Portland Mercury launched BetaCon this weekend, billed as Oregon’s first major video game and technology expo. BetaCon’s mission is to bring together gamers, technology fans, educators and innovators.

As in most conventions, there were many panels hosted and filled by leaders in the industry. One notable panel on the first day had Olympic athlete Ashton Eaton and Ryan Schneider from Insomniac Games compare the process of training for an intense athletic event with the crunch of getting a game out on time for release. Other panels offered trips down memory lane relating to retro gaming,  VR demos, and discussions of opportunities in the gaming industry.

Of course a good convention has more to offer than just panels, and RetroCon had many things to see and do around the compact convention.

eSports

Red Bull Esports brought two popup arcade cabinets where conventioneers could plop down and battle friends or strangers in Gamecube’s Super Smash Bros Melee. Those with an even more fierce competitive blood pumping in their veins could sign up for daily tournaments in the BetaVS area featuring the WiiU version of Smash Bros and Street Fighter V.

Cosplay

What’s a nerdy convention without cosplay, right? Spotted at this con were cosplayers from many animes, Borderlands, Fallout, and possibly the first ever Snipperclips cosplay. Representatives from Portland’s big annual cosplay/anime convention Kumoricon was also in attendance offering discounted pre-sale tickets along with cute trinkets.

 

Game Demos

There were quite a few games to get your hands on all around the convention floor. VR had a strong presence at BetaCon with about five different games including The Unspoken from Insomniac Games. Several mobile games were on display and playable. We tried out Fail Whale from Appsomniacs, which ran local multiplayer over local wifi. Chasing each other around impaling each other into bloody chunks was a blast as well as customizing our narwhals with bloodshot eyes and getting out picture taken in a cutout.

 

Portland Indie Game Squad (PIG Squad) brought the games to BetaCon with the largest gaming area on the floor. Highlights we tried included the much anticipated exploration title Tacoma from The Fullbright Company, and Quaddra Digger, a frenetic four player bombing Tetris-like puzzle game.

Retro Games

If you wanted to sit down and get comfy with a classic, there was a retro gaming lounge courtesy of Portland Retro Gaming Expo. Consoles from many different generations were hooked up and you could play to your hearts content. Assuming no one was tapping on your shoulder, of course.

 

Oregon Game Project Challenge

Many booths were dedicated to educational opportunities and tools for developers. BetaCon introduced us to Oregon Game Project Challenge. The Challenge introduces middle and high school students to computer programming basics while educating them in science and current events. Teams of up to seven middle or high school students create computer games designed to be fun, challenging and innovative around a socially responsible annual theme. Teams present their games to industry professionals and are awarded in several categories during the statewide competition. We had the chance to interview the team from Wilson High School, who won Judges’ Choice for this year’s theme of “Space Race”. Project Ataahk  was not only hand coded, but it was placed in a custom retrofitted arcade cabinet. We were impressed with the student’s creativity, and we love that there is a group like Oregon Game Project Challenge challenging students to create and code games instead of just playing them.

Hopefully this gives you a good idea of what you can expect at RetroCon. If you’d like to hear several interviews with developers, part of the Elite Performance: The Process of Creative Development panel as well as the finalists for this year’s Oregon Game Project Challenge, check out next week’s Plug and Play episode 139.  If this convention sounds like something you’d be excited to attend, start making your travel plans now!

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