With another year comes another Facts convention in Belgium, where anime, comics, movies and other nerd culture meets for an annual blowout. As noted from my recap of last year, this event keeps growing and that has shown itself this year by a huge rearrangement, where it now stocked all its wares in one colossal hall. With the added attention also came many more people than before, as well as many factors correlated to a rising popularity. It’s been a polarizing year for the event. Just like previous time, I apologize for the blog format, if needed.
Where the literal magic happens.
Right from the start, the growth could be felt at the train stations and transport centers leading to the show, where a convergence of dorky people met with your average citizen. In the more shoehorned situations, such as the one tram towards the center, this meant that poor single moms and their prams were instantly wedged amidst the pack of sweaty geek flesh. It was a cold day, so at least it’s warm. Courteous, however, it was not. It’s a short price to pay for fandom Valhalla. Still, the best deal of the day would be a lesson learned from last year’s event: Ticketholders get screwed into being funneled into the doors. I chose to pay the additional €3 door fee for coming without a ticket and waltzed in, since there’s less possibility of a line here. At the ticket stand, everyone needs to wait for at least a second to get scanned in. On my end, the ticketless do their waiting, one at a time, at the register and thus don’t hold up the door line. There’s enough man jamming throughout the event; paying a few bucks more to get in over half an hour earlier, without getting compacted, is more than worth it.
Take that, Sid Meier.
Upon entry, the increased commercialization becomes apparent with a few notable stalls receiving a top spot and other, larger booths, taking up a great portion of the hall. Luckily for us, a lot of this space was accommodated for the growing game scene at this otherwise anime-dominated convention. Game shops and a few publishers got to be one of those rare stands with room, even if, ironically, Ubisoft decided to drastically downsize its gaudy stages of years past, for a humble Assassin’s Creed IV (ACIV) showroom. Perhaps that’s why it was so damn crowded. I opted out of playing ACIV because of it, but it looks fluid and involved. Ubisoft is sticking to showcasing the naval portion of their game and for good cause: It looks entertaining as hell. Let’s hope that this is fully developed in the main feature. We’ll know that when the first reviews lift from embargo somewhere next week.
Even Nintendo was actually present this time, with a Pokémon X/Y booth, to much rejoicing of the many 3DS owners flocking around it for StreetPass hits. Strangely enough, my overall score came in lower than last year; dropping to 51 from 56. Therefore, I’m not repeating an article for it, since it’s basically a status quo. One difference is that the strategic dates of the Pokémon release and the convention meant that almost everyone was playing Pokémon. Mission accomplished, Nintendo.
Indie games all up in this place. More coming soon!
More so than the big ones, it’s the small studios that take the victory on why Facts is so great. Several indie developers received their little corner to display their stuff, officially ushering in the importance of games at the show. What I saw there truly warmed my heart. This stand showed that there is a thriving and intelligent gaming scene in Belgium. Better yet, all developers showed their own creative prowess and expressed it with unnecessary humility, to such degree that it felt odd to constantly hear them talking down about their own range. Most of these games are geared towards small releases. I had multiple discussions with a few developers about my speculation that their games could be well met on Steam, because I believed they truly could, but most would not budge from their stance. I’m excited to talk more about these upcoming projects in the days to come. Alongside this booth, I also chatted with the developers of the great platform title, Element4l, which surprised us earlier this year. On the other side, Belgium’s paragon, Larian Studios, displayed Dragon Commander, though I doubt they’d need even more reaffirmation of the game’s prowess.
Probably the coolest item of the show: A custom made arcade stand for Element4l.
As a special note of attention, there was also a small section dedicated to the future of game development, with a school showing off what I believe were many different projects from their students. I opted not to stay and play games here, since many would probably never see the light of day, but technically, I could see they were sound. Still, I know this serves as a commercial for the Howest university, but it does sound very promising indeed. With internship possibilities to as far as Dice, Ubisoft or Crytek, I’m hopeful we’ll see more of these go-getters shortly, aside from the slick presentation already seen on the show floor. Combine this with aforementioned potential already present on the home team and the Belgian gaming culture becomes brighter each day.
If only my college years had game design schools.
Sadly, not the entire event had the same feel of positive growth. Many stands, now catering for an increasingly casual crowd, changed specialized wares for common trickets, but more than that, hiked up prices to the larger crowds. Figurines purchased for €12 last year now cost €15, with €15 plushies now being €20 and so on. It’s an understandable effect of supply and demand, but it’s a bit bittersweet to see a dent in fan service. On top of that, sexualized content also became more prevalent for those easily lured crowds, though on that notion, I didn’t see many biters in a public forum, going for that half naked body pillow or exposed figurine. There were still plenty of statues sold at three or even four figure prices. A thousand Euro Metroid statuette that lights up does sound good, but it may be above my pay grade. I’m now taking donations to collect it.
I saw so much of things I never want to see again.
Popularity also meant less obscure gaming items and more overpriced bait. It got so bad so quickly that I, as a gamer, came back empty-handed this year. No one classic game has been added to my library. It looks like Facts is steadily moving away from the crowd that brought it there. Star Wars, the old king of nerds, is pushed away each year, in favor of Doctor Who and more current franchises. Everything is moving towards the crowd and not the lone fanatic. This also means that cosplay, while still well intact, dwindles in quantity over quality. Many misshapen mixes of styles treat the pastime more like a Halloween costume party, which is fine by all accounts, but like the other sidesteps, it has lost me to it. I did manage to notice a splendid young man early on with a spot-on Kingdom Hearts cosplay. He seemed so genuine in his role too.
Impeccable timing too, with the new announcement and all.
Still, for any specialization, this year’s event holed up everything in a side-room. At first, this seemed to be disrespectful to their roots; shoving away the fans to a separate location. In retrospect, it’s actually one of the better moves of the restructuring. Now, things that used to take up space for the regular attendee were concentrated where both fan and casual person wouldn’t intersect. Those wanting to see the Back to the Future DeLorean didn’t have to pass a crappy kawaii stand and those wanting to munch on Asian candy didn’t have to wade through the legion of R2D2’s. Everyone gets their space and can shine where they want. It’s different, but it’s a good difference.
In the recurring theme of growth, annual celebrity guests equally traded in the classic attractions for new blood. It made me not even pay attention to the line-up, since old people, to which I’ll now add myself to, had lesser incentive to meet up with an ancient flame. Perhaps the biggest draw would be Iain Glen, from the Game of Thrones series and Downton Abbey. Another star was Michael Biehn. I was tempted to go ask him why Aliens: Colonial Marines sucks so much, but I doubt he’d see the humor in it. He was accompanied by Electra and Elise Avellan, who were there to promote some movie together, which will undoubtedly be awful.
To leave on a positive note, this disconnect from fame and that gaudy, huge Thor promotion site did give me more time to enjoy the comic section I always overlook. I was able to spot several small, self-published artists trying to peddle their self-made wares and commissions. Unfortunately, I didn’t stop on my way to more game searching and I should’ve, for which I apologize, but it did resonate with me that little independents were welcomed aside giants. Equality is great, isn’t it?
Even on the way back, Gandalf was killing it.
Again, it was a polarizing year for the Facts convention. With popularity comes shallowness and that’s painful to see, certainly as this will unavoidably continue to rise. Still, where it starts to crumble on one end, it’s building something wonderful on the other side, with a budding place for games to thrive and a focus arranged for each category of nerd separately. Fan service is dead; long live fan service.
As always, please try to enjoy some more pictures of the event, made by me, the world’s worst photographer.