Despite a Diminished Show, C2E2 2021 Still Brought the Games

We can’t expect to go back to normalcy quite yet, since COVID is still damaging lives across the country. But this year’s C2E2 was a reminder of better times—while simultaneously reminding us that times were once better. C2E2 was the last major convention I covered since COVID restrictions hit, and returning post-COVID, C2E2 2021 was a somewhat diminished show, but it still managed to have a ton of content for those who like to play games. C2E2 always has a good number of things to do if you play games—whether those games are video, board, or played with pen and paper, C2E2 2021 had something for everyone.  Noticeably absent from the floor this year was Galloping Ghost Arcade, but our friends I Play Games made their usual appearance. I Play Games had a whole line-up of consoles out for con-goers to play on, and tournaments organized for a number of competitive games. It’s always great to see I Play Games out on the floor, and this year they didn’t let COVID slow them down. There was also the usual assortment of board and tabletop games available to play with friends between panels. The Yard also made a return appearance, with games like cornhole and even giant Connect Four style games to play. There was even a Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario Bros. 3 speed run on Saturday to entertain the picnickers on the Yard. I Play Games' Gaming Zone at C2E2 2021. Photo: Marielle Bokor There were plenty of games off of the floor, too. Upstairs at C2E2 are the rooms dedicated to tabletop role-playing games, including Dungeons and Dragons. For those who wanted larger, full-scale experiences the multiple themed escape rooms were popular. Not only were there plenty of things to play at C2E2, there were plenty of games to buy. On the floor there was the usual assortment of sellers with the latest board game releases. It’s always fun to find a niche hard-to-find expansion or new board game to discover. The floor was also dotted with retro video game sellers taking advantage of the lucrative retro game market. C2E2 has been the go-to destination for playing and buying games, but it has also delivered on great gaming panels in the past. While this year was a little thin, there were some great guests from games like Mortal Kombat and Genshin Impact, as well as panels dedicated to tabletop games, from designing them to how to run better games for your players.  I had the opportunity to sit in most of these panels, and had a great time. Here are some highlights:

Pac-Man: Birth of an Icon

Tim Lapetino @ C2E2 2021. Photo: Marielle Bokor One of our first stops on Saturday morning was for a serious nostalgia trip, with Tim Lapetino bringing us all to a better understanding of one of the biggest pop culture phenomenon of all time, Pac-Man. Even if you don't consider yourself a "gamer," you're sure to recognize him, here and abroad. Pac-Man started as a moderately successful Japanese game that was originally going to be called Puck Man. When the game headed to the US, it was changed so that, according to Lapetino "some enterprising young teenagers wouldn't scratch it up to look like something else." Reportedly inspired by a pizza with a piece taken out of it, and designed to be a nonviolent title that featured the act of eating,  it only skyrocketed in popularity once it reached the US and Europe, and would go on to attract a different subset of people to games that may not have taken much interest before, bringing more female gamers to the arcades than they'd seen with any other title to that point. What's most interesting about the story of how Pac-Man came to be turns out to be of even more interest to locals like ourselves though, as Pac-Man only became such a worldwide household name with the help of local company Bally-Midway, who built the iconic cabinets. Lapetino was a great presenter, giving us a brief runthrough of the book he just published on the matter, as well as some background on himself and the process of writing the book. Though there were lots of challenges and certainly some missed opportunities to go to some of the places all around the world where Pac-Man is featured in art and arcades, the lockdown did allow for the availability of a lot more people involved with the making of the legendary game, and that makes us even more excited to get our hands on a copy and find out even more. The cast of Mortal Kombat I and II at C2E2 2021. Photo: Marielle Bokor

Mortal Kombat

I never miss an opportunity to check out the original “cast” of Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat II. Daniel Pesina (Scorpion, Sub Zero, Johnny Cage), Richard Divizio (Kano, Baraka), Ho Sung Pak (Shang Tsung) Anthony Marquest (Kung Lao) and Katalin Zamiar (Mileena, Kitana) made an appearance at this year’s panel to talk about their time making Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat II, including the ground breaking motion capture and what it was like to work with their friends. “We’re all martial artists,” said Katalin Zamiar, talking about the original motion capture work she did for Mortal Kombat II. The rudimentary motion capture technology required all of the performers to move in slow motion. “So we had to stick our sidekicks. We had to do backends in slow motion. We had to trip the camera and to how to fall slowly so that they can capture those individual movements which really required a ton of skill. I mean, one thing is to like, you can fake kicks quickly, very, very easily.” To which Richard Divizio cuts in and says, “So what you’re saying is we’re all real martial artists. Yeah. See that's the thing is we were hired from like an agency or anything like an acting agency or anything. You know some of us, we grew up with John Tobias (creator of Mortal Kombat) and some of us never grew up.” The original group for Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat II were friends who were mostly “just messing around” and met each other through their combined love of martial arts. It’s amazing, then, that a bunch of kids messing around managed to birth some of video games’ most iconic characters. They even came up with the ideas of fatalities, with Daniel Pesina (as Johnny Cage) suggesting a finishing move where he punches a hole through his opponent’s head—and while the hole-punching never manifested, the idea of “fatalities” stuck. While the original Kast had words about modern Mortal Kombat and its films, they’re proud of their place in history—and definitely have an adoring fan base. One of my favorite stories was when Richard Divizio (Kano) was playing an arcade version of Mortal Kombat back during the games’ original run, a fan asked him if he chose Kano because he looked like Kano, Divizio answered, “I chose Kano because I AM Kano,” and the kid gasped, “you’re Richard Divizio?” and after producing a driver’s license to prove it, Divizio found himself surrounded by arcade goers looking for an autograph.   L to R: Cristina Vee and Zachary Aguilar. Gensin Impact @ C2E2 2021. Photo: Marielle Bokor

Genshin Impact Spotlight

I had the opportunity to sit in on the Genshin Impact Spotlight panel on Saturday which featured two Voice over actors from the game: Cristina Vee and Zach Aguilar as they talked about their profession, and working on one of the biggest Gacha games of all time, Genshin Impact. When asked why Genshin Impact has left such a huge mark on the gaming world, Cristina Vee’s answer was simple, “Waifus.” Zach Aguilar expanded, “I agree, waifus. So many things.” When Genshin Impact was first being developed, and Aguilar was tapped as a voice actor for it, he didn’t see much at first, “I don’t think I got concept art for my character at the first recording session.” But after a few months went by, and Aguilar went back into the recording booth, “and they show me all this beautiful artwork from the game, amazing character designs, and they talk to me about the story and it’s so in-depth” he knew then it was going to be a hit. While Aguilar spends a lot of time (and by his own admission, too much money) on Genshin Impact, Cristina Vee’s time is spent in Pokémon. When asked about Genshin Impact’s upcoming 2.4 update, there were many jokes. “No, no, never heard of that” said Aguilar, after indicating that he saw a camera recording. But he did offer that he records new lines “all the time” for various reasons, so being a Genshin Impact voice over actor requires a continuing commitment. When Cristina Vee and Zach Aguilar were asked by a fan if they had any advice for aspiring voice actors, the answer was relatively simple. Vee said, “I think that you attract what you pay attention to.” She goes on to elaborate that it’s good to watch and immerse yourself in what you’re hoping to voice, so watch a lot of TV shows, film, anime, video games—whatever you’re hoping to get into. And then put yourself out there. “Putting yourself out there as much as you can, like on Tik Tok." she explained. "I found somebody doing impressions of our characters, and she was invited to be a voice actor for the sequel because she had this Tik Tok where she was doing all of these different characters.”  

Metal Gear Solid Q&A with David Hayter and Christopher Randolph

The Solid Snake, David Hayter,  snuck into this year’s C2E2 with his friend Otacon, Christopher Randolph. This was Randolph’s first ever comic convention, which led to some interesting moments—like an attempt at Solid Snake and Otacon’s famous handshake (it went pretty well, despite never attempting it before.)  This panel consisted mostly of fan Q&A, with some pretty good questions coming from the Metal Gear Solid fans. One fan noticed how Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima seemed to have his finger on the pulse of socioeconomic, military and political issues in the world, and weaving those into his narratives in fantastic by strangely prophetic ways. Both Randolph and Hayter agreed that Kojima seems to be consistently ahead of his time.  “He's ahead of his time. But I mean he does start to come down on the edge of the war is bad which you know, first of all, you know, I agree with,” said Randolph. Hayter contributed by saying, “he was way ahead of it on nano genes and nano technology. The other thing that struck me was that in Metal Gear 4 he was talking about private military companies and that kind of thing. He was on the cutting edge of what’s coming, human genetics, all that stuff about DNA.” And finished by saying “he was way ahead of his time… you’re literally glimpsing into the future.” On a lighter note, one fan asked if Hayter and Randolph, both friends in game as Solid Snake and Otacon, called each other in character. “All the time” says Hayter, and they went on to demonstrate what such a conversation might sound like. When asked if there was anything the actors wouldn’t say for a script, Randolph and Hayter went on to explain the process for voice acting in Metal Gear Solid and how getting an answer from Japan took too long argue about the contents or delivery of lines. However, Hayter has had roles in the past he refused to do, specifically a voiceover role where he would be the voice of Mark Fuhrman “the racist cop” as Hayter described him. He was given a voiceover role that would have him voicing Fuhrman on some racist, vulgar phone calls and Hayter refused, “I’m not doing that. I’m not going to pretend to be this police officer and say all of this vile crap. Forget it.” The producer called his agent and said she’ll never hire him again, and Hayter just said “I don’t care.” C2E2 is still the best convention when it comes to games. It’s only seven months away until C2E2 2022 in August of next year. If we’re lucky, C2E2 will be back up to full strength. But even with a more subdued show, C2E2 2021 was huge on games. I look forward to seeing you all next year!
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Antal Bokor

Antal is video game advocate, retro game collector, and video game historian. He is also a small streamer, occasional podcast guest, and writer.