Here it is! Ten minutes of warm, moist footage taken directly from my wanderings around Eurogamer Expo 2011. And in an Electron Dance first, this video actually features me in person.
There’s also a special appearance at the end from members of Bits ‘n’ Bytes Gaming and Tap-Repeatedly, meaning the Alliance of Awesome is fully represented. (And the final, touching scene won’t make any sense unless you watched the video and read the words from Men of Science last week.)
Here are some more considered thoughts – with links – on the games I spent some time with.
The Indie Games Arcade
The arcade was still a bit small and, for some reason, held in a shoebox flat. A crush of visitors struggled to explore the arcade and something like B.U.T.T.O.N. would have been a disaster this year. Yet there was plenty of space around the indie prison, begging the question why it was built as if space was tight. Another problem was its proximity to the Just Dance 3 demo which belted out music tracks at nightclub volumes all day. “TELL ME ABOUT YOUR GAME.” “WHAT? DID YOU SAY IT WAS LAME?”
I didn’t get a chance to play everything but I did engage the developers a lot more this year.
Really Big Sky: A shooter. It took me a while before I realised that the black wave that wiped across the screen was a “planet” which you have to “drill” through. Before the penny dropped, I died again and again wondering what I was doing wrong. So while it was fun, pretty and made me look awesome, the unintuitive design might have turned many visitors away. However, I am likely to go back to Really Big Sky at some future point.
Molecat Twist: Lemmings cross-bred with a puzzle. This is something that might do well in the quiet of your own home but not in the heat and noise of Expo Hell. Your molecats are looking for the exit and they walk in a predictable fashion; you control them by rotating pieces of the underground labyrinth ahead of them. But when the player fails to configure the pieces in time, you have to wait a while before the molecats get back to the same position so you can try again. Even though there was a “quake” speedup option, it became frustrating playing at the expo as I literally spent half of my game waiting. Possibly needs a time-reversing undo function.
At A Distance: Terry Cavanagh’s interesting-looking co-op game. This never freed up for me to have a play and, if anyone wanted to play it seriously, it seemed to need a lot of time. So, compared to last year’s co-op favourite Nidhogg, At A Distance was less successful simply because it couldn’t achieve the same player throughput that Nidhogg did. I briefly spoke with a tense-looking Terry – but as he was right by the exit facing Just Dance 3, I could barely catch a word he was saying. I worked out he didn’t want to talk about the game until after I’d played it. Which I never did.
Waves: Rob Hale’s arena shooter was posted up in beta form on RPS a few months back. I played the beta a little, thinking it was “okay” but found myself firing it up again and again and again. The version in the expo is far better, being more forgiving and thus empowering. There is a wonderful fludity to the movement in Waves, as the game was originally planned to be a physics puzzler. Rob has been working full-time on Waves for about six months now, having quit working on mainstream games (his last major title was Enslaved). His only problem is that Waves is scheduled for late October which puts it up against the other indie arena shooter out there launching soon – Scoregasm. He’s concerned that these two games will cannibalise each other’s sales. The Electron Dance view is that both games are excellent and explore different aspects of arena shooter theory. I gave Rob one of the coveted Electron Dance badges, because I loved Waves. Definite buy.
Xenonauts: I spoke to Chris England, project lead for Xenonauts. Accountant by day, he’s planning to go full-time soon, to see the game – a remake of X-Com – through to its conclusion. As someone with no real experience of X-Com, it appears to be a modern update of the original although Gregg B said to me later he felt that the interface was not polished enough yet. I hope Xenonauts turns out to be a success because I’d like to play X-Com without having to play X-Com. Chris said the disappointment that 2K’s XCOM is effectively an FPS drove a lot of attention towards Xenonauts, so at least they have an audience.
Pineapple Smash Crew: This felt like a retro shooter to me, nothing new but executed well. I wasn’t compelled to purchase yet wound up sinking a good 10-15 minutes into it. I was surprised RPS held it aloft as the indie game of the expo. But I’ve heard the game described as “just like Cannon Fodder” which makes me wonder if nostalgia was playing out here. I never played Cannon Fodder. Is that why I didn’t get it?
Blocks That Matter: This fusion of Boulder Dash, Minecraft and Tetris is a strange thing where you can pick up blocks and only place them back in the environment as Tetris shapes. There were a lot of keys needed to control the game and it might not have been the easiest thing to pick up in the expo. I was undecided about whether I needed the game in my life or not, but it definitely offering a very different kind of puzzle challenge.
Fotonica: Astonishing. This is the non-game of the Indie Games Arcade. If I wanted to be unfair, I’d call it Canabalt in 3D. If I wanted to be fair, I’d call it free-running Zen meditation. It’s not a game about losing or winning, but achieving the perfect run. It cannot be understood through video: it needs to be touched and heard. Currently, Fotonica is available as pay-what-you-want. I talked to one of the developers at the expo, Nicolò Tedeschi, and Fotonica hasn’t brought in much cash yet but they’d like to work on other projects. I feel the urge to contribute. They definitely have my attention now. Fotonica got the only other Electron Dance badge of the expo.
These Robotic Hearts of Mine: A puzzle game based on cogs that is extremely easy to understand, but probably takes a good day to master. It’s not a bad game, but it didn’t win me over. People who like abstract puzzle games that aren’t over-complicated will probably dig this. The game is meshed with a narrative that is slowly revealed with progress but there seemed to be little connection between the puzzles and the plot during the seven or so levels that I worked through.
The retro area was great – all sorts of stuff was on offer here. Atari 2600, Commodore 64 and even an old Vectrex which I played very badly. Trouble is I’ve pretty much had enough of the 80s after recovering from burnout over Where We Came From.
But I was intrigued by Bespoke Arcades, a company that has been going for a few years now, who make new arcade cabinets that do a decent job of capturing the feel of the original machines; the buttons look and feel just perfect. They sell tabletop versions as well, which offer the possibility of four-player games. Each machine carries multple games and I dabbled with Bubble Bobble while I was there. The important thing to note is that Bespoke Arcades target the home consumer; these machines are meant to sit in your lounge as a piece of attractive retro furniture.
I hope to go back to these guys at some point in the future.
The two presentations I attended were different experiences.
Tim Willits’ session on the history of id software was a more talky affair, taking us through the achievements of the company: creating the FPS genre, deathmatch, modding, all sorts of graphical firsts. Still, Doom 3 appeared to be the point where id ceased being the big innovator. They could do great graphical work but no longer seemed to move the industry. A short section of RAGE was demonstrated which admittedly looked pretty, and the play felt real – because Tim couldn’t pull off some of the great kills he was trying to show off. But the demo was all about the kills and it didn’t really inspire. Still – I’ve heard from others who played the game at the expo that it was impressive.
Prey 2, on the other hand, was all about showing off the game. Now I enjoyed the original Prey which had enough gimmickry and polish to push it out of FPS pot boiler territory. Prey 2 turns it all around though; it seems closer to the GTA game model (without the vehicles) than a pure FPS. While plenty have commented it has a Bladerunner vibe, that seems a little off as I see something more of the Star Wars cantina scene and the neon metropolis from Attack of the Clones.
The demo was enjoyable and won me over as it kept doing different things and being responsive. Everything was fast and agile and I like that; it doesn’t look natural, but it looks playable. I’m not going to bother recounting everything I saw because it’s just a kind of a cheap third-hand analysis. I didn’t actually play Prey 2, I just saw something that was designed to make me excited. I’m not going to play those PR games. I just hope the game offers that sort of flexible play, more unpredictable Far Cry 2 combat than GTA III scripted running and gunning.
The Expo Itself
The expo was definitely bigger this year and held more variety – last year you could have just called it “an arcade cathedral of mainstream game demos”. But, sadly, the expo also seemed to pick up the international “boothbabe” infection and a number of companies used the female form to redirect male eyeballs towards their products. Sigh. One step forward…
And being bigger meant the queue was bigger. I took half an hour to get inside with my 11am ticket. Next year I would definitely go for the more expensive early start ticket or maybe even the press pass. The guys from Tap-Repeatedly and Bits ‘n’ Bytes Gaming went down that route; we will see if Electron Dance could be considered “press”. See how well it goes down when I tell them I don’t want to be a freelance journalist.
I also ran out of time, unlike last year when I ducked out after just a few hours. Definitely had a lot more fun even though I spent the day alone; had a proper natter with the developers instead of trying to put together formal interviews.
And what about my FPS skills on consoles? Last year I tried Mafia II and this year, Inversion. I can report that my controller skills have not improved and I still crave my mouse. I looked like an old man playing a young person’s game. HAHA! OLD MAN!
To Be Continued
I know, it’s too good to be true. There’s more Eurogamer Expo fabulosity coming to a weekend near you. This Friday finally sees the launch of the all-new, long-awaited second Alliance of Awesome podcast. On the dark and dangerous streets of London Town, six damaged individuals will share their Expo memories.
It’ll be grand, just you wait.