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Comicon 2014

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Recently, Comicon came to New York City and a group of us went to experience the event. None of us had been to a Comicon before, and although some of us have had experience with related trade shows and events, we did not really know what to expect. So many preconceptions jump out. As it turns out, many of them are accurate.

Our crew consisted of my sister, her daughter and her best friend as well as a close online friend and my oldest son and me. This is essentially our gaming “crew” as well. We had planned this trip months in advance and looked forward to it.

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I think that what you get out of the experience depends greatly on what you are expecting. This is true in most cases and is the subject of my next post, but in this case, I believe that we did not have any specific expectations and therefore were not disappointed. That is not to say however, that the event was what I thought it would be. Comicon has a large open floor area as well as special panels and various side rooms where scheduled events occur. We were there for the floor experience. In my mind, Comicon is a bit like Burning Man, with unbelievably well-made costumes with an almost anarchistic bent. In actuality, a bit yes and a bit no. Costumed attendees are everywhere and in many cases the costumes are very impressive in terms of workmanship and detail but also in the wearer’s ability to embody what often is an exaggerated physique. Not all can make that claim unfortunately. The best image to explain Comicon is one in which a costumed attendee is taking a photo of another costumed attendee. This is a very common thing to see here.

The overall feeling of openness and inclusiveness is refreshing and almost makes fighting the crowds fun. The presence of large game and other software developers or even toy and accessory manufacturers was limited. There were many third party distributors of toys, clothing, accessories and various specialty items. If you like comic, Sci-fi and game related titles and characters, this is the place for you. I saw many items for sale that I have never seen anywhere else. Some collector’s items, others just fun trinkets.

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Being there with family and friends definitely added to the experience and the difference in ages and perspectives also made for a wide variety of interests. None of us are very into comic books but all are avid gamers. We also like the same games and characters, many of whom were represented both as items for purchase as well as live in costume. Our favorites included various miniatures, weapons and items of clothing from Borderlands, Plants Vs Zombies and Minecraft. We purchased a few Borderlands related t-shirts from Glitch as well as a plush CL4P-TP  (Clap Trap) that says twenty different phrases and from a different vendor, a plush turret from Portal 2 that not only also speaks, it is touch sensitive and says different things when “killed.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Comicon, unlike other shows of its kind, is not primarily represented by the creators of the various entities, but by third-party vendors. Very few game, film or television developers were present. Instead, a wide variety of companies and vendors promoting and selling items related to the characters, shows and games filled the aisles. But most all it seems that Comicon is about the fans and their identification with the characters. On the way out we ran into a couple that had come with their own life-size CL4P-TP. Made of cardboard and built atop a RC car, it was mobile and surprisingly stable. Best of all it completely captured the essence of the event – creativity, individualism and fun.

Out of Sync

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I am feeling a bit out of sync gaming-wise. On Tuesday, while the entire gaming world played Titanfall, I was playing Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare. Also a great game, but not this week’s news. In fact, I was trying to catch up to my sons who are now level 20 or 30 in PvZ GW. Much like Titanfall, Plants vs Zombies is suffering from connection issues. Titanfall’s server problems seem to be from the crush of players trying to get on. The issues with PvZ seem more sporadic.

In any case, as a parent I am happy to see my boys playing Garden Warfare. It is a breath of innocent fun. It makes the transition from 2d to 3d while maintaining the spirit of the original. Although I allow my eldest son to play more mature games including Dead Rising 3, I appreciate that he prefers Garden Warfare. Dead Rising 3 is a sick but fun slaughterfest and there are few substitutes when you are in the mood for that type of game. But some scenes, especially those of the psycho boss battles include material that is truly deviant and I am happy that he did not play those sections.

My copy of Titanfall should arrive tomorrow and I will undoubtedly spend untold hours playing online. It seems as though the entire gaming world is turning on Call of Duty. Years of complaints about lagging, modding, cheating and unrealistic gun capabilities have added up and created a frustrated gaming population. Perhaps the situation is simply that there is an enormous audience of people who want to play the premier first person shooter and despite Battlefield‘s best efforts, COD ruled. Until now. Titanfall certainly has the developer pedigree and the right backstory, but it’s time to see how real the claims and hype truly are. I hope they don’t disappoint.

Zombies and Titans

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The new consoles have been out for two months now and the gaming audience that eagerly awaited the new batch of games has now completed them. We finished the single player campaigns in Call of Duty Ghosts and Battlefield 4. We sailed the seas as Edward Kenway and retired a happy family man in Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag. We help break up slave trafficking as Adewale in Freedom Cry. Sure, we are still playing though the racing leagues and leveling up in Forza 5 (over 50 now) and nearing time to prestige in COD (many already have long ago), but we need something new.

Forza Car packs help keep up the interest, especially when they include sexy Alfa Romeos and Maseratis from the sixties, but new tracks would be appreciated as well. The COD Onslaught expansion pack is also a welcome addition with not only four new maps but also the excellent new chapter for extinction mode as well as a new weapon. It is a little frustrating, however, that the new maps are not accessible in squads mode.

Every gamer that I speak with has the same question, “Where are the new games?” It seems as though there is a dearth of new titles, yet there are many available as you can see by the graphic at left.

A few of the titles that I am looking forward to most have been delayed including Tom Clancy’s The Division. Many of us are pinning our hopes on Titanfall, which I have heard is as good as we would hope. Apparently, Titanfall actually has dedicated servers, unlike other games that promised them and didn’t deliver. The multiplayer and extinction game modes in Call of Duty Ghosts are excellent but suffer from incredible lagging at times. The lagging in multiplayer is especially pronounced. If you are lucky to be on the favored side of the server you can have a great experience and usually do well in scoring. If you are on the less favored side, it is frustrating and repetitive. Apparently, the situation may have been made worse by an update to the game prior to the release of the Onslaught expansion pack.

And the situation is even worse if you are looking for a four-player family-oriented game. There are a few great four player games for the Xbox 360, many of which we enjoy whenever we play as a group. Castle Crashers, Bomberman, Mad Tracks and 3d Ultra Minigolf are some our favorites. We have not even needed to purchase more than two controllers for the Xbox One and it is not just due to the improved Kinect sensor – until now there was not a compelling game for more than two players (on one console). Plants Vs Zombies is a big hit in our house. We not only have the various versions of the game on Xbox 360 and more importantly on the iPads, but we also have plush and lots of it. Pea shooters, zombies, you name it.

As you can imagine then, we are looking forward to the release of Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare with great anticipation. It appears that the split screen mode exclusive to the Xbox One will only allow two players on a single console. As we only have a single Xbox One, this means that we will not be able to play this game with four people either.

Even sports games like NBA 2K14, Madden 25 and NHL 14 do not offer four player local split screen gameplay. There is a useful list of all four-player games available for the Xbox 360 at this Gamespot forum. I have not yet found such a list for the Xbox One console, but IGN does have a complete list of available games as well rumored games on their website.

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