July 2007 Archives

San Diego Comic Con 2007: Wrap-Up


Comic-Con is always an exhausting event. This year was tougher than the other years with the record breaking crowds. (I've heard numbers that run close to 175,000 in attendance this year). This year, I went into the con with rather lean gear. I picked up useful items early on (such as the huge Smallville bag, which allowed me to garner a massive amount of loot on Day 0), but found myself overburdened with bags on Day 1. On Day 2, I trimmed my bag down to the 20D, the 70-200 and my SD800IS -- this trimming allowed me to keep my belongings to be lighter and to allow the pickups of a few items throughout the day. While shoulder bags definitely aid in the pickup of free loot, backpacks are definitely easier on the neck.

For future masquerades, clothing to withstand the brutal airconditioning is a must, and light and compact emergency blankets may be what I will utilize in the future.

Overall, I had an enjoyable time, and found myself pleasantly surprised by attending the Chuck and Futurama Returns panels.

San Diego Comic Con 2007: Day 3 (Saturday)


Perhaps I was a bit lax in assuming that it would only be Hall H that would be impacted. Seeing my success in getting into every panel I wanted to attend on Friday, I thought that Saturday couldn't possibly be worse. How wrong I was.

bleusky and I didn't make it into the Avatar panel, and despite departing immediately to stand in line for Hall 20's Heroes panel, I didn't make it into Heroes either. kwc managed into the panel using a few holes in security, and after a few hours of standing in line, I made into the following Battlestar panel when people left after Heroes. There I would stay for the next several hours, watching Futurama (as the voice actors read out loud a comic made for Comic-con) and Joss Whedon.

Departing Hall 20 after a long day, bleusky and I staked out a wonderful spot at the Masquerade, while kwc roamed the exhibition hall, and managed to bring to me the object of my desire, the Transformer Rodimus. With the AC on full at the Sails Pavillion, several Team Uni members froze as cosplayers paraded on screen.

kwc, bleusky and I caught a ride back to parakkum's parents with a taxi that narrowly avoided getting hit twice by cars.

San Diego Comic Con 2007: Day 4 (Sunday)


Sundays at Comic-Con are usually slow, being the last day, it's the last chance to pick up anything one might have missed, and a day which the retailers are generous with discounts. For me and bleusky, it was the last chance to pick up sketches, and I walked the halls getting last minute sketches from Scott Morse and the Flight people.

The Exhibition Hall was crowded today, more so than other years, and while I knew that it was Sunday, it still felt very busy and very crowded.

kwc and ota departed before the end of the show, leaving bleusky, parakkum and myself to wander the halls before calling for extraction from the chaos, and having a nice relaxing dinner at Pizza Nova.

San Diego Comic Con 2007: Day 2 (Friday)


With Thursday's Hall H excursion being a bust, I resolved to avoid attending Hall H panels, and instead concentrated on the panels outside of Hall H. Instead of eating at Hennessey's again, we instead journeyed to the Cheese Shop, where I had coffee, biscuits and gravy to fuel my day at the con.

The morning started off with a quick look inside the convention hall, where I was once again denied a Hasbro ticket, and where I made a successful grab for the Harry Potter bag. The Pixar panel, which was made up of the short films that Pixar had done was my next stop. Fearing another "Hall H fiasco", I made way for Hall 20, for the Stargate panel, only to find out that Hall 20 had a cancellation in the morning. Kevin Smith's Reaper presentation had been rescheduled, making Stargate the first Hall 20 presentation of the day.

While I tried to find a seat in the front of the hall, I found that the die-hards had been there hours before, waiting for this panel. Greg Jones, the actor who plays Walter Harriman (the guy who sits at the controls of the Stargate and says things like "Chevron six encoded") was the moderator, and did his job better than anyone I had ever seen at Comic-Con. He was so good, I even stayed for the Stargate Atlantis panel afterwards. During the SG-1 panel, an attempt was made to call Michael Shanks (which didn't really succeed), and Scottish flags were flown during the Q&A session when a fan asked the writer what he had against Scottish people. (The answer: it's not my writing, you need to ask someone in the next panel).

Following two hours of Hall 20 and Stargate, I left for the premiere of "Chuck". While standing in line for Hall H the day before, I had received a T-shirt for Chuck, and curious about what this Chuck was, I went to the panel, not really expecting very much. From talking to the folks in the room, we didn't much know what Chuck was about either. The presenters didn't say much either, and just started the presentation of the show. Chuck is a Stanford grad who plays video games when he isn't working and has a job being a member of the Nerd Herd working at Buy More, (thinly veiled Geek Squad at a Best Buy). After receiving an e-mail from his college roomate, his brain is filled with classified information, which makes him the target of the NSA and the CIA. I look forward to watching more of it this fall.

The Eureka and Babylon 5 panels were next, and it was good to see the familiar faces of the cast once again. Peter Woodward (Technomage Galen) is incredibly hilarious as he poked fun at Tracy Scoggins (Lochley) and Bruce Boxleitner (Sheridan).

Having no food options within the Gaslamp, we departed for Ocean Beach and Nati's.

San Diego Comic Con 2007: Day 1


Team Uni started the morning with a breakfast at Hennessey's. A breakfast of psuedo-Irishness, we were slowed down by the service, which resulted in Team Uni arriving at the convention center almost a full hour after the opening.

Preview Night should have been an indication of the things to come: large crowds, people packed in aisleways like cattle, and freebies "running out" mere minutes after their handouts started. The goal of today was to get a ticket for the Transformers line, and to get the signature of Charles Vess on my first edition of Stardust. Again thwarted by Hasbro, I succeeded in getting not only Charles Vess' signature, but also a small sketch inside.

kwc and I stood in the line for Hall H (Paramount Pictures), only to be told that the Hall was full. Hall H holds 6,000 people regularly, and on a Thursday afternoon, one would not have been expected to have been turned away, and yet, there we were, knowing that we wouldn't be going in. Instead, I showed kwc my Charles Vess sketch within my Stardust, and he made his way back to Vess to get a similar sketch.

I picked up a print by Mark Poole, and various other books and items, but nothing major. Towards the end of the day, I was feeling quite tired, and wound up at the Bill Plympton panel, where we were treated to his latest works (Shut-eye Hotel and Idiots and Angels. We ended the first full con day at Rock Bottom Brewery, where we had much food and much beer before winding down.

San Diego Comic Con 2007:Day 0: Preview Night


Preview Nights at Comic-Con in the past were the calm before the storm. With only those who purchased a four-day pass given admittance to the exhibition hall, it was a good opportunity to casually survey the landscape and make purchases and talk to artists before the mobs arrived. Two years ago, on Preview Night it was possible to walk the exhibition hall without colliding into another person. Last year, Preview Night felt more like a regular no-Saturday convention day. This year, Preview Night felt like a Saturday afternoon, with a giant swarm of people all around the exhibition hall.

There are two reasons for this: For the first time ever in convention history, 4-day passes were sold out before the opening of Comic-Con, and people with 3-day passes were allowed into Preview night.

My intention on Preview Night was to make a beeline for Hasbro to snag the exclusive Comic-Con Transformer from Hasbro's booth. While I certainly got to the Hasbro booth very quickly, so did a couple of hundred people. While the line didn't look that bad, it turned out that Hasbro was freezing the line, telling everyone to go away and that they would be reopening the line at a random time later that evening. I stopped by at the end of the evening, only to learn that they had at another random time that evening, opted to give out tickets that let you stand in line, and that each ticket had an appointment time that you could go to stand in line. It was quite hilarious, and if I had been of more sound mind after a stressful preview night, I would have remembered to take a picture of the hilariousness of the sign.

I did however manage to snag preview screening tickets for Stardust from Paramount, as well as the incredibly gigantic "Smallville" bag from Warner Bros. I also managed to pick up all the free volumes of manga from the different booths, along with various other tchotchkes. As far as purchases went, I picked up the fourth volume of Flight, before the end of Preview Night.

links for 2007-07-26


San Diego Comic Con 2007: Packing



I feel like I've done a fair amount of training for the Comic-Con this year. With FanimeCon and Anime Expo both being 4-day affairs this year, I feel like I'm ready for the marathon challenge of Comic Con. After evaluating the equipment from the previous trips to San Diego as well as other conventions, my packing has undergone streamlining and optimization.

At SDCC 2005, I brought my Powerbook to take notes during panels. In 2006, I had shifted to a small moleskine notebook. In 2007, the moleskine notebook and pen returns, saving me about 5 pounds of weight.

I still haven't decided on a bag strategy yet, whether I'll keep the messenger bag or the backpack on this year's run -- there were certainly advantages to using a backpack from last year, but the backpack has a problem with accessibility -- sling pack might be a good alternative, but I can't imagine the back support being very good, considering that a day at Comic-Con can run 8 hours or more.

I've expanded to three cameras (a point and shoot, and two slrs) for this trip -- I plan on rotating them through the con depending on the day and the events of the day; This is a marked departure from previous con excursions where I carried one camera and five lenses. Interestingly enough, the total weight of the three cameras and the 2 lenses is roughly the same, the heavyset 70-200 f/2.8 L IS making up for the lack of the 16-35mm, the 50mm and the venerable 18-55 kit lens.

While the passing years have resulted in fewer free posters that I feel like picking up, I'm swapping out last year's poster tube for another type. Last year's was a 36 inch long, 6 inch diameter expandable poster tube. Throughout the 2006 Con, I picked up a grand total of 1 poster for the 4 days, which was less a poster and more like a flyer. This year's tube is a 3 inch diameter, 25 inch long transparent Blue Alvin Ice Tube. Smaller, lighter and much easier to open.

Once I get to the Con, one of the first goals for the Comic-Con is to get my first edition hardback Stardust signed by Charles Vess, which, since he has a booth, will hopefully be an easy task. Another one is trying to get some of the Hasbro exclusives like the Ford GT Rodimus. (I am such a sucker for nostalgia!)

From the preparations that SDCC organizers are making, it seems as if Neil Gaiman will be one of the most popular signings at the con. At this point, there's still quite a lot of Gaiman material in my collection to be signed, however, I shall wait for his next book tour (M for Magic, perhaps? The Graveyard Book?) to get more signed items from Gaiman.

As of this writing, both 4-day AND Saturday one-day passes are sold out; meaning they will not be sold at the door; this will be strange, to see on Saturday no line stretching around and curling around the convention center.

Harry Potter and Amazon


Months ago I pre-ordered Harry Potter from Amazon. All of my Harry Potter books have come from Amazon, except Book 5. They guaranteed delivery of the book on Saturday, July 21st. Did they deliver on that promise?

Well, it's Sunday, and I have no book. After waiting anxiously all Saturday for the book, it never showed up. If you ordered from Amazon and you didn't get your book, make sure to file for the refund on Harry Potter 7's Guaranteed Release Date Delivery .

I'm probably one of the small minority of people who ordered from Amazon who did not receive Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on time, but getting the book for free is a small consolation to be left out while others are enjoying the last book (and hopefully not ruining it for others).

links for 2007-07-20


Trying to get through Book 7 spoiler-free


This posting is going to seem silly years from now when we know the outcome of the book, just as people know the ending to Narnia, but what the heck:

With the impending release of Harry Potter this weekend, and the high probability of spoilers running throughout the internet before the book can be finished, I've taken a couple of precautions to prevent being spoiled. My methods don't work perfectly, and don't guarantee not being spoiled, but it does limit a great deal of in inadvertent spoiling.

First, I've modified a censorship script for Greasemonkey to filter out Harry Potter-related words. The script doesn't work perfectly, and a couple of odd things do slip through.

Second, I'm placing a moratorium on my use of the internet for the next couple of days - absolutely no media related sites. No Amazon, no imdb, no yahoo, no google reader, and no google search. No blogging and no e-mail. Instead, I'll be playing through Final Fantasy 12 until the book arrives, and then plowing through the book.

What triggered me to take such extreme measures? Finding out that the entirety of Harry Potter Book 7 had been photographed and placed up on the internet. That means, at this moment, some die hard fans are plowing through the pages now, and that within the next couple of days they're going to want to discuss it on Harry Potter message forums and the like, but they have a way of filtering down through to the general populace. It's very strange that I feel I need to protect myself from spoilers like this, and it makes me wonder how I've managed to get through Books 5 and 6 without being spoiled. Books 1 - 4 were relatively easy to get through without spoilers as the movies hadn't been released yet, and with the exception of adults who read children's literature, Harry Potter was largely unknown prior to the release of the first movie.

links for 2007-07-15


links for 2007-07-14


links for 2007-07-12


E3: Product Announcements


In Santa Monica this week is E3 -- highly scaled down from the LA Convention Center E3s of the past, it's still a good way to see the games and peripherals to come in the coming year ahead. In the past, E3 was more like an exhibition than a series of panels and press conferences, but this it seems is what the new E3 has become: keynotes and press conferences to announce new products.In fact, they now call E3, the "E3 Business and Media Summit" In the past, announcements were made prior to E3 via press releases and private meetings, and this move to a more organized format probably makes a lot of publishers happy since they presumably won't need to regurgitate the press release to every journalist who comes by the booth. The last couple of years was really bad for journalists in regards to press conferences by the big three: in attempting to make preempt the competition, the press announcements were made all across Los Angeles and away from the convention venue. This year's seems a bit more civil. Nintendo made their announcements this morning:

  • Wii Zapper for 19.99, will be compatible with Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles, Ghost Squad and Medal of Honor.
  • Super Smash Bros. Brawl releases on December 3rd.
  • Guitar Hero III will come with a special Wii Guitar.
  • Mario Cart Wii comes with a Wii Controller Steering Wheel.
  • Brain Age 2 release date: August 20th, 2007
  • Super Mario Galaxy release date: November 12th, 2007
  • Wii Fit and the Wii Balance Board: for getting you in shape.

Sony had their Press Conference a few hours ago:

  • An update to the design of the PSP, comes in 3 flavors: Piano Black, Ice Silver, and Star Wars Battlefront Special Edition, which comes in white and has a Darth Vader on the back of the unit.
  • PSP now has a video out so you can play it on TV.
  • Metal Gear Solid 4: Simultaneous world-wide release, demoing the gameplay next week in Tokyo

Microsoft had their Press Conference last night:

  • Xbox 360 Elite coming to Europe on Aug. 24
  • Halo 3 Special Edition XBox 360 w/ gray controller.

links for 2007-07-11


links for 2007-07-10


WoW on an iPhone


With the iPhone, 8 million WoW players' dreams of being able to play WoW from anywhere has finally been realized; A google app called Telekinesis makes it possible to interface your computer remotely through the iPhone. Control-wise, it seems pretty difficult to navigate around -- forget about trying to do anything more complex than staying in place and clicking on npcs.

Although I would expect the iPhone's battery to not last too long running something as intensive as this.

When Sony released the PS3 in November of 2006, it came in two sizes: a 20GB version for $499, and a 60GB version for $599. After doing a teardown of the system and pricing out the components, it was discovered that the 60GB PS3 was costing Sony approximately $840.35 to build, and the 20GB version costing $805.85. The 20GB version was losing Sony $306.85, while the 60GB version was losing Sony $241.35, and the 20GB version was quickly and quietly discontinued this past March, a mere 3 months after its release.

Sony dropped the price of the Sony Playstation 3 (60GB) this weekend down to $499, discounting the PS3 by $100. In addition, a purchase of a PS3 will also get the purchaser via mail-order 5 free Blu-Ray movies (which aren't great movies either -- definitely B-list movies).

In August, Sony will also release an 80GB version of the PS3 for $599. In order to entice people to buy the 80GB version, they've packed the 80GB PS3 with the retail version of the game "MotorStorm". MotorStorm isn't exactly a great bonus, as it is an online-only off-road racing game, which isn't exactly "killer app" material.

Here's a quick look at Sony's competitors:

    XBox 360 w/ 20GB: $399

    XBox 360 w/ 120GB: $479

    Nintendo Wii w/ Wii Sports: $249

The cheapest Blu-Ray player you can buy right now is $500, making it roughly the same price as the PS3. If you're buying it to play games and watch Blu-Ray movies, the PS3 is probably a bargain. However, as a high-definition format, neither Blu-Ray or HD-DVD have really made much progress, as most Americans still find replacing their current CRT with a new HDTV to be too expensive. For $500 you can buy a system that no one wants to develop for, and a movie player that may or may not win the HD format war. I'll wait a few more years yet until the PS3 has something that I might actually want to play, and when the victor of the HD format war has been determined.

links for 2007-07-08


links for 2007-07-07


Plus 3 year warranty for the XBox 360


Today Microsoft announced that they would be extending the warranty to 3 years for their Xbox 360 consoles, in effect taking an anticipated 1.05 to 1.15 billion dollar pre-tax charge to the earnings for the quarter ending June 30, 2007 for the costs that it will incur under the new enhanced warranty policies. I'm not a professional analyst, but doesn't this seem fishy to anyone else? I'm putting on my conspiracy theory hat now, so if you want to take Microsoft's word at it, go right ahead and skip the rest of this entry, but if you want to hear my theory, read on...

Yes, everyone is aware that XBox 360s overheat and burn themselves out. There's even a person who has claimed that he's had 12 different XBox 360s sent to him as replacements. But, 1.05 to 1.15 billion dollars in a pre-tax charge made BEFORE the announcement of this change in the warranty policy makes me think that something else is going on.

Let's take a quick look at the numbers. An XBox 360 Core costs $300, and a XBox 360 with a 20GB hard drive costs $400. 1.05 to 1.15 billion dollars is enough cash to buy 2.9 million to 3.8 million new XBox 360s. Since these are merely warranty issues, meaning a replacement of a few parts and cost of sending it back, it could be several times that number, and presumably enough to cover the 10.4 million XBox 360s out there right now. To make this plan work, that means that Microsoft is willing to spend $110 per XBox 360 in warranty and repair costs, which seems to indicate a 1 in 4 failure rate for the XBox 360 over a 3 year period of time. Keep in mind that I'm working with retail costs of an XBox 360 -- their true cost of what it costs to Microsoft is likely less, but still, they're prepared to spend a fourth to a third of the cost of a new system on each one.

So here's the conspiracy: what if this charge is really to hide something else that they released as an entertainment product and bombed? Something, you know, like a media player that no one really bought?

UPDATE: Apparently the XBox 360 has a 25 to 33 percent failure rate. Perhaps they are wise to allocate 1 billion dollars for it, but upfront? And before the announcement of the change to the warranty plan? Something still doesn't sit right with me.

links for 2007-07-06


iPhone: Sold Out!


Last night when I checked the Apple iPhone Retail Availability Page, I noticed that only 2 Apple stores had iPhones left: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Tigard, Oregon. By tonight, there very well could be red dots completely running down the list of Apple stores. AT&T has been reporting that nationwide their stores are completely sold out as well. Somewhere close to the order of a million phones have been sold since Friday at 6pm, which completely blows away the old record set by the Motorola RAZR for initial sales. The Motorola RAZR is one of the world's bestselling phones, selling 50 million of the thin clamshell within 2 years.

2 years, 50 million cellphones -- is this a record that I think Apple can beat? Only if they open it up to more carriers. Motorola didn't lock their RAZR to any one carrier for two-years, but Apple's iPhone is locked to AT&T (in the US) for the next two years. Currently Apple's production capacity for producing iPhones is on the order of 1 to 2 million iPhones a month (hence why there's a 2-4 week wait on the iPhone direct from Apple), and this seems to be a good rate of sales for AT&T. Now, I can't imagine AT&T being upset at Apple for getting 2 years of renewed contract from a million people in one weekend, but with all the reviews of the iPhone blasting AT&T's network, it's a certainty that AT&T have some work to do on the network.

The active minority of people who are definitely interested were the ones out on Friday, the early adopters of the iPhone. If that much interest can be generated by the early adopters, and if the iPhone is as good as everyone says it is, I expect sales of the iPhone to continue fairly solidly through Christmas. January's MacWorld will probably be some new version (I'll patiently wait and cross my fingers for a 3G version).

This week there was quite a bit of hubbub about the activation for the iPhone being cracked, but which limited the iPhone to be a very expensive iPod without the phone capabilities. The worst thing for AT&T right now is if the iPhone could be completely unlocked such that it could be used with any carrier; funny enough, for Apple, this would be the best thing that could happen; how many people don't want AT&T but want an iPhone? Apple doesn't need to worry about more sales at this point however, demand is more than supply, and probably will be for some time to come.

links for 2007-07-05


iPhone Battery Replacement Program


One of the things that many have noted on their teardown of the Apple iPhone is this: it's not easy to get to the battery and replace it. Apple, has anticipated this need, and have ready a Battery Replacement Plan for the iPhone, which will cost you $79 for a new battery and 6.95 for shipping and handling. If you can't live without your iPhone for a few days while the battery replacement takes place (who can live without a phone for a few days?), they'll rent you a iPhone for $29 a day.

I'm just hoping that one of these days they'll do a similar thing for their laptops, or better yet, include it as part of their Applecare service.

List of Convention Centers By Exhibit Space


My recent experiences with conventions have me rather curious about the size of the convention centers, and a google search left me without a definitive list of venues.

The top 10 in the U.S.:

  1. McCormick Place, Chicago, Illinois, 2.2 million square feet
  2. Orange County Convention Center, Orlando Florida, 2.05 million square feet
  3. Las Vegas Convention Center, Las Vegas, 1.94 million square feet
  4. Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta, Georgia, 1.37 million square feet
  5. Kentucky Exposition Center, Louisville, Kentucky, 1.29 million square feet
  6. Sands Expo and Center, Las Vegas, Nevada, 1.13 million square feet
  7. Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, New Orleans, Louisianna 1.1 million square feet
  8. Dallas Convention Center, Dallas, Texas, 1.02 million square feet
  9. Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center, Harrisburg, Pennslyvania, 1 million square feet
  10. George R. Brown Convention Center, Houston, Texas, 930,000 square feet

California Convention Centers:

  • Anaheim Convention Center, Anaheim, California, 813,607 square feet
  • Los Angeles Convention Center, Los Angeles, California, 720,000 square feet
  • Moscone Center, San Francisco, California, 538,000 square feet
  • San Diego Convention Center, San Diego, California, 525,701 square feet
  • Long Beach Convention Center, Long Beach, California, 224,000 square feet
  • San Jose McEnery Convention Center, San Jose, California, 143,000 square feet

AX2007: What a Convention Shouldn't Be

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I've previously written about the lines on Day 1 at Anime Expo, and the fiasco that required a roundabout path through the convention center. The number of attendees at this year's Anime Expo was tallied to be about 44,000 throughout the four days. That is a remarkable number of people, but when compared to the chaos that is the San Diego Comic Con (with 123,000 people attending), one does wonder why AX is an experience that leaves a lot of attendees and guests dissatisfied.

The Queen of Akihabara, Haruko Momoi had some criticisms of the management of Anime Expo this year. She was invited from Japan as a guest to perform a concert, attend some panels and sign some autographs, but felt that guests weren't being treated respectfully, and that fans weren't being treated well, she had her autograph signing sessions cut short (or in some cases cancelled altogether), and nearly had her concert canceled too. A fansite of Momoi has a much more detailed account from a diehard fan's attendance of the events.

I attend quite a few conventions annually (APE, WonderCon, FanimeCon, San Diego Comic Con), and I don't think I've ever seen a convention as poorly managed as the Anime Expo of 2007. Long Beach Convention Center is a nice facility, and the Long Beach Arena are nice places for events, but without being able to cut through the corridors and hallways makes doing a convention at Long Beach in the middle of summer a bad choice.

With lots of good restaurants located in the area, one wasn't starving for food, and I'm sure the Long Beach businesses appreciated the 40,000+ otaku descending upon their city in search of meals. I'm sure the City of Long Beach would love to have us back, but if AX is held at Long Beach ever again, I'm quite certain that the fans won't be back.

Many major distributors of anime and manga were no-shows at Anime Expo 2007, which was surprising; at the very least they had a panel, even if they didn't have a booth, but no reps from Viz or Del Rey? TokyoPop was there for a very brief time to present their new releases, but gone are the days of having a Hachiroku sit on the convention floor or giving away bags and preview books.

The Long Beach Arena had a rather draconian policy in place regarding cameras, food and drinks -- they didn't allow them and they wanted to search bags for them. In a convention setting, this is a practically impossible task; just by going to the con you receive a bag, and the no food and drink policy seemed to only be in place such that their concession stands could charge outrageously for food and drink. Lemonade in the arena? 5 bucks. Shaved Ice or rather, crushed ice that had frozen into an ice block where all the food coloring had run together into a dark brown color, was 4 dollars. I didn't take a close look at the food concession stand inside the arena, but I noticed that they were selling pretzels and maybe hot dogs? No question of a very large and very healthy profit margin there, especially given the fact that there was a very large of turnover between the shows at the Arena. The bag search and the patting down of attendees definitely turned me away from the first event held in the Arena, the S.K.I.N. concert, and made me apprehensive of attending all other events in the Arena.

My problems with AX have more to do with the Long Beach Convention Center Staff than the Expo organizers -- AX Staff and Volunteers that I met with during AX2007 were generally responsive and helpful, Long Beach Convention Center Staff (people in the Yellow Shirts and the Suits) were simply rude and clueless.

While I had some issues with San Diego Comic-Con 2006's Day 1, making us walk all around the convention center, things seemed to have sorted out as the Con got fully underway. At AX2007, I kept hoping things would get better, and they did, a little, the pat down and bag searches were soon nothing more than cursory looks, and eventually they did open up the back walkway (which still sucked, but at least you didn't have to go up and down 10 different flights of stairs -- only 2).

All of this, of course, has me looking forward to the San Diego Comic Con which is likely to be three to four times as many people as AX2007, but at least they know how to run a proper convention, and the city of San Diego respects the convention goers. Of course next year, Anime Expo is moving to the Los Angeles Convention Center. The Staples Center is a mild improvement, but the complaint about the area is that there aren't enough food choices, and parking and traffic is a mess down there. Hotel lodging is a mess down there, with most of the large hotels being located miles away from the convention center.

links for 2007-07-04


AX 2007: Production I.G. Panel


The Production I.G. started off with a film that one of their interns had made while working at Production I.G. a few years ago which detailed the inner workings of the studio, and featuring overworked animators.

One of the things that they recently finished was a commercial that they had aired once in Japan to make it eligible for the Cannes Film Festival:

The showed off the new Maaya Sakamoto video for "Universe":

The other announcements had to do with their upcoming series:

Sisters of Wellber


Sky Crawlers (short teaser - something they threw together quickly for the announcement)

Seirei no Moribito (Guardian of the Sacred Spirit)

Why Have Games Gone Conservative?


Seven years ago, Bilzzard Entertainment released Diablo II, the first commercial game I ever worked on. The ESRB rated it 'M', and we were worried that retailers like Target and Wal-Mart might not carry it, due to the buckets of gore and blood that our artists had detailed the game with. We knew we were building something special, and a great deal of care went into building the game. At every step of the way, we asked ourselves: is this fun? Is it too easy? Are we being true to the spirit of the original Diablo?

We first demonstrated the game in 1998. Each time I showed the game off to magazine editors and reporters, they'd ask me a few questions, and typically the conversation went something like this:

    Me: This is Diablo II, a sequel to Diablo, which is a hack-n-slash third person role-playing game. In the first one we had three character classes, in Diablo II, we have five all-new character classes. We tried to keep the controls the same as the first one, so it's still very friendly, you just point and click, and we've added several more features to make reassigning keys and controls much more friendly.
    Reporter: Wow. This game looks great. When's it shipping?
    Me: It ships when we're done with it. We still have a lot to polish, things we want to complete, features we want to implement, and we have the Blizzard reputation to uphold of releasing a game that doesn't have a lot of bugs.
    Reporter: So how much of the game is done?

My response here varied, depending on how far along we were. At the very beginning, I was saying 50% because Acts I and II was all that we had done when we were first showing it off, and it was two years later that I could say definitively Summer 2000. When we presented it at E3 in 1998, there were people who played for hours in that first area, and we knew we had something really special.

In building Diablo II, we knew we were building a proper sequel. We always felt that we had to take the game up a notch, that it couldn't just be Diablo I with a new graphics set, and that was partially why it took so long to make Diablo II -- the play area was several times as big as the first Diablo, and with 5 new character classes with all different skill trees, it really set a new standard for what a sequel should be. No one ever questioned Diablo II being a game in its own right.

This is ultimately, why I hate game sequels (though I myself have worked on them). It's not enough to me that they have new areas, or a new graphics set, in my mind, such an offering is just an expansion set. It should be a new game with echoes of the past game. It should be familiar, but totally new, and if one were to examine a list of "great games" one should see games that didn't have sequels, and games that did in there. I don't mind a games list that includes Zelda: A Link to the Past along with Zelda: Twilight Princess and Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. All three Zelda games are very different, and each game brings something different, yet remains familiar.

These days, everything has a sequel, and a lot of games have sequels that are released at regularly scheduled intervals. The games industry is increasingly hesitant to take risks now, and that means sequelizing the crap out of a game before everyone loses interest in it. On the flip side, to sequelize something to that extent destroys the value of that brand name. Take the popular racing game "Need For Speed", which has a franchise so sequelized that they use subtitles to differentiate the games rather than numbers.

All these sequels are indications that the game market has gone conservative. To make a new game entails a certain amount of risk -- namely funds that could go towards a "proven" game license are going to an unknown. Brand name marketing must be done, advertising and so forth. With game studio names meaning nothing to everyone except the most hardcore of fans, the names that the average consumer is familiar with is the names of the franchises and the publishers. The anonymity of the people who make the games, and the studios they work for also don't help the situation. But the games industry can't really survive without retail, and for retail, one needs publishers to put the boxes in the Wal-marts and Gamestops across the nation.

A games publisher doesn't want something new, they want something like what everyone else is selling, which is why everyone these days is selling a MMOG, a first person shooter, a driving game, a movie or tv license of some sort and some kind of puzzle/casual game. Take a look at any of the major publisher's sites and that's what you'll see. There's very little that's new and innovative, it's the same thing year after year with newer and better graphics. Once in a while you get a new spin on an old genre, but new games that move the industry forward are few and far between.

I admire those game designers that can create something new and innovative and bring it to market, games are simply too young an industry to have expired out of ideas, but with publishers running the games industry, it seems all too likely that players will be playing retreads for the forseeable future.

Review: Ratatouille


Go see Ratatouille if you haven't already. It's really good. Not just the animation, but the story and the characters is all superbly done. It's going to be a classic, and be sure to stay through the credits.

AX 2007: Masquerade and Wrapup


The last time I attended an Anime Expo was in 1995, when it was still small, and it was a one-day experience for me. It didn't quite have all the industry support it has now, but the lack of attendance of some of the major anime and manga publishers and video game companies leads me to believe that their marketing dollars are being spent on other forms of advertising and publicity rather than on convention floors. In fact, it may now be the case where these publishers have moved on from the niche of the conventions directly into big publishing and library conventions.

On the last day of the con was a relatively empty schedule -- I attended the TokyoPop panel, where the sales rep went over the schedule of upcoming releases. They have a number of titles that are partnerships with Harper Collins, in some cases novelizations of manga properties or manga versions of novels (for the teen/tween age group).

Viz Media did not show at Anime Expo 2007, which was surprising, considering that of almost all the manga publishers in the United States, Viz is one of the largest and oldest.


Fanime 2007's Masquerade was so much fun that I expected Anime Expo's to be just as good, but sadly this was not the case. While there were a few exceptional performances, most of them were not entertaining, and there were a few that were just very, very bad. Videogame characters consisted of a disproportionately large number of entries for the masquerade, with Bleach, Death Note and One Piece filling in about 50% of remainder of the anime entries.

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Flickr: Anime Expo 2007: Masquerade

iPhone by the Numbers


Although there haven't been any official numbers announced yet, most analysts are saying that iPhone sales have hit the half million mark within the weekend, with approximately half of those switching from other carriers to AT&T.

This is approximately 5% of their sales goal of 10 million in their first year.

First-hand accounts of the iPhone seem to all confirm that the iPhone lives up to the hype. California is completely sold out except for the San Francisco Apple Stores, and I suspect those iPhones won't last the day. As for me, I'm waiting on a few more fixes.

In other Apple-related news, Universal is considering pulling their entire catalog from iTunes. I think that such a move would be more bad than good for Universal, but if Universal wants to shoot themselves in the foot, more power to them.

Here's why I don't think it'll happen: by leaking this information, it encourages those who were sitting on the fence about purchasing an Universal iTunes song to go out and do it. For those that want to get their music online, that will force people to resort to using the Universal music branded store or pirating it. From a Joe Average viewpoint, if I can't find it on iTunes, the last thing I'm going to do is try and figure out who the publisher is to purchase the music from.

AX 2007: Day 3: Walkthrough


Today I ran away to the safety of the panels; Four days may be too much for Anime Expo, it's clear to me that they wish to compete at some level with San Diego Comic Con, but while the San Diego Convention Center and the surrounding area knows how to deal with Comic-Con traffic, Long Beach Convention Center and the area really has no idea how to deal with the flux of anime fans into the area. I hope that Anime Expo is never held again at Long Beach, though it's extremely close to my parents' house, and Long Beach is fairly neat, the convention center area sucks.

Today was kind of a panel day for me; Dark Horse, Geneon and Production I.G.

The Dark Horse Panel can be summed up pretty simply as "we didn't know what we were doing when we started with manga, and the things that we thought there wouldn't be a market for, people actually didn't mind." An example of this is the cultural references in Japanese manga, particularly Ah! My Goddess, where they removed all the minor cultural references to pop stars and current Japanese movies because they didn't think a Western audience would get it. Another example would be the manga-style books that TokyoPop publishes, where manga is read the traditional way, whereas Dark Horse used to flip the manga so that it would be read left-to-right as an american comic book would be. Now Dark Horse is going back and re-releasing Ah! My Goddess in the unflipped format and restoring the cultural references.

Geneon's panel can be summed up with "Licensing lots of new stuff. No high def media, and no new CDs." Geneon has the license to lots of new DVDs, including Hellsing Ultimate (which is mainly what they were promoting this show), which is Hellsing in OVA, but it's been slow in release because the Japanese studio is slow in release. Their reasons for the high def media is that the market hasn't decided on the winner yet, and Geneon is small company, and high def players just aren't out there in high enough numbers out there to have a big enough market for anime. As one of the Geneon guys pointed out 90% of anime fans don't have a high def player yet, and of that 10%, maybe 1% buys the high def version of the anime, in order for them to make it work for them, they'd have to charge like $1000 per high def, so for the moment, high definition discussion is shelved. Regarding their CDs, they use to have a anime CD section at Suncoast Video and Sam Goody, but those shops are gone now, so until they can find a good store outlet, there won't be additional CDs except as box set pack-ins.

Production I.G.'s panel short summary is that Mamoru Oshii working on a new movie called "The Sky Chasers", some stuff licensed, somethings not. Wellbert, Reideen, Guardian of the Sacred Spirit, IGPX were what we were shown clips of.

I also caught a preview of Romeo x Juliet, a new imagining of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
A full walkthrough of the path one needs to take to get to the con is in the extended.

If you haven't registered yet, you get off the parking structure, and a short walk away is the registration area:

links for 2007-07-02