Monday, January 2, 2012

A Look at the First Gaming Convention in Saudi Arabia

Back in November, forum posted Ace Whatever made a forum thread about his experiences at True Gaming Expo, the first gaming convention in Saudi Arabia. With his permission, we're reposting it here, as it shows some interesting coverage of events normally outside the purview of the usual gaming coverage.
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I spent this weekend at True Gaming Expo one of the first gaming conventions of its kind here in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Organization was handled by the staff of True Gaming, a local gaming based in the same city, along with heavy sponsorship by Microsoft. The event was held at the Novotel hotel, which struck me as a bit odd at first since most electronics conventions such as GITEX are usually held in more dedicated showrooms instead of hotels, and lasted for three days.

I showed up around thirty minutes before the show was scheduled to start and met up with some of my friends. After a while of chatting excitedly, we noticed that it was nearly 6pm and nobody bothered to point us in the direction of the hall where the event is taking place. I had to ask one of the employees before I found out that the entrance was actually outside off the hotel. When we arrived there was already a sizable crowd of people waiting at the entrance with no explanation offered for the delay. An hour and a half passed before people where finally let inside from the chilly November weather. I found out later that this was because the construction workers were four hours behind schedule in setting up the hall owing to it being occupied by a private celebration the previous night.

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After finally pushing my past the crowd inside the entrance, I discovered that the room was rather small, like "a high school gym is bigger than this" small. The organizers had grossly underestimated the amount of attendees and the ensuing chaos was rather annoying to wade through. Nevertheless, I pushed through the crowds to explore. The hall’s setup was simple: Two thirds of the room was dedicated to stalls of Xbox 360’s hooked up to Samsung LED screens measuring forty inches and above. The remaining third was occupied by Nintendo and Sony was nowhere to be found. A small part of the Microsoft floor housed a large multi-use projector screen and a booth set up by the only vendor in the entire show: Local gaming store chain Computer House, who were offering deals on 360 games and Slim bundles and a chance to win a Slim in a prize draw. All the workers on the Microsoft side wore black thobes sporting the Kinect logo, which I thought was a nice touch. The Nintendo side was a bit different. There were a four stalls of Wiis lined up with various motion games plus Mario Kart, and one stall on its own side playing the new Zelda: Skyward Sword. Two stalls of tethered 3DS’s allowed visitors to sample Super Mario Land 3D and Ocarina of Time 3D, while in a small boxed room you could play a demo of the upcoming Mario Kart 7.

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The game lineup overall wasn’t terribly exciting, since most of them were already released with the exception of Kinect Star Wars, Asura’s Wrath, Dragon’s Dogma, Mario Kart 7 and Street Fighter x Tekken. Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City was one of the games scheduled to be demoed but was a no show (unless I somehow overlooked it).

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The Dragon’s Dogma demo had you and a party fighting a large griffin, but nothing about the presentation tempted me to try it. Asura’s Wrath from what glimpses I could catch of it through the crowds showcased gameplay that I can only describe as an on-foot Space Harrier where you fight giant monsters and battleships with the occasional QTE thrown in. I did however manage to push past the masses and give Street Fighter x Tekken a shot. The demo had some oddly long load times for some reason and a lot of people were having trouble using the Tekken characters since nobody seemed to realize that they now have to rely on Street Fighter style movesets. Overall though it plays mostly like Street Fighter 4.

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My wandering was interrupted by a round of applause signaling the sudden arrival of convention special guest Akira Yamaoka (AKA the guy who did the music for the Silent Hill series). Akira was scheduled to have a panel the following day but apparently decided to pay a quick visit to see how the first day was going. I managed to grab one photo from a distance before shuffling over to the second floor where the tournaments were held.

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TGXPO played host to tournaments for Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 and Gears of War 3. Having only played UMvC3 for a few days and getting a feel for its simple but effective combo system I decided to sign up figuring I’ve got nothing to lose. The email informing of when my match is scheduled to start led me to mistakenly believe that only three other people had signed up, but I was surprised when several people passed by me hugging their Street Fighter 4 arcade sticks (bear in mind that the tournament was done on the 360 version in a country that’s very Playstation-centric). Figuring I’m in for trouble, I gritted my teeth and stepped into the tournament area. Greeting me was a smaller room than the hall below housing a registration table and the setups for the two games. UMvC3 got two screens while GoW3 got 5 pairs of back-to-back sets just a few feet away. Once again lack of adherence to the schedule reared its ugly head and the 9pm tournament didn’t start until 9:30, with GoW3 suffering an extra fifteen minute delay. The UMvC3 participants delivered on skill however, with plenty of air combos, team hyper combos and at least one person who employed the Dark Phoenix/X-Factor tactic to great success. One oddity that was present was the allowed use of Simple Mode, which led to the somewhat embarrassing scenario of a participant using Simple Mode to beat a guy using an arcade stick. I had actually requested several days prior that Simple Mode not be allowed but my pleas fell on deaf ears. I’m all for easing non-fighting game fans into the genre, but given how incredibly easy it is to do air combos in this game plus the fact that Simple Mode basically allows you to perfectly perform mid-to-high level gameplay by mashing buttons, allowing it in a tournament is a great disservice to the other players.

Eventually my match came up. My team of Zero, Akuma and Hulk initially did well against my opponent’s team of Dante, Akuma and Ryu. My opponent however paused the match and complained that the previous contestants had modified the controls from the default setup. Whether this was true or an excuse, the judge allowed it and we restarted. For some reason, I decided to switch out Hulk for Captain America, given that I had gotten some mileage out of him in my online bouts. That proved to be a mistake as Cap’s limited moveset and my lack of understanding for their nuances turned him into dead weight for my team. My opponent however quickly settled into a comfortable niche of punishing my foolhardy charges with low combos into air launchers. Because previous matches were given unlimited time some of them lasted for quite a while, forcing the judges to impose a time limit of sixty seconds per match. I lost my first match to a time out by a sliver of health, but I made too many mistakes on the second match and was promptly decimated. To my credit I at least managed to land a couple of Raging Demons on him which if nothing else pleased the crowd a bit. Regretting not being able to perform better, I congratulated my opponent and left with a group of friends who had come to cheer me on. We drove to the nearest McDonalds to sate the immense thirst and hunger that had built up over four hours, ending the first day of TGXPO.

The next day, I took a friend of mine who missed out on the first day’s events due to a cold. As he was a big fan of Silent Hill and its music, he brought his SH2 disc so Akira can sign it. The hall this time was less crowded and more easier to navigate, and the vendor booth was rearranged into a closed off area where Akira would be having his panel in front of the projection screen. As we wandered around, I got my first glimpse at cosplayers. A cosplay contest was actually one of the scheduled events for the expo, but nobody showed up in costume the first day aside from a couple of people wearing Guy Fawkes masks and one Naruto ninja headband. Seems they all decided to pour out the woodwork on the second day as I eventually ran into Fire Flower Mario, Shin-chan, Shino, Tobi, some One Piece character I couldn’t recognize and a very well done Hakumen costume complete with glowing LEDs on the shoulders.

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We decided to hand around on the second floor while waiting for Akira’s panel to start. After watching a few more UMvC3 matches we decided to ask the staff when Akira would be arriving only to be told he’s already downstairs singing and doing photos, a whole hour before his scheduled appearance. Hurray for chaos and disorder. We rushed back down to the ground floor and got my friend in line while I went to the front of the panel to prepare to shoot him...with my camera. Akira had ditched his shirt and pants in favor of the black Kinect thobe, and something I didn’t notice until processing the photos is that he was wearing a ring with the Batman logo on it. Along with my friend, one other person also brought his copies of SH 2 and 3 while another brought a whole bag of Silent Hill swag including the Bradygames strategy guides for 2,3 and 4. Having accomplished what we set out to do, we left early to celebrate a friend’s birthday at Applebee’s.

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I wasn’t able to attend the third day’s cosplay contest due to my car’s ignition fizzling out, but the organizer’s site posted that the event ended on a positive note and that next year’s TGXPO will be held at one of Riyadh’s proper show rooms. Overall, despite a few rough spots here and there this expo was definitely a rousing success and will hopefully open the door for more of its kind.

Here's a video of the cosplay contest:


3 comments:

  1. Ah yes, the universality of geekdom. Great find!

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  2. No booth babes. No gaming convention.

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  3. Booth babes or not, this expo was awesome. We come for games, not babes.

    ReplyDelete