PlayStation Experience/The Game Awards 2016

UPDATE: I realized this morning that I forgot to give this a proper introduction instead of just jumping straight into the week.

PlayStation Experience will always be my "home" show. It's the first industry event I ever attended and it is directly responsible for leading me down the path I currently walk. I met Greg and Colin at the first PlayStation Experience. I started covering events with my now-standard look of nerdy shirt, sport coat, and pixel glasses at last year's event. And this year's PlayStation Experience was the first one I attended as someone who has actually been paid to write about games and entertainment.

What follows is effectively my daily journal of this year's event and my time in and around Anaheim surrounding it. It is long. If you're looking for more of a TL; DR version, I would direct you to some incredible recap videos being put together by my friends Christian Puente (@PixelBrave) and Ally Mushka (@thatlittlefly). I myself will cherish these videos as companion pieces to this mini-novella for the visual reference they provide. Plus I just haven't quite captured a way of describing everyone's smiles well enough to compete with seeing the real things.

Wednesday

My week in Anaheim began by flying out Wednesday after I got off work. I’m thankful for Los Angeles-area events because the flight from Phoenix is only about an hour or so. In fact, since that includes the time taxi-ing around the runway to and from the gates, I likely spent as much time in the air as I did in my Uber from LAX to the Anaheim Hilton.

Joey Noelle and some Buffalo Blasters

Joey Noelle and some Buffalo Blasters

Once checked in and settled in my hotel room, I grabbed a late dinner with Joanna “Joey Noelle” Takegami. We first briefly met at the original Kinda Funny Live but that was almost entirely in passing and we barely spoke to one another. Over the last year and a half, we’ve become much more acquainted online and become thick as thieves at events like Kinda Funny Live 2 and Let’s Play Live. She has truly become one of my dearest friends and confidantes.

We discussed the highlights and lowlights of the past year and spitballed ideas for how we can work to improve community experiences in the future. We caught each other up on the exciting happenings of our lives. We discussed exciting opportunities and plans for 2017. Unfortunately, with last last bullet point, we also recognized that for the sake of our wallets and time off requests from work, we’ll be cancelling our initial plans to attend RTX Sydney. Some other time. After dinner, she took me back to the hotel and I played a bit more Final Fantasy XV (on the PlayStation 4 I brought to the hotel).

Thursday

My view from the Game Awards

My view from the Game Awards

Thursday began pretty calm as I poured some more time into Final Fantasy XV while waiting for Jonathan "Xyger" Landeros. Shortly after he showed up, my Game Awards adventures began. Since I’ve already discussed it, I won’t repeat the details here but it was a really cool experience and if my theory that the Game Awards and PSX will be somewhat linked moving forward turns out to be true, I’ll probably try to attend again next year.

Danny Juarez, Alex O'Neill, and me

Danny Juarez, Alex O'Neill, and me

Following the awards, I got to meet up with Joey and Xyger, who had picked up a couple more of my dearest friends: Alex O’Neill and Ally Mushka. They had arrived and finished dinner while I was at the awards and finishing my initial write-up. I squeezed in the back of Joey’s car and we headed over to the airbnb that Alex was to stay at along with a host of other friends. We hung out for a few hours as other friends arrived, catching up and expressing our excitement for the weekend ahead. Eventually I caught a ride back to the hotel with Joey and Xyger and I wound down the evening.

Thursday night gathering with friends

Thursday night gathering with friends

Friday

With a formal community event at Disneyland set for Monday, I had made the decision to take advantage of my free Friday by getting a two-day pass for the Disneyland. Xyger agreed to distribute keys out to our roommates as they arrived throughout the day. So I got up and walked over to the park to start out my morning.

Ben Bellevue and me

Ben Bellevue and me

After enjoying Star Tours, buying a BB-8 pin to add to my collection, and taking advantage of the single-rider line for Indiana Jones, I tweeted back and forth with friend and fellow Hamilton addict Ben Bellevue and we met up. The two of us went waited in line for the Haunted Mansion for a while and had a great conversation. Most of our interaction has been through Twitter. We met briefly at Kinda Funny Live 2 but didn’t really interact too much in person back then. But our Twitter exchanges have been a ton of fun so I was especially glad to finally get some one-on-one time with him.

Me, Ben, and Franklin Sizemore

Me, Ben, and Franklin Sizemore

Shortly before we entered the Mansion, the ride broke down. After waiting a while for it to fix, we left, deciding to go try our hand at Hyperspace Mountain instead. More conversation followed and we actually got to go on that ride. Right after, Franklin Sizemore (aka TheArcticSloth) found us and joined our party. We decided it was a good time to grab lunch. After lunch, we hit Pirates of the Caribbean (my sister’s favorite ride so I sent her a picture).

Franklin and Ben in Toon Town jail

Franklin and Ben in Toon Town jail

Eventually, we wandered over towards It’s a Small World and Toon Town (which I wanted to say farewell to before it is eventually torn down to make way for Star Wars land). While in Toon Town, we heard from Jonathan Ruiz, and waited there until he joined us, making us a quartet. We decided to try our hand at the Haunted Mansion again and headed back across the park.

Ben, Jonathan Ruiz, Franklin, and me

Ben, Jonathan Ruiz, Franklin, and me

Ben was also insistent that we get some pineapple ice cream because as one of the main proponents of pineapple on pizza among our friends, he decided to stay on brand. The line for the Haunted Mansion was a lot longer this time but we managed to make it on and the extra line time gave more time to visit and discuss our thoughts on the year’s games.

With an evening dinner meetup at Portillo’s quickly approaching, we decided to leave the park and head back to the hotel to get our badges, charge up our phones, and get ready to see a flurry of the new friends who had arrived that day.

Vanessa at Portillo's

Vanessa at Portillo's

With Portillo’s an established chain near me now (I have one right down the street), the novelty of enjoying one of the Kinda Funny mainstays has worn off a bit but it made for a great opportunity to sit down and meet and mingle with other friends. For example, I met a handful of people whose names I recognized from the Facebook group and visited with them. Or I sat across from a lovely long-distance couple I met (maybe) at the IGN House Party last year and have since seen at multiple events: Matt and Vanessa. Looking around and seeing tons of other people meet, laugh, and become friends warms my heart at every single one of these events.

NOT fireworks

NOT fireworks

As the event wound down, a lot of people moved on to a Podcast Beyond group meet up at a local arcade but as a lifelong fan of Disney fireworks, I returned in the hopes of catching the night’s festivities. But then I was heartbroken when high winds caused the show to get cancelled, leaving only a much less rewarding Castle light show and snow shooting out over Main Street. Thanks to Jonathan Ruiz for coming back with me and helping me cope with the disappointment on the walk back to the hotel. Back at the hotel, I found assorted friends had come back to the Hilton or gone elsewhere, somewhat underwhelmed by the cramped quarters of the arcade. After catching up with a couple people, I returned to visit the airbnb from the night before. And my introvert mode kicked into high gear.

I found myself being very quiet this time, staying mostly to myself and observing what was happening around me. Suffering from a sensory overload of sorts with so many friends there but all engaged in other conversations, I hung around until my friends Barrett and Alyssa arrived from their drive down from San Francisco, said hi and gave them hugs, and then fled the scene. This wound up a bit of a recurring issue for me over the weekend. I really thrive on small group or one-on-one conversations. But with so many Best Friends around for a big event like PlayStation Experience, I was definitely feeling overwhelmed. This coupled with a bit of exhaustion left me really anxious and in a hurry to get back to the hotel. Once there I said hi to a few more people but mostly decided to turn in for the night up in the hotel.

Saturday

Before I went to bed, people had already started lining up for the keynote/showcase/whatever. In my room, however, we were a bit more lethargic in our wake-up attempts, sluggishly hitting snooze on alarms and whatnot. Eventually we got down in line maybe around the 8am hour and visited until the getting onto the show floor. Friends ahead of us in line kindly found and saved seats so a bunch of us could sit together to enjoy the show.

View of the PlayStation Experience Showcase

View of the PlayStation Experience Showcase

The show itself was well above and beyond last year’s show. We got first looks at exciting new games, a lot of love given to classics via upcoming remasters, and yet another year of Call of Duty leading to crickets in the room. PlayStation is clearly gun shy about release dates at this point as almost nothing was given a firm date but that saves them the headaches accompanying delays so I can’t fault them. As for my predictions:

  • The show did indeed kick off with the next Uncharted 4 story featuring Chloe and Nadine. Naughty Dog seems to be actively avoiding the phrase Story DLC in describing it but it seems to be in the same vein as something like The Last of Us: Left Behind or inFamous Second Son: First Light so I’m counting it. I was off on the call that it would be shown first at the Game Awards though.
  • Neither Tim Schaefer or Kojima took the stage.
  • Horizon got the last segment before the “one more thing” moment but it wasn’t a live demo, just a gameplay trailer.
  • Insomniac announced the day after I made my predictions that Spiderman wouldn’t be at PSX so I knew I wouldn’t get this point. But The Last of Us Part II being the closer was probably way more noteworthy than Spiderman would have been. Of note though, in my Spiderman prediction, I called the Guardians of the Galaxy announcement at the Game Awards and the leaked Marvel vs. Capcom announcement.

So if we’re scoring things, it’s probably somewhere in the 1 - 2 points range.

After the showcase, I excused myself to go let Ben into our hotel room because he had left his bag and badge there the night before. Doing so, I was told I would have to wait in line to get back in, which I thought was dumb but I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal. We waited longer to get back into the convention (an hour fifteen) than it took to get into the showcase once the line started moving (forty-five minutes to an hour).

This seems like the appropriate time to highlight the conventions biggest failing: it was just organized terribly. In years past, everyone got into the keynote. This year, there were more people outside who didn’t than inside who did. And of course those who were stuck outside were left in limbo in line. PlayStation provided a monitor broadcasting the conference and subsequent Saturday panels but even that only serviced about half of the line. But with the showcase going and the expo floor still closed, nobody was going through security. And those who still needed to pick up their badges were only being let in a few people at a time.

Lines inside were often even worse. Due to terrible combinations of limited stations, lax or unenforced demo time limits, and poor judgment of demand, people had to wait in line for three hours to see something like Persona 5 or Farpoint. Personally, the big games I want to play (Persona 5 and Horizon Zero Dawn) didn’t need my time because I already know I’ll play them. And a lot of the smaller games I’m interested in have been on the show floor at plenty of other shows. There were a couple things like Yooka-Laylee or the new Housemarque game that interest me but again, the lines were just too damn long to be worth my time.

Somehow, PlayStation has let this event get ridiculously out of control and largely failed at managing the logistics of it this year. There was also a lot of grumbling about how much more exclusive media badges became this year. I didn’t even attempt to get one because I was treating this more as a show to spend time with friends than “work” but people who were accepted last year were turned away this year, seemingly to increase the number of badges purchased and limiting access. Don’t know how well that strategy will play out in the long run.

Anyway, on the plus side, having to wait in line with Ben to get back in meant we were able to spend it with my other friend Amanda and her co-worker/partner-in-crime Andy. They had been stuck outside for the showcase so I got first-hand accounts of how their experience was but mostly we mingled and got to know one another as the line slowly trudged along. Once back in the convention hall, I reconnected with a couple other friends and talked showcase highlights. I stumbled upon Brittney Brombacher and we visited for a little while.

After strolling the show floor for a while with no interest in anything outside of meandering, I sat down with Ally for a while to visit. Prior to Kinda Funny Live 2, we were friendly but had never really spent much time visiting. In the time since, we’ve become very close through DMs and texts and what not. Few people know more about the goings on in my life than Ally at this point and so it was great to get some one-on-one time with her in person with this new dynamic in place. She eventually had to go see some other friends so I walked with her to their hotel room and then we parted ways so I could go grab lunch and ultimately just rest up. Maybe Disneyland had taken a lot out of me.

Amanda texted asking if the Hilton had a bar shortly before I drifted off to sleep and invited me to come hang out with her and some other friends before she headed back to her accommodations away from the convention. So I set my alarm, napped, and headed downstairs when the time came. We talked about Horizon Zero Dawn, which she played on the show floor, and The Last of Us panel which she had attended and I visited with a number of the other friends she had invited. Eventually, everyone from my friends who had been waiting for Persona 5 for three hours rolled in and the conversation grew. I had to disengage though for another commitment so I gave Amanda a goodbye hug and headed out.

Saturday Night

So over the summer Chipotle had a promotion going on. If you managed to eat 11 entrees per month for the months of July, August, and September, you’d be rewarded with free catering for 20 people. As Chipotle was already one of my usual lunch spots near work I went, time and time again to obtain this reward. The goal was always one of two things: I would either donate it to Alex for his Irrational Passions 24-hour Extra Life stream, or I would use it to coax him to PlayStation Experience. I ended up going with the latter.

I coordinated with Joey, who graciously offered up her apartment to set up a little dinner away from the festivities. I’ve written about it before but these events are double-edged swords. I want to enjoy them but at the same time, the perception of cliques in the community or being exclusive isn’t exactly fun. And here, limited by the offering of the meal as well as the size of Joey’s place, we had to treat this like a secret event, which of course inevitably leaks out to people who aren’t invited and leads to hurt feelings. I knew that going in and did it anyway because sometimes you just need to set aside time for the friends you’ve made.

Our Chipotle feast

Our Chipotle feast

Joey, Lauren Wilson and I left the convention center after Amanda’s little meet-up to pick-up the catering order at the Chipotle near Joey’s place. With three large boxes, they provided us with all the meats, beans, rice, etc. we would need to host our friends ($291 of Chipotle free thanks to three months of eating there anyway). This even included the aluminum trays, racks, and heating dishes. We got to Joey’s and I set to work laying out the spread while Lauren made a quick run for drink mixers. Guests began arriving, Lauren returned, and I finished setting up the food.

I contemplated making some kind of sappy speech, but decided against it, ultimately just saying the food was ready and telling people to eat. Friends new and old began diving in buffet style making their own tacos/burrito bowls, I stood back and let everyone else grab food first before fixing up my own trio of tacos. I looked around, saw all of these people visiting and connecting over food, and I walked outside, sat down alone, and smiled a melancholy smile: joyous that I had brought this evening together but morose that some part of me needed solitude and couldn’t connect.

It didn’t take long before friends would come and visit with me, and I had delightful small moments with a lot of the people there. I watched Xyger have some of his first drinks (though his first first drink had occurred earlier over lunch and I only experienced it via a Snapchat story). I talked about Hamilton with Alex, Ben, and our friend Cameron. I called out Damien for writing “2 Fast 2 Furious” on Joey’s “what are you thankful for” poster (presumably a holdover from her own recent Friendsgiving). Laughter filled the apartment.

Daddy Trevor feeds his children

Daddy Trevor feeds his children

With food and drink winding down, we set out to return back to the Hilton, where people had started gathering to visit following their day on the show floor. This ultimately turned into the long-awaited celebration of Xyger’s 21st birthday. Lots of drinking. Greg Miller got into town and bought Xyger his first shot. A few of us have spent the last couple months anticipating how we’d have to keep an eye on him to ensure the community didn’t kill him. But as it turned out, he had a pretty good grasp on the notion of drinking a glass of water alongside every drink. We certainly got him drunk, but I was admittedly incredibly grateful we didn’t have to worry about him getting sick and sleeping in the bathroom of our crowded room. The party pretty much went all the way through until last call and we had a ton of fun. We inherited a couple extra bodies in our room that night to keep them from trying to drive back home. One of our roommates Joe wisely called to have extra pillows to the room. So Xyger, Joe, and I hung out in the hallway visiting until they arrived. Of course, by the time they got there, everyone who really needed them had pretty much passed out.

Here's one of those excellent recap videos of the day from Christian that I mentioned in the intro.

Sunday

With no Keynote/Showcase to get to, we slept in a bit more Sunday morning. Kinda Funny’s PS I Love You XOXO panel at noon was pretty much the first thing most of us cared about so waited in line and grabbed seats inside. The Horizon Zero Dawn panel was going on so we sort of clustered together in one of the bleacher sections. Then, when the panel ended, a ton of people headed down front to grab the laid-back bean bag-esque seating on the floor. Old Man Trevor and some others just decided to stay in the bleachers (though I did walk around and mingle before the panel) talking with a couple of cool new Best Friends I met like JT and Tara or former Facebook admin Piero.

Greg Miller takes the PSX stage

Greg Miller takes the PSX stage

The panel kicked off with a nice thank you from Greg to everyone for supporting Kinda Funny and highlighting that Kinda Funny only gets asked to host panels like that because PlayStation recognizes the power of the audience. Afterward, Greg brought out Colin and Tim. Tim excitedly talked about how great Crash Bandicoot feels. Though he was upset Sony PR wouldn’t let him borrow the Crash suit for the panel. They brought out David Jaffe and talked about Drawn to Death and how the PS I Love You was kind of on the nose in some of the ways they were discussing the game. But then things pivoted into a weirdly inside-baseball and potentially overly personal feud between Jaffe and Kyle Bosman from Easy Allies. Greg tried to reign it in and use it as an example of how he started rethinking Twitter when a fan pointed out that “good” fans were desperate for the level of attention he would pay trolls. But Jaffe countered with the belief that he will “dot the hell out of that at sign” instead, choosing to shine a light on trolls rather than Greg’s approach to ignore them. Oh and there was a Dirty Dancing “Time of My Life” moment in there somewhere too.

Kinda Funny at PSX

Kinda Funny at PSX

Next, they let Jaffe off to bring out Shuhei Yoshida, who was excited to talk about stuff like the Vita support, Patapon, and his personal favorite: PlayStation VR. He also mentioned his own personal support of Kyle Bosman, which pretty much means Bosman should come on the show at some point since I imagine a good portion doesn’t know who he is. Yoshida also discussed some rationale for why we keep seeing so many PlayStation games without release dates. They’ve learned from all of their recent delays that they need to be much more conservative in doling out a firm date because people are definitely suffering from delay fatigue.

After the panel, the Kinda Funny guys had their photo session, which was (in another move that stings of poor PlayStation planning) capped before the panel even let out. So anyone who stuck around for the entire episode was out of luck. I wasn’t even planning on it because I’ve got enough pictures with the guys but I feel bad for anyone who wanted a picture and didn’t get one because there just wasn’t enough time.

Instead, I hung around and visited with a few people. Had a quick chat and hug with Genevieve St. Onge (Greg’s amazing little French-Canadian partner/Square Enix Montreal Brand Manager) and Alexa Ray Corriea (formerly of Gamespot and wonderful fellow Final Fantasy fan), who had decided to sit on the floor front-row-center even if it may have been a fire hazard. Then over to say hi to a handful of other friends near the exit line from the autograph/photo session.

Another trip to Portillo’s for lunch followed where I got to visit with a few friends I hadn’t been able to spend too much time with like Cameron or Alex Aziz and met a new friend Katie, a L.A. area local enjoying the show. One of the main thrusts of the lunch was that Sean Pitts wanted to get Alex O’Neill his first order of Portillo’s since Alex had missed the meetup the other night in favor of the Easy Allies meetup he attended and Sean missed it because he was at the Beyond meetup. They both approved heartily.

After lunch, I was throwing my food away when a guy I didn’t know gave me a thumbs up. And this is one of things I absolutely love and hate at the same time. He knew who I was, weird is still very weird for me, but I love it. The part I hate is that as I’m writing this up I can’t recall their names. Maybe Dave and Jake? Damnit, I’m horrible. But we talked a little bit about the things they loved on the show floor (the new Housemarque game and Farpoint if I remember correctly but even that could be a blurred memory involving someone else). If you’re reading this, Sunday Portillo’s duo, I’m so sorry I’m terrible at remembering the specifics but the fact that you recognized me and called me over means the world to me. Thank you!

IRRATIONAL PASSIONS!!!

IRRATIONAL PASSIONS!!!

After chatting with them, I started to head out but caught a few other friends inside and sat down to visit with them for a bit. As most of the first-wave of lunch people were leaving, the Kinda Funny guys walked in for their own low-key Portillo’s lunch. We all smiled at one another but we didn’t want to bother them and let them eat in peace. Until I realized just before I left that Joey and I were both wearing our Irrational Passions shirts featuring Greg. As Alex had unfortunately missed the chance to see him, we popped out and got a picture with Greg, the two of us flanking him in our shirts and all three of us doing our best “IRRATIONAL PASSIONS!!!” pose. We immediately sent if off to Alex and Roger Pokorny (who designed the shirt). They were both excited and touched.

Back at the convention center, I popped back onto the show floor oh so briefly but still couldn’t muster up the interest in trying anything or even getting my badge scanned at certain booths to lock down the free games that were being offered (maybe because I already owned most of them). So we headed back to the hotel room for a little bit before this group started heading over to Portillo’s for their dinner. I had been invited out to a ramen dinner with Alex and some friends so I figured that I would go to that instead of heading back to Portillo’s. But Kaylie was going straight from the Portillo’s to the airport and didn’t say bye in the hotel so I caught a last minute right with Lauren and a few other friends, while asking Alex to let me know when and where they were heading. Just as we pulled into the Portillo’s, Alex let me know he was on his way to the ramen place so I popped in for some goodbyes, called an Uber, and headed to my actual dinner.

Ramen and a good heart-to-heart with Alex was a much needed event for my soul. He originally wasn’t going to be able to make it but Danny Juarez banded a few of us together and we paid his way to get there because it wouldn’t have been the same without him. And while I’d been able to see him off and on, I hadn’t really had a chance to visit just him and I. And even at ramen, our group took up two ten-ish seat tables, but I got to sit next to Alex and talk. We talked about one of the heartbreaking realities of a show like PSX for us: the fact that we are weirdly blessed with an overabundance of friends that we get pulled in so many different directions. As the group has grown, it’s incredible all the new friends we’ve made, but for the two of us, who thrive on those intimate interactions over huge group settings, trying to balance our time among so many incredible people is terrifyingly stressful and it seems we never get enough time with anyone. But at least we had that dinner, seated next to one another, to talk about that, and potentially making a rough plan to get me out to the Irrational Passions Extra Life stream next year.

Following dinner, I said a couple goodbyes to Cameron and fellow Arizonan Xavier Ramos, who would be driving back home in the morning. Then I headed off to the Alex/Danny/others airbnb one last time. With the predominant mood being to throw on a movie and chill and wind down from the weekend, some drinks were poured and one of the Jackass movies was put on. After probably an hour or so of watching people destroy their bodies and completely fuck with each other, I decided to say my goodbyes to that group of people and head back over to the Hilton lobby bar.

The first thing I discovered upon arriving was that Frank had discovered he could charge drinks to the room so I should probably be expecting that but he would be paying me back. I didn’t wind up having anything to drink that night but I did have some more excellent conversations with people I just haven’t spent too much time with despite having met them at the first Kinda Funny Live or the IGN House Party a month later: Eric Petralia, who did an excellent job as the official Kinda Funny photographer, and Miranda Pomar, the girl in the yellow hat.

Eric and I talked a little about the film production stuff he’s been doing for school. I remember back at the first Kinda Funny Live him being so excited about talking to Nick about the prospect of going to school for film production and Nick really encouraging him on the idea. And he’s doing it. And he’s getting to go to events like Kinda Funny Live 2 or PlayStation Experience and work as an official photographer for the guys. I don’t know him nearly as well as I would like, but I’m really proud of him for making it happen and I wished him well on his remaining time in school.

Me and Miranda

Me and Miranda

And Miranda is a crazy smart young woman. Like Alex, she almost wasn’t going to be able to attend the show but her friends made it happen (shoutout to Sam, aka the best Marty Sliva impersonator at PSX, and his “With Love From Sam” writing). Despite catching her a couple whiskey sours in (and then Frank charging a double whiskey sour for her to the room), she talked about life in Missouri and her background studying Defense (i.e. military affairs), her work as (I think) a legal clerk of sorts, and her tattoo/life mantra: a quote from Firefly. “When you can’t run, you crawl. And when you can’t do that, you find someone to carry you.” It’s a great quote from the show about the importance of having the right people around you to lift you up during the hardest times. And that’s exactly what this community has done for so many of us and will continue to do in the years to come. Thanks for being a wonderful embodiment of that Miranda!

Xyger, Gen, and me

Xyger, Gen, and me

Oh yeah, I almost forgot, Gen stopped by real quick and said hi, too!

As the bar closed down, we parted ways and headed off to bed. An early day of Disney lay ahead.

Monday

The only pre-planned Kinda Funny community meetup we had going into PSX was a Disneyland day on the Monday after from 12 to 6pm. And even that wasn’t really publicized all that much. We only decided a few days before that we’d basically meet at the Castle and go from there. But since I had spent a buttload of money on Disneyland tickets, I wanted to wake up and get over there early, even if my remaining roommates were going to sleep in.

Fortunately, at the tail-end of Sunday leaving the convention center, Quinten Hoffman came up to me and talked for a little bit. Turns out, he’s a San Diego native so he’s local enough to have a Disneyland Annual pass and offered to meet me in the morning and walk around the park together. So I rolled out of bed, threw on some clothes, met him downstairs in the lobby, and we headed over.

Me and Quinten Hoffman

Me and Quinten Hoffman

As has become the recurring theme of this post, we had some great one-on-one conversations. Quinten (aka Quantum_Arbiter on Twitter and Twitch) is a smart, young 18-year-old with aspirations of getting into the industry. He weirdly looks to people like me or Alex O’Neill as inspirations, despite the fact that I think he could probably run circles around me with regards to setting up a proper podcast or streaming technology. It’s seriously still humbling that anyone reads, watches, or listens to my content, let alone looks to me as somebody they want to learn from.

Performing area at the Jolly Holiday Bakery where I'm pretty sure I performed nearly 20 years ago.

Performing area at the Jolly Holiday Bakery where I'm pretty sure I performed nearly 20 years ago.

But as we walked to the park, we talked about the conference. We talked about my journey for the past few years. Walking around the park, I talked about the nostalgic love for Disney that I have. We grabbed hot chocolate at the Jolly Holiday Bakery where I played “My Heart Will Go On” with my middle school orchestra on a field trip nearly 20 years ago. I talked about stories I’ve barely thought of for years like how I would have a Disney album playing the Electric Light Parade theme or Fantasmic on repeat and “air-conduct” in my room growing up.

We went on Star Tours, one of my favorite rides, and then headed over to the Matterhorn: his favorite. He explained that if you can be on the Matterhorn during the fireworks show and come out of the mountain with just the right timing, you’ll catch an explosion and create a near-perfect moment.

Admittedly, as is sadly the case with so many of these conversations and so much of the week as a whole, huge swaths of our chat are already a blur. The details and specifics of our chat are a jumble in my over-stimulated brain. A neuron might fire and highlight some small factoid we discussed but I’m mostly left looking back on the incredible feeling of the morning. We were two people walking around one of the happiest places on earth, oblivious to so much of what was occurring around us, because we were connected in a conversation that I never could have imagined without something like the Kinda Funny community.

Brianne and me

Brianne and me

Unfortunately, Quentin wasn’t able to stick around for the proper meetup. He and his brother needed to head back to San Diego before rush hour added a hour or two to their drive. But he was virtually immediately replaced by Brianne Chandler (aka MissMovies). Brianne and I first met at Let’s Play Live earlier this year. She had just started listening to the Kinda Funny guys when Max Landis went on the GameOverGreggy Show and liked what she heard enough to start going through their entire backlog of GOGs.

Brianne’s not really into the gaming side of their content but at our Buffalo Wild Wings Let’s Play Live meetup, we were visiting and she talked about doing her own YouTube movie stuff with the likes of Screen Junkies. And I totally remembered her from guest fact-checking Movie Fights (ironically as we sat there getting to know one another Greg was recording the pilot of Gamer Fights with them). We visited about her recent trip to San Francisco to appear on the GameOverGreggy Show herself. We even sat down on a park bench and filmed a mini-episode of her Film Therapy show.

Kinda Funny Fans at Disneyland

Kinda Funny Fans at Disneyland

Eventually, Xyger, Frank, and our friend Tim Barrett rejoined us (after having gone on a search for a lemonade stand Frank remembered from a decade ago that no longer exists). And a handful of other Kinda Funny friends found us by the Castle. With twelve of us all gathered together, we got a picture before discussing what to do next. Some of us decided on lunch while a group of four wanted to go off to Space Mountain. We didn’t really see that group the rest of the day but I hope they had a fun time together.

The eight of us (Brianne, Xyger, Frank, Tim, Matt and Vanessa from the other night, myself, and a new face who I recognized slightly from the Kinda Funny Facebook group Adriane and had met the day before at the PS I Love You XOXO panel) headed over to New Orleans to try and grab lunch. Unfortunately for us, it was reservation only and all booked up. So instead, Adriane, Brianne, and I grabbed gumbo nearby while the rest went off to Critter Country for burgers.

Me, Matt, and Vanessa

Me, Matt, and Vanessa

After lunch, Brianne had to say her goodbyes and get back to her kids. Adriane and I rejoined the others in Critter Country just as they were finishing up and decided where to go next. Someone suggested the Matterhorn so I led them back that way (somewhat the park expert of the group now having just been there Friday). On the way, we bumped into Brandon Hunt and Brian Malkiewicz from IGN and said a brief hello. In line at the Matterhorn, I got to visit with Matt and Vanessa a bit more, chatting about what they liked at the show; learning about their non-convention lives. Matt talked about getting ready for med school in the coming year or so (and how that would likely be taking up a lot of his time) and Vanessa showed off one of her stunning butterfly designs (that she’s looking to put on scarves and stuff).

Me and Marco

Me and Marco

After the Matterhorn, we headed off to Tomorrowland. Tim was on a bit of a time crunch so he and Frank actually split off for a while to go check out some other rides before Tim had to head to the airport so we said our goodbyes to him and ended up in line for Star Tours. Shortly after getting in line there, we saw a Kinda Funny Aerobics Champions shirt and called our new friend Marco over to join us. It turned out he had seen us getting off the Matterhorn just as he was getting on the ride but managed to find us and join us for the rest of the afternoon.

Star Tours wound up being notable for two reasons. First, Vanessa was chosen as the rebel spy so that was a fun little addition to our ride. Second, I got to see one of the new Force Awakens sequences as Finn and the Millennium Falcon let us through the ship graveyard on Jakku. When I last attended Disneyland with my family maybe five or so years ago, we were lucky enough to have seen every segment variation at the time (for those who don’t know, the motion simulator is basically broken up into four sequences and each one has a few variations). I knew new scenes had been added for the new movie but I had not seen any during my Friday trip. After the ride, a couple other Kinda Funny friends who had just gotten off Space Mountain swung by to say a quick hello before heading off on their next adventure. And I bought another BB-8 pin for my bag upon discovering in that moment that the one I bought on Friday had fallen off. Let this be a lesson, the pin backs that Disneyland provides are shit so don’t go around putting those pins on stuff until you can get a better fastener.

We proceeded around the park, tweeting out our locations and adventures using #KFDisney to link the experiences and share them with the friends unable to join us. On our way to the Jungle Cruise, we bumped into Adam Boyes. After a short debate over whether or not it was him, we said hi and hoped he had a good PSX. He said we should totally yell “Fuck Dave Lang!” but there were, you know, a ton of kids nearby so we didn’t. But I did tweet it out.

Kinda Punny on the Jungle Cruise

Kinda Punny on the Jungle Cruise

Frank rejoined us at the Jungle Cruise and we went from there, to Indiana Jones (where Xyger missed the perfect opportunity to be the terrible “driver” of the ride, leaving Marco to drive instead). And after cracking a joke about driving, we decided to head across the park to Autopia to get Xyger his fake Disney license. And with that, we had neared the six o’clock hour. People needed to get off to the airport, while Adriane, Frank, Xyger, and I needed to rest our feet and charge our phones back at the hotel. So we had a lot of hugs goodbye and went our separate ways.

Xyger and Frank on Autopia

Xyger and Frank on Autopia

Stumbling into our room, we came across Christian (aka Pixelbrave) who had spent the day catching up on sleep and editing his Sunday PSX recap video. We caught up and talked about the day a bit before they indulged me in heading back to the park for another attempt at seeing Disneyland fireworks. We grabbed some pizza right outside the entrance. Then it was time to say farewell to Christian. Even though he and Frank would be flying back out to Austin on the same flight the next day, he was crashing with another friend in town that night so it was the last time Xyger or I would see him. We hugged, said goodbye, and headed into the park just in time to get to a halfway decent vantage point in Tomorrowland, almost exactly where I last watched the fireworks during that last family trip.

I don’t know why but the Disneyland fireworks show is pretty near my favorite part of the experience (my favorite is actually Fantasmic but I knew that was on hiatus while they prepare for Star Wars Land). The combination of the music and lit up sky just always succeeds in hitting my nostalgia centers. Admittedly, I far prefer the fireworks shows that feature the Disney music compared to the seasonal holiday music variation, but there’s still something magical that always brings tears to my admittedly too often cranky or cynical eyes.

In addition to wanting to relive the Tomorrowland memories of my previous visit, we chose to watch the fireworks from over there because Frank wanted to go on Hyperspace Mountain so as soon as the fireworks were done, we headed that way. This was where Adriane left us though, in order to drive back up to the bay area before falling asleep. So we hugged and said our goodbyes to him. And then there were three.

At nearly 10 o’clock, we were in an hour-long wait for Space Mountain. And shortly after getting on the ride, a cast member told us that it was going under construction and they didn’t know how long it would be on hold. A bunch of people left at that point and we moved up in the line. But a few minutes after that, they shut down the ride entirely and cleared the line. They mentioned hoping the ride would be back up later but made no promises. Dear Disney, for as much as we’re paying, it’d be way cooler if your rides stopped breaking down like that…

Saving my glasses on Space Mountain

Saving my glasses on Space Mountain

Broken-hearted, Frank implored us to stick around and hope that we could be back on if they opened the ride back up. So we did. The three of us sat down at a table near the entrance to the ride and visited in the hopes that they’d fix it before the night was out. And shortly after 11 o’clock, the wait time lights on the sign came back on and the cast members led the way for people to return to the line. We got to got on Hyperspace Mountain after all.

With that ride done, there was only one left that Frank had never done that he wanted to, so off we went to Splash Mountain. And it turns out, on a brisk December Monday night at about 11:45pm, there aren’t too many people in line at Splash Mountain. We walked through all of the normal twists and turns of the queue and got seated immediately onto a log with Frank up front, then Xyger, then me, and some poor random stranger behind me. We slowly floated along the creepy animatronic-filled river planning out what we would do when it came time for the big drop photo opportunity. As we rode, we cracked jokes about how disturbing the story of the ride was as well as the animatronics and song themselves. I don’t think my family when on Splash Mountain on our last visit so I probably hadn’t been on it since high school, when I’m sure my friends and I cracked some of the same jokes.

The Splash Mountain Dab

The Splash Mountain Dab

At the end of the ride, it was just before the park closed and there was nobody in line so the operator asked if we wanted to go again. We did, but our random stranger did not. So he got off and we repositioned ourselves, this time with Xyger in the front and me still sitting behind the other two, far from the prime splash radius. This time around, I cackled like a mad idiot when we hit the first real splash and Xyger got soaked. We continued on and prepared our pose: alternating dabs in honor of our friend Danny Juarez. When we pulled back in at the station, it became apparent we had been the last ones on the ride so we got up and headed toward the exit of the now-closed park.

Boys and their buttons

Boys and their buttons

Before we left, we made one final stop at City Hall. Even though he had been there year’s before, because Frank had been treating the whole day like his 1st visit, we got him the appropriate button. And he got Xyger a Birthday button since the weekend had effectively been a celebration of his 21st. And when the lady asked to write his name on the button, he told her Jonathan, before Frank and I immediately corrected him with “Xyger.” And just so I wasn’t left out, she gave me a generic Celebrating button.

After a quick stop at the World of Disney store looking for possible souvenirs, we headed back to the hotel and called it a night.

Tuesday

Checkout was at noon so I woke up around 9:30am and took a shower. Then I packed up my stuff before eventually waking up the other two. We all slowly got our stuff together and headed downstairs. My flight left at 2:45pm so I would be the first to leave (Frank and Christian’s flight was that evening and Xyger is local enough that I think he was heading to his grandmother’s house until his mom picked him up).

Leaving LAX

Leaving LAX

I gave my final goodbye hugs of the trip and got in the Uber to LAX to make the quick flight back home to Phoenix.

Overall, this weekend was, as nearly every trip I’ve taken in the past two years since that first PlayStation Experience, inspiring and invigorating. I returned home excited for what the coming year would bring and my memories and the highlights of the trip will far outweigh the frustrations with the PSX organization or the feeling like I was stretched too thin.

Thank you to everyone who make the weekend special. Even absent friends who we were still able to connect with us in this digital age. The people mentioned throughout this opus are only a fraction of amazing people I spent time with and my stupid brain couldn’t even begin to name them all. That I know any of you is a celebration. That I know all of you is overwhelming.