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GenCon Indy: 2006 in Review

Posted on September 9, 2006 by Monica Valentinelli

For many GenCon Indy veterans, this year’s convention had several noticeable changes. The winds of change were blowing through the vendor booths and demo areas, as evident by a stronger focus to video, card, and board games than in previous years.

By far, the most popular genre on display was superheroes. Upper Deck’s Versus tournament and its amazing display put superheroes and villians on everyone’s mind. Conan was the hot licensed property this year; Mongoose Publishing and its Conan RPG was just one of more than a few vendors capitalizing on Conan’s resurgent popularity. Many tried-and-true licensed settings are starting to experience a crossover into different media. Take Midnight for example, as Fantasy Flight’s D20 RPG setting would you ever have thought that new technology would make Midnight Chronicles: the Movie possible? Or how about the Cthulu Horrorclix spilling over from games like Chaosium’s Call of Cthulu and the brand new Cthulu Live Third Edition from Skirmisher Publishing?

New technology isn’t the only thing that is merging various mediums together; RPG author and novelist R.A. Salvatore now has graphic novels available through Dabel Brothers. The comics industry is definitely starting to spill over into gaming; Devil’s Due Publishing featured several comics including Hack/Slash this year at Indy, one of a few comic book-oriented publishers. More and more industry folk recommend music to enhance the gaming experience, and the number one suggestion this year was Midnight Syndicate. While there are other offerings out there, from Silven Publishing, Nox Arcana, and even Laughing Pan Productions, MS’s convention presence has definitely made an impression in several people’s minds.

The buzz around the convention was that anime wasn’t as good as it was in previous years; troubles with licenses meant that only more mainstream DVDs could be shown. Naruto and other popular anime characters like Vash from Tri-Gun were a popular theme for cosplay this year; there were too many awesome costumes milling around to take pictures of all of them. Although there were still quite a few, there weren’t as many Star Wars costumes on hand as there had been in previous years; fantasy seemed to be the primary theme for some pretty inventive costumes including elves that had working, mechanical wings!

Print-on-demand was the ticket for many small press game publishers. This year The Forge partnered with Wicked Dead and Indie Press Revolution. With over 30 games to offer at their tables, the place was chaotic, fun, and all about gaming. A|State publisher Contested Ground Studios offered two, brand new games this year–Cold City and Mob Justice. Wicked Dead offered several fun games like Snakes on a Game, written by Annie Rush. Roaming the halls of GenCon it was evident that indie gaming is exploding; many new small press publishers are on the scene. Watch Dark Matter Studios and its Epic RPG as it rapidly becomes the surprise sleeper hit of the gaming season. If you’re into indie gaming, surf around the web or visit sites like Key 20 that offers a variety of games like Godsend Agenda, a D6 game from Khepera Publishing, Panty Explosion from Atarshi Games, and Nuomenon from Abstract Nova Press. While many companies don’t have the budget that Wizards of the Coast may have for marketing, they will be trying to get your attention through your favorite gaming sites and forums online.

Several authors brought their written prose this year for sale and autographs. In stark contrast to the several so-called “vanity press publishers” at the con, many new entertaining authors are definitely on the rise. Up and coming author Alana Abbott and her novel Into the Reach added a bit of beauty to the White Silver Publishing booth. RPG-industry veteran James Lowder was one of many authors asked to be part of a new event this year, an “Author’s Alley” of sorts so that readers could pay their respects and get personal autographs. Watch for changes from this year to the next as editor-in-chief W.H. Horner from Fantasist Enterprises ramps up the literary goodness! Matt Forbeck could be found milling around the Sabretooth Games booth signing autographs, and the grandfather of the gaming industry, Dave Arneson, could be found at Zeitgeist Games. Well-known authors like Margaret Weiss also made an appearance or two at the Wizards of the Coast author signing area.

This year’s artist arena was in the same place as last year, some artists still have mixed feelings about the new location—so much so that several opted to purchase a booth in the main area. The hot product this year was prints as several artists showed off their multiple talents. Andy Hopp was on hand to delight you with mayhem and whimsy, his game Lowlife was nominated for an Ennie for Best Interior Art. Artist LeAnne Buckley worked the Humanhead Studios booth with Jason Blair, who is best known for designing Little Fears and Wyrd is Bond. George Vasilakos brought a new product to GenCon for Eden Studios, gorgeous prints of CJ Carella’s Witchcraft covers. It was interesting to see everything from watercolor to digital design—no matter what artistic medium you prefer, there were so many incredibly gifted artists to see you’d be sure to find something that you liked.

Award ceremonies brought in a few surprises as the Diana Jones award went to the Irish Charity Auction. Polaris, written by Ben Lehman, won the Indie RPG of the Year award as well as the Most Innovative Indie RPG of the Year award. Among the several winners, Ennie awards went to Green Ronin’s Mutants and Masterminds, Guardian of Order’s A Game of Thrones and, surprisingly enough, FanPro’s Shadowrun 4th Edition. The Ennie Judges also gave a special nod to Dread, an indie RPG whose mechanics use the game Jenga. Next year the Ennie awards will have some tough competition as White Wolf’s Promethean just hit the shelves, and it is gorgeous.

Overall, though, there was a different feel to the con, an undercurrent that tumultuous change is coming. While many columnists have predicted doom and gloom for the industry as a whole, there are so many avenues for gaming, now more than ever, that this author wonders if the negativity just isn’t more hype. Many industry folk I talked to, however, did agree that there are opportunities to update (or modernize) game design and production as more and more different “types” of gamers enter the fray. Several new gamers are crossing over from simpler video games simply because they like gaming overall and are looking for something new to play. As participation in MMORPGs ebbs and flows, many players are delving into other avenues like miniatures. With the D&D MMORPG live, could we see a tabletop Dungeons and Dragons revival as more gamers “get back to the basics”? Or will indie games gain so much in popularity that D20 will become a thing of the past? Looking around the con, it wasn’t hard to see that GenCon was different; from grandparents bringing their teenage grandchildren to a definite rise in female attendance, industry professionals are sitting up and taking notice. It will be interesting to see what the next year will bring as companies shift their focus accordingly.

Stay tuned to Flames Rising as we interview some fresh faces and tried-and-true professionals in the industry to get their unique viewpoint and thoughts.

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