- [We sent regular GSW columnist Mister Raroo and his family to Comic-Con to report on the event from their usual unique perspective. While the Raroos spent a lot of time investigating the games on display, they also found time to meet up with friends, ride long escalators, and even overhear the difference between Ronald McDonald toys.]

In The Beginning

It all started with Maurice. He used to be a delivery driver for the library system I work for. In his spare time, he volunteered for San Diego Comic-Con International. Almost a decade ago, Maurice was kind enough to use his influence as a volunteer to get Missus Raroo and I into our first Comic-Con. We’ve been hooked ever since.

Maurice was always a humble and unassuming guy, spending his days driving heavy totes of books from library to library. However, as we were about to find out, at Comic-Con he was almost like a rock star. We set up a place and time to meet and before long, we saw Maurice walking toward us.

-Dressed in a full suit, Maurice escorted us past the massive lines of hopeful attendees. Along the way, security guards and other Comic-Con staffed greeted him, calling him “sir.” At the front of the line Maurice introduced us as his personal guests and the staff treated us like we were royalty. It was rather surreal.

I haven’t talked to Maurice too much in recent years because he transferred to another department, but every now and then we bump into him at Comic-Con. He’s often leading panels with big name celebrities or generally walking around looking busy but happy. It’s pretty neat to think that Maurice’s simple kindness of hooking Missus Raroo and I up with free Comic-Con passes that one Summer led to us becoming regular attendees, anxiously looking forward to each year’s convention.

Over time, our interest in Comic-Con has waned a little, mainly because it has become increasingly crowded, making the simple act of walking very difficult a great deal of the time. In addition, as we’ve gotten older we’ve had less energy and patience—not to mention spending money—to handle the demands of such a massive event. Nevertheless, we always end up having a good time and each year has been a memorable event.

Preview Night Line Time

Preview Night takes place the evening before Comic-Con officially begins. Until a few years ago, it used to be something truly special. Just as it is now, Preview Night was only open to members of the press and people who had pre-registered as four-day attendees. Because four-day registration was much rarer and the event didn’t attract nearly as much media attention in the past, the floor was free from heavy traffic and attendees had a good chance of actually speaking to their favorite artists or scoring special deals and rare finds.

It’s not like that any longer. Now Preview Night feels just as busy as the other days. In fact, since there are no events and panels going on, the floor actually seems even more crowded on Preview Night than any other time during the convention. We were shocked at just how packed the convention center was on Preview Night, and our time to visit booths was limited due to the line being so slow to check in.

-There has been a lot of talk in recent years that Comic-Con has outgrown the San Diego Convention Center, and if the lunacy that was pre-registration check-in is any indication, it definitely has. With disorganized lines snaking every which way, it was a big mess of people trying to figure out just what the hell they were doing. Even the line for press—which I had assumed would be quick and orderly—took an absurd amount of time to get through. I overheard a number of people in the press line saying that in years past it only took a few minutes and everyone seemed befuddled as to why it was taking such an excessive amount of time.

While we were standing in line, I realized a crew from IGN was behind us. I turned and tried to strike up conversation with them a couple times, but they didn’t seem interested in talking to anyone outside of their huddle. Eventually they were permitted to cut to the front of the line. From what we could gather from their conversation, famous PSP-licker Jessica Chobot had somehow finagled a way for them to have priority registration ahead of everyone else. As they walked past the rest of us in the press line, I saw more than a few jealous and angry looks cast their way.

Overhearing what the guys from IGN were talking about made me realize that I’m definitely in a different camp of games journalism. They were focused on what would be the best place to head out and get drunk later in the evening, whereas Missus Raroo and I were worrying because we forgot to bring our son Kazuo’s snacks. I think we were the only press in the line with a toddler. It’s actually pretty cool that there are so many different angles to games journalism.

Game Time at Comic-Con

As one might expect, I spent a great deal of my time exploring what video games were on display. Years back, there weren’t nearly as many game companies with booths at Comic-Con, but recently it’s become almost like a mini-E3 of sorts, with demos, previews, and even unveilings of games happening at the event annually.

Without a doubt, Street Fighter IV was the most popular game on the convention floor. Extremely long lines coiled all around Capcom's booth, and those who tried their hand at the game were proudly showing off the red headbands that were being passed out to players. I attempted to get into the booth to check out Mega Man 9 but it was impenetrable, with security telling me to back off and get in line. I tried to explain that I wasn’t trying to see Street Fighter IV but they didn’t care. So, I didn’t bother after that!

-I did, however, check out the Street Fighter IV presentation, along with hundreds of other attendees. Really, it was a pretty ho-hum affair, with the focus being on anime created for the game. There was one man sitting in front of me, however, who obviously felt the opposite of how I did, and was excitedly on the edge of his seat the entire time. At one point a couple of people walked in front him, obscuring his view and he angrily signaled “Out of the way!” with his arms.

Beyond Capcom’s offerings, most of the other games on display were much easier to check out. In particular, I enjoyed taking a look at what Telltale Games had to offer. Sam & Max: Episode 1 and Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People, both for the Wii, seemed like delightful games that should definitely appeal to Wii owners. Pointing and clicking to objects on screen is a breeze in both games, and they really seem like titles the whole family can sit down and play together. Telltale also announced that they are working on a Wallace and Gromit game, which sounds like a winning license for them.

Speaking of Telltale, I attended a panel with members of Telltale and Hothead Games about episodic gaming. I’d never really considered the benefits of episodic games, but there are some unique positive values intrinsic in the medium. For instance, episodic games allow developers to implement changes based on feedback received between episodes, and they also permit a strong relationship that can be formed between developers and consumers—a special type of relationship that is perhaps not possible with larger-scale game releases. I’m definitely curious to check out what the future of episodic gaming has in store.

-Sony's booth was very popular, with LittleBigPlanet and its attractive swag drawing a lot of interested people. Everywhere you looked, people were walking around with sturdy and adorable LittleBigPlanet bags in hand, which no doubt contributed to the popularity of the title. While I thought LittleBigPlanet looked pretty amazing, my heart was captured by PixelJunk Eden and it was fun to have an opportunity to get some play time in with a member of the development team. I sort of felt sorry for him at times, though, because trying to explain the premise and gameplay of Eden to clueless Comic-Con attendees seemed like a bit of a challenge!

The saddest booth was probably Konami's. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia looked particularly nice, and Silent Hill: Homecoming and New International Track & Field both seemed pretty decent, but everything else failed to impress.

Comic-Con attendees literally looked bored as they played Rock Revolution (and the game mysteriously disappeared from the booth by Sunday) and Castlevania: Judgement wasn’t playable to the public. Instead, two Konami representatives demoed the game, all the while acting like it was the most fun game ever created. It looks a bit like Powerstone and I while hold out a smidgen of hope since Castlevania is perhaps my favorite game series ever, I have a bad feeling about that poor game.

I really loved developer The Behemoth's Castle Crashers, which is now my most anticipated Xbox Live Arcade game. It was refreshing to speak to a member of the development team and hear firsthand how passionate they are about the game. Judging from the reaction people had when playing Castle Crashers, The Behemoth definitely have a potential knockout on their hands. I loved the super bright, hand-drawn graphics and awesome four-player gameplay. Castle Crashers might be reason enough to purchase a Gold Xbox Live membership!

The most charming game booth was probably NIS America's , which was located at the other end of the convention center, away from most of the other game companies. Fittingly, NIS America were situated next to many booths selling anime DVDs, toys, and the like. Dressed in Prinny costumes, the NIS staff members wore cute face paint and were energetic and happy to talk to attendees. It was a busy booth and in the short time I was visiting it I saw more than a few people buy games and other goodies.

-Perhaps most interesting for me was talking to Peter Payne from J-List about the adult software they offered for sale. I’ve never played any bishōjo games, but Peter was more than happy to fill me in on what the genre was all about and the types of games available to interested parties. On the surface it’s pretty funny to think someone would buy a game that allows them to live out their fantasy of having sex with bunny girls, but is that really so much weirder than some of the other things people are into?

I was surprised to find that many bishōjo games featured higher production values and deeper storylines than I would have otherwise expected. When all is said and done, most humans are pretty kinky in one way or another, and it’s actually kind of nifty to think that there’s a place people can get the adult software they want without fear of being judged or criticized.

Family and Friend Time With The Raroos

I was so happy that Missus Raroo and I were able to take our son with us to Comic-Con. Though some of the people manning the various booths seemed taken aback when I’d ask them questions with a sixteen month old strapped to my chest, for the most part everyone acted really accepting about babies and toddlers being in attendance.

In fact, we saw a lot of babies everywhere we looked. Back before parenthood, Missus Raroo and I used to wonder why people would bother bringing their babies to Comic-Con, but now that we are in that situation, we understand. Family is important to us and we like to do things together. If we weren’t with Kaz, things wouldn’t feel complete. I imagine that other parents who bring their kids to Comic-Con feel the same way. It’s an experience we all want to share with our children.

We brought our nine-year-old nephew Mario with us on one of the days and he absolutely loved it. Seeing how excited he was to scope out the wide breadth of Naruto toys, give THQ's enticing de Blob a whirl, and learn the ins and outs of the Pokémon trading card game from a Nintendo volunteer was really cute. Mario’s presence was a good reminder that no matter how crowded the convention center became, there was something magical available to anyone willing to take the time to look.

-Comic-Con also served as an opportunity to get together with some people I’ve been in touch with but never had the opportunity to meet in person. On Thursday I got to spend some time with Joel Hamilton, Ian Ferguson, and Brandon Sheffield, all of whom I know through a shared affinity for the Neo Geo Pocket Color.

We went out to lunch at a local pizza place and had a swell time kicking back and talking. Kaz even fell asleep in “Uncle” Brandon’s lap, which was cute! Joel and Ian came back to our home in the evening to enjoy some video game discussion and frozen yogurt from our favorite local establishment, The Yogurt Mill (though Brandon informed us that it’s most likely actually soft serve, not yogurt!).

Our pals Raina Lee and John Pham spent Friday night at our place, and it was great fun. We had a wonderful evening filled with good conversation, import Dreamcast games, and the consumption of my famous baked-from-scratch chocolate chip cookies. We also discovered that John was mortified by our pet chinchilla, especially when Raina kept trying to make him hold it! After sleeping in the next morning, Missus Raroo and I cooked a hearty breakfast to give us all energy for another day at Comic-Con.

Until Next Year…

San Diego Comic-Con is not for people without patience. You’ll end up getting stuck in large crowds of people, your feet will get tired, and you may even end up questioning your sanity for attending in the first place. But there are little moments that make it all worthwhile. For me, these moments came while doing unexpected things such as riding the long lobby escalators because it made Kaz smile and laugh. As we went up and down the escalators, the security personnel had a confused look but we didn’t care—we were just having fun as a family.

-Other small moments of happiness came from overhearing the enthusiasm people held for things we didn’t necessarily appreciate. Missus Raroo witnessed someone explaining to his friend the difference between two different Ronald McDonald toys that were on display. “This is Ronald 1971, while that is Ronald 1974.” Meanwhile, a lady sat down nearby with bags of free goodies, playfully panting while happily muttering “Too much swag! Too much swag!” Even though we might not able to value the difference between Ronald 1971 and Ronald 1974 and we do our best to avoid accumulating swag, we can’t help but smile at other people for being so excited about such things.

In a lot of ways, this year’s Comic-Con was my favorite yet. Even a very negative experience we had—namely Kaz and Missus Raroo’s passes being stolen (don't worry, we got them replaced!)—couldn’t hamper the fun we had. I didn’t necessarily enjoy navigating the crowds, but it was fun to share the experience with Kaz and we had a great time meeting friends and hanging out together. At the end of Comic-Con my legs felt like jelly and I was happy it was finally over, but I can’t deny that overall I had a blast.

Comic-Con provides so many things to so many people and while it’s certainly overwhelming—especially to outsiders that just don’t understand it—for most attendees it’s a safe haven where they can act the way they want and pursue the interests they love without fear of ridicule. Dressing up as your favorite anime character might go underappreciated in most social situations, but at Comic-Con strangers will ask to have their picture taken with you. Whether someone is into vintage comics, collecting movie stars’ autographs, Japanese animation, rare toys, or even sexy cat girl adult software, Comic-Con offers so much that just about anyone can find something to their fancy. I’m already looking forward to next year!

[Mister Raroo is a happy husband, proud father, full-time public library employee, and active gamer. He currently lives in El Cajon, CA with his family and many pets. You may reach Mister Raroo at mister.raroo@gmail.com.]