Something has happened. I believe it is known as “Summer”, but it is rarely present in these parts, so I am currently writing in the park to make the most of the situation. I haven’t gotten round to writing in a while, thanks to assignment deadlines and a general lack of motivation, but I shall endeavour to get back into a regular writing schedule. If anything, it is a worthy distraction from the real work this Summer – my thesis, and the remaining lab work. Think back to the 7th of June, for that is where this story begins. It is not so much a story, as a recollection of events, or a post. Belfast played host to the first MCM Belfast Comic Con this year, in the King’s Hall Pavilions on the 7th and 8th of June. Unfortunately, these were the days before the fabled Summer, and I spent over an hour queuing on a pouring Saturday morning to get in. Normally queuing would build anticipation, but the rain rather appropriately dampened down things. With no shelter in sight, all we could do was patiently wait, and hope the convention was worth it. After all, it was the first attempt to host a convention of this scale catering to comic book and anime fans.
Ordinary admission tickets were £8, which wasn’t unreasonable, and after spending that long in the rain I was happy to pay to get somewhere warm and dry. First impressions were good – the place was packed, and getting busier by the minute. It wasn’t to the same scale as Gamescom, which has been running for several years now and is a much larger enterprise, but it was still impressive in Belfast. The number of people cosplaying was crazy, but I imagine this is an opportunity that many have been waiting a long time for. The quality of the costumes varied, but one of the most impressive was a homemade Iron Man suit with a mask that opened and closed. I dusted off my Manny Calavera (Grim Fandango) mask, but it did not escape the rain unscathed. There appeared to be a lot to see and do, but appearances can be deceptive. Various panels were arranged with voice actors, Red Dwarf stars, and other sci-fi actors. Robert Llewellyn was the most notable, but there were a few other famous people including James Cosmo. I sat in on the voice actors panel which included D. C. Douglas, the voice of Albert Wesker in Resident Evil 5, and Courtenay Taylor, who voices a number of characters including Jack in the Mass Effect series. D. C. Douglas was the highlight though, as he just seemed to be a natural in that sort of situation, and gave interesting answers to the questions. It felt like the panels were short a few members though, as three would be an ideal number. A panel of one is not a real panel, in my mind.
Despite initial appearances, there wasn’t that much to do. Yes you could get chat to the “stars” and get their autographs, but it was £15 for each autographed item. I’m sorry, but Hattie Hayridge is not equally as famous as Robert Llewellyn, and their autographs are not of equal value. Most of the hall seemed like a glorified front for hawkers of unlicensed anime crap. Some of the stuff was interesting, but almost all of it was inflated far beyond worth, and didn’t merit a second look. One stall was selling old Dreamcasts for £40. That may seem reasonable at first, but when you consider that you can pick up a used Xbox 360 for less than £50, then things are put into perspective. Dreamcasts are not rare, and many of the games being sold for said system were being sold for crazy prices. While Shenmue is a fantastic game and you should play it if at all possible, please don’t pay £40 for it. It is one of the rarer games, but even still, it should be reasonably priced. I understand that traders may have to pay a considerable amount to be there, even if it is in Belfast, but that doesn’t mean that we are going to pay more for the stuff just because it is there. It’s a broken system – having to pay into a hall where you can buy overpriced merchandise, but despite this, it seems to work. People were buying everything.
I suppose that was a long winded way of saying it was hit and miss. There were some aspects I enjoyed, such as the cosplayers and the panels, but overall I was disappointed in the event. I would be more willing to forgive it as it is the first year of the Belfast Con, but MCM Expo have been running these events since 2010 and should have it down to a fine art. And there were barely any comics, making it more of a Comic-Con con.
Enough of that, now for something completely different. Gaming! And what better to start with than a game that piqued my interest a few weeks back, Miasmata. Miasmata is a rather unusual survival game with the protagonist stranded on a tropical island, Eden, and stricken with plague, attempting to find the cure. Survival games are becoming more and more popular lately, having started with Minecraft. Miasmata doesn’t pit you against any zombies, or skeletons, or even other humans. It’s just you fighting to stay alive, and explore the island at the same time, looking for plants and fungi. There is one other terrifying addition that I’ll come to shortly. Plague has left your body weak, and you are very susceptible to fever, which leaves you unable to accomplish normal tasks. Every step you take could be the wrong one, sending you plummeting down a steep slope and into a lake, fighting to stay above water.
The game revolves around picking plants and fungi, bringing them to a camp to research them, and potentially synthesising them into useful medicines or tonics. Medicine is used to reduce fever, and becomes an important part of your inventory. Thirst is another factor to manage, either by filling and drinking from your canteen or freshwater pools. The animations involved in the research and use of plants are detailed and interesting – the protagonist will take sections of a plant, examine it under a microscope, grind it into a paste with a pestle and mortar, mix it with other substances, and more.
Mapping out your environment is crucial if you don’t want to walk in circles. The game uses a triangulation system – you point the compass at two known landmarks, which draws lines on the map. The intersection of these lines gives your current location, but finding a large camp marked on your map will also give you the location. It isn’t a fast paced game by any means, and forces you to take time exploring the environment, searching for anything that will be of use, and avoiding the creature if possible. The creature follows the protagonist around the island, and can appear anywhere. You cannot kill it, and throwing things will merely annoy it. Fire can distract it, but the best bet is to run and hide. Believe me when I say it is terrifying – being used to games where the protagonist is saving the world or at least strong and equipped to fight, this is a rather uncomfortable experience. Miasmata is definitely worth a look – do the smart thing and pick it up on GOG. It’s not perfect, but the really impressive part is that it was developed by a team of two brothers.
That’s pretty much it for now. I shall return to enjoying the sun in Botanic, and if you’re indoors reading this, you should probably be outside making the most of things. It isn’t often that we get excellent weather, and in the eternal words of the Starks, Winter is Coming. Winter is always coming really, so it’s hard to be wrong with a slogan like that.
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