Fast Times at the Too Many Games Expo

Who needs E3? I mean, really. It’s become so overblown and ridiculous that the whole thing seems like a Mike Judge or Christopher Guest directed parody film to me anymore. (Actually, a mockumentary styled video game movie is an awesome idea.  My brain is awash with ideas! Cathy, get our people on the horn! )

This past weekend, I attended an event that’s more my speed, an anti E3 if you will, the Too Many Games Expo which was held in a quiet suburb of Philadelphia. To me, an event like this does it right: it’s big, but not so big where you’ll get overwhelmed; it has a little something for everyone and yet isn’t so vanilla that you won’t stumble across cool artifacts of gaming ephemera tucked away in some random corner of the hall.

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Is this “playing with power” too?

Shortly after arriving early Saturday afternoon, my son, Kyle, and I did a quick tour of the hall. Right then, we both realized that we didn’t bring anywhere near enough cash with us because there were just so many cool things to buy. We stopped for a moment to grab a quick bite to eat and as I was scarfing down a hot dog, I was lucky enough to catch James Rolfe (The Angry Video Game Nerd) and his cohort, Mike Matei, making a sly entrance through a side door to the hall. James was gracious to stop for a moment, shake my hand and take a picture. He said he knew of our little home away from home on the interwebs here because Mike was a fan. Pretty damn cool, if I do say so myself.

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Sorry James, but I treasure my photo with Steve Wiebe a bit more. Steve, if you’re out there, call me!!!

Over the next few hours Kyle and I got to see/hear a set by awesome chiptune artist, Danimal Cannon, watch an N64 Goldeneye tournament, scope out some cool cosplayers, play some classic coin-op games (I posted the high scores on Dig Dug, Joust and Crazy Climber but fucking Commando still handed me my ass; not too shabby for an old man, though) and attend the Angry Video Game Nerd panel.

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Moby?? Where have you been, man?

The AVGN panel is where my experience at Too Many Games went off the rails a bit, unfortunately, because the audience was on the boorish side. It’s been some time since I’ve attended one of these panels and the ones I’ve attended in the past were a bit more upscale, I suppose, dealing with mostly journalism, game narrative and/or writing related topics. I’ve been a huge fan of James’ work since he started out as the Nerd, but I guess I didn’t realize that his true fan base isn’t 42-year-old geek dads like myself because, quite honestly, I don’t think of myself in those terms. I own all six volumes of Nerd DVD’s and love them to death. Does this mean I have to give them up now?

The questions from the capacity crowd came at a rapid clip. James, Mike and AVGN Theme composer, Kyle Justin, did their level best to answer them with humor and conviction, and mad props to them for that, but my thoughts meandered to Alex from A Clockwork Orange and his famous quip to one of his unruly droogs: “You’re being a bastard with no manners. Without a dook of an idea about how to comport yourself public-wise, O my brother.” And after about the tenth ridiculous, recycled and poorly-worded question stammered out a fanboy’s mouth, I decided to beat a hasty retreat. I exited stage left while thanking the gods on high that I had the foresight to choose seats that were close to the doors.

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“I could have sworn somebody just asked us that question…”

As we were exiting, my son, Kyle, who is 20 and certainly more in line with the Nerd’s core demographic, remarked in total “tractor beam” mode, “I had a million dollar idea while we were sitting in there:  we should open a grooming, style and manners booth at the various video game and anime cons. Like a Martha Stewart thing…but for dudes.”

Sunday was the day I reserved for talking with the indie developers and checking out their games. But first, I managed to re-connect with an old acquaintance, author Jeff Ryan. Jeff had a booth at the Expo and was selling his excellent book on the history of Nintendo, Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America. Check it out if you dig all that is the Big N; I highly recommend it. Jeff’s next book will be about the true origins and history of Mickey Mouse. He obviously has a thing for taking on the sacred cows of our popular culture…but I look forward to reading it all the same!

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“Now, this is where the magic happens…’

There were a good many more indie game booths than I expected at the Too Many Games Expo. I suppose this is a testament to the allure of the indie game scene these days. These four were the most interesting and/or promising that I had the pleasure of demoing that day. It should be noted that all of these games are some time away from a true launch and, hopefully, they’ll all see the light of day on some platform or other in the not-too-distant future. So, without further ado:

1. The Great Gaias by Horizon’s End. This is a very cool looking classic RPG that harkens back to the best games of the 16 and 32-bit eras of gaming. Check out some kickass gameplay footage right here:

 

2. Default Dan by Default Dan Studios. Default Dan is a platformer with  some very interesting gameplay twists, as it chucks all the conventions of traditional platforming experiences right out the window. Have a look:

 

3. Bit Blaster by Null Foundry. The best way I can describe this game is to call it “Warlords in Space” with real-time physics and a slick, design your own ship mechanic.  Very cool.

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Bit Blaster has everything a growing gamer needs.

4. The Island of Eternal Struggle by Wimbus Studios.  Another old-school RPG homage but this one has a wry sense of humor and some interesting, turn-based combat wrinkles that set it apart from the crowd.  Take a peek:

 

All in all, I can’t recommend these kinds of smaller conventions and expos highly enough, as you get to see the real people of the video game industry, slugging it out in the trenches. E3 is like an effete Officer’s Club soiree compared to events like Too Many Games which are akin to the gore swathed beaches of fucking Normandy. Can you guess where you are going to learn more and figure out what this industry is really all about?

If I need to answer that question for you…well, my friend, I’m sorry to say, but I don’t think you’ll ever truly know.

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