Crispy Gamer

It Was the Best of Cons, It Was the Worst of Cons

Now that the Tokyo Game Show is in the books, life on the open road for the year has pretty much come to an end. At one point, I was gone for four out of five weekends in a row on various trips here and there. It was getting so bad that my suitcase threatened to take out a restraining order against me, and to never let me see my handbags again.

If it sounds like I have fun at the various conventions, or that I enjoy having odd things happen to me in strange places (like awkward massages), that's because part of my job is to make it sound like I'm having fun even when I'm not. Truth is, sometimes I just kind of want to go home and cover myself with cats and drink about 400 beers.

All the hotels and taxis and airports, all the map-reading and GPS-programming, all the rental cars and Sbarro slices, all the attempts to order coffee in a place where no one speaks English; those things take a toll on a person's soul. Each year ends with me inevitably vowing to travel far less the following year. Usually, what happens is I wind up traveling even more the next year.

And this year, in particular, I really got around. Few journalists, I'd guess, saw the inside of more Cons and nerd-gatherings than I did. I survived H1N1 outbreaks, countless bouts of turbulence and a piece of sushi in Tokyo that I shall regret eating until the end of my life.

Without further ado, here's the Crispy Gamer list of the best and worst nerd gatherings of 2009. Remember: You're all winners! (Yes, even you, GDC Canada!)

Best Con Story

1. Comic Con (San Diego, CA, USA)

M.O.: This mighty confluence of entertainments -- comics, movies, television, videogames, anime, etc. -- was easily the one to rule them all in 2009.

Notable guests: Clive Barker, Stan Lee, GWAR

Pros: This is an ideal place to see how different kinds of media now feed into one another.

Cons: This is probably the toughest ticket of any Con on this list, namely because there aren't enough hotel rooms in San Diego to accommodate all of the Con-goers. Uncle Crispy's advice: Book early. Really early.

B.O. factor: 8 out of 10

2. E3 (Los Angeles, CA, USA)

M.O.: After a couple of off years, E3 roared back with a deafening vengeance in 2009, yet still didn't do quite enough to topple the mighty Comic Con from its throne.

Notable guests: Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron

Pros: It was thrilling to see an old-style E3, especially after the last few anemic years.

Cons: The L.A. Convention Center is still a sprawling mess and difficult to navigate. Kentia Hall is gone now. It's impossible to find a decent, affordable hotel near the Convention Center. And good luck trying to top the Beatles and/or the Project Natal announcement next year.

B.O. factor: 6 out of 10

Best Con Story
My suitcase will never forgive me for the horrible things I did to it this year. Not pictured: the wheel thing that fell off in Toronto.

3. Game Developers Conference (San Francisco, CA, USA)

M.O.: This once-humble, quiet gathering of developers, like the nerdy girl in the movies who takes off her glasses and lets down her hair, has blossomed into the year's third-sexiest gaming event. The stuffy (but still incredibly useful) continuing-education-type panels during the day are the ying to the beery yang of the after-hours parties.

Notable guests: Satoru Iwata, Tim Schafer

Pros: This is probably the single best place to find a job in the industry.

Cons: Since it has gotten more popular, having candid conversations with people like, say, Will Wright has become exponentially more difficult.

B.O. factor: 7 out of 10

4. GamesCom (Cologne, Germany)

M.O.: GamesCom is a retooled version of the GamesCon that was formerly held in Leipzig, Germany. Moving the whole thing to Cologne was done in the name of making the operation more accessible. (Leipzig is fairly rural and difficult to get to.) The result: an über-blockbuster Com (not Con) filled with plenty of energy, videogame news and German beer. I was at Leipzig last year, and thought it was terrific. But colleagues of mine who attended GamesCom this year (I was unable to go) swear it was far superior.

Notable guests: Tony Hawk, Hideo Kojima, Jonathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel

Pros: The show offered nearly 500 exhibitors, more proof that the industry is very alive, and very well, in Europe.

Cons: Once the show opened to the public, it was basically uninhabitable for any sane person.

B.O. factor: 10 out of 10

Best Con Story
Pictured: Crispy Gamer blog fuel. This was taken in a Seattle hotel room with my crappy iPhone.

5. DICE (Red Rock Resort, Las Vegas, NV, USA)

M.O.: The first substantial Con of 2009 was this gathering outside Las Vegas. And when I say "outside Las Vegas," I mean a good 45 minutes away from the Strip via cab, as Mischler, Narcisse and I sadly learned this year.

Notable guests: Gabe Newell, Jay Mohr (doing a good job, as always, of emceeing the awards)

Pros: DICE is still intimate enough to permit those candid Will Wright interactions that GDC was once famous for.

Cons: Unless you can afford to stay at the absurdly expensive Red Rock, DICE really isn't possible.

B.O. factor: 2 out of 10

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6. Fan Expo (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)

M.O.: A smaller, very Canadian counterpart to Comic Con. There were tons of comic dealers, artists, game publishers and toy companies on hand to hawk their wares. And there's a very active cosplay community in the region. Almost every other person was dressed as some obscure Final Fantasy character.

Notable guests: Leonard Nimoy, Bruce Campbell

Pros: Tons of positive energy and good will. These are some of the nicest nerds you'll ever meet.

Cons: The Expo is held in Toronto, which a colleague of mine refers to as "Mordor."

B.O. factor: 8 out of 10

7. PAX (Seattle, WA, USA)

M.O.: The Northwest's quintessential nerd gathering has become the place to be if you're into board games, or massively-multiplayer online games, or Penny Arcade.

Notable guests: Ron Gilbert, Dr. Greg from BioWare, those Penny Arcade dudes strolling around like they own the place (which they kind of do)

Pros: Seattle is a terrific city.

Cons: The place was a little too crowded, in my opinion. And everyone was a little too comfortable bumping into one another. As a counterpoint to Fan Expo, I found PAX goers to be some of the rudest Con attendees I saw all year.

B.O. factor: 9 out of 10

Best Con Story
Yes, there was a phone in this toilet in Japan. But who has ever taken a phone call while on the can? You have? All right, that's it. We're no longer friends.

8. Tokyo Game Show (Tokyo, Japan)

M.O.: Japan's big, bad videogame Con wasn't big or bad this year. With a shockingly low number of exhibitors and tons of derivative games, along with the typical dearth of any news (since it's held in October, few announcements are made at the show), this was one to miss this year.

Notable guests: Kaz Hirai, Kudo Tsunoda

Pros: You're in Tokyo. Which is awesome.

Cons: Makuhari Messe, where the Con is held, is located over an hour outside of downtown Tokyo. With its concrete floors and Death Star decor, the place is less welcoming than New York's terrible Javits Center.

B.O. factor: 8 out of 10

9. Toy Fair (New York, NY, USA)

M.O.: The place where toy manufacturers -- along with several videogame publishers -- gather to pimp their toy lines for the upcoming year.

Notable guests: Hmm. No one really comes to mind.

Pros: If you like Lego, well, there's usually plenty of Lego B.S. on hand.

Cons: It's held in February in New York, which means the weather is typically brutally cold. And the terrible Javits Center is all the way west in Manhattan, meaning you'll have a 10- to 15-minute walk out in the elements each day to get there.

B.O. factor: 4 out of 10

10. GDC Canada (Vancouver, B.C., Canada)

M.O.: The Canadian version of the Game Developers Conference was held at the Vancouver Convention Center this year. Yes, the show is small, but since so many games are developed in Vancouver (and Montreal), there's definitely the opportunity to grow.

Notable guests: Don Mattrick, the BioWare doctors

Pros: Great views from the just-built convention center. Watching the floatplanes take off and land in the harbor outside the convention center windows is infinitely nicer than playing the is-it-a-branch-or-is-it-a-corpse game while looking at the Hudson River from the Javits.

Cons: The convention center, like a child wearing an adult-sized pair of pants, was a little too roomy for this burgeoning Con.

B.O. factor: 3 out of 10

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