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Conventions and Gamers - Youmacon 2007

Shawn "Lusipurr" Cooper

Youmacon 2007 kicked off on 2 November in Troy, Michigan. I am happy to report I was there in attendance, ready to cover all the gaming goodness worthy of mention. Of course, lots of other people were there--this was the convention's greatest strength and its most glaring problem.

The registration queue. From this point, the wait is approximately 90 minutes

Ashley and I arrived an hour before opening ceremonies, scheduled for 15:00 on Friday. Whilst I went to con ops to pick up my press badge, Ashley worked her way along the queue, looking for the end. After a brief delay, the con staff found my badge (under the name Lusipurr), and I went looking for Ashley. Twenty minutes later, I reached the end of the queue. I took a number of pictures, but none of them effectively convey the sheer size and scope of the wait. It was impossible from any point to see both ends of the queue, or even anything near both ends of the queue. This is because the Troy Hilton, where the convention was held, is a long, winding structure with several wings. Suffice to say, if pressed for a guess, I would estimate the length of the queue at something like a third of a mile. Veterans of lengthy waits at Cedar Point may scoff, but the queues at Cedar Point, whilst admittedly longer, have a distinct advantage over the queues at Youmacon 2007: the queues at Cedar Point move.

Between coming back to check on Ashley and moving around to get pictures of the more excellent costumes, I ran into a number of friends and acquaintances at Youmacon. These included the indefatigably cheerful Brandon Fotiu who was working in the convention's live programming, the convention chair Morgan Kollins, and my cousin and his friend who both managed to find a way to be first in the queue--they arrived at 22:00 on the previous night and whiled away the hours with many a game of Tetris DS.

I took a few minutes to familiarise myself with the locations of the rooms, and I acquired a schedule from con ops. When I came back, Ashley was still in line. Shortly thereafter, a young woman with an exceptionally loud voice came along and shouted to us that the computers for registration had all crashed. She then announced that they had borrowed several extra laptops from generous con-attendees and were using them to register people ten at a time. Expectations were high, but still the line hardly moved. Only later, when they abandoned the computers entirely and had people self-register by hand on sheets of paper did the pace pick up. Ashley made it out of line at a quarter less five that evening, after having been in line two and three quarter hours. The convention opening ceremonies had been delayed until 16:00, and she came to join me there.

Opening Ceremonies and Live Action Mario Party

The opening ceremony was, as expected, extremely loud. It was also beset by some technical difficulties which delayed things for a few minutes. When it finally got up and running, people were thrilled--probably assisted by their great joy at no longer being in the queue. (The queue, however, remained interminably long late into the night. Let this be a lesson to pre-register.) Then, as has become something of a Youmacon tradition, a short mini-game from Live Action Mario Party was played. This game, Pudgy Otaku, involved members of the audience being required to stuff their mouths with marshmallows (which they were not allowed to chew or swallow) and then asked to repeat the phrase 'Pudgy Otaku'. If they failed to enunciate clearly, they were sent off at the end of the round. In the picture above, you see the two finalists. I think the black-caped man won.

Video Gaming at Youmacon

Once out of the opening ceremonies, I set off to investigate Youmacon's gaming rooms. There was one room full of DDR machines with the window shades strangley drawn. The glare made it difficult to play the games (or take good pictures), but no one seemed to know how to shut the shades. Perhaps it was a sliding block puzzle; the shades would close when the arcade cabinets were pushed into a line. People were far too busy stumbling clumsily for points to worry about it. Across the hall in a cavernous room, numerous widescreen TVs displayed Halo 3 in high-def detail. The picture of shows just one half of that room. Computers were there as well. Orange Box was available, as were World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XI, and a variety of other RTS, FPS, and MMORPG titles. I arrived before most of the people, so the rooms hadn't filled up yet. Within a few minutes, there were no empty seats. The tournaments for Street Fighter Third, Soul Calibur III, Halo 3, World of Warcraft, DDR SuperNOVA, and Pokémon were amongst the most well-attended events of the weekend, and were by no means the only gaming tournaments scheduled.

Tabletop Gaming at Youmacon

Let it not be said that Youmacon focused only on the controller- and keyboard-oriented forms of gaming. There was another room set aside for tabletop gaming which was in use all day and all night long. New offerings, such as Killer Bunnies, were on display for people to learn and try out. Of course, old favourites got the majority of attention. Magic: the Gathering was played endlessly. Dungeons & Dragons served Wizards and Fighters alike. A Vampire: the Masquerade module was even run. Whatever sort of games one liked, Youmacon could provide.

No review of Youmacon would be complete without mentioning Live Action Mario Party. Live Action Mario Party is essentially the Mario Party game you know and love with live action mini-games performed by the contestants, usually to their great humiliation and detriment. Meanwhile, an enormous audience divided into quarters for each team cheers them on with a reckless abandon. People are chosen from the audience to participate alongside their team representative. This year, the teams were Ninja, Magical Girl, Hentai, and Mecha. (I was on team Magical Girl.)

Mario, Luigi, and their friends prepare behind obscene podiums

Various minor issues interrupted the game occasionally, but it generally went off without a hitch. The grand finale of Musical Chairs (music provided by The Spoony Bards) was a roaring success--not least of all because my team won by a landslide. Much cheering (and some booing) accompanied our egress from the ballroom.

The guests were another major feature of the convention, and in this regard one could not be disappointed. Voice actors from many of the most popular animes and video games were there to sign autographs and yuk it up with the fans. Of substantial pith was the presence of one Quinton Flynn, whose credits include Reno in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, Axel in Kingdom Hearts II, Croix in La Pucelle Tactics, Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 2, and Iruka Umino in Naruto. Stephanie Sheh was also present, known for her voice work in Grandia III, Valkyrie Profile 2, Radiata Stories, Shadow Hearts 2, Tales of the Abyss, and Devil May Cry 4. And, I would be most remiss if I did not mention the truly fantastic, glorious, and beautiful Caitlin Glass, who voiced Winry Rockbell in Fullmetal Alchemist. These are, of course, just a few of the guests. I found myself very impressed with the slate of attendees this year, as this brief example can attest.

Yet, despite all of this wonderment constructed, it would seem, solely to overwhelm the senses, we have not yet reached my favourite part of the convention. In an earlier editorial, I discussed the reasons for attending a convention, and what a gamer might hope to gain from it. Those who read it will recall my statement that I felt the convention's attendees were what make a convention truly memorable--excellent features notwithstanding. I was pleased to find this year no different. I took a number of pictures of people whose RPG costumes were, I felt, exceptional. So, without further adieu, I present Lusipurr's Picks for Youmacon 2007.

The Cast of Final Fantasy VII (and Squall!)

Every single party member from Final Fantasy VII was cosplayed at the convention, with the sole and single exception of Cait Sith. I even saw a Red XIII. This obvious anti-Cait bias leaves me angry and distressed. I will perhaps remedy this oversight next year. Of course, I was dressed as Reeve, so I suppose that may be why Cait Sith wasn't there!

Trying to get a picture of Tifa, Yuffie, and Sephiroth conspiring together was more than a little difficult. When I finally managed, things were so chaotic that I couldn't get a proper picture at all--hence the lousy quality there. Moving to Vincent, when I told her to smile, a number of the girls in line shouted, "Vincent doesn't smile!" They were right. Instead, Vincent went to sleep. Figures. Cloud was exceptionally cool, even though she nearly took my head off with her Buster Sword. Luckily, she missed and only took a chunk out of the ceiling instead. Cid was great, too. He looked very excited when I told him I wanted to take his picture for RPGamer. He went on to represent Team Hentai in several Live Action Mario Party mini-games, of which he acquitted himself most admirably.

Various and Sundry Assorted RPG Characters

The White Mage was as nice as he looks. He posed for a very long time whilst I tried to fix my camera's wonky flash. The Windurst Aketon is up there with in my favourites, though I was disappointed not to see any San d'Orian equivalents. Dante looks especially fearsome, and Link was accurate from the ears to the britches. I tried to steal his Ocarina, but Navi stopped me. Hey!

Interior Shots of Kingdom Hearts Characters

The world's best Sora cosplayer is back this year. Every year I am so excited to see him--first, because he has an excellent costume, and secondly because he is amazingly cute. He's also photogenic! Seriously, can you take a bad picture of this guy? I doubt it. I'm not certain if that is his brother as Mickey, but it well could be. Upstairs during the photo shoot on the balcony, things got ugly when someone suggested that one key is better than two, and a fight broke out. But, then a heartless mage came along and transported us all to a dark, cold place.

Exterior Shots of Kingdom Hearts Characters

Outside in the frigid Michigan air, the varied and numerous Kingdom Hearts cosplayers assembled. First, there were three from Twilight Town--I played clarinet in band with the girl in orange, and now she works in Twilight Town. Next, of course, the heroes of the piece. And the villains. Last of all, an ensemble photograph which still, somehow, didn't have everyone in it--and a good thing, too. Where would they go?

All in all, I have to say this job's a success. Despite a few minor technical glitches and a problem with overcrowding, Youmacon hit all the right buttons in terms of content, with guests, games, panels, music, and events beyond count, day and night, from the moment the curtain went up on the opening ceremonies until the moment when it went down in a room full of bleary-eyed but thoroughly satisfied people. The attendees too, as attested by their excellent costumes, good humour, and friendly demeanour, went a long way towards making Youmacon a thoroughly enjoyable event.

In conclusion, this editorialist gives Youmacon a solid nine out of ten. Next year's move to a larger venue will certainly alleviate many of the minor issues which occurred in 2006 and 2007, and the convention staff will doubtless go out of their way to ensure another computer snafu does not occur in future. I can only look forward to next year's Youmacon with anticipation and excitement because one thing is for certain: Youmacon does not disappoint.

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