Although ACen describes itself as an “anime, manga and Japanese popular culture convention”, there is also a very large focus on video games, to such an enormous extent that I’m a bit surprised that they haven’t worked “video games” into more of the descriptions of the convention. I have already mentioned the gaming room and gaming swag in my impressions feature, and you have probably seen my top 10 Nintendo-related cosplayers photo feature by this point. For my final feature I am going to talk a bit about some of the video gaming panels that I attended at the convention.
ACen 2013 contained a large variety of video gaming panels, tailored to many different topics. Some of the gaming panels that I was not able to attend included: "Video Game Punel", "Why Is All Fighting Game Anime So Awful?", "Castlevania: Crack That Whip", "Name That RPG Tune" (I would have loved this!), “Final Fantasy Name That Tune”, “Devil May Cry Saga Panel”, “The Gamer’s Atlas”, "Politics in Video Games", "Philosophy in Video Games", “The Regression of Gaming”, “Wait! You Do Video Game Voices?!”, “Shmups for Chumps”, “Halo: You Picked a Heck of Day to Join”, “Fundamental Legal Concepts in Gaming”, and many more. There was also an adults-only video gaming panel with the very non-adults-only name “Turn-Based Critics Present The Final Fantasy Panel”, which made me a bit curious as to what went on behind closed doors such that needed it to be an 18+ panel. My curiosity was left unsatiated.
I attended three video game related panels while at ACen 2013. The first was “Nintendo Power”, a panel where the audience got to ask a panel of Nintendo characters any questions that they wished. As I have already spoken about that in my impressions feature, I’m not going to rehash everything again, but here is a nifty image of that panel to look at.
So onto the next two, both of which I attended on Sunday, May 19th, the last day of the convention.
I should probably note that I went into both of these panels having no idea what to expect. I should also probably note that, unfortunately, I forgot to take down the names of the presenters of the panels. Sorry!
Games as Art: 8-bit
This panel started off with a young woman giving a quick history of video games and how video game art has progressed a bit throughout the years. She compared early video games to early film, noting that neither was considered a “serious” form of art in its infancy. The defining moment for film, she stated, was French director Georges Méliès’ 1902 short A Trip to the Moon (if you have seen the recent excellent film Hugo, you know what I’m talking about here), which showed the potential for film to be more than just a gimmick. She compared this to Miyamoto’s Super Mario Bros., considering it the first video game to truly show the potential of the gaming medium. Although I can’t fully disagree with that, I’m not sure that Super Mario Bros. led to any mainstream acceptance of video games as art, but it definitely had a huge impact on the video game industry itself, so that is something. She did eventually make her way to games like Flower and Journey, which are both probably more commonly accepted “art” games. I would have liked for the panel to contain a little more back and forth with the audience on our own views, as I definitely have a lot to say about video games as art (specifically, our over-reliance on looking at film elements like visuals, sound, and story to “prove” that games can be art instead of looking more at the unique elements of video games, such as their interactive nature.) However, her portion of the panel was only about 15 minutes long, so it was over almost as soon as it started.
When I heard who the next presenter was going to be it surprised me a bit, because it is someone that I know. Well, know of. Local chiptune artist Nigel Shields (aka Saskrotch) was on hand to talk about the history of video game music.
How do I know Saskrotch? Probably around two years ago some friends of mine, a DJ duo known as [esc]ape, were performing at a huge local arcade called The Galloping Ghost. My girlfriend and I went to see them play, and Saskrotch was another performer at the show. I was impressed with his chiptunes-inspired music (so was my girlfriend, actually), and promptly added him on Facebook the very next day.
Unfortunately I was only able to stay for part of his presentation because the two video game panels that I wanted to see were scheduled to overlap each other, but it was definitely interesting. I do think that he got a bit too deep into the technical details for the sound chips for the various platforms, which flew over even the head of an electronic musician such as myself a bit, but I still learned some neat stuff. Did you know that the notoriously bad NES game The Silver Surfer uses the NES sound chip in some of the most impressive ways of any game on the platform? I did not, and now I do.
But I’m still not going to play it.
Gaming in Hindsight: Retro-Relevance
The next panel that I attended was basically a rundown of the history of retro console gaming, which the two presenters defined as any console up to and including the Sega Dreamcast. The fact that the Dreamcast can now reasonably be considered a retro console makes me feel very, very old. It also makes me wonder if retro will eventually lose its distinctive feeling and just become a big umbrella term for years and years of video games. But I digress.
To be totally honest I already knew most of the content that these guys were presenting, but that’s not to say that it was a bad presentation, just that it was focused more on an audience who isn’t immersed in the world of video games day to day like a lot of us at Negative World are. We learned about the pre-Nintendo gaming crash (including the rumoured stock of buried E.T. cartridges) and the rise of Nintendo, Sega and Nintendo’s console wars, Sony, Sega, and Nintendo’s console wars (although Sega was kind of already on the way out at that point), and the current retro revival spurred on by indie games and things like the virtual console, among others.
At one point they asked the audience if anyone had played La-Mulana, and I was the only one to raise my hand. They asked me what I thought about it and I gave my most honest answer, which is that it has awesome gameplay that is encumbered by a confusing progression system and puzzles that are so ridiculously obtuse that it’s nearly impossible to get through the game without cheating. In my case, I never did finish it, and it ended up on my list of games that I loved some elements of but will probably never complete.
There was a random moment when someone in the audience stood up, held up a copy of Arc the Lad, and asked if anyone wanted it. Of course someone took it off his hands. What a nice young man.
At the end of their presentation they had a quiz show, complete with prizes. I decided to not participate, in part because I felt like it might be a bit unfair (although who knows, really?), and in part because I wanted to get pictures of the winners, and it is tough to get a picture of yourself.
I definitely enjoyed myself at the video game panels, although I wish that I would have had the time to take in more of them. I’m even considering trying to run my own gaming panel at ACen 2014. What do you think Negative World, should I go for it? Do you have any ideas on what my panel could be about? Let me know in the comments below!
You can check out the rest of my ACen 2013 coverage right here! And if you're new to the site and it seems like a fun place, why not join us?
I will definitely check out Saskrotch! I love game music.
I'm not surprised to hear what he had to say about Silver Surfer's soundtrack. That is absolutely amazing music and hard to believe it was coming out of the NES.
It's definitely interesting to hear that retro games are defined as Dreamcast and older. I doubt there is a universally accepted definition of 'retro,' and of course it's going to change with each generation of systems.
Interesting to find out you were only one who had played La-Mulana! (I haven't played it, oops). Was there any feedback to your honest answer about the game?
Oh, where are the pictures of the quiz winners?
Yeah, you could do a great gaming panel next year, Andrew, absolutely. But I don't have any ideas yet on what it could be about...
Yeah, seriously. What was the response (from the guy, from the crowd, from..yourself?) to when you were the only person to play La-Mulana? Surely he had some followup instead of a question out of left field? Did he go "oh, ok," and that was that?
@roykoopa64 I talk about this a bit more on the podcast, but regarding La-Mulana we got into a (very short) discussion on retro game mechanics, with the main presenter taking the view that La-Mulana is old school in its obtuseness, mentioning Castlevania II as an example, and me mentioning that I've never fully played Castlevania II but having to kneel at that one place with the right item equipped aside, I don't think it even touches La-Mulana in obtuseness.
Pictures of quiz winners um... well, they all turned out bad. Here is one...
Random strangers? You're bonded under the cloud of Quiz Winnings! You can TOTALLY ask, NO PROBLEM.
You guys are practically brothers.
EDIT- And -- BONUS -- the guy/girl that takes a picture of you has a story; "I took a picture of the guy that won for him! He was so dreamy and confident! I want to subscribe to his site and donate 10 bucks.."