All Images from Amy Johnson, Written By Ian Beeken
London’s Comic Con, also known as MCM (Manga, Comic and Media) Expo, which is held over 3 days at the ExCel Centre in London’s south-east during the May bank holiday weekend (27th-29th). Friday is traditionally the ‘VIP’ day with press and trade only, whilst the Sat-Sun is open to members of the general public as well as press and trade; with Sunday being the day I visited the event. The expo is held only once per year and is a celebration of Japanese and American culture with heavy focus on Anime, Cosplay, Comic books and video games. Included in the event are guest speakers from the comic and television industry in addition to writers and designers from various backgrounds. The event attracts thousands of visitors annually and is essentially an escape for people to appreciate their interests with like-minded people, even if that includes dressing up as an alien with two mouths.
The main media guest speakers at this year’s Expo included: Billy West, best known for his roles as Fry, Farnsworth and Zapp Brannigan in the hit Fox show, Futurama. Also present was Phil Lamarr, known for his voice acting in animated series including Futurama, Family guy and Samurai Jack. In addition, Lauren Tom was present, a voice actor for Futurama in addition to King of the Hill and Codename: Kids next door. Finally, Maurice LaMarche, a voice actor best known for his role as “Brain” in the classic animated feature “Pinky and the Brain”.
As we arrived at the expo, the four voice actors were just about to begin a Q&A about their respective roles with a focus on their group efforts in the Hit Fox show “Futurama”. Most of the questions the crowd posed were based on Futurama: “What was your favourite episode to record” etc. Whilst some questions were focused more on their careers as a whole: “Do you have any advice to give to aspiring voice actors”. It was clear that despite the comic characters the actors played that they were professionals in their field, they made this clear with clear cut renditions of their respective roles (to obligatory waves of applause from the awe inspired crowd). At certain points during the day the actors were around for photo opportunities and autographs at the heavy price of £15 per photo or autographed item.
Media guests aside, the expo is primarily about showing off the various culture gaps in the most beneficial way; moderately priced merchandise! The MCM expo is a hotspot for companies to peddle their wares from wall scrolls to trinkets with the latest big anime character (in this case, Ichigo from Bleach), the most prominent manufacturer of such being “TokyoToys”, an England based online retailer for anime toys and related items.
Every type of fan of Japanese culture is catered for in this way, to hack and slash anime lovers to Yaoi and visual novels, to soundtracks from your favourite Final Fantasy instalment; it’s all there and paraded with the admirable gusto it deserves. However, retailing isn’t the only purpose the expo serves. In addition to DDR and Rock Band competitions, the expo is a great chance for games companies to showcase their work in the United Kingdom (with the nearest alternative being EuroGamer Expo which is also only an annual event). With MCM’s growing popularity, more game companies than ever are participating to show their latest games to an eager game-loving public.
No games booth were more prominent at the expo than that of Nintendo with grand, well-lit stands and enthusiastic booth attendants, it’s clear to them that you’re here to see their games, even if you weren’t actually there to see them to begin with. Out of the 5 games that Nintendo were parading that day, only one obvious game took centre stage from the start of the expo to the end, enough so in fact that it was the only game that had a constant queue throughout the day: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D.
The hype around the game during the expo was fantastic, with the smiling attendants almost constantly being interrupted by expo-goers eager to play the Zelda series’ latest offering and the moment we started playing the game it was easy to see why. The demo that we played at the expo had 3 distinct stages of which you could choose for play: Kokiri Forest, the Deku Tree and the Gohma fight. As an early favourite of ours, we settled on the Deku Tree. One of the parts that we certainly don’t miss that returned from the classic was that of Navi’s consistent interruptions to explain basic game mechanics, an option to remove such things in this day and age of games wouldn’t go amiss, especially for a game that essentially markets itself to seasoned players of the original game, alas, it’s a minor gripe to an already fantastic set of mechanics. The 3DS’ capabilities are used to a great extent in Ocarina of Time, including touch screen for menu functions and item selection and motion control for aiming items such as the slingshot.
After approximately 20 minutes of play, the final 3D text was displayed on the system: “WE HOPE YOU ENJOYED THE DEMO”. With that, we moved on to the other gaming endeavours scattered around the expo. Offerings from Capcom, EPIC games, Koei, Konami and Warner Brothers each had their own booths filled with extravagant promotional material and enthusiastic staff members to match and were each equally inviting. With this in mind, we moved towards Warner brothers to take a look at their offering to the expo: F.3.A.R. and Mortal Kombat 9. F.3.A.R, unlike Ocarina of Time did not have a set Demo structure and seemed to be a large part of the full game for the various attendees to complete as a unit, leaving the last person’s current progress for the next to pick up and continue. As a result, when we picked it up we were unsure of where we were in the game and what we were supposed to be doing. It was immediately apparent that F.3.A.R. had been dropped from its horror roots and has morphed into an action FPS. This was a bit of a let-down since the previous two titles gained their fame and recognition amongst the waves of standard FPS from this very aspect. Once the game is released, we at Invision will be sure to either confirm or deny this concern.
Also in the same booth as F.3.A.R. stood Mortal Kombat 9. In comparison to the overwhelming reception F.3.A.R. was getting, Mortal Kombat seemed to be on the low spectrum of interest. The reason for this in part was because MK9 was already released whereas F.3.A.R. was a hotly anticipated title. Despite this, we decided to give it a go to see if it held up against the other fighting games we’ve played. In our playthrough the gameplay seemed very polished and crisp. The controls were solid and responsive, giving instant results and complete character control. The animations for attacks felt static and samey however with the exception of the signature moves unique to each character. Once the signature moves start the game decides to graphically humiliate the receiving end of the attack in the form of X-ray shots of what the attacking character is doing to the opponent, from cracking ribs to punch-breaking their skull. Each attack is shown in beautifully graphic detail. For a full review of Mortal Kombat 9, check out the review here on Invision under the review section.
In addition to the games we’ve played here, there were several other games that we unfortunately could not play because of either long queues or lack of time left in the opening hours of the expo. These games include:
• Red Faction Armageddon – Xbox 360, PS3 & PC – Volition & THQ
• Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3 – Xbox 360 & PS3 – Koei
• Champion Jockey – Xbox 360, PS3 & Wii – Koei
• Wii Play Motion – Wii – Nintendo
• Xenoblade Chronicles – Wii – Monolith Soft
• Gears of War 3 – Xbox 360 – EPIC Games
As well as a place for game developers to showcase their work ahead of release, the MCM expo is a place for the gaming community to showcase their talents at various games. In this case there were two types of games that had serious competition involved at the expo – Card/Tabletop games and video games. On the Card & Tabletop side of the expo, Yugioh and the World of Warcraft TCG had a massive presence with up to 20 tables combined for both card games set aside for both friendly and competitive matches between expo-goers. The tables were also being used for curious new players to get started with expo organisers and staff. On the other side of the expo, the video game competition circuit was well underway with competitions in Dance Dance Revolution, Rock Band and Street fighter 4, the latter having an unusual competition whereby if a challenger could beat a best of 3 with one of the skilled expo staff, then they won some t-shirts and other goods, the competition on this end was sponsored and run primarily by “DDR: UK”. With these two different competitive aspects to the expo combined, it was clear that expo goers could first lose their real life inhibitions by dressing up as their favourite character but still keep their skill to display to the crowd by annihilating the competition in a casual dance off. It’s a fantastic feeling to see people from all walks of life to relax and come together to share a common interest, from “geeky card games” to dance machines.
With little time left on the expo floor, we decided to revisit the Futurama cast mentioned earlier to obtain an autograph from my personal favourite actor of the cast – Billy West. The map in the guidebook we received as we entered the expo was quite vague in its direction to do this. Billy West was signing autographs at “Zone A” on one side of the convention but we accidentally went to sign Zone B after seeing “Signing Zone” on the map. After a thorough exploration of the expo floor (embarrassingly) we managed to find the desk he was at. In order to get a signature, you need to buy what they call a “smiley” for £15. To clarify this, the costs were £15 for a signature and £15 per photo. In the end, the obvious choice was made regarding the price. We decided it was a waste of money and moved on swiftly with our day. Oh wait:
As the remaining hours at expo drifted to a close, it was clear that we had experienced the good amount of games it had to offer, in addition to exposure to every type of cute hat and plushie that Japan had to offer. Going to expo as someone not especially affiliated with the various displayed cultures is an interesting experience, you manage to see a sense of community in traditionally “nerdy-no life” activities. Outside of that however, it’s a great time and place to find new interests or expand on your own interests. I managed to convince myself to purchase a 3DS in the near future and we managed to encounter the familiar sight of “Japanese schoolgirl” cosplayers dancing to unfitting J-Pop, yet there was little sense of shame in it, if anything it was worthwhile entertainment in the many queues we encountered. All in all, the expo was a fantastic experience that we’d heartily recommend to anyone that’s willing to endure the travel and costs, alternatively its worth going if you just fancy dressing up as your favourite game character for a day, the choice is truly yours to make. If we could give any one piece of advice though, it would be this: Take a packed lunch.
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