A trip to America’s Video Game Expo goes a long way

Jason Cominetto ('10)/Eastside Underground Editor

I’m just going to get this out of the way – I’m a nerd. Being a nerd, when I caught wind that America’s Video Game Expo was going to be taking place in the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia this weekend, I got excited. There was no way I was going to miss this one out, so I decided to trek into Philly on Saturday to see if all the hubbub was worth it.

The first room I checked out was the main expo room, which was exactly what I expected it to be; an overstimulation of flashing lights, videogames, product booths and really, really, really nerdy people. With about a 10:1 guy-to-girl ratio, this room was packed to the absolute fullest, making navigating a chore. Even worse than that, this meant that lines for demos were extremely long, and to be honest, I don’t even know why. I only ran into one demo for a game that has not been released yet; Bionic Commando by Capcom. In this game the player swings around levels via a hook in his arm, much akin to the Spiderman games, and kills bad guys with guns and other weapons. It’s not that original (in fact, it’s a remake of a game of the same name released in 1987) and while the swinging was fun it just wasn’t fun enough to merit it a huge improvement over other free-roaming shooters.In the same booth as Bionic Commando was Crysis Warhead, a game made by Electronic Arts as an expansion pack to the 2007 release, Crysis. I jumped at the chance to play this, knowing it might possibly be my only chance to play it ever (the Crysis games are notorious for pushing even the most high-tech computers to their limits with their high system requirements). The first thing I noticed about this game was that the graphics were absolutely amazing, and with the exception of a few frame rate issues the game ran fine. The gameplay was fun for what little of it I played, and the game as a whole felt well designed and immersive. Anyone with an advanced computer should check Crysis and its expansion pack out.

The only other recently released game I could find was Mortal Combat vs. DC Universe by Midway games. This game pits characters from the Mortal Combat games against well know characters from DC lore, like Batman, The Joker, The Flash, Catwoman and many more. It feels great, plays perfectly and should provide plenty of replay value for comic nerds and fighter fans alike with its creative fatalities and well-designed combat system. The crowd around this game grew larger as the convention went on, and with good reason, as it was an intense game that everyone in the general area got into.

With the exception of these three games the floor was mostly dominated by less recent products. Game from the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises were found sparsely throughout the room, and the tournament area was hosting a massive 64-player, double-elimination tournament of the family-friendly Nintendo fighter, Super Smash Bros. Brawl. There was one clear winner when it came most emphasized game type: the first-person shooter. I couldn’t look anywhere without getting a glance at either a Call of Duty 4 or Counter Strike LAN party, and many vendors were using Quake 4 and Unreal Tournament 3 to show off their products. Even furniture company American Signature was using the PS3 shooter Resistance on a display TV rack to show off their products.

Many vendors flaunted their graphics processors, gaming computers, highly responsive keyboards and what-have-you in the ever changing world of computer gaming, but the Commodore Gaming and Steel Series vendor was definitely the best. Their booth gave passersby’s the opportunity to pick up and play Quake 4 and use their extremely immersive headphones and computers at the same time. The quality of the headphones was amazing, and even better was the opportunity to get a pair for free by beating leader and co-founder of the female gaming clan, Pandora’s Mighty Soldiers (PMS clan). Killing her ten times in a three minute match of Quake 4 was all it took to get the aforementioned headphones or other Commodore Gaming and Steel Series gear. Still this proved to be quite a feat, and watching her destroy player after player after player was quite an entertaining sight, as sometimes her opponents would actually end up with negative kills. Her skills are nothing to be messed with, and the founding of her clan marks one of the biggest steps in bringing professional gaming to the mainstream.

Scattered throughout the main expo room were many other displays, ranging from an entire area devoted to classic arcade machines and an exhibit on modern robots. Other vendors not directly related to videogames were scattered here and there and gave the expo some diversity. Griffon’s Claw Armoury displayed many dangerous and bladed weapons, ranging from long swords to claws to even a replica of Link’s Master Sword, and their neighbors across the way, Night Realms, had many other realistic looking weapons made out of foam for sale. An independent movie called Fighters High: Extra Curricular Battles was on display, and many people were trying to sell their independent artwork.

By far the most interesting non-videogame vendor was Pyroglyphics1, which focused on artwork Shawn Aleyne, an artist from Philly. Compared to the other artwork on display in the expo, Aleyne’s by was by far the most intricate and detailed. Most of his work pertained to a superhero-esque universe, but usually only focused on his original characters and little from the DC or Marvel universes. Aleyne was there promoting his new comic, “A Hero’s Diary,” which tells the tale of a man named Aaron who returns to his home in Philadelphia, years after a friend of his died, to fight the evil forces that have overrun the city. Aleyne drew all the art for the story, which will be released in January, and author Koran Curtis is responsible for the writing. Curtis was also there, promoting his “Night Seeker” novels. Anyone interested in art from Pyroglyphics1 can check them out at http://profile.myspace.com/pyroglyphics1.

While the main expo room was definitely interesting, after about an hour and a half there was little for me to do. The room was stuffed to capacity so waiting in lines for games became an ordeal, even for games like Guitar Hero Aerosmith and Quake 4, which have been out for awhile. I decided to check out the other rooms in the convention center to see if there was anything else worth staying for, and sadly, I was underwhelmed. I was planning on watching the ultraviolent and game-based movie Postal, which was released in limited theaters earlier this year, only to find the showing pushed back two and a half hours. The Retrocon and the Zenkaikon Anime Convention both took place in small rooms on opposite sides of the building and didn’t have anything too interesting out of the usual action figures and classic games to purchase. The Retrocon even went so far as to have the recently released Gears of War 2 on display – not necessarily so retro…

I thought it was time for me to leave when I finished checking out these two areas, until I stumbled upon probably the greatest thing I had seen all day: an entire room devoted to Dance Dance Revolution. The coolest thing about this room though, was that thirty-two pads were hooked up to one gigantic television, and all thirty-two players were competing for the highest score in a round of three songs. There was no way I was going to miss this, so I hopped on a dance pad and played the next round of three songs, which just so happened to be on the hardest difficulty. By the time the songs had finished I was sweating profusely and completely out of breath, but it was worth it since I finished in third place overall. The winner received a t-shirt and everybody in the room had a lot of fun.

Overall, the convention was a lot of fun for a certain amount of time. The main expo room was full of high-tech hardware and competitive gaming, but I felt it was lacking in more recent game releases and was not as organized as it should have been. The room was definitely too small for the amount of people that attended, which only means the convention can get bigger and better next year. The vendors offered an array of different products, charities and organizations on display, and fans of anime and retro games had their little convention rooms to check out. I had a good time at America’s Video Game Expo, but I did not get the full day’s entertainment I was expecting. I can only hope that next year’s convention will be organized better, focus on more unreleased games