Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Transformers Feature: Shattered Glass Thundercracker

During the nomination period for the recent "Transformers Hall of Fame," I posted the banner to the left in an attempt in inject some humor into the proceedings.

Thanks to BotCon 2011, I can now say that the answer is "yes!"

Seriously, if I had to say which comment I heard more often than any other while at BotCon this past month, it would easily be "I'll bet you're thrilled that they did Action Master Thundercracker!" And, truth be told, I am. As long-time readers will no doubt already be aware, at this point a year ago I really didn't think it was possible that Fun Publications would do this toy at all, having gotten so close to doing the toy in 2010 and then being unable to get it made. I even dismissed the possibility of it coming out at the 2011 BotCon entirely, as being too soon after the 2010 effort. I'm glad to say that I was wrong, and hereby extend my apologies to Fun Publications for any anger and frustration directed at them during this campaign.

I know, if one wants to get technical (and one of my allies in the "Make it Happen" campaign has already pointed it out), this isn't actually "Action Master" Thundercracker, but rather "Shattered Glass" Thundercracker. Besides the information on the Tech Specs specifying this, you can tell because the faction symbol on the toy's shoulder is red, rather than purple. Personally, I don't think it matters much, especially since the shoulder itself is reddish enough that the color of the symbol blends in, and thus you really only see the outline of the symbol, making it a fair swap if you want to imagine this is a non-Shattered Glass figure.

Although a few fans have suggested that I helped to get this toy made, I'm not at all confident that I can actually take credit. It's not just that I hardly acted alone (thanks to the others who spread the word asking for this toy!), but that the timing is such that the question of whether or not this would have happened anyway is an obvious one.  Even so, there's no question but that I consider the release of this toy a bit of a victory. Of all of the BotCon 2011 exclusive toys, this is the one that I'll never, ever sell.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Return of a Transforming Seminarian Tradition

Back when the first Transformers Club exclusives came out, I grabbed a picture of the new boxes alongside my cat, Turtle, who was a rather curious critter. I did the same when the next set of exclusives came out nearly two years later. By the time the third set of exclusives came out, Turtle was gone. Now that we have another cat, I decided to attempt to restart the tradition, but I have to confess, Kona really isn't as curious about this kind of thing as Turtle was, and so getting a decent shot was much harder to do.

I'm getting ready for a week of traveling, and thus haven't had time to do much else with these toys yet, nor to take the pictures I'd like to take of the other Transformers I'm hoping to feature here in the near future.  I'll try to keep up with posting this week, but both the schedule and the content will reflect what I'm able to do while on the road.

Friday, June 17, 2011

BotCon Freebies

Everyone talks about the toys you can buy exclusive to every BotCon.  Some folks complain about the high prices, which isn't any surprise, given the price tags of about $300 for the main box set (5 toys) and about $100 for each of the souvenir sets (2 toys each).  But surprisingly little is said about the stuff one can get for free at the convention.  Well, there's usually discussion about the "attendee freebie" which is given to folks who bought the $300 sets and attended the convention.  This year, that toy is Fisitron, and it really is a pretty cool toy.  But there were a lot of other potential freebies, as well, that don't get so much buzz. This review is by no means exhaustive, but I can at least show off a few things.

This keychain/flashlight, for example, came from the folks promoting "The Hub," the new cable channel co-owned by Hasbro and Discovery.  I got this by spinning a wheel they had on display (visible to the left in this image) and apparently landing on the slot that awards free keychains (as opposed to whatever the other slots were for).

The folks at the Hub were giving away other stuff, too.  I got these "Hub-shaped" rubber bands just for passing by the booth later in the convention (I wouldn't be surprised to learn that these were a prize at the wheel, as well, but I don't know that for a fact).

A very popular giveaway was at the KRE-O booth, where attendees could pick up this Optimus Prime Kreon (and by filling out a survey, one might win a Bumblebee KRE-O set, as well).  They were pretty strict about marking badges so each person could only get one, but this little freebie has been showing up in a LOT of other places since (oddly, still called "exclusive" each time), so if you really want one, you shouldn't have too much trouble finding one.

While the dealer room was open, the organizers of the convention gave away hourly door prizes to attendees, donated by the various dealers present.  Prizes ranged from stuff that most fans would never buy for themselves to some truly rare gems.  I had the honor of being BotCon 2011's first door prize winner, and thus won these two toys.  While I confess that these are closer to the first range of prizes than the latter, I do expect to have a bit more to say about the Ratchet figure in due time.  But I'll deal with that later.

The other main event in which attendees had the opportunity to win toys was at the casino night.  There were actually at least three ways one could score some toys that evening.  One potentially-free option was to play bingo.  Players got one card per game for free, but could buy extra cards for one dollar each (all money collected during the casino night event was donated to a hospital near the Fun Publications headquarters in Texas).  Sadly, I didn't win any of the prizes here, but there were some really good prizes available (the entire room audibly gasped when a BotCon 2005 Ratchet was announced as the prize for one game.  The little girl that won that toy was luckier than she likely knows).  The second way was in the main casino room, where donations were encouraged by another wheel, which could be spun one time per $20 donation (admittedly, that makes this casino night option not free, but I need to mention it for the sake of completeness).  That $20 guaranteed you at least 100 extra casino credits (you were given 100 just for registering for the convention), plus whatever you won on the wheel.  The lowest "prize" on the wheel was another 100 credits (for a total of 200 extra credits for your $20), but extremely lucky spins could win sets of BotCon exclusives from previous years, now impossible for find without paying at least 3-digit sums of money for!  The third way of winning toys at the casino night was to use your casino credits to bid on prizes at the auction at the end of the evening.

As I mentioned earlier, one was given 100 credits just for registering, so you had something with which to play the casino games.  At the end of the time allotted for playing, I found myself with 800 credits (the 100 I started with, 500 won through two spins on the wheel, plus 200 more that I won through the games).  Clearly I came out "ahead" in the sense that I had won more credits than I started playing with, but since this wasn't real money, I knew that if I didn't have enough to win any auctions, the 800 credits would be totally useless, and I know enough about these kinds of events to know that there would be some people with far, far, more than 800 credits at their disposal.  So there was no sense in my holding back.  After a series of "kiddie" auctions that adults were actually asked not to bid on, I ended up spending all of my 800 credits on the first item available, a bust of Generation One Cliffjumper, in a box autographed by Hasbro employees Rik Alvarez and Aaron Archer ("the two guys responsible for killing off Cliffjumper"--apparently a reference to events in the first episode of the Transformers: Prime series).  Not exactly "free," given what I'd paid for those spins on the wheel, but a quick eBay search indicates that it's worth about the money that I spent, and it was all for charity, and I didn't get left with a bunch of worthless credits, so I figure I did pretty well.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Transformers Feature: Micromaster Erector

My original intention was to have this posted last week, so that it would be covered before the BotCon 2011 Transformers Hall of Fame ceremony.  Sadly, I got too busy with other things, but I can still talk about the Hall of Fame and this toy's somewhat unique place in it.

The concept of a Transformers Hall of Fame started just last year, as Hasbro and Fun Publications (the organizers of BotCon) sought to honor a few of the individuals (both real/human and fictitious/Transformer) who have made a lasting impact on the franchise.  They selected several inductees and left an open Transformer-character slot for a "fan's choice" inductee.  A call was put out through the internet for all the various Transformer-themed message boards to send in their nominees, and the top five nominees to surface through this process were then put to a vote on the Hasbro web site.  In what has become a common practice in the post-American Idol era, "vote early, and vote often" was the order of the day, and at the end of the process, the 2010 "fan's choice" inductee (Beast Wars Dinobot) was announced at the inaugural Hall of Fame ceremony.

Fast-forward to this year.  While still in the nomination process, Erector surfaced as a surprise candidate.  I'd rather not get into why.  If you don't already know, just ask any junior-high aged boy about it, and watch his reaction.  A lot of fans (myself included) were bothered not only by the possibility that such a reason would be used to catapult an otherwise-practically-unknown character to "Hall of Fame" status, but by the less-than-civil reactions many of us were given when we objected. There will be those who will be quick to point out that some of the opponents of Erector's nomination were also less-than-civil.  To that, I can only respond, "two wrongs don't make a right."  The whole thing was more than a little embarrassing, and I honestly don't know when the first uncivil remarks were made, nor by which side.  Only that it quickly got ridiculous.

But those who supported Erector's nomination did have at least one very relevant point: a lot of the concepts that went into Erector's design (and, indeed, Micromasters in general, with Erector being only an example) have been refined and continue to see use to this day.  The Mini-Cons have long been understood to be an update of the Micromaster concept, and the toy line for this year's movie marks the return of transforming vehicle accessories.  Erector displays both of these traits in an early stage of development.  While I'm glad that Waspinator won the final vote (even though I voted for Grimlock), I want to give Erector at least this much respect: his nomination inspired me to pick up this toy!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The BotCon 2011 Experience

Now that BotCon 2011 is over, the message boards have been engaging in the traditional debate about how this year's convention compares to conventions of years past.  There is already an emerging consensus that in terms of the news to come out of the convention, there really hasn't been that much of interest.  For those who didn't actually attend the convention, that means that the convention as a whole appears to be one of the less successful ones.

For those of us who did attend the convention, a different impression quickly becomes evident.

It's almost a cliche for some people to say that a convention is about the people one meets while there.  That's certainly true to some extent. I had a number of interesting conversations with people while manning lines or helping out with the Captured Prey booth.  I enjoyed helping people find some of the toys they were looking for.  It was fun to be able to talk about the pop culture icons we love with people who actually share that interest for a few days.

But there were other reasons to say this was one of the better BotCons, as well.  The exhibit room had an impressive array of cars from the movies (and there were other Transformer-related cars outside), while advertisers were giving away free stuff and previewing upcoming television shows and games.  The kids area was larger, and with more items to play with, than I can recall at any other BotCon.  Some of the fans wore some of the most impressive costumes I've ever seen at a BotCon.  By nearly all accounts, the voice actor panels were special this year in a way that other conventions have seldom approached, let alone matched.

The downside of so much volunteer work is that I, myself, didn't actually get to see very many of those panels, myself, but I did get to hear the first half of the script reading of the story from this year's BotCon comic: "The Stunti-Con Job."  While there were some hilarious moments from the story itself (all the comments about Sentinel Magnus' "hat," pretty much anything that Dead End said...), the highlight for me was a parody of "Anything You Can Do" as sung by Generation One Grimlock and Animated Grimlock (voiced by Gregg Berger and David Kaye, respectively).

There is no question that going to BotCon is an expensive endeavor.  I'm lucky that I didn't have to deal with the cost of travel and hotel for the trip this year, and I'm still suffering a bit of sticker-shock from the experience (and hoping that the exclusives I sell on eBay and/or via will help recoup those costs).  It's not at all unreasonable that the experience should be something special to those who go to the trouble and expense of attending, and if those attendees aren't satisfied, the folks at Fun Publications would do well to take that dissatisfaction seriously.  But if the attendees are on the whole pretty happy (and they do seem to be), and the complaints seem to be coming almost exclusively from people who didn't undertake the costs of coming, I have to admit that I'm less inclined to put much stock in those concerns.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Volunteering at BotCon 2011

Well, I'm back at work now, having spent most of the past three and a half days on my feet attending, enjoying, and assisting at BotCon.  By volunteering both with the convention itself, as well as with Captured Prey, I intentionally set out to make this experience a bit different than what I'd had in the past.  I find myself at the end very tired, but glad to have made that decision.

When I wrote about BotCon 2009, one recurring theme of that convention was how long the lines were.  For the most part, that situation has improved considerably, although I'm perhaps not the best person to say.  The Wednesday night line was definitely easier than my similar experience two years ago, and I found the addition of a "souvenirs only" line on Thursday night to be a big help, but as a volunteer handling the lines later that evening, I did have the opportunity to talk with a number of people, especially in the more general club store "cash only" line (it was true to a lesser extent in the "credit only" line, oddly enough) who had been waiting for several hours, and the convention actually had to cut off the lines that evening and ask those who were still waiting to come back the following morning (pushing back "second trips" to later on Friday than had originally been planned), so there's obviously more that can still be done.

The highlight of my volunteer experience for BotCon itself was handing out free toys to kids waiting in line on Saturday morning.  In fact, I specifically chose the volunteer schedule I did so that I would have this privilege.  I was definitely caught by surprise by the toys that Hasbro donated to be given away, though.  There was the usual assortment of "Robot Heroes" and "Robot Replica" toys — appropriate to the age group, but of little interest to older collectors — but they also had some of the more collectible pre-movie toys such as the impossible-to-find Reveal the Shield Windcharger!  I gave at least two of these toys away (feeling just a twang of envy as I did so.  This is one I don't have myself, yet), and told one of those kids "this one's very hard to find.  You'll be the envy of many!"  I didn't want him to be taken advantage of by some more knowledgeable collector if I could help it.  Toys are meant to be played with, and if he is going to give it to someone else, he should know what he's giving up!

I also had the privilege of manning the autograph line for Gregg Berger (voice of G1 Grimlock, among others).  When that line worked its way through, and I was officially done with my scheduled volunteer time, I had Gregg sign my volunteer cap.  Definitely a good way to close out the experience.

I'll have more to say about BotCon, and my time with Captured Prey, in a day or two.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

BotCon 2011 Begins

If you're a Transformers fan, you don't need me to tell you that BotCon 2011 is about to begin (and, indeed, for some of us, it's already started!).  If you're not, then I'll have to try a little harder to provide something of interest for you to read in the next few days.  But bear with me, and I'll try to make it worth it!

While I'll certainly be featuring the exclusive toys from the convention in due time, I'm going to try to do things at least a little differently (compared to previous years) over the next few posts.  Having already written about what BotCons 2006 and 2009 have been like, I'm looking to participate in the convention somewhat differently myself this time around.  In this vein, I have signed up to volunteer at several aspects of the convention, including work with one of the dealers (Captured Prey, from my hometown of Louisville, KY).  It is my hope that this will give me a behind-the-scenes perspective I've not had in the past.  I can't make specific promises at this point, but that's the plan.

One of the benefits of volunteering that I'm able to share right now, however, is that I was able to pick up the main box set of exclusive toys last night (Wednesday) rather than on Thursday as is the norm (I still have to wait until tonight to pick up the attendee-only souvenirs, but the long-awaited Action Master Thundercracker is all-but assured at this point.  It is now confirmed via the BotCon 2011 comic that one of the 2-packs will feature "Shattered Glass Galvatron and Thundercracker," and SG Thundercracker is known from the past to use the Action Master color scheme.)

Here are the Tech Specs that come with the box set (as well as the attendee-freebie, Fisitron aka Ironfist):
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