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The UberCon III Report

Browse the report slide show here!

UberCon is the self-proclaimed "Ultimate Gaming Experience," and that title is well deserved. LAN parties, RPGs, board games, console games, LARPs, miniatures, awesome artistic and writing guests... this con seems to have it all. Located at the Prime Suites at the Mill Creek Mall in Secaucus, NJ, the con ran February 27-29, 2004. We had heard of UberCon several times before, and always hoped to somehow make it up there. Well, we finally got our chance....

Thursday, February 26, 2004

For us, the UberCon experience started with the massive trip from North Carolina to New Jersey. Originally, I was just planning to go by myself and ride up with the folks from Plan Nine. However, a few other factors (like the fact I can't put my eye medicine in by myself and that my wife was starting to get jealous when she heard about all the games they were going to play) caused a change in plans and my wife decided to come up with us. We decided to caravan up with Plan Nine, but just as we started loading the cars with books, a freak snow storm hit the southeastern United States. We later learned the storm dumped something between five and ten inches of snow in our area. My wife and I managed to get out of town before the really bad snow it, but David Allen of Plan Nine was delayed and got trapped by part of it.

The drive was somewhere between nine and ten hours, making this one of the longest road trips I've ever been on. We passed several big cities--Richmond, Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, etc. I got to point out some of my old stomping grounds to my wife, from way back in college when I worked a co-op job in Dumfries, VA, near the Quantico Marine base. I'll also never complain about the tolls on the old West Virginia Turnpike back home anymore; between the Chesapeake Bay Tunnel, the Delaware Memorial Bridge, and the Delaware and New Jersey Turnpikes, we paid about $15 in tolls one way. We got into the Jersey City area around 10PM, and that's when the real fun began.

We got hopelessly lost as soon as we got off the Jersey Turnpike. The directions were supposedly simple enough... go west on Route 3 and take the Mill Creek Road exit to head to the Mill Creek Mall. The next thing we know, we're heading in the totally wrong direction. We tried to correct the mistake, and then we're doing everything we can to avoid going through the Lincoln Tunnel and ending up in Manhattan. Eventually, we found ourselves lost on the back streets of Jersey City. We stopped at a restaurant and asked for directions, which took us down several more back streets and dumped us right in the Mill Creek Mall area. We still had problems finding the hotel, however. We drove around several times, following the signs to the Radisson, but couldn't find it. We finally pulled into the parking lot of the Prime Suites Meadowlands to ask for more directions, only to find out we were at the right hotel! It turns out that the hotel changed names earlier in the month, but they had just put up the new signs that week. We met up with some of the con staff, checked into our room, enjoyed the view of the NYC skyline from our room for a couple minutes, then crashed for some much needed sleep.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Fortunately, Friday started off slow, so we had plenty of time to sleep late and enjoy a leisurely morning. We ended up skipping breakfast and eventually made our way to the mall to get some lunch and do a little shopping. We got back with plenty of time to spare, so we kicked back and relaxed some more. Then I tried to get online....

No matter what I tried, I couldn't get online the entire weekend. I even went so far as to call the tech support line for the room's cable modem and had them replace the modem three times to no avail. Undoubtedly, there was something wrong with the connection in the room itself. I went with the service person to another room and managed to connect there, but by then I was too fed up/lazy to pack up all our stuff and move to another room. I tried using the dial-up software our home cable company gave us for traveling, but each time I tried to connect the program would crash and lock up the modem, forcing me to reboot. And I couldn't even connect to the UberCon WiFi network. Apparently, it was destined for me not to get online all weekend.

Eventually, the various Plan Nine members started to assemble. We ran into David Allen and Pete Abrams (Sluggy Freelance) at the registration desk and helped them carry in way too many boxes of books. Bill Holbrook (Kevin & Kell) and Brad Guigar (Greystone Inn) eventually showed up to join in the fun. The guys from Penny Arcade were placed at the table next to us, so I finally got to meet Mike "Gabe" Krahulik and Jerry "Tycho" Holkin. We missed the opening ceremonies at 4PM, but only because things at the table had already started to get hopping.

One thing UberCon likes to do, however, is to get their guests involved. Of course, since it's a gaming con, they wanted to get us involved in as many games as possible. We started our weekend off with a rousing game of Fluxx, the addictive, ever-changing card game. We managed to rope Chris Wright (Help Desk) into playing with us. A little later that evening, the artist guests were rounded up for Celebrity Pictionary. The competition was pretty close and my team lost by one point, mostly because of a bungle I made early in the game. We eventually made our way back to the room to catch some shut-eye, to get ready for the big day, Saturday.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Saturday started off simply enough as I headed down to the Plan Nine table. I was scheduled for some gaming and other events later in the day, so I hoped to spend a good chunk of time at the table in the morning so fans could get their books signed. To my surprise, we had a new neighbor: a Makoto training ring. For those of you who may not know what that is, it's a triangular ring with three posts. Each post has a series of targets, which light up and make sound in random order. Whenever a target lights up, you're supposed to hit it with the rubber weapon provided to you (a staff, sword, mace, etc.). If you hit all the targets in the time allotted, you advance to the next round. While it sounds like fun (and it was, as I eventually found out myself), it was annoying as heck for those of us positioned around it in the dealers' room. At least we got a few laughs from passers-by as we'd twitch convulsively each time we heard that BOOP! WAP! BOOP! WAP! BOOP! WAP!

I did get to meet some new old familiar faces. Jim Alexander (Algernon's Dilemma) came by and introduced himself. Jim and I have been conversing online for years, and it was great finally meeting him in person. In addition, Kevin Pease (Absurd Notions) showed up as well; many of you may remember him from our "Intervention" crossover. I owed Kevin an original GPF strip, and managed to get him to doodle in my sketchbook. And of course, the highlight of any con for me is finally meeting some of you--the fans--in person.

At 2PM, I was scheduled to play in the Unreal Tournament 2003 competition. Unfortunately, they seemed to have lots of problems with the servers, as the first session didn't start until around 2:45, and my session didn't start until well after 3. I had another commitment at 4, so I couldn't stick around for the second wave of play... which is all well and good, since I didn't do quite as well as I had hoped. I got my butt thoroughly kicked, but at least I managed to kick some butt of my own in the process. <evil grin>

At 4PM, the Artists Jam officially started... well, sort of. Nobody seemed to know where it was going to be held, so they decided to hold it right there in the dealers' room. The con staffers brought around pieces of paper and had one artist start, then they passed the pages around so we each could have a turn. I think we ended up with some... interesting collaborations. I'm not sure what became of the final products, but I believe they were auctioned off in the UberAuction Sunday afternoon.

At 5PM, the con staff pulled as many of the guests as they could into the pool room (that is, the room with the hotel pool) for a quick dinner. We were given about an hour of time to ourselves to relax and talk amongst ourselves, then at 6 they opened the doors to the rest of the attendees for the "Have a Burger with our Guests" event. We got to spend a good hour talking with fans and each other, answering questions and sharing ideas. While we usually get to do this at the dealer's table, this gave us a chance to talk in a more relaxed setting (and gave us a chance to actually hear the conversation, given the buzz and din of the dealers' room).

The hamburger dinner rolled right into the webcomics panel, which in my opinion was a great success. There were nine of us on the panel, and we represented a very broad range of the online comics community. On the panel were Jim Alexander, Bill Holbrook, Pete Abrams, myself, Gabe & Tycho, Chris Wright, Brad Guigar, and Kevin Pease. There were plenty of detailed and insightful questions, and some pretty interesting answers as well. (I wish I had a way to record the entire panel for those of you who couldn't make it.)

Shortly after the panel, Pete and I were judges for the official UberCon costume contest. There weren't quite as many costume entries as I expected, but since most people came to the con to game, I guess I can see why. However, all the costumes were very interesting, and choosing the winners was very difficult. We honestly wished we could give everyone a prize, but we had to limit our choices to just a few.

Sunday, February 29, 2004

After another night of deep sleep fueled by exhaustion, we got up and headed back down to the dealers' room. Unfortunately, since my wife had to work the next day, we weren't able to stay long or participate in any official events. But we did spend as much time at the Plan Nine table as we could, so we could meet with fans and sign books. I even took a stab at the Makoto ring myself, though I missed one and didn't advance to the next level.

Around 1PM, we finally had to pack up and head back to North Carolina. Fortunately, the trip back wasn't nearly as harrowing as the trip up (mostly because finding the Jersey Turnpike was easier than finding the right exit for the mall). We got back around 11PM and hit the sack, ready for some long deserved rest.

All in all, UberCon was just as much fun as I had hoped it would be, if not more. We didn't sell quite as much stuff as we had hoped, but we did get to play some great games and meet some even greater people. We had an absolute blast, and we'd love to give UberCon another round in the future (although next time, we'll definitely be flying instead of driving!). Until next time, keep gaming, folks!

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