One day of BABSCon = crazy fun


I’d never been to a fan con on this scale – I’ve been to conventions, but for things like computer tech, not entertainment fandom, and I’ve been to fandom gatherings, but with like… 30 people. Not hundreds or however many people were there.

We had to go with the Saturday-only pass, rather than going for the full 3-day pass, to save money (not only in terms of the cost of registration itself, but also to avoid being around the temptation of all the cool stuff that would be available to buy at the con for too long!). So, we got up early and made sure we were at SFO before 10AM. The Hyatt Regency runs a shuttle that goes between the airport and the hotel. So, here it is 9:45 or so and we’re on the shuttle. There’s a writer’s panel at 10. So, we may not catch the beginning of it, but if we get there soon, we can see most of it, right?

Con lesson #1: waiting in line to get your badge and get in will take forever, even if you per-registered. It was nearly 11 by the time we were through that line. Oh well.

So we started looking around. You couldn’t look anywhere without seeing someone in costume, or at least wearing a pony shirt (which we both were, so hey). Saw a pretty sweet VinylTastic guy early on.

We spent some time in the vendor room, looking at all the stuff we might buy, and of course, the $400-$800 plushies that we could in no way hope to buy. Sigh.

Not that they are overpriced. High-quality fan-made plushies are worth the amount of money being asked for them (I mean seriously, look at this), but that doesn’t change that fact that it’s way more than I can afford, at least at this point in my life. Still, we talked with a few of the vendors that were there about fandom and plushies and other stuff, and just had a good time.

Before long, we dashed (ha ha ha) off to get in line for the VA panel. This was the thing we wanted to make sure we got to attend, more than anything else. The line was quite long, but fortunately, we didn’t have to wait a huge amount of time before they opened up the gigantic room they were using for the panel (which, as I understand it, had been four rooms for most of the day, was converted via movable wall pieces to one big room for the panel, then changed back again) and in we went. And it was a blast! Before they brought in the guests of honor, the awesome video linked at the top of this post was played on the screens that had been set up at the front of the room. It was both weird and awesome to see these people whose voices we’ve heard, on this show that we love, in person. Even from far away, it was still pretty cool. The VAs were relaxed and easygoing, and there was an especially great moment when the announcer dared anyone “to call her sunbutt” when Nicole Oliver was making her entrance, and naturally, some guy yelled out “SUNBUTT!” as she sat down, to which Nicole replied, in a voice that wasn’t quite her Celestia voice but sort of close, “I see you, and we will talk later.” Right after someone else in the audience shouted “To the moon!” The whole sequence brought the house down.

Also, this was the first time that ALL of the mane 6 VAs, not to mention other notables such as Celestia, Spike, Babs, various stallions (over 9000 of them, to be precise), and of course Big Mac (oh excuse me, I mean PRINCESS Big Mac), were all together on one panel. Tabitha St. Germain couldn’t be there in person and had to “attend” via Skype, which was unfortunate because I think sometimes she couldn’t hear what question-askers or other panelists were saying very well (and she couldn’t see anyone, either). Still, a milestone and a really fun panel!

And then the questions line was crashed by a certain rookie FIM writer. The whole thing was great all around.

After the panel, we went right over to the line for VA autographs. And that… didn’t go so well.

Con lesson #2: the line for autographs will be just as long or longer than the one for the more popular panels. If the signings start at 1:45, and you get in line at 1:30… not gonna work so well.

Despite going right from the panel to the autograph line, we were way out near the BACK of this gigantic line that wound down hallways and around corners and then finally outside, and barely managed to move thirty feet in about an hour. Once that hour was up, we threw in the towel and resolved to learn the lesson about planning and picking what you want to do for future cons. To be fair to us, from what I heard from both staff and friends who have attended cons in the past, this was sort of a snafu. The staff seemed to know that it could have been handled a bit better. I also learned that not only was it the first pony con in the Bay Area, it was also the first major con for a sizable number of the staff, and that the attendance was higher than expected. Given those factors, the con overall was actually pretty solid. The oddity with the autographs did seem to be a result of poor planning (which can in turn be attributed to the lack of experience at running these kinds of things), and they seemed to realize that, so hopefully they can iron out those issues going forward.

Later on, we were sort of vindicated too – as I was walking back toward the vendor room at one point (a little before 4PM), I saw that the line (while it had moved significantly and was now entirely indoors) still had a lot of people in it. Right as I walked by, the staff were telling them that the signing event was over because the VAs simply couldn’t stay any longer. Given where our place in the line had been, we certainly would have been one of those who didn’t make it in, so we were glad we’d bailed rather than stand in line all the way till 4 and then get nothing out of it anyway. Felt bad for the people who did just that! But I guess that kind of thing happens at cons sometimes…

After giving up on the signings, we stopped in the (rather awesome looking) atrium seating area of the hotel to eat lunch. And then, with some time to kill before the other panel we really wanted to see (the director panel), we headed back to both the vendor room and “Artist’s Alley.” And then the buying began.

Con lesson #3: you will spend more than you planned. Period. No exceptions, no compromises, do not pass Go, do not collect $200 (just the opposite, in fact).

I brought $100 in cash with me, thinking that I would limit myself to just spending that much while at the actual con. Ha. Ha! As it turned out, many of the artisans displaying their work took plastic, after all. Which was great for me, but bad for my wallet. In the end, I spent just over $200 total. We went back and forth between the two rooms – we must have passed through each like eight times, and kept going “man we really shouldn’t spend any more… oh look at this!” *buys*

Still, I can’t say I really regret having spent the money – it’s a lot but not a back-breaking amount, and all this stuff is just so freakin cool! The bulk of what I got consisted of several really gorgeous art prints. I also picked up a couple beadwork pieces, as well as the book and map for this “Ponyfinder/Everglow” campaign setting for the Pathfinder RPG. I don’t even really play tabletop RPGs anymore, but this “it’s not actually Equestria (to avoid the wrath of Hasbro), but then, it kind of is” setting was just a really fun idea. Plus I’m a map geek and this one is gorgeous! Finally, there was this con-exclusive plush of the absolutely adorable BABSCon mascot, Golden Gates.

As we left the vendor room at one point, we found that a bunch of people were gathered in the hallway, singing (and dancing to in some cases) Pink Fluffy Unicorns Dancing on Rainbows. This was easily the most hilarious “fandom” moment I’ve ever personally witnessed or been a part of, not just for ponies but any fandom.

The director’s panel was a lot of fun. Jayson Thiessen and “Big” Jim Miller had a lot to say about the creative process and how ideas get bounced around and refined. Along with some hilarious stories revolving around “Pinkie Pride” and what it was like to meet and work with Weird Al, whom Jayson has always been a big fan of, as it turned out. A lot of joking around during this panel, it was really relaxed and fun, and of course informative! I’m sure that videos of this and the VA panel (and most of the other big events) will be uploaded to Youtube before too long, if they haven’t been already, so anyone who wasn’t there will have a chance to see what went on.

So yus! We had a lot of fun, and learned a lot about “how to con”, for lack of a better phrase. No doubt we’d be better able to parse our time and be realistic about what we can and can’t make when we attend one of these again. As for that, I don’t know if I’ll ever make it out to any of the cons that are in other areas of the country (which would depend on being able to afford the hotel and travel expenses on top of the con and merch), but by most accounts, this first BABSCon has been a success, and when they do this again next year (it’s already been announced!), I’m there!

-Saito S

BABSCon ahoy!

So, tomorrow, my roommate and I will be attending this, and it will be pretty much my first fan con ever. I never did make it to any Trek conventions, despite my longtime fandom of that franchise. Thought about asking for Friday off work and springing for a 3-day pass, but we really just can’t afford to do that (not to mention that there will surely be some stuff there we’ll want to buy, and by limiting ourselves to only one day, we’ll limit our exposure to said stuff!).

I’m anticipating a fun kind of chaos, hopefully an entertaining VA panel, maybe some autographs, lots of cosplay, and general pony insanity. I’ll try to get some pictures. Should be an exciting day!

-Saito S

Tonight, WE MOON

For anyone who is still up and lives in the appropriate area: go see the crazy cool eclipse! Unfortunately, I’m prevented from getting a decent look at the moon itself by cloud cover at the moment, but there is still a bit of time before the eclipse is due to end, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to see it at some point!

So come on clouds, move over! Best Princess is displeased!


(title shamelessly stolen from Equestria Daily)

-Saito S

Valocea Project – sources of inspiration and the character of a city

Throughout the entirety of this project’s existence, I’ve been a frequent lurker and… not-always-so-frequent poster in a thread over at the Canadian Public Transit Discussion Board, which by the way is a pretty cool site and an invaluable resource (especially the wiki) for anyone who wants to know more about North American public transportation. The thread in question, called “Anyone create their own transit system?” and being about exactly what you’d think based on the title, has been around a lot longer than I’ve been posting there (I first posted in it during December of 2012), and is in fact what originally sparked the idea of the whole Valocea thing in the first place. As I detail out in my history post, the idea of creating a fictional transit system had a lot of appeal, but of course, I needed somewhere to put it, so I started thinking up a city, which needed to exist somewhere in the real world, so I made up a US state, and then finally I realized that for my fictional place to be part of the US meant there’d be way too many constraints on it. Thus, the country of Valocea was born, and the project expanded far beyond what I thought it would originally be. Not that this is a bad thing; I’ve enjoyed all the time I’ve spent on it and intend to follow through with the idea of creating the entire country, not just one city and a transit system, in as much detail as I can muster.

That said, with all the mapping and figuring I was doing for the nation as a whole, the original concept – developing one city (Lennvale) and focusing on transit aspects – have received relatively little attention. Recently, that’s begun to change, as I’ve picked up a “Modern City” add-on for CC3 and begun planning out how I’ll map the city of Lennvale using that. And, at the same time, I’ve been putting together notes on just what rolling stock is used by V-Net, the country’s national rail operator. Continue reading

Finally, a new Valocea map!

So! I had put off posting this until I finished making some changes that I wanted to make. Since those now HAVE been made, here we are.

April 2014 main-lighter contours

It’s really starting to look much more like a real map!

I’m pretty happy with how this map is looking as I continue to work on it. A rundown of the major changes:

  • ALL twenty-four regions now have names! Really happy to have that aspect finished up. You might also notice there’s been a change. I wasn’t really happy with “Blaise” (which was the name of the small region with the purple border to the west of Pascale) as a region name – just didn’t sound right, somehow. So, I went back to doing some name researching, and came up with “Villeneuve”, which roughly means “dweller in a new settlement” in French.
  • The border between West Portal and Issa has changed a bit (it now follows a river, rather than being one of the “arbitrary political line” type borders), partly so that it wouldn’t look EXACTLY the same as the border Issa shares with Desjardins, to the east (same angle, same length). The reason they looked the same in the first place is because technically, they were the same object – since Issa was created recently and “inserted” into the existing landmass, the border that previously existed between WP and DJ was simply duplicated and placed on either side of Issa. The other reason for the change was to alter Issa’s size – it was gargantuan before, the biggest region by far. I decided I didn’t want it to be quite so huge, and I think West Portal now looks better, too.
  • Anshala, West Portal’s largest city and the second largest in Valocea after Lennvale, has been moved east a bit, to a location that I feel makes a bit more sense for its status as the western gateway city into Valocea.
  • There are more cities, and for the first time, visible rail lines! Now, you might be wondering why several of these new cities are unnamed and why that set of rail lines running between Brighton and Kunari are the only lines on the map so far. That’s all for a story I’m working on that takes place in Valocea. I wanted to know exactly where this train goes when a character takes it, so I planned it out and added it to the map, but – while I knew where I wanted various cities to be along the route – I haven’t been able to come up with names for all of them yet. Oran, East Portal’s largest city, is the final stop in Valocea for eastbound LVX (Lennvale-Vancouver Express) trains heading to Vancouver, British Columbia (or the first Valocean stop for westbound trains). This city is considered to be the eastern equivalent of Anshala as the country’s other main “gateway”, though with a different feel, since any vehicles of international origin (whether carrying freight or passengers) entering Anshala are either ships or planes, whereas Oran receives the road and rail lines that lead from Vancouver into East Portal, and has no nearby international airport and no major port (the river and lake near the city are not navigable by container or cruise ships).
  • Speaking of unnamed cities: there’s another one in the Villeneuve region – this is Valocea’s capital. The main reason I haven’t been able to come up with a name for it is because I’m still trying to decide if it should be a city that was meant to be the capital during its creation, and thus would probably have a name that is significant to Valocean history in some way (i.e. Washington DC), or if it was just a city with a name like any other that was later chosen to be the capital (i.e. Ottawa).
  • The three major real-life cities whose locations are visible on the map (Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver) are called out with names and icons.
  • There is a 200 km scale bar in the upper left area; this is something I really should have added a while ago! There is also a legend there showing some info about different city symbols and their meaning – it’s a bit half-assed but gets the job done, haha. Eventually I’ll add a nicer looking one in a proper separated box, but that’s not super high on the priority list for the moment.
  • The Pascale Sea now has a name label. This is the name for the body of water that runs through most of Valocea’s center, though of course several individual bays and side inlets and whatnot along the way ultimately have their own names as well. It was named for a significant figure in Valocea’s history (as was the Pascale Region).
  • The La Marche region has undergone a rather dramatic change to its coastline with the addition of a deep inland bay. This bay connects to the river and lake system in the region’s western half, allowing ships to pass through to get from Valocea to the west coast of Canada or the US without having to go all the way around La Marche’s southern tip (similarly, the river and lake system that begins just southeast of Lennvale and goes through Rhuna, meeting the ocean again south of that one huge lake, is also wide and deep enough for container ships to easily pass through it. Thus, a route that entails coming in from the west, traveling through the channel and stopping in the Lennvale area, then continuing on to Portland, Seattle, or Vancouver, is probably a fairly common shipping route). These waterways are all naturally occurring, not man-made canals, though some instances of human intervention (i.e. dredging, installation of locks, etc) at a few points along said waterways has probably occurred to keep them navigable.
  • The peninsula that Lennvale is on has also been changed, with a more interesting coastline and additional islands, as well as text labels for Sounto Sound and Sounto Bay, though you’ll have to zoom in to really see any of that (in fact, none of that really shows up well even when the image is viewed at full res, but oh well. That level of detail will be more visible and important when I do regional maps, anyway).
  • More rivers and mountain/hill contours throughout.
  • I also played around with the effects for the colored regional borders in CC3, trying to improve the look of the rendered map, and I think my efforts paid off. They are both more distinct than before, and also smaller, lining the edge of each region only (rather than being a sort of “haze” of semi-transparent color hanging over a large portion of the region). They look MUCH better this way. The mountain contours I’m less sure about – I tweaked the effect settings to make them stand out a bit more, but it might be too much. On this style of map, they are not supposed to be a distinctly visible, well-defined feature (as a city icon would be), but are meant to be a bit more indistinct, just there in the background behind everything else giving you a general idea of where the hills and mountainous areas are. So I may make some changes back in the other direction later.

There are also some really big changes to this map I have planned, mostly relating to re-drawing the landmasses to make them look more natural and realistic, but I’m going to wait on some of those for now – they will take a lot of time and energy, and there is a new version of CC3 that is supposed to be coming out hopefully within a few months and will sport a lot of improvements. Since it’s entirely likely that the new version will make those big changes much easier to implement, I’m going to wait on them for now, at least until I know with more certainty when the upgrade will be out. One of the changes that has been discussed is that rendering will be made easier, with the possibility for higher resolutions and more anti-aliasing for the exported images. Can’t wait for that!

-Saito S

MLP:FIM season 4, episode 17 – “Somepony to Watch Over Me” – thoughts and review

I had no idea what to make of this one from the title alone. I mean, that sounds like a romantic story, if anything, but I figured the chances of that were pretty low. It turned out to be something much more silly.

To start us off, we’ve got the CMC in worry mode. Applebloom, in particular, can’t stop pacing. Something important is going down (or at least, important to them – with the CMC, that could be damn near anything). Muffled voices can be heard from behind the door, as the rest of the apple family discuss… something.

What were they discussing in there? Cutbacks they might have to make because of poor sales? A new type of apple they are considering using? What to do about the relative lack of Applejack-centric episodes?

What were they discussing in there? Cutbacks they might have to make because of poor sales? A new type of apple they are considering using? What to do about the relative lack of Applejack-centric episodes?

Continue reading

Return to Valocea – national rail information

I haven’t been posting about the Valocea Project much lately, because – while I have been working on it – I’ve not been working in a way that would be conducive to updates. It’s been a lot of random thoughts and notes while learning the ins and outs of a new mapping style in CC3 (“Modern City”, which will be used to map Lennvale itself – and potentially other cities as well down the road). But, recently, I’ve managed to work out some details on Valocea’s state-owned intercity transportation system.

Previously, I’d come up with the term “V-Net”, which is short for “Valocean National Transportation Network.” The idea was that this agency was basically the country’s department of transportation by a different name – they’d manage highways, set regulations, run the rail lines, etc. But, I wanted a separate name for the actual intercity passenger rail (and bus) lines. For that, I came up with “VN Transit.” The problem is that I was never totally happy with that. For one thing, it’s not the smoothest name to pair with some of these other words – “VN Transit Intercity” or “VN Transit train #505”. A bit cumbersome. And even beyond that, there was something else about it that bugged me, and I finally put my finger on it recently. It doesn’t have the right scope; it sounds very local or regional, not national. The word “transit”, while it technically could encompass passenger rail by definition, is usually associated with local (or, at most, regional or inter-regional, i.e. GO Transit in southern Ontario) transit systems when it comes to how the word is used in agency names, especially here in North America.

So, I asked the people in the message board thread I’ve been posting in about this project (the thread is about the idea of creating a fictional transit system, on a board dedicated to public transportation discussion), and one of them, a fellow poster by the name of George L, gave me a great idea: VINE. “Valocean Intercity National Express.” Not only does this sound good and make sense (and is neat because it evokes the image of interconnected “vines” of rail and bus lines through Valocea), but I had even thought previously that the livery on the trains could be something with stylized, flowing lines that would look a bit like vines or plant life, in Valocea’s national colors (green, blue, and white). So it all ties together nicely as a theme!

I thought it over some more, and realized that the idea of V-Net being the DOT and managing everything didn’t really work all that well. So I abolished that idea, re-thought the whole organizational structure, and have now worked out the following:

  • The Valocean government’s Transportation Department is the highest level in this tree. They oversee all state-level concerns for transportation matters of all types, set rules and regulations, manage the national highway system, etc. Not yet sure exactly what the official name of this entity will be (“Valocean DOT” vs something else, i.e. in Canada it’s called “Transport Canada”), but I’ll work that out later.
  • V-Net (Valocean National Transportation Network, as noted above, though I am considering dropping the word “National”) is a division within the above, and is the agency responsible for state-level rail and bus operations. This is similar to the SNCF in France (and, like the SNCF, V-Net actually owns the vast majority of the track it uses and also manages freight rail operations – Valocea doesn’t have private freight rail companies. Instead, shipping companies contract with V-Net to get their stuff onto the freight trains).
  • VINE (Valocean Intercity National Express – thanks again, George L!) is the name of the main set of services operated by V-Net’s passenger rail (and bus) section, comprising numerous intercity routes throughout the country, the majority of which travel through multiple regions and make relatively few stops (generally calling only at major stations within a city). The context of what the term VINE means, or how it would be used in conversation, is similar to how the term “TGV” would be used in relation to rail services, and the agencies that run them, in France. So, a route is a “VINE route.” One will “take VINE” (or “take a VINE train”) in the same way that you’d “take the TGV”. But the operating agency is V-Net, like the TGV’s operating agency is SNCF.
  • There are other services operated by V-Net which are not, technically, VINE routes. For exmaple: the LVX (Lennvale-Vancouver Express), which runs between those two cities and makes very few other stops. It has its own livery and while it is run by the same entity and obviously is very similar to many of the VINE lines, it is not, technically, one of them. Other examples could be a line that has a specific name/history/livery, and rather than just absorb it into VINE, they chose to keep it around with the original name under V-Net management, or a line that simply doesn’t meet the criteria of “intercity” and/or “express” (the line is too small or too slow), but is still operated by V-Net.

There are a few details of who does what in relation to some logistical stuff that I still need to determine (as well as the question of whether high-speed rail lines will be considered a special subset of VINE, or will have their own, separate name and identity), but that’s the foundation of the whole thing. Really glad to have that worked out!

MLP:FIM season 4, episode 16 – “It Ain’t Easy Being Breezies” – thoughts and review

Ah yes, the previously referenced Breezies. I like the little bit of continuity with Fluttershy heading off to see these previously unknown creatures back in “Three’s a Crowd”, and now the results of her interactions with them – an arrangement for Flutters and her Ponyville friends to help the Breezies get home – are occurring. So just what IS a “breezy”, anyway? Basically a fairy, as it turns out. But, since this is Equestria, not Earth, these fairies cleverly don’t look like little people, but like little ponies.

~My Really REALLY Little Pony~

~My Really REALLY Little Pony~

I’m sure there’s some toy potential here, naturally. But I do have to say, these are pretty adorable little critters. Continue reading

MLP:FIM season 4, episode 15 – “Twilight Time” – thoughts and review

All right! “Twilight Time” review. Don’t worry – I got this.

When I first saw the title of this episode (several days before it aired), my first thought was that it would be a sort of squeal or follow-up to season 2’s “It’s About Time.” I mean, come on! How can “Twilight Time” NOT make you think of that (amazing) episode? Sadly, this is not the case.

On the other hand, it’s a combination of a Twilight episode, which is always good, and another CMC episode, which I can also get behind, because I find that I love those three little fillies more and more as this series wears on.

Are you really going to question me on that point?

Are you really going to question me on that point?

Continue reading