And I’m not quite sure how I managed to pull it off.
(WARNING: The word is over-used, but this is seriously an epic-length [About 3900 words according to WordPress] post. It’s behind the cut here so you won’t have to scroll through it all to read the older stuff)
I checked in to the Hartford Hilton on Thursday night at around 8:30. After getting my parking situation squared away–turned out I had parked in the wrong parking lot, then decided to stay there after discovering it was slightly cheaper than the hotel’s lot–it was off to the bar to wait for Sam and Henry, who I would be rooming with.
As it turned out, my memory of what Sam looked like from last year was somewhat (Though as she told me later, not totally) off, as evidenced by the fact that I wound up following her for a block or so without realizing it, until she heard the echo of me talking to her on her cell phone and turned around. Ha! Because of this, my original plan to walk to the Connecticut Convention Center to grab my Connecticon badge that night was scrapped, and we ended up hanging out at the hotel that night instead, watching Henry play Dynasty Warriors 6: Empires. At a little after midnight, we all went to bed, waking up at 7 or so on Friday morning.
Early Friday morning was spent getting ready and walking to the Convention center, during which I managed to get sidetracked a bit when I decided “Screw the directions, I see the Marriott attached to the Convention Center, I’ll just walk in that general direction.” I still managed to beat Sam and Henry there, though, since they had to stop back at their car to grab stuff. Despite the long line for both pre and regular registration (Hopefully I’ll have a picture up before too long), once the process actually started, getting to the registration desk was impressively quick. Slightly more annoying was the fact that they didn’t think I had paid for my pre-registration initially, but a second stop took care of that, very quickly I might add. Then it was time to wait around for the Console Gaming area to open up, during which time I talked with some of the people from last year’s Rock Band tournament.
The Console Gaming room opened up…and less than two hours before the first Rock Band qualifier, I didn’t have a band.
But first, a bit about the Rock Band tournament itself. The plan was to hold four qualifiers, with one band from each qualifier going on to the finals on stage at the Marriott’s ballroom. Each qualifier would have several rounds, with one or more bands being eliminated in each round until one remained. The final round would be judged by Tim Buckley of Ctrl-Alt-Del, and representatives from The Rock 106.9 WCCC and Harmonix, the last one jumping on board about a week before the convention (In that time frame, their involvement went from, roughly, “Maybe we’ll send a PR guy down there to check it out” to “We’re sending some executives to help judge and we’ve got some prize support for you all too.”). Darren, who ran the tournament, had a spreadsheet to help him judge the competition and, as he put it, “Compare apples to oranges” without any audience members, or bands for that matter, having to hear the same songs over and over again. Without getting overly into the particulars, the following things would give you bonus points:
- Playing on a difficulty above Easy. In particular, playing on Expert is worth huge points over all other difficulties. Note that most if not all people in the tourney played on at least Hard; Easy is just the scoring baseline as far as this goes.
- Doing well on the song, based on the number of stars you got, with Gold Stars counting as 6 per song.
- Picking something with a high degree of difficulty on individual instruments. Band difficulties were standardized per round, and you could pick anything within those difficulties. For instance, the first round may be something like “Play three songs, one with a band difficulty of 1, one with a band difficulty of 2, and the last with a band difficulty of 3.” What songs you picked were up to you. Within a preliminary, the same song could not be heard twice (The slate was wiped clean after each preliminary, and again before the Finals). This left some room for strategy, as the individual instrument difficulties are not standardized (In particular, there is very little correlation between Band Difficulty and Vocal Difficulty), so there were some big bonus points to be picked up if you had the personnel to exploit this.
- Having some kind of theme in your choices. Maybe all songs by the same band, all love songs, etc.
- Performing! Actually rocking out, looking like you’re having a good time, etc. Bonus points for ultra rock star moves, like (For guitarists) playing behind your head, or (For vocalists) singing without looking at the screen, introducing your band/bandmates/songs, etc. This is different than a lot of other Rock Band tournaments, which tend to be strictly score based (Two bands play the same song, higher score wins). It also allows for people who may not necessarily be able to consistently full combo things on Expert to potentially compete on equal footing with the ultra hardcore people–a band who isn’t perfect technically, but puts on on awesome show, can beat a band who can full combo things in their sleep, but just “stares slack-jawed at the screen”, to use another Darren-ism. I spent the last couple weeks before CTCon working on this aspect of my game, trying to pick out a set of songs on each band difficulty that I felt like I could do this with comfortably without sacrificing score too much.
Now, back to the drama.
The original plan for a band was for the four individual Best Instrument winners from last year’s competition to form a supergroup for this year. Unfortunately, Jay didn’t show up this year, and Sam and Nick wound up playing out a version of the Fleetwood Mac story, starting and ending a relationship in the past year. So the plan as of Friday morning was for Sam and myself to try and form a band for the 1PM qualifier, with Henry joining on bass if need be. Only problem: As it turned out, Nick’s band needed one more person to have a full band, and so Sam joined up with them despite their turbulence, leaving me without, really, anything.
So, let’s review. Less than two hours before the qualifier, and I, the defending Best Vocalist, don’t have any bandmates for said qualifier.
Clearly, Connecticon was not going according to plan thus far.
So I had to take things one step at a time. Fairly desperate, I asked Darren if, should worse come to worst, three-piece bands (With one person simultaneously playing an instrument and singing) were allowed, and found out that they were (As with last year, I think if one person wanted to try and play all four instruments at the same time, they were technically welcome to, though it would of course end badly). Okay, so now the situation wasn’t quite so dire–if I could find two other people, I could try playing bass and singing at the same time.
The next step was finding two other people. A quick look around yielded me a drummer who was game, Ev (His given name is Everard, which I actually messed up as “Everett” at one point during the tourney), and, remembering his earlier offer, turned to Henry and said “How’d you like to play guitar in the Rock Band tourney?”
“Sure!” I’m pretty sure he hadn’t expected an offer to play guitar, but I’m also sure he was very happy to do so. After telling Sam “I kidnapped your boyfriend,” I was now in the qualifier. As it stood, the situation wasn’t ideal–I’d be bass-voxing with basically no experience at all in the discipline–but it was far better than it was not long before that.
With 30 to 60 minutes to go before the qualifier, I now had to try to find a bass player. I found people hanging out at one of the Rock Band stations, and more or less said “Hi!
Billy Mays here for I’m trying to qualify for the Rock Band finals! Currently, I’m in a three-piece band where I’ll be playing bass and singing at the same time. Is there anyone who’d like to play bass in my band so I don’t have to do this? I’ll pay your share of the entry fee.” This sales pitch actually yielded me a bassist, a guy named Dan.
I didn’t know if I was necessarily “in business”, but I did have a full band. As it turned out, Ev could only drum on Hard, but that would actually not be the biggest obstacle in our way, and I regarded it as only a slight setback–most of our competition, it seemed, had at least one person on Hard, though which instrument it was varied from band to band.
At slightly after 1PM, the first qualifier began. There were four bands, and our three band difficulties to select from were 0, 2, and 3 on a 0 to 6 system (Rock Band 2 has its difficulties represented by dots, from 0 through 5. If you see little devil heads that on first inspection look like hearts, that’s even harder than 5 dots, and so we call that 6).
My band’s choices:
0: Drain You- Nirvana (No particular reason. I think Ev suggested it, and I was cool with it.)
2: Psycho Killer- Talking Heads (This was an “exploit the system” choice on my part. The song is really easy on drums [And bass], which takes a lot of the pressure off of Dan and Ev–indeed, I think Dan actually 100%ed this song. Most importantly, though, the song is a 6 on Vocals…and, like everything else on the Rock Band 2 disc, I’ve 100%ed it at some point or another. I figured this was our best chance at wracking up points–not knowing the capabilities of anyone in my band at this stage, I took what I could control [Namely, my own performance] and ran with it.)
3: Inside the Fire- Disturbed (I wanted redemption for failing and almost knocking my band out of this song last year…in the finals. This was actually my worst performance of the entire tournament on a technical level by a good margin–an 86% if memory serves…I think my next lowest was 92 or 93%–but I did manage to get through it without failing this time. In hindsight, there were any number of better strategic choices, but what’s done is done.).
For the first round, my band, Penguin Conspiracy (Suggested at the last second by one of the other band members, I forget which) actually won the round with a score of 180 or so points. The second and third place bands had 155 and 150 or so, and the last band, who unfortunately failed completely out of two songs, had roughly 55 points. Further, I was the unofficial “most valuable component” of the round, apparently racking up more points than anyone else.
Round two saw us knocked down to three bands, and our top score got us the privilege of playing last in the round (On the downside, we also had the final choice of songs. A fair trade to see how your competition did, though). Our assigned band difficulties were a 1, 3, and 4.
1: Cool for Cats- Squeeze (Because the whole thing is squarely in my vocal range–a rarity in Rock Band songs–and again, there’s nothing too difficult in it)
3: Go Your Own Way- Fleetwood Mac (This was one I had actually really worked on the performance aspect of)
4: Any Way You Want It- Journey (As it happened, I didn’t realize I had made a mini-theme out of doing things your way until it was pointed out to me, although I of course didn’t say that. Again, no particular reason for this choice, but it was as good as any other)
My band chose to play them in the order 3, 1, 4. In the process, I nail the first Vocal 100% of the tournament on Go Your Own Way, and nearly do it again on Any Way You Want It, messing up the third-from-the-end phrase. In spite of this, we only finish second out of the three bands this time, scoring about 175 points (If nothing else, we’re consistent) to the 225-ish points of Geohounds (The Sam-and-Nick band).
Because we were the second out of two bands going on to the final round of the qualifier, we got first choice of song selection, though it also means we’d play first. At this point, we got a bit of exciting news: No one had yet signed up for the second qualifier of the day. If, after the two bands performed, there were still no sign ups for it, that qualifier would be canceled and both bands would go on to the finals. Our assigned difficulties for the round were 3, 5, 6.
3: Girl’s Not Grey- AFI (I don’t remember how much, if any, thought went into this choice beyond “Do I know this song? Yes. I’ll suggest we play it.” If I remember correctly, we considered, but ultimately rejected, Tangled Up in Blue here [Tangled Up is a 6 on Vocals, but that’s balanced out by the fact that it’s a 0 on drums. On a 2, that’s fine. On a 3, we were trying to find something a bit more balanced.])
5: Down With the Sickness- Disturbed (Same thing here, although I’m pretty sure I didn’t suggest this one. Still, I felt I knew it well enough that it was a solid choice.)
6: Almost Easy- Avenged Sevenfold (This was one of the few choices that the entire band was confident in their ability to pass as far as a 6 went)
We chose to play them in the order 5, 3, 6. Girl’s Not Grey was both the highlight and the lowlight for the band. Henry failed out of it, but was saved before we bombed out of the song completely (Whether by me or someone else, I don’t remember). On the other hand, I 100%ed it (My second of the competition), which surprised even me, to be totally honest, as this was definitely not a song I had worked on the performance aspect of. I later found out that I scored maximum performance points on it too.
After our set, things got crazy. Darren had a family emergency to attend to, and Wylie (Who runs the Console Gaming section of Connecticon) was busy with A. Making sure Darren was okay and B. Running other stuff, so we ended up using someone from one of the eliminated bands as an emergency judge for the Geohounds’ final set (After a quick Wylie crash course on how to use the spreadsheet). At the end of the set, we had the official word: No one else had signed up for the second qualifier (And at this point, even if someone had, there was no way a qualifier was being run anyway), so we were both going on to the finals. Officially, Penguin Conspiracy won the qualifier by under one point, although it wasn’t a totally fair comparison despite the emergency judge trying to think “What would Darren think about this?” as he was watching Geohounds’ set.
That was Friday. I had somehow helped a band get to the Finals. Up next, Saturday, and playing before Harmonix and the Rock!
The Finals began at 5PM Saturday, and we had to be at the hotel ballroom(!) between 4 and 4:30 to set up, check the room out, etc. This left me with plenty of time to kill, even if I wanted to watch any other qualifiers that would be going on with the intention of scoping out the potential competition, considering I got to the Convention Center at maybe 9AM that morning. So, just before 11:30AM, I went to the boffing desk (It’s not as dirty as it sounds; it’s basically fake swordfighting) and signed up for their Beginner’s Tournament, telling the person there “And by ‘beginner’, I mean ‘have never, ever done this in my life'”. Hearing that most of the other entrants to this particular tournament were in a similar situation made me feel a bit better. As it turned out, I actually won my first match by a 3-0 score before losing in the next round, 3-2. I had a lot of fun doing this, too.
I also decided to try and qualify for the DDR tournament going on that day, on an actual arcade machine no less. Despite not seriously playing for upwards of a year now, I manage to surprise myself and qualify 11th or so out of 40 people. Not that this matters, as the format being used (3 songs per match), combined with the huge number of entrants (32 into the main tournament), makes me realize pretty quickly that sticking around is going to conflict with the Rock Band finals. As a result, I concede my first round match so as to not waste anyone’s time. As it turns out, the last Rock Band qualifier had five bands attempt to qualify, with a band called Tanhaüser Gate moving on to the finals.
Thanks to Darren (Who was now back…his family emergency being slightly less dire than he thought in the sense that his relative was, in fact, still alive) being a tricky sort, I choose poorly in the game of chance (“Guess how many cigarettes Darren has in his case.” After considering the possibility that this could be a trick and there are actually none in there, I throw out “13” as the first guess. The other two bands go with “10” and “7”…and it turns out that my first instinct was correct; Darren was out.), meaning we get last choice of songs. Further, we have to play first in the Finals.
So, three bands (Penguin Conspiracy first, then Geohounds, and finally Tanhaüser Gate, who also got the luxury of first song choice), four songs each, with a clean selection slate for the Finals. One band would win, and there would be individual prizes for Best Instrumentalist at the four positions.
Our weapons of rock would be a 3, 4, 5, and 6 in band difficulty.
3: Go Your Own Way- Fleetwood Mac (It was this or Girl’s Not Grey, given that they were the two songs I 100%ed in the qualifier. Since we didn’t nearly fail out of Go Your Own Way, this choice was pretty easy)
4: Night Lies- Bang Camaro (Part sucking up to the judges, the other part being that at the time, both our other two choices for a 4 were taken–Any Way You Want It by Tanhaüser Gate, and Testify by Geohounds. The latter would end up changing their choice, but I don’t know how much it would have mattered)
5: Aqualung- Jethro Tull (We could all handle it pretty well, we thought)
6: Get Clean- Anarchy Club (Another non-ideal choice–Tanhaüser Gate took “Almost Easy” from us too. I wasn’t sure how well I could perform this, but in the end, we decided that my taking a hit on performance for this song was better than picking something else and risking failing out of the song entirely. I knew the melody pretty well, but wasn’t so clear on the words)
We went in the somewhat unorthodox order of 3, 6, 5, 4. As for the conditions, I quickly noted that, similar to last year, I had to sing somewhat sooner than I would’ve expected in order to fully get credit for each phrase. It was also hard for me to avoid looking at the screen, given the setup, although that wasn’t the setup’s fault–I don’t know of any other fair setup, to be honest. Lastly, the way the stage was set up didn’t give us a lot of room to move around, particularly if we wanted to avoid crossing in front of the drummer. Performance-wise, Henry almost failed out of Get Clean, but somehow hung on to the end of the guitar solo. My worst performance (At least on a technical level) was easily Night Lies; in hindsight, we maybe should have picked something else. This is because even when not performing the song, it tends to give me trouble, in that I have to sing most of it consciously flatter than I want to. This was the 92-93% I mentioned earlier. Everything else went pretty well, particularly Aqualung, which I think I 99ed.
After the other two bands played–Geohounds in particular rocked so hard that they actually blew a fuse and made everything related to the game, including the projector, crash–it was time for the results.
Tanhaüser Gate won the overall band competition, which I’ll admit was sort of surprising, not in the sense that my band lost (More on that in a bit), but in the sense that I felt like the Geohounds, at least, did everything they did and better. In any event, Geohounds took second, and my thrown-together-at-the-eleventh-hour band brought up the rear, which was fine. If you asked me to try and objectively evaluate my band, I’d say we were one of the better bands, if not the best band, in the entire competition on a technical basis, despite Ev’s playing on Hard. On a performance level, though, I don’t think anyone, including my bandmates, would disagree that I essentially had to perform for all four of us. I did everything I could in that regard–in particular, smacking the microphone on the tambourine parts so hard that I actually bruised and reddened my right hand–but I’m not that surprised that we came up short overall, to be frank. Despite that, though, I really do have to thank them all one more time–without them, I wouldn’t have been able to even compete to try and defend my Best Vocalist title. So thanks, guys, if you’re reading this.
The good news: Sam and Nick repeated as Best Guitarist and Best Bassist respectively. The even better news: I repeated as Best Vocalist.
Holy crap, I actually did it. Last year, I felt like the definite weak link of my team, having been in the opposite position of randomly joining a band who desperately needed a vocalist (And being the “Play on Hard to everyone else in the band’s Expert” guy) and somehow winning Best Vocalist sort of by default. This time, I managed to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke, and really earned the award. And I actually got an award this time, too! My spoils included a copy of the Rock Band Country Track Pack (Not big into country, but it’s about 20 songs I didn’t have before, so I won’t argue with it) and, more importantly, a cool plaque that resembles a platinum record award–there’s a CD that has a Rock Band Vocal logo on the center of it, and below it, a little name plate that says “Connecticon ’09 Top Vocalist”. Suffice to say that I don’t think I’ll have a problem finding a band next year.
On a similar note, Tim Buckley actually remembered me from last year. I thought that was pretty cool.
Saturday night was spent, mostly, basking in the glory of my individual victory. Suffice to say that at the end, I was totally exhausted. I did take part in another boffing tournament near the end of the night, though. It went about as well as the first one, though it was great fun.
On Sunday, I checked out of the hotel, went to the convention, and played in one more boffing tournament (I lost in the first round, though my sword was the victim of a vicious hit by my opponent’s face). I also checked out the mock Voice Acting Audition panel. I wasn’t selected to mock audition, unfortunately, but it was still pretty cool to check out how the process itself works. Basically, you have timing cues and a script, and that’s all I’ll say on that, given that this is already nearly 4000 words in length.
So, all in all, CTCon 2009 was great, and I’ve already pre-registered for 2010. Hopefully, you’ll be there too! It’s July 9-11 2010, at the Connecticut Convention Center, which is easily accessible from I91 in Connecticut.
 Actually, intentionally hitting the face wasn’t allowed in this set of tournaments. What happened was that I went to swing my sword, intending to try for a hit at about waist level…at the same time as my opponent more or less dove down to reduce his target area and try to hit me low, putting his face in the way of my weapon. Completely unintentional on my part. As I found out later, that wasn’t even the hardest he had been hit in the face to that point in the weekend.