplayer’s Butterfree Pokémon costume with working wings. One of the Random Encounters team liked my Atari trucker cap. So that was nice.

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Nintendo Of America was also at ConnectiCon. Not for a panel, but to let people check out their Mario Tennis Aces, and Labo products. They also gave out a TON of cool swag. I got my nieces a few free posters, and Splatoon 2 plastic cups. I spent some time on Mario Tennis Aces, and while one or two matches aren’t enough to really give it a full on review, it was a pretty fun time. It has a large roster of Super Mario Bros. characters to choose from, and the mechanics seem to be about on point for a Mario sports game. There seemed to be an emphasis on not just hitting the ball, but on the timing, and using the traps within the environment to ones’ advantage. It certainly won’t interest everyone, but it did seem like an enjoyable enough game for the most part.

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The one panel I wanted to get into was the Voice Actor Cards Against Humanity panel. Unfortunately when I went to double-check the time for it, it was crossed off, so it appeared to have been cancelled. There were a number of high-profile voice actors who came out to this year’s show including Steve Blum (Cowboy Bebop) who I was really excited to see. I didn’t get a chance to meet him, though I did catch a glimpse of him through the massive crowd of fans around his booth. Hopefully, he’ll return another year. Jon St. John was back this year, and I was told also had another fantastic panel this year on Friday.  Some of the other big names were Ron Rubin (X-Men), Cal Dodd (Wolverine), Katie Griffin (Sailor Moon), Susan Roman (Sailor Moon), Nolan North (Nathan Drake in Uncharted), Troy Baker (Joel in The Last Of Us) among others. It was a great year for those who wanted to meet actors who have done work in anime, and games.

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Speaking of games, the gaming area was greatly expanded over last year’s show. This year they even had an F-Zero AX cabinet! For those who don’t know, back in 2003 when F-Zero GX came out on the Nintendo Gamecube, Sega also made an arcade version called F-Zero AX. They’re the same game on paper. You won’t see much of a difference in graphics quality, or sound. However, the arcade cabinet had many racers, and tracks that were playable fairly quickly, that were almost impossible to unlock on the Gamecube version for many people. Why? Because doing so required top honors in its courses, and missions on the highest difficulty settings. However, if you brought your Gamecube memory card, with an F-Zero GX file on it to the arcade cab, these would unlock when you came back home to play the home version. The thing is, this was at a time when arcades were dwindling in North America. So for many people, seeing one of these cabs was all but impossible. This was compounded when only a proverbial handful of these cabs made it to North America anyway.

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So imagine the joy I felt upon seeing one in person! They also had a Mortal Kombat II machine, several Street Fighter games, a vast selection of rhythm games, and a classic Centipede machine. Unfortunately for me the Centipede machine wouldn’t save scores, so when I toppled the high score, I had to take a snapshot for proof. The dealer section was also much bigger this year. There weren’t a ton of video game vendors, though I managed to spot three of them. One was a massive vendor of Japanese imports. I found them a bit high, even for a convention but it was cool seeing never opened, Japanese region Super Famicoms, Sega Dreamcasts, Nintendo 64’s alongside a plethora of Japanese exclusives, and other cool stuff.

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The second vendor only had a smattering of NES, and PS1 games amongst the large selection of soundtrack albums. I was tempted to pick up a few of these OSTs, but ultimately didn’t. I probably should have picked up the lone Rockman boxed set I saw there but it is what it is. The third vendor was Retro Games Plus who had a booth for the upcoming RetroWorldExpo. But they also had a selection of games on hand to sell. I found a game I hadn’t seen before, but looked interesting called Weaponlord for the Super NES. It hadn’t been marked, but it was in great shape so I asked about the price. So after looking it up, the rep told me it would be $15. So I picked it up.

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After browsing the floor with friends, we headed out to get lunch. Again the show coincided with Hartford’s Riverfest. An event where the city brings many food trucks, and some live entertainment along the Connecticut River. It culminates at night with a fireworks celebration. (More on that later.) This year the Chompers truck from last year was back. So I tried their new taco variation of their food balls. They were really good. Not too spicy, they did in fact, taste like tacos inside of a breaded meatball. They also had a sour cream, and mild salsa dip for them. We spent some time checking out the area before heading back. We walked the floor getting a few photos in, before going to the dealer room one last run. While there I found a heavily discounted copy of The Art Of Atari Poster Collection book. It’s fantastic, compiling most of the Atari 2600 box art covered in Tim Lapetino’s book The Art Of Atari. But here, all of the paintings that graced these covers, are presented without any text on them. The original artwork on pages that can be removed, framed, and hung on the wall in poster form. At less than half of the MSRP I couldn’t say “No.”.

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Shortly after that we went to Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ for dinner. If you’re in Hartford, and you’re in the mood for grilled meats, this is a great place. I had their Mac Attack with Brisket. It was awesome. Macaroni, and Cheese topped with Brisket, and they had a sweet, and tangy sauce seared in. It also wasn’t that much more expensive than going to a traditional diner, and the service was great. We headed back to the Convention Center, and that’s when a bit of commotion happened. The Riverfest fireworks where going off, when we saw crowd come running from the Convention Center, and police coming speeding in to investigate. We would later find out that there was an altercation between two attendees, and someone hearing the fireworks though a gun had discharged. So people panicked. According to the Hartford Courant though, Oddly enough while this was going on, further away, someone did in fact shoot a stolen gun at absolutely nothing, and was promptly arrested.

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This is the only time in any of the years I’ve attended the show that anything like this has ever happened. But in spite of the hysteria, the police did do a good job of getting to the bottom of it quickly. Shortly after we got back inside the convention put out an alert that things were safe again. The entire thing was over with fairly quickly. Thankfully nobody was hurt in any of it. After that short fit of panic we went to the bar in the Marriott connected to the Convention Center, and winded down with a drink.

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All in all, I had a great time. Save for a short-lived scare I didn’t really have much to complain about here. ConnectiCon is a great show to visit. Again, it’s one of the larger conventions that focuses on the community aspect of fandoms. That being said, I would have liked to have been able to attend the whole weekend this year. I could have made some more of the panels. I also really would have liked to have seen Steve Blum, and Jon St. John play that card game. But perhaps they’ll return next year. Even though I could only experience the one day this time around, I still had a mostly terrific experience. Here’s hoping next year’s show will be even better, I’ll be able to experience all three days, and I won’t forget crucial equipment.

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Retro World Expo 2016 Recap

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Last year’s inaugural Retro World Expo was a rousing success. It gave fans in New England a chance to meet YouTube celebrities, gorge on classic gaming, and mingle with thousands of fans. Not to mention the droves of exhibitors who showed up to sell their products. It was a great time last year.

Well, that success translated into an even better convention this year. This time the event took the course of a weekend, rather than one single day. Again, there were some great guests. Returning from last year, were  many of Retroware’s finest. Creators Lance Cortez, and John Delia were back, along with”Pixel” Dan Eardley, The Gaming Historian (Norman Caruso), and The Game Chasers. But joining them were Pat “The NES Punk” Conti,  the creators of Stop Skeletons From Fighting, and Mortal Kombat’s own Daniel Pesina.  Josh Tsui also made an appearance. He was one of Midway’s Mortal Kombat 4 designers. These days he heads up Robomodo, a small developer known for mobile. But they’ve also done some of the later Tony Hawk games.

But there were even more guests! Nick Mueeler, and Ste Kulou were there. They began HD Retrovision, a company known for component cables for old systems. They returned this year with Robert Neal of RetroRGB fame. They were there educating fans on signal types, cable types, the differences between them, and performance.

Wood Hawker was back again too. You may know him from his show The Game Quest where he travels the world hunting for games. He’s even done a number of crossovers with some of the biggest names on YouTube.

Antoine Clerc Renaud also made an appearance this year. He wrote much of the Complete History of Coleco, a book about the company behind the Colecovision. As well as the Adam, and several memorable toy lines.

Eric Lappe of The Video Game Years fame was also there, as well as cover sensation Banjo Guy Ollie! Rounding things out were RF Generation who have a database archive site where you can pull up information about games for a vast variety of platforms. They also do a solid podcast.

Beyond the guests were a host of bands who played shows throughout the two days in the arcade area. Epic Game Music was the most popular, but Lame Genie, The World Is Square, and You Bred Raptors were also heard during the convention. All of the bands absolutely crushed it, gracing the arcade with driving blends of hard rock, and (in the case of TWIS) folk. On the main show floor, Radlib was playing throughout both days.

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The arcade was bursting with classics this year. Centipede, Missile Command, Asteroids Deluxe, Crystal Castles, and The Star Wars Arcade game were on hand representing classic Atari. Representing Nintendo’s arcade heyday were Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., and Popeye. Sega classics were there too. Turbo Outrun, After Burner, Thunder Blade, and Shinobi. There were a lot more games on hand beyond even those! Taito’s Jungle King/Hunt. Konami’s Gyruss, and Frogger. Capcom’s Final Fight, Street Fighter II CE, Street Fighter Alpha 3, Knights Of The Round, and Ghouls N’ Ghosts. Still need more? On the Midway/Williams front NARC, Mortal Kombat II, Mortal Kombat III, and Mortal Kombat IV could be seen. Namco’s Ms. Pac-Man was also on free play.

The arcade also had a pretty decent selection of Pinball machines. I couldn’t get them all listed, but the Nightmare On Elm Street machine was especially fun to play. Even though I’m terrible at pinball, I had fun failing miserably. Thanks in part to the great sound effects, challenging design, and fantastic aesthetic.

The console game room also returned, though this time it was given a different area, rather than share the floor space of the arcade with the cabinets. Again, there were a lot of great classic systems set up. Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis,  Atari Jaguar, and other old systems were prevalent. Although I didn’t see as many pre NES game consoles this year. A little disappointing for old timers like me, but the plethora of vintage arcade machines more than made up for it.

The console area also had a lot of tournaments run by Game Haven, which is this really cool LAN center in Norwalk, CT. They let you go in with friends, and rent time on computers, and consoles for tournaments, practice, or just to play for fun with friends in a local environment. So having them run the tournament ladders seemed like a good fit. There were tournaments for NHL ’94, and NBA Jam on the Genesis. A Mortal Kombat II tournament, and Super Street Fighter II tournament on the Super NES. For the competitive wrestling fan, there was also a WWF No Mercy tournament on the Nintendo 64. There was even a bonus challenge centered around the infamous E.T. The Extra Terrestrial for the Atari 2600.

Plus on top of all of these, was a Super Smash Bros. 4 tournament, which drew quite the following at the show. This one was hosted by Legacy Tournaments which specializes in regional Smash Tournaments.

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Of course there were also countless returning vendors. But among them were a couple of indie developers showing off some of their upcoming games. The first of these was a company called Giant Evil Robot. They were showing off a game called Mecha-Tokyo Rush. The version at the show was a nearly final version in a demo mode. Mecha-Tokyo Rush is an endless runner. But to set it apart from the plethora of other endless runners on the market, it implements elements of the Mega Man games. So you’ll be able to select stages, earn items from boss fights, and blast robots. But, being an endless runner you never bother with moving. The game just moves along, and you time your jumps accordingly. But you’ll do so while shooting . Visually, the version at the show didn’t look half bad. It had a decent 16-bit look to it. The full game will let players choose different characters, and items. The keys on the demo laptop weren’t ideal so I asked the representative if it would allow players to use a game pad, and I was told they may add functionality down the line. At launch it won’t. The game will be a F2P game with things you can unlock with game credit. I wasn’t given any specifics about it. The game does look a cut above some other F2P stuff you may have tried, so hopefully the final game turns out well.

The other developer booth was interesting because it was both about a documentary, and an upcoming game. The New 8-Bit Heroes is the documentary. It follows the designer of a new game called Mystic Searches, and the progress of developing the game. That designer’s name is Joe Granato. He found old design documents he made as a kid, and decided to make his childhood dream game. But here’s where things get really engrossing. The game was made to run on an NES. The NES like a lot of platforms in the 1980’s ran on a MOS 6502 processor, or variant. The Atari 2600, NES, Commodore 64, and many other platforms used it. Back then, most programs were written in assembly language, and translated into machine language. Which meant they had to be written in a language like PASCAL  or a complicated Hex system, and pretty much everything had to be coded in. Even the graphics, and sound.

These days, most games run on an engine. Many games share one. Unreal Engine, Unity, and others are used by countless games, which lessens some of the workload as an engine does a lot of background work freeing up programmers, artists, etc. to focus on other things. That’s probably an oversimplification on my part, but the point is, this makes things easier.

Anyway, during the course of making Mystic Searches, the designers quickly realized how long writing a game in  6502 assembly language was going to take. So they wrote their own Graphic User Interfaces for things. Things like placing graphics tiles. Things like attributing properties to objects. Eventually, they had enough GUIs made that they essentially built their own game engine!

So they’re going to be launching a Kickstarter for the engine. Not only will it let end users build a game with the included assets, but advanced users can import their own sprites, music, and content. It’s simple enough that an average person can make something on their own. But deep enough that aspiring developers can make something very involved. The hope is that the final revision will let people do different genres. RPGs, Shmups, Platformers, and more. But the most exciting part of all of this is that the program will allow end users to flash their games to an actual NES Game Pak!

They had a working prototype set up at the convention so that show goers could check it out for themselves. After trying it out, I was very impressed with what I was shown. I grew up typing game programs out of magazines in BASIC, or into Hex address compilers. Suffice it to say, I was pretty terrible at it. Even though technically all of the work (aside from hours typing it in) was already done for the reader.Plus playing a game, is more fun than typing in a game. But here, the tools, while still requiring a bit of learning, and experimenting, were still understandable. You don’t need to know how to code anything in order to use it. It reminded me a lot of using map editors for the original DOOM. Or games like the Shoot ’em up Construction Kit.

I asked a few questions during my time with it, and got a few details in the answers. I asked if there were any plans to have a business level license for other developers, and was told there really wouldn’t be. Anyone can pretty much buy the utility, and do what they want. The license does say however, that anyone who wants to sell a game they make with the utility cannot use any of the utility’s assets. Meaning they have to draw all their own sprites, background art, etc., as well as write their own music. The reason being that the utility was used to make Mystic Searches, and as such the assets are intrinsically tied to that IP.

But they want as many developers, and hobbyists as possible to use the product. So they aren’t looking to have the typical Business, and Consumer licenses many other software utilities do.

I asked if there was a way to import one’s own content, or even piggyback their own code onto the utility, and was told one can definitely do it. They really want the product to be as open as possible while keeping things simplified for beginners.

Another person asked about pricing. Nothing is set in stone, so they didn’t have a finalized price at the time of the show, but they were shooting for a sub $100 mark. This would give the customer the hardware to make their NES Game Pak when they were ready. They also said they may have one SKU for just the software utility, and a separate one for the hardware. They added, that there would be a list of suppliers for the hardware so that if one doesn’t want to buy it all from the developer, they can get the hardware elsewhere if they wanted to. Mystic Searches is shooting for a holiday release, while the utility release isn’t as concrete.

I asked about any plans for retailers, and was told they were discussing ways to possibly have a program with small businesses to print future games on demand. This could take some risk away as a small store wouldn’t have to buy a case of copies of Mystic Searches or future titles. Instead the store could print as few or as many as they needed. This would be an entirely different venture than the utility they were showing off however.

If the final products turn out as well as what I saw during the show, the homebrew community is going to be very pleased. Mystic Searches is looking to be a really good send up of games like The Legend Of Zelda, Ys I+II, and Crystalis. It’s also coming out in three different Game Pak casings. A standard gray color for $40. A black color with custom artwork by Morgan Davidson will set you back $64. Finally, there’s the limited edition wood grain version, which brings a hint of Atari 2600 heavy sixer to the Nintendo Entertainment System. This one is an expensive $128 as it is hand carved. Aside from the special cartridges it seems about in line with what most other homebrew games cost.

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There were a lot of panels this year, and I managed to get into three of them. The first of which was The Gaming Historian panel with Norman Caruso. This year, he did a live entry into The Gaming Historian series where he talked about the making of the infamous Super Mario Bros. movie. He went over many things that happened behind the scenes. Tension between the cast, and the directors. The constant rewrites to the script, some of which even happened during filming, and of course Nintendo’s involvement in the film.

After the history lesson, Norman took volunteers for another game of Video Game History Jeopardy. This year I was actually selected as a contestant! Competition was stiff though, as both of my opponents were very keen. One of them could have been a professor when it came to Sonic The Hedgehog which was one of the categories. After a very exciting game came the final Jeopardy question that nobody got right. But luck shined on me when it turned out my two opponents put everything on the line, and I had put all but one dollar on the line. I suppose watching a lot of Jeopardy as a kid paid off.

After the Jeopardy game, Norman took a quick Q & A session. One of the questions that stood out was when a fan asked what had happened to The Nintendo buyout of the Mariners episode of The Gaming Historian. Apparently it wasn’t Nintendo that had tied things up. It was the MLB. But not all hope for the episode is lost, both parties are trying to work things out.

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The second panel I managed to get into was Pixel Dan’s panel. Dan is the proprietor of a YouTube channel where he reviews toys. He also goes to toy shows all around the country, and interviews toy designers, and toy company representatives about upcoming toys. In the panel he talked about some of the more esoteric toy lines of the 80’s, and 90’s. Some of the stand outs were Food Fighters, a line where food items take the roles of opposing armies. He also brought up the Rock Lords line, a subset of the Go Bots line where robot warriors turned into rocks as opposed to vehicles. He also gave overviews to Army Ants, a line of army themed ant figurines  and Computer Warriors. This was an interesting if failed line of toys that transformed ordinary household items into secret military installations, and vehicles.

Rounding things out were the Stone Protectors, a line that combined the action of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, with the classic wishing troll dolls. The end product was a group of Troll superheroes who fought aliens. The toys also had flintlock embedded in them so that when you used their action feature you could see sparks light up the gems in their chests!

It was a nostalgic look back at a time when toy companies were a lot more willing to take chances. A time when people designing toys had a lot more creative, and artistic freedom. These days companies are more risk averse since they no longer only have to compete with each other, but with game, and tech companies too. This results in a large reliance on licensed IPs like movies.

After looking at some great toy lines, Dan brought in Norman Caruso to show off the premier episode of From Plastic To Pixels. It’s a new project the two are working on, highlighting video games that have been based on toys. The first episode showcases the M.U.S.C.L.E. NES game.  They mentioned some of the games in future episodes, but you’ll have to watch the show to see what they are.

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The third panel I attended on Saturday was Pat Contri’s. Pat talked a bit about his new book,  Ultimate Nintendo: Guide To The NES Library 1985 – 1995.  In it, you’ll find every commercially produced game ever made for the console. Pat has painstakingly collected, and rated each title as well as given a rarity rating to each title. The titles don’t just end with the games Nintendo licensed. He included unlicensed games, and even the European PAL territory exclusives.

I asked him how long it took to make, because the production values ate amazing. He said it took him three years to do, and it had an impact on his primary projects like Pat The NES Punk episodes. Another person in attendance asked him if he would be doing a Super Nintendo guide. He didn’t rule it out entirely, but it isn’t anything pending right now. He did reveal however that there is a companion app being made for smart phones. The app will have the information in the book, as well as ties to online price guides.

At the end of the panel Pat selected fans to take the Pat The NES Punk challenge. There were three sets of fans put in one on one match ups. My friend Jordan managed to get into the first challenge, where he played Sky Kid against an opponent. There was an issue with the second controller though so instead the challenge was changed to Ghosts N’ Goblins. Whoever got the furthest on one life would be the victor. Jordan won this handily by getting to the first boss.

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The second challenge was a Vs. Excitebike matchup on the Famicom Disk System. The players in this round kept pace with one another going back, and forth a lot in a one lap race. The final challenge was an entertaining bout of two player Donkey Kong Jr. Math. The winners each received a digital version of Pat’s new book, and the losers won a bad game to rip on.

At the end of the first day there was also an auction for some really cool gaming items. A few of the arcade cabinets in the arcade were up for auction. After these were auctioned off, things moved into the panel room, and continued. Some of the items that went for huge money included old storefront Nintendo, Sega, and Sony neon signs. Some of these went for several hundred dollars. The first three Mega Man games were  sold, as well as the very rare Flintstones Surprise At Dino Peak NES Game Pak. This game went for $750, which is actually a little bit lower than the current average online price. I was really excited to see a boxed Commodore 128, and 1571 disk drive. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford to be the winner of said computer. But it was great getting to see one  in such great condition. The winner also won an auction for the Coleco Adam computer.

After that was a karaoke session in the arcade room to close out the day.

Sunday, there were a few other panels including one with the Game Chasers. I unfortunately was unable to make it back in time for that panel. But I was surprised to see pro wrestling legend Tony Atlas walking the floor! He was very cordial, and was willing to make a second attempt at taking a photo when I had an issue with my camera. I bought a signed print from him. Really awesome experience.

I got the opportunity to talk to Pixel Dan, Norman Caruso, and Pat Contri over the course of the show as well. All of them were very kind, and very cool. If you haven’t seen any of their material definitely check it out. They’re very good at what they do. I also picked up Pat’s book, and I can say it is worth every penny. As I said earlier, it is a very impressive guide for anybody who likes to go back, and play or collect NES games.

Speaking of picking things up, there were a lot of excellent vendors at the show this year. Two Nerds returned from last year, selling some awesome screen printed glassware. Last year I’d gotten a great Samus Aran beer stein, which I use all of the time. I introduced one of my friends to their rep, and he immediately bought a Jack Skellington themed glass for his many servings of Pepsi.

Of course, Retro Games Plus was back, and if you’re ever in Connecticut it is always worth visiting their store for old games. They have some of the best selection, and pricing in the area. Level 01 was also present again, as well as one of the area Game Xchange  franchisees. These are also pretty good places to go hunting. Another area small business called 1UP was there as well. Which I can also recommend. It’s run by a husband, and wife duo who try to get out to as many conventions as possible. I’ve gotten things from them before, and it has always been in great condition.

But there were also a TON of new vendors this time around with a lot of great stuff. Some of which has generally been impossible for me to find locally. I was pleasantly surprised to find many of them had a great assortment of Atari 2600, Colecovision, Intellivision, and other platforms from the early days many of us grew up in.  My buddy Chris Trentham was there with a booth of his own. I got some nice deals on some Commodore 64 cartridges, as well as a copy of the scarce Frogger II for the Atari 2600.

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From one of the vendors (I feel bad that I can’t remember every one of them) I managed to snag a copy of Tac-Scan, and Jr. Pac-Man for my Atari 2600 collection, and I also found a great deal on the VCS version of Congo Bongo from of all vendors, a graphic design vendor called  DSquared. One of their artists, Doug Chapel was selling some Atari cartridges in addition to his artwork. We talked about VCS collecting, VCS homebrew for a few minutes. He does some nice stuff. If you need some custom art give their site a look.

While on the subject of art, there were a lot of artists among the vendors this year as well. Some of the other standouts were Justm3hStudios, an artist who does a lot of custom buttons, and sketches. A guy named Chris Vales was doing some impressive Overwatch themed work, and Tom Ryan Studios was there. I saw him previously at ConnectiCon. Another fantastic art duo you might want to check out is  East Of Haven. They had some terrific pencil work on display, and were doing commissions.

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Russ Lyman was on the floor getting some footage for his always fun, YouTube channel, and he may have received a few surprise cameos for an upcoming video. I also spent some time talking about games far worse than E.T.  with the terrific guys from RF Generation. Stuff like the Data Design Interactive stuff on the Wii for instance.

Sadly, I didn’t get to see or do everything. There was so much this year. I didn’t even mention the cosplay contest or the Table top gaming.  I really hope this year was more successful than last year, because this convention has the potential to become an annual tradition. It could also become as big as some of the other major conventions in time. It was a blast of a weekend, and with any luck at all I’ll be visiting again in 2017.

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.