Tuesday, December 3, 2013

IGN Convention 2013, Bahrain

This year I had resigned myself to attending a so-so Sony convention and a more interesting TGXPO a month later, then something interesting happened. A botched attempt to perform Hajj ended with me vacationing with my parents at the Intercontinental Jubail on the other side of the country for a few days before rendezvousing with my friend for a short drive to Bahrain. Our objective was to attend the IGN Convention being held there at the Bahrain Exhibition Center and sponsored by IGN Middle East.





Having done their first successful convention a few months prior in Dubai, IGN ME set their sights on bottling that lightning again. The two-day October event cost roughly 13$ for a single day pass and a 130$ for a VIP pass that covered both days and came with additional perks.

We arrived an hour before the scheduled start of the event to scope the joint out and confirm our VIP tickets which we had booked in advance by phone. Although the registration methods seemed a bit spartan, there was no doubt that the staff had things under control. What caught my attention immediately was a slip of paper on the registration counter listing two of the guests who would not be showing up at the convention as scheduled: A Saudi comedian and WWE wrestler Kevin Nash. The loss of the latter was both a blessing and a curse as it a caused several people (including a second friend who had come along just to see Kevin) to return their VIP tickets and leave, but it did allow us more time with the other guest which I’ll get to in a bit.

By the time the convention was ready to start, the lobby was packed with people including several cosplayers. The convention floor was very spacious and easily allowed for people to move between exhibits.



















Game-wise, the software on display wasn’t particularly large. It mostly consisted of the PS4 lineup from SGD 2013 plus Yaiba, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, Just Dance 2014 and a few other odds and ends. More interesting was actually all the other stuff they had on the floor: A retro museum featuring old donated consoles along with a demo booth for the Ouya, artist booths, indie dev booths, a casual competition area (complete with foosball machines) and even a miniature food court!





A large corridor off to the side of the convention floor housed several vendor booths (something noticeably lacking from TGXPO and SGD) selling video games, comics, anime, figures and other assorted knick knacks.







Present at the con was the Oculus Rift, which was being used to demo a non-interactive space scenario, a horror scenario where you had to keep pressing down on the controller's trigger buttons and Atajrubah, an Arabian-themed first person game by UAE-based developer Alan Robinson. On the first day the Rift had lines going all the way back to the convention entrance. At the behest of a new friend we made, I sat down to try the Rift on the second day thanks to the shorter waiting line afforded to me by my VIP ticket. After some explanation I started exploring around in Atajrubah’s desert area. Looking around by moving my head instead of the right analog stick took some getting used to, and I don’t figure out that I could actually interact with objects until the last two minutes or so of my allotted time. Overall, while the execution of the tech was sound, I’m going to wait for something a bit more substantial software-wise.











Another interesting attraction was gaming website GameOverviews showcasing what I initially mistook for Steam Boxes but were actually just custom gaming PCs. They had several different rigs doing things like running Mortal Kombat 9 at 1080P and Dead Space 2 on a really cool triple monitor setup. There’s also something endlessly amusing about being guided through each PC’s specs by a guy cosplaying as Street Fighter’s Sagat.



Eventually, we gathered around a stage at the edge of the convention floor to welcome IGNCon’s celebrity guest: Legendary video game producer Keiji Inafune, formerly of Capcom, presently of his own company Comcept, he of the many beloved games in the expansive Mega Man series.

Keiji was accompanied by Comcept producer Jon LeFlore (who also acted as his interpreter) and another guest: EVO player and Mad Catz sponsored Western Wolves member Ryan Hart. One fan came to convention dressed in a full Mega Man X costume, which everyone was so impressed by they let him up on stage to stand behind Keiji.



The guests sat down for a short interview by an IGN staffer followed by a Q&A session from the audience. It was during the latter that I came to two disappointing realizations: a) That a lot of gamers are rather annoyingly ignorant of how little say Keiji has in what Capcom plans to do with Mega Man after his departure from the company, and b) Shoehorning Ryan into the panel was completely unfair to the guy.



There's a time and place for any kind of celebrity, but as an organizer you need to understand that there are hierarchies that don't necessarily mix. Apart from being able to speak Japanese, Ryan had nothing else in common with Keiji and spent the majority of the Q&A session being ignored until the IGN staff intervened by asking him a question or two just to remind the audience that he was still there.



Anyway, once the questions were over people started lining up for signings and photographs. Normally we'd also be doing the same, but that's where another one of our VIP ticket perks kick in. We actually get access to a special lounge with free snacks and some extended hands on time with the celebrities after they finish with the normal attendees.



When the guests finally sat down in the VIP room, we formed our own small line. My friend who’s a huge fan of Zero gave Keiji a framed photograph of the D-Arts Zero action figure with the words “Thanks for creating my hero!” printed on it in Japanese, which was a pleasant surprise to Keiji and his companions.





After a few people were done with their own personal interviews with Keiji, we sat down with the man and exchanged pleasantries as best we could under the language barrier. It kind of sucked to be so close to the man and yet at the same time be separated by a wall of interpretation, but we play the hand we’re dealt.





Generally speaking, the above was a recount of both days of the convention since there wasn’t a large difference between the two event-wise. According to the staff, had Kevin Nash actually showed up as planned each guest would have gotten a day to themselves when it came to the meet and greet and VIP session.





Overall, I had a lot of fun at this convention. It felt great to be in one place with so many people who share the same passion for Mega Man and I loved the experience of attending new cons outside of my home country.









In closing, here's my friend's impression of meeting Keiji:

"On a spring day around mid-May or June, (or maybe even late summer) '97. I popped into my, now legendary, Sega Saturn console a CD. Little did I know that the game contained on said CD would influence my 12-year-old and lil bro's activities for the next 10 months or so non-stop, and immortalize to us what already was an iconic video gaming mascot at the time.

This CD contained the title "Mega Man" followed by an "X4". I had only heard of Mega Man on game ads via magazines and packed-in NES brochures on early 90's SNES games up until then. The intro of said game by itself blew our minds. Lush, colorful, and filled with action only Japanese imagination could capture via their animation techniques (or so our minds thought) at the time.

Long story short, we spent about 4 months until we beat the first (master robot) boss of the game. And ended up beating the entire thing first, a few months after that, with the character who was considered only suitable for experts. That character's name was Zero. And for various reasons, the character has remained possibly the only one from video games I continually nerd out on, even though I've since left the hobby as a full-time enjoyment medium and only keep track of said industry based mostly on my nostalgic "Hardcore" attitude of the past.

Ever since Zero's adventure during that specific game left an impression in my 12-year-old brain the size only a child of said age can consider massive, I've followed his progress through future games of the series (X), while looking back at the games that preceded X4 (with not even one "main" game which I haven't at least skimmed). And I've also wished to meet the man behind the legendary red character to express to him what the character, and the game(s) involved, has personally meant to me.

Mind you, at the time of writing this "story", if you told me 2 months ago that I would soon get the chance to meet the man behind Zero, I would've considered it just wishful thinking. However, around late September of 2013, the Middle East branch of IGN made an announcement that left me dazed for that entire day. I couldn't believe it, the organizing team behind the planned Bahrain convention managed to get ahold of Inafune, and he was more than happy to accept the offer and promote his (as of yet) KickStarter record breaking funded game Mighty No. 9 (which I'm proudly stating to be a personal "Becker").

On October the 18th of 2013, me and my friend were in awe to see a man we frequently "nerd'ed" on and relate to our childhood right in front of us in the flesh. We got our chance to lengthily meet him and his Comcept company team face to face thanks to our purchase of VIP passes (which turned out to be one of the best decisions of our lives). How did he react to our fandom and love culminated from his over 20 years of work on the Mega Man franchise? The attached picture says it all.

Rokku on, Inafune-san. 16 years later, I've finally realized what I was (partially) fighting for!"

-Sami Al-Madhi


3 comments:

  1. Really nice write up! It's interesting to see how we are all united throughout the world with video games.

    As for the interpreter, if his first name was John, then it was probably John Ricciardi.

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    1. Hi, Godaigamer. Sami "Zero Maverick" Al-Madhi here.

      Thanks for your kind words! Arshad really put a lot of effort on this write-up, and I really dug deep into my heart and childhood nostalgia to write my MM backstory history and impression of the meeting (which, FYI, is quoted from a "Life Event" on my personal Facebook profile.)

      It was an honor for both of us. Speaking for myself, Inafune-san is a childhood hero of mine and meeting the man who left such an impression in my life is something that will always feel surreal, with only the attached photograph reminding me of its actuality. Just speechless. It really is amazing how united we are through music and video games!

      About John Ricciardri, me and Arshad did some research on this. To get to the point, it's not him. I recall asking the John we're referring to here about his name, but now I really wish we sat down and got a little bit more info about him. What actually happened is that we both thought the guy was a Bahraini assigned to be Inafune-san's interpreter from day one. And this assumption went on for the entire first day. On the second day, as we were sitting at the VIP lounge and the team arrived, John noticed how passionate I was about X and Zero, and he commented on that to me, along with compliments to my shirt, as he tried his best to translate my detailed question about Zero's change in art style from the SNES to the 32-bit era games. After that, the exchange had broken the ice and he was generally a really pleasant friendly guy, so I asked him what his name was as I told him mine.

      He replied "It's John. Nice to meet you, too." and we then went on to say how surprised we were, because all that time we thought he was an Arab. He laughed and went on to say that he actually gets that a lot lol. Great guy.

      For visual reference, John is the guy on Inafune-san's left (with Ryan to his right), on the pic where Inafune-san places my framed photo of Zero on the table. Is he recognizable? Any clues would be greatly appreciated. Thanks again!


      - Sami

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  2. Good post! Thanks for sharing. Really very useful and informative post.

    Hajj 2016

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