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For my birthday this year, we decided to head to Vegas for the FFXIV Fan Fest -- an incredibly impromptu decision that was all the more amazing in that we actually got tickets (all the tickets apparently sold out in 2 hours). I hadn't been to Vegas before, so for me it was a kind of sociological experiment. I also hadn't been to a gaming convention before, being that for the vast majority of my game-playing life, they were either a) too far or b) too expensive. That I had a buddy with me honestly helped.

Some back story here: Seth and I have been playing FFXIV 2.0 since beta, or roughly around the last 3 years. It's been the keeper MMO for us, and we've been playing a lot of different MMOs. The primary draw is the system (you can play every class/job (specialisation) you want on the same character) and in particular, the crafting. Three years in, my end-game goals are still primarily making furniture (more on that later). It's also an amazingly tight game in terms of writing consistency and bugs (or the remarkable lack of them per patch). The graphics and soundtrack are on par with the current Final Fantasy games in general, which is to say they're gorgeous. I believe the "Yoshitaka Amano designed the title graphic" thing is still alive. Again three years in, I still catch myself wandering around some zone and suddenly realising the horizon or the plants are breathtaking, even if I've passed that place hundreds of times before. Yes, it's kind of a resource hog, but it's also worth the good graphics card.

So the game is something close to both of us, and we never thought we'd ever make it to the Fan Fest, but we did.

The flight into Vegas was slightly over an hour long, and the view passed over this massive mountain range that reminded me of sand on a beach. It had clearly demarcated layers, each a different shade of brown, that had clearly been swept downwards by millions of years of tides. In the darker pockets, it was easy to see them as mud rather than a parched ravine. The ocean that created this no longer exists, but I kept thinking I would find white seashells poking out of a rock face. I could never quite figure out if the dark green dots on the summits were scraggly trees or rocks. Seth said I should take the window seat so I could see the approach onto the Strip. It's kind of surreal to see an endless flat plain of sand become suburbs with swimming pools. The Strip itself was surprisingly underwhelming, though it was remarkably obvious, since it looked like the least flat things in a flat landscape.

We were staying at the Paris, and I was also forewarned about how hilariously tacky it was going to be. It's hilariously tacky, complete with chandeliers and gold-coloured mouldings. We arrived the afternoon before the event, but it was clear that so had a whole bunch of other gamers at check-in. A few guilds had even put up "LFM" signs with their names on it. After trying unsuccessfully to check in using the hotel's self-service machine, we were lucky enough to hail a concierge who registered us manually. Due to the fact this was probably the first time we had flown anywhere by ourselves just for ourselves, we splurged on the upgraded semi-suite, which got our vote because it had a jacuzzi. True fact about gaming and working on computers, after about 30 years your back seriously feels like ass.

And then we had time to look around. The main casino floor had what claimed to be a Taiwanese-style street food cafe, which served lots of different noodles and dim sum, a restaurant that was called "The American in Paris", just in French, a couple of other sit-down places and a crêperie that always had long lines throughout our stay. We had to register in for the Fan Fest, and got our lanyards saying "Adventurer" and this year's swag bag. Among this were an inflatable pointy hand (the first Veteran Reward for time subscribed to the game -- it's a floating pet), 5 Triple Triad cards (each person gets 5 of the same card; they're meant to be exchanged), an ADS stress ball, an Allagan Tomestone USB drive (this was cool), and a Senor Sabotender fridge magnet. At some point in mid-February 2017 (after the European FFXIV Fan Fest), I get to redeem my in-game codes for a Yuna outfit.

The hotel has an amazing French bakery, which supplies all its restaurants with amazing French bread and pastries. They had cream-filled and raspberry-jam filled beignets. Naturally, I had to eat them. The cream beignet was awesome and I regret not buying more throughout my stay. The raspberry one was insanely messy. It might have been way over-filled. Having two beignets before dinner is one for science, but not so good for dinner afterward. The hotel's signature French restaurant is the Eiffel Tower, a serious sit-down affair. It was rather more formal than we had expected, but wasn't at all unfriendly or snooty, actually quite the opposite. We got a seat facing the Bellagio's dancing fountain. I had wondered what a $100 million dancing fountain was supposed to look like, and now I knew. It was very beautiful, if once again surreal -- this is still smack in a desert plain. We shared a smoked salmon starter, that was the first smoked salmon I'd ever had with the actual discernible taste of smoke. It was exquisite, and went amazingly well with the accompanying pickled onions, capers and cream sauce. After much mulling, I got a Beef Wellington, a side of potato gratine and Seth got a steak with bearnaise sauce. The flaky pastry was buttery and crumbly, the steak inside lovingly smothered in duxelles. It came with a red wine sauce that was mind-blowingly-good. I have never had a red wine sauce that was rich and not tart, and so completely tasting of beef stock complemented by wine (usually it's the other way around). I had a very small bit of Seth's steak, but it was just as ridiculously delicious. Also, the gratine would have made a very velvety meal of its own. This being my birthday, and since I was clearly not minding my personal safety, I also got a souffle, which is the restaurant's signature dessert. I love souffles. They had a pistachio souffle. By the time my dessert came I was rather so full I was slightly in pain. But it's a pistachio souffle and I will eat it. I spent every bite exclaiming, "So creamy! So fluffy!" Neither one of us actually felt hungry again until about 2PM the next day.

Fan Fest Day 1 rolled around, and we rolled into the herd of stampeding fans that were clearly very civil about following directions, but was nonetheless way more people than anyone thought they'd be squished with. We managed to score a relatively good seat, and were treated to fascinating reveals, including the next expansion, set in a region of the game I was genuinely interested in seeing fleshed out, starring the Monk class (read: one of my mains, so I was extra invested in the story). We're certain the Red Mage will be one of the classes introduced in 4.0. Word on the floor was divided as to whether the teaser trailer was also showing a Dancer, and if the Samurai would also be introduced. I'm personally rooting for Dancer. All three classes were present in FFXI, so there's MMO precedence, as well FF Tactics.

Within five minutes of the keynote ending, I launched on the quest for merch. So did everyone else. It took me 20 minutes to find the end of the merch line, which wrapped around the entire convention hall at least three rows deep, swirling around all the events, which generated their own queue vortices. After 20 minutes of waiting in line, Seth showed up and suggested we go for dim sum instead, which we did. I was expecting we'd have to face a line for merch (an alarming array of overly cute plushies, pillows and hooded blankets, along with this year's big release, the Encyclopaedia Eorzea and event-only T-shirts). I thought maybe a 30-minute wait would be fair. The next day, I would discover that people actually waited in line for 7 to 8 hours, the whole time the floor was open, and guilds basically took turns with members taking shifts. One cool dude we met actually lined up that long to buy gifts for his friends, so there were awesome things like that, but the brief time I spent in line taught me that folks were civil overall, even if it meant repeatedly asking and receiving responses for, "Is this the merch line? Where's the end of the merch line?"

Then it was dim sum break! For once, we could have dim sum in a place where everyone assumed we spoke English, and didn't have to fight an entire village of families just to get in. It turned out the place we were at actually served good dim sum and was authentically Cantonese, in spite of the food being Taiwanese-style (the noodle list starts with dan dan mien). They even had stewed chicken feet. I didn't have to punch any grannies to get pao and custard tarts. Or feel slightly uncomfortable the other Chinese-speaking families were giving my somewhat noticeable husband odd looks.

Suitably defeated by Merch Line (Savage) 2016, we waddled back upstairs to take more baths. Part of the night was spent walking a short ways around the Strip (Seth's back was in too much pain again from the flight to go as far as we wanted). The temperature at night was close to tropical, albeit dry. I kept noticing a compulsive need to drink water. The water in Vegas is hard enough for your clothes to stand up on their own. Bathing in it made our skin itch. My best assessment of Las Vegas is that it is luxuriously crass. The spectacle was actually oddly familiar. It reminded me of theme parks from back home, and definitely the Genting Highlands Resort (Malaysia's only legal casino). I could see for myself the template this resort had based itself on, and explains other fascinating oddities like the resort based around a small European chateau. You had the same deliberate suspension of Circadian rhythm (high ceilings, some painted with fake skies, no windows and brightly lit interiors), the overly-colourful application of a central theme, whether that is narrow, cobblestoned Parisian streets or upmarket fake Italian, the slightly jarring sense that each resort is essentially a different world from each other, but the sidewalks of the Strip itself are really just a very long outdoor mall. Seth noted that there is likely a spectacle here that doesn't affect me the way it would someone else. I have written for hotels as part of my day job. Attaching visuals to the things I write about largely off outlines was sociologically interesting, answering such questions as how the mind-boggling heights of gilding is supposed to be a selling point for a place you stay the night. We spent the time wandering past slot machines themed after everything from Game of Thrones (does it stab you in the back when you win?) to The Flintstones (I am thoroughly confused). I kept my eyes open for slot machines I may have actually translated for their online versions. I think I saw at least a couple.

Fan Fest Day 2 arrived with the dubious and immediate awareness that once again, hundreds of people were herded into claustrophobic quarters waiting for the floor to open, and that there was a line leading into the registration room but no one at the back of the crowd could tell me what it was about. The floor opened. An announcement went over the loudspeakers that only people with red cards could line up for merch that day, at the specified time slot stated on their cards. We were never going to go home with convention T-shirts. However, I did realise while I was in line that the order sheets we had to fill in for stuff we wanted said at the very bottom one could shop for merch at Square Enix's official web store. We weren't going to get the shirts or same-day souvenirs, but just about everything else including the Encyclopaedia Eorzea could be delivered to our door. (Official public release date the Monday after the con.)

We stayed for the Lore and Localisation Panel, which apart from being interesting casually was also fascinating academically. FFXIV is a remarkably well-translated and localised game. I have always been in awe of just how much comes across, from the nefarious love of puns (I'm pretty sure this is a quirk they brought over from the original Japanese), to the natural-sounding dialogue (play enough JRPGs...) and the fact the plot is really tight in English. This is a very story and character-driven game. Every cut scene and side quest matters, and explains something new about the lore that is actually interesting to learn, even if it's not clear how it does so at first. The sheer size of the game is what makes this point impressive. We are now about a year into the first expansion set, and I've met a fair share of seasoned players on our server who like me, have a hard time keeping up with goals they wanted to do since launch, much less the current storyline. Short story, as a translator, I can vouch for this being a really good job.

Unfortunately, even with the merch line now amply herded to allow room for other stuff, lines for the PvE and PvP challenge were still horrifying, and taking a photo with the Fat Chocobohttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hwWBLeuz4c (complete with cake on a stick!) seemed to be what anyone else not taking photos with cosplayers was doing. Oh, there were cosplayers. A surprising number of cat girls (I wonder why I haven't tried getting [profile] markfinn yet?), at least one giant moogle and many people with bright futures as tailors and sculptors of medieval weapons. There were a few people who clearly represented the thriving community of online crafters and gatherers (I saw one miner, one fisher, one weaver and a couple of others decked out in the high-end omnicrafter outfits). Since FFXIV conveniently released a maid outfit promotional item from Amazon, maids were also mysteriously present.

Now, about crafting. I guess the reason me and Seth are so fascinated by crafting jobs online in MMOs is because neither one of us has many crafting skills in real life. I suspect a large part of it is that we never really applied ourselves to such things. But crafting and gathering are usually big mini-games for us, and in Final Fantasy XIV, it's literally a slew of mini-games. It's not anywhere as complex as Vanguard (which had the best crafting system ever), but it's still a very detailed part of the system. Most MMOs vaguely stab at crafting systems at best, and often relegate it to, "craft the same 100 things repeatedly without thinking very much". In FFXIV, each crafting and gathering class has skills to be used in rotation, just like combat classes. The results are subject to increasingly steep applications of RNG hate. End-game crafting recipes can be as challenging as running a dungeon. The crafting and gathering economy supplies players with vital necessities (food, potions), weapons, gear, costumes (vanity gear is deemed the real end-game), house parts and furniture, and pets, and are intrinsically tied to player progression in general. Guilds have specific crafting projects to build, renovate and enhance their guild house, that can only be done in parties. There's an explorable area for groups of players (2-8) to gather materials as a raid, with one more planned for the next expansion. Even though players have the option of never crafting or gathering themselves, they will need the help of people that do. There's virtually no grey loot in the game because everything probably is a crafting material someone will need, down to the last berry.

So when Yoshi-P tells you that the next patch will introduce Paissa house skins, your immediate thought is, "OMG, we just finished making the Moogle house!"

One of the rather nice things that has actually gotten more balanced over time is that although high-end raiding does offer unique materials for specific vanity items, for the most part, rare materials to make things with are gathered or crafted within the publicly accessible environment. Various in-game currencies are used to purchase some of the most crucial components, which are usually obtained through adventuring, but even there, the game has definitely gotten better with subsequent patches about giving players at all levels options on how they want to do that. For example, if you've decided to be the best fisher in the game and fish up all the things (warning: FFXIV has thousands of different types of fish), you'll still be able to cough up enough gil to get things you alone cannot obtain. And while you spend hours chasing the sun to rare fishing holes on different sides of the map, you can read all the detailed encyclopaedia entries about every single fish in every single place, because yes, that's how detailed fishing is in this game.

I wished we had exciting things to do on the last day of the con, but to be frank, the lines and crowd had worn us down by that point. Not being able to come home with souvenirs really bummed us out, although this being my birthday, I went ahead and ordered a plush moogle, a fat cat cushion and a moogle hooded blanket for myself as a treat from the online store -- all of which are purchases I do not regret. I managed to go for a swim, which I had wanted to do all throughout the trip. The pool was nice, but really crowded. And we did line up for a crepe supper, and I truly wished I'd gotten a nice butter and brown sugar crepe instead of the lemon cream and berry one. The crepes were very well made, but the lemon cream was so incredibly tart, it became the only thing I could taste. Also, no bye-bye beignets. At the airport, we discovered Las Vegas seems to have better airport food than we do here in SF, with an authentic small craft beer pub, next to even more slot machines (it's something of a theme). Apart from smoked salmon, I managed to not order fish throughout our trip, even if the pub had good fish and chips, because that would just have been weird. The chicken salad wrap I had was divine, and so was the brewed root beer (possibly the only soft drink outside of ginger beer I still drink). It was actually pretty astonishing how the food in Las Vegas seemed to be really good in general. Not what I usually expect from resort food, which often tastes well-intentioned.

Would we go to another Fan Fest? Probably not -- the one we went to was very busy, even if the ambient was there. I only imagine it will get busier by the year. I have no real desire or need to see more of Vegas. I think Seth was right, there's a spectacle to it that I don't have the appreciation for. We do need to go to more places just the two of us. It was nice to be reminded how much we like adventuring together, without other people or events hanging over our heads.


Oct. 29th, 2016 08:50 pm (UTC)
You are so incredibly good at describing things!

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