Tag Archives: Conventions

Retro World Expo 2017 Recap

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Now in its third year, RetroWorld Expo has slowly built up momentum over its humble beginnings. While it still isn’t the size of something like one of the PAX shows, it has made quite the impressive successes over the first two iterations. The biggest change this year was the move from the Oakdale center in Wallingford, CT to the Hartford Convention Center in Hartford, CT. Due to this, the show was able to increase the floor space, and use conference rooms for panels.

Getting into the show was very smooth, and easy. I didn’t have to go through two or three different lines to get in. I simply showed my ticket receipt to the volunteer at the booth, got my wristband, and got in. Of course, I would hinder myself a little bit by not gassing up the car before making the drive. (More on that later.)

 

Upon walking onto the floor, I saw a few familiar faces as I took a quick gander at some of the vendors’ booths.  One of whom was Tom Ryan. I’ve talked about him in the past, as he does phenomenal artwork. A couple of years ago I got an awesome Thundercats print from him. This year he had an amazing Masters Of The Universe print! It features a very detailed Castle Grayskull, while a Darth Vader-esque Skeletor appears in the background. In the foreground there’s a really great silhouette of He-Man with the Power Sword. It’s awesome. It looks even better in person.

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After catching up with a few people I headed upstairs, as “Pixel” Dan Eardley was back again, and I wanted to get into his panel, as they’ve always been entertaining. This year didn’t disappoint, as he talked a bit about some upcoming crossovers. I can’t really go into too much detail about them as I don’t want to spoil anything for anybody. Suffice it to say, you’ll be pretty impressed with the first of these. After showcasing it early to those of us in the panel, he was also kind enough to show off a small home video clip that was quite heartwarming.

After this, he showed off some teaser footage with The Gaming Historian, and Eric Lappe of Let’s Get. There will be a few new episodes of From Plastic To Pixels coming down the pike. This is a series that focuses on showing off video games based on toy lines. It’s a fun show because it goes beyond a typical Let’s Play show by bringing in some of toy, and game knowledge. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out. The panel closed out with a short Q & A segment with attendees. Some of the questions revolved around the upcoming episodes, that I don’t want to spoil. But a few questions were asked about some vintage toys, and games.

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I was a guest on Big Bucks Entertainment’s Super Millionaire. This is a company that does covers of the Game Shows you likely grew up watching. They did two of them throughout the course of the show. One being the update of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, and the other being Press Your Luck.  To get on the show, the company put up question challenges on its Facebook group. Leading up to the show, I had taken a shot in the dark, and answered a question. Well, it turns out I was right, and was put into the pool of potential guests.

So I showed up with my buddy Jordan as my lifeline. We were given a rundown of the game rules, and stage procedures. There were three of us who made it on. One of whom turned out to be a member of Super Retro Throwback Reviews. They had their own booth nearby. One of the judges turned out to be one of my good friends Russ Lyman, who was also in a panel later on in the show. He has a swell YouTube show where he combines VLOGs, DIY repair, gaming into one entertaining channel. He’s the one who got this snapshot of me on stage! He also brought his custom car to the show for everyone to see. None of us got very far into the game. Of the three I actually did the worst. I got all of the questions up to the first tier nicely. But upon reaching that first checkpoint I got the question wrong. I didn’t want to waste my lifelines. In hindsight I probably should have. But it was still a very fun experience.

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But it didn’t end there because they kept the show going with audience members. Most of them didn’t fare much better than those of us who played initially. My lifeline got to go on, and had to use all of the lifelines on the first three questions. None of which covered game knowledge. (Thankfully when he called me up, I guessed the question right.) But after he lost, there was an attendee that came within inches of winning the entire game. Unfortunately the Judges were wrong about the voice actor who played Sinistar (It was John Doremus), and he went with their guess. Nevertheless, as I said before it was a lot of fun, and the quality of the set props was pretty good. It made for a great facsimile, and even the Press Your Luck set was pretty awesome.

I got in a little bit of shopping with a couple of friends after that. We found one husband & wife run vendor booth with a ton of vintage Atari games in addition to the NES, Master System, Genesis, and Super NES games on display. Many of them were boxed, and complete! I found a complete copy of Fatal Run which is one of the late life 2600 releases. There was also a complete copy of Kung Fu Master my friend Jordan picked up. There was also a rarely seen complete copy of Red Label Space Invaders. These were just some of the 2600 highlights. There were a ton of great games for all of the platforms, but the 2600 selection was unreal.

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I found an old 7800 Alien Brigade Ad from an outfit called Glossed Over. They find vintage ads in great quality, and preserve them in laminate. They had a ton of memorable Nintendo, and Sega print ads. But there’s something special about the old Atari game ads. A few tables from where I found Fatal Run, I finally procured a copy of Tapper for the 2600! Up until the convention I had only ever seen it once before, so I picked it up on the spot.

But there wasn’t a ton of time left to keep shopping, the RetroWorld Expo brought back the auction from last year. Hosted by TV’s Travis Landry, the auction went on for three hours. I saw some of the items before they went up, and most of those seemed to be in decent shape. There was a really nice Commodore 64 set up among the items that included a Bread bin NTSC Commodore 64 model, a First-party joystick, a 1541 Disk Drive, and it had the box, and manuals. The box looked beat up, but everything else looked pristine.

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So I sat through the auction with a few friends, and of course I didn’t win the C64 set up. After it got beyond the aftermarket value, I had to give up. But it kept climbing. In fact many items got spectacularly high. Not as crazy as last year’s auction. But still pretty high. There was a Nintendo World Championships cartridge that nobody bid on because the opening bid was astronomical. It was nice to see one in person though! Some of the highlights for me were the bidding war that broke out over a Little Samson cartridge, which ended around $800. (Which is oddly enough a steal considering it goes for over $1,000 in many cases.) As well as the fervor over a really nice Sega Sonic store display sign, and the fact there were TWO copies of Mega Turrican up for grabs. Those were the other two items I took a shot on, but lost both.

Some other items that went up included a few lots. One was a box of NES common games. Another one was a bunch of Master System games. Beyond that, a pretty nice Atari 5200 bundle, and a copy of Power Strike on the Master System. I’m sure there are a bunch of other items I’m forgetting. It was still pretty exciting though. It’s a shame not many toy collectors were on hand, because there were a bunch of figures, and busts that went for well below what you’d typically expect to pay.  A couple of NES Classic Minis went for auction too, and went for a bunch of money. With the announcement that they’re going to be re-released again at retail, this kind of surprised me. Still, it was nice seeing some of this stuff. Like the Nintendo branded retail case I still remember seeing in Bradlees back in the day.

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I spent some more time on the floor, I got in a few rounds of Missile Command, and Street Fighter II in the arcade. I also found my buddy Bijhan had a booth where he let me have a complete boxed copy of Gunship for MS-DOS. My friend Jordan also hooked me up with a Shadow Warrior 2 scroll, and bag. As the sales floor started to close up for the night, I managed to find a copy of Pac-Attack for the Super NES. There was another after party this year, but I had to skip it due to the low amount of gas in the car. Since I commuted to the show, I wanted to make sure I got fuel before the stations might have closed. A few people were kind enough to point me to a couple of options. I managed to get to one, gas up, and get back to town.

Day two I went back to Hartford, for the rest of the show. I got there a little bit early, and I bumped into Pat “The NES Punk” Contri walking the floor. Just as last year, he was very kind, and cordial. I politely asked him if he had another copy of his NES Guide book. He took me to his booth to get one, and on the way over I told him where I’d found my deals the day before. He thanked me for buying a copy, I thanked him for his time, and let him get back to his game hunting. After that, I ran into my friends Chris, and Brian who had a small vendor booth for the weekend. Somehow I’d missed it the first day. They had a few coveted items, but I ended up getting some deals on some slightly less common games. I found RoboWarrior for the NES, and Desert Strike for the Super NES for a pittance. And it wasn’t just because I’m friends with them, they gave anyone who came by, bundle pricing if they bought multiple items. It’s part of why they do pretty well for themselves at events, and meets. I also got to catch up with Noah, and Paul from Retro Gaming Arts, and Rax The Great.

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There was another booth I can’t remember the name of, but the business was another really nice group of people. They had noticed all of the stuff I was carrying along with my camera, and offered a bag before I even started shopping. And when I did peruse their racks not only did I find a Joe & Mac cartridge for the Super NES, at a really good price (The first one, not the obscure sequel), it came in a protective plastic box. In fact every loose cartridge they sold did, and they were in excellent condition.

After this though, I went back up for several panels. The first one was the RFGeneration Collectorcast Reunion show. Bil McGee, Duke, and Rich Franklin did a live podcast where they talked about collecting tips. Budgeting for items at conventions. Networking, and making friends. Helping those friends find things they need. As well as reminiscing about road stories, and times where they had to go into some strange, or even scary places to find those coveted titles. All of which resulted in a lot of funny moments. Bil McGee does a lot of behind the scenes planning of RetroWorld every year so there was some time spent on what is involved in the process. It was a really entertaining, and informative panel overall. Plus their site is a pretty good source of information for collecting games.

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Especially their databases. At the end of the panel there was a short Q&A session. Some people asked about some of the topics discussed. I asked them to pair a beer with their favorite classic game. Duke didn’t drink so his answer was soda, as in many old games there were billboards in levels advertising fictional ones. Rich, paired stout with Tempest (which is an excellent choice.) Bil loved the question, and gave several examples that I can’t remember. But one that did stand out was drinking Lord Hobo Boom Sauce, or Consolation prize for any game that had shotguns. Because this would reference the cult movie Hobo with a shotgun. One can’t argue with that logic, although the audience erupted into laughter when Duke said he wouldn’t drink from anything called Lord Hobo.

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The next panel was The Gaming Historian panel. This year, Norman Caruso went with a similar format to the panel as he did last year. But this year he went with a topic that wasn’t child friendly. To which he warned the parents in the audience who promptly took their kids out. He went over a major Rock star scandal from several years ago, and cleared up a lot of the misconceptions about it. He also told us about an upcoming episode of The Gaming Historian, which like the Pixel Dan panel, I can’t really talk about here, as I don’t want to spoil episodes. All I can say about it, is that it’s going to be longer than most of his usual episodes are. He rounded out the show with a quick Q&A where most of the questions centered around the subject matter of the panel. But he was also asked about what happened to his episode about Nintendo’s purchase of the Mariners.

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Major League Baseball was immediately livid about it, and actually sent him a cease, and desist letter. So he tried to get into contact with them to iron things out. One representative liked the episode, and considered buying the episode. But only if things were cleared with Nintendo. Nintendo was fine with the episode. But when he went back to Major League Baseball, they ultimately decided they weren’t going to make any deals, and demanded the episode stay pulled. MLB is notorious for going after people, and fining them for seemingly innocuous things. In the 80’s they often sued people for taping games to a VHS tape to be viewed when they got home from work. All because they were that afraid, someone would try to sell the taped game. So as the potential debts piled up, Norman had to pull the episode.

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The panel ended with another Gaming Historian Jeopardy match. This year’s contestants did battle for a free Gaming Historian T-Shirt. Most of the questions were new, though there were a few repeats from last year. At first one of the contestants was running away with it, but before long all three were in the running. When Final Jeopardy hit though, two contestants gave Celebrity Jeopardy SNL Skit-esque answers, allowing the victor to claim the prize.

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After the panel ended The Game Chasers panel started, and they invited Norman to stick around for it. It was a really fun panel because it felt like a really good podcast. The banter was really good, and it led to a lot of hilarious road stories. One of the stories was about a debate over what really constitutes slippin’. Another was an argument Jay had with a cast member about what the official credentials for guacamole are. One moment that stuck out was when Norm told Jay about how great The Golden Girls is, and Jay thought he was being set up. But the audience reassured him it’s a timeless show. There were of course a few gross out stories that wouldn’t make the show. But overall it was a lot of laughter, and a lot of fun.

After that panel came the Connecticut Local YouTubers panel. This one featured my buddy Russ Lyman, Culture Dog, Miketendo, and Retroware TV’s own John Delia. After giving an overview of what each of them covers, they opened things up for questions. There was a lot of good advice in the panel, trying to know your audience.  How to discern constructive criticism from noise. Showing appreciation for those who appreciate you. I got to ask John about his experience with getting The Video Game Years on Amazon. He told us that the way the payments from Amazon work, is much better than the way it worked on YouTube. In a couple of months the show made more than it did on YouTube. This also led into the topic of finding new audiences. Because he found a lot of people on Amazon like to binge watch more than they do on YouTube. So a whole new group of people discovered it, and watched it.

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Some of the challenges he ran into had a lot to do with closed captioning. Amazon requires every show creators put up include the feature. So getting the show on the service took hundreds of hours of added work. Once they got the captioning done, the show got rejected again because of the static images. So they had to edit out some of the static logos to get it ready. When it finally did get submitted in the right state, they still had to call Amazon, and explain everything they just went through. The company then looked, said “You’re right”, and launched it, where it has been a success.

Some of the other attendees then asked the panel if they would just move to Amazon, and the answers were no, because of the different groups who watch or listen. Culture Dog, and Miketendo brought up the importance of one’s authentic self. People can tell when you stray from it. Russ mentioned that even if you do a bunch of different content, there should be something that ties them together. As an example he noted how much of his Do It Yourself content references gaming. That means a few of the viewers who come to the channel for game stuff might check out some of the DIY episodes. Everyone on the panel talked about doing YouTube shows out of the love of the hobby over coming out of the gate looking to be an overnight success. For a variety of reasons.

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After that wrapped up,  Joe Granato returned from last year’s convention with a major update on his NES Maker, and Mystic Searches, projects. He briefly showed off a trailer for his New 8-Bit Heroes documentary, and then jumped into the updates. He started out that process by explaining how the project started out. He, and his team found his old childhood ideas for an NES game, and decided to make that dream a reality. What they found in the process was just how complicated MOS 6502 assembly coding truly was, and after a short time found the project was going to take a very long time. So in the process they ended up coding their own editor to deal with mapping, objects, characters, and other assets.

So while using the tool to get the game made, they found potential in selling the editor as a standalone product when it’s completed. This will let people make their own NES games, and flash them to an actual NES Game Pak. Joe did concede there are some limits in it, as it was made to cater to RPG, and Adventure genres. But that people have demonstrated other genres can be done with it, though you may need to take up coding for some of that.

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He also showed off some more of Mystic Searches, and the progress on it. The over world appears to be finished, and everything looks pretty tight. They’re shooting to get it out by early next year, and the three versions of the Game Pak were shown again this year. He also noted they’re also looking for a Steam release, and they’re in the process of getting a Nintendo Switch license. There aren’t any planned ports for other vintage platforms like The Commodore 64, Super Nintendo, or Atari platforms. Hopefully the final game, and utility turn out well. It is pretty apparent a lot of love has gone into making it thus far. There were even some real world locations referenced in the game’s over world. But keep an eye on this one. Mystic Searches, and NES Maker could be quite the homebrew titles when they come out.

I finished out the day by heading back down to do  some more hunting for the last hour or so. I stopped by Bijhan’s booth again, and he let me have a MOC Smash Mario Amiibo. Which was super cool of him. I was also a million times grateful to Norman Caruso. I stopped by his booth to pick up his Gaming Historian Blu Ray, and thank him for coming to the convention again. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I left my phone there like an idiot. I bumped into some of my pals in The Best Spuds, and played some WWF No Mercy before leaving the show. I couldn’t find my phone, but of course the convention center was closing up. So all I could do was quickly check the Lost, and Found before leaving. Of course the phone wasn’t there. Well when I got home, I found a message from my friend Antoinette in our trade group. Norman had found my phone, and asked around to see if anybody knew who owned it. She recognized it as mine, and tagged me. I’m super thankful to the both of them, as I’m not quite ready to go get a new one just yet.

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That’s one of the best things this convention showcased to me this year. The wonderful sense of community here. People from all backgrounds coming together over a love of classic gaming. Every year I get to meet new people, and go to events. Even if you don’t see anything to buy, and you aren’t interested in the panels, there are tons of arcade games to play. There are a lot of  console, and computer games to play. There were even a host of tournaments hosted by my buddy Aldo this year. Including a big Overwatch tournament, Super Street Fighter II, Super Smash Bros. Wii U, and Mario Kart 64 among others.

They even had a couple of high-profile Cosplayers Midge Scully, and Maya Gagne there. I didn’t get a chance to see them, but they were there. Some other guests I didn’t get to see were Wood Hawker, and RGT85. Also Daniel Pesina came back with John Parrish this time. I also unfortunately didn’t get a chance to see them. If you’re not familiar with them, they were two of the motion capture actors in the earliest Mortal Kombat games. If you get the chance to see them you should.  Hopefully everyone returns next year, and I can rectify missing some of them.

Honestly as small as RetroWorld Expo is compared to larger conventions, it still has so much going on it’s impossible to see it all. Really, the only nitpick I really had this year, was the gap of time between the first night’s shutdown, and the after party I missed due to my own incompetence. Mainly because it breaks up the flow. There’s an hour-long window of nothing to do. I feel like if they could have either started the after party right away, or had a small panel to fill that gap problem

That said some of the stuff in the after party would have been fun. There was a drink, and draw event, one room had Culture Dog playing movies on LaserDisc, and then there was another spot for club music, and mingling. Again, in the grand scheme of things a very minor nitpick, and due to my own ineptitude didn’t matter anyway. The good vastly outweighed the bad this year. A part of me already can’t wait to see what they do next year.

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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.

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.

 

RetroWorld Expo Recap

This weekend was a nice closeout to my week away, as I attended the inaugural RetroWorldExpo. Over the years Retroware TV has slowly built up into one of the internet’s more recognizable gaming channels. Home to popular personalities like The Game Chasers, Pat The NES Punk, PushingUpRoses, LazyGameReviews, The Gaming Historian, Pixel Dan, among others.

A few of these big names were present, along with some smaller names in the vein of panels. There were around eight panels, I got into two of them. But other people I met around the convention had talked up the ones I wasn’t able to get into. Second Opinion Games was there early on, and while I didn’t get into their panel, I did meet them previously at ConnectiCon in July. They do a terrific podcast, and if you enjoy that format, definitely give them a listen. I also missed The Game Chasers panel, which I’ve been told was something I really should have seen. Which I’m certain was as entertaining as the show.  There was a panel for The Gaming Years, a panel for RF Generation, and a panel by Jeff Ryan. He is the writer behind Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America. Again, I missed these, but I’ve been informed that I missed a lot.

But I did get into Norman Caruso’s live Gaming Historian panel. Which was a very informative, and insightful experience. He started the panel by asking the crowd if they knew what mascot Sega originally intended to succeed Sonic The Hedgehog with. Very few knew this. He then opened into a history lesson about Ristar, Sega’s 1995 platformer involving a star. A lot of facts were embedded in the presentation. For instance, I never knew the character was originally intended to replace Sonic, nor was I aware his original design was a rabbit. After the live episode, Norman opened a Gaming Historian themed Jeopardy! event with three contestants from the audience. Many of the categories being lampoons of the popular game show’s. The funniest being Potent Portables. Many of the answers on the board were taken from Gaming Historian episodes too. So audience members who had watched a lot of his material knew a number of the questions to reply with. The winner of the game won a free poster. But that wasn’t all. The panel ended with a quick question, and answer segment, where fans got some insight into just how much work he puts into researching an episode (The Power Glove Episode was almost two months of research alone) before writing a script, filming, and editing one. If you haven’t yet seen any of his material you really should. You might be surprised just how interesting the behind the scenes work on classic games, or the business of the industry behind our hobby can be. His show certainly makes it palatable for just about anyone, even if history isn’t typically your thing.

I also got into “Pixel” Dan Eardley’s  panel, which was really fun. Before starting out he played an entertaining video that showed off what his material is all about. He did a similar presentation to what he did at MAGfest, going over the history of video game themed apparel, including Pac-Man nightgowns (Yes, those were a thing.). Obviously video game toys as well. Which started out, few, and far between but eventually becoming a bit more common as toy, and media companies slowly realized that people wanted their favorite game characters as toys, and collectibles. This lead into a discussion on amiibo toys, and how he could explain to gamers who had never collected toys before how their woes are nothing new. Toy companies have short packed (shipped less of) certain characters for years. There have been aftermarket resellers for years. There have been defects, and oddities like two left arms, or missing pieces in toy lines for years. He also spent some time talking about how toy companies were less risk averse decades ago, taking wild chances leading us to some of our favorite properties like Masters Of The Universe, G.I. Joe, Transformers, Thundercats, TMNT, as well as the lesser known lines like Centurions, Sectaurs, Visionaries, Inhumanoids, and even Food Fighters. Sadly, some of these wouldn’t be attempted today as toy manufacturers compete with not only each other, but other media as well. Near the end of the panel Pixel Dan also talked a bit about the blind bag toy opening videos he also has his wife appear in before having an impromptu blind bag toy opening. This was a lot of fun. After opening the toys, he let participants keep them! So thanks to PixelDan I now have a Terraria figurine. It was a really fun panel. If you collect toys, or you buy them for your children, or nieces, and nephews watch his show. He covers all ranges of action figures, from those intended for everyone to those intended for the collector. He was also really swell after the panel for taking a few minutes to meet him in person. So if he reads this, thanks again.

Beyond the panels, there were still a number of things to do. There were a lot more vendors than I imagined a first year convention would have. It was also at the Oakdale in Wallingford CT. Which on paper would seem like an odd choice. The Oakdale is a venue known more for being a place to visit for concerts or stand up comedy. Back in my teenage years, it’s where most nationally known major bands would play if they weren’t playing in Hartford. If you were, or are a fan of alternative rock or pop bands like The Gin Blossoms, Collective Soul, Pearl Jam, or Toad The Wet Sprocket, and live in CT, then chances are you’ve been to the Oakdale. But this is the first convention I’m aware of that has been held there. That said, they certainly made the venue work out really well. Vendor booths were laid out in a fashion that allowed for foot traffic, only once or twice did it take me awhile to get through a crowd of people shopping the booths. If you missed me on Twitter you’d have seen I found a few fair bargains. For the most part vendors were fair. Most items were at or slightly above what you’d expect to see in a store. I saw one or two items with insanely high prices, but that certainly wasn’t the norm. To be fair, you can’t expect much better at a convention, as things get inflated to cover the cost of having a presence. When you have that fact in mind, Most of the vendors were actually really fair.

As for the stuff I did pick up, I found two complete Masters Of The Universe toys over at Retro Games Plus’ booth. They had a fair number of figures there among the myriad of video games. I was surprised to see most of them were complete. It isn’t common to find loose ones with all of the accessories these days. So I took Hordak, and Stinkor home.  I also managed a trade with someone at another booth, so I finally have a Jigglypuff in the amiibo collection. Justm3h studios was there making gaming themed buttons, while a small outfit called Two Nerds made some gaming themed glassware.  So I picked up a button, and a really nice Samus Aran themed beer Stein. There was also a booth from a place called Down by the river that had some Commodore stuff. Which was great because it seems so underrepresented these days. I picked up a MIB copy of Energy Warrior for the Commodore 64. While they didn’t have anything I needed, I was surprised by how affordable the 1UP booth was. A lot of close out prices on good titles like American McGee’s Alice. An area store called Level 01 had a couple of new copies of vintage games. I couldn’t afford them, but seeing an unopened mint copy of Super Mario 64 is always impressive.

It was also nice to mingle with some of the other fans on the show floor. I bumped into a few Let’s Play video producers, my old friends over at Best Spuds, and a couple of newer folks who have a channel called Power Plaid. Both of whom put their own spin on doing play through videos. Best Spuds tend to make their episodes feel like a radio morning show. They’ll play, crack jokes, talk about any number of things while playing. Power Plaid actually has different kinds of content. They’ll do game videos centered around a play through. But they also work on animated shorts, and chip tunes. Both of these channels are in an upstart stage, but if you enjoy watching let’s play content, give them a look.

There was also a room devoted to arcade cabinets, and retro gaming. It was the place to be, especially if you grew up in the 1980’s like I did. Donkey Kong Jr., Ms. Pac-Man, Mario Bros., After Burner, Out Run, were all there in their glory.  There were also a lot of games that came out in my teenage years there. Notably a Street Fighter Championship arcade cabinet, a Mortal Kombat II, and Mortal Kombat III cabinet, A Virtua Fighter II machine, and they even had an obscure Time Killers knock off in Blood Storm. Although one could argue it’s a sequel in a sense since the same company made it.  Much in the same way War Gods, and Mortal Kombat were both made by Midway. But even seeing Blood Storm was cool because it was the last game made by Incredible Technologies under their Strata moniker. That, and it feels like everything in 90’s Image comics thrown into a blender. It very much feels like a product of its time.

But equally impressive to the arcade collection, was the number of retro systems on display. There were the usual suspects like the NES, Super NES, Genesis, Dreamcast, and Master System. But they also had a 3DO, Atari 5200, an Intellivision, a Colecovision, and an NEC PC Engine. So it was fun to be able to play Castlevania Rondo Of Blood, Mr. Do!, Tapper, Astrosmash, and Zaxxon again. It was also heartwarming to see how many children wanted their parents to show them these classic Atari era classics, and their interest in what came before. If you were more into the board game side of things, they also had a wing devoted to table top games which also included role-playing card games too. There were also tournaments to take part in, a cosplay contest, as well as a rare game auction attendees could take part in.

There was also a concert at the end of the show, Epic Game Music, On Being Human, and The World Is Square closed things out for a few hours. I wasn’t able to stay for the concert, but friends who did, really talked it up a lot. Overall, I would say the first RetroWorld Expo was a surefire hit. It had everything you would expect from some of the larger conventions in spite of being a first event, and it had a huge turn out. There were thousands of people who showed up, and it’s highly likely you’ll see another outing next year. If, and when that comes about I highly recommend checking it out. I certainly look forward to another one next year after experiencing this one this year.

ConnectiCon 2014 recap

Every year in Hartford, ConnectiCon comes around.

This year was packed with a large amount of guests, activities, and panels. So many in fact, that it was impossible to see everything between the variety, and overlap. Still, I just like to recap my convention experiences. I always have a lot of fun,  getting to go to panels, talking with other fans, and taking in a really great meal.

Some of the highlights for me over the weekend began almost immediately upon arrival. One of the first events I attended was an Epic Rap Battles Of History event. Some of the most notable episodes were played on a screen. After each one of them the hosts of the event, and the fans in attendance debated which characters won. Historical Accuracy, the number of good insults, rhythmic flow, were all factors in picking a winner.

A large number of attendees loved the He-Man costume I roamed about the convention center in. I probably stopped every 15 minutes or so, so that someone could take a snapshot. It was more over than my Dr. Insano cosplay from last year, and that had gone very well. But there were far many more impressive costumes than mine.

One of the best moments was when Alan Oppenheimer’s booth assistant saw me coming down the aisle. Then proceeded to put her head face down on her arm on top of her table, and laugh. But both Mr. Oppenheimer, and his assistant were very kind, hospitable, and friendly.  Of course Masters Of The Universe was a huge part of my childhood.  So meeting the guy who provided the voices of many of its most iconic characters like Man At Arms, and Skeletor was a really awesome moment for me.

I also got to see Alan Oppenheimer, and Noah Hathaway talk about their time working together on The Never Ending Story, and other projects in a panel together. Like many of the various panels I attended it was pretty informative. Noah talked in-depth about how the scene where Artax dies in a swamp was done, taking several shoots on  a giant sound stage. The stage had a lowering platform for the horse to simulate sinking, and was covered in mud. The set designers also brought in the trees, and other props for the scene.

He also talked about leaving, and returning to acting, as well as the fun of nitpicking movies. Alan also talked a lot about voice acting, and the importance of being able to visualize a voice for a character. He also talked about using traditional acting techniques in voice acting. Notably, how much of acting is actually listening to the other performers in any given scene.

Like last year’s ConnectiCon, Doug Walker was in three panels. Doug is best known for his long running Nostalgia Critic web show. The first panel was on Friday, and it focused on how to better debate movies with other people by listening. The set up, was that each of the attendees in line would bring up a movie they loved that the internet at large seemed to hate, or vice versa, and why. The point of the exercise was to show how much you could learn about someone in just hearing why they did or didn’t like a movie. It also made for the argument that you can have a strong opinion about a film, and still remember that that’s ultimately what it is:  An opinion. Often times we can forget that when we talk about pop culture. We may have all of the evidence in the world that a movie is bad, and justify our opinion. But someone else is going to like it anyway, and it doesn’t make them terrible for doing so. In fact, really listening to someone’s opposing point of view may bring out some interesting things you may not have considered.

Doug was also part of a web series roundtable panel with Marble Hornets, internet comedian Uncle Yo, and Signal Crash. This Q&A session was geared more toward production of content. Advice was given to creative people in attendance. What kinds of techniques to use in any given craft. What avenues to take in furthering a goal. But there was also the rather frank theme of doing what one loves because they love to do it above all else. Not only from Doug Walker, but from all of the members of the panel. It was an encouraging panel that acknowledged challenges, acknowledged that there will be rejections, and failures. But it also left a theme of persistence, and sense of pride in whatever our passions are. Whether we ever get to do them professionally or not.

Of course there was also the That Guy With The Glasses panel in which Doug, and Rob Walker fielded questions of all kinds. As in the roundtable, some of the questions were about production, promotion, and professionally furthering one’s creative output into a business. Others were about the content of the TGWTG flagship series. Then there were other moments that came out of left field. One fan brought in a script, and wanted the Walkers to produce. They couldn’t do that, but they did recite the first page in the voices of Chester A. Bum, and Jeff Goldblum. At one point during the panel the Nostalgia Chick herself; Lindsay Ellis showed up with the rest of Chez Apocalypse. Posing as a con goer, Lindsay asked Doug when Nella (of Chez Apocalypse) would be getting top billing in lieu of the Nostalgia Chick. Fans cheered as Lindsay, Nella, and Elisa would celebrate the run in during their exit.

 

Chez Apocalypse were also part of another panel with other internet media creators including members of Steam Funk Studios, and Overclock Remix. Similar to some of the other panels, it was a Q&A session filled with some insight into the guests’ creative processes, how they keep things fresh, and how they handle criticism. There was also a lot of advice given to the audience at hand. The biggest piece being perseverance. Being able to see where one began, and the level of improvement over time as a driver to keep going.

Actor Walter Jones was also at ConnectiCon. Most know him as the Black Ranger from the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers show. He talked about his life growing up in Detroit, Michigan. His early days working as an entertainer on cruise ships, and of course his time on Power Rangers. He joked about how difficult the helmets were to see out of at times. He described some of the impressive stunts he did during shoots only to have parts lost during edits. He was also asked if he had seen himself as a role model for African-American children by someone in attendance. He told the audience that he saw himself as a role model for all of the children watching the show, and that nobody in the cast risked doing anything to jeopardize that. When asked if he would ever return to Power Rangers, he said it would be an option provided it would be backed by The Writers Guild Of America. The original show wasn’t, and it was the main reason he left after the Mighty Morphin era of the series ended. Another person asked if he still talks with the rest of the cast, and he replied that he did from time to time when schedules line up. He added that he actually knows some of the cast members from other iterations of the series.  It was an intriguing panel even if you weren’t a Power Rangers fan.

I also found my way into a Cosplay Court event during the convention. Hosted by Steam Funk, it played a lot like a small claims court show like The People’s Court. The spin on it was that everyone in the room had to play in their cosplay character. Audience members were chosen for the character on trial, prosecution, defense, and even the witnesses. In one case I was called to the stand as He-Man, and was cross-examined by a cosplayer who was The Mad Hatter from American McGee’s Alice.  In one case a Mario cosplayer was on trial for the extermination of the Koopa race, as well as the Mushroom Kingdom’s citizens. Another case was against Frozen’s Elsa, and of course there were many Disney themed cosplayers involved. Including a pretty good Ursula of The Little Mermaid fame.

Voice actors Maurice La Marche, and Rob Paulsen also had two events. I managed to get into the second one. It was a Pinky & The Brain Q&A, and it was certainly one of the highlights of the convention for me. Nearly the entire session was done in character. Both actors talked about many of the shows they’ve done over the years, in addition to a lot of the cartoons that inspired them. There were some zany moments too. One member of the audience wanted Maurice to determine if a photo of his daughter looked more like him or his ex-wife. There was another point when someone had asked P&B which fan was the worst they had experienced. Maurice pointed into the front of the crowd saying “That guy right there.” to which the crowd erupted in laughter as it was revealed to be Doug Walker. Doug  pretended to fail to be conspicuous while walking to an exit that turned out to be a hall filled with chairs. He then sheepishly walked back to his chair. Later in the panel, the two actors actually listed Doug in a list of some of the most pleasant entertainers they’ve known over the years. A list that included names like Jon Lovitz, and Steven Spielberg.

I was also lucky enough to catch a Voice Actor roundtable near the end of the final day of the convention. Lauren Landa, (Dead or Alive 5, Attack On Titan) Danielle McRae (League Of Legends, Skullgirls), Chris Cason (Dragonball Z), Brittany Lauda (Prince Adventures) were on hand to make for a nice sendoff. All of the guests were laid back, very friendly, and were funny. As with all of the previous panels fans asked the panelists what some of their favorite works were. What some of their dream roles would be, and some of the things voice acting entails.

Speaking of interesting people, I do want to give a shout out to Jenisaur, a blogger who introduced herself to me at the convention. She writes over at  http://www.sub-cultured.com/ about all kinds of things. Comics. Conventions. Novels. You name it. If it sounds interesting to you, check it out.

There were a lot of other panels, and events I missed that I would have loved to have seen. But you can only get out to so many over the three days. I would have loved to have made it out to the Jennifer Hale panel. She has done so many interesting video game, and animated television roles over the years.  I also missed seeing Ellen McLain, the voice of GLaDOS from the Portal series.  Her husband John Patrick Lowrie was there with her, and he’s done voice work for Half-Life 2. Hearing a bit about voice work for Valve would have really been a blast for me, and sadly I had to miss them. TV’s Diedrich Bader was there too. I also had to miss his panel. I did get to see him for a split second roaming the dealer’s room, and shared a very brief “Hello”.  I loved seeing him on The Drew Carey Show back in the day, and his role in Office Space was pretty great. Apparently he has done a myriad of cameos, and voice work that I never knew about. Alas, another interesting panel I missed out on. Others I missed? TeamFourStar was there. There was a Cards Against Humanity panel. There’s just so much to do, and so little time.

But I suppose that’s a testament to just how much there is to do every year. Cosplay death match, creative workshops, heavily discounted movies at the theatre across the street. Video game tournaments. Table top game tournaments. Japanese import rhythm arcade machines. Swag. Obviously the panels. It really is a great time, and I love it when I attend it. I can’t wait to see what next year brings. Plus there’s always City Steam Innocence IPA waiting for me a mere two blocks away.

 

Some thoughts on this year’s E3 so far.

As everyone pretty much knows E3 is underway. By now you probably know about most of the huge announcements already. But I thought I’d formulate a few thoughts on what I’ve seen through streaming the event so far. Monday kicked things off with Microsoft, who had a much better showing than last year. They needed it too. Since last E3, we’ve seen them back pedal from restrictive DRM, and recently even downplay Kinect. This was even more apparent during the conference where we didn’t see any Kinect news.

Which came off as a real back pedal because they had recently announced Kinect-less SKUs for Xbox One. Kinect was supposed to be more integral to the Xbox One design than even Nintendo’s gamepad for the Wii-U.  Despite this, they had a number of announcements that seem to have excited people. In my opinion, the biggest thing from their conference to keep an eye on is Sunset Overdrive. This game looks pretty cool. If you watch the presentation, it seems to be a hybrid of a Tony Hawk Pro Skater game, and a horde game in the vein of Dead Rising. It’s exactly the sort of thing Microsoft needs to do more of. Microsoft is also rebooting Phantom Dust, which was a sleeper hit on the original Xbox. Unfortunately, like most of the conference it was just a FMV trailer. So there was no real info on how it will play. That was probably the most disappointing thing about conferences in general. A lot of them focused on FMV trailers. Another FMV trailer was for Evolve. A game that looks like a four player predator hunter. Scalebound is an upcoming title from Platinum Games. All we know about it based on the trailer, is that it involves dragons. We also found out about Crackdown 3 which I hope will be less Crackdown 2, and more Crackdown 1.

There was also a trailer for Project Spark. The title promises to let XB1, and PC users create entirely new games with it. Unfortunately it didn’t go into any details. Will it let you create your own code or models or assets for your game? Or are you forced into using predetermined content, and building a game around it? The worst thing about the trailer was the fact that Conker, from Conker’s Bad Fur Day showed up at the end to say “Almost 10 years without a new game. Guess we’ll have to make our own!” I’m not the biggest CBFD fan, but it came off rather bad. It felt almost like a slap seeing it.  It wasn’t intended to be that as the creators took to NeoGAF to apologize, but it is something they probably should have thought about before putting it in.

Halo 5 news came out too. There will be a beta in December. The beta is multiplayer so I think it is mainly going to focus on competitive modes. Mainly because that has been what Halo’s multiplayer has always been about. But I could be wrong. They mentioned that this game is going to have a lot more back story on Master Chief.  They also have a collection bundle with all of the mainline Halo games coming out, along with the multiplayer content. I’m sure it will do well, though it really seems suited to those who haven’t already played any of them. On the other hand, it will probably also be a boon to those who have an XB1, and rarely go back to their 360.

Activision showed off Call Of Duty at the conference, and I wasn’t really left impressed. It didn’t look bad. But it didn’t really look impressive either. It’s Call Of Duty. If you happen to be a big fan of the series you’re probably picking it up anyway. I just came away feeling this looks like a going through the motions entry. Ubisoft showed off some Assassin’s Creed news, the biggest being that the next game will be 4 player Cooperative. This is another series that a lot of people have said could use some shaking up. 4 player mode is something few games are doing anymore. So it is a welcome addition to the series.

Ubisoft also had some gameplay footage of The Division. It looks really nice, but there wasn’t enough footage to go into any kind of variety. It’s looking like a flashy cover shooter. It is nice that again, it’s a cooperative game.

Ubisoft’s own conference was pretty standard fare. Aisha Tyler came back again. She was pretty funny, entertainingly delivering segues, and talking about her role in Watch Dogs. Just Dance 2015 was announced, but the bigger news was their Just Dance Now smart phone app. It turns smart phones into a Just Dance controller with other devices, allowing a lot more than four people to play the game. It was honestly pretty interesting. This is coming from someone who doesn’t dance, or play many dance games outside of the odd party or get together. It really does open the floodgates for the franchise, and will probably do pretty well considering how well the console games seem to sell.

They showed off a Kinect game for Xbox One called Shape up. It looked like a competitive take on Wii Fit, and Guitar Hero. It puts people head to head in push up contests, and other exercises, but tries to make them fun with window dressing. Where as Wii Fit is sort of going for a simulation game this goes more into arcade territory.  I’m not really sure how I feel about it personally. I’m certainly not the target market for it. But at least it looks like it’s trying something different from other exercise games.

Ubisoft gave us more trailers for Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, Valiant Hearts, and The Division as well as The Crew. The Crew sounds like it could be a pretty cool racer in that it’s supposed to let players drive from one side of the USA to the other. But they didn’t go into a lot of specifics. Will it really be the highways, and back roads across the country recreated in game form? If so that is a very intricate, and ambitious project in of itself. Or will it be a small set of races or driving sections connected by FMVs in between? With racers you also can’t feel the controls for yourself in a video so with the footage you’re only left with the look. The game does look good based on what was shown.

Ubisoft did have one big piece of news, and that was the return of Rainbow Six. Rainbow Six: Siege seems to hearken back to the days of Rainbow Six 3. This is huge news because ever since the series departed into linear shooting galleries, nothing has tried replicating the tactical shooter. Rainbow Six was great when it came out, tasking players with planning a course of action to  save hostages from terrorists. I really hope this is a return to form for the series.

EA also had a conference, and there was unfortunately little to get excited about. They showed off this year’s sports games. UFC, NHL 15, and Madden really didn’t look all that different. One can argue how much you can refine a sports title, but the bottom line is why buy a game every year if they are identical? To their credit, they did try to explain how the tackling system in Madden has been revised. Now there will be traditional or risky tackles with one paying off more often.  All of the sports games mentioned newer more dynamic animations. The problem here is it’s all been promised before, and rarely delivered.

Most of EA’s presentation was FMV trailers or video of stuff so early in production there was nothing to show. Battlefront boiled down to news that they had some Star Wars reference material. Mirror’s Edge 2 was announced again, showing off some very early builds of Faith taking out bad guys without using guns. Criterion’s early build was far more impressive. All that is known about it is that it will let you pilot a large number of different kinds of vehicles over various terrains. The game will also only be playable in first person. What they could show looked promising, but it was certainly a very early build of shapes.

The big bomb EA did drop was that the new Battlefield Hardline beta was launching that day for those who had Battlefield 4 on PC or PS4. They showed off some more footage too. It isn’t looking too different from Battlefield 4 visually. But the police, and criminal aspects do look like a new take on Battlefield’s objective gameplay.

Sony’s conference was a mixed bag. We saw some footage for Far Cry 4 which looked really good. This game seems like it’s going to focus more on mountain terrain. It also seems like it’s carrying over a number of things from Far Cry 3. Also it has cooperative play which seems to be a theme with Ubisoft this year. Warner Bros. showed off the new Batman, and Mortal Kombat. Batman Arkham Knight looks like a bigger version of Batman Arkham City. The new convention the trailer showed off is the use of the Batmobile. The Mortal Kombat X trailer showed off two new characters. One is a female reptilian, and the other a duo that may have taken inspiration from SNK’s Chang, and Choi. The trailer looks like an beefed up Mortal Kombat 9 which is a good thing. We also got a trailer for Dead Island 2.

Sony’s own trailers included Uncharted 4, Let it Die (a Suda 51 game), Abzul, Bloodborne, Entwined, Infamous DLC, and Little Big Planet 3. LBP3 was the first video they showed that had some in-depth info on the gameplay. This time around there will be other characters that have different abilities which get players working together. It reminded me a lot of Trine 2 in the way the game focuses on teamwork. The bigger news was that all of the custom content people made in the first two Little Big Planet games will be compatible with the new game.

Sony also made mention that last year’s Last Of Us will be ported to the PlayStation 4, along with Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V. In addition to all of this they’re going to be answering Microsoft’s announcement of exclusive shows on Live with their own properties, and content on PlayStation Network. A show based on the Powers comics will be the first major one, and people who pay for plus don’t have to pay extra to see it. Ratchet & Clank will have a new theatrical CGI animated movie. The trailer looked like a typical children’s movie. It didn’t go much into story or plot details though so there wasn’t a lot about it that was very exciting.

Sony also announced that its PlayStation TV hardware would be releasing stateside for $100, and that it would be making bigger pushes into it’s Morpheus, and Camera products. The company strangely glossed over their Vita handheld though, just tossing out a throwaway line about it being able to stream to other products, and 100 games being made for it. But they didn’t really go into any details.

The only other thing they announced that soured me was the news that they would be pushing big into getting more Free To Play games on their platforms. Not many F2P games have been good, even fewer have been great. Many of them can be almost predatory with the way they’ll nickel, and dime players for doing anything.

Sony also mentioned some PC stuff was coming over with exclusivity to the PlayStation 4. Devolver Digital is bringing over a number of indie games they’ve published including BroForce, and a new puzzle game from CroTeam.  Magicka 2 is going to hit the console, and the biggest news being that Grim Fandango will be seeing a rerelease on the system.

Destiny was also revealed to be hitting the PS4 first with some exclusive bonuses. The game looks pretty nice, but the biggest game in my opinion hitting the system is No Man’s Sky. This game lets you explore planets, star systems, and get into space battles. It’s different with every play through.

I should also bring up the Metal Gear Solid V trailer. Again, I would have liked to have seen some more game footage, but the montage we saw was pretty cool looking. Although I have to admit I think Konami may have a knife fetish. Every other scene in the montage displayed either a stabbing, or a clean shiny knife in someone’s hand.

Yesterday was Nintendo’s turn at bat, and they really swung for the fences this year. The opening skit from the creators of Robot Chicken was a nice tongue in cheek touch. The fight between Satoru Iwata, and Reggie Fils-Aime was a hilarious, John Woo inspired battle that introduced Super Smash Bros. really well.

The stuff Nintendo did this year was not only an entertaining way of announcing projects, but also gave a behind the scenes look as well. The interviews with developers did a better job of advertising upcoming Nintendo games than some of the other videos shown off this year.  Yoshi, and Kirby games look a lot more interesting as a result.

The Zelda announcements were impressive as well. The new Zelda looks amazing. Fans have wanted an open world sandbox Zelda for a long time. Visually it looks great, and while they didn’t show a lot of it, it was certainly enough to get everyone talking about it. Hyrule Warriors is also coming out, and where before the fear was it would be a re-skinned Dynasty Warriors we see it isn’t. Not completely anyway. The game is going to have enough elements from Zelda to keep it from being just another Dynasty Warriors. That said it’s definitely more Dynasty Warriors, than Zelda. Still, it may very well get Dynasty Warriors fans into Zelda, and vice versa which is what it seems like the developers were shooting for.

Mario Maker was confirmed, and the trailer hinted you can make stages for not only the 1985 Super Mario Bros., but for New Super Mario Bros. Wii-U as well. I don’t know how big this is going to be though.  Mario design is probably a lot more difficult than the average person thinks, and a lot of people may just mess around in it giving us a lot of crummy levels to sift through before getting to really fun or challenging ones.

Captain Toad’s sections in Super Mario 3D World were apparently so popular we’re getting an entire game made out of them. They also teased boss battles in the trailer. I’m not sure how that will work exactly since Captain Toad can pretty much only walk. But we’ll see.

There was also a new Pokémon announced, and while I never got into the series there’s no question it’s a huge franchise. There will be a bunch of new monsters to find obviously. The trailer didn’t really show much else, so we’ll be waiting for more info.

Honestly, the biggest announcement for me was Splatoon. This game looks really cool. It’s not often you see a colorful all ages shooter, and even less often they come out fun or challenging. If you missed it, it’s a game where the object is to control a map by painting it your team’s color. Anywhere your color is, you can turn into a squid, and swim in it. You’ll be able to shoot each other too, as it is a team shooter. They teased some paint themed weapons at the end of the segment too. It looks really interesting, and I certainly want to see some more of it.

The other big news was that Patulena, Pac-Man, and Miis will be playable in the next Super Smash Bros. All of which seem to be really cool. The Mii integration looks like a lot of thought, and balance went into the game with the fists/swords/guns move sets you will be able to choose from.  The game is also going to be the first to work with the new Amibo toys that Nintendo announced. Apparently, the figures work with a bunch of Wii-U games by placing them on the IR sensor on the gamepad. So you can save or load game data onto them that affect the state of your character. This sounds like it is going to go deeper than what Activision’s Skylanders do in that they work with more than one game. The only negative I can see with this, is if the toys become little more than glorified memory cards. Still, if they’re made well,  they have the potential to become a huge hit with kids, and collector’s. So it is a calculated risk on Nintendo’s part.

Another thing that I found exciting, and I’m sure others will too is that Bayonetta 1 is being bundled with Bayonetta 2. That’s going to be especially nice for anyone who never got to play the first game before buying the new one.

Nintendo showed off an X trailer which looked really good. The only complaint I have here is that it wasn’t game footage, just a FMV. Still, we get a glimpse into the story behind the next Xenogears which is pretty good.

If all of that wasn’t enough, after the Direct, word came out about a new Star Fox, a new Giant Robot game, and a Giant Guard game. Finally, there’s Devil’s Third. A traditional action game that looks cool enough to hang with some of the stuff we’ve seen coming out across E3.

E3 isn’t even over yet, and there has been a number of good things showing up.