I can't remember exactly where I heard it the first time, but Monday, March 22nd, The Playstation Store at the Metreon in San Francisco was going to have a party to celebrate the release of Final Fantasy XI (the MMO one) for Playstation 2 from 8 PM until 2 AM the next day, with the PS2 Harddrive with FFXI preloaded going on sale at precisely 12:01 AM. And there was going to be a costume contest. Thus it was that I went straight from work to spend approximately forever sitting on trains to get to the Metreon, camera in hand, to see (and record) what there was to see.
Picture this: a long, narrow videogame store. Now picture gamers staring zombie-like at flat-panel screens. Fill the former with the latter to the point where moving is a fantasy on par with a child's dream of being an astronaut. Now add smoke machines and club lighting. Now add costumes. That's about right. I overheard many people talking about the lights and smoke, "Like this is supposed to be a party." It wasn't so much a launch party as it was a launch event. I was secretly hoping for a bit more of the former than the latter, but it was okay, I guess. The smoke machines and lights gave false promise; without any sort of music to loosen up the crowd things just felt kind of awkward. It's like if the sound system dies at a club: we go from being a group of celebratory revelers to self-conscious individuals. Now I stress that this was a room full of gamers, and not just that, Japanese roleplaying gamers. Self-conscious and awkward just kind of comes with the territory here, but a little drum 'n' bass, hell, a Final Fantasy battle music soundtrack CD stuck on Repeat would have turned things up to, if not exactly 11, definitely a solid 8. I guess what I'm saying is, we all wanted more, but it just wasn't coming.
I felt for our EmCee, who was probably just the Playstation Store employee who felt most comfortable behind a microphone. He guided parties of neophyte adventurers into the world of Final Fantasy XI, and as such spent most of the night saying "Okay, lets get on the airship! Can you all get on the airship? Dude, we're all waiting for you to get on the airship!" I hope he was well paid.
The audience had many flavors of geek. There were your MMO geeks, who discussed strategy, and the relative strengths and weaknesses of the title; Final Fantasy geeks, who talked about favorite characters and sang the endless Chocobo Theme between bouts of laughter; cosplay geeks, who talked about, well, costumes; and friend-of-cosplay-geeks who talked about how they would be so embarrassed to wear a costume, even though they looked really cool. Myself, I would have liked to see a little more mixing of the cliques, but this was a videogame launch, not gamer speed dating.
As costume-friendly events go, this one met both requirements: girls in theme-appropriate pseudo-bondage, and no-more-no-less-than one large man cross-dressed as some form of Magical Girl. All costumed attendees were interviewed on camera by Playstation Store people, although I wasn't able to figure out what they were planning on doing with that video.
All told, I didn't stay that long, since I was forced to schedule sitting on trains for approximately the rest of eternity before I could get home. I took a few pictures, talked to a few people about nothing, and watched one gamer beat the crap out of what appeared to be a giant sheep. Not the best party I've ever been to, but then, I'm currently staring down the twin barrels of the GDC, and Kid Koala in concert, so the Metreon was up against stiff competition from the start.