September 11th, 2001 was a tragic day for a great many people. Myself, being unemployed at the time, I spent the entire day in front of the TV and talking to friends over the Internet. For some random reason that morning, I’d turned on the TV and it was on CNN. I think there had been some special news report or something I’d been watching before bed the night before. I was actually watching when the first reports of something hitting the World Trade Center came in, and I stayed there all day. I don’t think I even took a break for food until dinner that night.
As tragic as that day was, however, it was the next day, September 12th, when everything sunk in, when the ripples of the event started to be felt, when the world became a different place than it had been just two days before. Terrorism, of course, was not new. People had been dealing with attacks like that, though not in the same scope, for a very long time. Suicide bombers in cafés and other public places were old hat in some parts of the world. Even hijackings and blowing up planes was something that had, to some degree, become accepted as a possibility. The largest ripple coming from the September 11th attack was simply that we now lived in a world where that could happen. A world where someone can fly a plane into a building, not on accident, not a small plane as a personal act of suicide, but a large passenger flight turned in to a weapon that can bring down a building and kill thousands. On September 10th, it was unthinkable by most people. On the 11th, it happened. On the 12th, it was added to the list of possibilities, or if it had already been there, its rank on the list of probabilities rose. It went from being some 1-in-a-million things to an event that happened, and now proven effective an event that would be planned again.
One of the tracks at Dragon*Con is called Apocalypse Rising. It is a very odd track compared to many of the other fandom based tracks like Star Wars and Star Trek and the Whedon Universe because it lives in two worlds. On one side you have zombies and an array of Sci-Fi movies and books, and people talk about their favorite “end of the world” and they wear Mad Max costumes and pretend to hunt zombies. On the other side, you have panels with people who are well versed in the practical procedures of surviving disasters talking about the things you can do, the things you should do. It is in the second half where discussions about the inevitability of larger events happen. We talk about how the September 11th event was a shock to the United States and most of the world, and about how technology advances, and arms caches of fallen regimes make their way into the market, and how once upon a time people used to discuss about the remote possibility that a nuclear weapon or other massively destructive thing might one day be unleashed on a city in the US or the UK, and how events like sarin gas being released on a Tokyo subway and September 11th and more have turned that remote possibility into an eventuality, about how we’ve stopped talking about “if” something will happen but “when” it will happen. And it all reminds me of a line from Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, “On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.”
Somber thoughts for a sunny Saturday, I know, but I can’t help it. Its on my mind and it had to come out somewhere. On a brighter note, I’m alive, I’m in love, and while I may not have everything that I want, I want everything that I have, and that’s a pretty nice place to be.
It has been eight years since that day, and other lengths of time from other tragic days. To those that we’ve lost, I wish them rest. To those they’ve left behind, I wish them restoration. And hopefully “when” will be a very long way off.
I skipped last week because A) I was at Dragon*Con, and B) I hadn’t seen any of the movies. The funny part is, all three movies (All About Steve, Extract, and Gamer) are ones I wanted to see. I’ll catch them on DVD for sure. Anyway, on to this week…
Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself:
I’m a big fan of Taraji P. Henson, but even she can’t get me excited about a Tyler Perry movie. Nope.
A remake of sorts of The House on Sorority Row. Now I love me some scary movies, but I do prefer them at home, where its quiet and I can have the lights off and cuddle under a blanket with the wife and help her hide from the really scary stuff. I got a pass to see this one at a screening, but I had a work emergency and was unable to attend. So I guess I’ll be waiting for the DVD.
Bring a jacket. No, seriously. For one, temperatures outside are dropping a tad, but it’ll be weeks before theaters adjust their air conditioning properly, and also this movie does a really fantastic job of showing you the coldest place on Earth. If you are even mildly suggestible, the movie is bound to make you shiver. The story here is about a US Marshal, played by Kate Beckinsale, who handles the law in the region and is just days away from leaving when someone finds a body. Essentially, this movie is an action/mystery film following the Marshal as she tries to find out who did it and why, all under a deadline and the threat of an oncoming storm. Overall, it was a good solid movie that I really enjoyed watching.
If I were to rate this movie on its visuals alone, I’d gladly give it an “A”. However, once you include the bland, unsurprising and ultimately disappointing story, this movie can’t be given more than a “C” … or to go on a numeric scale, 9 is a 5 at best. Most of this has to do with how it ends, which is fairly lame and mildly confounding. It doesn’t make sense. Two things people should know before going to see this film: 1) It is not for kids, really, it is not. Don’t take them, they probably won’t enjoy it. 2) Lots of advertising is tagging this movie as a Tim Burton film, and technically it is, however, he did not direct it and he didn’t write it, he only produced, and the result is that 9 is missing Burton’s touch. If I hadn’t seen this for free, I’d be demanding my money back.
I don’t remember which year was the first time I went to Dragon*Con. I’m not sure if it was before or after I got out of college. I think before, so it was probably 1996 or 1997. The first couple of times I went down it was for concerts and people watching and the dealers hall. At some point, probably 5 years ago or so, I started actually going to panels. Not just one or two, but spending pretty much all my time in them. From year to year I would go to new tracks and see more stuff…
Before I go further, I want to say that everyone should take some time and see the panels. They cover great topics and the people are very passionate. Just think about the things you are interested in and track down a panel or two and go.
… that said, after five years, many of the panels are content stagnant. Hey, if you’ve never been to the Star Trek author’s panel, go, but if you’ve been before, unless there has been some big shakeup in the publishing or some game changing new book released, they are more likely to just discuss the same things they discussed the last time. Much like I wrote about in this year’s daily posts concerning the Art Show, Exhibitors and Dealers halls, once you’ve gone through a track’s panels in full once or twice, you can skim them in later years and just pick up the new stuff. After five years, you are pretty much skimming all the tracks, and some tracks, while being full of awesome people and awesome content and perfect for people new to the track, there is so much less “must see” items on their schedule.
When you get to this point, you will find out which items you are really interested in by which tracks you continue to visit. This year, I spent most of my time in the MMO Track, with a few trips off to the Writer’s Track and Apocalypse Rising, and those side trips were only to see those “skimmed” panels of content either new or deeply interesting to me.
So what do you do when attending the panels is winding down? For me, it means I’m thinking about getting involved. Why just go to Dragon*Con when you can help bring it to be?
Beyond that revelation, I also discovered that being in better shape physically makes for a better weekend all around. Four nights in a row of getting 3 to 5 hours of sleep at best and I wasn’t exhausted. Even now, in the aftermath, I’m more mentally tired than physically so (though I did get about 9 hours of sleep last night). Getting healthier is having all sorts of cool benefits. I even managed to go through the whole weekend without gaining weight.
All in all, Dragon*Con was as good as ever, and I’m really looking forward to next year.
Perhaps next year we’ll stay until Tuesday, but when you are leaving on Monday, day four of Dragon*Con always begins with packing. After leaving our luggage with the bellman, the wife and I headed out to see some last few things. For me, it was a short day of two events. First, a Q&A with Felicia Day. We watched episode one of season three of The Guild, and then she talked and people asked questions. Fun and funny, even with the lady who wanted her Penny/Bad Horse fan fiction signed. Yes, slash fiction. Yes, he is a horse. Felicia signed it, but I think everyone was more than a tad creeped out. Afterward I went to the MMO track post mortem. The guys of the MMO track are a great bunch, they run a fantastic track, and I look forward to the future of it.
Normally I end day four with a trip through the exhibiters and dealers halls, and maybe the art show, but given my previous posts describing my changing feelings toward them, I didn’t go. So instead we picked up the luggage, got the car from the valet, and made the trek back home… about an hour away. Man do I love living in Atlanta when it comes to Dragon*Con.
Unpacked, ate a real meal, and now the tired is settling in. Dragon*Con, I’ll see you next year.
Day three of Dragon*Con is usually when the cracks begin to show. Its that second (or third) night of little to no sleep that leaves your feet shuffling a little more than walking, the enthusiasm is there but the expression of it has waned… and this is how I entered my first panel of the morning, “Oops!” – an apocalyptic track panel about things you need to know about surviving catastrophe. I’ve gone to this panel every year that they’ve had it. Its fun to listen to people who’ve done more research than you tell you stuff like “We all like to make fun of SPAM, but seriously, Hormel canned meats are something you need, and with the right dry spices and preparation it can be tasty… well, as tasty as SPAM gets.” and “Buying bottled water is good, but you have to rotate your stock because it will go bad.” and watching people furiously taking notes and the looks on their faces as the wisdom of these little nuggets sink in. And for those that don’t go, here is the short version: In the case of any disaster, you are on your own for 72 hours, so you should always have food, water and supplies to last at least that long, if not longer. Oh, and make sure your disaster recovery plans don’t rely on the things that will likely be lost in a disaster, like electricity.
Then there was a Champions Online panel… no developers, just fans talking about the beta and playing the game. The kind of panel you just don’t get at other conventions. I followed this with the “What’s wrong with WoW?” panel… the short version: Everything. The long answer is that WoW does many things right, from a certain perspective, and if you are an MMO veteran who isn’t looking for the RPG version of whack-a-mole then WoW really isn’t for you. The real long answer is… well… a series of posts that I might do later.
With no interesting panels for a couple hours, I took a lunch break and visited the dealers’ room. Much like the Art Show and the Exhibiter Halls, I’ve been here before, a lot, and it is pretty much the same things every year. But I made my way through the “5 for $25″ shelves of graphic novels and didn’t find any I couldn’t live without. Though, he did have a complete set of the huge leather bound looking Absolute Sandman series. I wish I had that kind of cash to blow.
Back at the MMO track I settled in for an afternoon of SOE. First, Free Realms… really, if you haven’t at least tried this game, I don’t know what to say. It is free, it streams the client so you create an account, create a character and log in, the game downloads as needed and it does it very well. Sure, its largely a collection of mini-games, but its fun. I think it is anyway. Second, The Agency. The more I learn about this one, the more I like it. It looks like an MMO version of the old Top Secret RPG. You are an agent, you get skills, you do missions, you have other agents who help you out, you shoot stuff, you sneak in places, espionage… it just looks cool. Third, DC Universe Online. You know, I really wanted to love City of Heroes, it had lots to like but in the end was too grindy. When I saw Champions Online, I was excited, but from what I’ve read by the people who are playing, especially about how the graphics didn’t turn out to be the cell shaded awesomeness the screenshots originally portrayed, I’m not buying in yet and am waiting to here some ringing endorsements. But from what I saw and learned about DCUO today, I’m really interested. The physics of the game are just incredible. As the example they used goes, you can freeze one bad guy in a block of ice, then pick him up and beat other bad guys with him. That sounds like a comic book.
A smiled my way back to the Marriott then and attended a panel about upcoming post-apocalyptic movies and TV shows… not really a whole lot I didn’t know already, so nothing really exciting to report. Book of Eli, Zombieland, The Road, V, Day One, Daybreakers… lots of things coming up I want to watch.
As the final night of Dragon*Con, it is also the final night of parties. The Pirate Party is always a popular choice, though I imagine that many men choose it because of all the cleavage that comes with women dressing like pirates and wenches. The highlight of this particular pirate party was watching one pirate make many frontal assaults upon the virtue on one wench, which she repeatedly rebuffed. We also managed to catch the end of the Mad Scientists Ball where they had Tesla coils arcing toward a box within which they allowed ladies to dance. Genius. I didn’t make it to the SOE Party for the MMO track, and I wish I had… hopefully they will be back next year and do it again.
To wrap up the night, I spent it people watching in the Marriott. Really, watching the other people, seeing the costumes that people create, is one of the best parts of the con. It is so very inspiring.
Good night Dragon*Con, just one more day is left with you, but tonight was the last night. Until next year…
When it comes to Dragon*Con, four hours sleep is a lot. And remember, you can’t be hung over if you are still drunk. Really, it doesn’t take much too keep yourself going all day, that canteen I have isn’t water, its vodka and Crystal Light Lemonade, because, you know, I’m trying to watch my diet.
The day begins with a car alarm. I shit you not. Not even seven in the A.M. and there is an annoying *BEEP BEEP* alarm that I can hear… in my room… on the 38th floor. Jeez… So, once awake, I figured I’d just stay up. Three hours later I’d find myself sitting in the Free MMOs panel, listening to Krystalle tell us about some nifty free MMOs some of which I knew about and some of which I did not. Expect to see a few of them tested out and reviewed here, because these days in this economy I am all about the free.
Made my way over to the Hyatt for a panel on How To Draw Monsters. Interesting stuff, will definitely utilize some of that in my Saturday doodles when they return. While I was in the area I sped through the Art Show… Some people like to take their time and carefully examine the art, but I’ve been to enough Dragon*Cons that, no offence to the artists, I’ve seen most of this before, either exactly these before or items very similar. Lots of the same artists with the same styles they always have, and almost all of it is incredible stuff… but its not new, and most of it is not the kind of thing you stand considering for hours letting the emotion of the piece work into your soul… its fantasy art, with dragons, and women showing boobs, and guys with swords, and little monsters, and fairies, and women as the seasons, and aliens, and henna, and Celtic knots, and all the stuff you would expect. Good stuff, but at this point I can speed through the hall and if it doesn’t jump out and grab me then I’ve probably seen it before. This year didn’t even have one of those awesome miniatures scenes I’ve enjoyed from the last couple years.
I also took this opportunity to make a first trip through the exhibit halls… much like the art show, it is a lot of the same stuff every year. As is typical, I spent a little time in some of the book sellers looking for deals or books I’m missing, but overall, great stuff that I’ve seen before and so really easy to speed through.
Then it was off to the MMO Roundtable. People from Cartoon Network, CCP Games, Funcom, Hi-Rez Studios, and Sony Online Entertainment answered questions about the MMO industry. Lots of good stuff here. I ran in Ferrel from Epic Slant, and he gave me a t-shirt. Woohoo! Free stuff rocks!
With my head full of MMO industry goodness, I wandered over to Watch the Guild where we did exactly that: watched season one and two uncut. It was interesting to see each season without the breaks, the credits for every short segment. It played well. Ms. Day was great. Being that she’s a bit of a geek herself and a big reader, she seems to really like Dragon*Con, so hopefully this means she’ll make many returns, even if it means she has to miss PAX.
It is important to break for dinner prior to going out to party and drink. I did so, and then did so. Frankly, as much as I love the MMO track people and the MMO track, the WoW Party getting the giant room was a huge waste when you consider to do so meant pushing the BSG party into a piddly half-ballroom. They reach max capacity very fast and had a massive line. Seriously, on the first Dragon*Con after the series ended, did they expect attendance to diminish? Its the funeral, the big send off… BSG had a huge turn out. The show may be over, but fans always swell and linger at the end. The Firefly Shindig, forced to use just half a ballroom as well was in a similar boat, though not anywhere near at severe. Meanwhile, I strolled right in to the WoW party, took one of the many empty seats and almost immediately got up to leave. I wanted to party, but I couldn’t get in to the good parties… so instead I resorted to the Marriott lobby, people watching while sipping spirits. I did manage to run into and catch up with quite a few friends, but still, I’d rather have been able to get into a party instead. That said, I still enjoyed myself and made it well beyond 3AM of another day at the Con.
Day two ends as day two should, exhausted and drunk. Not the highest of highs, but high enough.
The day began as no day should… waiting in line for registration. However, once let inside, well, lets just say that a couple hundred geeks in a room being forced to walk a maze of a line can be pretty hilarious. Some people shot video of it, I’ll provide a link if I ever see it posted online.
After a spot of breakfast I headed off to the “Write a Story in an Hour” panel, which I visit every year, because its funny to hear people shout out story elements and craft a beautifully weird story… not by the panel, mind you, they tend to ignore the really out there stuff, but there is always a group of us taking the best ignored suggested, like a typewriter possessed by the ghost of Hunter S. Thompson that requires a bottle of liquor to be poured on it before it will function, and making our own ridiculous plot.
Then it was off to the Fallen Earth panel where we got to hear that people who work on games tend to like working on game, and that crafting is the center of the game, and that they have no current plans for a series of Fallen Earth novels, but everyone would like to see that happen.
Next up… the Crypt of Trailers, where we watch movie trailers and make snappy jokes, like how the new Twilight movie, New Moon, would be much better if they just added a Predator, or some Aliens… yeah, Aliens vs. Predator vs. Twilight. Hollywood? Are you listening?
After that I got to sit and listen to a panel of writer’s talk about how fun it is to destroy the human race in the Apocalypse Writer’s Roundtable. John Ringo, S.M. Stirling, Kevin J. Anderson, Walter Jon Williams, Michael Z. Williamson, and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. They were a very talkative and funny bunch, while also being very knowledgable and open. Excellent panel.
Down into the bowels of the Hyatt I went to join the wife for a panel on Steampunk. Steampunk, if you didn’t know, is the new Goth, or perhaps the new Vampires. Everyone is steampunking it up, and it is awesome. I’ll post some photos later as I take some around the con. Beautiful stuff.
The third rule of Dragon*Con (the first being: shower, and the second being: sometimes you must go down to go up – if you’ve been, you know what that means) is don’t forget to eat. Nothing ruins a party like drinking on an empty stomach and passing out early, so remember to feed yourself. In accordance with this rule, we took a short break for sandwiches and chips.
With a full belly, I hit the Machinima panel. I have an odd relationship with machinima. The idea behind it is very cool – to take a game/game engine/game art assets and make a movie out of it. Some of the best machinima, however, is clearly rendered in professional tools just using assets, while items rendered in the game engine often look stilted and of poorer quality, especially when it comes to characters talking. Anyway, the result is that I generally don’t like the machinima people actually create, but I respect the ideas and effort that goes into their creation. That said, Ignis Solus is just awesome:
I decided to end my day of panels with the Zombie Walk, which in hindsight was a poor choice. Not enough zombies showed for it to be really great, and I never did complete my Francis from Left 4 Dead outfit, so it ended up being about 20 zombies walking through the con… I gave up and left them half way through. Maybe next year.
The way a day at Dragon*Con should end is with parties, but I lost my enthusiasm for the Zombie Prom, and the line for the Time Travelers Ball was too long, so I hung out with some friends for a bit and then made my way to the All-Night (5am) Global Agenda party where I played absolutely zero Global Agenda. Instead, I spent a good hour or more, maybe two rockin’ the mic in Rock Band. Thank you Atlanta! Good night!
It is Thursday, the day before Dragon*Con officially begins, and like every year that means registration. Some years it is a tiring journey downtown after work followed by a couple or three hours spent in line and then a trek back home to finish packing and sleep before making the real journey down on Friday for Con.
This year, however, the wife and I decided we’d just extend our hotel stay by one day so that our trip down for registration would end in us hanging around and meeting people and stumbling back to our room when we get tired.
Dragon*Con this year is going to be a little different for me. Normally, I just post daily wrap-ups, but thanks to my purchase of a Palm Pre, I’ll be a little more “on time”. First and foremost, the Pre has that awesome synergy thing you may have heard about, and what that means is that it blends my calendars from several sources into one display without syncing the calendars and duplicating stuff. And with the folks at Dragon*Con providing a Google Calendar of events, it means I won’t really need to carry around the book and schedule, it will all be on my phone. Next, with the use of Twitter and TwitPic, as well as Facebook, I’ll be able to snap photos from my phone and immediately get them out to all the people. So, if you’d like to see them, here is me on Twitter, and here is me on Facebook. I’ll try not to annoy people too much, but I make no promises.
So much to do, so much to see, so exciting… You know, the idea of PAX intrigues me, and I want to go, but I never will. Dragon*Con is just so much… more.
Of course, it helps if you get to registration early. They were open until 11, but they cut off the line at 9:30 at about where they estimated it would take two and a half hours to get through… we were beyond that point. Registration opens again at 8 in the morning. So without our badges we went down to the Marriott bar, Pulse, and hung around chatting and people watching… In New York, they say if you hang out in Times Square, you’ll see a million people walk by. At Dragon*Con, the place to stand is in the Marriott.
Tobold has a great series of posts up called “Why Do We Play?” (that link goes to the summary, which links to the earlier parts because Tobold didn’t go back and put links in his introduction post) wherein he examines several aspects of gaming and how those aspect are realized. Of course, its mostly great if you aren’t a big gaming blog reader. Nothing in there is revolutionary, and most of it has been talked before in many places, but its not a bad read. Here is my rebuttal, of sorts…
I’m there for the social. I want to play with other people, and if I’m not going to play with other people, then I want a strong narrative which I am unlikely to find in an MMO and will more easily find in a single player game. One of the things I loved about EverQuest, and I’ve talked about it before, is that the game wasn’t quest driven. Yes, there were quests, and yes, I’ve said before that there was not a single day of playing EQ where I was not working on a quest of some sort. However, quests are personal. It is in their design to be so. A quest is started by you, it is on your quest tracker, and you will complete it. Someone can help you kill raptors and collect hides, but in the end, even if you both have the quest, you both need your own hides (whether the item is shared or not) and you will both talk to the NPC separately to complete the quest. The reason EverQuest worked so much better as a social game than WoW or other modern games is that while a player could always be questing, the bulk of the game was in fighting monsters, and fighting monsters is something you actually do together. When the monster dies, it may drop an item that is lootable by all group members, but still each of them loots the item for their own quest, they don’t complete the quest together, but they do kill the monster as a team. Especially in games like WoW, when you’ve collected all your items, you are best off running back to the NPC and doing the turn in as soon as possible because the next quest he gives may very well be in the same area you are already fighting in to kill monsters you are already killing but are getting no credit for since you don’t yet have the quest. And quests reward the player better than the killing.
To that end, I was very excited about Warhammer Online’s public quest system, where a quest wasn’t assigned to you but just happened in a specific area and to be a part of it you only needed to be there. Of course, that game also had a ton of traditional quests and the heavy PvE and quest focus of the game, plus it being level based like most every other MMO, lead pretty quickly to people not socializing, racing through content on the traditional quests. The saving grace of the game was supposed to be the PvP aspects, but with so much focus on PvE, and trying a bunch of PvP elements to PvE sieges, it didn’t really work too well. Honestly, I hope they keep plugging away at the game and don’t close it down any time soon. If they just accept that they are not going to defeat WoW at the PvE game and work on making the PvP game fun and rewarding, they might manage to carve themselves out a very nice niche, and I might go back to the game.
Despite my distaste for the gameplay of EVE Online, I am repeatedly drawn to the game because the social aspects of the game carry so much weight. And by “social” I don’t just mean hanging around chatting with people, though I do mean that too, but in how the player economy involves interaction with other players, even when done through an auction/buy/sell interface there are still other players on the other side of those transactions. Similarly, its why I am drawn toward Fallen Earth and why I’m so disappointed that I experience so much lag in towns. Hopefully they’ll resolve that, or I’ll be able to buy a super PC (when I win the lottery), and I can join in.
But that’s it in a nutshell. Of all the reasons to play an MMO, the reason I’m there is for the social interactions, and not just between me and my friends from previous games talking on our private chat server while playing in guild groups, but for the random happenstance of playing with and around other people, whoever they may be.
I still haven’t seen the first Rob Zombie Halloween remake, so I’m not itching to see the sequel. Perhaps one day I’ll catch up.
The Final Destination:
There is a fairly long tradition of horror movies utilizing 3D, but the old 3D kinda sucked. RealD, however, works great. It also helps that The Final Destination didn’t waste much time doing “stupid” 3D tricks like people waving things at the screen… they didn’t need to, because in a movie about people getting killed in insanely intricate traps there are plenty of body parts and death machines to fling at the audience. Overall, this movie was probably, from a plot standpoint, the worst of the Final Destination series, but the 3D makes the whole film stand out (see what I did there). The death scenes are just incredibly over the top, and fun to watch unfold. Well, unless you didn’t like the previous three films. It is sort of gross, and not for the squeamish. I’m not sure if the movie is worth $10 ($12 in most places since they charge you extra for the glasses), but seeing this in 3D is really the only worthwhile way to see it, and when it comes to DVD/Blu-Ray it won’t be in RealD 3D but regular 3D which just isn’t as good. So, yeah, if this sort of movie is something you’d enjoy, go see it at the theater.