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.)

What would it take for MMOs to work on consoles?

There’s been a great story this week originating from an article in Gamasutra where an analyst claims that 1/3 of people who intend to buy God of War 3 don’t currently own the console  to play it (PS3). I thought this was interesting because it highlights one of the ways in which consoles are different from PCs: backwards compatibility.

(Note: it may also mean that people say they’re planning to buy lots of games that they don’t actually buy. If you’d asked me last year I would probably have said I intended to buy Fallout 3. I still do … some day.)

A new console might not run your old games. So before people fork out for the hardware, they’ll wait to be sure that there are enough games out that they’d want to play to make it worthwhile.  God of War 3 may well be a console seller for the PS3, if it tips enough people  over the decision line. Upgrading a PC is a much more predictable operation, and can be done in pieces — ie. upgrade the RAM, upgrade the graphics card, etc. And when you do it, you know that your current favourite games will still run.

MMOs on Consoles

MMOs on consoles have been tried. There’s no special technical reason why it wouldn’t be possible to run one, assuming the net connection. But  you can look at how we play MMOs to see why it might not be that simple.

A lot of people play MMOs with their families. PC games generally assume one user per computer, so if you have multiple MMO players you’ll have more than one machine. This is not the console model. Consoles are sold as being family machines. You’d have one per household. If a game is multiplayer, that means everyone huddled up on the sofa with their own controller, playing via the same box and watching on the same TV/ monitor.

But having more than one person playing an MMO via console means that MMOs would need to work differently. Maybe you’d be running different characters in the same team. Maybe the screen would be split in two (sounds awkward though). But what you couldn’t really do is have one person raiding with their guild while the other went off to explore and do some crafting instead.

It might be that a true console MMO would simply be something quite different to what we have seen before. But in order for consoles to run MMOs the way they currently are, you have to break that one-per-household mindset.

Households like mine which currently have more than one PC, probably with a shared net connection (not doing this would result in divorce ;) ) would have to switch to multiple consoles instead. It’s not impossible that this might happen. I’m sure there are student households where there’s an XBOX in each bedroom.

It will however be a tough nut to crack to persuade the majority of users that they need another console and another monitor just to play with their family.

Which does beg the question: what about handhelds? And this is going to be the key market for console MMOs in my opinion. An iPhone, a DS, a PSP? They could be net-connected. They could run some kind of MMO.

I’d put money on this being where the revolution starts. And if I’ve finished Chronotrigger by then, I’ll be there with my DS at the ready.