AMBER LOVE 26-FEB-2013 DREAMATION I hadn’t been to the Dreamation convention since 2009 and was relieved to see that it was still a great con. The team behind it is Double Exposure, also responsible for well organized shows called DexCon and Metatopia. I still feel it necessary to explain to people that I’m not a gamer but I thoroughly enjoying taking a weekend or two each year to unwind doing something different from my usual routines. Dreamation provides opportunities to present, demo, or be a player for LARPs, RPGs, miniatures, board games, video games and everything else tabletop.
It was important for me to get to Dreamation again for a couple of reasons. It’s local and I feel it’s extremely important to support great shows that are right in my backyard. I’m sure shows like GenCon are valuable to the community but there’s a slim chance I’ll ever attend those. As someone whose goal is provide information on the entertainment industry to the public, it’s also important that I leave my comfort zone of comics and get to dabble in the vast outlets of gaming. It’s also not focused on video games like New York Comic Con and the others with their massive booth spaces of dancing and first person shooters. It would be fine if there were some video gaming presence but unfortunately those things tend to take over. Of course having a couple days to unwind and change up my normal weekend activities of laundry, television watching and taking naps is beneficial to my health even if not to my wallet after a couple $15 cocktails at the Hyatt bar. One of my recommendations would be to add some nerd rock/pop performances to break up the sold 24-hours of gaming. It would give people a chance to turn off their brains and just listen.
Speaking of the Morristown Hyatt, it’s gorgeous. I love that this the hotel for the show. The interior waterfall wall is beautiful but rather loud if you’re planning on having a conversation near it (and unfortunately some tables were set up next to it). It’s pretty convenient to all the boutiques and eateries of historic Morristown, New Jersey. Unfortunately, my attempt to walk such was burdened by freezing rain and not pleasant especially since I got hungry at that oddball 3:00 time when the only Thai restaurant in town is not open. If you’re lucky to be there when the weather is comfortable, the Morristown green is a beautiful little park with statues and a fountain surrounded by the square of shops. Out of towners might be slightly confused by New Jersey’s love of driving in circles but basically you can’t be lost, even if you have to loop around a couple times. The parking at the Hyatt is awful. That’s the one thing that the hotel needs to improve. It’s an indoor parking garage which is lovely considering the weather and as a convention goer you can have your parking validated so it’s free; but there aren’t enough open spaces for some reason. I wasn’t the only one that had to K-turn in a couple of dead ends that were blocked off for valet parking or reserved spaces. I couldn’t find how to access any other levels either so it was lucky that I found people leaving the very tight spots where I parked.
Double Exposure knows how to treat people. This is unlike any other convention I’ve attended in regards to care and consideration of the people. Three of us from AmberUnmasked were privileged and grateful to have press credentials for the whole weekend of which we attended Friday and Saturday. After such a bad experience at the Philadelphia Tattoo Con, I couldn’t have expected anything as courteous as this. As Jesse pointed out in his recap, there was a main con suite near the artists, dealers and LARP booths. That was a big room with enough tables and chairs for people to take a load off. Plus food was provided! There was a buffet of burgers, hot dogs, fries, and pizza to purchase but the fact that a convention offered any free food to all the attendees was remarkable! They even have special events surrounding the food like an ice cream buffet and a chocolate celebration. As press we were also granted the same privileges as the con staff which meant entry into the 8th floor suite filled with food and drinks, even several vegan options. That room was unfortunately claustrophobic in size and we had nowhere to sit. The staff made sure every person that entered washed or sanitized their hands before going anywhere close to the food in order to stave off the usual con plague. Friday night, we were even given a dealer’s space so that we could have a base near outlets and drop off our coats. It wasn’t even necessary since the hotel provided almost all conveniences; a coat check would have been a nice addition considering it’s February.
I arrived very late for the CLUE LARP but I was happy to experience even a couple minutes of its ending. I used to love playing the board game. I even had a VHS version where you could play along like a LARP but as with everything else in my youth, I had no one to play with so it wasn’t the best of times. I usually just watched it like a MURDER, SHE WROTE episode. I’m also hugely in love with the CLUE movie. Everyone I know seems to be and that’s why I wanted to know what a CLUE LARP was all about. I was assigned the character of Mrs. Peacock despite not intended to play nor knowing how to do so. Everyone else seemed comfortable with each other so it’s possible they were already acquainted. Ashley and Jesse had their roles a little bit before I arrived. No one ended up dying other than the pre-determined storyline of Mr. Boddy’s death. There were probably some assumptions about how to participate that could have been explained better. From what I understand of other scheduled CLUE LARPs, things ran more smoothly and people actually committed murder.
Ashley and I were able to make it to the next LARP that interested both of us. It was Dr. Dolott’s Super Villain Group Therapy which was run like a support meeting of villains. The LARPs were slotted for two hours which experienced gamers said was a comfortable block of time. It felt a bit too long for me. It was a first time for this LARP run by James Moore. After about 90 minutes we wrapped it up and gave feedback. One important criticism was that we could have used 15 minutes at the beginning to spec out our characters instead of being called up immediately to improv. The description in the program guide did say it was improv but no one was prepared to jump in as soon as the conference room door closed. The GM could also have created some backstory where our characters might have interacted in the past, for example, he could have said, “Mr. Evil, have you forgiven Mr. Clean for that time when…” After those initial minutes to warm up we introduced ourselves as: Dr. Dolotts, Mr. and Mrs. Evil, Captain Douchebag, Grandson of Sam, Velma VanGogh, Felicia Fancybottom, and Mr. Clean.
Captain Douchebag dominated the therapy session after which he apologized repeatedly. His character was one that would not have been accepted in just any gaming community. His schtick was that he partners with Miss Ogyny (not present) and travels to conventions taking advantage of unsuspecting women. The player gauged each of our reactions, testing the waters before taking his character up to the next level of annoying flagrant asshole. I’ll say that the real life guy behind the player was actually sweet, sensitive and educated in feminism. He had slipped a note to Mrs. Evil during the game play asking if he was being triggering for any possible sexual assault survivors; post-game, he asked the same of me and Ashley to which we replied that we had picked up on his signals (smiling, body language) that it was all just character. After the LARP, half the group spent time in the seating arrangements near the bar to get better acquainted where I heard about Captain Douchebag’s incarnation; he was made specifically as an educational tool to show con goers the travesties some women face at pop culture shows. Other people might find his sensationalized approach too inappropriate as a method of teaching but he assured me that he only escalated his “douchiness” based on how severely my character, Felicia, interacted with him. Grandson of Sam countered as a villainy nemesis to Douchebag as a self-appointed savior to rape culture; GoS was a career criminal who could neuter rapists and the like with only his piercing stare. The Captain Douchebag character lead to a great open discussion about misogyny in gaming. I referred to my interview on Vodka O’Clock with Lillian Cohen-Moore where we discussed it and explained that my limited knowledge of RPGs and tabletop had sheltered me from knowing this existed outside video gaming. Nonetheless, it probably is best to discuss characters ahead of time in case someone in the group does intend to portray something that is frequently the basis of emotional triggers.
“Cat Girls are the marijuana of furries; they’re the gateway.” ~Captain Douchebag
Felicia and Velma were thieves who had been captured breaking into Castle Vonbulow when Velma fell into the moat. They were unable to retrieve the statue they sought and instead landed in prison where all powers were dampened and group therapy was required. Velma later revealed that they also slept with each other’s boyfriends. When asked how to make up for the infidelity, Felicia promised when they got out of prison they could raid a sybian factory. This little moment was well-received by the group and probably the highlight of my storytelling for the weekend. I developed a little nerd crush on the player called Mr. Clean, aka Michael, who was a rather handsome gentleman with a resonant speaking voice.
None of the LARPs in which I participated had people dressed up in costume designed for those events. Dr. Dolotts wore a dress shirt and tie which could be considered a costume of a PhD therapist; Jesse was steampunk on Friday when we attended the CLUE LARP; I wore a cute vintage dress and goggles but nothing I designed to be Felicia Fancybottom. The public perception may be that all LARP is a round table of nerds in magician cloaks and elf ears. Some people were dressed up but it was a slim minority out of all the attendees. And I’ve been wanting to get elf ears for a long time anyway.
The new card game Pittsburgh 68 by Game Wick Games popped onto my radar as we walked through the labyrinth of rooms and hallways. This is a game that plays out like a classic Romero zombie movie. There are four “reels” to work through much like the acts of a play. Larry Wick the game designer explained how Pittsburgh 68 is for 3-13 players; the less players there are, the more characters each player represents. I know almost nothing about these types of multiplayer RPGs. There are cards for characters which list the attributes and points of each: muscle, speed, brains, and guts (bravery). There are action cards which determine things like if the group is running for their lives. There are also item cards, sort of like loot, which are used as weapons against the zombie attacks. You begin as a normal person(s) and if you are attacked and lose, that character is taken into the zombie horde. There are tokens called “Spoints” or “survivor points” which can pay off damage of an attack. The spoints are transferrable to other players. Larry said that early in the game, players tend to join forces and help each other out by giving their spoints away to someone under attack but as the characters are consumed by the zombies, it transitions more into an every-man-for-himself surivival mode. The spoints can also boost the rolls of the two D6. The artwork on the cards is black and white to help with the B-movie immersion experience and also as an indicator to the players that this is not modern gore with the same rating considerations one might expect after watching modern horror in the vein of THE WALKING DEAD.
The first “reel” or arc of the story is 10 cards; the 2nd and what Larry considers the hardest is 20 cards; the 3rd is 15 cards and the 4th is 10 cards. Pittsburgh 68 retails for $25. Retailers can get it through Alliance distribution. Larry and his staff are also available locally in New Jersey to do in-shop game demos. It’s designed to play out in 68 minutes, the length of an old B-movie. It was released in the summer of 2012 and tested at Metatopia then shown at GenCon and Origins. As expected, Pittsburgh shops like House of the Dead, are doing well with sales of Pittsburgh 68 since it was the region where Romero shot his zombie classics. I asked Larry why he chose the Pittsburgh zombie as his core character rather than the New Jersey Devil. He smiled and said that may be something that comes in its own box.
GAME CREATOR PERSPECTIVE
Chopper is a board game that allows players to play as the owner of a custom motorcycle manufacturer trying to reach the big time. They increase their notoriety by building custom motorcycles for a variety of client personalities in exchange for Cash and Prestige. Players will need to budget their time, roll dice and make sure they deliver their bikes on schedule. In addition, they can upgrade their shop to build higher-end bikes quicker, and defend against natural calamities and competitors out to make a name for themselves at any cost.
I bumped into one of my cosplay comrades, James Hannon, who is probably best known for his public appearances with the 501st and Rebel Legion STAR WARS costuming groups. James has also been a guest on Vodka O’Clock. He and Johnny Rox were at Dreamation to demo their game Chopper! to new players and to get feedback from experienced publishers. I asked James a few questions about his experience as a game designer at Dreamation. Previously, they’ve done smaller demos at Little Shop of Comics in Scotch Plains, New Jersey.
JH: “Chopper! was pretty well-received by the players and publishers. We did get some great feedback on things we could do to make it a better game, and John and I are working on that right now. The playtesters at Dreamation were really great – they were brutally honest, but they weren’t mean-spirited. And they had great suggestions. Maybe we just got lucky, but was definitely a positive experience for us.
On a weird note, our Sunday demo had 3 people signed up, and not one of them showed. Also, quite a few of our friends were so tired & hungover from playing the night before that they didn’t make it out on Sunday. The Sunday con was kinda dead, and by the time our timeslot was over at 3pm, many of the vendors had packed up and had left. We still played our demo amongst ourselves, and had quite a few conversations with interested spectators.
Was it the right venue for introducing a game? Hmmm, tough question…
For John and myself, it absolutely was. But that’s only because we did some legwork ahead of time, and set up meetings with publishers ahead of time to pitch the game to them. Do I think that it would be the best place to start a Kickstarter campaign? No, not at all. It wasn’t really set up that way.
But it was a great low-cost/low-risk education for new game designers to get the feel of what they are “supposed to be doing”. The con is nowhere as big as GenCon or Origins conventions, but its local NJ, and a great introduction to what the dynamic of game conventions are. We got some great feedback during the demo, but that kinda means that we used our spot as a playtest instead of a demo. Semantics really, but an important one. We thought we were done with the game design of Chopper! going in, but having this feedback just goes to show that there are always ways to improve on something.
So bottom line for your question: Dreamation is a great educational tool for beginning game designers who are still learning exactly what they need to do to sell their game. This weekend’s experience was invaluable in that regard. We had a sample run of what the larger conventions are, and we made some rookie mistakes. We’re not going to be rookies for the next one.“
It was great hearing that Chopper! didn’t bomb its first time out even though people bailed on their reservations. James and Johnny received helpful feedback from a publisher and players. They thought they were finished and ready to look for publishing and distribution but now they know what tweaks need to be made first.
I asked about his overall assessment as a new game designer and if he recommends Dreamation to others:
JH: “Absolutely. Yes. Particularly newbie game designers who live locally. It’s a low cost/low risk way of learning how to make a splash at the huge game conventions like GenCon or Origins.
Oh yeah, a quick side note that gives props to Avonelle (Avie) Wing who was a show organizer. We found out about this con pretty late, and missed the cutoff period (by a few weeks) for getting in on the Demo part of it. She was REALLY helpful and nice and made sure we got on.”
The Vodka O’Clock Vlog at YouTube will have some coverage from the show as well. Stay tuned for that and for Ashley’s coverage.
On this video, we had better video quality than at previous shows but much worse audio. Sorry. We’re not able to upgrade to a camera that costs several thousand dollars at this time. We’re making due with what we have.