(griffin's 2012 BotCon adventure)

Before the adventure began

Before the adventure... my blog entries in the months beforehand.
(mostly Transformers-related stuff)

Wednesday, 7 December 2011 at 1:35 AM

BotCon 2012 - it begins...
The location and dates for the annual official Transformers convention (BotCon) were announced yesterday, allowing those interested to begin their travel plans, and book hotel rooms.

It's back in Texas this year (it was in Texas in 2005), but in a different location - Dallas, instead of Fort Worth (which was nearby), during the weekend of 26-29 April, 2012.

I went to the one in 2005, so will be familiar with the airport and climate... but am not too excited about the location, as it doesn't have much there for tourists.  Hopefully they have some nice food places there, as their steaks (and food servings in genera) are supposed to be big in Texas.
The bad news straight up though, was finding out that the Convention hotel was booked out of their BotCon-rate rooms within 90 minutes of the announcement of the location.  I ended up getting stuck with a room that is costing me an extra $70 a night... but at least it is at the Convention hotel (which is most convenient, and has a unique atmosphere when seeing and hearing all the fans/collectors walking around the place during that weekend.
QANTAS just had a sale too, that had $900 one-way to Dallas tickets...  but it just ended yesterday (I need time to work out what days I want to travel, and what else I'm doing while in America). I'll have to keep an eye out for more sale fares... every dollar I save on BotCon travel, I can spend there (not to mention being able to afford a trip to the Singapore convention in March - but that's another adventure to talk about later, if I end up committing myself to).

Monday, 2 January 2012 at 8:25 PM

BotCon 2012 - first toys revealed & hotel rebooked
With today being the day the Hotel would charge deposits for room reservations, I'm thinking people who were now unlikely to be going (or not wanting to be paying anything this early) have been cancelling their reservations... because I was just able to book in for every night I wanted at the cheapest BotCon rate of $129 + tax for up to 2 people and with 2 beds. (it ended up saving me $440 from my original reservation - that's about how much I spend on registration)

I then cancelled my other reservations (hopefully before they were charged to me - if not, they will be credited back later)... but now I can fit up to 4 people in my room if required, to split the costs.

The BotCon registration was said to be up in the first week of January. Let's see if they stick to that.
The first two toys in their boxset for this year aren't too inspiring... but will look nice though.
The Red Tracks is like a cult figure, as a Red Tracks was featured on the back of packaging in 1985, and even saw a limited release in Europe (kinda by accident though), but Tracks only saw a general release in blue. Even the red redeco of the reissue Tracks in Japan about 10 years ago was a limited edition figure. Making this a consistently rare "cult" figure.
I think the fans who are keen on this figure, will still complain about it having a purple Autobot logo - which is necessary for its role in the BotCon story universe.
The other figure, Overlord, or Gigatron in the Hasbro universe... is a nice mould (the recent Voyager Bludgeon), and the colour scheme is a nice one (blue, white, purple)... but is it a suitable homage to that JP Gen1 character?  Perhaps it's the best we can get from a unique toy like Gen1 Overlord (a tank and fighter jet that merges into a robot or a base). It's kinda like the Gen1 Triplechanger Springer character never having a proper homage toy beyond a green helicopter toy or a green vehicle toy.  A redeco of an existing toy will never work on unique gimmick toys, so we sometimes just have to make do with something that is as close as we can get to it... and see how they explain it in the attached story.

I still disapprove of FunPub's hyping of their toys and merchandise (to purchase without any requirement to attend/stay at the convention) instead of the events and guests to encourage people to focus on the "fan elements"... not the materialistic, and often profiteering elements.  Their focus is so much on the mere toys, that the registration packages are usually released and sold out before the guests and schedule are usually released or confirmed.

Now for the nervous wait and regular rechecking of their site for the release of the Registration.
A new feature added this year is a "Premium" or Gold ticket, of twice the price and very limited, that includes exclusive access to certain events and priority seating at the panels.
Very similar to the failed and heavily criticised concept of Glen Hallit's 2004 convention.... and in addition to a very "Men in Black" (organisers of BotCon 1996) concept of prioritising the toys over the events (which was also heavily criticised when MIB did it) - FunPub seem to be doing all the things that previous failed convention organisers were doing that "real fans" didn't like.

(real fans - is not an elitist term that some people like to throw around as a way of making them sound more important within the fandom. It actually relates to those who are dedicated as fans to Transformers as a personal hobby, not as a mere investment - which are those who just buy rare toys, like BotCon toys, only to resell them for profit, preventing "real fans" from getting them first-hand... something that FunPub encourages by hyping the toys instead of the events, and allowing toy dealers who have no plans or interest in the events or the boxset toys, to buy registrations/boxsets. Often multiple sets too, which means more "real fans" miss out on attending because they missed out on a full registration package to make it worth travelling to the event.  I understand them needing to do it in early years, so that they weren't stuck with left-over sets, but FunPub need to find a new balance with this now, because they don't have to worry about not selling-out their registration packages anymore.)

Friday, 6 January 2012 at 2:04 PM

BotCon 2012 - 3rd & 4th toys revealed
From the BotCon website, the next pair of boxset toys has been revealed... which leaves one left, and the registration is likely to be up within a day or two after that.

Number 3 was Soundwave - a white & blue recolour of the Classicverse Ironhide/Ratchet van toy. First introduced into their exclusive comic a couple years back, this mode was expected I guess... but like much of the Shattered Glass series, it feels wrong - which is the whole point, so I guess it hits the intended mark.

The one thing that will bug me most with the Van form of Soundwave, is the way all the gaps in the panels in vehicle mode really ruin the look of that mould.  Not to mention the way the head tends to look down in robot mode.
The other thing that will bug people, is that the bonus accessory (the headband) which is being touted as the part of its personality (and is likely to be featured with it in the entire BotCon comic), is not being given out with every Soundwave toy.  The reason they had to make it separately is understandable, but then why charge extra for it, if it is meant to be a set feature of this character? Did they only make a hundred or two, and need to limit its sale to those desperate enough to want the "full package", or is it a way of making more money off the convention - a convention that they already market to toy dealers & scalpers instead of fans (by hyping up their toys & merchandise instead of the guests & events like the Hartmans did with their BotCons).

As for the 4th toy revealed (Treadshot).... what the?  A blue & yellow redeco of Jazz... that's gonna take some explaining in their comic.  Even if it is a "Mirror-verse" version of the Gen1 character (which usually means different colours), the Gen1 Treadshot was obviously a revolver (based on the gun parts on its non-convertable toy in 1991).
Admittedly, there have been three other Treadshot toys in the last decade, as part of Hasbro's way of keeping certain names in their possession - one was a tank, one was a jet, and the other was a purple & yellow sedan. I'm hoping that they aren't homaging that toy-character, as this was meant to be a Gen1 themed set.  Since this one is written up as being a rival of Ultra Magnus (the fifth toy in the set), and that purple sedan was released in a two-pack with an Ultra Magnus toy in 2003, it seems likely that this is the Treadshot they are referring to (which is part of the Armada Universe, not Gen1).
I'm not too impressed with this one. Overlord & Tracks were decent figures, while Soundwave is average... This one drags down the set in my opinion.

Probably the only good thing to come out of this is that it is rumoured that a redeco of the Classicverse Ravage toy might be part of this year's set, which could see it being done as Treadshot's partner - Catgut.
One thing I want to mention on this though - Treadshot was the first Actionmaster toy I bought, and was the only US Actionmaster I got retail.... so I have a soft-spot for this character, and will probably be extra critical of it in this year's BotCon set. (haven't I been a bit savage already???)

Saturday 7th January (about 9am)
Not a blog posting, but the actual day of registration... which is mentioned at the end of the next posting.

Thursday, 26 January 2012 at 10:08 PM

BotCon 2012 Boxset fully revealed - and I'm finally registered
I know this is repeating myself, but in case anyone missed my earlier rants... The early years of Fun-Pub's BotCons required promoting the convention to toy dealers & scalpers to be sure that they sold out of one of their main sources of funding - the toys.  Recent popularity of their toys though (due to getting more experienced with Transformers, and more focused on what Fans want) they don't need to do that anymore... but they still do out of habit.
So once again, we have the convention toys being promoted before the convention itself, to inspire those who are only interested in the value of the toys... instead of inspiring fans who value the convention itself to rush to purchase the full attendance packages because the guests and events were already known.
I guess I'm opposed to this "Men in Black" mentality (they did BotCon in 1996, and were jeered by the fandom for prioritising selling toys over the fan-focused elements), because I'm travelling halfway around the world each year FOR the convention... not the toys. As such, I'm a fan of the Convention, not the merchandise, and would be much happier with the convention being promoted, as it is almost insulting to those who make the long distance trip for Fun-Pub to prioritise the mere merchandise/toys.

How many other dedicated fans could they have attending the convention itself, adding to the atmosphere of the events, if the full packages sell out before the events and guests are known to help make up their minds?
Like, what if Frank Welker ended up being a guest this year, but it wasn't revealed until after the full packages were sold out... fans who then sign up without a full package, will feel cheated when seeing others walking off with a box-set without even attending the rest of the convention.
I think that if Fun-Pub feel that the toys are so important, they should be an added extra to the "registration" so that when the guests & events are known after the box-sets sell out, fans won't feel like they are missing out on the "full package" when signing up at that time.

So onto this year's box-set.
There are six toys this year in the box-set. Five Deluxe-size toys and one Voyager-size toy.

Robot modes.

Vehicle modes.


The pics are from the BotCon website.

Red car - Tracks (Shattered Glass - Evil Autobot)
Jet - Metalhawk (JP Generation One - Heroic Autobot)
Truck - Ultra Magnus (Shattered Glass - Evil Autobot)
Blue car - Treadshot (Shattered Glass - Heroic Decepticon)
White van - Soundwave (Shattered Glass - Heroic Decepticon)
Tank - Gigatron (Overlord) (JP Generation One - Evil Decepticon)

The theme this year is a crossing of their "Shattered Glass" Mirror Universe (where Autobots are evil and the Decepticons are heroic), with the regular Generation One Universe. So we have a couple of direct homage toys to Generation One, with some recoloured homages for their Mirror Universe.

I've already commented on the first four.

Number 5 - Ultra Magnus
Just like the Tracks figure, this is not meant to be a new character, just a mirror-verse version of the character.  The difference here though to Tracks, is that the real version of this character was already released with a different mould (the first Classics Optimus mould).
An interesting feature of this BotCon toy is that the head is completely moulded from clear plastic, with a painted helmet... creating a visually unique style of head. It's almost a ghostly type of character, that has no real head, just energy inhabiting the helmet. Well, unlike organic creatures that keep their brains in their heads, and would die without them, Transformers don't (plus, all senses can be housed elsewhere), and a head can end up being redundant to the point of it being more for show anyway... like this one. This mould was not a fan favourite, and these colours look a bit Diaclone Convoy, which is not a well known source for a homage, making this one rate as about as least interesting as Treadshot.

Number 6 - Metalhawk
Following on from the recent Hasbro trend of Pretender inspired toys of Thunderwing and Sky Shadow (Blackshadow), this Metalhawk is a nicely done colouring of the Thunderwing toy into a homage of the JP exclusive Pretender. It also has a new head too. It's just a pity that the Jet mode doesn't quite match the original Metalhawk, but BotCon toys are very limited by what they can replicate. Otherwise, if it were an easy accurate match, Hasbro would likely do it first. This one and Tracks are probably my favourite two, with Gigatron/Overlord coming in next. The other three are pretty lame though... and this year's full set of Convention toys will need the at-show toys to be spectacular to pull up the "average" rating I give this set of six so far.

As for the Registration... that was a real drama (it wouldn't be BotCon for me if there wasn't any drama). I got a nice wake-up call the morning after my last post about BotCon, in which I had predicted that it would be in the next couple days. However, the call was still too late for me to get what I most wanted - the Custom Class. It was only a couple hours, but all the Custom Classes were already sold out.
For someone who is one of the most dedicated and experienced at attending BotCon, I can't believe that I am still yet to experience a Custom Class. It's like I'm cursed to never get in... no matter how much I try to improve my chances to get in.
Anyway... I get out of bed and rush to get my computer started, to log onto the BotCon site to register. I start by logging into the Club site, to make sure I get the membership prices... and go through all the screens to get the Golden Ticket (a VIP concept that drew criticism when Glen Hallit's convention had it), a bagged set of toys, and to sign up for the Thursday pre-Con tour once it was revealed to me that the Classes were all sold out. Kinda like the last Texas BotCon in 2005, neither of the Tours were too interesting to me, but I had to get into a Tour or a Class to be eligible for the early package pickup on the Wednesday (otherwise you have to wait for hours with the hundreds on the Thursday, and then wait more hours in the Club store queue).
So I got everything selected, and entered in my credit card details... to be given an error message, saying that the order could not be processed, and that it would be set aside to be manually processed.
Naturally, Fun-Pub open up registration just after the close of their Friday office hours, so that by the time they would manually process the orders that had errors, people would miss out on items because they are not being held on those incomplete registrations.
I was in such a panic. I couldn't wait 2 1/2 days... not with the risk of missing out on the Golden Ticket option, or even the full registration package altogether (the growing popularity for their toys in the last 2 years had me thinking that they could well sell out in a day... two at the most).
I thought about redoing the order, but was afraid that they'd cancel both if it looked dodgy, or too confusing to work out.
I also had to try to figure out why my order was being rejected.
Either it was rejected because I used a different Credit Card than what I usually use (if they only allow the ones verified in the past), or because it didn't have enough credit on it. Later I realised that it was the Credit Card that automatically froze my account the last time I tried to do a big foreign purchase... but when that happened in 2010 (at BotCon), I had it unlocked, and told them not to let it happen again. It might be a good security measure, but it has been more trouble than help. I wonder if I can make a claim for mental hardship... :p
So I got a different Credit Card ready - one which didn't have enough funds on it - so expected that it would be declined. (since FunPub set up this online registration, the money is charged straight away, instead of days later when they used to do fax-in registrations)
I went back to the registration page to start again, but to my horror, it was not allowing me to get into the first page that lets you select the package you want. I kept retrying, reloading, restarting the computer... everything I could think of, but for some reason, it kept showing an error on that first page.
I didn't know what to do. I was out of ideas, and running out of time (I had to go to work soon).
I sent an email to FunPub to see if it was an error on my part, or theirs, plus tweeted to their twitter account.
While looking for answers on the global fansites, I made a panicked call to my friend Ian (who's been two three BotCons with me now), to perhaps see if he could register for me.
He suggested that I should clear out my cookies on the browser... I hadn't thought of that, and wondered if it would be a reason. (considering I had logged out and even rebooted, there shouldn't have been any lingering ties to the registration page)
But it seemed that he had guessed correctly, as a quick clearing of cookies allowed me to proceed through the registration page like the first time.  The difference this time though, was entering in the other credit card details and hoping that it would not be denied for lack of funds.
A tense wait... as I was running out of options.
Amazingly, it was approved, which over-drew the Credit Card by about $700, and I was worried that it would be overturned by the bank if it raised a red flag for someone to investigate.
Ian suggested ringing up the bank to see if it was really okay, and to ask for it to be a temporary overdraft... which I did, and they increased the limit to cover it.
A hectic 2 hours later, I was signed up for BotCon, with the VIP/Golden Ticket, a bagged set, Tshirt, cap, and Thursday tour.
And now I had to rush off to work, in a wired, adrenalin state... it wasn't easy concentrating that day, I can tell you.

Now to organise the flights, and I'll be all covered for this year.
There have been some cheap flights to Dallas lately, from Brisbane, so hopefully I can still score one of those.
And I'd better get onto it soon, as time is running out.
With nothing of interest in Dallas, and no toy sources within walking distance of the hotel, I'm not planning to stay there longer than the convention this year.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012 at 2:27 AM

My BotCon 2012 adventure is only a week away
I only just realised this yesterday... in a weeks time, I'll be embarking on my annual American adventure. I was thinking I had an extra week. But no.  I only have 7 days, not 14.

I don't have a lot to do beforehand... but it is always nerve-wracking.

This year it has been confirmed that I will be the only Australian I know of, that will be going to BotCon (the official annual Transformers Convention).
That isn't something new for me though, as most of my early BotCons (1999, 2000, 2003, 2004) were without any fellow Australian interaction. The ones I went to in 2001 & 2002 had locals I knew, to hang with, and other years I've had the company of American friends.
The new thing for me will be having a room to myself for the entire time there... something that hasn't happened for me since 2002 I think. Up until that point, I wasn't there for more than 4 or 5 nights, and the hotels were fairly affordable. As the trips got longer, and the hotels more expensive, it was necessary to split the cost with others... as well as having the company to share each other's thoughts and experiences on this once-a-year event for dedicated Transformers Fans.

Other things that have me a little anxious or off about this years...
- The hotel is nowhere near any toy sources, and I won't have a car this year to go for some retail shopping/savings.
- Not a lot of the Fast Food places I like are nearby either.
- Dallas Texas is so boring, in terms of Touristy things to do. As such, I cut the stay short by one day, because I couldn't find anything else worth doing.
- A couple serious storms (tornadoes & a hurricane) have already been through Texas in the last couple months, and neighbouring states are getting quite a few tornadoes in recent weeks too. I'm not worrying about being caught in a tornado/storm, I'm worried about one hitting when I'm travelling in or out of Dallas to impact on my travel itinerary.
- The pre-Con tour I had to sign up for (because I missed out on the Customising Class YET AGAIN), is gonna get me all sunburnt a day before the convention starts... because I burn so easily, no matter how much clothing and sunscreen I use. The tour includes a stop at a ranch for a few hours, so am expecting a dry, dusty, hot day.

Things I'm looking forward to...
- A steak place I found thanks to the Man-Vs-Food TV show. And it's within walking distance.
- The Book Depository is the only famous place in Dallas, so that should be another talking point when I get back home. (the steak place will be the other talking point if I end up eating enough :p )
- Listening to the Voice Actor of Blaster from the original series (hope he can still pull off the voice).
- Finding more American foods to eat or bring back home (if they aren't prohibited by Customs)
- The direct flight home is a bonus. To be able to hop on at Dallas and hop off at Brisbane, means no need to get off or change planes at all. No extra travel time, no waiting around in airports for up to 18 hours (like I did in 2010), no struggling with luggage if you have to collect it between flights, and less chance for the luggage to get lost. I should be able to check in, hop on the plane, hop off at Brisbane, go through Customs and hail a Cab home. After an exhausting week, it is the best return flight schedule I think I've ever had.

T-Minus 7 days, and counting...

Friday, 20 April 2012 at 9:39 PM

BotCon is so close yet so far away now
Within 30 minutes of my last BotCon posting (about me being excited about only having just 7 days left to go until I start my annual adventure), I go to bed but can't go to sleep because of a growing pressure in my lower abdomen.
I roll around different ways to get relief, but the pressure grows so much that I can no longer lie down without pain. So I get up and watch some TV, thinking that it may subside if I sit up or distract myself... as it could be caused by my over-eating of Lasagne on the weekend getting stuck in my lower intestine, or, a strained stomach muscle from doing new duties at work the day before.
A third possibility could be appendicitis, but I've been told that it is a much more unbearable pain.
Either way, when it got to 5am without much change, I was going to go to the nearby hospital to have it checked out. I had a quick, warm shower, and the hot water was so relieving, it halved the pain enough to end up not going.
I hopped back into bed with a hot water bottle, and managed to get a bit of restless sleep (re-adjusting the bottle every hour or so when I woke).

I went off to work at 2pm, with minor pain, but figured that if it was a muscle strain, I should go in and have it reported and assessed through work channels... that way it would be covered by work.

After 7 hours of running around 2 different Hospitals (following work's injury procedures), it was about 10pm Tuesday that I was told that I had appendicitis... and it had to be removed.

My first thought was - that darn trip of mine... all that planning... all that hassle getting registered... all that expense (travel insurance would cover most of it)... gone up in smoke.

My first questions were related to how long would I be in Hospital for, what sort of recovery period, and if flying would be out of the question next week.
And that was after I had to decide if I wanted to do it Public or Private (my health insurance might have covered Private, but was told it would cost $5100 if it didn't). I didn't risk it and was transferred to their Public section.
I was first told that the surgery would occur that night, which would at least get the ball rolling on recovery, but when they finally had me re-processed and re-assessed at the Public Hospital (in their emergency department), it was past midnight before I was ushered to a bed in the regular wards.

I was told that it was too late now to do it that night, and since it wasn't urgent anymore (the pain had been receding - which was a good thing, as it meant less chance of it being ruptured), and would have to be on the next day's waiting list... which starts at 1pm (Wednesday).

Sleep was minimal that night, with everyone in the room having machines that would sound off every couple hours. Then around midday I was told to shower up with some special soap, to be ready when my time came.
Close to 1pm I was wheeled down to pre-op, which was earlier than expected, so musta meant no off-the-street emergencies that day. About half an hour later I was wheeled into the operating theatre, transferred onto a long narrow slab and injected with anaesthetic.
Around 4 or 5pm I started waking up, back in the ward.
I didn't get to see any doctors that night, so just had to go by the nurses, who were telling me that I could start eating again at 8.15, and that I would likely to be released tomorrow. (Thursday)

The dinner service was about 6pm, so mine was held in a fridge for a couple hours... so wasn't too exciting.  But I avoided the green beans on the main dish, as it was too painful to roll over, so didn't want a heap of gas swelling up inside me.

The next morning one of the doctors came by to check on me, and I asked about the procedure.
They cut three tiny holes in my stomach, for a camera, a cutter and a grabber. They also inflate the abdomen with gas during the procedure to let them see what they are doing.
If you want to find out more about appendectomies, see here.

The most surprising news was that they were discharging me within a couple hours - only 20 hours after surgery.
It wasn't even long enough to have a proper meal there... I'd only had a small dinner and breakfast, because they were "default" meals to people who hadn't been able to fill out a meal sheet.
The prepared meals was the one thing I'd been looking forward to. (it'd been about 27 years since I was last in Hospital)

The stay itself I could handle... just not the pain and discomfort of whatever you are suffering from to be there.

Anyway, I was back home by 10.30am Thursday, with 5 days to recover enough to fly across to America.

I have since had to ring up the travel agent to check if the travel insurance will cover any complications while away, or if QANTAS will need to know about the surgery (because the doctors were saying it was okay to go - they just didn't recommend it).
I had to pay extra on the insurance, and have been told that the QANTAS cut-off for refusal to fly is 4 days after surgery - so I'm just safe with it being 5 1/2.

Either way, I still have to see how I feel on Monday, or if any complications occur before then. Because it is still only early, and a lot can still go wrong with my recovery (infection, etc).

At least in previous years, the drama was almost missing flights, or losing my wallet (which I packed into my check-in luggage by mistake in 2008)... this is a new benchmark in the hassles I go through to get to BotCon each year.

Sunday, 22 April 2012 at 7:37 PM

Improving but less than 24 hours to cut-off to BotCon
The flight out to BotCon is about 39 hours away, but the cut-off for deciding if I should go is less than 24 hours away (during business hours Monday so that flights can be cancelled).

I am improving... but the cut-off is still almost a whole day before the flight, so I'd have to make a judgement call tomorrow based on how much I would think I'd improve during the remaining day.  And I have so much to do tomorrow before the flight, in case I go, I'm likely to wear myself out more than improve.
Not to mention the limitations during the trip, because I can't over-exert myself. Which means, minimal on-foot travelling (like toyhunting or touristy things), minimal eating (I have so many American food items I want to eat while over there), and limited heavy lifting (carrying around toys at the convention).
It means cutting back on a lot of reasons I go on these American-Transformers adventures each year, but if I can get there, I'll make the most of what I have left to work with.

Such drama... again. It's like it goes hand-in-hand with my BotCon adventures.
I guess it gives other people something amusing to read from my reports.

And this is the first BotCon since my Grandmother died, so all this expression of feelings and detailing of my adventure, is going to be different, because I won't be writing it specifically for her (a non-fan) to read and respond to later.
I just have to go back to the motivation of my early BotCons 10 years ago, of writing it for fellow fans.

Just got to get there first.
(which I obviously did)

Return to Tuesday 24th April (the beginning of the Adventure)

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***All pictures in this convention report are mine unless noted. Any that are borrowed, have the source credited/noted.  If you want to use/borrow any of my photos, all I ask is for you to please credit the source as well. I try to take as many of my own photos as possible, and usually only resort to using others if I failed to get something, or my photo wasn't clear enough.

OZFORMERS - The Australian (and Asia) Transformers Fansite for News and Interaction (started way back in 1996 - try to find a Transfan community that's older)
BotCon website - The official Collector Club and Convention website
To contact me --> griffin @ otca.com.au