Last Saturday, I attended a brand new convention in Parsippany, New Jersey. "A Video Game Con" just had its first ever run, focused on all forms of gaming, from classic and new. I was also thrilled with being approved to do two panels at this event. The first was "Streaming Video Games 101," a panel focusing on why people like to stream video games, as well as a primer on how to jump into the craze. The second panel, "The Wonderful World of JRPGs," talked about what separates JRPGs from the rest of the gaming medium, as well as examples of games that impacted the US in particular (more on these two panels later).
Those who know me are aware I've been to a pretty large number of conventions at this point, both local (AnimeNEXT, Great Philadelphia Comic Con, etc.) and not so local (New York Comic Con, Walker Stalker Con, etc). I've got a pretty good idea of how these events are typically run, as well as what kind of expectations you should go in with. Over the years, I've found myself enjoying local conventions more than the big-budget ones, simply because there is much less to overwhelm you with while you try to sort through all of the events and decide which ones you'd like to attend the most. They are also much more personal experiences, due to significantly less people crowding up the rooms.
The first thing I noticed when I reached the PAL center, was how quickly the parking lot had already filled up with people, and how big of a line was forming out the door, with the con about 30 minutes from opening. Because I was a panelist (and because I was hosting one of the first panels of the entire day!), I was allowed to come in before the line to setup. I happened to see my good friend (also named Justin) waiting in line, and found out I was being given an extra badge, just for being a panelist. Naturally, I gave the pass to him, so he could come in early with me and help set things up (because LORD knows I needed the help!). The center was a pretty reasonable size, with the exception of a few narrow hallways. It didn't seem like anything too overwhelming at the time (though keep in mind, this was before the place started to really fill up).
I didn't get much of a chance to check the place out before we had to head right in and set up for the first panel, "Streaming Video Games 101." The team who helped me set up (Keith and Anthony in particular) were invaluable in getting the speakers and projector to work. I'd have gotten nowhere if it wasn't for these two running around and fumbling with everything, so that we could be ready in time. Unfortunately for me, my own hardware wasn't quite up to par. My laptop actually crashed on me 3 times before the panel was done, as if I wasn't nervous enough already! I tried to recall everything I had down on my slides as best as I could, and even try to come up with some new dialogue as well. The crowd wasn't very large for this panel, but that was mostly due to how early it was in the day, and the people who did come were very nice and a pleasure to talk to. I hope they felt the same about me! (They all took my business cards, so that had to be a good sign, right???)
After this, my friend and I were finally free to explore! We headed down the first narrow hallway that we saw when we first came in, and scouted all of the dealers and merchandise they all had to sell. Wow, what a selection! I was finding everything from classic Atari and NES/Famicom games, all the way to the recent (but sold out) Metal Gear Solid V Collector's Edition. This was one of those times where it was extremely difficult not to just throw your money at everything around and pray you didn't overdraft after the fact! I ended up getting excellent copies of Final Fantasy VII in its original black label (my original copy was lost/stolen), and Super Metroid, which I've never owned the original cartridge for until now. A good, albeit small haul if I do say so myself.
By the time 12:30 began to fast approach, my friend and I made our way to the 'SomecallmeJohnny' panel. For those who don't know, SomecallmeJohnny is a now famous YouTube personality, who is known for hilarious playthroughs and online reviews of classic and current-gen video games. He is more or less in a place I'd love to reach someday, so it was very insightful to listen to Johnny and his crew talk about some of their past experiences, as well as the hard truths, such as "It doesn't happen overnight, and may not happen for years at that." While I admit I haven't watched many of his videos in the past, I did enjoy the few that I've seen, and having such a great and funny personality is definitely making me want to go back for more.
After that bit of fun, and a trip to the Burger King across the street later, we came back to try out some of the playable areas. There were two (relatively large) rooms for this type of setup. One had a large amount of TVs hooked up in rows with different games from multiple eras (about the size of a school gym), and the other (about the size of a standard auditorium) with multiple arcade machines coiling around the room, and a big stage on the other side. We thoroughly examined both rooms, and had some fun playing the Dreamcast version of Garou: Mark of the Wolves, my favorite game in the Fatal Fury series. There was a section of the large gym room that had some projects from local indie developers, mostly still in development. I tried out a game called "Boris: Hero of the Universe" by Suave Games for a few minutes. While it was obviously nowhere near completion, it was also far from unplayable, and I felt like I could definitely get a grasp of what the developer was going for in the look and feel. I had a good conversation with George Yockachonis (their CEO) about all of this too, and wished him the best of luck.
I had heard that Bill Mitchell, the famous gamer known for breaking multiple world records in classic games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, would also attending the convention. What I didn't know was that not only did he come and play on multiple arcade machines during his visit; he even managed to break his own Donkey Kong record in the process! While I unfortunately did not get to witness this legendary event, someone was kind enough to make a video and put it up on YouTube. You can watch it through the link below.
By the time my friend and I got to enter this room, Bill was long gone, but we got to see most of The Schwam's performance. They were a great mix of punk/ska, and their covers of songs from Super Mario to Toy Story were a blast to listen to! I didn't expect to get a really fun concert at this event too, so I was quite surprised. It also didn't hurt that three of the band members were cosplaying as Tingle from Zelda, Gohan from Dragon Ball Z, and Donkey Kong from... Donkey Kong. Really entertaining stuff.
After everything listed above, as well as meeting with some old friends of ours, it was only a matter of time before my second panel would begin. Such a matter of time in fact, that I actually read my schedule completely wrong and was almost 10 minutes late!!! Luckily, a kind staff member remembered me from my first panel, and she even went to find me and let me know what was happening. (I don't know where you are right now Elyse, but if you ever find this blog, know that you were my hero that day!)
So how did the second panel go, you ask? Thankfully, MUCH better than the first! The laptop didn't crash on me once, and the crowd was HUGE! Easily the biggest (and loudest!) I've ever had in the few panels I've hosted so far. They were an absolute joy to talk with, and we all exchanged quite a few laughs at the expense of all the things we love and hate about JRPGs. Afterward, people even came up to me after the panel was over, just to talk more. One girl even came up to me, just to say how happy she was that I had mentioned "The Last Story," one of her personal favorites. Little moments like that make everything even more worthwhile. I hope this isn't the last I see of all these amazing people.
I didn't get to stay for the night events following (sorry Lily, I heard your show was amazing, and I have no doubt it was!), and there was a bit of a mishap with getting out (due to some idiot's car blocking me from getting out), but thankfully the staff was more than welcoming, and one even helped fit my car out of the tight spot! One more detail I had to add is that this was easily the most friendly staff of any convention I've ever been to. No one acted rude or condescending, and they genuinely cared about if you were having a good time, on top of simply following procedure.
So that's about it from me. For a local convention, I found this to be absolutely amazing. Sure, they'll need more space in the future, but that's only testament to how well this whole event came together, and I'm honored to have been a part of it as well. Special thank you to all of the staff and whoever was crazy enough to approve my panels! Another shout out goes to the cosplayers. While there were not very many of you, you were all truly great at what you do. And finally to all of my friends, who kept me feeling upbeat and confident in a time where I was incredibly nervous. You all make these events worth coming to. Here's to next year's AVGC!!!