Comic Con Day 3: Star-spotting, and sitting. A lot of sitting.

Day 3 of Comic Con and there were big choices to make.

Everyone and their dog wanted to see Chuck, but doing so meant probably missing Leverage and a few other things. Still, we bailed on Chuck last year for Lost, so honour had to be restored. And it was well worth the long queue (we got there around 5am, the panel started after 10). And it was a lot of fun, with throwing t-shirts into the crowd, Jeffster dancing to Bad Romance, etc etc. It’ll be online I’m sure! We then hoofed it to the Hilton to catch the start of the Leverage panel (their first time at Comic Con), which included Wil Wheaton. I missed the free shirts, but was great to see most of the cast up on stage having fun. They mentioned the Leverage RPG, due out sometime later this year I think, and Wil said it was definitely a good one if you like Leverage and like RP!

After Leverage there were big choices. My friend stayed at the Hilton to see Venture Bros, The Guild and Community panels. I went to walk the Exhibit Hall and ended up seeing Wesley Snipes, LL Cool J and being moved out of the way by security for Kenneth Branagh (so he was around a foot from me, but I’m quite a Brit about these things, and just let him wander off). The Hall was crowded and insane, and though I walked the length of it, I failed miserably to find the Nintendo booth I’d been searching for. Also couldn’t queue at the Warner one cos the Chuck gang were all doing signings there. I also almost wandered into Robert Kirkman’s signing, but then saw the queue for it and quickly turned around.

So I next went up to one of the smaller rooms (it only holds 2k people!) and ended up in two cartoon panels. The first was kind of like Pictionary, but with professional cartoonists – which was fun and very cool. Then there was one about voice acting with a ton of famous voice actors. I was pleasantly surprised at how interesting the non-TV panels were, and if I go again, will try and catch these two panels another time, for sure.

But, after these were the panels I’d really been waiting for and the ones I actually skipped out on Fringe/V for (tbh, I’d have had to sit through Family Guy, The Cleveland Show and two others before Fringe and V and would have been stuck in that one room for fear of losing my seat). It was Warehouse 13 and Eureka, back-to-back. Loved them. They were funny, charming and the casts of both shows obviously love them dearly. And Felicia Day turned up to announce her multi-arc coming up in Eureka (along with Wil Wheaton). Plus I got to touch Eddie McClintock as he did a run past the crowd, whacking all our hands (though I prefer a more geeky guy!). I’m glad I made those choices, I went for fun over the shows I might prefer, but that’s all good and part of the crazy decisions you have to make here.

After the two fun Syfy shows I was ‘treated’ to the pilot of Nikita. It looks horrible. I’m sorry, I’m sure there are people who’ll enjoy it, but I almost fell asleep, and well.. I won’t be following it at all. Why did I stay? It was followed by Human Target, a show I adore and which clinched the missing of Fringe and V. I’m so glad I stayed. They announced there will be two new female roles in the show (including a boss for the boys), bigger gadgets, and lots of fun for the gang. I really recommend the show as action silliness, and just sheer fun.

It was a gruelling day though, finishing at 7pm. So I just headed to hotel to eat and fall asleep, ready for another early start on Sunday.

Comic Con PanelFAIL

Comic Con Day 1

Comic Con Dragon Age 2 Panel

First an admission – I probably like TV more than I like playing games.

Secondly, I didn’t make it to the SW:TOR or Fallout 3 panels.

The second is somewhat due to the first, except I did leave a little time between panels to try and get into the gaming ones – just they were a LOT more popular than I expected. So, instead, I went back to the exhibit hall and had another look at some of the gaming stands, but realistically I wasn’t going to hang around and try and play Red Faction (sorry to any fans), and the queues were pretty long. I did stop by NCSoft but they still didn’t appear to be doing much, and most people with Going Rogue up were just using the costume designer (no surprise there!).

Have no fear though, this update does have a (kind of) gaming aspect to it. I just spent part of my evening at Flynn’s Arcade, playing Mission Control and Pac-Man. And I’m rubbish at those games. But to be back in an arcade after *cough* possibly more than 20 years, well, it was very cool. The whole room was set up as a replica of Flynn’s in the original TRON movie.

Then the back door was opened surreptitiously and people allowed to explore through it to Flynn’s office, where we stood until enough people discovered the location and watched a small presentation, which ended up in a bit of zapping and another door being opened into the fluorescent world of TRON, a bar location with the newest TRON: Legacy trailer playing on all sides, and with the bars giving out Coke Zero, while you could look at displays of costumes and models. Super-fun and a little spooky.

As for the first part of my day, I started at the Hawaii Five-0 panel. No excuses, they promised a cool T-shirt (‘I got lei’d at Comic Con’) and also it was followed by the panel for AMC’s The Walking Dead, based on Robert Kirkman’s awesome comic series. Both panels were a lot of fun and got great receptions, so I don’t regret it, except for missing SW:TOR which was 30 mins after the AMC one finished, but people were being turned away from the queues. And I really didn’t want to sit through a ton of other stuff I wasn’t interested in to see it. Same happened with Fallout 3, though I turned up there over an hour beforehand and the queuing people were being told it was full (at Comic Con, they don’t clear rooms between panels, so people turn up and ‘squat’ for a few panels if there’s something they really want to see. So I did make an effort for you all, but I didn’t want to compromise the stuff I wanted to get done for myself.

We queued to buy exclusive TRON merchandise and I now have a die-cast mini light cycle. It was a pain to get but was genuinely on my list of things I wanted. It’s lucky I don’t mind waiting around a lot, I’m getting well-practised.

I’ll see if I can check the gaming stuff out some more, but if I don’t, it’s honestly because of my uppermost admission. I’m here for the TV mostly!

Day One: San Diego Comic Con 2010

Zombies at Comic Con 2010

Three days with no sleep standing in line for the Tron panel ...

It’s been a crazy day and a half, since I’m rolling the preview night into this write-up. Preview night, for me, basically means having a look around the Exhibit Hall, meeting people I wanted to try and catch and getting the atmosphere soaked up before the real work starts. In other words, I didn’t go to watch the actual preview this year, which was the TV show Nikita. Not that interested.

We all got Warner bags this year with our registration stuff. They’re huge, and they have different designs on and people used to queue at the Warner booth for them, so it’s been nice this year to just have one handed over. My friend got Human Target and I got a Batman one, so I grabbed the Human Target one, while he engaged in a game of bag-trading that saw him work through Clash of the Titans, Batman, Scooby Doo, Chuck, Fringe and finally The Big Bang Theory. But I’m happy with my Human Target one. The Exhibit Hall is huge, it’s just huge. And it runs the gamut from comic artists and book publishers, to games companies, along with the obvious film and TV presence. And people queue. They queue for swag, they queue to buy exclusive items, and they queue for autographs. And I hate queuing! So I go pick up the easy swag on the first night and see what else I might want. I did score lots of goodies from publishers, including a copy of George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones, and a bizarre book-related jigsaw. Also a Twilight iPhone cover.. hrrm, I shouldn’t mention that, right?

In all fairness, this year I wanted to check out games more, but they didn’t seem to all be ready to rock on preview night. So I might have to head back there. City of Heroes: Going Rogue had some terminals up, but no way to bag the in-game ghoul costume (and since I don’t play the game, in-game play didn’t really go it for me, but it looked pretty). DCUO was there (for the person who asked), but I didn’t check it out – they had lovely lanyards and my friend snagged one somehow.. we shall return. Then we went to see Super Hero Squad Online, as I’d promised to go hug the CM (long story, follow twitter ;p). My friend took the controls while we chatted and I have to say, I’m totally sold on it. Yes, it’s kiddie, but it’s gorgeous and the housing is honestly the most FUN MMO housing I’ve seen – complete with Hulk throwing sofas around the room to let off steam. So, that was a bit of a surprise to me, only because I’d never really considered it.

So we wandered, we got swag, we met friends from last year, and then we went to check if there was a line for Tron the next day. There was. And I’m a fool. So we took spots and settled in for a freezing night in a line. At least there was cover this year, as it rained. Also the Hilton sent us blankets, pillows and water. Was still freezing though!!! So let’s ignore the night in line, it’s not that interesting, but I had excellent company which helped.

And it was Thursday, the first full day of the con and I was near the front of the Hall H queue. First up was Megamind, a superhero/villain 3-D animated film starring Will Ferrell, Tina Fey and Jonah Hill, oh, and Brad Pitt. The first three showed up, with Ferrell in costume. I’m not a huge fan of any of them and they didn’t disappoint, I found it quite a stodgy panel, with nothing quite as funny as they wanted. But, and it’s a big but, the film looks awesome and fun and is definitely on my radar now (not least cos they gave us all watches!).

Next up was Tron: Legacy which was as awesome as expected. They showed 8 mins of footage, they showed the new trailer, the entire main cast were there and made interesting comments (the panel is almost certainly on YouTube by now, so honestly, I’m not going into details). They recorded us yelling De-Rez, and other terms and they’re hoping to insert it in the film, so whee, I might be in Tron: Legacy!! That’s a cool give-away and a half. But when they packed up to go early, it was obvious Disney had more in store for us. Firstly we got a 3-D Johnny Depp Pirates teaser trailer, the next one will be about Fountain of Youth, and he’s so great in character, again, I know the footage is online, so go seek!

Then, Guillermo Del Toro came out to reveal his next project is Haunted Mansion for Disney. And they’re rebooting it, forgetting Eddie Murphy ever existed and making it scary and cool. Hrrm. I’m not a massive Disney kid, Haunted Mansion to me was an ok ride in the theme park… so colour me a little disappointed that he left The Hobbit for this. But – the first 999 in the hall got a signed, numbered Haunted Mansion poster (signed by the artist), so yay for swag?!

We left the Hall post Tron and went to find food before heading back to pick up our Haunted Mansion swag. I had wanted to dash to the 38 Studios reveal, but frankly I hadn’t eaten in over 12h and I was HUNGRY. Got to see the Westboro Church protest and counter-protest and headed back to the Convention Center. I did manage to catch the last 15 mins of the panel, but mostly when they were wrapping up. Luckily they have the game’s website up now, so all the info will be there. There was a reason I headed to that room though, and that was for the other panel that was on my must-see list – a Quantum Leap retrospective. But first I saw through the Aqua Teen Hunger Force panel, which was frankly a little bit awkward. Still, it was over and people enjoyed it!

Then I settled down for an hour with Scott Bakula discussing the impact of Quantum Leap with someone from TV Guide. It started off with the show’s credit sequence which almost made me well up and then Bakula took to the stage. He got a standing ovation, which both surprised and pleased me, and I totally joined in. And it was just a magical hour of him speaking and clips from the show, including the final minutes of it. Shockingly, perhaps, he annouced that a Quantum Leap movie was ‘on’ again and that producers were getting on-board and it should all go ahead this time. He did say that he and Dean Stockwell would be in it, but not as the main characters anymore. I’m not surprised at that, but glad that the project is underway and they all seem to be happy about it and on board to star in it regardless of characters!

And then I went to see Dragon Age II…

((If you’d like to see another take on Day 1, Geeks are Sexy went to some of the same panels as Arb but also went to the Scott Pilgrim one instead of Quantum Leap.))

Our Woman in San Diego

With no expense spared, Arbitrary is in San Diego at the moment to attend Comic Con. She generously offered to write about the con and her experiences when she gets a chance. (I think my editorial suggestion was “just write about whatever.”)

So if there’s anything in particular you’d like to ask about, feel free to suggest it in comments here.

RealID debate brings all the posters back to the official forums

I’ve never seen an expression of general outrage against Blizzard so great as what’s been happening overnight.

I’ve lost count of the blog posts protesting the proposed new change.

Moderators of other forums, such as mmo-champion, tankspot, and even Elitist Jerks have come out immediately against the idea too (and to assure users that they don’t plan to go that route.)

And when an EJ moderator suspends their usually harsh rules about whining on Blizzard, you know there’s something more at stake:

The idea of merging RealID into the Blizzard forums is dumb. The more places that say it’s dumb the better (which includes here). If your post violates our forum rules we will infract you for it, but the do not whine rule is waived for this thread only. Carry on.

And that’s even without counting the official forum threads:

(As to why the EU boards are so much less excitable, I think it’s partly due to stronger moderation and partly because everyone knows there’s no point posting there because devs only read the US ones.)

Obviously one cannot assume that all those forum replies are from people who disagree with the idea. But who is going to read through 15682 posts just to check? Oh yeah, forum mods. Who’d want THAT job? Still, at least it gets people posting…

In any case, it’s an interesting experiment in online democracy, whether you agree with the change or not. Does Blizzard really intend to ignore all of the backlash? Today we’ll find out, one way or another. I hope they’ll modify their policy to let people create a battle.net account alias and require all official forum posts to show that information instead of real names.

And what dire PR for the company just before SC2 is released. There was a time when Blizzard was viewed as a company run by and for gamers. That time is now over. Even aside from the wrongs or rights of the proposal, no company that fails so badly in understanding gamer culture can really claim to be one of us any more.

Make your Google background awesome

googlewarrior

Anyone checked out Google yet today? They’ve gone all bing on us, with eye-bleedingly bright backgrounds.

But it is possible to swap in something altogether better, like the Guild Wars 2 Warrior wallpaper shown above.

googlechange

This is a screenshot of the google homepage, showing the ‘”change background image” option on the lower left of the page.

If you select this you will be given the choice to pick your google background from a selection of pre-approved images, or you can pick something that is on your computer (as long as it is at least 800×600 in size).

Once you have done that, the background will switch over, and the tag on the bottom left will change to show, “remove background image” for whenever you get sick of it.

Or until Google gets sick of messing around with backgrounds and goes back to plain white.

Yes but what about the Guild Wars 2 Warrior?

The GW2 team has been releasing pockets of information lately and this week’s info concerned the warrior class. I don’t have a huge amount to say about either the game or the class yet. Except that the warrior will make every plate wearing, weapon swinging, warrior at heart happy.

Abilities that change depending on what weapon you are carrying, battle shouts, plate armour, shields, everything is in there.

Guild Wars has always had a good reputation for artwork, and the GW2 art certainly doesn’t disappoint. Check out the other backgrounds if you don’t like the warrior one (this one is a female warrior in plate btw, she has a waist.)

Class Consciousness: The Cult of the Splat

Last week there was a minor spat between two classes amongst the WoW bloggers. A hunter dissed the mage bloggers on a podcast, and suddenly half the blogs in my reader went up in flames.

But why do people care about their class so much? Surely by this stage, most people who are keen enough to blog will have multiple alts anyway? And are there really enough readers who only want to read hunter blogs to support the 7 zillion hunter blogs out there? What do they all find to write about?

To get to the bottom of this, let’s go back in time. Pen and Paper RPG publishers always struggled with maximising sales, even when RPGs were trendy. The reason was that a group of players could get by with only one set of rulebooks. So the GM bought the books, and the players – well they could buy if they wanted or they could just share. A keen player would probably eventually buy some rulebooks. But they were optional; as long as one person in the group had access to the rules then the whole group could play. Clearly from a publisher standpoint, this was not ideal. It was the old board game model (one person buys the game, lots of people can play it), but with so much player enthusiasm out there, surely they could sell something to the non GM players. The guys who just turn up, play their character, and then go home.

White Wolf revolutionised the way gaming books were sold by producing splat books. A book full of optional rules, lore, colour text, and fun ideas focussed purely around one specific clan/class. (I’m going to keep calling them classes because it serves the same function.) So players who had a character of that clan and loved it would want to buy the book. If you loved your class, that class book was for YOU. The GM could look at the player’s copy if they needed to use the lore or optional rules. And these clan books quickly became known as splat books. Yes, suddenly the title of this post makes sense.

There were also lots of class-centric web pages and support for WW games. What White Wolf had done was to create a class identity for players. People got attached to their warriors or elves or wizards long before this, but there wasn’t much support for class-based lore from publishers aside from the odd scenario here or there.

Warhammer did the same thing for wargaming. Their army books provided not only rules but also background and painting tips for specific factions in their gameworld. (The 4th Edition of Warhammer was the first to publish separate army lists for different factions in separate books – so this was at about the same time that WW was publishing their splat books.)

And after that, the floodgates opened. Just about every tabletop class based RPG will now publish books about splats aimed at players rather than at GMs. And players love them.

Cult of the Hunter, and other splats

So given that background, it’s not surprising that WoW has a very healthy class-based blogosphere. If you want to blog about the game, why not write about your favourite character and join a readymade community of other people who want to read or write about similar things?

Why hunter and druid blogs are quite so overwhelmingly popular, I never will understand. I can see how hybrids potentially offer more subject matter (you can explore more roles) but the huge number of hunter blogs is a mystery to me. They also seem to have the most interesting blogosphere drama. I don’t read any of them regularly though, whereas bizarrely, most of the well known mage blogs are on my reader, despite the fact I don’t play a mage either.

The other surprise about the hunter blogs is that they no longer represent the popularity of the class in the game. There was a time when hunters (and warriors) were so popular that we used to joke that night-elf hunters on our server alone outnumbered the entire horde. That isn’t the case any more.

There are also plenty of readers who are perfectly happy to have lots of blogs telling them things they already know about classes, roles, and games which they already play. As well as newer players who don’t care about the discussions and just want to be told how to play.

And even aside from that, lots of players enjoy reading opinions about the game from the perspective of the same class that they play. So for example, I couldn’t really call this a warrior blog, but my main in WoW is a warrior and a tank and so I’ll tend to come from that perspective. I occasionally put out informative warrior/ tanking type posts (usually when I am poked with a sharp stick).

For many people, class based forums offer a much better way to get information than searching blogs. It’s easier for forum mods to organise the information, stickify useful posts, and gather information from a wide range of posters. But it’s not really an either/ or choice. If people are interested and have enough time, you can read class forums and class blogs.

Selling to the Splats

One of Blizzard’s odder decisions was when they decided to close class forums on the official boards in favour of switching to role based forums. (ie. tank forum, healer forum, damage forum). There was an outcry from the player base. They loved their class forums, even if they did occasionally get used to stir up shit against other classes.

Blizzard relented on that one, and the official boards do still include class based forums. They’ve never really been happy about class based content though, not since vanilla which did feature class questlines, class mounts, class epics, and so on.

To my mind, and in the world of F2P and cash shops, that’s a lost opportunity. Of course people would pay for cool cosmetic items that only their class could equip. Or class based questlines. We want to see more of that type of content, not less. People love their class identity, class lore, and class specific content.

And this is why I haven’t said too much about Bioware’s various SWTOR press releases. Frankly, their killer content is not the gameplay or the storytelling or the companions or the setting. It’s the fact that if you play SWTOR, you’ll have access to the most extensive class based questlines and gameplay of any MMO ever created. Imagine a whole game created entirely for your class. Well, maybe not a whole game, but plenty of content and lore and it’s all about you.

We may never really know why players love their splats so much that they’ll create content for them, create communities around them, or make them so much a part of their lives. But maybe devs don’t need to know why it happens, just to design around it and offer content that feeds that itch.

Gaming News: LOTRO goes F2P, Zynga buys Warstorm Dev, Sony announces Clone Wars Online, DC Online, Buzz about Halflife 3

Good news everyone, I didn’t have to make up any news this week!

LOTRO, Darkfall: Free as in Beer (the first round is on the house)

In case anyone had escaped the internet LOTRO blogging blitz, yes Turbine have announced that their  AAA Lord of the Rings MMO will be offering a wider variety of payment schemes from sometime this Autumn, so probably around November. Which does, yes, include some non-subscription cash shop options.

The big news from my point of view is that this is going to happen for the Euro servers as well as the US ones (unlike DDO). So we may actually retain some players. We still don’t know exactly how the changeover will affect existing players. So expect to hear more about that as the deadline approaches.

In other freemium news, Darkfall has announced a new 14 day free trial. So if you’re curious to test Aventurine’s claims that their MMO is not just a hardcore PvP gankfest with a confusing UI but actually does sport some challenging PvE also, this is your chance.

Zynga pays a high price for Challenge Games

Continuing to buy their way to dominance of Facebook games, Zynga announced a new acquisition this week. Challenge Games have made a name for themselves producing innovative social games like Warstorm (a collectible card type game) and Ponzi (a game that pokes fun at corporate life), with the obligatory cash shop purchases built in.

So it’s clear that Zynga recognise that they’ve been weak at innovation in this area – all of their more popular games right now were based on polishing other existing games. And this is how they plan to plug the gap. Challenge now becomes Zynga’s Austin office.

Sony announces two new MMOs, internet ignores one of them

Sony announced that they are releasing two new MMOs this year:

Care to guess which one got all the attention? Hint: It wasn’t DCU Online. This can’t bode well for the superhero MMO, maybe the popular interest in playing superheroes just isn’t there or is already well catered for with City of Heroes (due an expansion later this year too) and Champions Online. I was actually surprised by how few of the blogs and news outlets I read had much to say about it.

Everyone seems far more taken by the notion of Clone Wars Adventures, myself included. Maybe Sony have some agile PR campaign planned for DCUO later this year to stir up some excitement.

November is looking pretty busy this year for MMO releases, especially if Cataclysm ends up with a November release date too (which is likely). And we still don’t have dates for Final Fantasy 14, which also could potentially release this year, not to mention other smaller games (Jumpgate Evolution, Black Prophecy, TERA, etc.)

Valve cancels the Portal 2 demo at E3… what are they planning?

Lots of gaming journalists this week received a note from Aperture Science to announce the cancellation of the Portal 2 demo at E3. It will be replaced with A Surprise. RPS speculate whether the surprise might be related to a Half-Life 3 announcement.

From working my way through Portal (what a great game!!), I can only say that I regard announcements from Aperture Science with a degree of .. uh … cynicism. My 2c says that it is in fact going to be the Portal 2 demo, but maybe they’ll zap visiting hacks with cake guns or something similarly amusing to the public.

In any case, Valve could teach Sony a thing or three about PR campaigns. Maybe Portal 2 could include a Batman level to hype DCUO or something…

Puzzling PR #2, and a great article on casual/ hardcore gaming

Most puzzling comment made in an interview I saw this week was from Bioware, on the topic of Mass Effect 3. Apparently the third story is where they are going to bring some more fun and lightness into the trilogy, like the ewoks in Star Wars.

But I thought that everyone hated the ewoks and also, what if existing players love the games BECAUSE they aren’t fun and light hearted. Just a thought. Why are devs so scared of the grimdark, I wonder. It obviously does sell.

And because I forgot this from yesterday’s link post, everyone should go and read Greg Costyikan’s great article in The Escapist in which he ponders why publishers and retailers have been trying so hard to drive a wedge between casual and hardcore gamers. After all, don’t lots of people play both, and have been since the very dawn of gaming?

Twitter ye not!

One of the big things that has come out of our recent election is a sea change in the way online news is being reported. Both the BBC and The Guardian (the two sources I follow most closely) have been experimenting with what they call live news feeds over the last week.

And as well as the various news stories, they pad out the feeds by including timely tweets from the relevant people. It’s the next best thing to actually having an interview, and presenting a casually tweeted comment by the subject of said news story alongside the news has livened up the news feed immensely. Or at least, it’ll continue to be entertaining until people wise up that the media has gotten hold of the back channel.

And meanwhile, my local police force is on twitter too. PC Plod and Plodette dutifully report how many daily steps they took around the area (do they have pokewalkers hooked up to twitter, I wonder?), and their exciting escapades in  rescuing swans, arresting shoplifters, and giving talks in schools. I knew I should have stayed in London.

Do you use twitter for your gaming chat and news?

But that’s just two examples of how organisations I know are struggling with this new technology thing.

I love twitter. It’s difficult to really explain the appeal until you have had time to settle in and accrue a network of your own, but even if you never choose to chat you can listen in to what everyone else is saying. And lots of other MMO developers, bloggers, and readers use it too. I find it a great way to catch up on news, share interesting links, and hang out in a relaxed community of fellow gamers.

If you’re interested in taking part, twitter offers a shortcut. It’s possible to set up lists (ie. groups of people) and instead of following each person individually, you can opt to just follow the list. The easiest way to do this is via the twitter website – just follow any of the links below. There are also plenty of twitter clients available which will make it easier to organise both sending and receiving if you decide you want to spend more time with the site.

I know of a few lists of MMO bloggers:

Do you use twitter to chat about gaming? Have any good lists to recommend? Want more followers?

I’d like to update this page to include more twitter lists so feel free to make recommendations. Appropriate attributions will be made.