GENCON: The Other Side Part 2

More thoughts about GenCon.

Friday we hit the show floor early. I was sporting an Exhibitor’s Badge with the Green Ronin logo, for the work I’ve done on the upcoming A Song of Ice and Fire RPG. (Which sadly wasn’t ready for the show, but with luck should make a fall release – I’m really looking forward to this one).

I made it immediately over to the WoTC booth, breezing by friend and author, John C. Hays with a quick promise to return after I’d obtained my swag. At the WoTC booth there was a barely organized queue – or 2 lines, really – one for the promo Heroscape figure, and one for the new Magic Dragon Box set. I stood in line with oh, 50 or so exhibitors, and got my promo figure (for my boss – he’s a big Heroscape fan), then dispersed. I have virtually no interest in trying to resell promotional items on eBay – I just don’t have the mindset for it.

That said, WoTC’s organization was pretty lame, considering the 250 Heroscape figures were all snapped up within 5 minutes of the doors opening every day. They could have punched badges (easy), or even calculated how many exhibitors would try to acquire figs and simply up the number they had to give out, or simply required people to play in demos.

Boardgame Geek has a pretty good description of the process.

After that, I went back to John Hay’s booth. He was manning one of the tables for Fantasist Entertainment, and signing copies of Sails and Sorcery, which published his piece, “Return, My Heart, to the Sea.” John is a great guy, and tight with fellow horror & spec fic writers, Maurice and Lucien.

Also at the Fantasist booth was Lawrence Connolly, promoting his new novel, Veins. Lawrence was a very friendly and cordial dude. His writing should be right in my wheelhouse (Robin, can I score points after the fact?), but my backlog of books is SO MIGHTY at the moment, and I get dirty looks every time I bring another book home, that I try to limit myself to “must buy or immediate regret” pieces. But Veins is urban fable, with a heavy Native American bend from what I could tell, and would sit nicely on the shelf next to my Charles de Lint collection. Next time, I hope.

I wandered the hall for a bit, then was lucky enough to be invited to lunch with Lucien, Maurice, John, and the indefatigable Matt Forbeck. I worked with Matt several years ago on The Authority RPG. Matt is a true professional, and I say this every year and yet it still remains true, he is one of the two nicest guys in the game industry (John Kovalic is the other – but Kovalic loses one-tenth of a point for every GenCon he misses).

It was a fun “pro” lunch where we discussed current projects (as best able under various NDAs and “eyes-only” level security), old projects, new friends, and goals. Or something like that.

After lunch I wandered the hall at greater length, hung out in computer game alley a bit – which seemed a bit off this year, to be honest. Some of it was due to NCsoft not being there, and me having no home, but I missed Spyke from Mythic (though Warhammer online was there in full force), High Voltage also wasn’t there, Fable 2 barely had a PR presence, and relative newcomers Legend of the Hot Elf Chycks Norrath just seemed same-old-same-old.

I mean, hell, their tagline on their web page says, “From the Fantastical Worlds of Everquest and Everquest II Comes a New Online Strategy Game Like No Other!” Really? I know PR-market-speak is part of the business, but Imeanreally. Their promotion seemed to consist of really crappy foam swords and an attractive girl dressed up as the “hawt elf,” whose smoke-break slumped shoulders suggested, Hey, it was this or porn.

(Interesting, the web site tells me it’s an online CCG based on the Everquest worlds…fair enough, but not having ever played EQ, I didn’t catch the name reference, nor did any of the show promotion suggest EQ…OR cards, for that matter. Clearly I wasn’t looking that closely at the booth, but still, Imeanreally.)

And then there was the Bioware booth. It was small – maybe 2 lots in size, certainly no more than 4 – and was all focused on Dragon Age: Origins. It had a funky, dark medieval look – like a garrisoned fort (in miniature). All cool and all, but the demos were only at select points of the day. (Every few hours, from what I could tell). And the rest of the time – the booth was closed shut. !?!?!?!?!?

i suppose there might be some explanation for it, but c’mon. This is Bioware. And Dragon Age. It felt like their con reps were phoning it in. Maybe off drinking with the EVE guys. And I know I shouldn’t speak badly of my peers, nor would I if I had been invited to some Hunter-S.-Thompson-esque rum-soaked event, but I wasn’t, so, Imeanreally…

Now, to contrast, the Champions / Champions Online (or should that be HERO/Cryptic) booth was something else. I’ve been friends with Steve Long and Darren Watts for, god, a decade or so now. They are incredible guys. We don’t always agree on politics, or game systems, but they are good friends, terrific game designers, and true professionals. I was tremendously happy for them when they partnered up with Cryptic to bring Champions to an online, virtual reality.

I also got to see Brian Gilmore and Randy Mosiondz, both of whom I worked with in the CoH days. I managed a brief “hello” to Jack Emmert before he rushed off to run his now-famous superhero trivia.

And the branding. Champions Online posters were everywhere. On floors, pillars, walls, staircases, tables. I swear, if I hadn’t kept moving I’m sure someone would have plastered one on me. It was pretty damn cool, I have to admit.

Friday afternoon, I’m sure I did more things. But mostly I remember making one of the annual-and-always-memorable dinners with John and Michelle Nephew, Ryan Dancey, Luke Peterschmidt, and Matt again. We ate early at Palominos, a slightly upscale Italian joint where I had an Incredible Pepperoni pizza – and yes, it was quite good. Conversation was a bit more general catch-up, but all in all they are a fantastic bunch. I do regret seeing most of these folks only once or twice a year (if I’m lucky).

We ate a bit early so folks could hit the ENnie Awards. I have a lot more respect for these awards (probably because I haven’t seen behind the curtain), but I decided to skip them this year, in part because my leg was still killing me.

I am sorry I missed the ENnies for the opening remembrances to Gary Gygax, and my own friend, Erick Wujcik. From Robin Law’s blog:

It was sad to open the Ennies program and see that it kicked off with lifetime achievement awards to Gary Gygax and Erick Wujcik. However once the tributes started it was established that they had already given a lifetime nod to Gary years ago, and that this was just the necessary remembrance. In Erick’s case, the Ennies crew made arrangements for Kevin Siembieda to present the award to him at his birthday bash in January. Kevin told the Ennies audience that Erick’s family had been surprised to discover what an important figure Erick was in the game design community. I am very grateful to the Ennies group for making this happen while Erick was still with us. I’d go so far as to say that any other of their many accomplishments since they started are gravy compared to that one.

And honestly, the absence of Erick was one of the things I felt most keenly this year.

Last year, Loan Shark Games set up a “speakeasy” / (faux) casino / ARG called The House, which was inspired by the SafeHouse in Milwaukee. It was pretty cool, with enthusiasm from the show-runners and James Earnest as pit boss / dealer, juggling chips, and dealing cards and jokes with ease, more than making up for any weaknesses in the game or environment. Although noisy, and overpriced (with under-skilled bartenders), it became an industry hangout and was helluva lot of fun. Man, I could sit and watch James deal and spin stories all night and day.

This year the hotel decided they wanted to run the bar by themselves and it was…kind of pointless. There was no “password,” or speakeasy feel, or game, or enthusiasm, or life, really. A few industry people swept through on last year’s memories, but it was hardly worth the trip.

Oh, I missed the ENies but I did win 1/100 (or was that 1/101?) of a Silver for Best Regalia, for the often-mentioned Hobby Games: The 100 Best. I seem to only ever make silver, but that said, I’m damn proud of the book (and the award).

Sat. was another early day, surprisingly, although I was no more focused than Friday. Devinder and I had lunch with Alex of Mongoose, and we talked about Bollywood of all things.

I also spent a large part of the day checking out the Indie Press Revolution (IPR) booth. Small confession: I’m way behind on my indie game knowledge. I’ve been aware of the IPR, and the various Ron Edwards / Luke Crane enterprises, inspirations, spin-offs, and associates, but I don’t really know any of them or their material that well.

I decided to dip a toe into that very deep pool this year. First, I played a demo of Thou Art But a Warrior, a supplement (or spin off or second-cousin or something) to Polaris. Jason had briefly described Polaris as a cooperative storytelilng game with keywords and phrases and such, so it was interesting to see this in practice. The demo had us as Muslim Knights in the time of the Caliphate.

I also picked up Cold City, Spirit of the Century, and Prime Time Adventures, but I’ll wait for another post to talk more about the IPR in depth.

Sat. night we had an excellent dinner with Mark Smylie (Artesia), and David Petersen (Mouse Guard). I’ve known Mark for a few years, but this was one of the first times we’ve really gotten to hang out and chat about the industry. I’ve known his as a gamer and comic creator both, but I got to see him as a businessman this year, and was quite impressed.

And I only learned about Mouse Guard this year, but am pleased as punch to have picked up a copy, and to have met David. More about those things later, too.

Not much else to report on the end of the con. The White Wolf / CCP party failed to deliver its promised debauchery (no stripper midgets, for example), and the only wild&crazy was us at 3:00 in the morning at White Castle. Sadly for you, dear reader, I won’t share that story here.

Sunday, we got up painfully early, packed painfully, and somewhat ruefully left GenCon at midday.

I’m glad I went, and always enjoy seeing friends and checking out new products. And if I had not injured myself I would be the much better for it. But so it goes, sometimes.

Until the next GenCon…

2 Responses to “GENCON: The Other Side Part 2”

  1. Bonehead/Fiddy Says:

    It was great to see you again and catch up a bit. I had a great time at the CoH party and in general had another fun GenCon. I didn’t schedule any games this year, but had as much fun as I’ve had any year (well, except last year, but that’s a once i
    in a life time event anyways. 🙂

    I knew this year had been rough for the RPG world, losing both Gygax and Wujcik. It really hit me sitting in the Auction room every night with a good friend of mine (he did all the bidding ;). Frank (for get his last name) would often wax nostalgic on the industry and Gygax in general. There was one point on either Thursday or Friday were he waxed a bit too much and got a little choked up at one point. It seemed like every other item being auctioned was a piece of D&D history. And with each one, Frank (or the other gentleman whose name I forget) would have a story about it. I was both fascinated and saddened seeing the items and hearing the stories. My friend got lucky and won a bid on a D&D white box signed by Gygax at the 1989 (I think) GenCon. On Saturday he was able to get that same box signed by Dave Arneson.

  2. Jason Says:

    By the way, what the hell do you want me to do with those business cards?

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Posted in Current Events, Games on August 24, 2008 by Jesse

Jesse Scoble

Jesse Scoble is a writer, story editor, and game designer in no particular order.

He has won awards, written a Western Horror script, worked on computer games & pen&paper games, contributed to more than 30 titles, and makes a mean mojito.

Currently he is a freelance writer in Montreal, QC.