Eurogamer Expo: What caught my eye, and it’s going to be a Star Wars (TOR) Xmas …

journey-game-screenshot-19You are going on a journey…

The Eurogamer Expo was held from Thursday-Sunday last week, taking over a larger venue than last year. I’d say that it was an improved experience all round, so props to the organisers.

As Danie says, computer gaming expos are very different in tone from gaming/ sci-fi conventions. You walk into a huge darkened hall, there are posters hanging from the ceiling, and the main source of light is the flickering of hundreds (thousands?) of screens running demos. It all feels very Bladerunner.

You wander around, decide which games you want to queue for and which you’re content to watch over someone else’s shoulder, keep an eye on twitter for when any giveaways are announced, and go off to explore. It’s not an ideal environment to meet people socially, so I do apologise to anyone else who was there who I failed to meet.

The games which I found most eye catching were the ones which immediately feel more different to the standard RPGs/shooters. Journey in particular had me and my partner absolutely mesmerised – and that was just watching other people play it. It’s a sort of platform game which has the look of a Studio Ghibli film.

We decided not to queue for Skyrim, GW2, SWTOR, Arkham City or Dark Souls; I’m not big on standing around for ages just to play a demo. My beloved did win a tshirt (for me :) ) in a giveaway by knowing that Catwoman used to be a hooker though – I knew there was a reason I married him!

The Indie Arcade was also a huge amount of fun. I didn’t have time to try all of the games, but This Robotic Heart of Mine and Molecat Twist were both very engaging puzzle games of the type when you look up and blink and wonder where two hours went.  (The molecats are also adorable and they should make cuddly ones!) Rimelands: Hammer of Thor was also a fun little turn based roguelike which actually shows the dice rolls when you are in combat.

All recommended: I’m sure the others were good also but didn’t get a chance to play them.

The other big news of the convention was that Bioware announced the release dates for SWTOR: 20th Dec in the US, 22nd Dec in the EU. More on that tomorrow.

Eurogamer Expo fails to inspire

I had an email from Eurogamer today asking for feedback on this weekend’s event. I thought, “What a great idea. But you guys clearly didn’t read my feedback from last year, so I’ll blog about it instead.”

The Eurogamer Expo is basically a huge set of demos for upcoming games. Imagine a big convention hall, full of stands and action. There are displays for just about every interesting game you have seen or heard about. Reps from gaming developers and publishers are on hand to tell you more about what they have on offer. You can buy or win branded mousemats, peripherals, codes for DLC and other fun fripperies. There are interesting talks and panel discussions. Then take that mental picture and edit it heavily so that the only thing that is left is a darkened hall full of shooters and action games, and a small stand for Nintendo in the corner where they didn’t even bother to bring a 3DS along and instead were demoing Dragon Quest 9 (a game I have been playing already for over a month.) To be fair, they do have a programme of talks by developers but it won’t really compare to the sort of thing you’ll read about with other targetted gaming shows.

Eurogamer Expo is really not a convention, in the general sense of the word.

I cannot adequately explain how disappointed I am that most of the games I really want to see weren’t even there. They had half the hall full of Assassin’s Creed II demos, and not a single MMO (even last year they had Star Trek Online demos set up). I noted on Sunday the games that briefly caught my eye — none of them enough to be bothered to wait around to play it. The lack of any 3DS was gutwrenching, given that it’s the one piece of hardware that I’d really like to demo before I buy and I know they have demo hardware because I read about it in accounts of US conventions this summer.

What’s even worse is that we were told off for taking pictures even though there was no sign anywhere forbidding you from doing so. Meanwhile, a guy with a press pass and a giant camera lined up exactly the same shot smugly to no issue at all. No, no, and again no. If I pay the cover price and go into an exhibition with my family and friends, you do NOT tell me not to take any pictures of them. All that will happen is that I will think that you and your convention are arses. It will not even stop the more determined among us from snapping the odd shot to capture the atmosphere. Nothing at the Expo was an industry exclusive, it had all been covered many times before in the gaming press.

We often comment that in the UK we feel that we get worse treatment than US consumers. Eurogamer Expo is like a distillation of that feeling into a single exhibition hall. All summer I’ve been reading about the cool games and demos that got shown at PAX, E3, Gamescom (admittedly that isn’t in the US) and the rest. And what do we get? A set of shooter/ action type demos. And what was even more surreal was that in all of this festival of gaming consumerism, there was no one trying to persuade us to buy. No one offering good pre-order deals. No one even seeming to care. And bear in mind that there was really no way to know exactly which companies or games would be on show until just before the Expo opened, we just had to assume that all the usual suspects would be there.

Astoundingly, the expo managed to attract more people than last year — so maybe the Expo, tedious as it was, is actually what people want.

At the same time as Eurogamer, there was a wedding exhibition in the hall next door. Amusingly, one of the women on my University course mentioned that she had gone there with a friend on Saturday. So while we were wandering disappointedly around the convention floor, she was trying FREE CAKE!  I rest my case

Eurogamer Expo

I went up to town (note for non brits: ‘up to town’ means ‘to London’ if you live in the Home Counties*) for the Eurogamer Expo on Friday. It was great to touch base with some bloggers and podcasters I really admire – here’s the shout out to Van Hemlock, Shuttler, and dmosbon (and please leave comments for links to anyone else, ‘fraid I was a bit foggy with whatever mild lurgy I’ve had over the last few days.)

It was also the first time in many years that I’ve been to a computer consumer exhibition. And boy have they changed! One thing that hasn’t changed is the ratio of men to women among the punters. When I arrived at the venue and joined the queue I estimated it as roughly 10000:1, later revised to about 150:1 when I was bored enough to start counting.

This particular expo was very much for gamers to come and try out new and upcoming games. The main floor of the exhibition was filled with huge widescreen monitors, several of which were assigned to each game demo. People were being quite polite about moving on after their 10-15 mins was up so there was plenty of opportunity to check the games out. Upstairs were the indie games, and booths for devs, along with cubicles where people could get advice on breaking into the industry (presumably having people pick over their portfolios). Then further up the meeting rooms where you could attend lectures.  It’s a long long way from the computer expos I remember when I was a kid, full of stalls selling anything from hardware, consumables, software, just about anything remotely interesting to geeks, or plugging fanzines or bboards.

Anyway, the layout meant that all the non flash-bang-whizzo games content was relegated to the top of the hall, where it was easy to ignore them and most people did.

What Caught My Eye

It had never occurred to me before that console games were designed so that they were fun to watch even if you weren’t the person actually playing them. It was very noticeable that the PC games just weren’t that eyecatching from a distance.

Most standout for me was God of War 3, where I (with many many others) was staring open mouthed at the ultra-crazy and over the top stunts, so it wins my whizz-bang award. Also gave me my best laugh of the show – I was watching the main character have a big fight with a centaur. At the end, the hero slashes the centaur’s stomach and all the guts spill out, gratuitously. After a moment’s pause from the crowd, I heard a plummy voice behind me comment, “Oh how absolutely awesome.”

But when I’d blinked the virtual gore and explosions away from my eyes, it was Uncharted 2 that held my attention for the longest. Even when I wasn’t the person playing the game, I thought it was absolutely spellbinding. I’ve not seen a game that made me think so much of actually playing through a Bond movie. The other thing I noticed, just from watching, is how brilliant the storytelling is in that game. I saw a segment (from near the beginning, I think), where our hero has been in a train where the front two coaches have gone over a cliff and he has to climb up them onto solid ground. I don’t know how hard that was to play (it looked vaguely platformish, with some running, jumping, and swinging) but the game made it feel like a very exciting cliffhanger action scene. My heart was in my mouth as I watched the carriages lurch as the character swung in through a carriage window.

It was also clear, even without sound, that the story was being told through flashbacks. I was just thoroughly impressed.

Also a sidenote to Army of Two because they gave me a free T-Shirt of swag+1.

PC Games of Note

I snuck a few minutes alone with the Star Trek Online demo and I’ll be writing up my impressions of that later this week. Dragon Age was also being displayed on both PC and PS3, and it looked very sleek indeed. I guessed immediately which screen showed Dragon Age because all the characters were covered in a fine speckle of blood.

The indie games were fun and weird and different and cool, which is pretty much what you want to see. They were also much more likely to have some of the dev team turn up to chat to players about the game and where they were going with it.

Particularly eye catching for me were:

(*Geek Aside: Looking at that map of the Home Counties, I’m reminded of the Golden Circle of shadows closest to Amber.)