There’s a sort of STEM training/Science Fair/Science Fiction convention in the building mode that hits right at Memorial Day every year called ESCAPE VELOCITY. EV is now in its third year. The people putting this on are the “Science Fiction Museum” The location is the Gaylord Hotel and Convention center, which is a huge facility located right on the DC Waterfront, near the Woodrow Wilson bridge over the Potomac. The Gaylord is huge and ponderous– there were other events going on all weekend and the plethora of weddings and small events hardly noticed the weirdos in steampunk, anime and furry costumes sprinkled all over their lobby. That’s one issue I have with this venue– the convention programming was divided into two major chunks– exhibitors in one hall that was almost as far away from the lobby as you can possibly walk, and the standard panel discussions, art shows, movie programs, and receptions areas sort of most of the hotel in the other direction.
Escape Velocity is billed as being mostly educational:
Credit: Escape Velocity Website
This is the second time I have visited, but the first time I really gave it a hard look, so why not post about it?
As the main instigator of ESCAPE VELOCITY is the Washington DC Museum of Science Fiction, you might expect that movie memorabilia and replicas would play a big part of the programming, and you would be right. The major displays were in the Museum display room (upstairs) and the larger pieces, like the 2001 pod you see above, were in the Exhibitor’s Hall. There were a lot of 2001 props at the convention, as the movie recently experienced its 50th anniversary.
Escape Velocity maintains a kind of smallish “museum of props” on display, many of which are remakes with more modern materials (some of the original stuff is falling apart). Personally I don’t mind viewing remakes vice originals because the originals can get pretty ratty. I remember Forrest J. Ackerman maintained a traveling road show museum of movie props and it was amazing how beaten up they looked up close, and that was 20 years ago.
Props and Costumes
There certainly was some fan boy elements there and the Cosplay part of the program is really growing by leaps and bounds. Of note were the gangs of ghost-busters, contingents of HALO marines, raftloads of Reys from the last two Star Wars films (we kept a count and stopped at 10– it must be a very empowering costume).
Honestly, I didn’t see any panel discussions I felt like attending. That were convenient to my schedule, anyway. I like panel discussions but there aren’t a lot of them at EV and it seemed many of them were about the practical realities of cosplay. I expect this will be a growth area for future conventions. There was a film program like you might expect at a SF con; however the show times were sporadic and spread out.. no 24 hour film marathons. I suspect this is a matter of not having enough volunteers. Of course, there was a costume contest. No comments on any of this stuff as I really didn’t attend any.
There was some Gaming
One of the big draws for me this year was the Cosmic Experience put on by Fantasy Flight Games. The designers of COSMIC ENCOUNTER (my favorite boardgame of all time) got together to bring a CE museum to the convention (all the versions of the venerable game that have existed over the years) and to run demonstration games for FFG, as well as demo the new rulebooks. Best of all, Peter Olotka, one of the original designers and Greg Olotka, who has been instrumental in bringing online play into fruition were both present! Since I’ve kind of known them online for a long time it was a real pleasure to meet them in the flesh.
You can see the after action streaming video of this game on FACEBOOK as it was on Facebook Live at the time. You may need to be on Facebook, I don’t know. I was the orange VIRUS player. I took over from Greg Olotka, who was the SNEAK before the game I played in. They have me listed as the SNEAK, erroneously.
Some organization was maintaining a game library.. for checking games out and playing at a cafe table area. Great idea! I hope that repeats for next year. I know that Steve Jackson Games was going to have a demo team showing off some variant of OGRE at this convention but it wasn’t at a convenient time for me. I would have enjoyed that. This might be a good convention for Games Club of Maryland, NOVAG, and Looney Labs to get involved in. They are all local and have a great attitude.
The Exhibitor Hall
This had a little bit of everything in it.. NASA displays, informational and educational handouts from dozens of organizations, movie props galore, a major presence by Tesla Motors (who had a demo model on site).
One thing they didn’t have very many of was actual vendors. You know, I like books, and a SF con is one of those places where I’m happy to plunk down money for actual printed, non e-book books from book vendors.. and there were only two of those present, and nothing with a huge selection. Still, I did buy something! Not all was lost.
AN UNEXPECTED DISCOVERY
Gar really wanted to play Starship Horizon, which is a multiplayer game experience where a series of networked computers run bridge screens on a star ship bridge while the players go through a mission assuming the roles of key Star Trek style crew — tactical, helm, science, comms.. etc. The captain has no screen but walks around roleplaying the captain. I’ve got a game on my Ipad called ARTEMIS which plays very similarly, but I’ve had no success ever playing it because I don’t know 5 people who would be willing to play crew on their networked devices.
This really turned out to be an unexpected highlight of the convention. Our crew flew two missions– failing miserably the first time and kicking butt the second. I loved it.. would even consider picking up a copy if I could set up the right mix of people to play it locally. We’ll see. Many thanks to David Hernly (interviewed in that Twit TV piece) for running a couple more missions after the display closed, thus giving Gar and myself a chance to play!
So that was the last thing we did on Sunday during the day. Overall I had a pretty good time. I wish there were more book vendors, more movies, more panel programming choices and more gaming stuff. I think all of this could be solved with a few more volunteers willing to step up to the plate and run things, so I’m not going to whine about anything. Escape Velocity will grow into it’s potential over time– if not the giant venue they have chosen to hold it in. I recommend Escape Velocity next year!
A little actual footage of me playing the Virus via Tabletop simulator: