The second annual Stage Select Gaming Expo took place on June 6th in Toronto. For their second outing, a new location was decided upon at the Direct Energy Centre. There were several local developers, artists and entertainment enthusiasts from the gaming, cosplay, art and arcade entertainment industries in attendance to engage with the public in their own way.
There was lots of fun to be had at the event as there was something for every fan of the medium. The passion and the dedication community was evident, be it in the development process of a huge hit like RunBow, to the blood, sweat and tears invested in creating a cosplay costume, talents from all sides of the spectrum were showcased. Public Demos from independent developers were there to seek feedback from the community. Artists showed off their craft with the characters that have impacted them throughout their lives, and some even took requests to make an imprint on others. Live performances from Fan Fiction, Dale Wells, The 404s kept many entertained, as competitions ranging from fierce gaming tournaments with the hottest games, to con-goers embodying some of their favourite characters in a intense cosplay showdown took place. Stage Select was a great experience for everyone who participated, as the community is growing and the expo is equally expanding to match that pace.
In just its second year, Matt Rigg, lead game designer of Fortified for Xbox One, believes the event has made a huge leap from its humble beginning.
“Last year’s Stage Select was really small. It was in a community centre near by Eglinton,” he said. ”So this is bigger and better and it’s still growing.”
Rigg thinks Stage Select and events like it really benefit the development process for small teams.
“One of the big things is the user experience. We’re a really small team so we have limited resources, so it’s crucial for us to get completely blind play tests,” he said. “We try to come up with a plan, test it, and then we tweak so we learn a lot from Stage Select and other conventions like it.”
Bringing a playable demo to an event like this is vital in crafting a fun experience for thousands of gamers to enjoy, but what’s equally important is winning over the support needed to bring your game to the masses. Not only being picked up by Nintendo, but also to be one of their marquee ‘nindie’ titles is no small feat for any indie developer. Aaron Kwapisinski, Art Director at 13AM Games talks about how they won over Nintendo with Runbow.
“Our creative director, wanted to put one of his thesis projects on the Wii U, so he managed to talk to Nintendo and get a dev kit,” said Kwapisinski. “When we showed them a vertical slice of our game, they saw it, played it and loved it. Then they were like, ‘You know what? We’re digging this.’ Then, before you knew it, we were putting nine players in and adding a lot more colours.”
Kwapisinski and company were ecstatic when they got the invite to attend Stage Select for their second year in a row. The reception they got from the current status of RunBow, both from organizers and fans, was a constant reminder on why they live for making games.
“More than any award you can ever receive is that people are wanting to see what you got or play what you had before, that’s the best reward you can ever ask for.”
That influence and drive can push developers to bring an even better game to market, and the end product can really make a mark on someone’s life in a different way. Malinka, otherwise known as Louisa Zawadzki, a cosplay judge at the contest, is one of many that are heavily inspired by the medium. She expressed why she chose to don the armour of Commander Shepard from the Mass Effect franchise and what impact the series has had on her life.
“When you get to the end and you’re bawling your eyes out, and you don’t know how to vent with all that love and passion, the way I dealt with it was cosplay,” said Malinka. “It was a really personal experience for me, it helped with a lot of depression and anxiety at the time and I really felt attached to Commander Shepard because that’s who you play as, so I really felt like it was a therapeutic experience.”
Being a judge and giving out advice to a con-goer is a delicate process for Malinka. Knowing what to ask and what to tell them is important for other cosplayers’ growth.
“You have to be nice, it’s a person you are talking to, not a costume,” she said. “Hearing it from them is more important than you giving them any sort of criticism unless they ask me what I could have done better. Then I tell them what I would’ve done differently.”
Seasoned veteran, Zmobiekat89, also known as Michelle Flannigan, has won over 10 awards in her time as a cosplay artist. Adding to Malinka’s point, she believes it’s about the learning experience for upcoming cosplay artists at competitions.
“You want to be constructive about it, but you also don’t want to insert yourself where your opinion doesn’t belong,” said Flannigan. “One of the main things I ask is what did you learn, and what could you do better? Because I want to know what made them struggle, and how they want to improve themselves.”
It’s a learning experience for the organizers of SGX as well. Taking in feedback from the community can bring an even bigger audience and even more creative artists to the expo. With Stage Select edging to get bigger in scope in the years to come, the most interesting revelation that came from the event was from independent developer, Stephan Tanguay, with an innovation sure to be the next big thing: Virtual Reality. His game, Fist of Fire, is targeting the consumer launch of Oculus Rift in early 2016. Tanguay talks about the possibility of VR catching on with gamers when it launches and what VR can do to change the landscape of the industry.
“I don’t think it will be an everyday thing like smartphones, but I think there are certain types of experiences in the medium that VR provides a better way to experience it,” he said. “To actually project someone in a space and make them feel that they are physically in there, that they can look around and visually explore, will be the difference.”
While everyone at the event was either networking or trying to plead for the attention of the community with new and innovative games or ideas, the arcade portion had gamers at each other’s throat with their pride on the line. Erin Miklos, Owner of Game On Entertainment Services (G.O.E.S.) and Toronto Top Tiers partnered up to bring a competitive atmosphere to SGX.
“It’s fun to watch people compete; they have that rush and you get a bit of it as you’re watching everyone,” said Miklos. “It’s just awesome seeing everyone have an awesome time and being responsible for it.”
As with any event, there is always room for improvement and growth. Sam Engstrom, illustrator in artist alley circuits, and the others all thought the same thing, but Engstrom said it best. She thinks Stage Select is on the right track to becoming something truly special for the community of the Greater Toronto Area.
“I like what I’m seeing so far, but I hope Stage Select can get a bit bigger and even grow to two days,” she said. “I’m hoping one day it can become one of the staple conventions because it has a lot of character. Anime North has a lot of character, and I think Stage Select can be right up in there. Just having a place for aspiring developers and artists to be without elbowing bigger companies at bigger events out of the way is cool. I think we needed an event like this.”