One of the overriding rules in the gaming world is that each new edition of anything — be it a sequel or new generation of console — has to be bigger and better than its predecessor.
In other words, you've gotta one-up yourself each time. (See what we did there?)
The organizers of Game On Expo, the local three-day event devoted to video gaming culture, are obviously believers of that mantra, considering how much it’s expanded for its third year.
Everything about Game On Expo 2017 — which runs from Friday, August 11, to Sunday, August 13 — is bigger. The number of games that will be available for play at the event is larger, as is the amount of vendors and the overall size of the event, all of which is due to the Expo moving to bigger digs at its new home at the Phoenix Convention Center.
Its array of programming and special guests this year have also undergone a growth spurt, says event co-founder John Lester.
“We're literally doubling our square footage that we had last year at the [Mesa Convention Center],” he says. “And we have more than two times more guests.”
And the guests are just as important to the event as the games, programming, and tournaments.
“They certainly add to the overall mix that Game On Expo offers,” Lester says.
This year’s lineup of guests includes more than 25 names from all aspects of video game culture, ranging from voice actors and creators to popular YouTube stars and pro-level joystick Jedi and competitive gamers. All of them will appear at various panels and programming events throughout the weekend, including photo ops and autograph sessions.
Lester says that, just like most other aspects of the Expo, the guest list represents a mix of both modern and old-school games.
“We wanted guests that appeal to [players of] popular games currently. Games like Overwatch, Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the Mass Effect series, [and] the Portal series,” he says. “We also wanted guests that appeal to the retro gaming fans, too.”
And if you're curious about who will be in attendance at this year's Expo, here's a rundown of every special guest that's scheduled to appear.
If you’ve been grinding away on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the latest in Nintendo’s long-running series, you’ll probably recognize the voice of Patricia Summersett. After all, she plays one of biggest characters in the game, Princess Zelda. The Canadian-born actress has also played roles in such games as Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Assassin's Creed: Syndicate, as well as on television shows like Bravo's 19-2 and the Syfy series Helix.
A veteran voice actor who’s been a part of various pop culture projects, he’s voiced characters in cartoons for kids (Clone Wars, Ben 10) and adults (Archer), was the voice of Hulu for six years, and also worked on a slew of video games. Besides major roles like Lee Everett in The Walking Dead game or Gabriel the Warrior in Minecraft: Story Mode, Fennoy also played Warlord Okeer in Mass Effect 2, Josey in Lolipop Chainsaw, and Gabriel Tosh in StarCraft II.
It’s been a busy summer so far for nerdcore star Mega Ran. Besides releasing new tracks, hosting his podcast Mat Mania, and hitting up geek events like Too Many Games in Philadelphia and E3 in L.A., the Valley resident is celebrating the 10th anniversary of his breakthrough self-titled album. Plus, he also appeared on the recent episode of SmackDown Live that was filmed in Phoenix, backing up his friend and WWE superstar Xavier Woods and the other members of New Day in a rap battle. Mega Ran will make time in his hectic schedule to appear at Game On Expo, however, where he’ll host his own panel.
Mortal Kombat actors
Back in October 1992, the now-defunct Midway Games released the original Mortal Kombat in arcades around the country. And it was a smash hit, to say the least, becoming one of the most popular and influential fighting titles ever, thanks to its blood-soaked gameplay, ultra-violent finishing moves, and compelling plot. Another factor was Mortal Kombat’s unique graphics, which featured digitized video footage of martial artists and athletes in action, as did its two sequels. Several of those same martial artists will be in attendance at Game On Expo this year, including Daniel Pesina (Johnny Cage), Kerri Ann Hoskins (Sonya Blade), John Parrish (Jax), Dr. Phillip Ahn (Shang Tsung), and Brian Glynn (Shao Kahn).
This voice actress is best known for her role as teenager zombie holocaust survivor Clementine in both The Walking Dead game and its sequel, The Walking Dead: Season Two. It’s not Hutchison’s only claim to fame, however, as she’s also had roles in a couple of animes and more than 30 different games, including League of Legends, Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse, Phantasy Star Universe, Deadly Premonition, and Back to the Future: The Game.
Old-school gamers who remember the Nintendo World Championships back in 1990 are probably familiar with the name Thor Aackerlund. After all, he won the now-legendary competition as a teenager, besting Mario maniacs from across the country in the 12-17 age group, and earning a spot in gaming history. These days, Aackerlund’s still involved in competitive gaming and holds a couple of Twin Galaxies records for the NES version of Tetris.
Many a Portal player’s spirit, ego, and wherewithal have been crushed by Ellen McLain. She’s the voice behind GLaDOS, the narcissistic, sinister, and soul-crushing female AI that serves as the villain of the series and dispenses passive-aggressive insults and taunts that tend to cut to the bone. Thankfully, McLain is nothing like her alter ego and is actually an affable and charming person, so don't be afraid to interact with her during her appearance at Game On Expo.
Metal Jesus Rocks
No, Metal Jesus Rocks is not the real name of this popular YouTuber. It’s Jason Lindsey, actually, which is one tidbit of trivia about the dude who has racked up 67 million views over the last decade. Here's a few more: he’s a former employee of now-defunct publisher Sierra On-Line, a major rock and metal fan, and a longtime gamer whose videos (which are posted every Tuesday and Friday) cover everything from collecting and buying video games to hidden gems and cool finds. He’s even got a totally awesome game room with countless systems and titles. Yup, Metal Jesus does indeed rock.
As any die-hard fan of the Mass Effect trilogy will tell you, actor Mark Meer has voiced the male version of the franchise’s famed protagonist, Commander Sheppard. And while he’s been in a variety of other games (including the Baldur's Gate and Dragon Age series), it’s arguably his best-known role. Heck, Meer’s even cosplayed the character at a few cons in recent years. There’s no word if he’ll do the same during his appearance at Game On Expo, however. But wouldn’t you just die if he did?
Pat “The NES Punk” Contri
As his nickname indicates, Pat Contri is a gaming geek with a yen for classic consoles and titles. As such, his popular YouTube channel boasts countless videos featuring his comedic reviews of old-school games, his adventures hitting up flea markets for even more games, and other nerdy subject matter. His panels at the first two Game On Expos were both hilariously memorable and packed with people, which we’re expecting will also be the case at this year’s event.
He’s the co-host of the Completely Unnecessary Podcast along with the aforementioned Contri, which feature the two gabbing about video game news, collecting tips, the latest flicks, and other geeky topics du jour each and every week.
The binge-watching crowd might recognize this Colombian-born actress from her role as Jules on Showtime's psychological drama, The Affair. Gamers, on the other hand, might recognize Ravassa from her work on Max Payne 3 or her role as Taliana Martinez in Grand Theft Auto V. Overwatch junkies, however, know her as the voice of Sombra, the machine pistol-wielding Offense hero.
The Gaming Historian
Do you know the backstory behind Nintendo's failed Virtual Boy system, the mysterious arcade game Polybius, or other bits of video game lore? Norman Caruso, better known as the Gaming Historian, certainly does, and he enjoys sharing such knowledge with the world via his YouTube channel and appearances at various geek conventions, including Game On Expo. What’s he going to be discussing at this year’s event? You’ll have to show up to his panel to find out.
Anjali Bhimani has built a pretty solid resume in Hollywood, including recurring gigs on Modern Family (she plays Nina Patel), Cassandra French's Finishing School, and Adoptable. The reason Bhimani’s coming to Game On Expo, however, is the fact she’s the actress behind Symmetra in Blizzard’s phenomenally popular multiplayer first-person shooter Overwatch, as well as Nisha in Fallout 4.
Super geek Andre Meadows has racked up some interesting, if not downright nerdy experiences in his day. According to his bio, he’s sang the theme to Reading Rainbow along with host LeVar Burton, busted out some martial arts moves with actual Power Rangers, and performed the infamous “Ninja Rap” from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secet of the Ooze for Vanilla Ice. You can find videos of each on his YouTube channel, along with rants, raves, and reviews of games and other geek stuff.
Josh Petersdorf is one of a few voice actors who’s had the distinction of voicing both Optimus Prime and Megatron (specifically for a ride at Universal Studios Hollywood). His credits in the video game world are just as impressive, including playing heroes and villains alike in such popular titles as League of Legends (Galio), World of Warcraft (Maxwell Tyrosus), and Overwatch (Roadhog).
John “Numbers” Goldberg
John Goldberg is living the dream. That is to say, he’s a professional competitive gamer (who goes by the nickname John Numbers) who kicks ass and takes names at various Super Smash Bros. tournaments and battles around the country. He’s even sponsored by fighting game community KickPunchBlock and won the Nintendo World Championships in 2015. Feel free to challenge him to a few rounds at Game On Expo, if you're feeling foolhardy.
Anthony "AntDude" Cavallo has a certain yen for Kirby. So much so that his hillarious YouTube channel is chock-full of videos devoted to many games starring the cutesy-pie Nintendo character. It isn’t all Kirby everything, however, as Cavallo also dishes on cool ROM hacks on old-school games and reviews both current and classic titles alike, oftentimes in humorous fashion.
The Game Chasers
Billy Hudson and Jay Hunter are sort of like the American Pickers of the video game world. As such, the Dallas-born twosome have hit up thrift stores, flea markets, junk shops, and a variety of other spots (including a few unusual places) in both the U.S. and Europe in search of rare cartridges, old-school titles, and other gaming gems. And they film such adventures for their YouTube show, which boasts more than 100,000 subscribers.
Yup, it’s that Phil Moore. The same dude who hosted the gaming-oriented game show Nick Arcade back in the early '90s and appeared on a few other shows on the cable channel, including You’re On and the first episode of All That. These days, Moore’s still involved with game shows (including co-hosting the Let’s Make A Deal live tour) and created a GoFundMe campaign earlier this year to help produce a modern-day video game competition show similar to Nick Arcade.
Wood Hawker is the Australian-born gamer and retro collector behind the BeatEmUps channel on YouTube. It features such ongoing series as “The Game Quest” (a documentary-style chronicle of his latest picks) and “You’re Watching Wood” (his vlog about gaming, pop culture, and pretty much everything else). Plus, he’s got an adorable Aussie accent.
When he isn’t busy playing games, reviewing games, or discussing games for his YouTube show, 8-Bit Eric, Texas native Eric Perez works as a professional wrestler on the indie circuit. No joke. Fortunately, he’s a laidback and approachable dude, so he probably won’t put you in a headlock if your opinions on gaming differ from him.
Courtney Leigh is a professional cosplayer and costume designer who’s transformed herself into numerous geek and gaming icons, such as Pyramid Head from Silent Hill, Fifth Element heroine Leeloo, and Mercy from Overwatch. (She’s also famous for playing a red-skinned Sith Twi'lek at local cons.) Leigh designs all her gear and is, at least according to one of her Facebook friends, a “wizard with fabric, foams, and thermoplastic.” Plus, she also works as an FX makeup artist, including creating some of the creepy creatures found at Fear Farm during the Halloween season.
John Patrick Lowrie
John Patrick Lowrie has been lending his voice to video games for the last 20 years, dating back to his first role as the narrator of the real-time strategy series Total Annihilation from the late ‘90s. In the ensuing decades, he played Agent Gray in The Matrix Online MMORPG (when it was still around, at least) and The Sniper in Team Fortress 2, as well as roles in Half-Life 2, Left 4 Dead, F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin, and a couple of Halo games.
Any competitive gamer worth his or her weight in energy drinks would be envious of the sort of success that Chris Tang has had over the years. He’s conquered the competition at major tournaments (including the Sega World Championships) and been an official member of the U.S. National Video Game Team. Tang parlayed that success into game development, including working on such titles as Gauntlet IV, Primal Rage, Marvel Vs. Capcom, and Street Fighter III: Third Strike. He’s even been featured in a film or two, including the gaming documentaries like Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters.
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Mark Crowe is a game designer, writer, and artist who’s worked on some notable PC games from back in the day. He co-created the famed Space Quest series, had a hand in developing King’s Quest II, Leisure Suit Larry, Police Quest, and The Black Cauldron, all while with legendary publisher Sierra.
There’s a good chance you’ve seen the costume creations of Amber Brite at local cons and geek events, either being worn by her (she often goes as a female Twi’lek or Togrutan from the Star Wars universe) or by other cosplayers. Brite works as a propmaker in her spare time, specializing in custom-made silicone-based headpieces that are otherworldly and fun.