I never played a Pokémon game as a child.
Last night was the premiere of Doctor Who‘s famous yearly Christmas special. It was a lead-in from the season’s opener, “Asylum of the Daleks,” and the BBC leaked quite a few details before the season even began, including the actress playing the new companion. Writer Steven Moffat hinted that this episode would have a ton of twists and turns for the newly-big stateside Who audience, and believe me, I broke away from the family festivities as soon as nine o’ clock hit Christmas day.
This weekend I had the pleasure of attending Another Anime Convention 2012 in Manchester, New Hampshire. It was a much smaller convention than I’m used to, but I definitely had a blast between old friends, new friends, and the awesome good time that comes with a convention. The convention was hosted in a new location this year, and with it came its own challenges, but I think the convention staff definitely pulled it off well, and they did an excellent job making sure everyone was safe and having a good time.
My weekend started Friday morning, when I skipped class (with my professor’s blessing!) and hopped aboard the noontime New Hampshire Express from Boston, MA to Manchester, NH, where the convention was to take place. The trip was pretty decent–a mere hour on a bus which didn’t have all that many people on it– and before I knew it, my friend Mary and I were in New Hampshire, ready for a weekend of fun and adventure. The hotel we were staying at, though not at the actual convention hall, was fortunately about a two minute walk from the bus depot, and so around 2 PM we checked into our hotel room and started preparing cosplays, securing personal effects, and arming ourselves with cameras and wallets for the day ahead. About an hour later we took a shuttle from our hotel to the convention hall.
The first thing I noticed was the ample amount of space the hotel had for the convention. Though I hadn’t been to AAC in previous years, the new location was definitely prime for the event. There was plenty of space for everyone to chill out and relax, play some card or board games, talk, and socialize, without the crammed-in-like-a-can-of-sardines feeling that one often gets at a con. Even the elevators ran smoothly, although halfway through Friday evening staff had to be posted inside to keep the hooligans from jumping in and pushing every button…but that sort of thing happens at every convention, or actually any place with a lot of fourteen-year-olds, and I consider it a small hiccup in an otherwise amazing location.
In contrast with a lot of bigger conventions, getting my badge was a breeze. There was no line, and so I just walked up to the preregistration line and was granted my press badge with no hassle and no questions asked. I was in and out in 10 minutes, which is a lot to say considering that I’ve waited an hour plus at other conventions for my badge. Sure, AAC is smaller, but they DEFINITELY had a leg up as far as organization goes (thanks to Lisa, the con chair!).
I did manage to snap plenty of pictures Friday night before heading into the spacious combined dealer’s room and artists alley. Although there wasn’t as much swag to buy as I expected (I’m used to bigger conventions like Anime Boston and PAX), I feel they utilized the space well, with limited crowding and plenty of stuff to buy–and buy I did. A half hour later I walked out with a brand new dominion set, a mini Matt Smith clay figure, a little octopus made out of modeling compound, and a new T shirt, with plenty of money left over. A few things dominated both the dealer’s room and the cosplay scene this year. Both Legend of Korra and Doctor Who cosplays were present prominently. However, one thing stole the stage, and that was my little pony. Almost every booth had some sort of pony swag, and from full-on fursuits to stylized versions of our favorite ponies, there was a MLP cosplay around every corner, in every nook and cranny, and where there wasn’t a pony, there was someone in a brony T shirt. Of course, as a fan of the show myself, it was more than welcome. It’s nice to be a fan of the big thing for once this year!
After an additional loop around the dealer’s room, I made my way to the video game room, where my friend Alex was running the Dance Dance Revolution machine, a Pop’n music setup, and IIDX (DJ hero to those of you less informed). Although the machines weren’t actual arcade machines in any case other than the DDR machine, the setup was very well done, with professional style controllers and again, minimal crowding. People were patient in line for all the equipment and everyone seemed to be having a good time. I of course hopped on the DDR machine myself for a few rounds, and I gotta say, I didn’t wait long in line at all.
Friday night finished out with the requisite nighttime fun, including an all-night doctor who marathon and plenty of missed sleep, and although I unintentionally fell asleep bit on the early side (well, if you call 3 AM ‘early’), I know that the rest of my room wandered in around 4:30 or 5:00, so I’m gonna make the general assumption that everyone had a good time somewhere or another.
The next morning dawned bright and early, and when I headed over to the hotel, the first thing I noticed was a definite increase in crowding. For those of you that have been to a weekend convention before, you’ll know that Saturday is always the busiest day. It was nothing major however, and I did manage to snap a few amazing pictures of cosplayers in and around the convention hall. I also had the pleasure of running into Tim Buckley, most well-known for writing and illustrating the popular webcomic CTRL+ALT+DEL.
“This is my first time north of Massachusetts,” said Tim, who originally grew up in Connecticut but now lives in Cape Cod, “But this is a really great crowd. Everyone’s really friendly.” Which is the sense I got as well. There wasn’t a single person that had a mean thing to say, a single dramatic moment that I witnessed, or a single person that was not willing to let me take their photo. For me, the sheer friendliness of the people at this albeit small convention definitely made my experience a better one.
This was more fully realized Saturday night, when I ran a dating panel. Due to unforseen circumstances, two of the people on the panel with me were not able to come. One of these people was in charge of bringing the laptop with my presentation on it. Of course this did not happen, so I wound up running a panel with two ill-prepared replacement panelists, no plan, and a full panel room. Now, in other cases or with a less friendly crowd, this may have ended disastrously. But due to the friendliness of the congoers, the panel went off without a hitch. When one of my replacement panelists had to duck out halfway, the audience helped us out by filling the gaps. In the end, everyone had a really great time–but it wouldn’t have worked without the patience and understanding of those at that panel.
After the panel, I headed over to the dance. For the half hour I stayed, I had an excellent time. The DJ definitely kept the tunes cranking and although the audience was small, there were plenty of people in raver gear moving to the beat. I was a little tired from my all-day photo-taking marathon, but when I left, everyone seemed to be having a great time.
Afterwards I headed to the bar for a drink or two, where the one qualm I have with the location became apparent: the hotel staff were clearly not prepared for the noise, the crowds, or the sheer volume of nerds that comes with an anime convention. The hotel staff clearly looked harried around the hallways as they tried to herd flocks of screaming 14 year olds away from the doorways, and it took me a full fifteen minutes to even be acknowledged at the bar (where I stayed sheerly because I struck up a conversation with a cosplayer from Alabama and found it too interesting to pass up). Later on, the dance was shut down due to noise complaints, which makes me wonder what the hotel staff THOUGHT was going to happen when they approved a DJ and a sound system on a Saturday night.
Sunday morning dawned bright and early, complete with the grogginess that normally comes from staying up late two nights in a row. All the same, for us checkout was at 11, and we just barely squeaked by the time limit before making our way downstairs for some of the Hilton’s delicious all-you-can-eat breakfast. After that, my compatriots and I packed up and we made our way back toward Boston in time for the Sunday evening patriots game. All in all a weekend well spent, and one I’ll likely be repeating.
My history as a Whovian is not that long-lived. I picked up the Doctor Who series one or two years ago and have been watching it sporadically — though faithfully — ever since.
Recently, I was able to get a chat interview with Kyle Ward, creator of In the Groove, ReRave, and Pump It Up Pro in conjunction with Roxor gaming. Currently living in Seattle, Kyle is a busy man, but he did have time to sit down and answer our questions. He had a lot to say about ReRave, ITG, and the rhythm game community in general.
Me: What got you into game design in the first place? Was there any key crucial moment that caused you to be interested?
It’s 3:30 in the afternoon and the house is eerily quiet. A few bodies linger, watching TV, checking Facebook, eating a hasty meal scooped together from leftover Chinese food and scraps from the fridge.
From the basement, though, a low thrum emanates, a heavy beat of bass music coupled with footfalls. A quick venture down the steps of this nondescript Massachusetts home reveals an entirely different world. Players, mostly in their early-to-mid twenties, sit perched in red chairs around the machine, fixated, quiet except for the occasional word of encouragement or commiseration as another song is failed.
This is a fairly typical Friday for me and for the rest of the Massachusetts ITG community. Most of these players are local, but a few travel from as far away as New Hampshire or Maine. We even see the occasional escapee from New York or Pennsylvania.
We come from different walks of life. Shawna, who is only 20, aspires to be an artist, while Mark, a native of a few towns over, studies IT at a local university. One thing draws us together though: the steady glow of the arcade cabinet set back in a corner against an air conditioner.
The table holding the intricate Lego sculpture is what gives Legocity its name. Of course, Legocity is no official venue. Rather, it’s the home of Ellen, who is a doctor and mother of Alex, 12, one of the community’s only young players. Despite his age, though, he is one of the most talented the community has to offer, and it’s his footfalls that the players in the basement and I are watching.
“Good job,” Ellen calls out as Alex steps off. He’s achieved a score of only three excellents on a song he has never played before; yes, he was three excellents away from the highest score possible on any song in the game, and it’s an accomplishment. It won’t be long at all before he gets his first hundred percent, or ‘quad’ as we in the community like to call it.
But he’s an anomaly. What we are watching is a sport threatened by aging participants and lack of interest, one eclipsed by its more popular cousin DDR. While the In the Groove community has maintained numbers for the last half decade, it’s seen little growth among younger members. Most of the participants are in their early to mid twenties, and therein lies the concern. Even Dance Dance Revolution isn’t as popular as it once was. Whereas five years ago it was common to see a line forming, complete with people using coin lines across the bottom of the monitor to keep track, nowadays that’s a rarity. The community has petered out to mostly those who have been playing for years, with the occasional newbie brought in by another player.
“These kids are going to get older,” says Ellen, who owns the house. “They’re going to get married, have kids. They might not pass it on to their kids. We need more ten-year-olds.”
It’s a problem that’s had us at a standstill for many of those years. There are occasionally new players, but for the most part, they’re somebody’s friend, somebody’s boyfriend, girlfriend, sister, cousin. It’s how I was brought in myself. Very few new members are young anymore, and the community can’t keep going based solely on the participation of people that are likely to lose interest in the coming years.
There are those that disagree, however.
“I don’t think the community’s dying at all,” says Ray, 25, who has been playing the game for the last two years. Brought in by his girlfriend, he’s one of those anomalies in the community who hasn’t been playing for very long. “I played DDR in high school,” he says. “When I met Shawna, it grew from there.”
One could say he has a biased opinion, but it is possible that he’s right. The community does have several of these anomalies. Two of the female players — myself included — found themselves brought in less than a year ago by their boyfriends and have found themselves growing in skill ever since. A couple people, when asked, cite apparent upswings in arcade activity as evidence that the sport isn’t quite dead yet.
The questioning of our fate makes my stomach turn. One of the odd things about this community, and one of the things that makes it so great, is its ability to draw together players from so many different walks of life. All skill levels are present at Legocity on any given weekend.
Take Ben, for example. Brought in as Ellen’s boyfriend, he rarely plays songs rated above a seven out of eighteen. A common saying among the community is that there is no such thing as a casual ITG player.
“Oh, no, I have,” Ben quips when asked if he thinks he’s kept it casual. And that’s the end of the discussion for him.
On the completely opposite side of the spectrum is Steve, one of the area’s most talented players. He’s placed fourth or above in several national competitions. But don’t let that fool you, he’s always eager to help new players, whether it’s through advice on how to upkeep their machine or through words of encouragement when they pass a challenging new song.
And that is the type of thing that makes this community so great. It’s also one of the reasons that I myself am proud to call myself a part of it. Six months ago, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and self-conscious. The support of the ITG community has led to me losing weight and gaining many new friendships, as well as acquiring a sense of self esteem that I did not have before. Many of these players tell similar stories of low self-confidence and poor body conditioning.
For this reason I’m glad the community exists. I hope it continues to bring joy to people’s lives. I hope we do find more ten-year-olds. Because you know what? As dorky as it sounds, and as much as the outside world may think it peculiar, there are still plenty of people who secretly (or not-so-secretly) enjoy stomping on arrows.
(All images courtesy Ellen Scepansky.)
Well, someone clearly isn’t a fan of EA today. And by someone, I mean anyone who’s aware of the rumors of EA’s attempt to buy out Valve. According to these rumors, EA has had its eye on Valve for a while now. Of course, it’s not at all surprising that the transaction never actually took place, seeing as Valve is currently worth over three billion dollars.
Still, some angry fans have apparently raided EA’s Facebook page and have been posting ironic pictures of Gabe Newell, along with heaps of hentai/porn.
So why are people upset? Clearly Valve wouldn’t have accepted an offer from EA, and Gabe Newell himself has stated that he’d rather see the company go under than see it sold.
Well, the issue here is Valve fans. It’s no secret that Steam’s users love their games. The company has gone from a niche gaming outlet to one of the world’s frontrunners of entertainment over the last decade or so, and in that time, its users have come to love their games. They love them so much, in fact, that Gabe Newell has gained nicknames such as Gaben and even in some cases God. Millions of users flock daily to Steam, and over eighty percent of PC games are now hosted on the platform.
EA, on the other side of the coin, is near-universally hated in the gaming world. They even beat out the likes of Comcast and Bank of America to become the worst company in America according to Consumerist. Ex employees and consumers alike will attest to both their lack of customer service and their lack of concern for their customer base. In fact, Origin is today considered one of the most hated content delivery systems in the gaming industry, and there are hundreds of thousands of screencaps of disgruntled customers trying, and failing, to get a hold of EA support through chat.
Put these two together and you get a very angry fan base. Sure, this may just be another 4chan raid, but it could also be seen as something much more. It’s a testament to how much gamers care about their games, and with that the companies which publish their content. Without the users, a gaming company is nothing, and in a world where many gaming companies seem to have forgotten this, Valve stands out. Gamers around the world remember this every time they boot up Steam or open Portal 2 for another playthrough. It’s more than just a raid; it’s a message, and a strong one at that: forget your users and you will fall, just as many have before you.