Friday, May 13, 2011

Too Many Games 11

Dateline: Philadelphia PA
May 6-8, 2011

The Greater Philadelphia Convention Center was packed to the rafters with gamers, nerds, internet celebrities and pretty much everything you'll never find at the cool kid's house.  The reason: The 11th installment of Too Many Games Classic and Modern Video Game Convention and Expo.  For the last several years, the awesome organizers at Too Many Games have been putting together what is becoming the East Coast's premier video game show, creating a much needed replacement for the once heralded PhillyClassic that self-destructed in the mid-aughts (that's between 2000-2009 for you youngsters out there).

Too Many Games is celebration of all things video games and this year's show was a prime example of that philosophy.  In what is to my knowledge their largest venue ever, TMG filled the expanse of two convention halls and a couple of ancillary rooms in the convention center.  I'll break it down in greater detail later, but to summarize, one hall was dedicated to LAN gaming (which went around the clock) and free play consoles, the other hall was filled with vendors swapping all kinds of video games and video game paraphernalia.(much more on this later).  The smaller rooms were bustling with video game themed bands and a wide variety of panels and seminars on topics ranging from how to make your own game to video games as art.  There was even a concession stand right there on site. Regular convention goers will understand the significance of this.  The only thing really missing was a stand of arcade machines set on free play.  Had that been there, the scene would have been complete.
Lack of free-play Mr. Do! notwithstanding, TMG11 was an incredible show.  I was there in a co-venture with Podkayne Studios (the lovely wife's real job) selling pixel art, but that didn't stop me from taking in as much as I could of what the show had to offer, and at least a half dozen hot pretzels...
Before I get into my main focus of the show, I'll break down some of the other cool stuff that people were jazzed about.  First and foremost is probably the two-day appearance by the Angry Video Game Nerd.  Lesser nerds love this guy.  He's more popular than Columbo.  I kid you not, there was a line through one exhibit hall, down the hallway, and out the door to meet this guy and get an autograph.  It was crazy.  All due respect to the dude, though, he seemed like a real down to earth cat who wasn't letting internet fame go to his head.  Smart guy, he clearly gets it and was appreciative of the turn out.  Although, I heard rumblings of a movie in the works, which oft spells doom for culty followings like this.  It killed that Aqua Teen Hunger Force the kids were all a-buzz about a few years ago.  Let's hope the Angry Nerd can escape that fate.

She'd even speak to you!
Also on hand was actress and model Chase Masterson.  Ms. Masterson is perhaps best known in these circles for her portrayal of Leeta on the final seasons of DS9.  She was at the convention all three days and was very gracious and appreciative of her fans.  I only spoke to her in passing, but she was as cool as if we were old friends.  Again, it is nice to see people who get it.  This is one of Femme Fatale's 50 Sexiest Women in the World and she was just hanging out talking to fans and signing autographs like regular folks.  Very cool.  Ms. Masterson also accepted donations of anything video game related to help out Homeboy Industries ( a non-profit organization that helps at risk teens build a better life.  Again, very cool.  Check her out at and open your mind a bit and look at more than just the pictures pages, yes?
(continued elsewhere after this break...)

And if the star power wasn't enough, there were demonstrations by the PA Jedi, a group of guys who have devoted far too much time to the Force, but who can throw down lightsaber style with the best of them.  No flipping, however, they cannot afford the CG.  And if you got a red ass beat down from the PA Jedi, you could always cool your heels in the concert room with all kinds of awesome bands playing a wide range of music from rap and hip hop to rock.  Check out the TMG website for the full line-up, I couldn't catch them all. (insert lame cross-referencing Pokemon joke here)
PA Jedi summoning the Force, I think
These dudes rocked!

Even with all of that going down, there was yet more to see and do.  There were hot and cold running tournaments, everything from Marvel v. Capcom to Magic: the Gathering.  If it was nerdy and you could compete in it, chances are good you had the opportunity to do so. On top of that there were gaming tables set up as far as the eye could see so you play old fashioned card and board games like a caveman.  But none of that even remotely compared to the madness that was the LAN gaming area.  Looking like the darkened bowels of the Curio Shop in Chinatown that housed the infamous mogwai, one entire section of the main hall was descended upon and occupied for three non-stop days by gamers who literally eat, sleep and breathe PC gaming.  When I say non-stop, I mean these dudes brought inflatable mattresses (and likely girlfriends to match) so they didn't have to leave the convention center overnight.  The event was BYOPC (bring your own PC) so that you could game just like you were in your parents' darkened basement only much, much bigger and accompanied by a zillion clones.  It was somehow impressive and depressing at the same time.  But these cats were dedicated to it and for that I say rock on. (smartly, the concession stand was just off to the side of the LAN area, but showers were no where to be seen...)
A can of deodorant would die a lonely death
Oasis! And look! A girl!
 The remainder of the main hall was decked out with a wide variety of consoles set up for free gaming.  By far the biggest attraction in this area was the Rock Band set-up.  I actually saw a dude in a Boba Fett mask singing a Tom Petty tune.  Yes, my friends, it has come to this.
Apart from the insanity of the main hall, the show rolled on.  In the conference rooms, various panels were held on a number of topics including video game development and the art of creating characters, a jam-packed seminar with the aforementioned Angry Video Game Nerd, and panels on video game and fantasy art.
And if you weren't exhausted enough from all of that there was the huge swap meet hall where exhibitors of all stripes were congregated hoping to unload some 30 year old video games and all other manner of things.  This, for me, is the meat of the show.  All of that other stuff is cool and all, but I go to conventions to buy games and other video game related brik-a-brak.  And for those like me, TMG really delivers.  While not the biggest swap meet I have been to, this year's show was probably the most diverse.  In addition to the bevy of classic and modern video game booths, there were tons of other vendors there with some truly fantastic offerings (on the down side, there were also two cell phone company booths there, but hey, I guess you gotta pay the bills somehow, those LAN kids ain't exactly cheap to support).
Chuck might be insane about Pac-man, but he's one of the best dealers you'll meet!

There were a ton of game developers at the convention debuting new games for everything from the Atari 2600 to cell phone apps.  A couple that caught my eye were Ature and Miss it! for the Atari 2600 and Star Saver which will be coming soon for your smart phone.  Ature is an awesome adventure game for the VCS that pits you against an evil queen in a massive world full of dark mazes, tall towers, and all kinds of monsters and secrets.  The game is an impressive modern take on the classic Adventure model. (Imagine what Legend of Zelda might have bee like on the VCS)  It was released as a TMG exclusive with only 15 available boxed and numbered copies.  I got #6.  I was unable to obtain a copy of Miss It!, however, since the vendor, Good Deal Games, was only at the show one day and I missed my shot.  Likewise, no information on the game is available on their website at this time, but keep checking.

Star Saver is a very interesting project in development and soon to be available for download on your smart phone.  The programmer was on hand and gave me a personal walkthrough of the game demo they had on display.  The game is an addictive action/puzzle game where you guide a tethered team of space octopus and kirby-like mouth creature through a maze retrieving star fragments to rejuvenate dying stars.  The game mechanics are tricky because of the disparate nature of the physics between the two characters.  They tend to jerk each other around a lot, and that leads to a lot of challenge and absolute hysterics.  The game shows a TON of potential and I cannot wait for it to be completed and released.  You can check out the details and even contribute to the cause here.

The swap meet was also living proof that the video game art culture is alive and strong. There were all kinds of booths with unique and distinct artists expressing their love of video games through variety of media.  In addition to Podkayne Studios pixel art booth, several other booths sported video game painted works.  Adam Shub (Squarepainter) was there with his absolutely massive paintings of classic video game screen shots like the opening cut scene from Ninja Gaiden and a full screen from arcade Donkey Kong.  Adam has smaller works as well, but his big pieces are absolutely incredible and worth checking out.  In addition to the painted arts, there were booths that proved that perler bead art is really coming into its own.  I picked up pieces from two of the vendors who were really doing top notch work: Pixxel Papa and Angee's Perler Creations.  Several years ago this whole perler thing started with small refrigerator magnets and it is has completely blown up into a huge field with artists doing pieces 8"X10" and larger, and they just keep getting better at it.
And for something completely new, how about classic video game sprites made out of LEGO's?  Yep, that's right and they are as badass as you think they are.  The cool folks from Block Sprites have been building these bad boys for a couple of years now and it seems to be really catching on.  Throughout the show they were constantly in need of building more sculptures because they kept selling out.  I think it is obvious why.  Also new to the scene was Rick Bruns and his lovely assistant Gwen from and they do something really really unique and impressive: they take your favorite game, play it through and capture the whole thing on a poster.  I picked up the Castlevania and Legend of Zelda posters and they are sweet.  The entire game, all of the screens, on a single poster.  It's just silly how cool that is to see!  And these people are completists; on my Castlevania poster, the contents of every candle and the location of all of the secrets are captured, as well as the location of every monster.  I told you; it is nuts.  Best of all the posters are on glossy, heavy paper and sell for much less than you might expect.  It was hard not to walk away with the whole slew, especially those sweet Final Fantasy world maps...
Other artists were exhibiting as well including fantasy artist Matthew Stewart and several yet to be discovered talents who were doing some absolutely fine work.  (see gallery below)

On the whole the convention was a three day extravaganza full of stuff to do, things to see, people to meet and fun to be had.  One thing the show made perfectly clear, however, is that I am getting old, very old.  The classic gaming scene is making a clear shift into the SNES/Genesis generation as less and less Colecovision, Atari 2600, Intellivision and Vectrex stuff is showing up at these shows and fewer and fewer attendees could pick Pitfall Harry out of a crowd.  I guess soon we'll have to start "ancient gaming" conventions for relics like me who think video games had their golden age in the time of NES.  That said, conventions like this are about one thing: enjoying and sharing the love of video games.  As long as that remains constant, the games can come and go.
This is what it's all about people, never lose sight of that

A parting word of thanks to all of the people at Too Many Games for putting on one hell of a show and here's to next year, bigger and even better (with an arcade area set on free-play!).
Thanks Chuck!

What follows will be a photo gallery of all the other shots I took at the show.  And for those of you keeping score, the following is the sum total of the loot I walked away with:
Total expense: $214

 And now the rest of the pictures!  Enjoy!
Lots of systems!
This young lady's art has been featured at TMG for some time now.  She is always very nice!
The Pixel Lincoln crew was back with another new DS game!
No more sweet lovin' for me if I didn't have a pic of the lovely wife's awesome art!
The joke that just won't die!
What do you do with old hardware that no longer works?  You make it art!
These were very neat little framed line drawings!
No caption needed, this stuff speaks for itself!
Philly's Best Dad (he has the shirt to prove it) was selling CPU and cord cozies.
A large showing of Japanese games this year!
Our pal at Block Sprites, hard at work, creating on the fly!
This booth had it all, I kid you not.  Check out those swank lanterns!
Aimee's ChronoTrigger painting that sold 1 hour into the show
And that's it kids!  Hope I was able to bring TMG to you if you didn't bring you to TMG.  Sleep on that one.

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