Connecticon 2010- The Inmates Run the Asylum

Well, Connecticon 2010 was certainly my most…eventful convention to date. A quick warning: This is absolutely huge even by my “Massive post-Convention Post” standards, weighing in at over 5000 words according to WordPress…before this disclaimer. So, in addition to the traditional “Cut”, I put in some links so you can skip directly to the day you may want to read about.
Thursday Night

Let’s start at Thursday night around 8 PM, when I arrive at the hotel and check in, then let Sam, who I’m rooming with, know that I’ve arrived. Or at least, I think I let her know that I’ve arrived–it seems that she had changed her cell phone number in the last year, and I somehow never got the Facebook message, despite reading said message. I guess I didn’t process it or something. Anyway, shortly before 8:30, I decide to head to the Connecticut Convention Center to pick up my badge…and on the way, run into Sam, Henry, and their friend Rob. It was pretty much the same thing as last year, where I followed her for awhile without totally realizing it, although this time I wasn’t talking on the phone with her, and I recognized Henry (Her fiance) before her for whatever reason.

So we get our badges, and head back to the hotel to relax, shower, etc. before the convention actually starts on Friday.

Friday morning arrives, and I make my way to the convention center and don my cape. Yes, cape–I figured this was one of the few times I could wear a cape and have it be pretty much completely normal. In any event, I eventually find the rest of my band for the Rock Band tournament. But there are multiple issues at this point.

The first one was that there was a severe shortage of equipment for the tournament. This is solved soon enough by people running out and purchasing two full Rock Band 2 bundles, giving us several extra copies of the disc (Which turns out to be important later on).

The next issue was that there was only one TV. The plan was to split the XBox 360’s signal between two TVs–one that the band could face to see what they were doing, and back-to-back (More or less) with that one, another TV that would face into the audience so that the con-goers in the area could see how the qualifying band was doing. With only one TV, this becomes difficult. Eventually, we procure a second TV and the relevant cables to split the signal.

At this point, it’s mid-afternoon, and Darren, the guy running the tournament (And who has done so for the past several years), is slowly getting more and more annoyed for a number of reasons–what seems like a general lack of interest in the tournament, the complete lack of an adequate audio system (Which the tournament didn’t have last year, either, but the TVs were new enough then that the speakers held out long enough that we coped with it), and a more general feeling that the other departments were not helping him get the stuff he needed at best and actively hindering him at worst. At about 3:30, he finally has had enough, and simply picks up his stuff and leaves.

Over the next couple days, things are said that, while I won’t get into them here, I don’t think either Darren or Connecticon and its representatives will argue with the fact that the two parties have parted ways without so much as a “future endeavors”(1) toward one another.

Getting back to Friday afternoon. At this point, with the Rock Band tournament falling apart, myself, Sam (Who cites the Rock Band tournament as the only reason she comes to Connecticon), and John (One of our friends, who also competed in the tournament every years it’s taken place, and is another vocalist) are all pissed off at the Convention for allowing this to happen. So I start gathering people who had shown interest in the tournament (Keep in mind that I have a cape on while I’m doing this…Matt, the guitar player in my band, described it as being unbelievably badass), and we march toward the registration booth and ask to see the head of the convention.

At this point in the story, I’d like to apologize to the Green Monkeys, who had no idea at the time why I went “You three, come with me” and probably thought I was crazy. The intention was that we would go complain about the circumstances as a huge group, which I completely failed to say out loud at any point in the heat of the moment. So, sorry about that.

Getting back to the story, we’re assured that the tournament is still on, and that Kyle, who actually runs the video gaming department, is scrambling to make it happen. I eventually calm down, thank the convention staff, and wander back into the game room.

At this point, it’s 4PM, and time for me to head over to the random Wii Bowling tournament that I signed up for earlier in the day. This is well-timed, as it helps take my mind off of the Rock Band tournament currently being in a shambles. Also helping my mood: Out of 14 people in the tournament, I actually win, with a score of 214 in my game after, among other things, striking on my last four balls. This gets me $30 in Gamestop gift cards (It was actually supposed to be $25 in gift cards, but they only sent over $10 cards, and Kyle and Justin, the other guy running gaming, generously gave me a third $10 card).

With my new title of Connecticon 2010 Tournament Champion, I go back to the Rock Band setup, and while we finally have an audio setup, the outlook is not good–Darren took basically everything with him: mainly, his XBox 360 with the DLC songs, and the formula used for judging the tournament. The prize support is also nowhere to be found. At this point, Kyle, knowing that he’s in a nearly impossible situation, prints out a formula from a website, turns to me, and says “Marc, help me make sense of this.”

Well. Now you know where the title of this post comes from.

We decide to focus on the positives. We have plenty of XBoxes with Rock Band 2. We now also have all the equipment we need–the speakers aren’t perfect (In particularly distorting terribly on anything bass-heavy), but they work, and we have enough equipment now as well. Also, while we don’t know the exact formula, myself, Matt, and Dan (The drummer in my band) all have a basic grasp of what Darren’s formula tracked on a conceptual level. Finally, we have no DLC, but we do have all the 84 on-disc songs.

After failing to make anything useful out of whatever formula Kyle downloaded, he decides to turn the preliminaries into a straight scoring competition. It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s the simplest solution–that gives us the night to come up with a formula that takes into account performance, and makes it easy for Kyle to track results without necessarily having to know the ins and outs of the game. Also, qualifiers will go into Saturday morning as well, to make up for the lost time in setting everything up on Friday.

At this point, the next step is trying to select 3 songs for all the bands to play, out of the 84 on disc. This is a difficult task–Kyle didn’t want super-popular songs that everyone always plays, but at the same time, you have to give vocalists a fair shake, as vocals are the hardest thing for an otherwise-skilled player to sightread. In addition, it’s difficult for me to really be a fair judge of what songs to play, given that I am A. One of the competitors in the tournament, who B. Has 100%ed everything on the disc at one point or another. I know what the main songs to stay away from for a vocalist would be (Uncontrollable Urge and its ridiculous ending, One Way or Another and its ultra-finicky talkie, Tangled Up in Blue and its everything), but I also know all the obscure songs from the Harmonix Bands that I could suggest and gain an obvious advantage. In the end, without much input from me, Dan, John, Matt and Kyle end up selecting 2 Harmonix songs anyway–“Conventional Lover” and “Night Lies”–plus Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle”.

With that, qualifying can finally start. My band, M2D2 (Myself, Matt, Dan, plus a guy named Danny on bass…note the first letters of our first names), goes first, and as Kyle put it, we were a tough act to follow–I 100%ed two songs, and we gold starred “Conventional Lover” and “Night Lies”. We all felt like we could have done better on “The Middle”, but there wasn’t a whole lot we could do about it at that point.

In the end, we end up qualifying second, behind Sam and John’s band, The Giant Fire Cobras. A person cosplaying as Squall winds up forming a band called The Lionhearts, featuring the vocalist that the other people in my band had last year. The other main competition we had was a band called The Green Monkeys, whom you may remember as the winner of Connecticon 2009’s Guitar Hero Smash Hits tournament.

As the game room closes down for the night, Kyle asks Matt, Dan and I to brainstorm something for the semis and finals on Saturday. We also attempt to figure out what, if anything, we plan on doing for DLC. The best options were either Dan’s or my XBox, and with Dan closer to the convention than I am (Although neither of us are exactly a huge drive away), he’s the best bet.

After that, Sam, Matt and I head to the “Totally Not a Rave Informal Dance” as someone on the Connecticon fora called it. There’s not a lot to say here, as I’m not really a big dancer, although I do meet a very nice young lady named Christina who compliments my cape. I also briefly meet my friend Barbara and her friends Everett and Alyssa there, but my attempts to introduce her to Sam fail when we walk off in two different directions and don’t see each other for the rest of the night. I soon walk back to my hotel room at the Hartford Hilton and head to bed at about 1:30AM.

We all wake up at about 9AM Saturday morning and freshen up, quickly eat, etc. I take the time to scribble down something resembling a tournament rule set on a piece of paper that Kyle would hopefully take into consideration. In short, it involved number of stars, the difficulty level the people in the band picked, and performance (Band difficulty of the song may also have been factored in, I don’t really remember at this point)–the point being to approximate Darren’s formula (And it would indeed be a rough approximation) without Kyle needing to have any sort of spreadsheet or do any complex math on the fly.

As it turned out, Dan and Kyle were already at the Convention Center working on a formula of their own, taking into account song difficulty (At both the Band and individual instrument levels), number of stars, the percentages the individual band members got, and difficulty level the people in the band picked, although not performance. This was the good news. The bad news was that apparently no one had bothered to inform Dan that we were counting on him being able to bring his XBox back to the convention…in fact, no one had even asked him to do so. One call to Silver later, and I walked back to the hotel to drive home to get my XBox. While it doesn’t have as much DLC as Darren’s or Dan’s did, it does have some stuff that one or both of them didn’t have–most notably the Lego Rock Band imports.

The next hour and a half plays out like one of those tragicomic sequences in a movie where the universe simply decides it hates the main character….with me in the main character role. I had parked across the street from the hotel lot because that garage was slightly cheaper, and that way Sam and Co. would use the ticket I would ordinarily get from the hotel garage.

So I make my way to where the car is parked…and the pedestrian entrance to the garage is locked.

“Okay, weird” I think to myself, “But no problem, I’ll just get in via one of the car entrances.”

So I walk around the corner…and the car entrances are closed. As in, totally gated off, metal covering over them.

I walk around the entire building, and it’s the same story at all the entrances.

I walk into the Hilton just as it starts to rain, and ask the front desk if they know who operates the garage. “The Hartford Stage“, I’m told. Calling the number on their building doesn’t really get me anything useful, and a couple options in their automated help line simply lead me to voice mail. Also, at this point, it’s now pouring out.

I can see my car in the garage, but can’t get to it. I can also see one of the security vans in the garage, so I try calling that number. It’s the same story as the Hartford Stage number, with no obvious helpful option presented to me.

Desperate, I make my way back to the hotel room and commandeer Henry’s laptop. A Google search for ‘MAT Garage Hartford’ gets me the website for the Hartford Parking Authority, and from there, I learn that the operation of the MAT Garage in particular is contracted out to Connecticut Parking Services, and find their number.
I head back down, intending to call the number as my last resort as far as getting in…and realize I’ve forgotten my “MAGFest Video Game Expert” hat in the room. I go back up…and realize I’ve also locked my card key in the room. These would be kind of amusing events on their own, but at this point, I can’t get to my car, I’m soaked, and I’m letting down a bunch of people who were counting on me to provide some damn songs for the tournament.

I stop at the front desk and get another room key, collect my hat, and make my way back to the garage with the Connecticut Parking Services number stored on my cell phone. I call it…and no one picks up. I let the phone ring for a good three minutes, and nothing. Defeated, I make my way back to the convention, knowing that I don’t even have a Wii Bowling tournament to distract me this time. About the only thing that cheered me up was Silver sending me a text message. The fact that we had been talking helped, and I did consider her suggestion to take a cab before ruling it out (Too expensive, not enough time before the semi-finals were supposed to start), but frankly, it was that fact that this is my “You have a text message!” tone that really makes me smile every time I receive one.

Back at the convention, it seems there’s a small emergency–amongst the various fake weapons (Toy guns, etc) people have for their costumes, some miscreants have apparently snuck in actual paintball guns with actual ammo. Meanwhile, I’m apologizing to basically everyone for my failure to procure my XBox–Matt repeatedly tells me that it isn’t my fault, although at that point, I basically just want to wallow in self-pity (And water–I’m still pretty drenched at this point) for awhile.

There’s no time for that, though, as it’s time to help set up for the semi/finals of the Rock Band Tournament in one of the Marriott’s ball rooms (AKA the “Totally Not a Rave Informal Dance Room”)…and we may have an XBox with DLC on it after all. In the meantime, it looks like the semi-finals will be the first test of the thrown-together scoring system we made up to imitate Darren’s original–M2D2 were supposed to be the guinea pigs for it on Saturday morning, but that went out the window thanks to my losing an hour and a half to Connecticut Parking Services and the Hartford Parking Authority (Whose website about the MAT Garage, as of this writing, currently contradicts reality…I’ll see about shooting someone an e-mail to correct this). The formula is very rough–Dan has some concerns about it just eyeballing it, and there’s not even a performance element yet–but it’s workable for now.

Thanks to time concerns, the six bands (Seven attempted to qualify in total, but one didn’t show up to the ball room for whatever reason) will play a single song, based entirely on skill as determined by the formula, which takes into account all those things I mentioned earlier. The top four bands will go on to the finals. Oh, at this point, Matt’s sister Morgan threatens to disown M2D2 if we fail to win. The Giant Fire Cobras, by virtue of their top qualifying score (Although not by much–they beat us by about 50000 points out of 3 million total), get to go first. They pick “Almost Easy” for their song.

When they’re done, I pretty much immediately say that something is wrong with the vocal setup, and that it should be fixed and they should get a second chance at the song. The task of fixing said vocal setup naturally falls to….me. While on one hand, it makes sense–without trying to self-inflate my ego too much, I was probably the most skilled/serious Rock Band vocalist there, and the most likely to know what was wrong and how to fix it–it also goes to show how much trust Kyle and, really, everyone, put in me. I could easily have sabotaged the setup even worse for anyone except me if I really put my mind to it.

In truth, I don’t do a whole lot–the microphone stand is moved back so as to not pick up as much of the game noise, and I lower the mic sensitivity a notch while seeing how everything works via singing most of “A Jagged Gorgeous Winter”–before it’s time for my band to play our song choice, “The Trees (Vault Edition)”. I should probably point out at this point that the whole DLC thing was a no-go–the would-be savior had his hard drive and XBox…but it wasn’t the original XBox that a lot of the songs had been downloaded to, so we had no way to access them. Also, if I remember correctly, this was the point that Matt accidentally jostled the XBox, rendering the Rock Band 2 disc unreadable. Luckily, we had all sorts of extra copies of the game thanks to the Con’s buying spree, so one “please stand by” later, we’re back in business.

The song goes really well–I 100% the song on my end (My third out of four songs in the tournament, in case you’re counting), and we gold star the song on the ending guitar part. After all is said and done, four bands are left for the Finals, and they’re the four bands I mentioned earlier. The Green Monkeys wind up with the top seed, M2D2 are again second, and the Giant Fire Cobras (Even without a second chance at qualifying) and the Lionhearts round out the top 4.

And now for something completely different–a band with actual instruments! It’s time for The New Inertia to play! In hindsight, this was a…questionable booking decision for various reasons, not the least of which was the fact that I had to run and get food at this point, as the entirety of my food consumption between waking up at about 9AM and now (About 3:30 PM) consisted of a Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal bar (Which was, admittedly, delicious).

What I was of them was pretty cool, and Matt and I decide to help them move some of their stuff back to their van. This nets us some free stuff–a bunch of New Inertia posters, plus two CDs plus one of the guys’ solo CD.

And now it’s time for the Rock Band finals. The main change is that there’s now a performance aspect to our rough, thrown-together formula. Besides that, the rules are that each band will play three songs. You can repeat your song from the semi-finals if you want, but no song can be played twice in the finals (Either by your band or any other), and we’ll play a song at a time based on seeding–The Green Monkeys will go first, M2D2, then the Giant Fire Cobras and the Lionhearts. Then we repeat the process two more times with different songs, and eventually we’ll have a winner. At this point, the rest of my band and I decide to brainstorm songs, and eventually have a pretty solid list–Aqualung, Any Way You Want It, Alabama Getaway, Give It All, and Rob the Prez-o-Dent.

The Green Monkeys take the stage…and select Aqualung as their first song. Well, there goes our idea. When it’s our turn, we decide to go with Give It All, or as I call it, “The most effeminate version of Give It All you’ve ever heard.” Due to a combination of this, tournament nerves, and my running around the area in my cape before actually taking the stage, this song goes rather poorly for me, although my 93% is still the best vocalist score of the first round.

Before the second round choices are made, my band and I argue over whether to play Rob the Prez-o-Dent or not–Matt and I feel as though we can perform the hell out of it, but Dan and Danny are less confident in their abilities on the song. Adding to the debate is the fact that the Green Monkeys decide to reprise their semi-finals choice of Ramblin’ Man for their second song. In the end, the two Dans push for us to re-do The Trees, and I end up agreeing, under the condition that we save it for the third song (And secretly hoping one of the other bands will play it in the meantime).

Our second song ends up being Alabama Getaway by The Grateful Dead, and thanks to the song being more in my vocal range, plus my not running around as much beforehand, I do much better on this song, getting a 98% while trying to actually perform at the same time. The Giant Fire Cobras play Let There Be Rock this round, and The Lionhearts select Our Truth.

The last round goes Testify, The Trees (Vault Edition) (Secret wish: Not granted), Colony of Birchmen, Spoonman for the respective bands. I “only” 99% it this time, sounding particularly horrible on one phrase where I break combo and let the Score Hero side of me escape with a quick “Gaaah!” when it happens.

After that, it’s time for the results. After some anxious waiting, the results are tabulated:
In fourth place, The Lionhearts, mainly because the guy dressed as Squall accidentally hit a button after one of the songs before the results could be written down. Between myself and another person, we manage to remember three of the four numbers, but wound up deciding to give the bassist an 80% when no one could come up with his number–he probably did far better than 80%, but that seemed like a fair number given that the button was hit when it shouldn’t have been.

In third place, The Giant Fire Cobras. Although, at this point, I should mentioned that this was easily the strongest year for the bands on a technical level. After a total of zero bands in the finals the first two years playing entirely on Expert, all four bands had all their members on Expert this year. Really, any of the top three bands could have won the whole thing, and if not for the unfortunate premature button hit on Squall’s part, all four of them would have been in contention (Again, the 80% their bassist was given was probably a lot worse than he actually did).

As it happened, to illustrate just how close the top two bands in particular actually were…well, you can look at the results here. But suffice to say that when Kyle said “And by 22 points, first place goes to…”, I really didn’t expect the sentence to end “…M2D2”.

Yet it did.

We had done it. We had won. Despite practicing a bunch of songs that it turned out we couldn’t use (In my case, until I really didn’t want to play them anymore), Matt and Dan’s recruiting me basically immediately after Connecticon ’09 paid off for all of us. Even better, I become Connecticon’s Best Vocalist for the third year in a row, which makes me happy and relieved that all the practice on that end had paid off as well. Although this paled in comparison to Sam’s reaction upon winning Best Guitarist (Also for the third year in a row)–she was genuinely thrilled about it. One person each from the Green Monkeys and Lionhearts also won a Best Instrumentalist award, but I can’t remember their names, or even which band member won which award. Sorry guys.

With the tournament over, Matt and I head back to the hotel while it’s still light out in order to drop off our prizes. Shaimus (I’m probably spelling that wrong) had quickly constructed makeshift awards in the 24 hours or so between Darren’s leaving and the tournament ending, and my Best Vocalist award was what could best be described as a sexy anime catgirl holding onto a Rock Band microphone, autographed by the members of The New Inertia. I also received five “Tix”, which could be used at the Collectible Card Game desk, for winning the tournament, plus another 3 Tix for winning Best Vocalist. We then go eat at Burger King, where I receive all sort of strange looks (Yes, I’m still wearing the cape at this point. More unfortunately, I happen to arrive when there are zero cosplayers there, making me the bizarre one in the room.), and they screw up my order (Although not badly enough to be worth complaining about. I ordered a large value meal, and they charged me for and gave me a medium. Because they gave me what they charged me for, and the meal itself was the right meal, I figured “No harm no foul”.).

Back at the convention, not much of note happens until it closes for the night. I head back to the totally-not-a-rave on Saturday night, but I frankly don’t feel much like dancing–at this point, to say that my little toes on both of my feet have blisters isn’t really right..saying that they are giant blisters is more accurate. So I take a shuttle back to the hotel at about 12:30AM.

On Sunday, the entire crew get up at about 9AM again, and once everyone has showered and packed, we check out of the hotel. At this point, what had been in the back of my mind since Saturday is now at the forefront of it–“What if I still can’t get to my car?” Luckily, while the pedestrian entrances are still locked, the exit is at least open, and after the attendant and I talk past each other for awhile (I think he initially thought I had wanted to get a car into the garage, not out of it), he lets me in and I liberate my car from the garage. From there, I remember enough about this area of Hartford from my Connecticon 2007 and 2008 trips to make it to the Convention Center, where I frankly don’t even care that I’ll have to pay for parking there as well.

I hit the Dealer’s Room for the first time all weekend, and purchaseShortpacked! Book 3, a T-Shirt (On the front: “Looks like the rules…just got screwed” with a picture from YuGiOh the Abridged Series. On the back: YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!), a badge (“The doctor said it was cancer. I call it a challenge.”), and some pocky. I also stop at the CCG booth and pick up a Magic Deckbuilder’s Kit and another pack with my Rock Band tournament winnings–I’ve considered getting back into Magic for awhile as something to occasionally get me out of the apartment, but monetary concerns have held me back. This goes some way toward alleviating that. Then it’s panel time.

The “How to Run a Panel” panel was actually really cool. While some of it was obvious–act professional, practice your presentation if at all possible–I learned some useful tips about the tech side of things that amounted basically to “cover your butt” in terms of bringing various connections, extra copies of what you plan to present, a clicker, etc. Since I’ve considered doing some kind of “So You Want to be a Speedrunner” panel at the last couple Connecticons, I may take what I learned here and actually submit it for consideration for next year–Connecticon has been trying to get away from its image of “Anime Convention” for the past couple years, and something like this would help that, I feel.

Finally, it’s time for the “Con Feedback” panel, which takes a decidedly unexpected turn. Given two days to calm down, I realize the Convention probably has a side of the story regarding the events that led to all hell breaking loose on Friday afternoon with the Rock Band tournament. After complimenting Kyle and Shaimus on rescuing the whole thing in their own ways, I basically ask “Not that it necessarily has to be here in front of everybody, but at some point I’d like the Convention’s side of things as to what happened that led up to that.”…and get ushered out of the room by Shaimus.

In a corner of the Convention Center, he and I talk for roughly a half hour, at the end of which the conversation takes a completely unexpected turn: I get asked to be on the staff of the Video Game Department next year.

If I remember right, my response was close to “Wow, staff…*exhale* You know what? If that’s what it takes to keep this whole Rock band thing going, then yeah, okay, I’ll do it.”

After the panel, I talk to Kyle about it, and he’s basically as enthusiastic as he gets about anything, essentially saying he’d have no problem with it. That done, I finally get in my car and head home.

So that was Connecticon 2010. I honestly have no idea what’s in store for me for Connecticon 2011. About the only thing I know is that agreeing to be on staff, in all likelihood, will disqualify me from defending my titles at next year’s Rock Band tournament. And honestly, on one hand it’s disappointing, but on the other hand, I can’t deny that it’s sort of a relief too. Not only because I can now say I won Best Vocalist every time I entered, but for a more basic reason: If my Score Hero page is accurate, even though I won Best Vocalist at Connecticon 2008, the moment the “Hey, I could be really good at this” switch turned on in my head was around the middle of March 2009 when I 100%ed “Pinball Wizard” on Expert Vocals for the first time. Even still, that means that I’ve been playing Rock Band 2 on a competitive level for over a year, on and off. This is a long time for me to stick with anything, to be honest. And I don’t want to call this my “retirement” from Rock Band or whatever–I’ve always been opposed to people who make posts like that on Score Hero–but it’ll be nice to be able to just sit back and have fun with the game for awhile too.

In any event, next it’s time to get ready for MAGFest 9!

(1)- When World Wrestling Entertainment releases a wrestler, the boilerplate language is approximately “WWE has come to terms on the release of Wrestler X as of today’s date. We wish Wrestler X the best in all future endeavors.” If that second sentence is missing, you know something is really screwed up–the person repeatedly violated the WWE’s Wellness Policy (Yes, they have one), for instance. That second sentence is definitely missing here, on both ends.

1 comment

2 pings

    • MatrixTN on July 15, 2010 at 3:08 am

    I’d be down to help out with a “Speedrunner” panel if you decide to gun for it.

  1. […] in truth, as I mentioned previously, this is something I’ve actually thought about doing for awhile, in part because it’s […]

  2. […] more nervous about running this than I ever was participating in it. First of all, despite what happened last year, I’m working from a pretty solid foundation that I don’t want to have come crashing […]

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