Comic Con Day 4: The Final Day

4.5 days of insane geekery is over and done for another year for me, as I lie in my hotel bed thinking about yesterday’s events. Sundays tend to be a bit lighter than other full days at Comic Con, mostly because people are planning to and heading home. But the streets are still packed and the convention center even more so.

My day started very early when I read a tweet from a friend suggesting that the line to get into the center had started before 2am and that they were freezing and needed coffee. So, around 5am I headed down to the line, with orange juice, a blanket and coffee to deliver, and then took my place at the end of the line, which was a good bit longer than for any other day. I should explain the queues, actually. Before the building opens in the morning there are two queues outside; one for Hall H and one for everything else.

Hall H is the 6500 seater room where the big studios do their big presentations, and people traditionally queue a while to get in, but often you can turn up at a far more sensible time and still get in the room. We queued overnight for TRON but could have showed up at 6am and still been fine, but in the back. It all depends what’s in Hall H.

The Harry Potter presentation had the longest queue this year, unsurprisingly – but it still wasn’t as crazy as either Twilight or Lost from last year. So, there was no programming in Hall H this sunday, so forget that line. The other queue is to get to everything else! That’s Ballroom 20 (second biggest room), the exhibit hall (to queue up for exclusives or nab especially nice swag) and then every other programming room. So it’s a huge queue also, but last year I never noticed, because I didn’t once queue outside for the general opening last year. This year was a bit different as a few panels I wanted to catch were hugely popular and first thing, and hell, I was awake so I wandered down. And the line this sunday was the longest one I’d been in for just general opening – why? Well, final day for the exhibit hall, coupled with Ballroom 20 programming of Smallville (final year), Supernatural (final year, perhaps), and after a gap, Glee. So three pretty popular shows.

The main star of Smallville, Tom Welling, only came to Comic Con for the first time last year, and that was only leaked the night before. This year fans have known for months, so there were a TON of them. For me, Supernatural was the focus as all four leads were there, whereas last year the two main chars hadn’t made it. And I knew I couldn’t stay for Glee if I wanted to say a proper farewell to my Con buddy, which I did. So a light day panel-wise of just Smallville and Supernatural.

Smallville was kind of cool, it got a great reception and they always sell the show well, but I simply don’t watch it. There was a lot less asking the cast for autographs this year, and better questions – about what they’d do next, their favourite episode, etc etc. Once it was done though, the party really started with a sneak peek at episode 4 of the new series of Supernatural – and it was /electric/. Directed by Jensen Ackles it’s a Bobby-focussed story that brings Crowley back and looks fantastic. The rest of the cast then emerged to talk post-Apocalyptic Supernatural, and it was good-natured and hilarious, but also fans didn’t ask trite questions too much, which was nice. Jensen talked a bit about directing and killing vampires,  Eric Kripke smacked down M Night ‘Douchey’, and Misha Collins.. well, was just ridiculously funny AND good-looking. Ha ha, I know, already, I’m usually serious, but I have a crush :-) My favourite Supernatural TV critic has put her thoughts and the full audio of the panel here – she sums it up perfectly, and I’m tired!

And with that Comic Con 2010 was done for me. Still the streets were crowded. We had lunch and I waved off my friend as he got his cab to the airport (when he checked out we were standing next to James Marsters, for a last little geek-out moment). I braved the world and got a trolley up to Fashion Valley mall to go check out the Apple store for an iPad camera connector. The trolley ride was fun, the Apple Store not so much, with chaotic and REALLY unhelpful staff. I actually hated it, and decided I’m only ever shopping from Apple online if that’s how ridiculous, rude and ill-informed they are. I literally got shunted around 6-7 staff before overhearing an EIGHTH say they had none of those items. The others just sent me on a run-around, so in disgust I wandered to the Microsoft Store to watch Kinect being demoed. Actually, as a cynic, it looked kind of fun – though obviously their set-up in terms of space and room was optimal. As with anything it’ll depend on the software they bring out for it and how compelling it is. Irrelevant to me as I have no console! And no space in my living room thanks to an enormous coffee table.

It’s over, though, and I had another great time. So here’s the info people asked for last year. The 4-day Comic Con pass cost me $100 (next year was being sold for $105). They only do a certain number with the preview night, and someone said those had sold out already, but I can’t remember if last year they put up more preview night tickets when they opened online sales. Online sales WILL start soon though, so keep an eye out.

Preview night isn’t THAT remarkable, but it’s a nice way to check things out with a slightly smaller crowd and no panels – it’s basically some TV previews, and the exhibit hall. And you CAN buy a 4-day pass without it. Um, my flight to the US cost £560 flying into Chicago and out of San Diego, but it would have been around the same for direct flights to San Diego.

The train trip from Chicago to San Diego was $172 for the train ticket plus $150 for the room on the train ($295 for the room, but split between the two of us) and that included all meals on the train. Hotels in San Diego are pretty pricey, so I’m not going to break down that cost for you, but having used the trolley service ($15 for 4 days travel or $5/day) I’d not be averse to staying outside of the centre – though, I have to say I have enjoyed the luxury of a nearby hotel the past two years. And no, I didn’t get a ticket for next year, I think I want to branch out and try PAX or DragonCon or Gamescon in Germany.. before returning to a Comic Con.

Gaming News: Shake up in Microsoft’s gaming division, EVE expansion launch, Revving up for E3, Prince of Persia on iPhone, Direct2Drive sells F2P

It’s been a fairly quiet news week. This is the calm before the storm of the various industry conventions held over the Summer months, of which the first up will be E3 on June 15-17 (i.e. I’ll have to make up some more news next week too).

Shake Up in Microsoft’s Gaming Division

A couple of big names announced that they were leaving Microsoft this week. Robbie Bach was the head of MSFT’s Entertainment and Devices Division and J Allard was the Xbox supremo. There are rumours that the departures are connected to Microsoft’s decision to cancel the Courier tablet device, but nothing that has yet been substantiated.

EVE Tyrannis Expansion Launched

This is the new free (to subscribers) EVE Online expansion which involves building up resources on planets, and sets the stage for the introduction of the Dust 451 shooter/ hybrid which is expected to be released at the end of the year. Or thereabouts.

At the same time CCP introduced a social networking platform for EVE players. I’m curious to read about how this works out for them. Imagine Facebook. Then imagine that Facebook has a significant number of users whose main goal is to deliberately manipulate and screw with other uses. Or actually … just imagine Facebook.

Having said that, I do like the idea of being able to send/ receive in game mail via a web interface. And one of the other interesting features provided with EVE Gate (the social networking application) is a corps chat box. Now, I’m assuming most corps – like most guilds – probably have a bulletin board for communication out of game which may also have a chatbox. So I don’t know how useful this will really be, but it is a step towards being able to page someone in game from a website.

Ramping up for E3

We know that E3 is on the horizon because companies have to started to drop press releases about what they are planning to show there.

We know that Richard Branson has an announcement to make about Virgin Media. The company once had a good pedigree as a games publisher before pulling out of the business, but this new announcement is to be about a gaming service.  Something to compete with BT’s forthcoming OnLive service, perhaps? (Note: Yes I know this is only of interest to readers in the UK :) )

Ubisoft have released a rough list of what they plan to show off at E3 too, including lots of sequels. Lets hope the convention organisers have put aside a reliable internet link for them or else those demos might be in trouble.

We’ll also expect to see some more of the next Call of Duty sequel. And Nintendo have a surprise announcement about Zelda for the Wii. Evidently this is the sort of surprise that is heralded by carefully orchestrated press release for months in advance so presumably the surprise is not that they’ve canned it.

Bioware will also be showing off their latest version of Star Wars: The Old Republic. Arenanet however will probably not be there with Guild Wars 2 – they didn’t attend E3 in 2008 or 2009 either.

Prince of Persia released on the iPhone/ iPad

gyllenhaal-prince-persia-1

Yup, not so much a news story as a random excuse for a picture of Jake Gyllenhaal without his shirt on. But for the record, the original (and arguably the best) Prince of Persia game has been released on the iPhone. Reviewers have said that it is good. Well yes, this would be why it became an instant classic when it was released on the PC all those years ago.

I was very tempted to put in a spoiler here but I’ll just say that my favourite level was the one where the princess sends her pet mouse to save you. That part sadly didn’t make the film.

And speaking of the film, I saw it yesterday and thought that it was good fun. There are many many worse ways to spend an afternoon, and the people I was with also liked it (proving that the attraction isn’t just my fascination with Jake Gyllenhaal.) I did enjoy the use of parkour type stunts to simulate the acrobatics which is such a big feature of the gaming franchise. Also, blessedly, we didn’t have to sit through an advert for the game of the film.

The iPad also was released in the UK this week. But I don’t think initial reports of queues and shortages are all they’re cracked up to be. My inside report from a 3G telco says that they sold barely a few hundred iPad SIMS over the weekend and Charlie Brooker – reviewing the iPad for The Guardian – notes that they were able to walk into a shop on Friday and buy one over the counter, no queues in sight.

And as a bonus iPad feature, one of my friends describes how his mum has been getting on with her iPad. It’s an interesting view at how a non-techie views the device.

Direct2Drive sells Free 2 Play

I thought this was an interesting little news story. D2D has started selling packages of free to play MMOs. What you get for your money is a download of the free game plus some extras – tokens for the cash shop, items, mounts etc, the package depends on the game.

A first look implies that the deals are reasonably good value, although I don’t know how well it compares to any sales which the games themselves hold regularly. Is this an innovative way to package an unfamiliar pricing model to users or just a pointless waste of time? D2D are unlikely to release sales figures so we may never know.

Zynga is still in the news, and Offerpal goes large

I am now officially bored of news stories about Zynga. The Farmville developer has now entered a new partnership with Yahoo so presumably is planning to experiment some more with positioning their games on a non-Facebook social network.

And Offerpal, which organises deals by which social gaming players can agree to marketing tasks (such as signing up to a mailing list, ordering items, completing surveys etc) in return for virtual currency is apparently doing well with its new website. This an interesting spin because if you go to Offerpal’s site, you can do as many marketing related tasks as you can handle and earn Game Points. You can then exchange your Game Points for virtual currency for a number of different games. The idea is that the Offerpal site itself will be sticky. After all, you may get sick of Farmville eventually, but you’ll be able to turn your Game Points into something ‘useful’ in the next game that takes your fancy.

Offerpal is also known for having been involved with accusations of scammy and manipulative deals. But apparently they have a new CEO now and those days are behind them. Verily, we live in interesting times.