Category Archives: Conventions

Tokyo 11/18: Namja Town and Preparing for Animate Girls Festival

Day 2: Sunshine City and no Wi-Fi.

One of the glitches of the trip came when the mobile Wi-Fi I had ordered from Global Communications had not arrived at the hotel when I checked in. This was not completely unexpected as I had forgotten to confirm it initially, and then after I remembered to put in my payment, noticed it was after the cancellation point. It took my payment though, so I was hoping it would take, but no dice–after I emailed them about it, they just refunded me and I had to place another order for a couple days later. This meant that I had no Wi-Fi but I figured it would be ok since I have free roaming with T-Mobile and would be spending a lot of time in a big mall which would surely have free Wi-Fi. Right? Right?

Wrong. Although it looked like I had a pretty good docomo cell signal, it never registered any data connection. Also, the Sunshine City Mall is not so much for Wi-Fi unless you have a particular app that helps connect you, and it’s hard to download an app without already having Wi-Fi.  Also I couldn’t get my roaming cell service to kick in for anything, until the next day when I suddenly thought of restarting my phone after it updated its connection…things.  In any case, the moral is that you should probably not forget to pay for your mobile Wi-Fi router in a timely fashion.

On the off-chance that there are people out there interested in going to Animate Girls Festival (AGF) I’ll go into a little detail about it, since when I was planning to go I couldn’t find any practical information in English about it at all.  (This information was correct as of 11/2018, when I went, and is, of course, subject to change.) AGF is a yearly event put on by Animate, a huge chain of stores specializing in anime-related merchandise in Japan.  It takes place in Sunshine City, a reasonably large mall connected to a convention center space in Ikebukuro–what’s known as the Akihabara for women, as the stores and cafes there lean more towards properties geared towards girls.

Gacha as far as the eye can see.

AGF is basically a two day merchandising event where a large number of companies who produce anime, video games, visual novels, manga, etc. can buy booth space and sell merch related to their various properties.  Because of its specificity of focus, it attracts a lot of companies who don’t typically make or sell merch, so for the audience that’s really into that one obscure character in that one free-to-play mobile game, this is your big chance to get something with him on it.

Utano-PrinceSama merch at the Animate store in Ikebukuro

As is the case with a lot of things in Japan, the way to buy into something like this is somewhat complicated if you a) don’t live in Japan, and b) don’t speak or read Japanese.  It could be argued that no one in their right mind would want to go to such a thing if they didn’t either live in Japan or speak Japanese, but honestly, people in their right minds miss out on an awful lot.

I basically had to run all the Animate sites through Google Translate which is sometimes more helpful and sometimes less.  From what I could figure out, it seems that there are three types of tickets:  An early entry ticket, an all-day ticket, and an afternoon-only ticket.  The process of getting an early entry or all-day ticket involved entering a lottery that was only held once, for about a week.  After the lottery, winners were notified and could then purchase their tickets–any leftovers were dispensed in a secondary lottery some months later.  The problem I had was that from the erratic translation I had, I gathered that both types of tickets needed to be picked up onsite with a photo ID…and it wasn’t clear to me whether they would accept a passport with information that wasn’t in kana.  What was pretty clear was that if you didn’t have the right ID, they weren’t going to give you the ticket at all.  The afternoon tickets, in contrast, were available as just a straight online purchase so that seemed like a safer bet.

What made even that transaction difficult is that in order to buy anything from the AGF website, it appeared that you had to register for the Animate Club website, and then use that login to purchase the tickets.  Unfortunately, you could only register for the website with a Japan address.  What to do?

Sunshine City has some pretty cute stores.

I imagine there are many different ways to deal with this, however I used a website called Tenso which provides you with a free Japanese mailing address for the purposes of buying stuff.  I believe the way it’s supposed to work is that you buy stuff there, have it shipped domestically to whatever specific Japanese address they give you, and then they take it from there and ship it to you internationally for a service fee.  I have never used it in that fashion–only to register for online things.

Having figured out how to register, I was a little concerned as to whether I would need to have them mail the tickets to the address and get them sent by proxy to me which seemed like a huge hassle, but then realized you could arrange to print them out and pick them up at any 7-11, which are ubiquitous and multi-purpose there.  By this time, the only tickets left were for Sunday afternoon, but I figured without knowing how much of a madhouse it was going to be, that might be all I needed.  From this point it was pretty easy, since they took international credit cards online and the pickup at the 7-11 across the street from my hotel was a breeze thanks to the helpful employees there.

Since I didn’t have a ticket for the first day, I figured I would head over and do a trial run to the mall, scoping it out for the second day.  After walking around all of Ikebukuro cursing my lack of Wi-Fi for about 45 minutes, I finally found it.  Sunshine City is a large mall that seems to be connected to a convention center-like area on one end where AGF was taking place.  By the time I arrived, which was around noon, the huge staircase that leads up to that side’s entrance seemed totally covered with people in line or trading things or trying to muscle their way into the mall between them.  I tried to figure out where the line started so I could get in position fast the next day, when I discovered that there was no English written or spoken in AGF except for the letters “AGF.”  Eventually I wandered around enough where I felt like I knew how the line was going, and actually ended up seeing Hiro and Diana from Cybird in line.

Hiro and Diana at the Cybird panel at Anime Expo 2018

Having found out about as much as I could concerning the line up process (which looked frighteningly long even an hour before the afternoon tickets were supposed to be let in,) I just wandered the mall looking at the cute things and watched one of the few programming events that took place on the mall stage and didn’t require a ticket.  Because this is a bizarro situation where the performances didn’t need a ticket, but buying the merch did.

An appearance by the voice actors of Ikemen Live Koi no Uta o Kimi ni
There were a LOT of people at AGF. I think the people in chairs bought the early/fast entry tickets.
It was a talk-show format, I think, with parts where they did improv and read scripts from the visual novel. It was entertaining even without understanding much of it.

Afterwards, I walked around Ikebukuro and visited the big Animate store where they were having a big K7 Stories display (one of the few current animes I’ve seen.)

Afterwards visited Namja Town–a mini amusement park inside the mall that is part arcade and part themed food court.

Namja Town

The games there looked interesting (additional fee) but most seemed to require a pretty high degree of Japanese to play them, so I contented myself with just walking around and triggering the various effects placed around the themed areas.

Some areas have little windows you can peek into to see scenes, or areas you touch that move or make a noise.
There are of course scary haunted areas because Japanese stories are always mad scary.
They were having some sort of special event on these guys from a game I did not know.

The main reason I was there however, was for the Gyoza Stadium.  In Japan, they frequently advertise things like ramen or takoyaki museums that are really just food courts, and this wasn’t too much more than that, except for the great post-war theming.

It was pretty good gyoza. Not too cheap after awhile, but you’re not going to go every day.
All the different booths had different gyoza from different locations around Japan, presumably renowned for their gyoza.

They were supposed to also be known for having a dessert area where you could get ice cream in a bunch of wacky flavors, but I only saw one place open in that spot and I think it was selling pastries, mostly.

They even played period-appropriate music which I thought was a nice touch.
Most of these corridors opened up into little areas where people could sit and eat their gyoza.

Anyway, after that closed for the night, it was time to find my way back to the hotel and rest up for the next day of actually attending AGF.

The hotel was reasonably close to both the train station and Sunshine City, if you are not terminally lost, as I am.

 

 

Hakuoki Festival Edo Blossoms 2018

Attended the Hakuoki Festival last week—it was pretty fun, although a little weird to go to a festival about a game I haven’t played yet. (I was waiting until the second half came out!) It was taking place pretty close to where I live and had free parking tho, so I figured I’d give it a shot.

It was pretty fun! They had some games that ran the gamut from easy (Plinko) to hard (rubber band shooting) to impossible-for-me (game trivia.)

Besides that, there was a cosplay contest and photo ops with character stand ups that were auctioned off at the end.

Along with that, they provided respectable refreshments like crackers and cheese and hummus and cookies which was nice since their location wasn’t around any eating places. Merch was also available for purchase—I didn’t get any of the single character charms/pins/badges since I didn’t know their in-game specifics and didn’t want to be the person getting all the Hans merchandise during intermission for “Frozen.”

Voting for Best Boy was held (Saito won) and a Wall for people to draw cartoons or write messages was provided. People are both talented and relatable.

The thing I thought was the most entertaining was probably trying to collect all the different coasters you could win from the various games. It was tricky since, having not played the game yet, I couldn’t do the trivia and I proved to totes suck at rubber band guns, but people were super nice and traded/gave me some and I finally succeeded.

In all it was a fun day and certainly helped increase my anticipation for playing Hakuoki!

E3 and Gaming Sundries

So it turns out that occasionally you end up with enough time to either play games or write about games and not necessarily both.  Probably shouldn’t have picked time management as my dump stat, but oh well.

I did end up going to the first E3 that took paying customers, and wrote about it here:  http://land.allears.net/blogs/lauragilbreath/2017/06/recap_e3_2017_1.html  Suffice to say, decreasing the number of attending companies while increasing the number of attending guests doesn’t necessarily make for a better experience.

I also got a chance to play parts of all the Kingdom Hearts games when they recently got released for the PS4, so if you wanted to find out what someone who knows nothing about Kingdom Hearts thought while playing them, you can take a look here:

http://land.allears.net/blogs/lauragilbreath/2017/03/kingdom_hearts_hd_28_final_cha.html

http://land.allears.net/blogs/lauragilbreath/2017/03/kingdom_hearts_hd_15_25_remix.html

Next week I’ll be heading to Anime Expo for the first time, to hopefully feed my growing Visual Novel addiction so photos from there forthcoming, but probably not from the “after dark” side of it…

PAX West 2016: Recap

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Ah, Seattle.  Home to PAX West (9/2-9/5,) which used to be called PAX Prime, for which I had been trying to get tickets for the last couple of years.  I had actually really wanted to go because of all the BioWare content it had in the past, and this was the year I finally scored passes!  Unfortunately, it was also the year that BioWare was between games and did almost nothing!  Oh well.

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Because I waited until the last second to get flights, the only ones that were not exorbitant were at horrific hours, so I wound up getting into SEA at 2am (boo!) and hobo-ing around the  airport until the trains started running around 5am (boo!)  I had discovered that the metro ran directly from the airport to a station about a block from my hotel (yay!) so I took that uneventfully and they let me check in some ten hours early (YAY!)  After heavy napping, I staggered off to check out Pike’s Place Market and the first Starbucks, and the first of many macaroni and cheeses from Beecher’s.

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So the next day PAX started, and I’d have to say that PAX is maybe one of the more interestingly run cons that I’ve been to in awhile.  For one thing, many of the panels and events are broken up into several hotels and theaters around the convention center, but unlike SDCC where the hotels are generally right next door, these hotels could be some distance away.  I think the major…panels?  Shows?  Took place at a main theater location that looked like it was around ten blocks away from the convention center, so I never actually went there.  They did have a shuttle that went around the periphery of the further locations, but it started up about an hour after the con started for the day, and ended about an hour after the floor closed, so it was almost never convenient for me to take it.

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As I walked over to the convention center, the first sign that I may have underestimated what would be involved, was all the guys walking over carrying portable camp stools.  These were really smart guys, because boy howdy, were there lines for everything.  When I first entered, the first location I found was the BioWare Base, which was offering Systems Alliance Recruitment.

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The line didn’t look too long, so I got in.  After nothing moved for awhile, I asked an “Enforcer” (PAX volunteer) for a rough estimate of how long it would take, and she said maybe 90 minutes.  As it turned out, it took around 90 minutes to get to the DOOR, and then there was a line that snaked back and forth inside the door that took about another 60 minutes.  By the time I left, it had been over 3 HOURS.

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The spartan Systems Alliance Recruitment Center.

As it turned out, the process involved teams of two people undergoing three tests–Biotics, Combat, and Tech–to see what area you should be placed in.  If you passed all three, you got to go on to the fourth test to achieve N7 status.  Unfortunately they only had one station per test, and each test took roughly 4 minutes, so it took them something like 20 minutes to finish 8 people, which made this a pretty low-capacity attraction, as we say at Disneyland.  While my team rocked pretty hard at Biotics and passed Tech, we were unable to complete Combat, so we did not get to try the N7 test.  Your reward for all this?  A ribbon for your badge with the designation you tested into.

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For the rest of the day, I mostly rambled about the exhibitor’s floor (actually two different non-consecutive floors) buying the occasional pin and Grunt plush, and admiring the various booths.

The most exciting thing for the day was that I lucked into a last-minute VR demo of “Star Trek Bridge Crew,” which was amazing.  I don’t know why anyone spends anytime doing anything else.  I got to run the helm and aside from some difficulty grabbing onto the levers during moments of duress (those exploding stars are nerve-wracking!)  It was terrifically fun.  The worst part will be trying to convince three other people to invest in the VR gear, because you can only play it with four.

The next day was the major one for panels for me.  Some of the ones I attended:  “For Honor Panel and Gameplay” with developers and voice actors, including Jennifer Hale, voice of Commander Shepard…

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“Making and Promoting Non-Traditional Characters in Games” with BioWare writer Patrick Weekes…

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And “Romance in Games,” with BioWare Lead Designer Mike Laidlaw.

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All the panels were pretty entertaining, however it was strange that the super crowded panels generally tended to be in smaller conference rooms, while I attended others that had like thirty people total in the room, and were put in huge ballrooms.  I did try to get into a few that I knew would be popular like the Final Fantasy ones, but they filled up pretty fast.  The official PAX app had a line estimator part that was pretty handy, as it depicted how the rooms were filling up by an increasing bar graph, but the rooms dropped off the app after the start time of the panel, so it was hard to know if it was worth it to try to get into a room once it started.

I also made it to the “Swag Bag Room” at one of the hotels.  This was pretty odd, as it was clearly sponsored by Reese’s Puffs cereal and featured a huge ball pit into which people would dive to find Magical Balls that held prizes they would then play games to win.  It seemed like quite an ordeal.

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The swag bags were also puzzling–they seemed to be a plastic bag that held about five postcards advertising different things.  I actually had to ask someone if that’s what they were, because frankly, it seemed like maybe someone wasn’t really familiar with the concept of “swag” as I know it.  At least they gave you free mini boxes of cereal.

For dinner I managed to hike a half-mile over to “Pie Bar” which had some quality pie.  It’s a tiny, tiny place where people wait outside for large quantities of time to get their pie from a window, but I lucked out and a table for one happened to open up just as I got there.  Would patronize again.

I spent most of the third day investigating more of the booths on the floors and playing demos for Final Fantasy and Phoenix Wright.

I did get to one panel on “Women in Games & Tech” moderated by BioWare producer Melanie Fleming.

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This evening, Bethesda threw a “Dishonored 2” party open to anyone at the wharf, around a mile away from the convention center.  There was a streetcar that went directly there from my hotel, but it had stopped running early because it was a Sunday.  Whomp whomp.

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This was pretty interesting–the area was dressed up as an in-game environment, with people roleplaying characters and a mystery you were supposed to solve by running around and playing cards and interrogating different actors.  Unfortunately, by the time I got there, I was advised that all the tokens for the winners (dice? Silver cups?) had been given out already so the game effectively had no end for people who came afterwards.  Regardless, they showed some new gameplay footage and had some limited food and drinks available, and a cool print-to-order shirt station that was also totally inadequate for the volume of people who showed up wanting shirts.  It was really well done, I thought, with the caveat that they probably needed to expect about three times the people they ended up having.

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The last day was pretty minimal for me–I needed to pack up and check out of the hotel and then store my luggage with the bell desk as my flight didn’t leave until 0730 the next morning (I SAID I had terrible flights.)  I ended up watching a table-top RPG game for most of the afternoon (I’ve never played–seems very involved!) and then did a little more shopping before PAX West closed for the year.

In retrospect, although I enjoyed PAX, I’m not sure if it’s an essential part of my con schedule at this point.  At least 50% of it is table-top games, of which I know nothing and have little prospects of playing with any regularity, since you need other people for them.  Additionally, most of the major draws in terms of panels seemed to be various podcasts and YouTube/Twitch shows which I hadn’t seen.  Probably the strongest suit was the many demos and particularly the extensive VR set up, but the lines were pretty extensive–usually over an hour, which isn’t necessarily bad for something like E3, but sometimes over two hours, which is getting up there.  The difficult part of getting to some of it was that no one seemed to know the hours of a lot of the off-site installations, so the thought of walking all the way over there to find out that it was closed wasn’t that enticing.

The main thing is that most activities simply didn’t seem to be set up for the kind of traffic they were getting.  The Final Fantasy booth offered a different shirt everyday that was only available by playing the demo…but the demo was an hour long, so it was only available through appointment only.  This meant that people who wanted in were lining up sometimes around 0700 for a floor opening time of 1000, and that all tickets for the day were given out in the first three minutes.  I go to a lot of conventions, and routinely you hear from companies “well, we didn’t know if anyone would show up.”  Maybe it’s just what they’re telling people, but if it’s not…Seriously guys:  If you Build It, They Will Come.  Plan for a lot of people.

So general thumbs up to PAX West, and in particular to the Mayflower Park Hotel who put up with me and my hobo flight hours.  If Mass Effect Andromeda decides to make a big showing next year, maybe we’ll be back.

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The Summer Has Too Many Damn Conventions.

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So basically it’s been a huge mash of traveling from one convention to the other this summer, in between trying to work periodically so I won’t end up on the streets with my Disney/Star Trek merchandise in a shopping cart.  So far, I’ve been to E3, WonderCon, Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet, Disneyana, SDCC, SIGGRAPH, and Star Trek Las Vegas. Consequently I haven’t had a huge amount of time to blog, although I do have up some of the Disney SDCC panels over at AllEars.Net here, and what Marvel content I could get into, along with the Once Upon A Time panel here.

I am however, slowly going through my photos of the last…month or so, and may start dumping some out here for posterity.  As a side note to the one blog I did get up on the Star Trek Beyond premiere, here are some more photos of the event that I didn’t get to put up then:

(They get bigger if you click on ’em.)

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More to come!

San Diego Comic-Con 2016: Day 1

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So we’re back again at SDCC.  It’s like we never left, except for the part where we usually indulge ourselves in activities like “sleeping” and “eating.”

Having attended the Star Trek Fan Event a couple months ago, I had guaranteed tickets for it, which was an amazing stress relief.  It did mean that I missed Preview Night, but like I needed more merch, right?

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When we were let in, we were told that general admission could sit anywhere in the first 14 rows.  This apparently was not true, as some 2 1/2 hours later, we were told that other people had reserved tickets for our seats.  After some negotiation, they were relocated and we continued in peace.

Entering, we were given light-up bracelets and a ticket for a Subway meal box with a turkey sandwich, cookie, and chips.  Water and soda were out in iced tubs which was a relief as the heat combined with standing in line forever was dehydrating.

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To kill time while the sun set, they showed “The Corbomite Maneuver,” had a costume contest, and did red carpet interviews with the arriving cast.

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Then, Nichelle Nichols came out and answered a few questions and said some nice words about Roddenberry.  After that, she was shown to her seat which was about 1 row back from hours which was both awesome and frightening, as a hoard of fans descended on our area.

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The night’s host Conan O’Brien came out and introduced the major cast and crew of “Star Trek Beyond” each of which said a few words.  J.J. Abrams held a moment of silence for recently departed Anton Yelchin.

So then we figured the movie would start since the cast was seated and the orchestra was starting, but no!  Star Trek fireworks!

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Finally, the film started and we got to see it in IMAX, outdoors, with a live orchestra.  It was a great presentation and a fun movie–the plot is a little flash-and-dash, but the character bits more than make up for it.  Karl Urban in particular is terrific in it.

Afterwards, we were given a premiere swag bag, along with a commemorative seat cushion.

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In all, a great start to SDCC 2016!

 

 

E3 2016: EA Play

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So E3 is this week.  Unhappily, a number of my favorite companies such as EA are skipping it this year, and even more unhappily, one of my favorite companies, Disney, is apparently skipping video games altogether.  To compensate, EA is holding a just-off-site affair called “EA Play” to give people a shot at their upcoming games.

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Waiting to get in, we were visited by a happy PopCap zombie.

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Walking in after registering and receiving a swag bag with Battlefield 1 flask and Titanfall 2 miniposter.

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The event took place in the “Novo by Microsoft” area of the LA Live complex, adjoining the Convention Center, making it easy to pick up the E3 badge before heading into EA Play.

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Four games were available for play:  Battlefield 1, Titanfall 2, FIFA 17, and Madden NFL 17.

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I had an opportunity to play both Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2, at which time I was able to verify that I’m probably the worst FPS player in the history of FPS.  Like, it’s entirely possible that I was the first person ever in Battlefield 1 to sit there and let an enormous flaming Zeppelin fall on them.

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There was also a counter selling We Love Fine merch from various EA franchises.

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I knew that they wouldn’t be demoing anything from Mass Effect Andromeda or the new Star Wars games, but I had been hoping there would be displays or video or something…but not so much.

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If you want to get me this $100 windbreaker, you will be accruing some good karma.

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After you play Battlefield you can get a dogtag printed up, and after Titanfall you got a pin.  I don’t know what you might get from the other two games, because I was too demoralized to try them out.

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They also had a concession counter running, for which everyone got a coupon for a free soda/water and sandwich, which was very nice.  Their usual video loop ran on the big screen in the theater so you could take your food up to the balcony and watch it while you ate.

On the whole, a nice affair, particularly for free.  It would have been more compelling if I actually played any of the games they had available, but I’ll have to try to practice up for next year.  Hopefully MEA will be their big push by then.