Most people probably don’t see Canada as a convention hotspot. Little do they know we Northies pack away hidden gems like the Edmonton Expo in mounds of snow and shield it with overbearing politeness. Silly stereotypes aside, The Edmonton Comic and Entertainment Expo 2014 exceeded my expectations in only its third year of running (!). Attendance jumped from around 20,000 last year to almost 47,000 this year, and a lot of it probably has to do with 2014’s star-studded line-up. And the fact that BioWare’s homebase is located in the heart of Edmonton.
The Edmonton Expo is a professionally run convention organized in partnership with the well-established Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo. I live in Calgary, so the convention was barely 3 hours away from me, making it almost a no-brainer to go and enjoy myself for the weekend. The con is packed tight with panels, exhibitors and events, and this year the addition of a huge theatre hall attracted some big-ticket guests. Among them were Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar of The Big Bang Theory, Mads Mikkelson of Hannibal fame, Grant Imahara of Mythbusters, and Bruce Timm of Batman Beyond and Justice League.
There were three expo halls opened up this year. In the main vendors hall a huge Lego exhibit had been set up by a local creator’s club. The care and attention put into each scene was pretty awesome to see, and the booth attracted tons of visitors. BioWare also had a booth with an ever-rotating cast of developers and employees signing autographs and taking photos.
But when I go to cons I usually don’t go for the expo hall. I got for the panels, and the Edmonton Expo did not disappoint. BioWare held three panels throughout the weekend on different topics. The first day was about working at BioWare and answering job-related questions, the second day was a really interesting look at the Dragon Age Keep and DA HQ, two online components of Inquisition. Dragon Age Keep was especially interesting- it was essentially a “world creator” represented by a beautiful tapestry of panels that represented decisions made in past games. And apparently, it will be ready for release a month before Inquisition- in October! So keep an eye out for that.
Karin Weekes (an editor on the BioWare team) and a group of lovely local ladies in geek culture from Infinite Monkeys and Women in Game Studies ran a panel on gender in geek culture. I loved that they talked about how the way a person dressed didn’t make them any more or less a geek. High heels and miniskirts or sweaters and jeans, you do you, and that is so, so important. If you ever get a chance to go to a Women in _____ panel, whether you have ladybits or not, it’s usually a great time.
Ugh, these guys are so funny. Between Dante Basco trying to voice a troll (“rawr!”) and the finely distilled wittiness of Mark Meer and the other panel guests, this was a hilarious panel. They all had such great chemistry together, and even did a small giveaway for attendees. Great panel, lots of laughs, practical advice and hilarious stories rolled into one hour. What’s not to like?
The Dragon Age: Inquisition main panel really illuminated some aspects of the game, and everyone from BioWare gave great answers to audience questions. I’d wanted an interview with BioWare, but the stars didn’t align this time around. The panel touched upon most aspects of Dragon Age: Inquisition. The focus of DA:I’s development seemed to be to capture the sense of wonder that BioWare’s earlier games, such as Baldur’s Gate and Jade Empire seemed to exude. Once again, BioWare is emphasizing player experiences by revamping character creation. Cool trivia? Dragon Age’s script is longer than the bible and is over 80,000 lines of text. Scout Harding has a murder crew. An fun and informative panel.
Grant Imahara’s panel was my last for the day. Grants been working on Mythbusters for the past 9 years, blowing stuff up in the name of science. Sadly, his time there is at an end, and this panel was really about reflecting on the highs and lows of Mythbusters and talking about what was coming next for Grant. He was funny and personable and had a lot of interesting stories to tell about his time in special effects. Did you know the Energizer bunny was powered by 44 energizer batteries? Yeah, Grant did that.
Cosplay was abound in Edmonton, and it just gets better and better each year. In particular, the BioWare cosplays usually stand out the most and are the most numerous due to the studio’s history in Edmonton. I didn’t get a ton of shots due to all my time being spent in and out of panels, but the community is there. The Edmonton Expo also hosts a big cosplay contest, which I’m ashamed to say I’ve missed the past two years. Fingers crossed for the Calgary Expo.
I’ll end this recap by saying that I had a lot of fun at the Edmonton Expo. Despite a few organizational hiccups here and there, this is a con that is set to grow tremendously over the next few years, and attendance and guest lists are only going to grow. I’m pretty lucky to be living in a province that flies its geek flag high. And if you missed the Edmonton Expo, there’s always a chance to redeem yourself in Calgary during the April comic expo. And look, my swag!