Wednesday, February 10, 2010

California Trip / Blizzcon 2009

[This is a mix of a recap of my trip to California and a convention report of sorts for Blizzcon 2009. Fall 09 was not a great time for me and I didn't get to finishing this post for awhile. If you are just looking for BlizzCon information, look for the bold "Blizzcon"below. Pictures from my trip can be found on my Flickr: California and Blizzcon.]

In the middle of August of 2009, I was able to spend some time in California with my friends for Blizzcon 2009. It was a great trip and something really welcomed at that time. A lot had been falling apart one right after another; and so it turns out taking some time out to collect myself was something I really needed. Sometimes stepping away for just a bit to catch your breath is necessary. I wasn't going to go because I couldn't get a ticket for Ruby, but she insisted. She told me that I needed the fun and that I should go; this is why I have such an awesome girlfriend. So in exchange she got my swag bag from the con. I also owe the trip to Nam and Kim, who helped with my way there and the Blizzcon ticket. They are the reason why I had such a great time out there.

The trip was awesome. [Funny Note: our plane to Cali was FULL of Blizzcon attendees. I saw dozens of WoW apparel, and even the senior couple in front of us were talking about their paladins. It was hilarious). Nam's cousin Kim let the group of us crash with her for the week. I hadn't seen her in years; back when she use to call me Looney Tunes (for reason I'll go into if you ask me, but the short of it is that people use to pronounce my name "Loon"). So being able to hang out with her was pretty sweet. Kim and our friend Nancy have been out in Cali for a while so it was great being having people who knew all the great places to eat around town. They took us to some of the best eateries I have ever been to; I want to go back just hang with Kim and Nancy and eat all day. It was that amazing.

Kim lead us on a tour of the Blizzard Campus. It was amazing; it is the ULTIMATE workplace. The environment was pretty casual but had a real sense of high, professional standards. Because we were with Kim, we got a slightly different tour of the buildings than the regular press people. It was really personal and we got a chance to really check out the place. The creative areas were exactly the environments I dream of working in. Being able to see these workplaces actually exists really helped my spirits and determination. It was a great month for seeing various workspaces and how they reflect the personalities that are involved (see Atlanta Road Trip! post). You can tell that the company works really hard but also has a lot of fun. Kim later showed us the DVD of their company-wide Rock Band competition. It wasn't a little competition in a break room. I'm talking outdoor stage, lights, fog machines, and costumes of a competition. Even the president of the company was in one of the bands. Seriously an awesome company.

The real highlight of the tour was meeting Trent Kaniuga. Kim had gotten wind that I am a big Kaniuga fan and led us through the maze of the campus to find Trent. He has been a big influence on my art style. Anyone who seems me draw can see it. Several times someone would look at my art and ask "Have you ever heard of a comic called CreeD?"; it's that obvious. I had brought all my CreeD books with me just in case I had the chance to run into him. I hadn't expected Kim to take us by his desk. I'm naturally an introvert so it was really difficult to not have it become an episode of the Chris Farley Show. Trent was really nice though and put up with my fanboy-ism. He's seems to be a really humble guy; and was nice enough to give us some of his mini-comics (i say mini-comics because of the size, these were full color books on some really slick paperstock) and sign my small stack of books. He told us of his first convention at the age of 16 or so. If I remember correctly, the convention was at a mall (I KNOW!) and his publisher was dressed up as Spider-Man trying to get people to come over to their table. He said it was horrible but amusing to look upon. I hope I didn't come across as too much of a fanboy.

As for the Blizzcon itself, it was a freaking madhouse. I dubbed it LineCon as there was huge line for EVERYTHING. However I will give it to the Blizzard and the convention center that lines were really organized and everything really moved at a brisk pace. Example: to get your pass for the con, they had people checking paperwork throughout the line so when you get into the front it was all easy peasy, click, scan, boom! We never stood still for more than a minute. Except for opening day. The line to get in for Day One wrapped around the building. I heard people were there since pre-dawn (doors opened i think at 11). I'm so glad we got to crash with Kim in her hotel room. Finding a place to park would have been a nightmare.

The con was awesome and HUGE. The space was epic; which was needed to house the few thousand attendees, the booths, and the platoons of computers. Because of how the convention center is setup, everything was really easy to find. You really felt welcomed by Blizzard and they really showed their love for the fans. The panels were great for fans of any of the various franchises, the gaming areas were super sweet, and for the most part the attendees were pretty laid back. You can tell a lot of them were there as hardcore WoW players. But we were eagerly awaiting to get our hands on the Diablo demo. We went through the line several times, trying out all the classes. The Starcraft demo left me craving for more; and the WoW: Cataclysm demo reminded me why the game is so damn good. Our swag bag came with a little bottle of hand-sanitizer, which we used liberally after every demo.

Security at the show was pretty annoying, but nothing like the airport. They just had to check you bag every time you entered; but it wasn't an involved search. Just a quick visual scan and off you went. Oddly enough they didn't allow you to bring in drinks; even bottles of soda that you bought INSIDE of the convention hall. You could see the soda machine from the security checkpoint. I asked one of the security guys about it; he just shrugged and said he knew it was silly but it's a rule of the convention center. Luckily they had cash bars all over the place, which incidentally were cheaper than the hotel bar.

The concert was awesome and through the roof Crazy Train. People were already sitting down for the concert (which starts at 4PM) at noon. The Artists Formally Known as Level 80 Elite Tauren Chieftain (aka TAFKAL80ETC) were great. They're an in-house band made up of Blizzard employees; which includes senior art director Samwise Didier on vocals and company president Mike Morhaime on bass. I only tell you this because it was surprising how many people didn't know who these people are. I mean, c'MON, they only make the games you love so much and play EVERYDAY. And how awesome is it for a bunch of game designers with essentially their garage band open up for the Ozzy Ozborn himself? The Ozzy show was a pure bedlam. They tried to keep the fans out of the aisles but the power of the Prince of Darkness drove the crowd to rush to the stage. The security just gave up and it was on from there. I was able to get about 20 feet from the stage, but it was like trudging through mud: just wet and smelly. The wet wasn't just the fans, Ozzy was throwing buckets of water at the audience. I had to leave. We left to another hall to watch it on the massive projection screens there. Ozzy put on a great show, but I think he was a bit thrown off by the fans. I mean, gamers are great people, but they do not have the absolute rabid ferocity of pure metal heads. It was wonderful show though and Ozzy can still rock the mic. He completely owns the stage.

Overall it was an [Awesome Con]. It was very well organized and you can tell they are having as much fun as the fans. The con was also filled with company swag, not only from Blizzard but from all the vendors as well. I brought home a whole goodie bag of stuff. Unfortunately everyone else wanted the same swag so there were a lot of lines for swag that had to be won via some sort of carnival game. If you are a fan of any of the Blizzard franchises, you should find a way to get to this con when they have it again.

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