The muted, brown tones that coated the main exhibit hall of the Indiana Convention Center were merely a vessel for waves of noise and humanity. Taking reprieve of my exodus from the exhibit hall, I found myself slouched to the side of the hallway.
My feet bayed in pain like a wolf mournfully howling at the moon, though the reality was far less romantic. In this sea of noise, sweat, and revelry I was auditorily assaulted by fragments of conversations coming from each and every direction.
…Just one more….waiting…the game starts…
…Meet them….bar after…in the morning…
Within the merry cacophony, music came from every end of the convention center, converging and sluicing into an overwhelming noise that, if I focused on hard enough, felt like it would bore straight through my skull if allowed.
I ducked into a room on the second floor meant as a quiet room. As I let out a sigh of relief upon entering the room, I saw that there was no space to be had or quarter to be given. The room was relatively full with other people who were surely thinking the same thing that I had been.
I retreated back into the hallway, greeted once again by a collection of people who blended together in an abstract sort of way. The sensation was akin to looking at a trick photography photo where the image changes once your eyes cross and relax. All I could see were the colors and shapes of these supposed humans.
I returned to the safety of the floor, slumping into the carpet and placing my attention back to my PlayStation Vita. It was only Friday afternoon and Gen Con 2015 was far from being over.
As a convention, Gen Con is a curious monstrosity. The gathering seems to be suffering from an identity crisis, as it’s origins of a faux-ren fair board game gathering has been taken over more and more by the slickness of advertising from giants within the industry like Wizards of the Coast, Azmodee, and Fantasy Flight. Like other conventions that have switched gears thanks to mainstream appeal, so too has Gen Con seen changes that, for a first-timer such as myself, seem off-putting.
One minute you’re walking down a hallway and hearing the song styling of musical groups playing lutes. Turn a corner and you’re halted in your tracks by a gaggle of League of Legends cosplayers and banners for a Mortal Kombat tournament.
Though, I won’t complain about the eclectic nature of this year’s Gen Con. I enjoyed seeing this combination of new and old, expected and not. This year’s Gen Con saw their largest crowd since 2010, with over 200,000 people coming through the doors and over 61,000 unique badges sold. Growing pains are expected, and it is all for the better.
As a hub, Indianapolis is kind of the perfect town to host a gathering on the scale of Gen Con. The downtown area is a busy square, with interesting architecture and a wealth of beautiful interiors. Wandering into any of the numerous hotel lobbies is an adventure in and of itself, as I found myself marveling at the waterfall-laden barriers and mile high elevators of one particular hotel while passing through to another location.
Of course, said downtown area suffers from many of the same problems that suffer any downtown: incredulous parking prices, bizarre street layouts, civic issues, and a homeless population that seems underserved in area of relatively high upkeep and beauty.
My group and I found ourselves taking in the good and the bad through our four days in Indy, as we ended up parking over a mile away each day, thanks to $20+ parking garages in the surrounding blocks around the convention center. The walk itself wasn’t the worst, but on a weekend that saw multiple 90 degree days and nights staying at the convention center around and past midnight, it all grew to be too much at a point.
I give all the credit in the world to the Gen Con staff and volunteers for being on top of their game in regards to organization and running the event. For a convention on the size and scale of Gen Con, I was amazed to see just how well-oiled everything seemed to be.
One of the bonuses of not scheduling any events was that I was able to observe the smaller moments, such as the hard-working volunteer staff. While many people I talked to gave me a sideways glance at the mention that I hadn’t signed up for any events ahead of time, I recommend everyone try it at least once.
I think the lack of structure allowed me to appreciate the wheels and cogs at work, not to mention that I was afforded the luxury of jumping into demos and events when I wanted, space willing.
With that in mind, here is a short list of things that I enjoyed or participated in over the weekend:
Food Trucks: Dear sweet fluffy lord, the food trucks. Coming from a town like Toledo, where the food truck scene is basically in infancy, it was wonderful to be the presence of so many mobile eating options. Rachel and I hit food truck row multiple times through the weekend. The clear food truck winner were the steak bulgogi tacos, which may have been the tastiest — and healthiest — thing I ate all weekend.
Vidya Garmes: I had two very different experiences involving digital gaming while at Gen Con. The console gaming room was a wonderfully neon-hued assault on the senses, with multiple projector screens and gaming consoles available for use. I had a great time playing a few rounds of Injustice with a complete stranger, as well as catching a glimpse of a working Sega Saturn running Street Fighter Alpha 2, as well as a sweet Captain America and the Avengers arcade cabinet.
The second gaming experience was less awesome, but interesting nonetheless. I wandered into the LAN gaming room, where for 8 dollars an hour you could play a bevy of PC titles running on Alienware hardware. There were also tournaments and special events running throughout the weekend. I was excited at the prospect of playing Heroes of the Storm on a beefy PC, as my hardware at home tends to lean on the side of chugging along for dear life.
Considering my surprise when I found that the Alienware machines weren’t all that powerful. I actually had to lower the system requirements on Heroes to medium before the game would run smoothly. The Razer mouse ended up being an issue as well, as the sensitivity profile on the gaming mouse was turned down so low that I couldn’t accurately click. Regardless, I got in a few games and enjoyed an experience that I will most likely skip next year.
Card Games: One of the few “for sure” visits I intended to make at Gen Con was to stop by the Jasco booth, creators of the upcoming Mega Man: The Board Game. I actually backed the Kickstarter project for the game over 2 years ago, with little to show for it, other than emails saying that Capcom wasn’t playing nicely in regards to approving designs.
Luckily, the game was being shown off and appears to be close to release. The game features some nifty miniatures, along with a board game that looks interesting and effectively uses the trappings of the Mega Man license. The custom dice are a nice touch.
I also decided to try out a demo of Jasco’s Universal Fighting System card game, better known as UFS. Combining multiple fighting and video game properties, UFS attempts to recreate the mechanics of a fighting game within a two player competitive card game. A companion and I were taught the game by a wonderful and enthusiastic volunteer who gladly showed us the ropes in a Mega Man vs Proto Man match up.
The volunteer sold me hard on the game, as I ended up buying starter decks from the Mega Man and Darkstalkers sets. With the promise of Mortal Kombat X and Street Fighter IV sets coming in the future, I am sure to be keeping an eye on UFS in the future.
Game Room: While my time in the game library on Saturday night with some friends was limited, I was impressed with the level of organization. I wasn’t overly happy with the 8 dollar price tag to merely step in the door and the 2 hour wait time to get a seat, but was very impressed with the game selection and the space in general. I would have loved to have spent more time in the room and doing so is very high on my list of activities for next year.
Giant Sheep: I just wanted an excuse to post this picture.
Ugh, Fantasy Flight: This has been parroted by other Gen Con attendees, but the Fantasy Flight exhibit hall set up was a pain in the ass, and this comes from someone who didn’t even enter the shop area proper. The line to even get inside the booth was almost always 30 people deep, sometimes more. More to the point, the FF booth was in a bad location, with the glut of people waiting to get inside constantly blocking the aisles.
However, I did get these cool pictures of upcoming figures for X-Wing and Imperial Assault. BANTHA!
Glorious Promos: I’ll never turn down free things. If you have a similar mindset, Gen Con is a gold mine for stuff you probably don’t need but will want because it is exclusive. Special thanks to the Upper Deck booth for selling me the last copy they had of Legendary: Secret Wars and hooking me up with these great promotional cards for said expansion.
In all, I greatly enjoyed my time at Gen Con and look forward to returning. However, next year I will not make the mistake of being in a hotel room a half hour away. Also: better shoes.
Big thanks to my friends at Reliquary Games, makers of the steam-punk/horror RPG Clockwork: Dominion for giving my wife the chance to Dungeon Master on a big stage, as well as helping us get to the convention. Check their game out, as I vouch for the game’s diceless, card-based system and the setting completely.
I’ll see you next year, Gen Con.
Will Harrison is a reporter covering video games for The Toledo Blade in Toledo, Ohio. Find him on Twitter @DoubleUHarrison.