Game Havens, Special Edition: San Diego Comicon

Maaaan, you may think you know San Diego Comicon (SDCC) but brother, you don’t know shit. SDCC hasn’t been just about comics in a long, long time (for better or worse). Its become a pop culture mecca, the focal point of all things nerd in the US. So, where else would this pop aristocrat go for vacation? For four glorious days (and one preview night), the beautiful city of San Diego is converted into a towering monolith of geekdom, and filled to the brim with unwashed chubby guys and hot nerd girls in costumes. Glory.

Comics, novels, artists, musicians, movie stars, they’re all there. But we’re here to talk about games, my friends, so lets focus on that.

Probably my favorite developer booth of the show, the Rayman Origins cave by Ubisoft.

 

If you haven’t been out to SDCC before, you’re missing out on an unbelievable cultural experience. Once, the con was quieter, smaller, more reserved. In many ways, I miss those days. And yet, there is still something exciting and overwhelming about seeing how comics have expanded beyond their floppy, 32-page boundaries and become a pop phenomenon. The growth of comic movies and video games have caused the once modest con to become a powerhouse, filling the convention center to the brim, and claiming the downtown area as well. Restaurants, retail, nightclubs, hotels, everything essentially converts into a giant, living comic book shrine. And why not? The con brings over 100,000 attendees, plus scores of vendors, PR reps, families, friends, and groupies into town.

Its terribly sad that at this point, its actually extremely difficult to get into comicon, and very profitable to scalp tickets (highly frowned upon by Con officials). But still, try. Fight for those damn tickets!

The Saints Row Nightclub

Once you’re inside, you’ll be overwhelmed by the amount of stuff there is to do. Panels, interviews, demos, shopping, ogling girls in Nightwing costumes (mmm, gender-bender). It really is too much. The con floor itself takes up four days of exploration, not to mention everything the hotels and downtown area have to offer.

But, segmented along the back wall of the con, you’ll find all of your favorite video game developers struttin’ their stuff.

If you were fortunate enough to get into E3, then SDCC doesn’t offer many new gaming experiences. But for the vast majority who did not, the new games that in June were shrouded in mystery and stuck behind locked doors are now sitting out where you can play them, ready for public scrutiny. Activision brought out Prototype 2 for display. 2K Games and Saints Row 3 had a virtual nightclub set up for gaming in style. Nintendo brought out all of next year’s Wii releases, and thrilled people with the new Zelda.

If that weren’t enough, there’s gaming on the outside too. Walking across the street to the park, Capcom had set up a challenge booth, with game stations and couches, a live DJ, girls offering free 3D photos of you and Strider Hiryu, and you could take physical challenges in exchange for Capcom exclusive shirts, sunglasses, and other fine things to stick on ebay.

Capcom's booth attempts to lure you in with 10 ft tall hood-rat booties.

 

And if that isn't enough, Capcom's got a gaming tent and lawndarts outside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you’ve got your fill of playing games, wander the floor for fine products to purchase. Be it Mega Man action figures with sweet chrome armor plating, or replicas of Link’s Master Sword, you’ve got plenty to spend your money on.

Awesome art by Dave Pryor. Click the pic to hit up his blog. He does amazing stuff.

Got enough toys? How about a little fine art? There’s multitudes of geek artists out there who use their paints and design skills to pay tribute to all the best aspects of our 80′s childhoods.

And when its all done, why not go down town for some late night drinks? One bar, JJs, had made an alliance with Nerd HQ, converting the place into a game bar. By day you could come on and drop a few bucks to charity to sit and have a dialogue with stars like Zachary Quinto of the new Star Trek, and by night you could enjoy a Whiskey, a Pulled Pork sandwich, and play some new games like Dance Central 2, Gears of War 3, and Rayman Origins on any of the demo stations they had set up in the booths.

There is no end to the entertainment to be had. Dear fellow gamers, you have to go. Yes, it is completely commercial and morally bankrupt, yes it is crowded to the point of frustration, yes it is an expensive round trip… but I’ve never not had fun at the SDCC. And neither will you.

Oh yeah, the traditional Game Havens grade scale:

Games: 5/5 – While not the hugest selection of games, this is the first time the public generally gets to play any of these games, and there’s plenty to fill up a couple of days with. Even if you get your fill of the new games on the floor, Nintendo sponsors a game lounge in the nearby Marriott Hotel, where you can hop in on multi-player games from all generations, and make some new friends. Its no E3, but you’ll never find an arcade with this much space or variety.

When they told me it was $14 for my whiskey, I almost did a spit-take, but I realized it would have been a waste of about $2 worth of drink.

Drinks: 3/5 – Welcome to the 6th most expensive city in America. And you’re in a convention center. You want a bottle of Coke to stave off dehydration? That’ll be $4. Ouch. Well, at least there are convenience stores across the street, they’re only $2 there. Hey, while you’re out, why not stop off at Nerd HQ and get a whiskey? $14? Fuck. You.

Environment: 5/5- San Diego is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been in. The convention center is also lovely as are the 4 and 5 star hotels its affiliated with. You’ll seldom find a better selection of restaurants in such close proximity as the Gaslam District down 5th avenue. The weather is perfect. Hell, I could just wander the grounds all day and be content.

Crowd: 4/5- I love all the people there. Everyone is a nerd. Everyone. You may not all like the same stuff, but you won’t find anyone who doesn’t understand your level of devotion. And the female population at the con is quickly rising, which is always nice. The only issue is that the crowd is so big. Its just too much!

 Fighting my way towards Prototype

Till next year, San Diego…