Here is my admittedly subjective report on the convention.
I met my sister, Amy Christine, at her place when she got off work. I hadn't seen her in awhile, and I'd been looking forward to catching up. She opened the door, gave me a big hug and said, "So, how 's In Nomine doing?"
I laughed, and thus began my involvement in a popular GenCon tradition: asking game designers why their projects hadn't yet seen the light of day. It was the question I was asked most often over the next week. We made special t-shirts -- "For God's sake . . . do NOT ask about IN NOMINE" -- described alternately as "cool," or "smarmy," depending on how personally hurt you felt about not being able to get a copy of the book at the con. (No, it's not out yet. Yes, it is coming out. If we thought there was some horrible snag that we were all up in arms about, we would just stop talking about it and not continue to hand out posters and run demos.)
Anyway, we picked up Stephane Bura, a travelling Frenchman who specializes in neural net things that I can hardly comprehend, and who just signed a contract with us to work on a new SJ Games project. If Steve were right here, I'd ask him if I could tell you about it, but I'm not going to be the leak in this particular ship. Our ship leaks only from the top, to massacre a metaphor. You'll hear more about it soon.
"Your hair is green," Stephane said. I allowed as how I knew that.
Tuesday night heralded the beginning of another popular GenCon tradition that even industry boys like myself still take part in -- the "Pile 'Em All In" ritual of crashing twice as many people into a hotel room as was allowable by local fire codes. Stephane didn't have a place to stay, so I said he was welcome to crash with Jeff Koke and I, who would be sharing a room. Jeff and Stephane had run into each other on the net before, and we all got along fine. When Jeff's brother Jak arrived the fun really began in our tiny room at the Hotel Wisconsin -- as Jeff described the place, "Old world charm . . . without the charm."
As we put our booths together, we like to mill around and aquaint ourselves with the lay of the land -- who's-set-up-where-wise -- and catch up with friends we have at other game companies.
Even though the convention hadn't actually opened yet, I had already gotten to the point where when someone asked me about In Nomine, I wanted to say, "The higher my blood pressure soars from talking to you about it, the longer it will be until it actually comes out," but I thought people might take it too personally. And even though I wore my "For God's Sake . . . " t-shirt, people still asked me about it. On the back, it had the answers to the ten most commonly asked questions about the project. "What do you want to know that's not on the shirt?" I said. And still they asked. It was inevitible. I didn't wear the shirt the rest of the con, but many, many other people did.
Wednesday night hooked me back up with some of my European travelling friends, like John Nephew and his crew from Atlas, and James Wallis of Hogshead, who had a miserable trip over from London.
"You know," John observed sagely, squinting his eyes over whatever the hell it was he was drinking, "you can't toss a croissant at this con without hitting a Frenchman." I knew what he meant. It seemed like everyone I'd met in Europe had made it to Milwaukee -- like the people from French gaming companies Siroz, Halloween Concepts and Jeux Decartes, just to name a few. Anywhere you tossed an anything, you'd peg a Frenchman right in the center of his beret-crested head.
Or a German (like the people from Truant, Welt der Spiel and the Pegasus boys), or a Belgian (like the Carta Mundi folks and people from Wizards of the Coast's Belgium office), or a Brazillian (like Thad and Douglas from Devir Livraria) or an Australian, or a Brit. This was the most international GenCon ever.
And I stumbled through the whole affair feeling like a poor host. I wish I could've shown them a little more of America than the nexus of stress that is GenCon, but you don't cross the Atlantic on a business trip to blow off work and check out museums. At least, people who aren't Americans don't do it, but we had fun anyway.
But really, hands down, Thursday is the best day. That's when the splendor of GenCon is new, the booths are well-stocked, and people haven't gotten tired of giving their pitch.
Scott Haring and Jeff Koke had their hands full running the INWO Tournament, and next to the booth staff (who grew increasingly tired of answering questions about a certain game) probably worked the hardest of all the SJ Games crew. Scott's out this week on vacation, recovering.
We got GURPS IOU on Thursday, and it sold out before the end of the con. Cudos to Walter and Beth Milliken, cudos to Phil and Kaja Foglio, all of whom were at GenCon beaming brightly and signing copies. It's a good book.
The only disappointing thing about GenCon was that there was no one single product that everyone said was a must-get. Everway was there, and it looked really cool. Changeling was there, but it'd come out before the con. Lots of other things came out . . . but there was no One Big Thing.
Instead, there were lots and lots of Just Cool Things, like Buttery Wholesomeness, the first supplement for Hol. Get it. Also, you should check out Guardians, a card game that should be in a store near you pretty soon now. This game gets my vote for "Card Titles Most Fun to Pronounce," with the diabolically cute "Schneeble." Say it. "Schneeeeble. Schneeeeeeeble." Don't forget the clan head, "Grand Pooba Schnee." In my book, Guardians and Heretic, also shipping soon, were neck and neck for Best Art in a New Card Game.
But I wasn't impressed. I mean, stars are just these people who get pulled out of their normal lives by the attractive lure of money to spend the weekend with people they don't really care anything about, and are generally pretty rude to. And it's not like you'll ever get to talk to one of these people, have a real conversation with them, one person to another. That much was general knowledge, and my state of mind.
Friday night, on the way to the TSR party, Dana and I ran into James Doohan in the Hyatt's glass elevator. You know who James Doohan is.
Now, I'm not a huge Star Trek fan. For lots and lots of reasons, I have issue with Star Trek. But there I was, looking at Scotty and 'lo and behold, the largest and most powerful grin I have ever felt on my face grew and stretched itself across my face and stayed plastered there until I regained my composure what felt like only a few minutes later.
"I'm a big fan of yours!" said Dana. We all were. Everyone was nodding, eyes wide. He was a very nice man. He was very unassuming, and I felt he was genuinely enjoying the con. Many people I talked to had similar "Scotty" stories to tell. He's just a nice guy that had a good time at our weird little shindig.
After that, the TSR party seemed a little anti-climactic. There was no large paladin-like figure bouncing people at the door, but they were serious about the ticket-thing. No one got in without one and lived to tell the tale.
With thousands of people crammed onto the floor of the MECCA, the convention center where GenCon actually took place, there was a different feeling than in the TSR party, where we knew that random gamers weren't milling about. Somehow, that made it worse. Imagine 150 of the most insecure people you know, some of whom don't like each other, holding their beers and darting their eyes around while they try talk to you.
"Hey," said one drunk, a man I didn't recognize but who was obviously a close, personal confidant of mine, "hey, In Nomine, what happened?"
"It's not out yet," I said.
I did get to see a preview of Mythos, the Lovecraftian card game from Chaosium. I'll be working up a more complete write-up in the next week or two, but in the meantime here's two words: buy it.
By Saturday, the heat was starting to get to people. Being from Texas, this was the only factor that didn't bother us. Many northerners (and Europeans) muttered on about global warming. "Warming, schmorming," I said, cheerfully withstanding what was by Milwaukee standards apocalyptic weather. "It's just the world accommodating itself to my own personal taste," we said, as the local breweries and factories pumped more smoke into the atmosphere. The fireworks from the State Fair helped a bit too, and looked pretty besides.
Saturday night was the Wizards of the Coast party, the SJ Games/Atlas Games shindig, and the White Wolf bash. Another true sign of the industry getting larger: people were big on invitations this year, not just TSR, and this most sharply drew the line between the haves and the have-nots. Many people made it by all three parties, if briefly. After that, many remnants ended up across the street, at the Belmont.
And that's all I have to say about Saturday night.
I spent a good part of the morning hanging out with Edmond from The Familiar Magazine, a briskly-growing independent game publication. Their magazine doesn't have the slick presentation of others', but they do manage to cram in a good deal of content. If your genre of choice happens to be featured in an issue, you'll like it.
But the true pain that is The Ending of GenCon doesn't really set in on Sunday until just past mid-day, when the traders start coming by. That is, the people who are helping various companies at their booths -- who get compensated in product, not money -- and want to trade some of their product for some of your product. I'm not into the trading thing (I'd rather people send me stuff than lug it all back from GenCon), but there is always something cool about, "Hey, this is the copy of X I got at GenCon '95, where it was released." You know, books as modern artifacts and all that.
Cody Pondsmith, first child of Lisa and Michael, the R. Talsorian wunderkinds, has technically been to as many GenCons as I have. By the end of it all, even he was pretty tired.
The last day, no one asked me about In Nomine, although people who'd asked me about it before continued their gentle ribbing. Me oh my. After tear-down, and an overly long quest for food on the parts of Scott, Jeff, Stephane, my sister and myself, the evening deteriorated into the Hyatt, then the Safe House, then oblivion.
At the airport, waiting in line to check my luggage, the guy in front of me turned around and asked, "Hey, weren't you at GenCon?"
I admitted as how I had been there with Steve Jackson Games. He smiled with recognition, eyes glinting, started to say something, then stopped himself.
"I won't ask," he said, and turned back around. That was nice of him. The con was, after all, over. Maybe he'll have his chance next year.
-- Derek Pearcy
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