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.

Kairi on E3 2012: Nintendo Edition

Watch the conference at 9AM, start writing at 8PM.  Sounds fine, except I can’t remember a blasted thing that happened during the show.  Nintendo E3 events all have this problem.  Unless you’re a throbbing Nintendo fanboy, their press conferences all tend to bleed together.  It’s easy to understand why.  “Remember the year Nintendo talked about Mario?”  What Mario are you.. “Or that time that one year when Shigeru Miyamoto came out and pandered to us?”  Well actually that happens every.. “Or that time Reggie Fils-Aime looked like he couldn’t believe he’s 51 years old and trying to shill Let’s Dance?”  NO!  No I don’t remember that time!

Oh thank Christ we don’t have to go a whole fiscal quarter without a Mario game!

Of course, this is a hardware year, so we can call this the year they talked about Wii U.  Which could have been last year too I guess, but work with me here.  Nintendo fans in general seem a little disappointed this year, because Nintendo failed to say all the correct buzz words that cause a reaction in them.  They’re like dogs, conditioned to listen for only key terms.  “Mario!”  Woof!  “Pikmin!”  Woof!  “More Mario!”  WOOF WOOF! But then Nintendo left the poor pooches hanging by not saying other words, like “Smash Brothers” or “Zelda” or “Star Fox.”  Nintendo hounds are sad puppies tonight.  Yep, sorry, I have to cut to the picture.

The face of Nintendo fanboys following E3 2012.

Wii U is coming in 2012, which is ironic given that most Nintendo fanboys are doing the same in anticipation of it.  Most people are of two very different views on it.  They either think it’s brilliant, or that it’s a cumbersome looking piece of shit.  I lean for option two here.  I’m five-foot one-inch tall and I have tiny hands.  Nintendo wants people younger than me with even smaller hands to somehow not develop early-onset carpal tunnel using this.  I’m not saying kids are incapable of using it, but it’s very telling that many of the videos Nintendo showed involved grown adults handling the Wii U GamePad, not children.  Remind me, besides fanboys, what is Nintendo’s target audience again?  And no, it’s not the same as using an iPad.  I can use an iPad just fine, because it has no buttons to press, styluses to hold, or other screens to look at.

It’s weird because Nintendo is kind of famous for making comfortable controllers.  I know the Nintendo 64 bearclaw pad gets some flack, but at age 9 I felt it was just fine.  The Gamecube might have the most comfortable controller I’ve ever used in my life (never did like the Wave Bird as much), and I don’t hate the Wii Remote, even with a nunchuk attached.  It’s just bizarre to me that they could go from being the industry leaders in comfort to being the industry leaders in causing your hand to cramp up just by looking at picture of their next product.  I guess Nintendo wanted a piece of Playboy’s market share.

It doesn’t help that Nintendo showed me absolutely zero games that needed to have this, or more importantly, made me want to own a Wii U.  Yea, they showed a tech demo for a Luigi game that seemed like little more than an update to Pac-Man Vs., itself just a tech demo when you get down to it.  Otherwise, it was mostly used to look at a map.  Next year at E3, for you drinking game fans, just play one for Nintendo’s conference that uses the word “map.”  That’s it.  It’s probably not as potentially lethal to play as one where you take a drink every time someone says “Mario” but you’ll still be blitzed to the point that you won’t remember your own name.

Why do the baby Yoshis look drunk?

Ah yes, Mario.  We’re getting not one, but two games called “New Super Mario Bros.”  Hopefully this means they’ll retcon the previous games in the series to “Old New Super Mario Bros.”  The 3DS entry, called New Super Mario Bros. 2 (because Newer Super Mario Bros. sounded stupid I guess) brings back the leaf from Super Mario 3.  I’m sorry, but when you set out to make a game and call it “new”, maybe step one should be “include new shit in it!”  The Wii U version, called New Super Mario Bros. U (way to phone in the title, Nintendo) brings in Yoshis and the cape from Super Mario World, only this time it’s “new” because it looks like a flying squirrel suit.  It’s like asking your wife to dress up like a naughty nurse.  I don’t get why people do it, because at the end of the day you’re still getting sucked off by the same person.

I have a theory.  I think Nintendo games start off as a game of Mad Libs.  Picture it: a bunch of guys in Kyoto pass a joint around, sip some sake, and then try to name animals.  “Penguin!”  “Flying Squirrel!”  “Frog!”  “Bumble Bee!”  And this is where the power ups in Mario games come from.

Kairi on E3 2012: Microsoft Edition

Another year, another Microsoft press conference that people were bitching about halfway through it.  “Show us some games!” people tweeted after watching trailers for new Halo, Gears of War, Fable, and Forza titles.  Jesus guys, the show was like 80% games, and that even included games you might want to play for a change!  As opposed to last year, where people had to feign interest in Sesame Street for Kinect.

Microsoft could have replaced the Halo 4 trailer with a static screen that said “coming in November. We didn’t bother putting together any footage. No need. You fuckers will line up at midnight to buy it anyway.” I think I speak for everyone when I say “here here!”

Of course, Microsoft still has no sense of showmanship.  They opened the conference with Halo 4, the only major title they have coming out this year.  Well, besides Forza.  They closed the show with Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, a game that is coming out on everything.  I mean everything.  You Colecovision enthusiasts out there are in for a real treat.  But, in essence, this means that Microsoft devoted a good portion of its show and the driver’s seat of their presentation to marketing a game where 45% of the copies (or more) will be sold on a competitor’s machine.  Oh sure, it gets the DLC first.  Not exclusively.  Just first.  Content that will probably be ready day one, which means it might as well ship with the game for free.  It’s like Activision is bragging “hey Microsoft fanboys, you get to suck our dick first.  Sony fanboys will have to taste your saliva on our cock.  Doesn’t that make you feel privileged?”

Speaking of things that suck, a new Fable was announced.  That is all.

I will grant Microsoft this: they have mastered the art of shameless pandering.  If the opinions of those attending the conference were anything like mine and the guys I follow on Twitter, a collective groan was let out when EA Sports took the stage.  Microsoft then strategically defused this by showing new Gears of War, Forza, and Fable trailers immediately following that.  Nintendo used to manipulate audiences like this.  Then they hit the honey pot with Wii and quit trying altogether.

Something did catch my attention from the EA Sports part: more realistic sports games.  How so?  Because the officiating is now crap and you get in trouble for cussing a bad call from an official.  They actually highlighted this while showing the new FIFA game.  The referee blew a call, the player cussed about it, and was slapped with a red card.  Oh goodie.  I guess someone at EA has been watching the Eastern Conference Finals.  It did make me wonder what happens if you’re playing the game and a spider crawls on you.  If that happens to me, every player on the team is getting ejected.  Although it did give me an idea of how to screw with Bryce the next time I see him playing Madden.  I’ll just blurt out and the worst possible time “hey ref, blow me!”  Good times are on the horizon.

More running, shooting bad guys, and wearing neon-green floodlights that could be seen from a mile away on a clear night. Behold: the latest stealth game!

Of course, everyone is talking about Xbox SmartGlass, which was previously known by its codename: Wii U.  I’m kidding of course.  SmartGlass actually is a smarter design, and it did that by making the tablet entirely optional.  No offense, Nintendo, but I’m not looking forward to holding a portable TV set to play video games on a television screen.  As neat as the features are, Nintendo already did similar things with the Gamecube and Game Boy Advance.  In Wind Waker, for example, you could use the Game Boy as a map for the dungeon, and even set off bombs to attack enemies.  Most people aren’t even aware this feature was in there, even though they had all the hardware needed to do it.  Why wasn’t it used?  Because our fucking attention was focused on the TV screen.  I don’t want to have to look up and down to play games!  The whole point of playing games is to focus your attention on one thing, so that all other reality ceases to be.  Between SmartGlass and Kinect, Wii Pads and Motion Controllers, Eye Toys and Moves, you game companies are really harshing our mellow here!

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