Pacific Media Expo (PMX) was never on my radar as an anime congoer, mostly because it wasn't really an anime con. I was never really interested in the J-rock scene, or the J-punk scene, or the EGL scene, or any of a number of other things that I thought comprised PMX. It wasn't until 2007 that I went to my first PMX, dragged there by various cosplaying friends, that I might take some pictures of their latest concoctions. There, I found a neat little con that had a lot of events that I wasn't into.
I also found a couple dudes on staff there. Previously acquaintances, I now call them friends. Interesting thing about friends, though: they can get you to do things that you never anticipate yourself doing. One of those things happened earlier this month: running the first PMX Console Gaming Room.
If you had been to PMX before, you might remember that previous years had arcade game rooms. Basically, there was a guy who brought in a bunch of arcade games and redemption machines and let them run in a meeting room on the second floor of the LAX Hilton for the duration of the con weekend. I saw this when I went to PMX and thought: Man, this really sucks. I had learned previously that this was the norm at other anime conventions throughout California, but I never learned to like it. I was also surprised at how popular such rooms would be; as long as there's a change machine in the room converting dollar bills into tokens, such a room worked.
Me, I expected a game room to be a bit more interesting.
My first con game room experience was back in high school, seeing the Otakon game room for the first time. There, I saw Street Fighter III on a JAMMA-TV rig (aka supergun) and a Gundam game played on two big screen TVs courtesy of the Playstation Link Cable. There, I learned that Tobal 2 was a pretty darn good game while Radiant Silvergun was brilliant. (Otakon was also where I learned that my sister could kick much behind in Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, but that's a post for another day...) Thanks to that first Otakon game room experience, I thought: Man, game rooms at cons are awesome. They show people a lot of different stuff that most people don't have access too.
Because I lived my high school years in the Maryland/DC area, I went to Otakon pretty much every year until I moved out to college on the west coast. The Otakon game room grew bigger with every passing year, eventually becoming nearly as big as the dealers room, but it always seemed to care about showing the weird/interesting/cool/different stuff outside of the mainstream. Evangelion for N64. Puyo Puyoun for Dreamcast. Last Blade 2 for Neo Geo. Asuka 120% Final for PS1. Twinkle Star Sprites for PS2. Otakon really spoiled me.
Compare this to my first Anime Expo in 2002, where I saw a hotel room filled with Xboxes running Dead or Alive 3. It hasn't really gotten any better in recent years... unless you count better as a bunch of instances of Super Smash Brothers Brawl and Rock Band. (If you're not sure what to think, here's a quick hint: I don't.)
So when the dudes came to me about running a game room at PMX 2008, I figured: why not? I knew what a good game room was (Otakon) and I was sick of the state of the west coast con game room. Let's do it!
(Never mind that I had 0 con staff experience.)
So here's a little bit of before, during, and after regarding the inaugural year of the PMX Console Gaming Room...
1) CINDER BLOCKS ARE HEAVY.
The official line on why the game room decided to use one hundred and twenty (120!) 8x8x16 cinder blocks to hold up the game room's TVs and consoles is: "As PMX is frequented by many female cosplayers and many PMX live acts attract majority female fan bases, the Game Room sees it as their responsibility to inject a modicum of manliness into the con weekend. What can be more manly than cinder blocks?"
What really happened was the game room staff (total: five people) agreed that it would be a significant part of a cool aesthetic that can be attained relatively cheaply. We didn't think to check that the delivery charges might affect the final bill, or that with each block weighing 35 pounds, we needed to move more than 2 tons of concrete into the hotel.
This is a story for another time. For now, suffice it to say: CINDER BLOCKS ARE HEAVY.
2) Point lights are awesome.
The room given to us at the LAX Hilton looked pretty bad, all yellow and brown and not fitting at all with a game vibe. A trip to Ikea, however, netted us a bunch of GRÖNÖ table lamps. One of those next to a FINLIR standing picture frame on a stack of cinder blocks looked pretty darn cool. Turn off the room lights and it looked awesome.
3) A little text goes a long way.
One of the things we did to encourage people to play games that they were unfamiliar with was to have text descriptions and game control diagrams next to each game. These were printed on to pairs of 6 x 4 photo paper, framed and placed right between the light and the TV. I thought it was a small thing, but it ended up being a rather big hit with at least a few congoers. Multiple times, I was asked whether they could take the text description home with them. I don't see myself as a particularly brilliant writer, but I'll let you make the call for yourself.
4) The Yakyuken Special is a horrible/brilliant game.
Once Saturday became midnight Sunday, we kicked people out and changed out the mostly general audience entertainment for some naughtier gaming. When people reentered the room, they saw Steam Hearts instead of Twinkle Star Sprites, Gals Panic instead of Street Fighter III, and Rumble Roses XX instead of Rock Band. Some games were more successful than others at engaging the crowd, but by far the most successful game of the night was The Yakyuken Special, a rock-paper-scissors strip game for Sega Saturn. Words cannot begin to describe the noise of the crowd that had gathered around the game when they finally succeeded in getting as far as the girl's bra. Amazing.
5) People love them some Rock Band 2.
While I am not a fan of Rock Band, we all agreed that we had to make the Rock Band 2 tournament a pretty cool event. Some of it was our general commitment to excellence, but most of it was the press latching on to the tournament as the centerpiece of the game room: something we didn't initially intend. For the tournament, we didn't do anything big/huge special, but the little things we did added up. Rearranging half the room into a "stage" section and "audience" section, having two TVs back to back so both the players and the audience can see the game, using the cinder blocks and lights to give it a sort of small rock club ambiance, relatively small but cool and useful prizes of Xbox Live points, M-audio speakers providing high quality loud sound to the players and the audience, and a super energetic and significantly loud host (hey, I can prop myself up, can't I?); it all added up to one really cool competition and a fun event for all the spectators.
6) Garouden and Zombie Revenge are absolutely awesome.
Garouden: Fist or Twist is my favorite 3D fighting game. I was certain if people sat down and played it, they'd continue to play it because it has the right combination of tight control and crazy ridiculous move design. The game room proved me right, as that station seemed to be packed with players. By my guesstimate, I'd say more player played Garouden than Street Fighter III Third Strike, which ran for longer over the course of the weekend.
One thing I didn't expect was the popularity of Zombie Revenge. I personally love the game for the camp factor; there is some brilliantly awful writing there to go with brilliantly awful vocal performances. When I would switch out the game with something else, say Giga Wing 2 or Cannon Spike, it was almost inevitable that within the hour, someone would come up to the staff desk and ask if Zombie Revenge could be put back in the Dreamcast. Amazing.
7) Sleep? Who needs sleep?
As I mentioned earlier, I had never staffed an anime convention before. Still, I never underestimated the work that goes into pulling a con off, having been friends with management at various cons for a while. Because of that, I was only slightly surprised by the amount of time I had to spend working the con, including most of the day the Thursday before the wekend and much of the Monday after. It was a lot of time, but most of it was pretty darn fun. I mean, heck, I was showing guys how cool Cotton Boomerang was and weird things like Puchi Carat and PuLiRuLa. A sleepless weekend is a small sacrifice for getting gamers to discover something they had never played before.
8) CINDER BLOCKS ARE HEAVY.
Yeah, I mentioned it before, but it's worth mentioning that besides bringing two tons of conrete into the hotel, we also had to take it out of there. Our exit strategy ended up being relatively clean and simple: a happy ending for all. The hours leading up to that happy ending, though? They were filled with torment and dread that I hope never to experience again. Maybe I'll tell this story later. Maybe. In the mean time, I'll let you imagine what we did with them...
My first stint running the PMX 2008 console game room wasn't perfect, but from both my perspective and the voices of the people that gamed there, it was a success. I'm looking forward to taking another stab at the console game room concept next year with some new stuff. New games, new hardware, new decorations.
And I think it's safe to say we'll have less cinder blocks the next time around. Pretty sure.